widening the web

Top Ten Films of 2013

Added on by Chris Campbell.

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.

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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

RED

Added on by Chris Campbell.
Geordie Johnson as Mark Rothko. Photo by Timothy Richard Photography

Geordie Johnson as Mark Rothko.

Photo by Timothy Richard Photography

The sound of a bustling city fill the dark theatre. It begins with Rothko at the front of the stage. Intense and staring out at the audience, which is really the fourth wall where a painting is. He's contemplating it. His new assistant enters the room and they start talking about the unseen painting and art. This is RED, a play about painter Mark Rothko's commission to create a series of paintings for the Four Seasons Restaurant in New York in 1958.

Neptune gave me a couple of tickets and I went to see the matinee this past Saturday. Set on a sparse set representing Rothko's New York studio, it's a great space to explore ideas about art, artists, and commerce in a fascinating transitional time in the art world. But this isn't an essay, but a drama, so the space is used effectively and reconfigured throughout the play as Rothko and his assistant work on the paintings. We mostly see the interstitial moments where they are preparing or cleaning up as Rothko struggles with creating the paintings and coming to terms with what it means to be sponsored to create. Bits of biographical information a sprinkled throughout the play and his fictionalized assistant has a back story of his own that provides another character arc and counterpoint to Rothko's story. Geordie Johnson brings an intensity to the role of Mark Rothko and Noah Reid provides a solid counterpoint to the strongly drawn main character.

The space is fascinating with large canvasses around the three walls and they art moved and turned to provide a changing space that ranges from sparse white to walls of red. The lighting goes up and down during the play as well, creating different moods and views of the abstract expressionist paintings in the room. One particularly striking scene has both characters energetically painting a large blank canvas in the middle of the stage. The music swells as they paint and the music is used effectively throughout the play. It's simple, clear, and powerful.

It's been a long time since I've seen a play and I so glad that I went. The excitement of live theatre is something that I missed. Sitting close to the stage and the actors and seeing the dust of the paint and the paint dripping from the canvas was lovely. The performance has no intermission, so the 90 minutes zip by quickly as we watch the characters struggle with art and their approach to it.

RED was written by John Logan) who is an accomplished playwright as well as screenwriter. While I hadn't read or seen any of his plays before, I had seen and enjoyed many of the films that he has written. His two collaborations with Martin Scorsese are some of my favourites with The Aviator adapting the life of Howard Hughes into a sprawling story. His adaptation of Brian Selznick's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret into Scorsese's Hugo is a stunning achievement and the film perfectly balances the biographical and the personal which is the challenge Logan met with RED as well.

iPhone 5S

Added on by Chris Campbell.
iPhone 5S

iPhone 5S

Sports drinks and iPads don't mix. This was made very clear to me when I was rushing around one morning and I noticed that the bottle of sports drink in my bag had opened. I took out my iPad and it was soaked. The liquid was in the screen. It didn't dry out, so I scheduled a Genius Bar appointment at the Apple store to get it replaced. This was on Monday, September 23, after the iPhone launch the Friday before.

Arriving early, I asked if they had any of the new iPhones in stock, specifically the 32 GB Space Grey one. They had just received two, so that's why I have one now. There has only been one other iPhone in my life and that was the 4. It was a similar purchase on launch day when I wandered in to an electronics store at lunchtime to see if they had any. The 4 was a great phone and still works quite well. The interface with iOS 7 made my older phone feel new even though I only used it for a few days. But the 5S is really fast. So fast in that it almost seems too fast. Pages load quickly and the screen updates smoothly. With my whole smartphone life based around the iPhone 4, so my actual, hands-on iPhone experience has been relatively recent. But it is firmly part of my workflow, so having one is important. There was no pressing need for a new phone, but the combination of being out of contract and having my previous phone for over 3 years made it seem a bit more logical to upgrade.

The experience of buying things at the Apple Store is great and with my iPad repair the sales person and I multitasked between setting up the iPad and the iPhone. It doesn't take long and since my backups are with iCloud it was scarily fast to restore both. My wallpaper was back and all of the apps were there too (but it takes a while to actually download the apps onto your phone if you have a lot). Contacts and calendar are all there. My music is all backed up with iTunes Match, so I'll get that when I need it.

The thing I keep coming back to is how light it is. It feels like something fell out of my 4 and it's barely there in my pocket. It's an evolutionary design that feels quite similar, while being noticeably faster. Most of the time you're looking at the screen, so the speed is the big difference. The faster processor combined with the LTE network means that things happen really quickly. Email and Twitter updates just appear. The screen is slightly taller, so I noticed a few times that I wouldn't hit the right target near the top, but the size feels quite right.

