Much of the discourse surrounding the films of 2013 was quick to note how great a year it was. It’s a tough act to follow, but there’s plenty of interesting pictures to get excited about for in 2014. Reflecting back on my most anticipated list of 2013 (here) and my top ten of 2013 (here), there are always plenty of surprises along the way. And surprises, after all, are our reasons for loving cinema.
Voyage of Time & Knight of Cups
The likelihood of two Terrence Malick films coming out in 2014 is extremely unlikely, so it’s my reserved expectations of the films’ release that prohibits me from entertaining the thought of putting these films any higher. While some have grown weary of Malick’s more poetic and narratively oblique efforts, I hold both The Tree of Life and To the Wonder in very high esteem. Having recently rewatched his sophomore effort Days of Heaven, I’m struck by the similarities that are weaved through his works, with his millennial output exhibiting a greater deal of experimentation with form while he probes familiar thematic ideas. Details on either picture are scant at best, though their lineup of actors (Brad Pitt and Emma Thompson in Voyage of Time, Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, and Cate Blanchett in Knights of Cup) provides some interesting thoughts on the type of actors attracted to Malick’s methodology. If To the Wonder proved anything, it’s that Malick is very precise with what actors he chooses as his vessels of poetic lyricism (the hulking features of Ben Affleck meeting the gracefulness of Olga Kurylenko); the casting choices here pose some very interesting questions on where these films could be heading.
Sebastián Silva’s 2013 was a busy one. His newfound friendship with actor Michael Cera benefitted both as they provided two of the most interesting independent works of the year in Crystal Fairy and Magic Magic. Silva’s streak looks to continue with a more explicitly comic effort in Nasty Baby. Featuring Kristin Wiig and Alia Shawkat as a lesbian couple looking to have a child, the appeal of the picture stems from Silva’s usual eclectic cast actors, including Mark Margolis and Silva himself. Silva’s previous features proved his ability both behind and in front of the camera, where he’s been able to accentuate the talents of actors who have otherwise not shown significant range. Wiig and especially Shawkat haven’t been afforded the opportunity to take on many significant lead roles following their television careers, so one has to wonder what Silva is giving them to bring them all together.
I’m not sure if James Franco, a man born with considerable wealth and privilege, is the right individual to realize the story of lower-class suffering and physical deformity that defines Charles Bukowski’s youth, but I’m willing to go with it. As a great admirer of Charles Bukowski’s work (on certain days, Ham on Rye is my favorite novel), Bukowski’s blunt poetic understanding of working class living and the process of writing itself has often felt outside the understanding of the cinema, as Barbet Schroeder’s Barfly and Bent Hamer’s Factotum were commendable but ultimately minor reflections on Bukowski’s worldview. The bar isn’t set especially high for Franco, who has clearly proven himself as not simply an actor of considerable skill, but as a mind willing to take risks behind the camera. Maybe that’s all that’s needed.
(Lars von Trier)
Lars von Trier has never been too keen from shying away from controversy. Whether it has been the controversial subjects of his films, from the ball-busting misogyny of Breaking the Waves to the ball busting of Antichrist, or his short stint as persona non grata at the Cannes Film Festival, the director embraces his notorious celebrity status. Nymphomaniac continues in the tradition of his other works, insofar that it promises to be the feel-bad film of the year. But to dismiss his work entirely would be a mistake, as the director’s output, as confounding as they may be, are often immaculate productions of great artistic mind. Charlotte Gainsbourg, who has now braved working with the director on three separate occasions, submitted one of the performances of the decade in Trier’s Antichrist and looks to be put through the ringer once again; a performance that could very well sustain the picture throughout. However explicit or emotionally grueling (or even insufferable) Nymphomaniac may turn out, it at least offers the promise of an interesting evening.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Wes Anderson brand looks to have solidified itself as a reasonable method of marketing a film, as The Grand Budapest Hotel was one of the few films of 2014 to have actually begun a campaign in 2013. It makes sense too, given the critical and commercial success of Moonrise Kingdom and The Fantastic Mr. Fox - Wes Anderson has truly achieved a measure of name brand notoriety that was usually only afforded to the likes of Quentin Tarantino or Christopher Nolan. Unlike those directors though, Anderson has truly achieved in developing an aesthetic that is wholly his own. Pick out a frame from any of his films and you’re seeing an image that could only be composed by Anderson himself. The Grand Budapest Hotel, from its trailer and poster alone, only reinforces this fact.
