Best Films of 2013: 25-21

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 fro 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 25 to 21…

25. Room 514

Room 514 (2012, Film Movement)

As wonderful a dramatic device as an interrogation is, it’s hard to have a bulk of your film in that milieu and have it work this well. To do so you need mainly two things: a great hook and a great cast. This film has both.

This film contains one of the slyest, most telling pieces of foreshadowing I’ve seen in some time. I won’t give it away, but as I reflected on this film it seemed to me to be a modern, Israeli-set version of A Few Good Men. The drama is more intimate and behind closed doors, but what the film is about is the people and how they react in a given set of circumstances rather than what the consequences for said action is. The comments both societal and militaristic have been made and the story is at an end. The outside world may never feel any ramifications or repercussions from what occurred, but those behind said closed doors do.

What director Sharon Bar-Ziv achieves is an intimate tale not only in terms of the number of participants but also in the frame. There are many times where there is scarcely background to be spoken of as two faces, within very close proximity to one another, dominate our view. Their is an intense focus on the characters studying one another and we in turn study them and not only how they react to one another but also what they are saying.

For a film of this nature to achieve maximum effectiveness it needs great acting and it gets that from its three main players: Asia Naifeld, Guy Kapulnik and Udi Persi. Neifeld plays Anna the Military Police interrogator at the center of virtually every scene and her performance is a veritable tour de force. Her choices as an actress are as clear as the convictions of her character and really help bring this film home. It’s a fascinating tale that is worth your time as it really and truly engages you.

24. Straight A’s

Straight A's (2013, Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment)

One way in which it was easy to gauge whether or not a film was Best of the Year material was not only the score alone, but if I set out to just write a mini-review on it and ended up writing a full feature instead. A few of the titles in this section of the list fall into that category.

This first film was one of my top posts of the year and a rare DVD review. Here’s an excerpt of the section wherein I discuss the film:

The film has a very basic synopsis and I will not elaborate much at all on that here. It’s likely better that you go in knowing that much or less about this film. Straight A’s really caught me by surprise as a refreshing, character-driven family dramedy, that doesn’t get bogged down in the histrionics that are potential pitfalls of a film with a synopsis such as this one.

I will readily admit that I just may have a soft spot for family dramedies. However, the recent film in the subgenre that comes to mind for me is Fireflies in the Garden, and that film pushes its melodramatic limits, whereas there is a fairly realistic grounding to be found here. Characters’ motivations and reactions make sense, things are played up as much as they need to be and are still fairly effective. While the overtures of external conflict are apparent, there is also a lot inner-turmoil that the film is wise enough to hold the reins on, and allow some disputes to be settled sub-textually rather than textually.

There’s quite a bit to like in the performances, and the film itself. Not only is it a first quarter of 2013 release, that made it more likely to fly under the radar anyway, but it was one that didn’t have much fanfare at the time that is worth discovering.

23. The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute (2006, Revolver)

On occasion, actually more often than not, a film being shelved an unreleased for a while has nothing to do with its quality or lack thereof. Usually, it’s a business decision. In fact, there’s an Italian Job sequel that’s so inadvertently similar to one of the Fast & Furious movies it appears to have been permanently shelved.

Seven years after its production Kenneth Branagh’s version of The Magic Flute, the only opera I can claim to have any sort of knowledge of, came to light. It inspired me to write about my history with the artform on film and here’s the section about the film in particular:

What Branagh does with this film is not that unlike what many have done with Shakespeare: the text is the same albeit translated and the setting is updated. This tale taking place during World War I.

Branagh’s doing this makes perfect sense when you consider that most are familiar with him through his Shakespearean adaptations. However, this film is perhaps the best assimilation of his sensibilities: there’s the classical dramatic sensibility he’s familiar with in Shakespeare and parlayed well in Thor, but also a zany, irreverent humor that he possesses as he’s shown as an actor in the Harry Potter series that fit this film as well.

Being an opera on film it will invariably have its stagier moments, but it has infinitely more cinematic ones. The camera, and at times even the characters in motion, accompany the movements of the music. This is especially true in the “Queen of the Night Aria” which is as mind-blowing cinematically as it is musically in this version.

In short, after all prior re-introductions to opera on film are taken into consideration the Looney Tunes are a wonderful warm up, but Kenneth Branagh’s The Magic Flute is the perfect introduction to opera for the uninitiated.

22. Allez, Eddy!

Allez, Eddy! (2012, Benelux Film Distributors)

This is also a film that was to be a mini-review and grew, also from earlier in the year, and like the title below it deals with sports ostensibly but there’s a little more to it than that.

