One of the perplexing things to me is how so many Hollywood eggs are placed in so few baskets. It's a large-scale mass-production industry, but in the quest for bigger and bigger tentpoles, there is a blandness and safety that sands down the edges and makes it all ok. Wouldn't a better investment be to make 10 bolder and smaller 25 million-dollar films that could develop more talent and audiences than one film that can't take any chances? Sadly it seems that we'll be seeing fewer standalone films, more safe and obvious comedies, and more superheroes and series over the next decade or so. Hollywood doesn't know what to do, so they are playing it very safe.

Tilda Swinton in Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer

Tilda Swinton in Bong Joon Ho's Snowpiercer

The most interesting and exciting films for me in the summer this year are the small indies like Obvious Child, the unsettling Under the Skin, the ambitious allegorical Snowpiercer, or the intriguing sci-fi action film Edge of Tomorrow. But they're not the films that most people are seeing in the theatres and most people will see them on smaller screens at home.

So many of the conversations about blockbuster films focus on how newer films do something a bit better than the previous instalment or how they fix some of the problems from earlier versions of the series. The obsession with continuity is fascinating and it's interesting in that it seems to be important to people. With the most recent Star Trek reboot, it exists in a world that is parallel to the first series of films which has resulted in some convoluted plotting. It's a franchise or series thing. Just in the same way that you can go in to McDonalds or Starbucks and know what will be on the menu and what to expect, a film series needs to hit certain beats, include characters and situations that we have come to expect. It can be done cleverly and with skill as with the Cornetto Trilogy, or mostly ignored as the James Bond films do.

The unspoken issue at the core of much of this is that time passes and we all grow older. If you want to have an action hero jumping around being believable you need to have younger actors and if you are going to be making a series of films over a decade or two, you're going to have to replace some actors unless you show them growing older. With the most recent X-Men film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, they brought together most of the actors from two different versions of the films and it was great to see older and younger actors together, but it resulted in a lot of actors standing around not doing much at all. Logistically you want to maximize the use of actors with the constraints of a contract and schedule, so that's why you'll have bigger actors appearing two or three scenes in one location. It's easier to shoot and fast.

Instead of leaving the audience wanting more, we're given more and more and more. The Bond films would tease with "James Bond will return in..." with the name of the next film. Some characters would return, but there was an almost delightful disregard of continuity with different actors playing characters with absolutely no explanation of why they had changed. Felix Leiter was played by many different actors and it's fun to see how often they have changed him (but Bond always recognizes him).

Money is at the core of it all and it always has been. It's a business and the way that the art and the money are balanced is a challenge that is faced constantly. How do you give people what they want and have films that people will pay to see and keep it interesting. If you ask people what they want and give them exactly what they ask for they may not like it because it's a challenge to describe what you really want. The classic example in the soft drink world is New Coke which was very carefully researched based on the flavour. Apparently one of the goals with New Coke was to win in Pepsi Challenge taste tests. That happened with New Coke, but our relationship with products is complex, and people don't seem to like change, so the new formula was a failure and 2 1/2 months after it was introduced in North America, the Coca Cola Company had Coca Cola Classic bring back the original formula.

Many film series now have a secondary goal to maximize the investments in the franchise. So if you can get people interested in the earlier and future instalments it means that it's a better and safer investment. That's why the casts of so many films are large and the plots can get a bit complex as well. It's to hit as many of the potential profit-making opportunities as possible. It also plays on the nostagia of older audience members who have seen the earlier versions of the films. It's a form of selling out, which is also at the core of filmmaking. The question is really what is the price and what compromises need to be made in order to make the film.

In earlier, old-Hollywood films would be remade often based on new casts. Musicals reworked songs and plots constantly. Hitchcock remade a few of his films and many silent films were remade as talkies and then remade in colour. Foreign films are often remade to avoid subtitles and directors from around the world always have gone to Hollywood to make bigger films within the studio system, adding their own flourishes to the larger machine.