The fingerprint scanner is really simple and works very well. Right at the beginning of setting up the phone you can activate it and it's a great way to increase the security of your phone. I didn't have a passcode on my phone before since it's a pain to have to stop and type it in every time you unlock the phone. But now phone is always locked, which is a very good thing. It's very rarely away from me at any time, so it didn't seem like a huge issue before. If you turn the phone off you do need to enter the passcode to unlock the phone when it is turned on again. The accuracy is very good to the point of being almost invisible. You just press the menu button and leave your finger there for a second or less and the phone wakes up and unlocks.

One of the great and frustrating things about Apple is that when they decide on something they usually move in that direction fairly rapidly. That's one of the reasons we don't use floppies any more and have phones without physical keyboards. So many technologies over the years have changed after Apple implemented them and during the changeovers we're left with things that we can't use in the same way. With my new iPhone I ran into that with the Lightning connector. All of my other iOS devices have used the 30-pin dock connector and now I have one device with the newer connection. After 10 years it's not that radical a shift to change connections, and I really love that there is no up with the connector which makes it a lot faster to plug in. With the 30-pin to Lightning connector it lets me charge my iPhone in the iHome clock radio by my bed or use it to play audio through my car stereo.

A surprise for me is how much I use Siri. I didn't have it on my iPhone 4 and while Siri is on my iPad Retina it isn't something that I used a lot. But with it on my phone now I find that I do set reminders and timers with it. That is especially great when I am driving and use my Bluetooth headset. It makes it a lot easier to capture things. The dictation also works surprisingly well and that is a great way to send a text while you are driving too.

The new camera along with the camera app is a fantastic improvement. The pictures are gorgeous and the new flash seems to work well. The video is amazing and with the slow motion mode shooting video at 120 frames per second it means that you can easily create some nifty slow motion videos of anything. It exemplifies a lot of what is interesting about this upgrade to the phone and the OS in that most of what is going on is hidden and you only start to notice things as you use it more. It's not as flashy or completely different as I thought it would be, but it works a lot better and the device really starts to disappear as I do things with it. It's just part of what I do.

iOS 7 is a huge change and the speed that it has been adopted is amazing. It's gorgeous and has very quickly become comfortable to me. It's amazing how quickly apps have updated and how some older apps feel dated now. The built-in Mail app is a lot better with some features from Mailbox working into it. The Notification Centre is similarly improved with a great view of today with a nice overview of what is coming up on your calendar for today and tomorrow. I like that. While visually the elements are flatter, there is a layered approach to the interface that provides a spacial orientation that lets you know where you are in moving into apps and back out into the Springboard. The combination of the new OS and the faster hardware really changes the way that it looks and feels with a smoothness that seems unreal. I love it and it feel like I'm in a sci-fi film with the tiny computer that I hold in my hand that lets me connect with the world.

The 2013 Atlantic Film Festival

Added on by Chris Campbell.

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.

Summer Movies 2013

Added on by Chris Campbell.

I remember being in the theatre to see Star Wars, Superman: The Movie and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. They were eagerly anticipated and we sat and felt the excitement. The idea of something getting to the level of a film was significant. It was in the title to make sure that you didn't confuse it with something that would be on tv. These were meant to be epic and especially in the case of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, it took the ideas of the series and made them more serious and cinematic. They took some chances, didn't always work and they mostly were a surprise when we saw them as we didn't have detailed analysis of photos or posters storylines for months or years in advance. There wasn't as much to see, so it was fun, but then years later you may start to think that the films weren't as good as you thought they were.

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Nostalgia is something that everyone has. We remember things from the past as being better than they were. That's human nature. History puts a saint in every dream as Tom Waits sings. That could be why it seems that movies were better in the summers of our youth. Sometimes you do go back and see films and they hold up. That is wonderful when it happens. Most of the time there is a disconnect between the memory and how the film is. In recent years the fun of the summer movie seems to fade a lot more quickly. The mechanics of the films are more obvious as is the product placement and the sheer quantity of information about films that start trickling out years before the film has even begun shooting.

The nature of film distribution started shifting in the late 70s and early 80s. With fewer theatres and staggered release schedules, you couldn't count on seeing popular films right away. In Fredericton where I grew up there was only one movie theatre, so if a film was popular it could be there for a month or two. I read about Star Wars in Famous Monsters magazine and imagined it in my mind before I saw it. Then I loved it and had the chance to see it again a few more times as it played for a couple of months. It was the only film you could see in a theatre in the city at that time. Stunning to think about now as films will appear and drop out of all of the theatres so quickly in the multiplex world.

