By COREY HOWELL
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Everyone who goes to the movies knows about certain big blockbusters that you have to see throughout the year. 2013 is no exception. On the superhero front there are “Man of Steel,” “Iron Man 3,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “The Wolverine” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Apart from that you still have “Oblivion,” “Pacific Rim,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Star Trek Into Darkness” and smaller, but widely known comedies like “Anchorman: The Legend Continues” and animated features like “Monsters University.” But what about those smaller movies that usually end up being the best films of the year? “Where’s their due,” I hear you exclaim silently. Many times you don’t even hear about them until after they’ve already left theaters! As such, here are ten must-see films for 2013.
10.) “Nymphomaniac” — Just a qualification to this: I hate Lars von Trier’s movies. He makes generally horrific movies that will more than likely either completely unnerve you or simply just gross you out. However, he does make incredibly personal movies that reflect his deep psychological issues and struggles. As such, although he doesn’t necessarily make good movies, he makes some of the most interesting pieces of cinema today. “Nymphomaniac” (as if the title wasn’t enough of a hint) will be no exception. It stars Charlotte Gainsbourg as Joe, a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, who is found by Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) beaten in an alley. Seligman takes her home to care for her, and Joe recounts the story of her life, from birth to the age of 50. It also stars Shia LaBeouf and is controversial for its reported use of unsimulated sex. It’s not going to be pretty or popular, but if you’re interested in cinema whatsoever, Lars von Trier’s films can’t be missed because of how much they continue to push the envelope on what you can and can’t do.
9.) “12 Years a Slave”— Experimental artist Steve McQueen is sort of like Lars von Trier in the way he pushes the boundaries of cinema. His last two films, “Hunger” and “Shame,” both employ experimental camera techniques and shots in order to create a raw and unique look at the human condition. Like the films of Lars von Trier, they also do not skimp on graphically depicting the horrific acts perpetrated within their frames; whether it be the ravages of hunger and both physical and emotional abuse, or the often violent and disturbing actions of a sex addict. “12 Years a Slave,” which tells the true story of Solomon Northrup, a New York state citizen who is kidnapped and sold into brutal slavery and made to work on a plantation in Louisiana in the 1800s as he desperately struggles to return home to his family, promises to continue McQueen’s streak of harsh and telling depictions of human nature. It’s not easy cinema, but it’s the type of cinema that will make you question our actions and who we were, are and could be as people. And with an all-star cast including Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Giamatti, it should be fantastic.
8.) “Stoker” — This film is particularly interesting because it is the first English language film by Korean director Park Chan-wook (“The Vengeance Trilogy”). And apart from hopefully being a platform for a more widespread acknowledgement of some amazing Asian filmmakers, the film seems incredibly interesting. After her father dies, an enigmatic uncle (Matthew Goode) moves in with a girl, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska), and her emotionally unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). Although India has suspicions about her uncle’s motives, she finds herself drawn to him. Apart from the amazing cast, the trailer makes the film seem like a strange mix of horror, family drama and psychological thriller. It seems almost Hitchcockian and even the small glimpses of the film are magnetizing.
7.) “The Place Beyond the Pines” —The newest film from “Blue Valentine” director, Derek Cianfrance, “The Place Beyond the Pines” is the multi-generational story about motorcycle stunt rider, Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling), who considers committing a crime in order to provide for his newborn child, an act that puts him on a collision course with a cop-turned-politician, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper). We already know from “Blue Valentine” that Cianfrance knows how to do human emotion right. Likewise, I will be very intrigued to see what he does with father-son relationships and the hefty themes that go along with them. Also starring Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta and Dane Dehaan, “The Place Beyond the Pines” also has a strangely similar feel to another Gosling movie (and my favorite film of 2011), “Drive,” which could be a very good sign.
6.) “Upstream Color” — This is probably the smallest of all these “smaller” films. The sophomore effort by Shane Carruth (after his amazing debut, “Primer,” which is on Netflix and is the closest thing to “correct” time travel that there is in film), “Upstream Color” might have the vaguest synopsis I’ve ever read. To quote, “A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism.” I don’t know what that means, but it sounds awesome. The trailer is also utterly encapsulating. I’ve literally seen it 15 times and still don’t know exactly what’s going on. A former software engineer, Carruth makes some of most intelligent and consequently hard to wrap your head around films today. But because of this, they are also some of the most rewarding. I don’t know when or where this will be released, but in the mean time please check out “Primer.” It’s amazing and even though you probably won’t completely understand it right away, I guarantee you’ll want to see it again.