With a film such as Allez, Eddy! there are with its various components, which prescribe certain plot points and confrontations. However, what is unique about the film is the handling of said situations, not necessarily the situations themselves. Also, adding to the distinctive palate of the film is the combination of these situations.

To be a bit more specific, in this film you have: the tradition vs. advancement plot of the family-owned butcher shop versus the new supermarket, which in the setting of this tale is a new concept in an of itself. Then you also have the underdog sports story of a kid who comes out of nowhere to shock his hometown in emulation of his hero. Intermingled with those concepts is a family drama, but lastly you have the tale of an isolated child. The cause of his isolation is a malady that could be the cause for much potty humor, but is for the most part handled deftly and delicately. Already upon combining these things you can see this film is anything but run-of-the-mill.

All those items are tethered to one another so there’s no feeling of the film being disjointed as there is a unity to it all; a common thread. There are other subplots that could be touched upon, but its better that those be discovered in the film. Aside from their connection what makes the handling of these themes and plots unique is that things don’t always turn out as you expect or occur when you expect. The film sets you up believing there will be a clichéd climax or sequence and pulls a reverse on you at the last second.

21. V8 – Start Your Engines!

V8 - Start Your Engines! (2013, Universal/Rat Pack)

This was another review that ballooned, and believe me it was one of the more pleasantly surprising viewings of the past year. Yes, Massanek’s works had shown flashes of this promise and been showcases for young talent in films past, but I had not expected him to latch on to an idea so firmly that it allowed for results such as this:

At its core it’s a sports movie about four kids who are selected to challenge the reigning local go-kart champions, who are one win away from solidifying their place in a mystical castle. However, the myth of that locale, the secretive nature of these races and other things layer on a fantastical element to the story. Whereas Die Wilden Kerle seemed to leapfrog its predominant genre from film to film Masannek here it creating a melange from the get-go and what makes it even more impressive is the naturalistic way in which it occurs. It functions even with these disparate elements, such as being a film designed for kids, but also having its coming-of-age aspects, not unlike The Crocodiles (Vorstadtkrokodile), allows it to work on a few levels.

[…]

V8 not only does more juggling of genre elements and themes in kid-centric sports film than say something like Real Steel, but it also is a more sophisticated implementation of Masannek’s style as well as a series starting off on the right foot. As opposed to say the Fast & Furious franchise, which it does tip its hat to. V8 finishes its tale in a very gratifying fashion. How the final outcome is achieved is excellent and there are some good turns in the road along the way. It’s especially worth noting that the race that all the drama lead up to is also very well-executed. The film makes no secret of its intent to set-up a sequel, but it also finishes appropriately. With this as a set-up building quite a fascinating and endearing mythology, I welcome that prospect with open arms and I’m quite sure there are audiences worldwide that would too.

This list continues tomorrow with 20-16. To read the beginning of it go here.

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Underrated Dramas: Benelux

Introduction

Recently I decided to partake in another great theme going on at Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The last list I did there was for the Underrated Comedies series. As I anticipated, there was far more competition among movies I like to make the dramas list than the comedies list. So much so that I decided to post ancillary lists here before the big list debuts there. I wasn’t able to get all the contenders onto these lists but I was able to feature the most competitive regions (foreign films were one of my main foci). This is the second list, here is the first.

Underrated Dramas: Benelux

Benelux is the collective name for the region of Europe comprised of the Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg. I’ve yet to see a film made and set in Luxembourg, but I hope that changes soon.

In the past few years it seems that all the movies I’ve seen from the region are outstanding films, and I have not yet seen some more well-known ones (Such as Bullhead). Regardless the point needs to be made as only only two of the eight would not be considered recent.

In many cases, I’ve already written about these films before so the blurbs will be brief and there will be links included. This is as much a declaration of an emerging and vibrant region, that many seem to be overlooking; as it is a list.

Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Jeanne Dielman (1975, Janus Films)

I only ever heard of this film thanks to something I read in a booklet that accompanied a Bela Tarr film on DVD. The fact that it took that, to me, makes it an underrated film. It’s one that admittedly I had to give a second chance, but I’m glad I did.

Winter in Wartime (2008)

Winter in Wartime (2008, Sony Pictures Classics)

This is a film I viewed by myself, and it made quite a big dent in that year’s BAM Awards. This was an official selection for the Netherlands to the Academy Awards but took a while to get picked up and didn’t make a lot of noise when it did; it ought to have.

