Its that time of year again! Or more accurately, three weeks past that time of year. No excuses for this, I just decided to double down on my procrastination skills at the beginning of the year and have kept with the resolution. Quite the strong year for film and TV. Did my best to see as much as I could, but of course there were some gaps. Nebraska just kept alluding me. But if you're one of the few who actually put some stock in my opinions on these frivolous matters, really hope you get something out of this. Putting it together, I definitely noticed this was probably my most bloated year for recommendations. 40 films in total! Ridiculous! This is also the first year I've decided to premiere my brand new Wavelength Rating (patent pending) system! And what, pray tell, is a Wavelength Rating? Well, I'm self-aware enough at this point to know that some of the films that resonate with me most are, in a word, fuckinweird. So I've developed this handy Wavelength Rating to try and help.
It breaks down like this - a basic 1 through 10 scale applies, with a 1 rating being your broad crowd pleasing surefire hits, and 10 being the niche-est of niche films that require one to be specifically tuned in to the wavelength the film and director are presenting. And I don't mean to use these ratings to try and dissuade anyone from viewing some of the higher rated films, but more just to give an awareness of what to expect. The other great thing about the wavelengths, is that its quite possible to tune in to the higher rated films with the aid of special herbal supplements that are specifically designed for enhanced consciousness. So I hope you all enjoy and don't have to take too many bathroom breaks to make it through! Happy viewing!
15. Before Midnight - Wavelength - 4
Being a big fan of Linklater’s previous “Before Sunset” and “Before Sunrise”, I was more than a little excited to see where the next installment would take the star-crossed lovers. So when the harsh realities of this couple’s relationship come into focus near the midway point of the film, it can be a bit jarring, and frankly pretty sad. But I respected the choice not to sugar coat the story and instead show how difficult it can be to maintain a steady marriage or relationship in the face of so much history. And luckily it’s not all knockout-screaming matches, as a good portion of the film is filled with the free flowing conversations I have come to love from these films. Taking the setting to the beautiful Grecian coast doesn’t hurt either. So if another 10 years from now brings “Before Afternoon Tea”, I’ll happily take a fourth plunge into the oncoming dementia years.
14. Magic Magic/Crystal Fairy - Wavelength - 7 and 6
This one is a bit of a cheat, cause its obviously two very different films, but I decided to put them together cause they are from the same Chilean director and both star Michael Cera. The story is, they were filming Magic Magic, lost funding half way through the shoot, decided to make Crystal Fairy over a few weeks time while they were waiting for funding to come back, then resumed filming on Magic Magic after finishing Crystal Fairy. Not essential information to enjoy either of these films, but whatever. They both are fairly small movies, but have their charms. Magic Magic is the more difficult of the two; as it is a methodical sloooooow burn psychological thriller that gives a great perspective on mental illness, with some beautiful cinematography to boot from the always stellar Christopher Doyle. Cera is also creep-tastic in it. Crystal Fairy seems slight comparatively, but I found it to have a good deal of heart by the end as you watch two characters who are initially SO off-putting, truly change and become much more multi-dimensional than the caricatures you expect them to remain. And anyone who has spent enough time in certain hippy or new age scenes (or California in general) will immediately recognize these archetypes. Spot on!
Crystal Fairy is on Netflix Streaming
13. The Great Beauty - Wavelength - 7
A beautifully filmed meditation on life, told from the perspective of a wealthy socialite as he contemplates his existence while hobnobbing with the Roman upper crust. There are plenty of parallels to be made here with the same vapid and superficial “elite” circuits that plague Los Angeles (and New York I’m guessing), but the film still remains firmly grounded in a specific outlook and lifestyle that is uniquely Italian. Much has already been written about the film being clearly influenced and indebted to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and 8 ½, whether for good or bad. But I didn’t find that to be a distraction in the least. More of just place markers for those few of us who maybe went to film school for a worthless degree but are at least now able to point out the film history landmarks scattered about the new homages that come out every so often. I’m sure you know at least ONE of those assholes… Anyhow, I had a good time! Some sequences were extremely affecting, while others not so much, but all in all well worth it for those who like a good homage to the classics.
