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The Velvet Café’s top list of 2013

with 16 comments

gravity2
Bloggers make their top lists of the year earlier and earlier. Publishing them in the beginning of December is not unusual. I insist on waiting until the year is over before I do anything about my list. However this year I’m a little later than usual, for no good reason. I’ve just been busy and haven’t come around to it.

I don’t expect anyone else to be particularly interested in my list at this point. But I don’t make it for you, I make it for me, because it gives me a sense of order and because I’ve found that those year lists are pretty useful as reference material. So here I go anyway. Late, but dedicated.

The rules
My rules are the following: movies that either had their first theatrical release in Sweden or were released directly for DVD can be taken into consideration. Screenings at film festivals don’t count, since they’re so limited and out of reach for most of us, including me.

If you wonder why I haven’t included a certain movie, chances are that I haven’t seen it yet. Here are some examples of movie which will be 2013 films as far as I am concerned, either I’ve seen them or not: Her, Only Lovers Left Alive, American Hustle, August: Osage County, Inside Llewy Davis.

Needless to say this was hard. Like super hard. And if you asked me tomorrow, the list would have shifted into a different shape. It’s mood relatd.

And now ladies and gentlemen – bring on the list!

Honorable mentions
First a few movies that didn’t make it into the actual list but which I want to give a nod:

blingring
The Bling Ring

I felt emotionally disconnected from Sofia Coppola’s movie, but it worked for me at an intellectual level.

Liv and Ingmar
This might be old news for Bergman experts, but to me this documentary put the relationship into a new light.

world war z
World War Z

The film is pale compared to the book it’s based on, with little more than the title in common. But I give it as much as that the mass scenes with zombies were awesome.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Another round of Battle Royale. It was enjoyable but I hope they’ll get do something different in part three. This was basically more of the same.

Foxfire
One of three movies this year about gangs with criminal girls. My initial sympathies for them faded pretty quickly.

Trance
OK, I admit that it was forgettable even if I dislike the word. But it was fun as long as it lasted

30-50

about time
About Time
It was a milk chocolate movie, for days when all you want to do is to hide under a blanket and comfort yourself with huge amounts of TV and sweets.

Anna Karenina
Oh, the dresses. The dresses!

Django-Unchained
Django Unchained

Five minutes was all it took for Django to win me over. Those five minutes didn’t just introduce the heroes – the bounty hunter Dr Schultz and his to-be partner Django, former slave. It also contained the main features of the movie I was about to see: a well balanced mix of drama, comedy and stylish, choreographed over-the-top violence.

Don Jon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s debut as a director  holds a lot of promise and if he decides to go on with a career not only appearing in movies, but also making them, I’ll be in line to watch them.

desolation
The Hobbit: The desolation of Smaug

A little bit better than the first one, partly thanks to Tauriel, badd-ass elf woman.

Mood Indigo
The first half of the movie is just one long visual crazy party. It’s like having sparkling champagne straight into your veins

Mud
The gaze of a child gave it the shimmer of a fairy tale. Next time I’d love to see a female protagonist though.

Tom Cruise in Oblivion
Oblivion

Many claimed Oblivion was bad in different ways. I didn’t notice. I was too busy having fun watching it.

Only God Forgives
Only surface? Perhaps. But what a surface!

pacific rim
Pacific Rim

I didn’t have a good excuse. But I fell in love with it nevertheless.

Promised Land
Gus van Sant’s latest movie just disappeared. I wonder why. Could it be about politics?

philomena
Philomena

Judi Dench defies the natural laws. She only gets better the older she gets.

Ruby Sparks
From my review:
“Ruby Sparks is by no means a profound movie, but I thought it was pretty damned fun, and considering how picky I am with “fun”, that is high praise. But there’s more to it than just the light hearted comedy; it puts its finger on easy it is to get into a mode where we try to reconfigure our loved ones and how unwise such attempts can be.”

Rush
Rush

This was surprisingly enjoyable – even for someone who couldn’t care less about formula one.

