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  • Don’s Favorite Narrative Films of 2013 | #11-20

    Best of 2013

    By | December 26, 2013

    20) Concussion

    We have seen plenty of silver screen narratives over the decades in which a husband strays from a sexless heterosexual marriage to enjoy sex with prostitutes. When a man does that to a woman that is bad, right? Well, at least that is what the history of cinema has taught us. That is what I find most interesting about Concussion, because Abby seems to be in the right. But, why is Abby so different than her male predecessors of cinema? Is it because she is a woman? Is it because she is having sex with other women? Or, is it simply because Passon adequately justifies Abby’s actions? (Check out my full review of Concussion.)

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    19) Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

    Writer-director David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a cinematic meditation on poor, rural Texas life in the 1970s (though it often feels like the 1920s or 30s). Not to make excuses for him, but it is Bob’s desperate economic situation and intense desire to support Ruth that has driven him to become an outlaw. There is presumably very little work available, so Bob’s only available option is to steal from others. These perceived external pressures at work against Bob are somewhat similar to Kit’s situation in Terrence Malick’s Badlands (1973). Both films also allude to psychological issues at play within the minds of their male antiheroes; the men are blindly obsessed with their girlfriends, to disastrous proportions. (Check out my full review of Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.)

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    18) Blue Is the Warmest Color

    This is very clearly Kechiche’s interpretation of Maroh’s protagonist, just as it is pretty indisputable that Blue Is the Warmest Color would have been a much different film in the hands of a woman. (For one, I suspect the fact that Adèle does not eat seafood would have been handled a bit more subtly.) It is also difficult to deny that the ten minute sex scene is gratuitously voyeuristic; though, despite what people seem to be saying, Blue Is the Warmest Color is definitely not a pornographic film. (Check out my full review of Blue Is the Warmest Color.)

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    17) No

    The true strength of Pablo Larraín’s No is the medium of the message — the way the film authentically captures the visual aesthetic of 1988. Cinematographer Sergio Armstrong shot No with a circa-1983 Ikegami video camera. The hazy, off-color, low resolution footage recorded on 3/4″ Sony U-matic magnetic tape allows Armstrong’s narrative footage to match perfectly with the archival footage of political protests, riots and police atrocities; even the editing style of No seems to mimic the linear, tape-to-tape, hard edits of 1980s South American television. (Check out my full review of No.)

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    16) In the House

    Akin to writer-director François Ozon’s masterful trickery showcased in Swimming Pool (2003), we never quite know who’s story we are observing or where the internal story starts and stops. A clever post modern diatribe about the authorial manipulation of perspective, In the House is a film that deserves multiple viewings to pick up on the subtle intricacies of the plot. At first glance, In the House may seem like a home immersion thriller, but it is actually so much more than that. As part of his slight of hand, Ozon gives us a guided tour of literary writing styles, but he does this with such magical finesse that it is barely even noticeable. (Check out my full review of In the House.)

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    15) All Is Lost

    Who knew that spending an hour and 45 minutes watching Robert Redford lost alone at sea could be such an enthralling, captivating and emotionally draining experience? I’ll admit, I had several years ago come to the conclusion that Redford’s best work was long behind him, that all he had left in him was occasionally directing and acting in painfully earnest misfires like Lions for Lambs. Of course Redford wasn’t in the director’s chair this time around and there’s little reason to doubt that J.C. Chandor’s direction and writing is key to the stunning success of All Is Lost. But don’t doubt for a minute that this is just as much Redford’s film as Chandor’s. I don’t think there are many actors out there who could have delivered the performance that Redford did or had me feeling so fully emotionally invested in this character’s fate. (Check out Linc Leifeste’s full review of All Is Lost.)

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    14) Mud

    With Mud, Jeff Nichols’ writing chops and mastery of character development are again on display, with the film combining the same elements of magical realism, family drama and slowly building tension displayed in his first two films. Not to say that you’ve seen this film before if you’ve seen Shotgun Stories or Take Shelter, as this is in some ways a more lighthearted and heartwarming affair, but Nichols as much or more than any young American director today has a uniform vision of his craft. He’s telling universal stories through a Southern and/or working class lens, repeatedly delving into human experience to examine themes of masculinity, family ties, the fragility of relationships, with a fondness for repeatedly casting certain actors (thank God for him and Michael Shannon finding one another) in stories that slowly and deftly build tension, stories in which violence is always lurking in the peripheral shadows. (Check out Linc Leifeste’s full review of Mud.)

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    13) Frances Ha

    A certain kind of magic was captured in the 1960s by the French New Wave, one that temporarily transformed cinema into a playful art form. I would not necessarily claim that Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha is like a French New Wave film, but it does share a similar magical joy. The keenly-scribed dialogue rolls from the characters’ tongues with the sparkling effervescence of a Ernst Lubitsch comedy, while Greta Gerwig’s physical gags conjure up the glory days of slapstick. (Check out my full review of Frances Ha.)

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    12) I Used to Be Darker

    I Used To Be Darker is probably the most conventionally structured three-act narrative you will ever see Porterfield direct; nonetheless he still finds ways to integrate his typical high levels of realism into the production. There is no denying that Porterfield is the modern master of utilizing diegetic sound and lighting, as well as allowing dialogue and scenes to breathe naturally, thus sharing an unmistakable kinship with Éric Rohmer and John Cassavetes. Porterfield’s unique brand of extraordinarily realistic films also features rich, visually poetic qualities. Shot by Jeremy Saulnier, I Used To Be Darker is a gorgeous film to observe; scenes are composed with classical precision and are complemented nicely by the natural light sources. Most importantly is the way that Porterfield and Saulnier always relate the characters to their surrounding environment; specifically, the rooms of Kim and Bill’s house seem to shape and define its inhabitants. That house is an intrinsic part of their existence. (Check out my full review of I Used To Be Darker.)

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    11) Pilgrim Song

    Martha Stephens is never condescending or patronizing of her characters, yet she never romanticizes them either. Stephens casts highly naturalistic actors and places them in scenes alongside real people; she captures their stories as if shooting a documentary, allowing their narratives to breath while unfolding naturally and organically. Her unabashed desire to capture the purist possible realism is akin to the tone, pacing and visual aesthetic of Kelly Reichardt’s Old Joy and Wendy & Lucy – Reichardt is certainly someone with whom Stephens shares a fondness for what has come to be known as “slow cinema.” (Check out my full review of Pilgrim Song.)

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