Stories We Tell
It’s incredible to see the little girl from one of my top five favorite films of 1989 grow up to direct my very favorite film of 2013. Then again, she also made one of the few fiction works to make my top ten last year, so I should just accept Sarah Polley as one of the best filmmakers of today, period. This one is a personal documentary about her late mother, who died when Polley was 11, and it features her family and friends offering memories, some of them conflicting with others’ or merely less clearly recalled. Including a big twist of a revelation and a bunch of reenactments that you’d swear were archival footage, this doc is full of surprises and it plays with your perception in a way that makes it the best nonfiction work to invite Rashomon comparisons since Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line. And the best “home movie” since Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March.
Inside Llewyn Davis
It’s one of my least favorite Coen Brothers movies, but in most years that they put out movies they take the number one slot. I don’t really like the soundtrack (and I like a lot of ’60s folk), don’t really care for Carey Mulligan in it and much of the time while watching it I wasn’t interested in what was occurring on screen, yet I came out loving it, thinking about it continuously since. The ending is one of the greatest game-changers as far as making me re-consider all that I’d just watched. It also helps my favor subjectively that I really identified with the character and his life for all good and bad reasons. It may just grow on me enough to become one of my most favorite Coen Brothers movies in the coming years, or maybe I’ll lose interest in it down the line. For now it’s at least the one that’s percolated in the mind the longest afterward. It’s in my head as a whole far more than “Please Mr. Kennedy” is, thankfully.
Vivan Las Antipodas
I’ve always loved maps and globes, and this documentary by Victor Kossakovsky is a gift to any geography enthusiast. But this film, which uses the gimmicky conceit of spotlighting antipodal locations around the world (as in diametric opposites, such as Hawaii/Boswana, and rural Argentina/Shanghai) is a marvel for any viewer who appreciates the variety of life and terrain we have on Earth and the promise of seeing things in whole new ways. And it’s not all about the spectacular cinematography, as there are some enjoyable narratives, such as one favorite involving a lost dog in a very strange place to live.
The Wolf of Wall Street
Very few “narrative” films completely held my interest or attention this year, but Martin Scorsese’s latest had me leaned forward, eyes glued, mouth either agape or in wide smile, wholly captivated for all 257,760 frames on screen. I wanted to re-watch it immediately. It is hilarious, disturbing, delightful and infuriating but most importantly both smart and entertaining from start to finish. Not one bad (or more appropriately ill-fitting) performance among the bunch, and I’m especially grateful for finally realizing the subtly brilliant talents of Kyle Chandler.
This Ain’t California
There’s been very little talk of this German documentary, and what little there is has mostly been complaints that it’s not really a documentary. I say it is, but in the context of this list which includes both fiction and nonfiction cinema, it sure doesn’t matter. It’s a terrific, riveting film about the skateboarding scene in East Germany in the 1980s, only it focuses on a made up individual to move the history along. Director Martin Persiel isn’t out to fool us nor does he mean for this to be a “mockumentary” as it does aim for a certain kind of truth. I really hope that eventually the controversy or stigma involved with its style and level of accuracy disappears and this becomes at least a cult classic down the road.