(Click any highlighted film title for the original Black Sheep review.)
As each year comes to a close, I look back at the year that was and think on the events that defined it. And every year, the changes that came about seem monumental compared to the year before, but the reality is that every year brings change; every year brings me to a new place in both my personal and professional life because life is always changing. At times it feels like I’m making progress and, at other times, it feels as though I’m moving in the wrong direction. This is a falsehood though because change, no matter what direction it appears to be taking you in, is progress. I am not where I was a year ago, and a year from now, I will be somewhere else entirely. Regardless of how I see change, I am thankful for it because it reminds me that I am alive. I may not yet be where I would hope to be, but as long as there is change in my life, then I am exactly where I am supposed be.
Black Sheep Reviews went through a massive change in 2013. Midway through the year, BSR left the blogspot platform behind and found a new home here at WordPress. Since making the move, I have been reinvigorated in my mission to provide insightful, non-judgmental film criticism to readers who don’t want to be told what to see and what not to see, but who would rather engage in conversation about film and make up their own minds about whether or not to see the film that is being discussed. In order to further this goal, I brought on new writers to contribute to BSR, which has allowed me to add editor as a hyphenate to my already established writer title. There have been challenges along the way but relinquishing control is always liberating at the end of the day. Their talent has inspired me to push myself further and I genuinely feel that writing about less films personally has allowed my own writing to be more focused and precise. Having been writing about film for ten years now more or less, I was starting to feel like every review was just a variation on one I’d written before. By exploring other voices, and helping those voices grow, I can hear my own voice more clearly than I have in quite some time.
I had originally thought that this year was a bit lacklustre for film but narrowing down my favourite films to a list of 10 was just as difficult as it was last year. It always seems to come down to 11 or 12 titles and then the hard choices need to be made. The 10 films I finally settled on are a diverse bunch but they share one thing in common; they are all singularly enjoyable experiences that signify great change for the filmmakers themselves. And just like in life, change at the movies can only lead to even more greatness in the future, as long as we allow ourselves to embrace it.
In alphabetical order, here are Black Sheep Reviews’ Top 10 films of 2013:
12 YEARS A SLAVE
Directed by Steve McQueen
I have been a devout follower of Steve McQueen’s film work since his stunning debut, HUNGER, and, although I consider 12 YEARS A SLAVE to be his most accessible work to date, and not to mention, my least favourite of his three films, I am still immensely pleased to see that he is reaching the level of acknowledgement and praise that he deserves. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance as a free African-American who is sold into slavery without any hope of returning to his home and family, is both a heartbreaking and star-making turn.
ALL IS LOST
Directed by J.C. Chandor
While I enjoyed Chandor’s first film, MARGIN CALL, I never felt that it was as astute as some made it out to be. His second film, ALL IS LOST, is an incredible triumph though. To set out to make a movie about one man lost at see, left to his own devices to brave the elements, is incredibly brave. That he was able to pull it off, thanks in great part to a revelatory performance by Robert Redford, is a testament to his ability and promise as a filmmaker. He finds complexity in simplicity and provides his audience with an allegory for the arduous and satisfying journey that is this life.
Directed by David O. Russell
Russell is on an incredible role. Having just been the darling of awards season last year with SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK, he returns with AMERICAN HUSTLE, a film that is different than anything he has ever done but yet feels distinctly like a David O. Russell film. He pulls such incredible depth from the actors he works with and he puts this fantastic ensemble to great work here. As serious and as earnest as the film is, the cast just seems to be enjoying themselves, which only further leads to the audience’s enjoyment of the work. Russell himself seems to be having a little bit of fun too.
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Three hours may seem like a long time for some people to sit through a French coming-of-age/relationship drama, but this particular awakening is practically electric and never ever dull. Kechiche may have infamously had trouble on set with his leads (Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux) but you would never know it to watch the two of them on screen together. All of their interaction feels fully genuine and authentic, which allows this beautifully shot film, to find its own natural flow as well. Their relationship is not necessarily unique in any particular way, but its universality is what makes BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR so memorable.