It begins and ends with the wonderful trailer released (and later pulled) by Sony Pictures Classics when Foxcatcher was to be released in 2013. Miller’s previous narrative features, Capote and Moneyball, were competent exercises that showed a clear understanding of the craft while having the benefit of being anchored by talented performers (Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, Brad Pitt in Moneyball). Foxcatcher looks no different, but the pedigree and visual poignancy of the film’s trailer suggest a heightened level of formalism and an even more promising central performance from Steve Carell. The peculiarity of its subject matter and the overarching eeriness exhibited in its trailer, may just prove that Miller in not merely a competent director, but a great one.
Under the Skin
Jonathan Glazer’s Birth is one of the best films of the aughts, even if it took me several viewings and a couple years in between to reach that conclusion. I suspect I may have a similar reaction to Under the Skin, which looks even more oblique and emotionally-distancing than his previous effort. But in the wake of Scarlett Johansson’s career renaissance and the early word on the film following its screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, it’s pretty clear that Glazer is operating with auteurist ambitions in mind. The early suggestion of Kubrickian influence has kept this prominently on my radar throughout its 2013 festival debut, with its impending April release not coming soon enough.
(Paul Thomas Anderson)
Any new Paul Thomas Anderson project is call for celebration. It’s of particular importance given the director’s millennial hibernation period - the five-year frequency of releases was as agonizing as waiting for a new Malick film. Yet it’s only been two years since 2012’s The Master (the best film of its year) and the added caveat of Anderson adapting a Thomas Pynchon novel is of notable interest. Pynchon’s novel served as my introduction to the writer’s work. It’s an interesting novel, a shaggy tale that could translate into something like what Robert Altman did with Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. And, I mean, if we have a new-age The Long Goodbye on our hands then we may as well be looking at the best film of 2014 already.
Only Lovers Left Alive
Beyond contemporary releases, 2013 was a year very much defined by my discovery of Jim Jarmusch’s early filmography. Films like Down By Law, Mystery Train and especially Stranger Than Paradise were revelatory watches that have solidified Jarmusch as one of my favorite working directors. Only Lovers Left Alive, which premiered in competition at 2013’s Cannes International Film Festival, was met with warm critical appraisal even as it failed to register with jurors, as the film left the festival empty handed. Regardless, Jarmusch’s work has a history of lending itself to distanced unanimous approval - that’s to say that it takes a little time to get around to embracing his pictures. I’m not sure if I’ll ever warm up to his last effort, 2009’s The Limits of Control, but Only Lovers Left Alive looks to be something closer to a return to his roots - at least in the narrative sense. The film features Tilda Swinton as a vampire too, which strikes me as the world’s most appropriate casting choice. Vampires are still a thing, right?
I’ve held Richard Ayoade’s debut feature Submarine in high regard and maintain that it’s the best feature film debut of the early decade. It refines all the lingering issues I have with Wes Anderson’s aesthetic and complicates it through a lens of comic humor that is more often associated with the likes of Edgar Wright. Intermingled within all this is an exuberant energy that maintains a high degree of formal proficiency. His sensibility mixes a contemporary aesthetic with the rigidness of traditional filmmaking technique - basically everything I want in a film can be found in Submarine. So it’s The Double that easily becomes my most anticipated film of 2014. Loosely adapted from Dostoevsky’s novella, the film has garnered its fair share of acclaim since its Toronto screening earlier in the year. And with citations noting the film’s broad bits of influence - from Terry Gilliam to Aki Kaurismäki to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window - it’s clear that Ayoade has a learned and eclectic film background to pull from. As I’m finding myself attracted to filmmakers who possess a particular type of formal approach, I can’t hide the fact that it’s the more personal efforts that truly push films toward a different spectrum of appreciation. Like Joel and Ethan Coen’s Inside Llewyn Davis in 2013 and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master in 2012, it’s films that marry the concerns of masculine identity with impeccable formal design that I’m most drawn to. Richard Ayoade, in only his second feature, is threatening to etch a place alongside those contemporary giants.