12. Only God Forgives - Wavelength - 9
God damn do I love Nicolas Winding Refn. The balls on this guy! After making the coolest movie in the past 5 years with Drive, and cementing Ryan Goslings status as the most badass autistic guy to beat, he comes out with this INCREDIBLY difficult and off-putting film. He is practically DARING you to like this movie! It’s as if he said to himself, “I just gained a large new audience with my most commercial movie yet, how can I alienate nearly all of them? I know! I’ll take most of the aspects that people found annoying and aggravating about Drive, and amplify them by 100%!” Think Gosling was weird and near silent in Drive, just wait till you see him in this. He maybe has five lines! Think there was too much gratuitous violence? Well now we’re sticking ice pics in eyes and ears! That plot move a little quickly after the failed pawn shop robbery? Well now you’re going to get full songs sung entirely in Thai at a karaoke bar right in the middle of the fucking movie. So how come I still think highly of it? Cause who the fuck else could make this?!? It boggles the mind. And also, it looks fucking spectacular! This is retina-burning imagery. I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say the HIGH majority of people could just watch the trailer, and get more out of that 2 minute slice than watching the entire film. For the other adventurous 10%, get ready to dial into the wavelength and dive into the deep end.
On Netflix Streaming
11. The Place Beyond the Pines - Wavelength - 5
I’m not sure why this hasn’t gotten more praise on the end of the year list scene. Maybe it was the story structure (3 distinct chapters), maybe it was too low key, or maybe it was Gosling Fatigue, but I still found a lot to love about this generation-spanning epic. Most of which is in the first Gosling-centric chapter as he tries to make right with his baby mama but succumbs to robbing banks on a dirtbike. It may not knock you over with scenery chewing acting or kinetic editing, but the assured direction and storytelling abilities of Derek Cianfrance build to a healthy payoff.
10. Stoker - Wavelength - 6
Released way back in March to little fanfare, this hypnotically shot thriller from South Korean badass Chan Wook Park deserves much more attention. I wasn’t initially too excited for a coming of age story with dark undertones and a crazy looking Nicole Kidman, but as soon as the first reel rolled, I was hooked. Park has always had an amazing eye, and that aspect greatly serves to bolster the weaker points of the script, and elevate a decent story to a great movie. It probably will have a semi-limited audience, but for those with patience and who like their family dramas on the darker edge, this may be one of their new favorites.
9. Inside Llewyn Davis - Wavelength - 6
This was a tough one for me. My initial impressions of this new Coen Bros saga were fairly lukewarm. While I thought every technical and actor based aspect of the film was top notch, the story left me wanting more. And maybe its because I always expect greatness from the Coen Bros, and my anticipation was of course very high, but it felt a bit obvious and just “non-essential Coen Bros”. But as I gave it a little time, I continued to think about it more and more and couldn’t get it out of my head. Especially when considering what the final few minutes truly meant, my appreciation began to grow. Now knowing what to expect, I anticipate my second viewing will be much more rewarding. So I think putting it in a solid 9th spot will be more than likely where I’ll end up with my feelings on it, even if I’m not quite there yet.
8. The Wolf of Wall Street - Wavelength – 5
Never put it past a master filmmaker to pull out some surprises near the twilight of their career. A three-hour, debauchery soaked, hilariously scathing indictment of the wall street scene is not what one expects from a 71 year old director, yet no one else could have pulled this feat off as Scorsese so effortlessly does here. Could’ve probably chopped off a good 30 minutes and still had a fantastic film, but if it would’ve come at the expense of losing some of the already classic sequences (specifically, that 15 minute Quaalude free for all) then I’ll happily take the overlong version. If there is any justice in this world, Jonah Hill will get his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this one.