Ciske the Rat (1984)

Ciske the Rat (1984, Concorde Film)

This is a film that fits one of the criteria I set out of being out-of-print. To tell you of some of the levels in which it excels would be to give away too much, but it is a film both sensitive and shocking, that has endearing and infuriating moments that are all completely by design.

The Misfortunates (2009)

The Misfortunates (2009, NeoClassics Films)

The upbringing of an artist is a narrative that always intrigues me. More often than not these tales tell of less-than-pristine circumstances wherein the protagonist overcomes misunderstanding or even lack of support to excel against the odds. The Misfortunates doesn’t break that mold necessarily but it tells its tale well within it, as I tweeted:

“The Misfortunates” a well-acted, interestingly constructed, creatively told family drama about an author’s upbringing in Flanders.

Considering I saw this well ahead of the other films it could benefit greatly from a revisit as I’ve grown more accustomed to the sensibilities and aesthetics that seem to be the zeitgeist in the region at current.

North Sea Texas (2011)

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

While nominated at the most recent GLAAD Awards, it sadly didn’t walk away a winner there. I still assert that the test of time will treat this film very well. I included it in many ways in the 2012 BAM Awards, with significant wins and submitted it to OMIEs and LAMBs and will continue to champion it.

The remaining three could make some serious hay in the upcoming BAM Awards:

The Giants (2012)

The Giants (Kino Lorber, 2011)

In any year, there are those films that stand out, and continue to, long after they’ve been seen. This is one of them. This film recently came to not again for me after reading Mike Scott’s take. It’s a strong film, that treats adolescence in less-than-ideal-circumstances a very real way that doesn’t have sensationalized “grit” and doesn’t forsake soul. Highly, highly recommended.

Allez, Eddy! (2012)

Allez, Eddy! (2012, Benelux Film Distributors)

Creativity and quirkiness abound in this tale that transcends the usual trappings of underdog-sports-tales and children’s films to be rather artistic, humorous, moving and heartwarming.

Time of My life (2012)

Time of My Life (2012, Strand Releasing)

The most wondrous thing about this film is that from the outset you know how it’s going to end, but that doesn’t make it any less effective as a statement or as a piece of raw, human drama.

DVD Review – Allez, Eddy!

Introduction

This was a film I was initially going to discuss in my Mini-Review Round-Up. However, the review grew such that the ‘mini’ tag didn’t really fit anymore. This is a film that has not seen North American release and has only been out on Region 2 Blu-Ray on DVD. These titles are still viewable in other regions on computers or region-free players. I discuss that here.

I found this film through an importer on Amazon, and as I will describe below it goes above and beyond the seemingly simple call of its synopsis.

Film

Allez, Eddy! (2012, Benelux Film Distributors)

With a film such as Allez, Eddy! there are with its various components, which prescribe certain plot points and confrontations. However, what is unique about the film is the handling of said situations, not necessarily the situations themselves. Also, adding to the distinctive palate of the film is the combination of these situations.

To be a bit more specific, in this film you have: the tradition vs. advancement plot of the family-owned butcher shop versus the new supermarket, which in the setting of this tale is a new concept in an of itself. Then you also have the underdog sports story of a kid who comes out of nowhere to shock his hometown in emulation of his hero. Intermingled with those concepts is a family drama, but lastly you have the tale of an isolated child. The cause of his isolation is a malady that could be the cause for much potty humor, but is for the most part handled deftly and delicately. Already upon combining these things you can see this film is anything but run-of-the-mill.

All those items are tethered to one another so there’s no feeling of the film being disjointed as there is a unity to it all; a common thread. There are other subplots that could be touched upon, but its better that those be discovered in the film. Aside from their connection what makes the handling of these themes and plots unique is that things don’t always turn out as you expect or occur when you expect. The film sets you up believing there will be a clichéd climax or sequence and pulls a reverse on you at the last second.

So on a narrative, and more intellectual, level it is intriguing. However, it also captures you viscerally with the varied and wondrous performances of the cast. They elicited from me all the emotions desired. As viewers we are constantly put in a place of being ‘for’ or ‘against’ a character in a scene. Empathy and understanding throughout a film, even with character you dislike or are mad at, is rare. This film achieves that engagement. Regardless of how characters are designed to affect you, you understand them. And within a film that focuses mainly on a family dynamic that’s quite a feat, for even though you may not like the way a family behaves individually at times, or toward each other, the striven for reconciliations are stronger if you desire them for the characters as well.

