4. Amour (Michael Haneke)

On the surface, Amour seems to be Michael Haneke’s attempt at humanism and delicacy. While it is certainly humanistic and delicate, Amour is just as dark, misanthropic and unflinching as all of Haneke’s films. Haneke is one of cinema’s greatest auteurs, and despite Amour’s superficial pathos and anthropocentricity, Haneke’s latest film fits very comfortably in his oeuvre. His characters are all endemically flawed, and they relate to each other in surreptitiously violent ways. Every one of Haneke’s films is driven by the violence and deception that underpins human relationships, and how the media fuels this.

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5. No (Pablo Larrain)

No was not the fifth best film I saw in 2013. However, it was definitely one of the most enjoyable movie-watching experiences of the year. For a film about the horrors of the Pinochet dictatorship, No is decidedly light-hearted, comedically driven and slyly self-reflexive, whilst avoiding a parochial and juvenile account of life in 1980s Chile. No completes Pablo Larrain’s unintended trilogy about the Pinochet era; 2008’s Tony Manero focused on a middle-aged Chilean man’s obsession with the film Saturday Night Fever, while 2010’s Post Mortem is about a pathologist’s assistant dealing with the sum of dead bodies amassing during the 1973 military coup in Chile. Continuing this trend, No concentrates on the lives of ordinary individuals in this era, and the paths they take to rebel against Pinochet.

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6. The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev)

If you find The Loneliest Planet as engaging as an audiobook of War and Peace read by Bernie Fraser, then I completely understand. If you thought Tabu was a slow-burn, then you haven’t seen The Loneliest Planet. I often refrain from saying that ‘nothing happens’ in certain films, because there is always ‘something’ going on in every movie, even if the plot is scant. I think there is a lot ‘going on’ underneath the surface of The Loneliest Planet, but very little resolves in the film’s plot. This is an acerbic, elusive film; a film that is as deliciously enigmatic as it is frequently impenetrable.

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7. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)

Not too many people walked out of my screening of Tabu. A few people did, but compared to my screening of Joss Whedon’s tepid Much Ado about Nothing, where everyone except me and my party exited the cinema, not too many walked out of Tabu. That surprised me, because it is exactly the sort of film that you’d expect people to give up on. Tabu is a slow, plot-less meander through the past and the present, wrapped in impenetrable black-and-white cinematography, inside an oblique two-act structure.

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8. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)

If you enter Zero Dark Thirty with the expectation of seeing a broad retelling of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, then you will be disappointed. In actuality, Zero Dark Thirty is a lot more simple, yet a lot more complex, than that. It is surprisingly narrow in focus, following the arc of one driven CIA agent over eight years in her quest to find and kill Bin Laden, and the friends and foes she gains and loses along the way. By the end, the film transcends its dubbing as ‘the Osama Bin Laden movie’; instead, the film is a measured and unhurriedly charted portrait of tragic obsession. And it is all the better for it.

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9. Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron)

Everyone has seen Gravity, and most people have interpreted the film in a similar manner. Gravity is undoubtedly a 3D cinematic spectacle that immerses the viewer into the empty, lonely beauty of the nothingness that is space. The 3D is not only used to augment the palpable tension, with bits of debris flying at the screen; it is also used to heighten the depth and verisimilitude of this environment. This is helped along by the rumbling, ethereal sound design and director Alfonso Cuaron’s reliance on claustrophobic close-ups, even though the film takes place in the vastest possible setting: space.

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10. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)

In the last fifteen years, many films have been made that strain to appeal to the ‘alternative mainstream’. David Fincher’s Fight Club strains to appeal to those who are “so sick of all the consumerist lies propagated by institutions, man”. Jason Reitman’s Juno strains to appeal to those who clumsily try to insert references to their own cleverness into everyday conversation, without any hint of irony or self-deprecation. 500 Days of Summer strains to appeal to those whose apparent immersion into hipster culture goes as far as knowing about ‘The Smiths’, and that’s about it.

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