5.) “Side Effects”— It seems like Steven Soderbergh makes a new movie every year (sometimes two). That said, all of his films are unique while still holding onto his hard-to-define genre style. “Side Effects” chronicles the perils of prescription drug abuse as Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) begins to experiment as she waits for her husband’s (Channing Tatum) release from jail. Riding a fantastic string of films including “Haywire,” “Contagion” and “Magic Mike,” Soderbergh will undoubtedly create a psychological thriller that will use and subvert genre conventions in order to delve into the dark depths of addiction in a way that could be cold and surgical or deep and personal. Regardless, it will be incredibly gripping. And with his retirement looming after the completion of this and his Liberace biopic, “Behind the Candelabra,” you can bet that Soderbergh will be pulling out all the stops.
4.) “Gravity” — Most of you will know Alfonso Cuarón for his contributions to the Harry Potter universe with 2004’s “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” However, what you should know him for are his two other films, “Y Tu Mamá Tambien” and “Children of Men.” Cuarón has an absolutely incredible visual sense (there’s a continuous steadicam shot in “Children of Men” that is one of my most breathtaking things I’ve ever seen on film) and a knack for emotional storytelling. Needless to say, there’s reason to be excited about his return to filmmaking after an eight year absence with “Gravity.” Written and directed by Cuarón, “Gravity” stars Sandra Bullock as Dr. Ryan Stone, a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission, with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky (George Clooney) in command of his last flight before retiring. But on a seemingly routine spacewalk, disaster strikes. The shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky completely alone-tethered to nothing but each other and spiraling out into the blackness. Cuarón’s visuals in space? A story about isolation and the struggle to survive? An amazing duo to carry the film? What more do you need?!
3.) “Only God Forgives”— I spoke of “Drive” earlier as being my favorite film of 2011. I love Nicolas Winding-Refn as a director and I love Ryan Gosling being one cool mofo. I got it in “Drive” and if all the signs are correct, I’m going to get in again with “Only God Forgives.” Set in Thailand, the film follows Julian (Gosling), who runs a Thai boxing club as a front organization for his family’s drug smuggling operation, as he is forced by his mother Jenna to find and kill the individual responsible for his brother’s recent death. The film seems to have the same kind of brutal violence mixed with that weird, neon-y 1980s vibe with the strong, silent hero that made “Drive” amazing. But this time it’s in Thailand! And if “The Hangover 2” taught us anything (crazy, I know), it’s that Thailand is an amazing backdrop for a film. With “Drive” and 2009’s “Valhalla Rising,” “Only God Forgives” looks to be the final part of a trilogy that progressively gets more and more violent and more and more strange. And I, for one, can’t wait.
2.) “The World’s End” — Speaking of unofficial trilogies, Edgar Wright’s newest film, “The World’s End,” completes his “Three Flavours Cornetto” or “Blood and Ice Cream” trilogy along with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz.” “Shaun” was his take on the horror genre, “Hot Fuzz” his take on the buddy cop/procedural genre. Now, with “The World’s End,” he has his end of the world/sci-fi film. Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (stars of the previous films), the film tells of the story of five childhood friends who reunite after 20 years to repeat a legendary pub crawl from their youth, returning to their hometown once again to attempt to reach the fabled pub “The World’s End.” Over the course of the night, they begin to realize that the real struggle is “not just theirs but humankind’s,” and completing the crawl becomes the least of their worries. Edgar Wright has such a unique and kinetic editing style and his films are so uproariously funny that I would gladly watch them no matter what. However, with the return of Pegg and Frost along with Rosamund Pike, Paddy Considine and the now white-hot Martin Freeman (it’s Bilbo, guys!), I wouldn’t miss this one for the world (pun intended?).
1.) “Inside Llewyn Davis”— Everyone knows some film by the Coen Brothers. Whether it be “No Country for Old Men” or “O’ Brother Where Art Thou” or “True Grit” or whatever, everyone knows at least one. That being said, the Coens have made quite a few movies and many times their smaller works get overlooked by the general public in favor of the larger, more widely available ones like the three I’ve listed. Likewise, I feel like it’s my duty to make sure you all know about their newest film, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Starring Oscar Isaacs and Carey Mulligan (also, crazily enough, from “Drive”) and the ubiquitous Justin Timberlake, the film tells the story of a singer-songwriter who navigates New York’s folk music scene in the 1960s (and is based loosely on Dave Van Ronk’s posthumous memoir “The Mayor of MacDougal Street”). Apart from the New York folk music scene in the 60s being absolutely fascinating, you should see everything the Coen Brothers do because they’re two of the most unique minds making movies today and are arguably today’s (along with Tarantino in my opinion) greatest living American directors. Couple that with the Coens talking about creating naturalistic dialogue that “creates the sense of being right in that world” along with shooting the film in an older format (i.e. 16mm) to emulate old-school documentaries and you have what sounds like a potentially amazing piece with a very different feel from their “normal” films.