Welcome to the third annual Bitch Awards, celebrating the best and worst in film and TV of 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’re nearly halfway through the countdown. Today: #3…
Where do I start when it comes to Passion? At first, I wondered if its incredibly cheesy performances and insipid plot twists were intentional – was De Palma creating the erotic thriller equivalent of Showgirls (Verhoeven, 1995)? After further reflection, there weren’t enough unintentional laughs on my part to believe the film is an example of ingenious camp. No, Passion is just a terrible, terrible film.
I’ve said it before, I love me some Rachel McAdams. There are moments in Passion when it feels as though she’s going balls out in her performance as ruthless career woman Christine, a character who will do anything to climb the corporate ladder. But McAdams is simply too young to push the character into the realms of a good campy she-devil. Although she looks fierce in her hip-hugging pencil skirts and heels, Christine looks like a girl playing dress up rather than a high-powered, cutthroat executive. Ultimately it’s just a laughable performance and not in a good way.
And then there’s poor Noomi Rapace who plays Isabelle, the wronged victim of Christine’s malicious mind-games. Rapace’s thick Swedish accent is distracting, ultimately resulting in her looking like a deer in headlights for most of the film. Her interactions with McAdams, which I’m assuming are supposed to ignite some kind of Sapphic sexual tension, end up feeling incredibly contrived and stifled. Many of their shared scenes feel like the talking scenes in porn movies.
Although the lead performances contribute to much of the film’s displeasure, the terrible writing is right up there as well. Every tired cliché is thrown in, from an alleged imaginary twin sister that died tragically as a child, to “gotcha” moments reset by waking up screaming from a nightmare (which happens a record FIVE TIMES). Additionally, anyone who has ever worked in advertising will seriously laugh out loud after hearing the line about a broken-English amateur video garnering over 10 million hits after only four-hours on YouTube.
I suppose the film might have some merit if you watch it drunk, but really, with a statement like that I think it rightfully deserves a place on my “Worst Of” list this year.
You know how it’s a bad idea to read a book and then watch the film adaptation? Well, that doesn’t apply to The Bling Ring because they’re nearly identical texts. I’d congratulate Sofia Coppola on her ability to adapt Nancy Jo Sales’ source, a book length adaptation of Jo Sales’ own Vanity Fair piece “The Suspect Wore Louboutins”, but in this case that’s not a compliment. Why? Because both book and film are terrible.
Perhaps that’s not entirely fair since Coppola’s film is well-shot and well-acted. It’s just dramatically inert. Fault Jo Sales for her journalistic puff piece on celebrity obsessed teens who committed a series of break and entries around Hollywood a few years ago – it’s a story that should have stayed a short article because it lacks substance. The problem is that Coppola doesn’t bring anything new to the table: the film is nothing more than a series of reenactments of robberies, with rich-bitch kids oogling celebrity goodies and little else filling 90 minutes of screen time. The shallowness of the film is its purpose – there’s no rhyme or reason to this madness because there’s nothing more to these kids than their interest in consumer and celebrity culture. But that doesn’t make the film good. It’s literally just a series of repetitive scenes of these morons doing stupid things and talking like extras in Clueless. Even more problematically, Coppola has no insight or commentary to contribute; in fact there’s little authorial direction besides a subtle smug satisfaction in capturing the vapid interests of the current generation.
Let me save you: The Bling Ring is nothing more than 90 minutes of how stupid teens supposedly are. Don’t waste your time on this one.
The Act of Killing has got to be one of the most interesting documentaries I’ve ever seen in my life. The film focuses on Anwar Congo and his accomplice Herman Koto as they go through several bizarre reenactments of the government-sanctioned murders they committed in the 1960s. Congo and Koto proudly admit to killing countless suspected Communists in Indonesia, but their desire to dramatize the killings through increasingly outlandish scenarios leaves you captivated from beginning to end. Literally, every genre seems to be represented here – from an over-the-top musical number to classical gangster interrogation scenes. I can’t say that I entirely understand why Congo and Koto decide to reenact their mass murders in such a way, but I can guarantee you it’s absolutely fascinating to watch.
There are traditional talking head interviews throughout, and although it’s predictable that we get glimpses of remorse in the otherwise proud killers, after witnessing the extravagant reenactments, the quiet and honest moments of truth really pack a punch.
Whereas other films may desire to ‘make you think’, The Act of Killing does this in spades and is sure to keep you talking about it well after you’ve watched it. It left quite the impression on me and for that it deserves a slot on my best list this year.
If the girls of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers ran into the girls of Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, they would probably just shoot them. That’s how things roll in Korine’s most publicly accessible film to date (confession: this is the only one I’ve seen). The plot is simple: Spring Breakers is the tale of four trouble loving girlfriends who will do anything to spend spring break in Florida. The real trouble begins when they party too hard, get busted by the cops and end up getting bailed out by a shady drug/gun dealer named Alien (James Franco).
The film gained a great amount of notoriety upon release because it features “mature” performances by teen starlets Vanessa Hudgens and Selena Gomez. This mostly translates into “wearing a bikini” for Gomez, while Hudgens takes things to the extreme a little more. Make no mistake, however, this isn’t so much a sexually provocative film as it is a “teens in danger/dangerous teens” film – the R rating is for violence and language, of which there is plenty.
The simple truth is that the plot and the girls are secondary. If the names on the poster are important to you, then the film belongs to Franco who delivers a compellingly bizarro-weird performance as the girl’s devil and angel. If we’re being honest, though, the real star is Korine and his stylized approach to filmmaking (Side Note: directorial style is a trend you’ll see through my remaining films up to and including my #1 pick on Friday). Spring Breakers is a neon nightmare: a dirty, sweaty environment full of unsavoury characters that we frenetically move through courtesy of Korine’s hyper, music-video style editing. He’s obsessed with repetition as we constantly revisit lines of dialogue and scenes, a tactic that often shifts the original context or hammers home the film’s message. Ironically the message is much the same as The Bling Ring: the girls are shallow and vapid, doling out violent acts in a drug-induced parody of the American dream (grab a gun and make your desires happen!). There’s an unreality to the proceedings, a dream-like hallucinatory effect that makes the candy coloured violence artificial and yet somehow startlingly real at the same time. By the time the climax arrives and the remaining girls are balacava-clad avenging angels raining bullets on Alien’s adversaries, it’s hard not to be swept up in the sheer spectacle and insanity.
*Bonus points for Franco and the girls’ piano rendition of Britney Spear’s Anytime, an instant highlight of the film.
We’ve reached the halfway point for the best and worst of 2013’s films. What do you think of our picks so far? Chime in with your thoughts in the comments section. We’ll be back tomorrow to reveal which films made #2 on our lists, so be sure to check back in!