Michael Kirchhoff

The Best Films of 2013 (1-5)

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Director: Shane Carruth

A man and a woman lock eyes on a train: the connection between them is visceral, though they don’t yet understand why. Both of them have been victimized in a deep way that destroyed their very identities and made them retreat from the world, but their connection with each other could be the means by which they make their approach back to life.

Of all the films I saw this year, Upstream Color is the one I latch onto in those spare moments when my imagination drifts. Carruth uses as little dialogue as possible, trusting the mesmerizing images and hypnotic sound design to carry the narrative. And what a narrative it is, involving larvae capable of putting people into a suggestible hypnotic state, empathic pigs, a man who creates music by observing human misery, and two people who help each other break the cycles of pain and confusion that have swallowed their lives.

Confounding, heartbreaking, remarkable … Upstream Color was an easy choice for the best film of 2013.

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Directors: Joel and Ethan Coen

How do you separate art from the artist? By the time we see folk musician Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac, who plays the role with an uncompromisingly raw cynicism) finally make it to Chicago to sit down with a club owner (F. Murray Abraham), we’ve seen Davis be aggressively petty, arrogant, vulgar, dismissive, and adamant about refusing to take responsibility for his appetites. And yet … when he strums across his guitar’s strings and sings the ballad “The Death of Queen Jane”, all one can think is, how does something this beautiful come from this asshole? How does this infuriating mooch, so immersed in his own pretentiousness, find the humanity to create true art?

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Director: Richard Linklater

The person who knows the exact hurtful thing to say to you that cuts to the very core of your being is usually the person that’s supposed to love you the most. The terrific series of “Before …” films created by Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke continues to evolve in fascinating and emotionally wrenching directions as the characters move far beyond their young infatuation and into the day-to-day triumphs and disappointments of marriage. The intellectual connection that brought these two together still percolates, and the film ends on a beautifully hopeful note. I can’t wait to catch up with Jesse and Céline again in a decade or so.

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Director: Nicole Holofcener

The comic horrors of middle-aged dating are handled with wonderful warmth in this film that rises far above its sitcom setup. Julia Louis Dreyfus and James Gandolfini are both excellent as divorced parents who make those first steps towards a relationship with a mix of optimism and hesitation borne of past hurts and betrayals.

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Director: Martin Scorsese

I have one of those “reward” cards that a local theater chain offers to its patrons. (I initially wrote that it was a “popular” chain, but then realized the only reason people go there is because its theaters are more or less the only option within 20 miles. That’s not popularity, that’s monopoly.) Last week I earned enough reward points for a free movie. Look at me! It even said ***FREE MOVIE*** on the coupon, with the capital letters and the asterisks on either side and everything!

When I approached the box office, ***FREE MOVIE*** ticket in hand, to see The Wolf of Wall Street, I was told by the ticket lady that I needed to pay a two dollar charge. When I asked why, I was told that the ***FREE MOVIE*** ticket did not apply to movies during their first 10 days of release, whereupon I responded unhelpfully, “Well, that’s not really free then, is it?”

So what did I do? March away from the box office indignantly, with my ***FREE MOVIE*** ticket and my pride intact, to come back and see the movie in a few days when it would be legitimately free? Of course not. I meekly handed over the two bucks. Because I wanted something, I wanted it now, and I willing to stand still for the shakedown.

I am exactly the kind of soft-headed doofus that allow predators like Jordan Belfort to flourish. Played with cocaine-fueled ferocity by Leonardo DiCaprio, Belfort snorts, fucks, and swindles his way through this three-hour endurance test of a movie (plus, let’s not overlook the wonderful image this film gave us of DiCaprio with a lit candle shoved up his ass). Wolf is deranged, overblown, and way too long, but is also ruthlessly entertaining and is easily the funniest movie of the year.

By the way, I was going to buy M&Ms at the concession stand, but because you squeezed those two bucks out of me, Local Theater Chain, I didn’t. Choke on that, you dinks.

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