Fandom is a huge part of the marketing of films now and the endless advance speculation and teasing of images, posters, trailers, and trailers for trailers begin years before a film comes out. It changes the way that films are made and how they are written. In addition to the goal of making a film with a compelling story, there are other requirements to have secondary characters or plots introduced. This means that actors may commit to potential 6 or 9 films as that character. The contracts are worth millions of dollars, so all those investments must be maximized, so it means that the plots need to incorporate them. Then they have to work in some product placement which adds some more lines to colour within.

This isn't new and if you look at the history of Hollywood there have been all sorts of similar constraints. With the Motion Picture Production Code, many films were changed to meet the requirements. I recently watched Fritz Lang's dark film noir, The Woman in the Window which has an appropriately dark ending, which is completely undermined by a coda that Wizard of Oz-style recontextualizes the film as a dream. The modern equivalent is the Marvel coda which establishes the next film in the series, which makes the film that you've just seen and paid for into an ad for the next one (which will be better).

But the market is cruel and people are paying to see the sequels and the franchises so we will get more. Not films that we really love, but ones that we accept as being one of a series that we need to keep watching to see them get a bit better each time. It's sad that more original films that work within the blockbuster paradigm and push things a little bit like The Edge of Tomorrow or Pacific Rim don't do as well. They're more interesting to me and more entertaining, but they're a bit more challenging to watch and play with expectations more (and have slightly stronger roles for female protagonists who aren't love interests). They do eventually find an audience over a bit more time with people surprised at how much they liked that film that not many people saw. The sad thing is that with those films making less money than the safer, product-placement-heavy, and familiar character-filled films, it means that fewer chances will be taken in the future as the recycling of films and plots continues.

Posted
AuthorChris Campbell
Categoriesfilm

I'm lucky to have some wonderful friends and when it comes to talking about films and Hollywood and how the industry and pop culture intersect I know Kendra (@halifaxfilmgal on Twitter). She is the ultimate film fan and while her primary means of online interaction is via Twitter, the 140 character limitation means that you don't get to have more extended snarky discussions of films. So before the Academy Awards this year you'll get to read through some of her picks and mine and we'll see how accurate they are. But it's all meant in fun and hopefully it will provide you with a bit of entertainment too.

The Academy Awards are a strange thing and in a perfect world they would not be around. The whole thing is a bit strange, but the great part and what I love about it is how it enables a conversation about films to begin. But usually the conversation revolves around the people that we see on the screen and the actors are a very important part of the whole process. But most of it isn't concerned with actors, but with stars, so it's not really about films most of the time. It's part of the marketing campaign for films where subtlety and craft are not always recognized. The bigger things seem to stand out with major physical transformations of actors being highlighted more than a performance with a solid emotional core. The same seems to occur with direction and many of the technical categories. While the names of the categories include "Best", it's a very subjective thing, so it's really "What Most of the People Voting Agree Upon". That is why predicting what will win can be a bit of a challenge, and probably one of the reasons people enjoy watching the show.

The Independent Spirit Awards nominations are overall more to my taste in terms of films, but they're not as popular as the Academy Awards. But that niche is much more suited to my sensibilities. It's also where a lot of the categories are filled with films that make sense to me for being recognized. But the Oscars have a longer history and are wildly popular and a lot more people have an opinion about them, which is why so many people share their opinions about what the Academy chooses.

Over time people usually don't remember a lot of the winners. Maybe the nominees, but not so much the winners. Just looking through who won last year made me realize how I forgot about some films and didn't remember ones that won. When you look back 5 or 10 years some of the films are completely forgotten, while others that were nominated seem to be much better. It's fascinating how some films seem dated rather quickly, but other films seem a bit too early.