Directed by Noah Baumbach
I’ve been waiting over a year to include FRANCES HA on this list, having first seen the film at TIFF 2012. I fell in love with the film instantly. I don’t know if it was the effortless charm of its lead actress, Greta Gerwig, or the discerning nature of the script Gerwig co-wrote with director (and lover), Noah Baumbach, or if it was just the gorgeous black and white homage to Woody Allen’s MANHATTAN. The truth is that it was really all of these things and how they came together in such a seemingly spontaneous fashion that had me enamoured. If this is what Gerwig and Baumbach can create when their great minds come together, I hope they stay in love for a long time to come.
Directed by Ryan Coogler
Coogler’s debut feature is just masterful. I commend him for tackling Oscar Grant III’s death and for doing so with such respect and admiration. While some have complained that the film’s structure is manipulative and meant to elicit a heavy emotional reaction come the film’s climax, I would argue that Coogler has humanized Grant in a way that positions him as a symbol for how tried and tragic race relations in America still are to this day. Grant’s life and death could have just been a headline but with FRUITVALE STATION, Coogler has provided an opportunity for tragedy to become change for the better.
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
I am still in awe of GRAVITY and it has been months since I’ve seen it. Cuaron has accomplished something that so many filmmakers strive to do without success; he turned Sandra Bullock into an impressive dramatic actress! I kid, of course. What he actually did was create a film that genuinely demands that it be seen on the biggest screen possible. Some have picked at the film’s plausibility or its scant screenplay, but I was just way too busy being exhilarated to care about any of these gripes. Personally, I found the film to be flawless. I was on the edge of my seat from start to finish and I walked around in a stupor of wonder for hours after the film was over and my feet were safely back on the ground.
Directed by Spike Jonze
I have always been a fan of Jonze’s work and HER is certainly no exception. In fact, it may just be his most accomplished film to date. At the very least, it is uniquely his own, having directed a screenplay he wrote alone for the first time in his career. Having a person fall in love with an artificially intelligent operating system is the kind of love story that only Jonze can pull off properly and, as we all live in a digital age that is likely not too far away from the one Jonze created, we can relate to his work in a way that hasn’t always been so easy in the past. He raises questions about the nature of love, the restrictions of a society brought simultaneously further apart and closer together by technological advancement, and the limitations that our bodies place on our own soul’s potential development. No film this year has inspired such thought in me.
INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS
Directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen
The Coen brothers truly are getting better with age. They continue to challenge themselves with projects that are distinctly different from one to the next and they continue to surpass all of my expectations. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS is their 16th film together (which is in and of itself an amazing accomplishment as I can barely get through doing the dishes with my brother) and this time around, they did away with anything resembling a plot and just got straight to the character. Oscar Isaac plays the titular character and in spending one initmate week with him as he bumbles aimlessly through the 1960’s Greenwich village folk music scene, we are given a private look at how commerce cannibalizes creativity.
THE WOLF OF WALL STREET
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Whenever I sit down to watch a 3-hour film, I tend to look for scenes that could have been cut and I was floored when I watched THE WOLF OF WALL STREET only to discover that not one second of its length was superfluous. In fact, every minute of Scorsese’s brilliantly excessive epic is vital and vibrant. Scorsese was reluctant to take this project on until he found a way to tell the story properly and I have to say I am in full agreement with him about this particular approach. The fast-paced, schizophrenic visual extravagance not only epitomizes the period and plot it means to portray, but it energizes the viewer to a point where they feel just as messed up as the people on screen. In the hands of a less talented, a less meticulous, a less mindful director, this would have been a disaster. Instead, it is a masterpiece.
Thank you again for your continued support this past year. I look forward to the year ahead, to all the change that promises to come about, and to all the movies that are just waiting for an audience to screen them and ascribe meaning to them.
Happy New Year from all of us at Black Sheep Reviews!
To see which films Black Sheep’s other writers loved this year, just click on their name below.