Side Effects
This made me think of director such as Alfred Hitchcock. It’s got the ingredients: a conspiracy, a battle of wills, cunning plans that are so entertaining that you forgive them for being implausible and women who are as dangerous as they’re beautiful. Besides it’s got Jude Law, who keeps aging with grace and dignity. In the absence of James Stewart, he’s a perfect fit for the role.

Silver Linings Playbook
This film did for mental illness what 50/50 did for cancer: took a bit of the drama out of it with humour.

Spring Breakers
The party went on and on and I didn’t know what point it tried to make. But it was pretty.

tom at the farm
Tom at the Farm

Xavier Dolan, the Canadian wonder, made it again. He’s got talent you could die for.

Warm Bodies
Braiiins! I was charmed.

wadjda
Wadjda

A punk girl in Saudia Arabia and her drem of a cycle. Infuriating with a little rim of hope.

10-30

Beasts of the Southern Wild
The story of Hushpuppy – my hero!

Mitt_liv_med_Liberace
Behind the Candelabra

It was a shame that this was marketed as a TV movie.

Blue is the Warmest Color
This movie quickly got a reputation for its sexual content. But far more interesting than the sex scenes is to see how the relationship evolves and what a struggle it can be to overcome class differences.

Blue

Blue Jasmine
Cate Blanchett was magnificent. The movie as such was good too. Regardless of the debate about Woody Allen’s person.

Café de Flore
A delicious movie for everyone who loves the bittersweet. Strangely it never got any cinematic release in Sweden; it went straight for DVD.

Frankenweenie
A 3D movie in black and white? Not a hit with the big audience, it appears. I was alone in the theatre watching this, which didn’t make it less enjoyable. Oh, Sparky! Movie dog of the year!

Frances_Ha
Frances Ha

Some movies have a “soul”, if you get what I mean. Others don’t. Frances Ha has it. And it has New York City. And Greta Gerwig, who is wonderful.

Fruitvale Station
From my review:

“I was reminded of that behind every news headline you see about someone dying in a crime or violence related incident, there’s also a hidden story about the people involved. There are children who lose their parents, mothers who lose their sons, partners who lose their loved ones. And each one of them is a human being, not as different from me as I may think as I throw a glance at them from the other side of the platform at the subway station.”

the-great-gatsby-the-green-light-on-the-dock
The Great Gatsby

I thank Baz Luhrmann. God knows how many more years I would have waited to read the book if it wasn’t for the beautiful, sparkling and loving (and actually surprisingly faithful) introduction he made with his movie.

Hotell
I’ve seen it twice now. This is probably the funniest Swedish movie of 2013 – and at the same time it’s very gripping. Remake, anyone?

the-impossible1

The Impossible
You enter the theatre annoyed by an issue with your computer, and you leave it with tears and a new spark in your eyes, grateful of what you have. Grateful of your family, grateful of your health, grateful of living in security. Grateful of being one of the winners in the lottery of life.

The Master
From my review:

“ The Master is the kind of movie that begs you for revisits. I would happily come back again to it, to enjoy the cinematography, which is stunningly beautiful, even if you haven’t had the opportunity to see it in 70 mm format, to once again be captured by the score and – above all – the outstanding acting performances.”

lesmiserables

Les Miserables
From my review:

“Les Misérables is big, beautiful and shamelessly sentimental. I can understand that it’s not for everyone, but it is for me.

I left the theatre, satisfied as if I’d just had a delicious five-course dinner with the freedom song of the rebels ringing in my ears. This is a meal I’d be happy to eat again.”

Lore
A movie about nazi children that manages to not sort people into boxes. It stayed with me for a long time after watching it.

prisoners
Prisoners

From my review:

“When I left the theatre I felt exhausted and a bit bruised. It’s not just because the running time is long (over 2.5 hours); it’s also that there’s so much to take in as a viewer during those hours. I couldn’t have been more tired if I had been binge watching an entire season of a TV series.”

