The Best Films of 2013 According to Mo

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– “I don’t know how much movies should entertain. To me, I’m always interested in movies that scar.” Here are ten that most certainly do….

10. Stories We Tell (Canada), Sarah Polley

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Without giving much away this film is a personal investigation of a family history, homage to a mother that very successfully questions a narrative form.

09.  Wolf of Wall Street (USA), Martin Scorsese

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Wolf of Wall Street is currently the epicenter of a fiery debate that is polarizing the audiences around the world. Critics claim the film glorifies the criminals condoning their foul behavior. Members of the Academy are outraged. “Shame on you!” we hear them shout at film’s director. Daughter of one of Belfort’s co-conspirators wrote an open letter accusing Scorsese for approving and glorifying Belfort’s lifestyle.

If any one of these people actually saw the film and with their eyes and ears open…. Oh well.

Just like Scarface, Fight Club or La Haine, Wolf of Wall Street tells a story of the current real life threat to our society. And the reason this story is told in such an excessive way is because it is meant to provoke an outrage. More than anything else this film is about addiction and in a way I saw it as a loose autobiography. But, just like Scorsese has predicted with his final shot, panning over an awestruck audience yearning to learn Belfort’s secrets, the audience simply failed to get the point.

08. A Touch of Sin (China), Jia Zhangke

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In the words of Jia Zhangke: “The expansion in China has been so fast, there’s been no room for the system to catch up with any kind of humanity.”

07.  Blue is the Warmest Colour (France/Belgium/Spain) Abdellatif Kechiche

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Despite being three hours long Blue is the Warmest Colour has managed to hold it together and not only that, it could have lasted for another three hours and I would not have mind it, at all. This is a story about great love and even greater loss that gave us two truly powerful performances by Adele Exarchopoulos (Adele) and Lea Seydoux (Emma).

06. To the Wonder (USA/UK), Terence Malick

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At 112 minutes To the Wonder (2013), Malick’s shortest film since Days of Heaven, might be the longest experimental art film of all times. And, like in the case of every other Malick film, it is not for everyone. For spectators who expect or are used to the films of artistically timid era, this film might be dull and even seen as a hard work. For those who are, like me, in tune and on the same page as Malick, it is truly a wonder.

05. American Hustle (USA), David O. Russel

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Based on the real events that became known as Abscam, American Hustle (originally titled American Bullshit) tells the story of a 1978 FBI operation designed to bring down corrupt politicians. If the film is to be judged by its opening scene (and I believe it should) than David O Russel scores a perfect home run. Watching brilliant Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld gluing fake hair to his half-bald head is something else. Not only is this scene extremely amusing it also sets the perfect mood providing a fitting symbol for the content and type of people we are about to hang out for the next 138 minutes. And did I tell you, Christian Bale, Jenifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner are like you have never seen them before.

04. Hunt (Denmark), Thomas Vinterberg

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Easily the best Vinterberg since Festen, a film that launched the Dogma movement. Jagten or The Hunt (english translation) has hints of Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs and Von Trier’s Dogville in its portrayal of group hysteria and anti-logic, but the themes of Festen that are profoundly explored in Jagten – “how family and community, supposedly the bulwarks against chaos and unhappiness, can turn in on themselves” – dominate this film. And Mads Mikkelsen, well his performance is breathtaking. This film is a must.

03. 12 Years a Slave (USA/UK), Steve McQueen

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It will take me more than a paragraph to describe this film; therefore, I will not even try. Instead I will just point at this film’s signature scene, which is one of the reasons I place 12 Years a Slave at no. 3 of my list. The scene I am talking about finds the protagonist of the story, Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Eijofor), hanged by the overseer he attacked earlier for abusing a fellow slave, bare feet stuck in slippery mud, saving himself by a nose from strangulation. What is so extraordinary about this scene is McQueen’s determination to hold on the shot long after the shock of the hanging has worn off, and long after every other dramatically significant contributor for the scene has gone outside the frame. Yet still he kept holding the shot, and holding it, and holding it. After awhile, we see action slowly returning to the background behind Solomon. As workers go on about their business a reverse angle puts Solomon in the foreground, out-of-focus, still dangling from the noose and gasping for breath, trying to survive. Over his shoulder, in-focus, the children play. And this is just it – a “normal” sight of plantation’s quotidian life. Nobody’s horrified by it, except for the man hanging from the rope and the audience in front of the screen observing his struggle.

And this is precisely how a film transforms history into experience. This is how a film explains what slavery meant – not by looking the other way but by forcing you to wake up from your denial and look the problem straight into eyes.

02. Act of Killing (Norway/Denmark/UK), Joshua Oppenheimer

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In a Danish-British-Norwegian co-production, The Act of Killing (2012), a new film by American director Joshua Oppenheimer, in a radical and unscrupulous way dives straight into the depths of past coping with it in all the ways a conventional documentary would not.

In 1965, a horrific bloodbath was committed against communists in Indonesia in which at least 500,000 people were killed, and possibly as many as 2.5 million, often only on the slightest suspicion of leftist collusion. But this is not all, in fact, this hideous period in the country’s past hasn’t been covered up; on the contrary, it is publicly celebrated by the current regime as a glorious purge.

The central figure of the film is Anwar Congo, a racketeer, animal lover, granddad, a mass murderer, and a movie buff who ran the local cinema, hence his interest in the movies. Together with his crew he killed hundreds and did not just got away with it – he is praised a hero. Unable to tell the story from the victim view point Oppenheimer opted for somewhat unorthodox approach instead, and ended up filming (and befriending) the killers themselves offering them them to, bizarrely, re-enact the acts of killing, in their own favorite film genres. Needless to say, the offer is accepted with open hands. They willingly talk him through their methods of slaughter and they do it on site, sometimes playing themselves, sometimes their victims. They dress up as gangsters, cowboys, even cross-dress, all with the purpose of filming the vivid, colorful propaganda for their mass murder. The scenes are produced in the style of their favorite film genres: gangster, western, and musical.

Oppenheimer is, therefore, forcing you to re-watch the acts of killing, over and over and over again, rendering the act itself increasingly surreal and even nightmarish. The fiction scenes thus begin to take over the film’s form creating a brilliant result which Oppenheimer called “a documentary of the imagination”. In the media, this film is described as one of the most controversial documentaries ever filmed. Bizzare, nauseating and probably one of the best documentary films I have ever seen.

01. Her (USA), Spike Jonze

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Every year I fall in love with one film. Last year I was in love with The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson). This year I am in love with Her in the same way its main protagonist, Ted Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), is in love with his computer operating system.

 

Honorable mentions: Selfish Giant, Only God Forgives, Inside Lewyn Davis, Blue Jasmine

Reviews coming soon….

Text written by Mo Ponjavic

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One thought on “The Best Films of 2013 According to Mo

  1. Rick Terry says:

    Hey Mo! I am looking forward to seeing a few of these on the list. Most of all The Wolf of Wall Street. I love Scorsese, and I love Leo Dicaprio with Scorsese, add in Jonah Hill, and you have a recipe for memorable dialogue. American Hustle is also on my shortlist of films to see, as is Her.

    I have a question for you. What genre is Hunt? From your review I get a sense that it is s suspense thriller/or psychological thriller. Anyhow I will probably try to see it too, as I love Mads in Hannibal.

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