7. Her - Wavelength - 5
While some have (prematurely) put this on the level of Eternal Sunshine, which I think may be a little generous; this certainly is the best modern sci-fi tinged love story since that masterpiece. Like an episode of the similarly future-tech focused Black Mirror, but with the cynical worldview swapped out for an incredibly hopeful and moving love story. Anyone familiar with Jonze’s career should expect no less at this point, but he still never ceases to amaze with each film. And god damned Joaquin Phoenix continues to prove that he will happily take over the torch of America’s best actor once Daniel Day Lewis decides to go full time on that shoe cobbling business. I’m also glad we can finally put the argument to bed of if computers can cum. SPOILER – indeed they can!
6. Prisoners - Wavelength - 4
Following up the amazing (and shattering) Incendies of two years ago, Denis Villeneuve was near the top of my radar of directors to watch. So when it was announced he was making an intense serial killer drama with top tier cinematographer Roger Deakins, I was well past half cocked. Probably tri-quarter cocked at least. And luckily they pulled off a fantastically bleak and absorbing thriller that didn’t pander to the LCD. While a few red herrings could’ve been smoothed over with a tighter script, I still loved the risks it took. And both Gyllenhaal and Jackman turned in incredibly intense performances that have been sadly over-looked this award season. This will surely grow a dedicated following, similar to how Zodiac did a few years back.
5. This Is The End - Wavelength - 4
Easily the funniest film of the year, and definitely my favorite of this past summer. I had high expectations coming from these guys, and this was probably one of three movies this year that actually exceeded my expectations. For the first 20 minutes, I was having such a good time that I completely forgot there was even an apocalypse on the horizon. And once that noise kicks in, shit went next level. I am in love with the carnage and balls out craziness on display. Of course it hit the usual Rogen/Goldberg sweetspot of male on male friendship/love, but that’s always resonated with me so no harm there. A truly worthy follow up to modern classics Superbad and Pineapple Express.
4. R100 - Wavelength - 10
Good Lord do I love this movie. I honestly could probably put this in my number one slot and still sleep easy at night. I can’t help smiling just thinking about it! It is absolutely NUTS and unlike any film you will ever see. No hyperbole here, just straight fucked up truth. I have never heard so many people audibly say “What the fuck?!” during a movie in my life. And this would happen every 5 minutes! I don’t even know where to begin to try and explain what is actually going on in this, but suffice it to say it is exceedingly smart and self aware and brilliant on all levels. No matter how batshit crazy you may think it is, writer/director Hitoshi Matsumoto knows exactly what he is doing and climaxes the film with a sequence so astounding that it gave me chills. Not to mention a smile from ear to ear (a reference to the film that has much more meaning once you’ve seen it). I will just say this, the name of the movie is in reference to how the rating board works in Japan. Similar to how we have PG, PG-13, R, etc, they rate films with PG-12, R15+, R18+. This film is R100. So many people will hate this movie, it just makes me love it that much more. Should get a proper U.S. release later this year.
3. Blue Ruin - Wavelength - 5
One of the benefits of taking so long to get this list done is that I can present the newly released trailer for this fantastic little slice of sloppy American revenge, cause nothing I can say will do it the justice it deserves. A supremely confident and beautifully filmed genre exercise that completely elevates the pulpy material that typically makes up a revenge film. Fantastic, brutally violent practical effects mixed with a darkly hilarious edge have kept me thinking about this film for the past 3 months and I will absolutely throw down my hard earned cash twice over once it gets a proper theatrical release in April. And if you ever wondered what happened to Buzz from Home Alone, he shows up here as a gun nut!
2. Gravity in IMAX 3D - Wavelength - 2
Without question, the best theater experience of the year for me. And if you’ll notice, I absolutely make the distinction that the film that is my second favorite of the year is Gravity in IMAX 3D. There is no other way to see this movie. I mean, of course there is, but it will not be anywhere near the same experience. And “experience” really is the key word here, cause anything less than Imax 3D for this film could only be a fraction as amazing. An achievement on every level. All hail Alfonso Cuaron.
