Saturday, May 24, 2014

Late-ish 2013 Retrospective: Top 10 Directors


Again, I don't have a huge disclaimer to put here. I know it's May, I know it's late, but hey, it is never too late to honour some pretty awesome directors, is it?

Honourable Mentions: Steven Soderbergh - Side Effects, The Coen Brothers - Inside Llewyn Davis, David Lowery - Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Abdellatif Kechiche - Blue is the Warmest Colour, Ron Howard - Rush, Lake Bell - In a World..., Joseph Gordon-Levitt - Don Jon, Ryan Coogler - Fruitvale Station, Asghar Farhadi - The Past, Richard Linklater - Before Midnight, Harmony Korine - Spring Breakers.



10. Spike Jonze - Her
Her is an incredibly brave film. Take it from one of the film's pivotal lines about love: "it's like a socially acceptable form of insanity." The way that the film ruminates on love is so beautiful, as opposed to sugar coating everything and having couples running of into sunsets and that kind of gooey stuff. Perhaps that's all because this is a film about a man having a relationship with his computer. Which is quite strange (it's quite hard to sell this movie to my friends), but Jonze does it in such a way that it feels completely natural. Not to mention, the futuristic world he creates is definitely a world that I could see actually happening, thanks to Jonze not over-saturating the film with ludicrous visions of the future. Even though the movie left me feeling extremely empty for a little while, this is a unique kind of beauty that I wish we could see more of.


9. Denis Villeneuve - Prisoners
Fun fact: throughout many lines of ancestry, it's possible that in some way I'm related to this guy (I would have even had his last name once upon a time, which would have been nice). If that somehow means that I have an ounce of his talent, that would be fantastic. Even though I haven't seen Incendies since it first came out about two and a half years ago, it is still engrained in my brain - it's so hard to shake the deliberately cold, striking way the film was made. It's the same with Prisoners, which Villeneuve could make with a bigger budget, bigger names, and the magic touch of Roger Deakins behind the camera. Prisoners is a masterful, slow burning thriller that mixes the suspense of detective work with the emotional trauma created within the families. It's a puzzle that doesn't seem willing to be solved, but it is made in such a way that I wasn't sure if I ever did want it to be solved. Villeneuve is always in control of his material. I haven't seen Enemy yet (because who knows if it will even get a release here), but how crazy is it that he managed to make those two films in the same year? And here comes my trademark saying: I want to be him.




8. Sofia Coppola - The Bling Ring
Sofia Coppola totally gets it. And she gets it in a way that is far more beautifully immaculate than anyone else. I wouldn't say that her work on The Bling Ring is her best - it's far from her best film - but she gets what it's like to be a self-absorbed teenager of the Facebook generation. She doesn't alienate her audience even though her characters are already alienated. That's because she doesn't let anything - her characters, her script, her film - pretend to be anything they're not. They're hollow, privileged brats making ill-informed decisions so they can up their cool points through the internet. This is a sad truth of the world, unfortunately, and Coppola both romanticises it through her pastel-coloured, airy style and criticises it through the fact that, well, the characters are not the brightest bulbs in the tanning bed. Also, she gets bonus points because I think we all secretly wish our lives could be as beautiful as a Sofia Coppola film.


7. Paul Greengrass - Captain Phillips
I must admit, I was kinda worried about Captain Phillips: it looked like the kind of film where the camera would be zooming in and out, shaking everywhere and erratically moving from side to side without any real direction. However, Greengrass keeps it mostly under control, which is great considering he's working with minimal sets that are constantly on the move. Not only does he make this film a tense one, he doesn't scrimp on the emotional strain of the film that comes from both parties. Also, props to him for letting Tom Hanks go for broke in that final scene.


6. James Ponsoldt - The Spectacular Now
Maybe it's just because I'm obsessed with this film, but I find James Ponsoldt's follow up to the excellent Smashed pretty perfect direction wise. Probably because it feels so real and not all sugar coated like half of the teen films out there. He let's the simplicity of the story really speak instead of dressing it up. But really, the thing that I liked the most about the way he directed this film was the way he handled the relationship between Sutter and Aimee. All the awkwardity was still there, all of the jitters that come with being a girl like Aimee who is suddenly thrust into the attention of another guy. It was so damn beautiful and painful to watch.