Ten years ago the big winner was The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King which won in many categories including Best Picture, Directing, and Editing. It's a running joke about the length of the ending of the final film in the trilogy, and I wouldn't hold it up as an example of a film that wisely cut things in the right way. For Actor it was Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, Ben Kingsley in House of Sand and Fog, Jude Law in Cold Mountain, Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, and Sean Penn in Mystic River. Over time I would say that Bill Murray should have won, but it was Sean Penn who took home the award. Goodfellas lost out to Dances With Wolves for Best Picture, Director, Editing, and Adapted Screenplay in 1991. People like Dances With Wolves and it's easy to understand why something that is more challenging to watch like Goodfellas wouldn't be chosen. But with the benefit of hindsight, it's clear that Goodfellas is one of the top films out of Hollywood and by Scorsese. Here are the picks we have for the major categories for the 86th Oscars:

Best Picture

Kendra

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win:12 Years a Slave

A year in which it's legitimately difficult to choose a clear winner from three films doesn't happen very often. Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle are all acceptable winners in a weaker year but I think the Academy will side with the majesty of Gravity over the heavier subject of the devastation of slavery.

Chris

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

I may be overly optimistic, but there is a real opportunity for the Academy to make a statement with Best Picture this year as a partial corrective to the somewhat embarrassing history of cinema with pro-slavery films forming a major part of it. If past patterns hold, something absent of politics like Gravity should win, or a flashy, but mediocre film like American Hustle could be the compromise. Over time I think that Her may be seen as the most significant achievement of the year though.

Best Director

Kendra

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Should Win: Steve McQueen

Cuarón has the momentum and the DGA, this usually translates into the Director Oscar. However, nothing would make me happier to see McQueen win. A small part of me still wishes Scorsese could have this Oscar because Wolf of Wall Street is actually a better film than The Departed.

Chris

Will Win: Alfonso Cuarón

Should Win: Steve McQueen

The consensus is that Cuarón will win and while Gravity is an amazing technical achievement, the film itself left me cold. Steve McQueen took a challenging topic and infused it with humanity and created memorable scenes and performances of power and permanence. Scorsese and Payne are also two directors operating at the height of their powers with films that expand their oeuvre in interesting ways.

Best Actor

Kendra

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Leonardo DiCaprio

One word - McConaissance

If I was the Academy, I'd have a three way tie and give them each the Oscar. Ejiofor broke my heart. Leo was his manic best in the most fun performance of the year. McConaughey has the momentum, the 40lb weightloss and the prevailing winds in Hollywood really like to hand an Oscar to an actor that successfully reinvented himself. Call it the "Travolta Factor."

Chris

Will Win: Matthew McConaughey

Should Win: Chiwetel Ejiofor

The key to winning an Oscar for acting isn't subtlety, so physical transformations and more extravagant performances tend to be rewarded. Matthew McConaughey was solid in Dallas Buyers Club, but he was also solid in Magic Mike and many other films so he deserves an award. But Chiwetel Ejiofor has been turning in great lead and supporting performances in indies and dramas for over a decade with little recognition. With 12 Years a Slave he's starting to get the recognition he deserves, but I'm afraid he won't be taking home a little golden statue.

Best Actress

Kendra

Will Win: Cate Blanchett

Should Win: Amy Adams

It's all about Cate this year, no matter that Amy Adams was the heart of American Hustle and of Blue Jasmine's lowly three nominations, this one would be the most deserved. The only question that remains is whether or not Woody Allen's name will actually be mentioned out loud.

Chris

Will and Should Win: Cate Blanchett

Cate Blanchett is utterly compelling in Blue Jasmine and formed a fierce core to a film that could have been much less than it was without her.

Best Supporting Actor

Kendra

Will Win: Jared Leto

Should Win: Michael Fassbender

Fassbender's vitriol personified slave owner might stay with you forever but Leto's feisty Rayon is everything one could require of a supporting actor. He made McConaughey better just by being there.

Chris

Will Win: Jared Leto

Should Win: Michael Fassbender

Fassbender forms the core of Steve McQueen's two previous features and like Hunger, he appears later in the story, but is vital to the way it all unfolds and opposite Ejiofor it makes for some compelling and unforgettable scenes. Jared Leto was solid with a physical transformation thrown in as well, so that provides an edge for him.

Best Supporting Actress

Kendra

Will Win: Lupita Nyong'o

Should Win: Julia Roberts

If I were an Academy member, I would have voted for Roberts for an absolutely fierce turn in August: Osage County even when all the attention was on Meryl Streep but in this category Oscar voters love the new and beautiful giving tragic, heartbreaking performances.

