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  • Don’s Favorite Narrative Films of 2013 | #21-30

    Best of 2013

    By | December 26, 2013

    30) Only God Forgives

    Set in a dark and seedy underworld in which the economy (and human existence) is driven by sex, drugs and brutality, writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives functions in sharp opposition to revenge fantasy flicks. Utterly devoid of plot, action and dialogue, Only God Forgives moves at the nearly imperceptible speed of a sloth on quaaludes. Like Chang, Refn treats the characters of Only God Forgives with a godlike disdain; their under-realized stories only serve as temporary distractions from the surreal world that Refn is so engrossed in developing. (Check out my full review of Only God Forgives.)


    29) Drug War

    The gritty neo-realist visual style of Drug War plays in loving homage to the American independent cinema of the 1970s (The French Connection repeatedly came to mind while watching To’s film). Drug War feels so authentic that it seems to function as a rare behind-the-scenes look into the Chinese government’s approach the illegal drug epidemic in their country. Zhang’s team moves like chess pieces at the hands of a grand master; each move is perfectly orchestrated, flawlessly anticipating the opponent’s future moves and quickly recalculating after any surprises. (Check out my full review of Drug War.)


    28) It’s a Disaster

    It’s a Disaster is an impeccably-written, dark-as-a-moonless-night satire that hearkens back to the glory days of classic comedy. Existing in the surreal ether somewhere between Preston Sturges and Woody Allen, Berger takes on disaster films as well as the trope of trapping characters in one location; all the while, Berger and cinematographer Nancy Schreiber beautifully choreograph the on screen events to Altman-esque precision. (Check out my full review of It’s a Disaster.)


    27) What Maisie Knew

    Sure, some of the visual metaphors are bit heavy-handed and the slow motion running in the closing shot of the film is nauseatingly saccharine; but the chemistry and/or disdain shared between the four adult protagonists of this film feels so damn authentic that any directorial flourishes are easily forgivable. Then, there is the young Onata Aprile (The History of Future Folk, Yellow) as the eponymous lead who effortlessly steals every freaking minute of this emotional rollercoaster ride of a film. Like Maisie, Aprile seems to be one of those rare examples of a child who is matured and skilled far beyond her years. I hate to use the word “brilliant” to describe such a young actor, but I can think of no better word to describe Aprile’s performance. (Check out my full review of What Maisie Knew.)


    26) An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

    There is nothing overly simple about Terence Nance’s visualization of love and beauty; rather, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is a complex form of poetry that requires images and music to complete it. Using the rhythmic repetition of narration and dialogue, Nance lulls the audience into a deep meditative state. The hope, of course, is that the film will have the same transcendental effect on Nance’s love interest, Namik Minter. (Check out my full review of An Oversimplification of Her Beauty.)


    25) Post Tenebras Lux

    The opening sequence establishes the heavily manipulated perspective of the film. The camera’s eye alternates from a first-person perspective to observational vantage points (alluding to the multiplicity of perspectives and realities throughout the film). The framing is purposefully boxed in, with an ever-present tunnel vision focus on the center of the screen (a suggestion that this film has a very specific focus and a purposeful manipulation of perception). Then, as the fisheye lens blurs and distorts the boundaries of the 1.375:1 frame, the surreal duplicity of any objects on the periphery of the screen gives the allusion that we are observing these images through beveled glass. In other words, we are all just Peeping Toms complacently watching as someone else atones for their horrible sins. (Check out my full review of Post Tenebras Lux.)


    24) Mother of George

    Director Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George observes the smothering effects of a world in which women are seen as baby incubators who are solely intended to produce a male heir to their husband’s family line. With marriage, Adenike has been forced into a warped psychological state of worthlessness. She has become a possession of the Balogun family and has no other options than to abide by their wishes. Written by Darci Picoult, the story is intimately told from a unique female perspective, while Bradford Young’s stunning cinematography brilliantly captures the claustrophobic world — and wardrobe — in which Adenike finds herself hopelessly trapped. (Check out my full review of Mother of George.)


    23) Much Ado About Nothing

    Significantly different in tone and setting to Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 adaptation, Whedon’s film is just as flawless of an interpretation. It seems fitting that Whedon, a writer-director who has long had an affinity for strong-willed women, would be attracted to Beatrice’s character. This sharp-tongued female character-type is one that appears in every part of the Whedonverse — several of those characters have been played by Amy Acker. In fact, the Benedick and Beatrice scenario of two people who are too stubborn and proud to admit their love for each other has been quite prevalent in most of Whedon’s stories as well. (Check out my full review of Much Ado About Nothing.)


    22) Lore

    I know, I know… We need another World War II film like we need another world war, but Cate Shortland’s Lore is much different than any WWII film that I have ever seen. The perspective and sympathies are unique, though incredibly complicated. We are given Lore, a morally questionable protagonist; someone we have every reason to hate, yet she still warrants some of our sympathies. At the very least, Lore’s eternal struggle to keep her siblings safe and fed grants her some level of respectability. Sure, in writing it may sound like Lore is a bit too sympathetic towards a young Nazi girl; but by experiencing the film firsthand, we are shown the horrors of brainwashing, whether it be by one’s family, political party, or religion. Shortland reveals the tragic effects that narrow-minded ideologies have on children, especially when the facade of said ideology is ripped apart at its seams. (Check out my full review of Lore.)


    21) Simon Killer

    Simon Killerqu’est-ce que c’est? So much about Simon is merely a facade. He is a product of perception — what do women see when they look at him? What are women’s eyes telling their brain? More importantly, what does the camera’s eye tell us to think about Simon, as the observational — practically cinéma vérité — cinematography creates an even further allusion of truth. In many ways, Simon Killer plays like a deconstruction of perceived cinematic realism, picking away at its inherent layers of dishonesty. (Check out my full review of Simon Killer.)


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