The Reunion (Återträffen)
This film about bullying really got me thinking about what took place at my high school so many years ago.

startrekintodarkness2
Star Trek Into Darkness

Beautiful lens flares and Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain. Perfect.

Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley took a trip into the family swamp of myths and lies and got us all thinking about the stories we tell.

The Way, Way Back
The Way Way Back

Growing up can be a pain, especially in the neighbourhood of jerks like Trent. But it gets better. But it gets better.

We are the Best!
I was a punk rocker in the early 80s, so basically this is a movie about me. How could I possibly not love it?

1-10
Captain Phillips, film of the week

10. Captain Phillips
Why Tom Hanks didn’t get an Oscar nomination for this is incomprehensible.

brokencircle

9. The Broken Circle Breakdown
Leave your inner cynic at home.

placebeyondthepines

8. The Place Beyond the Pines
A hard hitting, beautifully constructed drama in three acts. I bought each one of them.

zerodarkthirty

7.  Zero Dark Thirty
Opening in the very beginning of the year, this movie made such an impression that it lasted through the entire year to appear in the top 10. Not bad.

cloud atlas

6.  Cloud Atlas
It breaks my heart to think about how badly this movie made in the box office so I avoid thinking about that part. I’ve seen this movie twice now, and it only gets better. This was a bold and beautiful movie.

Still from the documentary The Act of Killing

5. The Act of Killing
If you’ve seen it, you know why I’m tempted to give up on the future of humanity. I can’t recall any documentary that is anywhere near as disturbing, as horrifying, as nauseating as this one was. The villains are unspeakably evil and make the bad guys in ordinary action movies seem like decent people in comparison.

12 years a slave

4. 12 Years a Slave
From my review:

“This is so much more than a monument over people’s suffering in the post, more than a history lesson about something that you “should know about”. It’s also a movie about the present, about the uglier features of the human nature. It points out mechanisms that are still in use if we open our eyes. And this is what makes it such a tough – and important – movie to watch, relevant not only to an American audience.”

beforemidnight
3. Before Midnight

With every conversation another layer is added. I want to grow old with the Before-movies.

Thehunt
2. The Hunt

This movie hit me like a punch in my guts when I watched it in the beginning of 2013.  I haven’t recovered completely yet. What’s most troubling about this film isn’t how the neighbours, family and friends treat xx when wrongly is accused of child molesting. It’s that I can’t rule out that I would do the same if I was in their situation.

gravity

1. Gravity
Am I a shallow person for loving Gravity slightly more than 12 Year a Slave? Maybe. But is my comfort blanket and biggest fear in equal measures. I neglect it, I ignore it, I forget about it at times. But it’s always present. Gravity reconnected me to space, and thus to myself. Besides it was a hell of a ride and I’ll never think of 3D the same way again. I don’t regret putting it as my number one. That’s how I felt about it, and there’s nothing I can do about it. My only regret is not watching it multiple times in a theatre when I had the chance.

My international 2013 list

Finally: here is another version of my top 10 list, where I’ve removed the films that are considered 2012 releases in most countries and included the ones that I’ve had the chance to see.

1. Gravity
2. The Hunt
3. Before Midnight
4. 12 Years a Slave
5. The Act of Killing
6. The Place Beyond the Pines
7. The Broken Circle Breakdown
8. Captain Phillips
9. Blue is the Warmest Colour
10. Prisoners

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Criminal girls x 3: my take on a running theme of 2013

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spring breakers

There must be something in the air.

This year I’ve seen three movies about gangs of more or less unsympathetic young women taking a criminal route.

The similarities are not as glaring as when Antz and a Bug’s Life were launched at the same time or to go further back in time Vice Versa and Big. I’m not convinced that the studios have been spying on each other this time. Maybe it’s just a coincidence, maybe we’ve come to a point when the cinema audience was ready for it.

A Swedish fellow blogger of mine thinks it’s wrong and unfair to bunch up Foxfire, The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers, writing about them all in one take. The world has seen many movies about young criminal men and you don’t necessarily toss them together, so isn’t it a bit dismissive to do it when it when it’s about women?

