The Top Five Documentaries of 2013

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/the-top-five-documentaries-of-2013-1.1610107

One of the biggest topics of discussion in film circles in 2013 was the dearth of women directors and leads, especially in mainstream films. It’s absolutely the right time to have that conversation (it’s way past due, honestly), but just because there weren’t enough women represented in the industry doesn’t mean there weren’t any worth noting. It just so happens that some of the best docs made in 2013 involved women as subjects or directors. Here is my pick for the best documentaries made in 2013 – and all of them featured women, either on screen or behind the camera.

Blackfish
directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, available on VOD

Easily the most important documentary of the year for Central Florida, Blackfish tells the story of Tilikum, the largest orca living in captivity, at Orlando’s SeaWorld. Tilikum has been involved in three human deaths, the last of which was in 2010, when trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by the giant whale after a show. The power of this film comes from Cowperthwaite’s ability to make the case that, although Tilikum has killed, he is also a victim. She interviews former SeaWorld trainers, employees and a former orca poacher who calls the capture of Tilikum as a young, wild whale one of the worst things he’s ever done.

The Act of Killing
directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and Anonymous, available Jan. 7

There is no real precedent for processing this stunning film about a 1960s death squad leader, Anwar Congo, who agrees (quite proudly) to film re-enactments of his murders. By his own count, Congo has killed 1,000 Indonesian “communists” (read: anyone unwilling or unable to pay bribes; or not behind the military dictatorship; or Chinese) in his lifetime. The re-enactments are so calmly done that the film feels like a surrealist nightmare.

Cutie and the Boxer 
directed by Zachary Heinzerling, available on VOD

Love is a dumb emotion. It’s not a stupid emotion to have, it’s just dumb. And deaf. And blind. Love doesn’t care what’s best for you. This is a general truth, not a universal truth, but it’s certainly true for artist Noriko Shinohara, who is madly in love with her husband and fellow artist, Ushio, who is dubbed Bullie in Noriko’s “Cutie” graphic stories. The story of this dynamic pair unfolds at a natural pace as she struggles to find her artistic voice and he struggles to get someone to pay him for his talents so they can keep the lights on.

Manhunt
directed by Greg Barker, available on VOD

If you saw Zero Dark Thirty, you’ll recognize a lot in this documentary about the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It’s told primarily from the point of view of the crew of women at the CIA who assembled the secrets of al-Qaida from disparate pieces of information, sometimes discovered years and countries apart. Through interviews with the analysts, in-country agents and reporters, this engrossing film proves to be one of the most important documents of 9/11, its extremist roots and its aftermath.

Stories We Tell
directed by Sarah Polley, available on VOD/DVD

Polley emerges as a brilliant storyteller in this personal film about her mother, and whether or not her father is really her father. The film is occasionally too self-aware, but it’s emotionally compelling and intelligently constructed.

Christmas Crazy: Mon Oncle Antoine – Claude Jutra (1971)

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I’ve always found that the best kind of art is the coy kind, the kind that sneaks the seriousness in through the back door. The way Kurt Cobain used to hide the serious lyrics in a mishmash of nonsense and contradiction, or the way Bergman and Ozu could deal with death and broken dreams while still bringing the fart jokes. Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine is of that same mold, ostensibly a charming, somewhat sentimental tale of a rural Christmas from the point of view of Benoit, who at fifteen is trying to figure out his place in the cycle between his childish behaviors and his adult feelings.

The film is set in the 1940s, in a rural Quebec mining town that seems to revolve around the general store owned by Benoit’s foster family, uncle Antoine and aunt Cecile. It’s the kind of store where you buy your baby food, your wedding veil and, eventually, your coffin. In the early winter morning, everyone comes out in the cold to see the unveiling of the Christmas display in the window, but is really just a reason to get together and have a few drinks and gossip. To Benoit’s eyes — and to his foster cousin Carmen’s eyes — it’s a stuffy, vaguely oppressive environment, but the isolation of the town, where horse and sleigh are still legitimate means of transportation, leaves them bemused rather than moody and sullen until one of the miner’s children dies and Benoit and Antoine make the trip as undertakers.

It’s the first trip of the kind for Benoit, the first test of his adulthood. Will the adult overtake the child, or will the child remain? Though the film is 40 years old, it somehow becomes more relevant as the idea of delayed adulthood grips us. Jutra’s Christmas setting and balance social politics and wry comedy — mostly at the expense of the hapless townsfolk — is the perfect setup for this question. More subtly the question is also asked of Carmen, who has new feelings of her own to contend with while Benoit braves the snow to take a peek at death.

The Others: 2012’s Underrated Gems

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/the-others-1.1421395

http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2012/12/the-other-others-five-more-underrated-titles-from-2012/

It’s that time of year again – every magazine you read proffers its version of the “best” stuff of the year, juggling the order of mostly the same 15 or so films. But what about all of thoseother films we loved this year? Don’t those deserve a list, too? We think they do, so here’s ours. Needless to say, you’ll find no Lincolns here, nor any queens of Versailles or Bagginses, precious. Instead, you’ll find subtitles (lots!), a feel-good beat to dance to, kids becoming adults, adults becoming kids and considerable doses of badassery from both Willem Dafoe and Donnie Yen. Here’s our selection of 2012’s most underrated films from around the world.