Allez, Eddy! (2012, Benelux Film Distributors)

So this film engages on those two levels, however, nearly from the start it also engages the imagination, which combines the intellect and the visceral in a number of ways. It achieves this engagement through the stylized, self-contained, imagined depictions of stories Freddy’s mother tells him. They are mainly tall tales of her fashioning designed to reinforce her rules but they do have a resonance later, and do play into the pure wonder of storytelling, which should be the foundation of all cinema, and ultimately art.

Oh, yes, and if you look at the synopsis much of the initial conflict is not only caused by Freddy’s wanting to be out of the house unattended, which is forbidden, but also his entering a supermarket-sponsored bike race, which is doubly forbidden. Thus, there’s the sports element perhaps 5th or 6th down the pecking order of things that stand out in this film. This makes it a film that features sports rather than a sports film, but it does that brilliantly. It uses Eddy Merckx’s quest for a 6th Tour de France title not only as a backdrop for the events of that summer, but also at one point as a tremendously artful parallel in a cross-cut sequence. There are other ways in which cycling is folded into the mix that are creative, but I will leave those as a surprise as well.

Allez, Eddy! plays all the right emotional notes throughout such that it can even earn a more subdued end quite well. It is uniquely beautiful, at times touching and warm, at times hilarious, often sad and empathy-inducing film that’s quite nearly always spot-on. It’s one of those films I come across once in a while that got better as I sat down to write about it. An extraordinarily well made film.

10/10

Extras

Allez, Eddy! (2012, Benelux Film Distributors)

A case of caveat emptor for those who seek out foreign region discs is that typically bonus features are not subtitled. Another word to the wise is if you do start scouring resellers, or foreign Amazon stores, become familiar with the words for “subtitles” and “English” in each. It’s usually fairly apparent. As per usual, the deleted scenes here are in Flemish and not subtitled. I confirmed that fact, but may see if they translate visually. So if you speak the language the film is in, as I speak Portuguese, you’ll get by, otherwise it’s good to keep in mind.

One very great bonus feature is a compelling, quirky and original short film called Vincent. The short is vaguely reminiscent of the early works of Robert Rodriguez, and you can clearly see the seeds for Allez, Eddy! being sewn in the style, content and tone.

Unless, it actually comes to region 1 at some point it won’t be a cheap or easy find, but it’s well worth it if you’re compelled to see it.

2013 BAM Award Considerations – April

Last year I had one massive running list and it became very cumbersome to add to, and to read I’m sure. By creating a new post monthly, and creating massive combo files offline, it should make the process easier for me and more user-friendly for you, the esteemed reader. Enjoy.

Eligible Titles

Time of My Life
Survive and Advance
John Dies at the End
Evil Dead
Admission
Crush
California Solo
The Sorcerer and the White Snake
4some
Olympus Has Fallen
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
At the Gate of the Ghost
Allez, Eddy!
Renoir
Disconnect
Leonie
Oz the Great and Powerful
The Croods

Best Picture

Time of My Life
At the Gate of the Ghost
Allez, Eddy!
Disconnect
The Croods

Best Foreign Film

Time of My Life
At the Gate of the Ghost
Allez, Eddy!
Renoir
Leonie

Best Documentary

Last year this was an omitted category, due mostly to the fact that too few total candidates existed to make the slate feel legitimate. I will hope to be able to rectify that this year.

Survive and Advance
Elway to Marino

Most Overlooked Film

As intimated in my Most Underrated announcement this year, I’ve decided to make a change here. Rather than get caught up in me vs. the world nonsense and what a film’s rating is on an aggregate site, the IMDb or anywhere else, I want to champion smaller, lesser-known films. In 2011 with the selection of Toast this move was really in the offing. The nominees from this past year echo that fact. So here, regardless of how well-received something is by those who’ve seen it, I’ll be championing indies and foreign films, and the occasional financial flop from a bigger entity.