On some level I can agree with her, but nevertheless I’ve decided to do exactly the opposite to what she asks for: I’ll write about them all in one go because it comes natural to me. My brain will put them in the same box. While they’re wildly different in style, I react to them pretty much in the same way.

Disconnection
What those girls all have in common is disconnection. The young women are disconnected from the world, from themselves and from their inner moral compasses. This also makes it hard for the viewer to connect. Speaking for myself I couldn’t relate to them at all. I was disconnected to what I saw happening on the screen

It might have to do with my general dislike and distrust for big, loud groups of girls, something I’ve felt ever since. There’s this glimpse of recognition. I remember the type too well from school. Perhaps you’ve encountered them too: the girls who were popular at school, those who defied the chewing gum prohibition during lessons, who smoked, chattered and whispered all the time, wore make-up, shoplifted, skipped classes and got rides on motorcycles by boys in jeans jackets. It was the girls that would give you snarky comments if you did too well in test, so you’d better keep it a secret. I’ve never ever in my life been a part of such a group. I have feared them. I have loathed them. But I’ve never befriended them and because of them I was relieved when the ninth grade at high school was over and I’d never have to meet them again. Ever.

With all those associations, it’s absolutely impossible to root for a group of loud, obnoxious girls either they’re obsessing over the belongings to celebrities or taking drugs and dancing all night long in an orgy at the beach. I want to keep myself at a distance from them and watching them on a big screen, I couldn’t help hoping that someone would catch them and take them in custody.

Before you get upset about this, I know that the movies have fans out there, especially in the case of Spring Breakers, I want to reassure you. Just because you can’t connect, it doesn’t necessarily make a movie bad, even if it’s harder to embrace it all out. I thought Johnny in Naked was a horrible, unlikable character and I yet I think it’s a brilliant film (although I don’t feel any urges to watch it again.)

Those three films aren’t as special as Naked and will probably not make it into my top 10 of 2013. But they’re all high quality movies. Each one of them is interesting, I’m glad that I watched them and I wouldn’t try to talk anyone out of seeing them (though I’d warn them off about Spring Breakers, pointing out that it far from being the comedy it’s marketed as, is a dark and depressing film. ) For various reasons, they’re interesting, I’m glad that I watched them and I wouldn’t advise anyone against doing the same. OK? Are we good so far?

Then I’ll move on and talk a little bit about each one of them.

foxfire
Foxfire
Foxfire was the first one that I watched. This is a French movie based on a novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Taking place in the 1950s we follow a group of teenage girls who forming a secret club try to take charge of their own lives. Their first enterprises are about getting back at a male teacher and other men who have treated them like crap and kind of deserve it.

But after a while things will get rougher, their crimes more severe and the further they go, the harder is it to empathise with them. We also see how the group dynamics change over time. Leaders will appear and disappear, members will join and leave, obeying or revolting against the current leadership

This is the movie where I most strongly felt that I was supposed to sympathise to some extent with the protagonists. For a short while in the beginning I did. I can imagine that being a woman in a small rural town in US in this time was pretty hopeless if you wanted more with your life than just be there to please the men around you. Their first actions, while brutal, were understandable. But it didn’t take long before I had run out of sympathies for the ladies. Their little club seemed to be a poisonous place in the long run. All I wished was that they’d dissolve it, starting to pursue happiness without robbing, threatening or beating up other people.

 

blingring

The Bling Ring
Next out was The Bling Ring, based on a true story about a group of girls (and one boy, which I obviously ignore in this review since he doesn’t fit into my “girl gang” theme, but interesting enough he’s the most sympathetic one out of the bunch) who successfully did burglaries in the house of celebrities in Hollywood for a period of time.

This is a little strange piece of a movie. There isn’t all that much going on, at a dramatic level. They go to houses. They steal stuff. They brag about it and spend the money. Rinse and repeat until they’re caught. There’s no remorse, not really any character development, no tipping point, no ethical dilemma that craves for a solution.

