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  • Don’s Favorite Narrative Films of 2013 | #1-10

    Best of 2013

    By | December 26, 2013

    10) Blancanieves

    In the history of silent films, The Artist would probably be considered mediocre at best. I like to think of it as a modern narrative drama that simply replaces its dialogue with intertitles. Blancanieves, however, stands out as the most beautiful and reverent silent film that I have seen this side of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936). Blancanieves is a visual spectacle that combines narrative elements of surrealism with the classic visual techniques of montage and superimposition. A revisionist take on the Snow White fairy tale, Berger dashes the story with a healthy dose of feminism, first and foremost by establishing Carmencita’s success in a traditionally masculine career. So, not only is Blancanieves an escapist fantasy of epic proportions, it is also an incredibly complex and intelligent approach to a very classic story in the fairest of all cinematic styles. (Check out my full review of Blancanieves.)

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    9) Computer Chess

    It is the Computer Chess ensemble’s propensity for philosophizing that reminds me of Richard Linklater’s Slacker; but, whereas Linklater’s film ruminates upon the existential crises of humans, Bujalski’s film expounds upon the existential crises of synthetic consciousness. All the while, Bujalski achieves an ultimate level of realism by enlisting a cast of computer savvy actors and non-actors who at least seem like they know what they’re rambling on about. The production design is the real show-stopper though; this is a masterfully stylized film that is saturated with authenticity. (Check out my full review of Computer Chess.)

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    8) Her

    As Her pontificates about the inherent disconnectivity of modern communication, it becomes apparent just how synthetic human emotions and feelings have become. Because of “advancements” in technology and communication, the definition of real relationships is constantly morphing, as is the significance of physical intimacy in those relationships. Most humans seem to need support, love, happiness, understanding and acceptance; but how much of that can be synthesized. Jonze posits that these new forms of interaction and connection may still be able to bring out emotional authenticity and allow humans to their true selves…or maybe not? (Check out my full review of Her.)

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    7) The Great Beauty

    Watching The Great Beauty prompts me to daydream about what types of films Fellini would have made in the 21st century. While this particular film owes a great debt to the work of Fellini (specifically La Dolce Vita), the sensory overload of the visuals seems to be much more akin to Baz Luhrmann — though The Great Beauty has a lot more emotional and philosophical substance than anything Luhrmann has directed thus far. Beneath the shock and awe campaign of the assault on the senses, Sorrentino meditates upon happiness, love, sex, art, aging and death; also contemplating the significance of theology, history, economics and politics in our lives. (Check out my full review of The Great Beauty.)

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    6) Welcome to Pine Hill

    The winner of the Grand Jury Sparky Award for Feature Narrative at Slamdance 2012, Welcome to Pine Hill is the most naturally positive portrayal of a black character that I have ever seen dedicated to film — and I am incredibly embarrassed to say that if I knew that a white guy directed Welcome to Pine Hill, I probably would not have even bothered watching it. But the outsider perspective actually works in Miller’s favor, and it certainly helps matters that he avoids all of Hollywood’s racial stereotypes. Most importantly, Miller does not approach Welcome to Pine Hill as a film about race; though he understands that our world is far from being colorblind and race-related issues are inescapable. (Check out my full review of Welcome to Pine Hill.)

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    5) 12 Years a Slave

    In his triad of films about human pain and suffering, McQueen observes the relationships between punishment and dehumanization. These films are not intended to be enjoyable entertainment pieces; McQueen’s intent is clearly to affect the audience, to make the viewer think and feel. These films truly are fully immersed, psychological studies of crumbling human fortitude. Then, for American viewers, 12 Years a Slave packs a crushing wallop of historical guilt as McQueen’s outsider perspective invites us to learn from our nation’s past mistakes and inform our future with those lessons. (Check out my full review of 12 Years a Slave.)

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    4) The Selfish Giant

    Borrowing her film’s title from Oscar Wilde children’s fable, writer-director Clio Barnard utilizes the fantastic milieu of a landscape that is perpetually shrouded in the misty grayness of a fairytale to convey the brutally grim reality of this story. Barnard sheds the religious subtext of Wilde’s story, trading it for a scathing socio-economic commentary. Considering that the majority of this film’s audience might not be familiar with the downtrodden livelihoods in the West Yorkshire city of Bradford, a lot of the story’s key elements could feel more like magic realism than neo-realism; so Barnard uses the social realism techniques of Ken Loach and Alan Clarke to ensure that the audience comprehends the true levels of authenticity within this story. (Check out my full review of The Selfish Giant.)

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    3) Sun Don’t Shine

    Building upon the already nightmarish elements of the narrative, Sun Don’t Shine unfolds with the oblique stream of consciousness of a dream — such as when Terrence Malick-esque voiceovers follow the characters’ thoughts as they are lulled into daydreams by the ephemeral rhythms and patterns of the roadside imagery and the unbearably balmy Florida air. Sun Don’t Shine plays like a 1970s road movie, utilizing an experimental artfulness that is reminiscent of Two-Lane Blacktop, Badlands and Bonnie and Clyde. Similar to those films, Sun Don’t Shine is not necessarily a traditional narrative; the road movie elements are not used to propel the narrative forward, but to trap Crystal and Leo in a smothering and smoldering incapacious space. Their car is like a prison cell with an ever-changing view of the real/reel world; the car windows function like movie screens, dangling carrots of perceived freedom and success just out of Crystal and Leo’s reach. (Check out my full review of Sun Don’t Shine.)

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    2) Upstream Color

    Functioning as writer, director, producer, cinematographer, composer, and editor, Shane Carruth is the epitome of the modern day auteur. No matter how confusing and frustrating Upstream Color may be, there is no denying the amazingly singular artistic vision that produced this film. Echoing the godlike control that is held over the film’s test subjects, Carruth is the grand creator and chief inquisitor of this uniquely cinematic world. (Check out my full review of Upstream Color.)

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    1) Short Term 12

    Short Term 12 may sound like a schlocky, feel-good Hollywood movie and that could not be further from the truth. The scenarios and conversations within Cretton’s film shimmer with such a high level of authenticity that I find it nearly impossible to believe that Short Term 12 is not a documentary. This is due in no small part to the amazing ensemble cast and impeccable writing. Brie Larson, for one, is astounding; proving herself to be one of the most talented twentysomething actors working today. The four actors – Kaitlyn Dever, Keith Stanfield, Alex Calloway and Kevin Hernandez – who play the primary kids are quite excellent as well. (Check out my full review of Short Term 12.)

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