Chris

Will Win: Lupita Nyong'o

Should Win: Sally Hawkins

The Academy seems to like rewarding great work from younger actors in the supporting categories and Lupita Nyong'o is amazing and will deserve her award. But a fantastic and often overlooked component in the success of Blue Jasmine is Sally Hawkins' performance opposite Cate Blanchett. She's the anchor that provides the counterpoint and springboard for the heights that Blanchett reaches.

Best Original Screenplay

Kendra

Will Win: Her, Spike Jonze

Should Win: Her

Jonze created a riveting fairy tale of a future we're not that far away from where technology is invisible and you can fall in love with software. How could we not want to honour a screenplay for that? Her has the best chance here since it's missing from Director and Actor and has too much competition in Production Design.

Chris

Will and Should Win: Her

Her is a deceptively clever film by Spike Jonze that is kind of set in the future, but is very much in the present, summing up the zeitgeist of the time in a way to tell a simple story about moving on. As I've said before I think that as time goes by the recognition of Her will grow. While it should be recognized in more categories, the Screenplay category is often where more innovative work is recognized.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Kendra

Will Win: 12 Years a Slave

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

It's hard to choose between Captain Phillips and 12 Years a Slave here but since I still think Gravity is the likely Best Picture winner, Adapted Screenplay might be an official apology statue given to 12 Years a Slave since Captain Phillips, while admired seems to have a better chance in Film Editing.

Chris

Will Win: Philomena

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

In another year Philomena would probably receive more recognition, but it's a fascinating story that makes you feel good, and if 12 Years a Slave receives a lot of other awards, this is a category that could provide a nod to a more traditional film that deals with issues in a human way.

Film Editing

Kendra

Will Win: Captain Phillips

Should Win: Captain Phillips

There's great work to be admired in all nominees in editing this year but keeping the story tight and tense in Captain Phillips gives it the edge.

Chris

Will Win: Captain Phillips

Should Win: 12 Years a Slave

Captain Phillips constructs a tight, tense story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and that's why it will probably win. But with 12 Years a Slave the structure and varying rhythms manage to make the journey bearable and powerful in an often subtle way.

Production Design

Kendra

Will Win: American Hustle

Should Win: Her or American Hustle

I hope the old white guys don't pick Great Gatsby. I can live with American Hustle but would prefer the more subtle but brilliant Her.

Chris

Will Win: The Great Gatsby

Should Win: Her

The old white guys are going to pick The Great Gatsby or maybe American Hustle. Subtle production design that contributes in an essential way to the story in the way that it does in Her becomes invisible when Academy members cast their ballots.

Foreign Language Film

Kendra

Will Win: Great Beauty, Italy

Should Win: The Hunt, Denmark

As always a lot of great foreign films didn't make it to the final five, but I can live with either win here with slight preference given to the quietly devastating Hunt. Go Mads!

Chris

Will Win: The Great Beauty, Italy

Should Win: The Hunt, Denmark

I've only seen The Hunt, but it was one of the best films of the year with a performance from Mads Mikkelsen that really should have been also recognized with a Best Actor nomination.

Original Score

Kendra

Will Win: Gravity or Philomena

Should Win: Her

Her is the only nominated score that impressed me out of these five. I'm guessing it won't win.

Chris

Will Win: The Book Thief

Should Win: Her

I'm guessing here since the scores didn't stay with me that much except for 12 Years a Slave and Her, but I'm not one of the people voting, so I'm thinking that there may be some recognition for John Williams again.

Original Song

Kendra

Will Win: Let it Go, Frozen

Should Win: Let it Go

Happy from Despicable Me 2 comes close in the cute factor but no song was better than Let it Go from Frozen. Plus who doesn't want to see Robert Lopez be only the 12th person in history to win an EGOT Grand Slam of show business (EmmyGrammyOscarTony).