5. Sarah Polley - Stories We Tell
This is mostly because Sarah must have been fairly gutsy to make a movie about a difficult part of her own personal family life. Not only does she lay a whole lot of ugly secrets about her family out on the table, but she looks at how stories are told through the ages. It's so deftly clever and achingly beautiful to watch. Which is quite different to what I was expecting - anyone could make a film about their family story, but why would anyone outside of that family care? Sarah makes her film about so many things. You know that thing about there being so few female directors? Try look at Sarah's trajectory and not feel a little empowered.


4. Baz Luhrmann - The Great Gatsby
I'm going to cop a bit of flak for this. Baz Luhrmann was both the right and the wrong person to adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald's beyond perfect novel. The novel is such an intricate, subtle piece of work that excels on the beauty of the words that Fitzgerald weaves together. And that is exactly why a good adaptation of the novel could never work. Luhrmann is the most over-the-top, extravagant director out there, and is the direct opposite to what this novel needs. In terms of an adaptation, Luhrmann does an extremely poor job in trying to emulate the beauty that Fitzgerald did. In terms of Baz Luhrmann making a Baz Luhrmann film? He does a bloody great job. It's all in that one scene where we meet Gatsby for the first time. The music, the fireworks, Leo raising his glass to the camera...even after seven times I still cry over the utterly perfect absurdity of it. You know what? Luhrmann knows how to use cinema to his full advantage. Yes, he likes to throw a lot of stuff at the screen but that's okay. It's a lot of fun to watch. And with the rather dull Australia being our only dose of Luhrmann since 2001, The Great Gatsby was a welcome return.


3. Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave
I love Steve McQueen. Each of his three films have been given 5/5 from me. While 12 Years a Slave is probably my least favourite of his films, there's absolutely no-one else who could have made this film the way that McQueen did. It's raw and unflinching, and shies away from adding a bucket of melodrama to make the material go down easier. Again, I go back to that scene where Solomon is looking into the distance and for the briefest of moments looks directly into the screen - it's such a beautiful, haunting scene that only McQueen could get away with. He's on a roll now, so it'll be interesting to see if his next film lives up to the rest of his perfect filmography.


2. Martin Scorsese - The Wolf of Wall Street
This film would have been very different if some young, hotshot director got a hold of this material. It would have been even more gratuitous, even more needlessly indulgent, and most importantly, would completely bypass the morality behind all of the immorality. Scorsese knows exactly how to handle this film, just like a circus ringleader who can serve up the spectacle, but will laugh at you behind the curtain that you're buying into this stuff. He knows how to both revel in the strangeness of Jordan Belfort's crazy life, but also take a step back and go "hey, fuck this guy." It's fun, yet it's sickening. Oh and yeah, Martin Scorsese is 71 and has more energy than me when I have a great night of sleep and a few energy drinks. Now that's crazy.


1. Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity
There's absolutely no competition here. Absolutely none. Gravity is a masterpiece of cinema. It is a film that in my twilight years, I'll look back on fondly and go "hey, I saw that in a cinema and it changed my life." This is such a difficult project that requires so many different modes of technology to create the correct atmosphere, all the while not losing the vital human component at the centre of the film. Cuaron uses everything he can effortlessly. He fills up a cinema in a way that no-one has ever done before. Gravity isn't really a film, it's an experience. And if you thought it was okay to watch it on a laptop screen, my heart aches for you but hey, it's your own fault. You really missed out there, buddy.

What do you think of these choices? Who were your top directors for 2013?

9 comments:

  1. Excellent, excellent list. Especially happy with the inclusion of Polley. And Jonze is just dawwwwwwww. And of course, Cuaron topped my list as well.

    I would also like to include Harmony Korine for his vision, Edgar Wright for his technical savvy and Haifaa al-Mansour for her guts.

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  2. Great list, I agree all around. Even though I didn't like Stories We Tell, I appreciate what Polley tried to do with it.

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  3. "Probably because it feels so real and not all sugar coated like half of the teen films out there." - totally agree, which reminds me I should re-visit Spectacular Now soon.. I enjoyed it a lot!

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  4. Cuaron is the director of the year, no doubt. I love that you have Luhrmann, Polley and Ponsoldt so high. It was a great year for directors.

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You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.

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