1. Upstream Color - Wavelength - 8
This is by far the hardest review to write of all the films, cause this is obviously the one that meant the most to me this year. And for some reason, I just feel protective of it and want to shelter it from the cold harsh world, where it would be extremely easy for one to misjudge this as pretentious arthouse hogwash. And that will surely be the opinions of some and I can't change that, but God damn I'll do my darndest to try.
There is really no easy spot to start and try and explain what this small scale but HUGELY ambitious film is about. And honestly, I do plan to write a MUCH larger critique and breakdown in the future, so I'll just keep it brief for now. There are a million things going on here, but the main "plot", one could say, is a love story. A supremely complicated love story mind you, involving some nasty psychotropic parasites, but a love story none-the-less. Its also a story about enlightenment, religion, pre-ordained nature, the cyclical nature of life, and happy little piglets. Frankly, once you start down this rabbit hole, the possibility of interpretations of what the meaning of the film is, is endless. Hence why its my number one pick, and why I absolutely love this fucking thing! This is the five course meal to your typical Hollywood happy meal. This is what made me want to create art and film. This is director/writer/cinematographer/editor/actor/financer/distributor Shane Carruth's heart, mind, and soul exposed for all to see. And this is also why the film is actually important! When one man can produce an authentic vision of this level of brilliance, and do it without any studio backing or distribution, it is fucking groundbreaking. He is a GIANT inspiration for me, and what true filmmakers should aspire to be.
I will be honest, it took three viewings for me to finally unlock the secrets of this film. The first viewing will still be amazing, due to the hypnotic imagery and storytelling ability of Carruth as he gives you the first outline of the puzzle. The second viewing will fill in the middle pieces. The third viewing, and this is where those herbal supplements come in handy, is what provides the connective tissue to finally pull the pieces together and give the full story. So don't be put off if it all doesn't click on first viewing! Let it sink in, ruminate on it. Carruth is not interested in holding your hand, but he absolutely provides the integral pieces if you give the time to figure it out. And that may be asking too much for some, and I don't blame them. But for those who like their cinema to be thought provoking and cerebral, this is the new hotness. Hope it resonates with some of you!
On Netflix Streaming
Of Worthy Note
Sightseers - On Netflix Streaming
The World's End
Frances Ha - On Netflix Streaming
Prince Avalanche - On Netflix Streaming
Its A Disaster - On Netflix Streaming
Left Overs - Films from last year that I missed
The Intouchables - On Netflix Streaming
If I would’ve seen this when it came out in 2012, it would’ve placed QUITE highly on that years list. This one is a hard sell based on the horrible title, the horrible cover art, and the “French” nature of the story involving a quadriplegic man and his caretaker. But I can’t remember the last time I finished watching a film that left me in such a state of pure happiness. Its uplifting in the best sense, and not just manipulated saccharine bullshit like The Blindside or whatever. Did I mention its also hilarious?! I don’t how they did it, but I laughed more at this film than 90% of the comedies that came out last year. And this Omar Sy dude is just 100% undiluted charisma! If they could figure out some way to extract his charisma in liquid form, then inject it into Channing Tatum’s Down’s-y face, maybe that dude would finally be tolerable in any of his increasingly stupefying roles.
Dredd - On Netflix Streaming
I don’t know how I missed this one when it was originally released in September 2012, but I’ve since caught up and LOVE it! Its brutally graphic and bloody, fantastically filmed with a number of astonishing slo-mo sequences, and I can image was a freakin trip in 3D. But even without the 3D (which is bullshit 99% of the time anyway), the film looks amazing on Blu-ray or Netflix Streaming. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, and sticks pretty true to its pulpy comic book origins, but it pulls it off in such an entertaining way I couldn’t get enough. This also may just be a film for dudes, as Mandy hated it and had no patience for the ridiculous theatrics and Batman-voice, but maybe not. In any case, I happily signed the petition to make a sequel to this, since it frankly did shit business in theaters. Fingers crossed!