Chris

Will Win: Let it Go

Should Win: The Moon Song

I'm going with the crowd here again in a category that is a remnant of the days were every film had a song or two in them to provide a break for folks when they watched the film. The Moon Song is actually the only song I've actually heard of the nominees and I like it, but it's a perplexing category to me.

Documentary Feature

Kendra

Will Win: The Act of Killing

Should Win: The Act of Killing

If the Academy is in "feel good" mode then we'll see 20 Feet From Stardom here, leaving the more interesting and devastating Act of Killing out in the cold. Someday in a perfect world, AMPAS will fix the Documentary category and force members to actually watch all the nominees.

Chris

Will Win: 20 Feet From Stardom

Should Win: The Act of Killing

It was a good year for documentaries and for the first time I was able to watch all of them before the awards. While I hope that The Act of Killing is recognized for telling a powerful story in a unique way, 20 Feet From Stardom is easy and fun and I don't think that the Academy enjoys too many challenges in one year.

Cinematography

Kendra

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Gravity

I have yet to see Philippe Le Sourd's work in Grandmaster, said to be the closest competition for Emmanuel Lubezki here but since Lubezki's already won the ASC Award as well as a pile of others for his work on Gravity it's hard to see how he could lose. ...Besides, have you seen Gravity!?

Chris

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Inside Llewyn Davis

With last year's winner being Life of Pi, I don't hold out much hope for the skillful capturing of light and performances to evoke a mood as opposed to computer-enhanced motion capture, so until the category is divided between actual cinematography and computer-enhanced, it's a cold technical achievement that will take home the award.

Visual Effects

Kendra

Will Win: Gravity

Should Win: Gravity

Gravity might as well have been nominated 5 times in the FX category, all others are irrelevant except for Pacific Rim which isn't even here. ...Besides, have you seen Gravity!?

Chris

Will Win: Gravity

Should Have Been Nominated: Pacific Rim

Without the effects there isn't really anything there when you look at Gravity. The best combination of effects and visual storytelling to me was the unnominated, but oh-so-fun Pacific Rim.

Animated Feature

Kendra

Will Win: Frozen

Should Win: Frozen

In the absence of Pixar, it's all about Frozen. I'll eat a snowman if Frozen doesn't win.

Chris

Will Win: Frozen

Should Win: Gravity

The smoothest, best animation of the year was in Gravity, but Frozen is the film that everyone loves for this, so that's what I'll go with too.

That's all we've got and now all that is left is to watch the show, eat the snacks and share some snark on Twitter.

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AuthorChris Campbell
Categoriesfilm

2013 was a good year for films. While not much really blew me away as some of the films last year did (Rust and Bone, and Holy Motors to name two), there were great films to see. The year saw solid films from established filmmakers like Joel and Ethan Coen, Martin Scorsese, and Woody Allen. There were great second features from Shane Carruth, Richard Ayoade, and Derek Cianfrance along with distinctive films from Noah Baumbach, Park Chan-wook, Steve McQueen, and Claire Denis. The films I narrowed down to ten are ones that made an impression on me and that I'd see again (or have already watched multiple times). The fascinating thing is that my appreciation of the films grew over time and with second viewings. Sometimes a film seems great when you see it and then it fades quickly. Others stick with you, and you admire the subtlety of the performances and filmmaking.

2013posters.jpeg

This past year was the year that I saw the most films I've ever seen in a year. My goal was to see an average of a feature film a day and I reached the goal. You can see a more detailed breakdown of the film at my Letterboxd 2013 Year in Review. So many films make the lesser ones disappear from memory rather quickly. One other thing we can check due to obsessive tracking is how many films have been rewatched. So looking at that gives a slightly different picture. If you look at the films I've watched multiple times the list of top recent films looks like this: three viewings of Pacific Rim, Zero Dark Thirty, and The Place Beyond the Pines; two viewings of Frances Ha, Room 237, Side Effects, Stoker, and Upstream Color.

But the top ten list is not meant to be objective, but to highlight films I enjoyed and want to share, so in keeping with spirit, I narrowed it down to ten, with a nicely-sized collection of honourable mentions. So here are the films I loved the most and would like to share with you.

