Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A Month of Acclaim

Over at The Front Row, Richard Brody just unveiled his best of 2013 list, and while I think it as a whole is a good one, I was more pleased by the words he had to say before announcing his favorites: 

The year 2013 has been an amazing one for movies, though maybe every year is an amazing year for movies if one is ready to be amazed by movies. It’s also a particularly apt year to make a list of the best films. Making a list is not merely a numerical act but also a polemical one, and the best of this year’s films are polemical in their assertion of the singularity of cinema, as well as of the art form’s opposition to the disposable images of television. The 2013 crop comprises an unplanned, if not accidental, collective declaration of the essence of the cinema, an art of images and sounds that, at their best, don’t exist to tell a story or to tantalize the audience (though they may well do so) but, rather, to reflect a crisis in the life of the filmmaker and the state of the artist’s mind or, even, soul.

He goes on to say:

The best movies this year are films of combative cinema, audacious inventions in vision. The specificity and originality of their moment-to-moment creation of images offers new ways for viewers to confront the notion of what “narrative” might be. Their revitalization of storytelling as experience restores to the cinema to its primordial mode of redefining consciousness. It’s significant that some of the filmmakers in the forefront of that charge are from the generation of the elders, innovators of the seventies. In the age of radical cinema sparked by digital technology, the rise of independent producers, and the ready ubiquity of the history of cinema (thanks to DVDs and streaming video), these older directors have experienced a glorious second youth. That artistic rejuvenation is also due to the stimulating ambiance of actual youth—a young generation of freethinking cinephiles, critics, and filmmakers who, thanks to the Internet, make their appreciation of these sublime extremes widely and quickly known, even when the mainstream of viewers and reviewers miss out.
What a refreshing and exciting couple of paragraphs. A lot of people thought 2012 was a simply masterful year for cinema, especially in the mainstream. 2013 has been arguably better, with the last three months seeing one mainstream title after another reveal themselves to be truly exciting, audacious cinema (I won't even begin right now to talk about what an exciting year it's been for independent film). Note I've used exciting three times already, and I haven't even gotten to what's happening this month, which, sort of like October, sort of snuck up on everybody. 

There are four major films being released by great directors. It's a great time for cinema when in a single month, Spike Jonze, the Coen brothers, David O'Russell, and Martin Scorsese all have new movies to showcase. And yet no one really knew what to expect from any of these films, with the exception of Inside Llewyn Davis, which had already received great reviews at Cannes. But even with that film, it took the actual theatrical release for word to come out that it is up there with the Coen's best work. Her had some festival showings earlier in the fall where it got a strong reception, but not enough people had seen it to indicate how good it really was. Now that more reviews are showing up, many are calling it Jonze's best film. Then there's American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, which nobody knew anything about until a few weeks ago. With Hustle, my concern was that because it had been rushed into and through production, at least by O'Russell's standards, that it just wouldn't really pack much of a punch besides being a fun mainstream caper. Yet the reception has been astounding. Not only is this definitely a David O'Russell film, but it's on its way to being one of the most honored movies of the year. The same looks to be true for Scorsese's new movie, which despite being enshrouded with even more secrecy, has not been able to keep away the early word that it's quite brilliant.

With these four films, and with the fall in general, 2013 has certainly been the great movie year that came out of no where. And, as Brody points out, the cinema, in its truest and most distinct terms, feels truly alive right now. These four movies are movies that seem like movies, the kind that pull you out of your house to the big dark theatre to see them. 

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