The easy question to ask is: “why do a list at all when you already have an awards slate on your site?” It’s a good question and I finally may have formulated the best response to it yet. Basically, it’s a less comparative discussion on each film that you feel marked the year for you. In writing a list you discuss each film and a only every few numbers or so get bogged down in discussing placement.
I will try my best to avoid redundancy and will link and self-quote where I deem necessary but it was in re-watching something that I came upon the aforementioned truth. Awards with their winners and fellow nominees and then snub-ees can be read as a slight, though that is never the intent. A list as celebratory, if not more so because of the insularity of conversation.
Now 30 is a high number and I could’ve increased it. I saw the most eligible titles ever this year, but I wanted to further honor these films by having the percentile they represent be a smaller fraction than prior lists.
Let us continue with 15 to 11…
15. Museum Hours
One of my most vivid childhood memories was seeing a man in the American Museum of Natural History sketching from a diorama, I believe of an Native American village. It was a sight that so marked with fascination that I even included it in my first “About the Author” that I wrote for a book made in a Writer’s Workshop class. I say this by way of introduction to the notion that museums and how people behave within them have always fascinated me.
This is a tale that is very much about both of those things.
This is a film that is most effective in how it examines its two characters in passing glances, much like museum exhibits themselves. That may sound as if it’s sophistry but I think if you were to apply that thesis to the whole of the way the film is constructed, the tales that are being told, you’ll see it holds.
The film is ostensibly about a woman (Mary Margaret O’Hara) who heads to Vienna at her cousin’s side while she is sick. With much time to herself to wander a strange city she spends much time at the art museum and befriends one of the guards there (Bobby Sommer). After he helps her, they become friendly. In the film you see: snatches of their conversations where they talk about their lives, shots of paintings and other exhibits and there’s one extended scene of a tour guide (Ela Piplits) espousing her theories on the works of Bruegel. Her dialogue is key to reading the film, in my estimation.
This is not to say that the film is a difficult one to follow. It’s quite a straightforward one. However, it’s connecting these disparate threads through that notion that give it a greater significance and unity. Leaving those pieces apart it can seem a fine, albeit disjointed effort. When one considers that we look at art and try to interpret the artists, that we speak to others and try to interpret them and that we tell our tales and try to interpret ourselves; but can only so in small strokes, in passing glances, within the short amount of time that “museum hours” encompass, then the whole of this work comes together much more strongly. It’s not a film about Bobby, who is Austrian, or Anne, who is Canadian, or Pieter Bruegel who was a Dutch master, but rather about all of us and our journey to understand and be understood, to empathize and to have empathy shown toward us.
14. Three Worlds
Great dramas usually a born of great situations and very often great situations are created much the same way the road to hell is paved.
What you get in Three Worlds is a very compelling situation (a witness to a hit-and-run unwittingly becomes a liaison between the victim’s wife and the culprit) handled in a fairly unconventional way. What this film could turn into is one of histrionics that quickly spirals into things hard to believe or identify with. What instead it chooses to do is be a morality play. As it examines how the incident affects three characters, the push-and-pull, the ebb and flow of each turn of events puts the characters in places they did not expect to be. It’s not as if each decision in the film does not lead to a domino effect, it’s the path that the dominoes take that makes it most enjoyable to watch.
No character in this film is simplistic or one-dimensional, neither entirely altruistic or calculated. This allows for, and requires, much greatness from each of the principal actors and they do bring that. Raphaël Personnaz make me think of what a young Jean-Pierre Leaud would have brought to this film in a different time. Clotilde Hesme’s performance as a woman whose desire to help people, and her inclination to see the good in them, gets the best of her is pitch perfect. Arta Dobroshi, who has perhaps the most demanding tasks assigned her plays conflicting emotions and philosophies such that you always understand her and sympathize with her position.
Three Worlds reveals its characters throughout while still telling a very compelling tale and is worth looking out for.
There are a few instances of films growing a bit in hindsight one this list. This film didn’t have a great leap to make to land here but it did. Just recently I found myself citing an incident from it. This means it may be one two films this year to definitely have an element of it becoming part of my personal vernacular, that and I’ve already listened to the soundtrack a few times.
There has been the occasional resurgence of bluegrass music into popular culture via cinema over the past decade or so. Many of those instances, while they are films where I’ve heard the music, they are movies I did not happen to see.
Perhaps what’s most interesting here is that The Broken Circle Breakdown is a film that’s not even ostensibly about the music. The music is there, it plays a role, it functions as a part of the characters, it underscores the emotions of the story (usually counter-intuitively) but it’s only a musical quantitatively. The film is a fractured chronology of a couple’s relationship. It begins in a present where their six-year-old is battling cancer. The film then backtracks, and goes back and forth to tell the story of these two and where they head as new challenges face them.
The toe-tapping heart of the film is its pair portrayed by Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh. Through their earnest performances, and the music, you’re left on a tightrope walking through the end of this sad tail without spinning completely into despair yet completely absorbed within it.
12. The Hunt
This was a film that was a long time coming in terms of my being able to view it. I knew of it last year and didn’t really get a chance to see it near year’s end. Following A Royal Affair Mad Mikkelsen’s name being involved in a project started to mean a great deal more to me. However, I was also drawn to this film by its conflict.
Mad Mikkelsen plays a kindergarten teach who has been falsely accused via misunderstanding (when you watch you’ll quickly see how) of molesting a student. That’s established early on. There’s not cat-and-mouse mystery about that much because that’s not the point. The film’s really about the snowball effect of a misunderstood notion being repeated, how assumptions are made, hysteria spreads and a witch-hunt begins, and how it affects all those involved.
Mikkelsen turns in a marvelous performance (not that he’s alone in that regard) and the film ends on the right note, as opposed to one that might feel untrue. It’s chillingly, unnervingly realistic portrait of how such a thing can escalate, even without any basis in fact, and takes a naturalistic progression.
11. Iron Man 3
Yes, this is the most divisive Iron Man of the series, and sure, one can say it’s easy to put one of the top grossing films of all-time on your list, but if you’re lobbing that complaint you’re really not reading this list very carefully.
There are a number of things this Iron Man does amazingly well not the least of which is that it’s a showcase of Marvel bringing in writers and directors, in this case writer/director Shane Black, and allowing them their spin on the characters and story. Sure, there is a universe-building roadmap but there is room for voices here just as there are in the books.
If you went in vaguely familiar with the name Shane Black and then were to find out he was one of the writers of Monster Squad certainly you’d think to yourself “Duh,” much as I did. The humor, the ability to write a young supporting character like Harley so well and cast him properly (Ty Simpkins), the ability to take icons and see them in a new light are all things he demonstrated an ability to do back then.
It was a hard decision to keep this film out of the Adapted Screenplay nominees for all those reasons, regardless from the opening credits this one of the most fun viewing experiences I had all year, and also one of the funniest- and one I revisited frequently. It’s another risk-taking sequel that was not bereft of commentary either.
The list concludes with the top 10 tomorrow, after the announcement of the BAM Award Winners. See the nominees here.