Summer movies now feature a lot of anticipation with stories about posters, teaser trailers, and endless speculation about casting and story arcs of the films. There was writing and speculation before, but now the sheer quantity and speed of information about films means that it is a vastly different world. A big part of this for me has to be related to aging. We all talk about how much better it was when we were young. But now it seems that the films that people rave about at the beginning of the summer become the ones that we talk about as being not that great by the time the leaves start falling from the trees. The next year it's a struggle to remember which year a film came out.

Summer movies kicked off this year for me with Iron Man 3. While Iron Man 2 was a bit of a muddle, I was looking forward to the third film since it was being directed by Shane Black who did some really interesting stuff with genre and expectations with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang along with Robert Downey, Jr. So that could be something good. But when you have hundreds of millions of dollars at stake there are only so many chances that you can take. There were flashes of interesting things, and it was fun, but there was a lot packed into the film and the product placement and links to other films or future storylines bogged it down. So it was fun at the time, but over the next few days it started to fade. Much of the pleasure of the film comes from a twist (which I won't spoil) related a bit to the casting and previous history of a character.

In Star Trek Into Darkness the plot revolves around a secret also related to a character and casting. For those who know the story there is a gasp in the theatre and for those who don't they wonder why everyone is reacting to that moment. Part of the experience with summer movies now and movies in general is related to being an analyst. Will the film make a lot of money? Was the choice of director right? Who would have been better in that part? Will they make more? These are producer, studio and industry questions, not audience questions. We like to feel like insiders, but in these discussions something is lost. It's about money and not about having fun.

While the analogy of popular culture and junk food has been around for a while, it really makes sense to me with the recent summer movies. I consume them and there is a sugar rush, but I don't want to keep eating them. Fresher, more locally produced films that reflect where they are from like local apples of various sizes, or beer made in small batches with delicious quirkiness. There is more flavour and texture in them. Not uniformity and consistency.

Hollywood is struggling to figure out the new world and what people want to spend money on. They're not taking chances, so there is an explicit appeal to nostalgia for characters and films that we've seen or even just heard about. Stereotypes and easy assumptions abound. So Star Trek and Iron Man and Man of Steel and The Wolverine redefine the characters a bit, but mostly colour within the lines that we expect. We're more excited and talk more about the casting than what actually happened in the films or how they work as films. It's a game where we try to predict the outcome, not a story that we are wrapped up in.

Despite this there were some moments that I loved in the summer on a deeper and more nostalgic level with one big budget film and two smaller ones.

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The first truly fun time in the summer movie theatre this year was with Guillermo del Toro's Pacific Rim. Inspired by the tradition of Japanese giant robot stories and giant monster movies, it really clicked with me. The effects are an important part of the films (and they're flawless) but it's really about the characters and how they relate to each other. Working together is explicitly at the core of the relentlessly optimistic premise of the only way to save the world is to work with each other by putting aside any personal conflicts. It also featured a rare, strong, and more complex female character with Mako Mori, which has been sadly lacking from summer films for a long, long time. I loved the film and as opposed to the other summer blockbusters, it stayed with me and seeing it a second time I enjoyed it even more. That's whatI remember from seeing the films I loved in the 80s.

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Secondly the indie film Frances Ha grabbed me from the first frame and held me to the last. Directed by Noah Baumbach and cowritten and starring Greta Gerwig, the black and white film was nostalgic for indie art films from the 80s. I'd seen them in rep theatres in Montreal, and it brought me back to the joy of watching characters on films interacting in places where I wanted to be. Simple and small stories about complicated characters.

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Finally, The Worlds End from director Edgar Wright and cowriter Simon Pegg reassembled much of the cast from their previous two films (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) in the so-called "Cornetto" trilogy with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost acting at the core of the fun. Much more explicitly referencing the nostalgia for blockbuster movies, the trilogy ended on a darker and more mature note still with effects and humour, but with a darker and more realistic core. It's about growing up and aging and how you relate to your friends (and the end of the world and consumerism). It could have been like the other two films, but it pushed things a bit more and I really appreciated that. It's a fitting start to the autumn when the films become more serious and it gives me hope that we'll see more great filmmaking that can be nostalgic and original while most of the screens are filled with superheros, sequels and reboots.