Dragon (directed by Peter Chan, available on video on demand) Dragon didn’t need any title at all for fans of the actors in this film – “The movie with Donnie Yen and Takeshi Kaneshiro” would have been enough to make some of us plunk down the VOD money and get watching this Chinese martial arts flick. I could watch Donnie Yen’s stoic, almost heartbroken, fighting all day long, and his moves are as brilliant and unassuming – and deadly – here as they’ve ever been.

Girl Walk // All Day (directed by Jacob Krupnick, girlwalkallday.com) Girl Walk wasn’t something I ever envisioned myself watching, never mind loving. Set to the 2010 Girl Talk album All Day, this strange dance opera straddles the five boroughs of New York. It’s a pure, fluffy dose of cultural confectioner’s sugar to balance out all of those cultural vegetables we’ve consumed this year. Anyone who can sit through this film without a grin may be irredeemable.

Holy Motors (directed by Leos Carax, coming soon) Nothing makes a bit of sense in Carax’s surrealist-absurdist masterpiece, but if it did, it would almost be a crime against cinema, so brilliant is its outcome. This French film works better the less you know going into it, but rest assured: You’ll either love it for its left-field inventiveness, or hate it for its strange, reckless meandering.

I Wish (directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, available on DVD, Netflix) Koreeda is one of the best working directors in the world right now, especially when it comes to working with kids. In I Wish, a film about a boy separated from his brother after his parents divorce, he creates a delicate, free-wheeling adventure based around the power of believing in wishes – or at least the silliness that comes with wanting something so badly that believing in wishes seems worth the risk.

The Kid With a Bike (directed by the Dardenne brothers, coming soon) This Belgian directing duo just doesn’t do it for me – usually, anyway. I went to see Kid out of a sense of obligation and walked out crushed and astonished by the heartbreaking yet oddly uplifting story of an abandoned kid who lands on the wrong track, even when he’s rescued from a youth home.

Safety Not Guaranteed (directed by Colin Trevorrow, available on DVD and video on demand) From the producers of Little Miss Sunshine, this movie follows a reporter who goes out to interview a man who takes out an odd classified ad, seeking a companion for time travel. The film surprises with its heart and its unexpected turns.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey (directed by Mark Cousins, available on DVD) The sheer size and scope of this collection, running over 15 hours from the birth of film until today, deserves shouting from the rooftops. Cousins is no timid observer, calling early films out for their racism, and he picks apart the radical social, religious and emotional tides captured by the likes of Pasolini and Bergman as well as directors you’ve never heard of before. The Story of Film is stark and declarative in a way that doesn’t force you to agree with its findings, but it’s also authoritative in its overwhelming research. No mere history, it takes a stand about what great cinema is while helping the viewer to do the same.

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bleaknight

As we get set for the new year, we looked back at some of the most underrated films that came out this year in the paper. Time and space (and shitty writing) only allowed for a few of the many to be noted, so we take to the blog to point out a few more worthy candidates we want to scream from the top of the mountain about.

2 Days in New York – Julie Delpy (DVD, Netflix)
2 Days in New York doesn’t exactly continue where 2 Days in Paris left off, but takes us to a whole new story in Marion’s life, where she has broken up with Jack and moved in with Mingus, a liberal blogger and radio show host played by a perfectly subdued Chris Rock. Much like the subdued Adam Sandler inPunch Drunk Love, Rock works better as a toned down everyday guy. Marion’s family (and ex, Manu) are the only real carry overs from the story, but the comedy is exactly the same, though it is more developed and carries more of an American edge to it this time. It’s the better film of the two, as Delpy’s instincts as a filmmaker have grown a great deal over the years.

Beloved – Christophe Honore (Netflix)
Honore has never quite got back to the greatness he showed in Love Songs, but Beloved doesn’t miss by that much. There is a little bit too much too it in terms of scope, with the film trying to hit some heavy themes — like the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, AIDs and 9/11 – by skirting around them and falling back into song. My lone wish for the film would be that it either go harder at the musical genre or skip the songs altogether. There aren’t enough of them strung together to really make a satisfying musical, but it’s a satisfying drama and then there is a strange singing break. Still, it continues to grow in my head the more I think about it. Milos Forman does an interesting turn as the father, and two of my favorites, Louis Garrel and Paul Schneider, are featured, but it’s all about the women: Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve and Ludivine Sagnier are divine, all of them.