I think most are probably tired of my drawn out opinions by this point, so I’m just going to list out my favorite docs this year and let the trailers do the heavy lifting. Lots of good Netflix stuff available, fill those queues up!
15. Beauty is Embarrassing - On Netflix Streaming
14. A Band Called Death - On Netflix Streaming
13. The Institute
12. Dirty Wars - On Netflix Streaming
11. Jodorowskys Dune
10. Kumare - On Netflix Streaming
9. Sound City
8. Chasing Ice - On Netflix Streaming
7. The Source Family
6. The Square - On Netflix Streaming
4. Stories We Tell
3. Blackfish - On Netflix Streaming
2. The Act of Killing - On Netflix Streaming
1. We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks - On Netflix Streaming
Once again, plenty of great shows this year. Usual standouts where of course Breaking Bad (best show ever? best show ever), Portlandia, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, and to a much lesser extent cause its so god damn infuriating at times, The Walking Dead. A few new great shows premiered as well, with two standouts from Netflix with both House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. I’m also a big fan of Vice News on HBO, and Orphan Black on BBC America certainly has its charms. But above all else, I HAVE to once again shine a light on Black Mirror.
This past January (shit, guess that was a year ago already) they played the second series of three new episodes. And just like the previous three, they were all self-contained brain bombs. The second episode entitled “White Bear”, without a trace of hyperbole here, is one of my favorite episodes of television of all time. In a mere 42 minutes, the world they were able to create, the story they were able to tell, and the absolute panic and horror they were able to portray is astounding! It’s also probably the best “horror movie” I saw last year. I was easily as transfixed with this episode as any of my favorite episodes of Breaking Bad. And yes, the stakes are completely different and I was WAY more emotionally involved with the story in BB, but the fact remains that they knocked it out of the park. I’ve decided to add links to the episode down below just cause I love it that much, even though there is absolutely NO CHANCE it will live up to the hype I just created above. Just lower your expectations and try and enjoy it. Below that episode, I also included the first episode of the season, which was also fantastic and definitely has some shades of Her, but in a much more somber and depressing way. Make sure to watch through the credits on White Bear!
Be Right Back - http://videobam.com/UjCRs
As seems to be the trend as you get older, I didn’t listen to much new music this year. My earbuds are typically too full of podcasts these days unfortunately. I did like the new Arcade Fire though, and thought a great single album could be culled from the really good double album. But one other album I will highlight is Run the Jewels by Killer Mike and El-P. This is an amazing record with nary a dumb filler skit or fucking basketball horn to be heard. Just 10 straight tracks of tasty beats and killer rhymes. And to top it all off, its legitimately free to download from their website! Just click ‘get it now’! – http://foolsgoldrecs.com/runthejewels/
Or listen to the entire thing on youtube first -
Read a handful of good stuff this year, but I’m choosing to only highlight one author, cause I haven’t had a lit-boner like this since high school when I first read Survivor.
I don’t know where the hell I’ve been that I hadn’t heard of George Saunders till this year, but I now see how truly lacking my life has been till this point. But having not read any of his work also allowed me to consume every short story book he has in about a month’s time, and it was a glorious 30 days. Technically, he only released Tenth of December this year, but I also sped through CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Pastoralia, and In Persuasion Nation, all of which I highly recommend.
Short story collections have never been my thing, so I was more than surprised that I couldn’t get enough of Saunders work. Maybe I just needed to hear the right voice to really have them impact me like a typical novel, and Saunders brings it in spades. His dark, satiric take on American culture is laser accurate and surprisingly hilarious given some of the content. He certainly won’t be for everybody, as evidenced by the suburbanite mother book clubs who read Tenth of December after it gained a bunch of attention for being a National Book Award finalist this past year. On Amazon the reviews are pretty split between 1 star and 5 star, which is just what a provocative piece of art should do. And Saunders is definitely not the type of writer looking for unanimous praise from the general public. So give him a shot if he sounds like your cup of tea! I’d start with either Pastoralia or CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.