Welcome to the third annual Bitch Awards, celebrating the best and worst of film and TV for the year. Stick around for the next two weeks as we raise a glass to our favourite works from 2013 (and duck as we unceremoniously throw the remote at our least favourites).
We’ve reached #4 on our list of best of the best and worst of the worst films of 2013…
#5: The World’s End (Wright, 2013)
#4: Upstream Color (Carruth, 2013)
If you like confusing films that border on pretentious, then look no further than Upstream Color. After Shane Carruth’s brilliant first film Primer, I was excited to see what his next offering (nearly a decade later) would produce. To say I was disappointed is putting it mildly. Providing a plot summary is difficult (and pointless since none of it makes any kind of logical sense), but let’s just say it involves pigs, orchids, hallucinogens and inflated, flowery metaphors about the meaning of life.
The film doesn’t end up on my worst list because it opts for a more ‘experimental’ mode of storytelling. It’s here because, quite frankly, I found it boring. Upstream Colour was the most tedious 96 minutes of my life, emulating the worst sense of the word ‘artsy’.
I can live with ambiguity and open-ended plotlines so long as there’s some kind of hook; some element to keep me intrigued and engaged. Alas, Upstream Color comes off as self-indulgent, opting for a ‘transcendental’ experience and thus denying the audience any kind of satisfaction. I despise films like this. It feels as though Carruth is saying ‘If you want to understand me – you need to work for it. And if you don’t then you’re simply not worthy.”
I’m aware that this film has landed on many best lists this year, but I proudly go against the grain and proclaim that it’s a tiresome film and not worth your time.
I feel no shame in admitting the fact that I’m a big nerd. I love science fiction and I particularly love dystopias. Having been blown away by Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009), my expectations going into his follow-up were high (admittedly this is often problematic). I had good reason to be excited: the new film had Matt Damon in an exoskeleton suit, Jodie Foster speaking French and District 9 star Sharlto Copley as a bounty hunter. What could go wrong?
Everything, it turns out. Damon’s Max is a bland, boring protagonist who fails to pull audiences into the story. Foster is ruthless, but her motivations are paint-by-numbers and she’s given very little screentime and even less to do. Worst of all is Copley, who basically just shouts and kills indiscriminately; it’s a role that could have been played by anyone as Kruger is nothing more than a generic villain. He’s meant to be a brutal antagonist, but he’s just a cardboard baddie – a hurdle that Max inevitably has to dispose of to achieve the film’s predictable outcome. Throw in a sick child, an impossible “love” story and a anvil-over-the-head obvious allegory about the divide between the rich and poor and Elysium is a predictably obvious, forgettable big budget waste of time. The fact that it’s from one of the most interesting directors working in the genre is a huge disappointment, which is why it’s #4 on my ‘Worst” list for 2013.
See my original review here.
#5: The Book Thief (Percival, 2013)
#4: Gravity (Cuarón, 2013)
Gravity is one of those films that’s difficult to talk about because so much of my enjoyment of it came from the experience of it. I saw it in a packed theater while sitting in a ‘simulator’ seat that vibrated and moved to further enhance the visuals on screen (which were in 3D no less!). Initially, I thought the technology would be gimmicky, but in a film like Gravity, it was really something amazing. I felt like I was actually in space being bumped around and nudged just like Sandra Bullock. It was a completely immersive experience, producing all kinds of visceral reactions.
In terms of story, the film is very simple. Bullock plays Ryan Stone who experiences a meteor shower in outer space and has to some how get back to Earth. Bullock’s performance is excellent and so is George Clooney in a supporting role, mostly because neither of them detract from the real impact of the film – its visuals. Gravity’s power lies in its creation of atmosphere and its simplicity; There’s nothing unnecessary cluttering up the screen so audiences can completely get lost in the film. Cuarón’s tact as a director is right at the forefront. His extended long continuous shots are perfectly employed, allowing us to marvel at the outer space he’s created and enhancing the harrowing tension when danger is imminent.
I doubt I would have liked the film as much had I seen it at home, without the clarity of the big screen images or the flashy vibrating seats. But at the end of the day, I left the theater feeling as though I had experienced a completely satisfactory cinematic adventure and for that, Gravity deserves a place on my best list this year. If you can still catch it in a theater, I highly recommend it.
Check out cinephilactic’s review of the film here.
#5: Kon Tiki (Rønning & Sandberg, 2012)
#4 Jagten / The Hunt (Vinterberg, 2012)
The Hunt is one of those little seen gems that worms its way into your brain and sticks around for days. It’s the story of Lucas (a superb Mads Mikkelsen), a single father going through a divorce who works as the only male employee at a kindergarten. Things almost immediately get messy when Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the young daughter of his best friend, accuses Lucas of inappropriate behaviour after he rejects her romantic advances. Unwilling the dismiss the claims, the burden of guilt falls on Lucas, who goes from pillar of the community to disturbed criminal in the space of a few hours. The remainder of the film chronicles Lucas’ fall from grace as he is ostracized, physically attacked and loses all of his friends.
Although the story is relatively straight-forward, the emotional wallop it packs is anything but. At its center is Mikkelsen, who is amazing in the lead role. His performance runs the gamut from confusion to frustration to outrage as his reputation is destroyed on circumstantial evidence. As a viewer, developments are often agonizing to watch because we know that Lucas is innocent, but as The Hunt demonstrates there’s a terrible societal fear of the relationships between children and adults that cannot easily be put aside. Director Vinterberg refuses to give into our desire to see Lucas exonerated in a quick and simple fashion, frequently creating dramatic tension in gorgeously framed tight shots that reinforce how trapped Lucas is.
The film is bookended by two scenes that give the film its name and challenge us to consider the relationship between freedom and community and the ending reveals a deep rooted tension marked by ambivalence that is discomforting – the perfect way to end a film that refuses to simplify an uncomfortable subject. The Hunt is a superbly crafted film anchored by yet another amazing performance by Mikkelsen that challenges us to consider how easily we’ll turn on each other. It’s not always easy to watch, but it is incredibly engrossing and emotional. It’s easily one of the best films I saw this year.
So readers, what do you think of our #4 picks: agree/disagree? Hit up the comments and let us know and be sure to visit us tomorrow as we continue the countdown!