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Frances Ha

Evoking the feeling of an indie film from the 80s, Frances Ha is a gorgeous character study cowritten by director Noah Baumbach, and star Greta Gerwig. It's a nostalgic film for those who love film and for anyone who has tried to figure out who they are and what they want to be when they grow up. A lovely portrait of friendship and growth and the compromises along the way to becoming who you are.

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Upstream Color

Shane Carruth's second feature, Upstream Color, is beautiful and mysterious. Unlike his previous film, Primer, the focus is on emotion rather than science with an almost hypnotic structure. It's one of the few films I wanted to watch again as soon as it was done. What seems complicated at first becomes simpler the second time through. It's not for everyone, but if you want to immerse yourself in a film that works on a purer cinematic level, there are few films like this one.

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The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance follows up his small and emotionally devastating Blue Valentine with the sprawling, ambitious drama The Place Beyond the Pines. Moving between a larger cast of characters it's filled with fantastic performances all around as it constructs a multigenerational portrait of cycles of violence.

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The Double

An adaptation of Dostoyevsky doesn't seem like a logical second film to make after a nostalgic coming-of-age story like Submarine, but Richard Ayoade crafted a beautiful, quirky, surreal film with The Double. Visually inventive with a pitch-black sense of humour it's a melancholy portrait of a character dealing with himself. Really looking forward to watching this again.

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12 Years a Slave

The most accessible film by Steve McQueen so far is 12 Years A Slave, and much like his previous two films, Hunger, and Shame, it proceeds deliberately and carefully to build emotional momentum. By the time we get to the end of the film it becomes emotionally devastating without being overly dramatic. It's a precisely-crafted look at slavery on a human level with a complex and layered performance from Chiwetel Ejiofor telling Solomon Northrup's story.

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Stoker

The first English-language film from Park Chan-wook is the Hitchcockian gothic puzzle of a film, Stoker. One of the most beautifully-shot films of the past year, it's also quite disturbing. The film creates an elaborate world of deception, lust, and murder filled with symbols and after seeing it I took a page of notes trying to map the patterns and symbolism of the film. It's very dark, but fun if you like the stylized shooting style and melodrama of Park Chan-wook and another chance to see Nicole Kidman at her icy best.

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Bastards

Speaking of dark portraits of humanity, you can't get much bleaker than Claire Denis' accurately named Bastards. The story is enigmatic and elliptical with relationships implied and information parcelled out gradually. It's another powerful and deeply disturbing film about family, power, abuse, and revenge from a filmmaker at the peak of her powers.

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Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen has had a nice string of recent films that seem to be energized by their settings. The city in Blue Jasmine is San Francisco, but the fiery core at the heart of this film is Cate Blanchett who is utterly compelling as Jasmine. With the usual strong ensemble cast, it's an Allen film that starts to push and change the conventions that he has established for his films as it builds to an inevitable conclusion.

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Inside Llewyn Davis

The latest Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, was one of the films I have been looking forward to the most, so when I saw it I went in with expectations. After the film I felt that it was good, but not great. But then I kept thinking about it. The same thing happened with many of their earlier films too as I loved them more as I thought about them and watched them again. Inside Llewyn Davis is a more muted and mature film with the same wry sense of humour, but it's built much more around the central character with ellipses in the story that we need to fill in for ourselves.

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The Wolf of Wall Street

The final film in my top ten was also the final film I saw in the theatre for 2013 and it was Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. This is another film surrounded by high expectations and it was stylistically more subtle than I thought it would be, but content-wise it is one of Scorsese's rawest films. The brilliant narrative conceit of the film is the unreliability of Jordan Belfort who is undermined by repeatedly showing how what he is saying is not true. It's a playful film about horrible people that is another look at the American dream from one of the greatest filmmakers still working today.

Those are the ten that I narrowed it down to, but there were more films that were great in the year.

