Sunday, 18 May 2014

A look back at 2013

This year, I'm going to try and write a blog about the Auckland Film Festival. As a dry run, here are my personal favorites from last year's line up.

FRANCES HA (dir. Noah Baumbach) 

Everything about this movie seemed designed to turn me away: the mumble-core trappings, the polly anna protagonist, the New York hipster setting... For some reason however, I decided to go.

Everything I was afraid this movie was was there. And yet, all this stuff worked. This movie is a lovely little curio about a woman who remains determined to achieve her dreams while everyone around her  has made compromises to achieve something more realistic.

This film rides the edge of being an overly cutesy, self-indulgent eulogy to New York hipsterism. One move out of place and the whole structure could have collapsed, but somehow Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig never put a foot wrong, elevating FRANCES HA above most of the dross which constitutes the post-mumblecore indie scene.  After DAMSELS IN DISTRESS and now this, I am a big fan of Gerwig, and I look forward to checking out the rest of Baumbach's previous work.

PRINCE AVALANCHE (dir. David Gordon Green)

I've been a fan of David Gordon Green for awhile. My first exposure to him was PINEAPPLE EXPRESS. It's a good movie, but it wasn't till I saw SNOW ANGELS that I became a real fan. When I heard this movie was in the festival line up, I jumped at the chance.

This movie is the kind of indie I like. Small, loose, and set in a microcosm of reality. It's not a big story in any way, just two road workers re-painting the centre lines on a road after a major forest fire in the backroads of Texas.

As our central protagonists, Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd, still somewhat under the radar but relatively known quantities, establish a lo-fi, unpredictable, and intimate rapport that allows them to play off each other in ways that give them a chance to really stretch. Emile Hirsch, looking disconcertingly like a young Jack Black, delivers a loose, hilarious performance as a simple-minded party-animal in a quarter life crisis. Paul Rudd, still underrated, delivers an excellent performance as a man who tries to keep everything under control, but is just as lost and confused as his comrade.

With Green's mix of kitchen-sink realism and poetic mood-setting, PRINCE AVALANCHE is a great  boost to his creative mojo after a slew of increasingly moribund Hollywood ventures.


The Spectacular Now (dir. James Ponsoldt)

My third and final favorite of the festival. Great performances, a terrific script, and understated, empathetic direction combine to make a film that actually lives up to the overused term, 'coming of age'. 

Suspiria with live soundtrack by Goblin

I've seen Dario Argento's classic before, but watching this in the Civic on a massive screen with Goblin, the band behind the film's lauded soundtrack, blasting out the score right in front of me, took the whole thing to another level.

Outside of the festival, I had a few other favorites.

Blue is the Warmest Colour (dir. Abdellatif Kechiche)

I actually saw this at the start of this year, but since it's a 2013 release and bloody brilliant, I had to say something about it.

Put aside the controversy over the director and its sexual content, this is a truly great film. Heck take away the lesbian angle, and it still stands as an achingly real and deeply visceral portrait of the life cycle of a relationship. There's nothing exceptional about the people involved, or the way they meet, or live, or how they break up, it just feels lived in.

An epic treatment of a mundane situation, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR is a truly superlative experience I cannot recommend enough.


Imitation of Life (dir. Douglas Sirk, 1959)

I've got a working version of a top ten of all time that's up to about 6 now. Whatever iteration I finally go with will definitely include this.

Telling the dual stories of two mothers and their daughters, IMITATION OF LIFE uses its parallel narratives to offer a terrifying commentary on race and class in fifties America. Words cannot begin to describe the sheer, subtle genius of this movie as both a traditional melodrama and a savage satire on the gap between Hollywood 'reality' and the social context outside the studio gates. 

It's rare for a 60 year old movie to feel like a punch in the gut, but IMITATION OF LIFE is a unique and multifaceted beast with a nasty sting in its tail. By the time the end credits roll, it will have you considering the words 'I'm dreaming of White Christmas' in a whole new light...

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