Time of My Life
At the Gate of the Ghost
Allez, Eddy!
Leonie

Best Director

Time of My Life
John Dies at the End
At the Gate of the Ghost
Allez, Eddy!
Disconnect

Best Actress

Lotte Pinoy Time of My Life
Jane Levy Evil Dead
Tina Fey Admission
Victorie Cermakova 4some
Chermarn Bonnyasak At the Gate of the Ghost
Barbara Sarafian Allez, Eddy!
Andrea Riseborough Disconnect
Paula Patton Disconnect
Christa Theret Renoir
Emily Mortimer Leonie
Mila Kunis Oz the Great and Powerful

Best Actor

Koen De Graeve Time of My Life
Shiloh Fernandez Evil Dead
Paul Rudd Admission
Lucas Till Crush
Robert Carlyle California Solo
Jet Li The Sorcerer and the White Snake
Hynek Cermak 4some
Ananda Everingham At the Gate of the Ghost
Jelte Blommaert Allez, Eddy!
Jason Bateman Disconnect
Michel Bouquet Renoir
Shidô Nakamura Leonie
James Franco Oz the Great and Powerful

Best Supporting Actress

Viviane de Muynck Time of My Life
Jessica Lucas Evil Dead
Lily Tomlin Admission
Marika Sarah Prochazkova 4some
Silke Cnockaert Allez, Eddy!
Hope Davis Disconnect
Rachel Weisz Oz the Great and Powerful

Best Supporting Actor

Geert Van Rampelberg Time of My Life
Iwein Segers Time of My Life
Paul Giamatti John Dies at the End
Lou Taylor Pucci Evil Dead
Wallace Shawn Admission
Nat Wolff Admission
Jiri Langmajer 4some
Ludek Munzar 4some
Dom Hetrakul At the Gate of the Ghost
Phongpat Wachirabanjhong At the Gate of the Ghost
Mario Maurer At the Gate of the Ghost
Peter van den Begin Allez, Eddy!
Max Thieriot Disconnect
Frank Grillo Disconnect
Jean Rottiers Renoir
Takashi Kashiwabara Leonie

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Jelte Blommaert Allez, Eddy!
Colin Ford Disconnect

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Savannah Lathem California Solo
Valerie Samalova 4some
Marika Sarah Prochazkova 4some
Coleen Leempoel Allez, Eddy!
Louca Platon Leonie
Joey King Oz the Great and Powerful

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Felix Maesschalck Time of My Life
Nat Wolff Admission
Gregor Buaer 4some
Vaclav Marhold 4some
Finley Jacobsen Olympus Has Fallen
Mathias Vergels Allez, Eddy
Jelle Claymans Allez, Eddy!
Jelle Florizoone Allez, Eddy!
Jonah Bobo Disconnect
Aviad Bernstein Disconnect
Thomas Doret Renoir
Bowie Gunn Leonie
Julian Ogawa Leonie
Daichi Flaherty Leonie

Best Cast

Time of My Life
Evil Dead
4some
At the Gate of the Ghost
Allez, Eddy!
Disconnect
Renoir
Leonie
Oz the Great and Powerful

Best Youth Ensemble

Admission
4some
Allez, Eddy!
Disconnect
Leonie

Best Original Screenplay

4some
Allez, Eddy!
Disconnect
The Croods

Best Adapted Screenplay

Time of My Life
John Dies at the End
Evil Dead
Admission
At the Gate of the Ghost
Renoir
Leonie
Oz the Great and Powerful

Best Score

Time of My Life
Evil Dead
At the Gate of the Ghost
Allez, Eddy!
Disconnect
Renoir
Leonie
Oz the Great and Powerful
The Croods

Best Editing

Time of My Life
John Dies at the End
Olympus Has Fallen
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
At the Gate of the Ghost
Allez, Eddy!
Disconnect
Renoir
Leonie
Oz the Great and Powerful
The Croods

Best Sound Editing/Mixing

John Dies at the End
The Sorcerer and the White Snake
Olympus Has Fallen
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
At the Gate of the Ghost
Allez, Eddy!
Oz the Great and Powerful
The Croods

Best Cinematography

Time of My Life
John Dies at the End
California Solo
The Sorcerer and the White Snake
Olympus Has Fallen
At the Gate of the Ghost
Allez, Eddy!
Disconnect
Renoir
Leonie
Oz the Great and Powerful
The Croods

Best Art Direction

John Dies at the End
Evil Dead
4some
At the Gate of the Ghost
Disconnect
Renoir
Leonie
Oz the Great and Powerful

Best Costume Design

Evil Dead
The Sorcerer and the White Snake
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
At the Gate of the Ghost
Allez, Eddy!
Renoir
Leonie
Oz the Great and Powerful

Best Makeup

Time of My Life
Evil Dead
Olympus Has Fallen
At the Gate of the Ghost
Renoir
Oz the Great and Powerful

Best Visual Effects

John Dies at the End
Evil Dead
Olympus Has Fallen
G.I. Joe: Retaliation
At the Gate of the Ghost
Oz the Great and Powerful

Best (Original) Song

At the Gate of the Ghost
Oz the Great and Powerful
The Croods