One amazing film was technically not a film, but a miniseries, Top of the Lake, co-directed by Jane Campion and Garth Davis. It's a detective story that goes in different directions with a strong core performance from Elisabeth Moss as a detective in New Zealand who is investigating the disappearance of a young girl. Another film that should be on the list, but is technically a 2012 film was Catherine Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty which is the superbly crafted dramatization of the hunt for, and killing of Osama Bin Laden.

Two documentaries stood out for me as well. The first is Room 237, the divisive documentary about Stanley Kubrick's film, The Shining. It's sort of about The Shining, but it's really about the way that we construct meaning as the subjects of the film explain their elaborate theories about the film and how it relates to the world. The most unique film of the year, or probably the decade, has to be The Act of Killing, which is hard to describe. Allowing Indonesian death squad leaders to reenact their war crimes in the form of American film genres that they love creates an oddly disturbing look at genocide through a warped lens. It's horrifying and utterly compelling.

Another fictional film about evil is the dark, surreal Dutch film Borgman, written and directed by Alex van Warmedam. It's a deadpan, precise allegory about evil in the world with a strange sense of humour. A more stylish look at evil is Nicolas Winding Refn's Only God Forgives, which is one of the most beautifully-shot films of the year, and a slow-motion revenge film constructed mostly of glances.

Finally there are three films that I enjoyed from established filmmakers who challenged expectations were Pacific Rim, Side Effects, and The World's End. With Pacific Rim, Guillermo del Toro created a blockbuster film that wasn't filled with product placement and created characters with a little more depth than the rest of the blockbuster films which pushed it out of theatres. Steven Soderbergh directed the very clever Side Effects which starts out as one film, but cleverly subverts expectations and becomes something else. Soderbergh cleverly blends elements of Polanski's Repulsion with a critique of pharmaceutical companies in his own confident way. The conclusion of the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, Edgar Wright's The World's End, had the elements of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but took a more mature approach to look at growing old and how the world changes as we grow up. It's funny with science fiction elements providing the framework in a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy that resists the impulse to repeat what has been done before.

How I Watched

One advantage of collecting statistics is that you can see patterns and analyze how viewing habits are changing. The way that many people see films is changing with smaller screens and more options. Here is the breakdown of how I saw the films that I saw:

  • 134 films watched on my TV (with 60 via Apple TV)
  • 63 films watched on my MacBook Pro
  • 59 films watched in theatres
  • 56 films watched on my iPad

In terms of sources for the films it generally breaks down like this:

  • 84 films from MUBI
  • 80 films on DVD
  • 78 on Turner Classic Movies
  • 45 films on Netflix
  • 39 in movie theatres
  • 29 via iTunes
  • 20 via film festivals (with 14 from the Atlantic Film Festival)
  • 8 streamed or purchased for download from other sites
Posted
AuthorChris Campbell
Categoriesfilm

Every year I look forward to the Atlantic Film Festival. A wide range of films is shown along with parties and opportunities to connect and share with people who make films and share a love of film. It's an event that forms the heart of the film community in the region and it's a busy time that is always a lot of fun. I alternate between diving deep into films or socializing. The challenge is there are only so many hours in the day and sometimes attending a party means you'll miss a film, or that in seeing films, you are missing opportunities to catch up with people.

This year I focussed more on the films and saw some great stuff and there was more of a focus on work from Atlantic Canada which gave a good snapshot of the stories that filmmakers in Atlantic Canada were telling. The opening party was fun and a great event to share with friends as a way to make the shift from everyday life into the immersive experience of screenings, discussions, and walking. The festival was heavily concentrated in the opening weekend with films available to see throughout the entire day. That's a good way to get started.

The most surprising thing on the first day was the festival was meeting and talking with actor Udo Kier. He was in the city to work on a project and just happened to stop in at a reception and the opening party. I saw him at the reception and finally built up my courage to go and talk with him at the opening party. He was nice and generous and told me about some of the films he'd be acting in and I'm really looking forward to seeing him in Guy Maddin's Spiritismes which was partially shot in Winnipeg.

