Eden Court film programmer Paul Taylor and director of the Inverness Film Festival looks back at 2013 to decide whether, for cinema-goers at least, it was a year to remember.
WAS 2013 a great year in cinema?
Every year you can make an argument for a great or a poor year, but, this year, it depends on the type of cinema that you love.
From my top 50 films of 2013, only four were big Hollywood productions, and they were mostly flawed:
• Man Of Steel — actions scenes were far too long
• Fast and Furious 6 — there was so much wrong with this movie, but that didn’t get in the way of the fun — which is a requirement of blockbuster cinema
• Gravity — no work seemed to be put in for the dialogue
• White House Down — which was actually flawless in every way and I will don a white vest and have words with anyone who disagrees! The rest of the big summer, or superhero, movies were poor to average — you don’t want to know what I thought of the Star Trek sequel (my opinion would not make it past the censors).
2013 was, however, an exceptional year for foreign language cinema.
It’s a big world out there and the films that are made in it are varied, interesting and occasionally wonderful. If you open your mind to cinema outside of the UK and the USA then you are in for a treat.
My top three films not in the English language, as the Oscars would put it, are Love Is All Around (a Danish romantic drama), Bullhead (from Belgium featuring a breathtaking performance from Matthias Schoenaerts) and Post Tenebras Lux (a strange drama from Mexico).
Earlier this month, the foreign language Oscar submission list for 2014 was published, with films from 76 countries being considered. Of that list my tip (which means it probably won’t make the shortlist of five films) is Wadjda; it was the first film from Saudi Arabia to be directed by a woman (Haifaa Al Mansour). It’s a beautifully simple film with a lovely performance from the 12 year old Waad Mohammed, and made all the more remarkable by its origin from a country where, just 40 years ago, the majority of cinemas were closed to prevent the mingling of men and women.
Closer to home, Scottish cinema has seen its best year.
There were several good Scottish films released in 2013, something that has probably never happened in a similar timescale before. Starting off with Shell, which was filmed in Dundonnell, the year finished with Sunshine On Leith, Filth, Not Another Happy Ending and, possibly the best Scottish film of the year, For Those In Peril.
It showed that we can have a thriving film industry if we just put more emphasis on home grown talent and films, as opposed to spending our time obsessively luring Hollywood films to our shores.
This year demonstrated that we can have a happy medium, let’s hope that it’s kept up.
What is the best film, what are the best performances and what are the high points of cinema in 2013?
Best line: This is a little tricky as I’m a little torn between two. It’s made a little easier in that there’s no way I can write one of them in the paper (it’s in Nebraska and spoken by my supporting actor/actress of the year).
Prince Avalanche is the latest film from David Gordon Green, who, in 2000, made his first film George Washington which is in my top 10 films of all time. It’s about two men who are painting road markings in rural Texas. Alvin (Paul Rudd) has stayed in the woods and Lance (Emile Hirsch) has just got back from a weekend partying in the city.
Lance: Aren’t you lonely?
Alvin: Just because I’m alone, doesn’t mean that I am lonely. I reap the rewards of solitude.
Lance: I too reap those rewards from time to time.
The opening 45 minutes of The Place Beyond The Pines are simply the greatest that I have ever seen in the cinema. Ryan Gosling finding out that he has a child and turning to armed robbery in order to try and support him is simply breath-taking. It would have been the film of the year but it loses its way in the middle before a truly powerful ending.
The most memorable scene of the year is also one of the most spectacularly misjudged; Cameron Diaz’s scene of mechaphilia in the extremely poor The Counsellor. Great director, writer and cast but an awful film.
Best Supporting Actor/Actress: 84-year old June Squibb is a true revelation in Alexander Payne’s darkly joyous Nebraska. Playing Bruce Dern’s wife, she is the heart and soul of the film, forever criticising him but also fiercely defensive of her man. The scene by the grave, mentioned above, is the funniest moment of any film all year — if you don’t laugh then you’re not human.
Best Screenplay: Zero Dark Thirty. I possibly wouldn’t say that it is the best screenplay of the year, which makes it weird that I’d put it into this category, but I feel that it is the best structured film of the year. The way that Mark Boal dramatises one woman’s obsession shows that the investigative journey in cinema can still be the most powerful. It’s part All The President’s Men crossed with Prime Suspect with added international terrorism. The screenplay needed an impressive and strong performance which is what Jessica Chastain brought to it; I think that she should have won the Oscar this year over Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook.
Best Actor: I can’t look past Matthias Schoenaerts in Bullhead (Rundskop). Released around the world in 2011 we had to wait until February of this year after the success of Rust And Bone, in which he was equally superb.
I saw the film at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival and I honestly have not seen a performance as brave, honest and powerful since. Schoenaerts showed that he is the equal of any actor — I’d say that he is a Belgian Robert De Niro if I liked comparing people (which usually I don’t). In the film he plays a steroid taking hard man who is misunderstood by those around him. When the issues of the past surface, he brings a soft humanity to a character that could so easily be a caricature. If you’ve not seen it then I cannot recommend the film highly enough.
This is going to be a three-way tie as I have no way of separating these performances. Cate Blanchett already has an Oscar, and has been nominated for four others, but I think that she will win again next year for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Her portrayal of Jasmine, a pill popping recently bankrupted New York socialite, could be the best of her career — and that’s saying something.
Sharing with Cate Blanchett are Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux for Blue Is The Warmest Colour (La Vie d’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2). They jointly won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, the first time that the award has been given to actors/actresses, and showed the complexities and the discoveries that occur at the beginning and endings of relationships in a way that few films manage.
Best Film: Upstream Colour is a film which is unclassifiable. It’s also unlike any film that has ever been made before.
This is the second film from Shane Carruth, who also plays the male lead, after 2004’s excellent Primer. I would love for him to make more films, but since both of his films have been this good I don’t mind waiting 9 years for his next. It’s about a woman, Kris who is kidnapped and infected with a strange organism which makes her easily controlled by others. Once this ordeal is over, she meets and falls for a man who also has had this happen to him.
The best films are those that take risks, films that are brave and bold in their choices and have a singular vision.
2013 was a mixed year for cinema, but I have very high hopes for 2014.
Some of the best films that I saw this year aren’t on general release until January/February. They include Steve McQueen’s 12 Years A Slave, which includes exceptional performances by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender, and Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyers Club, which is also led by the performances of the two leads, Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, as AIDS sufferers determined to survive.
I have a feeling that both films will have several Oscar nominations.