I don’t get what motivates them. Why do they need all those things so badly? They seem to be well off as it is, so what’s their problem? I don’t understand thecelebrities either. Is this what they do with the money they earn? It’s supposed to be shot in the real home of Paris Hilton, so I guess it’s close to the truth. It disgusted me to see her wardrobe. It disgusted me to see the girls wanting to take things from it. I didn’t care for the girls but I didn’t care much for the celebrities either. It made me long for real things, things that matter. To sense the soft skin of an infant, to eat a homemade bread fresh from the oven, so warm that the butter will melt on it. The smell of freshly cut grass.

I’m not sure though if this is what Coppola wanted me to think. Her position is a riddle to me. The movie observes, but does it try to say anything or does it just leave it all to the viewer to make her own interpretation? That can work both ways. You may enjoy not being steered in a certain direction. Or you may feel frustrated at the vagueness, considering it a sign of laziness and that the director obviously doesn’t know what she wants to say.

For me it worked pretty well. But then I’m a big fan of Coppola, so it’s possible that I’m giving her some slack she doesn’t quite deserve. However: again it’s a movie that works for me on an intellectual level. My heart was never in it, not the slightest.

 

Spring Breakers
So, finally we have Spring Breakers. This is the weirdest of the movies. It didn’t take me many minutes before I really disliked the gang, with my whole being. I was a little bit surprised by the direction it took. From the marketing I had expected some kind of comedy, but it turned out to be dark, disturbing and disgusting. The gang is by far the most repulsive of the three films discussed in this post. I don’t see the empowerment of women that I’ve seen some enthusiastic reviewers raving about; I don’t see a feminist message hidden among the tits, asses and guns. What I see is a group of women doing terrible things without any remorse.

It’s been quite a while since I watched A Clockwork Orange, but that’s where my associations went: to another group of young people completely void of compassion and empathy. But in A Clockwork Orange something happens. One of the young men is forced into treatment to change the way his brain is wired, and the movie as well as the novel it’s based on puts up the question if this treatment can be justified and where the free will comes in, if I remember it correctly. There’s no equivalence of this in Spring Breakers. The “party” goes on and on and on and like in The Bling Ring I’m not sure about what point the film is trying to make, if there even is one.

Perhaps asking for points is to ask too much. There is a dreamlike quality in this film. The energy is high most of the time thanks to the music and the camera work. It’s kind of pretty. Maybe I should leave it at this, not asking for a meaning. I’ve seen it suggested that the events in the movie not necessarily take place at all. It’s all just in the heads of the girls, a dream, a fantasy world where they’re imagining how it would be to leave civilization behind them and act out on their desires and impulses. But I don’t buy into this theory. I think it cheapens the movie. “It was a dream. Bobby is alive, taking a morning shower”.  No thanks, I’m better off with the falling down of those girls, as inexplicable as it is

Did we need this?
One question is hanging in the air. Why is it that it’s suddenly so popular to make movies about groups of criminal young women?

I think it might be a sign of progression. Until now it’s been quite rare to have genuinely unlikable women in movies. In nine movies out of ten, women are portrayed as nice. Most of the time they’re there to support and inspire the male protagonist. Often they’re victims of crime and abuse. Occasionally they’re strong and heroic, but that’s rare. If they play an “evil” role, they’re often more teasing and charming than genuinely bad.

As nice as it may appear, the idea that women are special, good hearted angels, is also quite limiting, in the long run. What we need is a balance view.  Women are like men: human, with all the flaws and assets that come with it.

A gang of criminal young women is no better than its male equivalence. They’re bad people doing bad things and should be judged as this.

We probably needed those movies. But to be honest: I’ve had enough of this concept for a while. Three is enough for one year. If there’s any more of this in pipeline, please put it on hold until next year at least

Foxfire (Laurent Cantet, FR 2012) My rating: 4/5
The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola, US 2013) My rating: 4/5
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, US 2013) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

July 24, 2013 at 1:00 am