I track all of the films I see and during the Atlantic Film Festival I have been tracking things in a notebook, but this year I switched to Vesper for my notes to simplify things a bit more. Those notes are backed up with tracking things through Your Flowing Data as well as Letterboxd (because I'm a bit obsessive in that way). Last year I saw 16 features and 41 shorts and this year my total was 14 features and 47 shorts, so I was up a little bit. Here are some of the films that stood out for me this year.

The Double

The Double

I've loved everything that Richard Ayoade has directed since I first saw Garth Marenghi's Darkplace which is a completely unique 6-episode homage to 80s tv fantasy / horror tv. With obsessive attention to detail, it's a seamless recreation of television from the 80s, but it was actually made in 2004. His feature film debut, Submarine is a similarly well-crafted coming-of-age story with a French new wave feeling. With The Double Ayoade adapts Dostoevsky into a beautiful and darkly funny film that was my favourite of the festival this year. Initially it looks and feels a bit like Terry Gilliam's Brazil, but it quickly establishes it's own voice with rapid-fire dialogue and confident direction. The film moves quickly and balances the humour with an uneasy sense of things being a bit off. It's a film that I wanted to watch again almost immediately after it ended.

Borgman

Borgman

Operating in a similar surrealist mode was the film Borgman from the Netherlands. Directed by Alex van Warmerdam and shot in a deadpan and controlled style reminiscent of other Scandinavian surrealist films such as The Bothersome Man and Songs From the Second Floor it serves as a critique of class and consumer culture told in a precise and cool fashion. It was the most unexpected and surprising discoveries of the festival and it is always neat when that can happen.

Bastards

Bastards

At the other end of the spectrum was Claire Denis' Bastards, which was a dark, dark drama with Denis once again superbly balancing all of the elements with her own unique style. Carefully constructed in an elliptical way that gradually reveals more information as everything moves towards a dark conclusion accompanied by songs by Tindersticks and shot digitally by Agnès Godard. Frustratingly mysterious at times, it stayed with me for days with the disturbing images and story bubbling just below the surface. It is bold and uncompromising cinema with Denis and her collaborators pushing themselves and the form in ways that don't happen enough today.

Gabrielle

Gabrielle

The Québécois feature Gabrielle from director Louise Archambault tells the story of a woman who has Williams syndrome who is a member of a choir made up of developmentally challenged adults. With great performances from the whole cast anchored by Gabrielle Marion-Rivard (who has Williams Syndrome) and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin as her sister, it's more complicated and subtle than most films that would deal with the subject matter. Chosen as Canada's entry in the best foreign-language category of the Academy Awards, it's a beautiful story that I really enjoyed.

Regret

Regret

There were some solid documentaries, and one that stood out was Christopher Richardson's Regret which grows out of a valedictory speech that he gave that didn't go as well as he planned. With this regret at the core of the film it becomes an exploration of why we can't let things go and will think about how things could have been. It's done with humour and empathy and it really made me think.

One of the other things I tried to do at the film festival this year was see a few more shorts and there were a lot of great shorts programs to choose from. The ones that really stood out for me were the films that made some bold choices in terms of technique and with their stories and characters. In particular I loved Kristina Wagenbauer's film Mila which is about a young girl who records and edits the sounds around her. Another story of a young girl that stood out for me was Ashley McKenzie's beautiful, impressionistic sliver-of-life Stray which explores a Cape Breton landscape in a haunting way through Stéphanie Weber-Biron's lens. Congratulations from Ira Henderson combines film footage along with scratch animation by Colleen MacIssac in an oblique and economical way to construct a story that changes before our eyes. The Québécois short, dark drama Première Neige, directed by Michaël Lalancette is a great example of how you can tell a story in a confined space with a great cast.

It's such a privilege to live in a place where every fall I can immerse myself in films and be surrounded by people who love to see and share what they have seen. There is not enough time to see it all and there are always lists of films that I add to when talking with other cinephiles who saw something amazing and then I wonder why I didn't choose that one. But everyone wins at a film festival as we see new ways of looking at the world and get glimpses of the lives of others and new perspectives on our own lives. That's why we go to films.

Posted
AuthorChris Campbell
Categoriesfestivals, film