Bleak Night – Yoon Sung-hyun (Netflix)
This tough South Korean drama is a clever, wrenching take on the coming of age high school bully drama. I fucking loathe the word bully — it’s an adult word, I never heard anyone use it as a kid. We just said “that asshole” or something along those lines — but it is in its proper usage here. It’s a devastating film if you’ve ever been fucked with, maybe even if you were the one fucking with people. The film runs in roughly 3 commingling threads that are a little difficult to place in a timeline at first, but once you put it together makes perfect sense and becomes an engrossing film. Like most non-linear films, it’s better on the second viewing when you have everything in order, but there is something inescapably great about a first viewing where you are just trying to get your footing and the film won’t let you.

Goodbye First Love – Mia Hansen-Love (VOD, Netflix)
Though she’s been around for a few years already, director Mia Hansen-Love announced herself as a director of serious note with this coming of age drama set in and around the aftermath of a first love affair gone wrong, which leaves a shattered Lola Creton trying to pick up the pieces of her life. It’s an emotional epic that leaves the perfect gaps between the chapters of her life for us to fill in the blanks. Boy or girl, Creton is east to empathize with unless you’re some kind of monster who has never had your heart broken.

Killer Joe – William Friedkin (Coming Soon)
I don’t really want to say too much because I think this is exactly the kind of film you should go into with as little information as possible and just let the psychosis of the story wash over you. McConaughey is a madman genius (who knew? but what a great run going back to last year’s Lincoln Lawyer), and its great to see Billy Freidkin make another great film.

Monsieur Lazhar – Philippe Falardeau (DVD, Netflix)
If this were my actual top 10 list, Monsieur Lazhar would likely be at the top of the pile this year. Indeed, this powerful film can boasts two 5-star reviews from this paper alone, something we don’t usually do. Mohamed Fellag and the young Sophie Nélisse take turns stealing scenes from the rest of the cast in this French-Canadian drama about the different forms being spiritually lost can take.

Oslo, August 31st – Joachim Trier (DVD, Netflix)
Originally, I thought this was a quickie film about Anders Brevik, but it very much isn’t. Loosely based off the same Pierre Drieu La Rochelle novel as Louis Malle’s The Fire Within, Oslo features a startling performance from Anders Danielsen Lie as a newly reformed junkie wading back into his old life, getting a withering taste of it from a new perspective, and finding out how difficult it is to change, especially to go back.

Red Hook Summer – Spike Lee (DVD, Netflix)
While I absolutely loved Red Hook Summer (as much as you can “love” something that contains as fucked up but kind of lame and expected a plot twist as this), it would be something I would hesitate to recommend to others. Nevermind all of the “Mookie is back” stuff — he’s barely in it — but this is the old, old school Spike Lee that’s come back. The film is shot quick and off the cuff, mixing various DV sources (like the Sony F3 and the iPad2) that really captures Brooklyn at its most colorful self, the spirit that exists in each neighborhood and the diversity within the similarity. Even though that spirit is different for each neighborhood, someone from Flatlands or Bensonhurst can still recognize it as being a smaller part of the whole. So it’s probably more of a birthplace pro bias working on me, which is why I’d hesitate to recommend it.

Your Sister’s Sister – Lynn Shelton (DVD, Amazon)
Everyone is calling it the year of Channing Tatum, and it’s hard to argue that, but just by sheer force and the number of projects he’s been involved with this year, it’s sort of the year of Mark Duplass too. He’s been everywhere this year, from the low-key Do-Deca-Pentathon through to the Oscar-favorite Zero Dark Thirty (which opens Orlando in mid-January). He’s a little more toned down in Your Sister’s Sister than he is in Saftey Not Guaranteed, but he’s the same charming, bumbling dude’s dude that steals your affection with his dopey smile. Lynn Shelton just keeps getting better with every film she makes, and it’s it’s kind of a shame that the success of Moonrise Kingdom knocked this out of Enzian’s schedule over the summer.

Turn Me On, Dammit! – Jannicke Systad Jacobsen (DVD)
It’s actually kind of an embarrassing blindspot in the film world that there are so few straight up sex comedies about girls, and while that isn’t totally remedied by this one film, it’s a great start. Half of me wants to call it brave, but its more that its just an honest film from an unfamiliar perspective. Honesty is bravery a lot of the time, but I’m not sure it applies here. It’s just that Jacobsen’s adaptation of Olaug Nilssen’s novel finally lets boys into the conversation that’s existed the whole time by a particularly smart move (from a boy’s point of view anyway), having a boy be the villain but not having boys in general be the enemy.

Monsieur Lazhar – Phillipe Falardeau (2012)

http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/index.php/2012/05/review-monsieur-lazhar-philippe-falardeau-5-stars-enzian-54/

There is an awful lot of power at work just below the surface of Philippe Falardeau’s Oscar nominated grade school drama. After their teacher commits suicide in their classroom during recess, a class of 11 and 12 year olds have a tidal wave of unfamiliar feelings with confront with their new teacher, an earnest Algerian refugee who lied to get the position. Ernst Lubitsch always said let your audience add two and two together and they’ll love you for it, and that’s a lesson Falardeau learned well. He attacks the material with a stern yet soft touch, avoiding the obvious pitfalls, and Mohamed Fellag and youngsters Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron hand in equally impressive, subtle performances.