Wednesday, February 12, 2014

2013 Year in Review: My Top 10

And now as is the annual tradition, here is my Top 10 Films of 2013. As usual a number of my favourite films I saw this year weren't actually new releases, I've gone along with the tradition of only including films released in 2013. This years list was easier to put together in some ways and harder in others. Having only awarded 12 films a score of 8/10 or more, it was a quick process to narrow down the list, however it was then rather a tricky challenge to choose which made it into the final 10. Overall it was a disappointing year and I only wanted to select films that deserved to be included, and I think i've come up with a list that suffices. 

Some honourable mentions include the Korean-indie's Romance Joe, Love in 42.9 and December, films I championed through Cinema on the Park, Lost Rivers, William and the Windmill and Black Fish were my top international documentary pics, while the Korean-doco's My Place, Non-Fiction Diary and Camp 14: Total Control Zone all deserve special mention. Django Unchained and This Is 40 were both solid entries in the long filmographies of Tarantino and Apatow, but aren't well round enough to make it higher up the list.

My most underrated films of the year have to go to the Korean-American rom-com Wedding Palace, Flora Lau's Bends and Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk with Me. The unlucky 8/10 films that just don't make the cut were Cutie and the Boxer and Mistaken for Strangers, meaning this years list is the first in 5 years that does not include a straight-forward documentary (See no. 6 for what that refers to). My guilty pleasures of the year go to Arnold's return to the silver screen in Kim Jee-woon's The Last Stand, and Park Chan-wook's similarly successful Hollywood debut with Stoker, while both were not complete enough to make the final selection but both brought a smile to my face.

My favourite performances of the year have to go to brilliant Ahn Jae-hong in The King of Jokgu, the delightful Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, and the surprisingly well-rounded performance of pop-star turned actress Lee Jung-hyun in Juvenile Offender. While best supporting performances were no doubt Bobby Cannavale in Blue Jasmine and Carina Lau in Bends. My biggest disappointments of the year were Fruitvale Station, Alpha Papa, Elysium, The Hobbit, Cabin in the Woods, Tang Wong and Wreck It Ralph! Once again I had huge expectations for a Korea-Thai film Thuy, though like last years Mai Ratima, it was just as disappointing. Read on below for mini reviews of my top 10. Agree, Disagree, comment below.

My Top 10 Films for 2013

10. "Moebius", Korea

Pieta was a return to form for Kim, though not a return to style, with it operating more as a revenge thriller genre film compared to his usual body of work. Moebius is back to what Kim does best, its grotesque, its disgusting, its bloody, its sexual, and its pure Kim Ki-duk. Not a film you can say you 'love', but i loved seeing him still show the director that he once was. I selected the film for KOFFIA2014 but it was denied selection by the powers that be. 

9. "The Dinner", Korea

A real surprise. This is not a happy family film, but beautifully captures the family structure in a modest Korean household. Dark, bleak and a slow burn, it's conclusion will reward those that stick with it. The Dinner is an enthralling film, so delighted we were able to screen it at Cinema on the Park! Programmed at KOFFIA2014

8. "Blue Jasmine", USA
A first! I decided to include Blue Jasmine in the Top 10 eventhough it received only 7/10 from me. The reason being is that it just left such a lasting impression, and while I may not have awarded it as high a score upon first viewing, it is the film I am most interested in going back and watching again. The superb script and acting deservedly elevate it up into the Top 10. (It was also quite an experience to watch a Woody Allen film with a Korean audience in Seoul, much of the humour was lost on the audience having to read subtitles, so I was the only person in the theatre laughing. For that experience, I wont forget it!)

7. "Child's Pose", Romania
A brilliant Romanian drama that is so well put together it will keep you on the edge of your seat like a good thriller would do. With a superb performance from Luminita Gheorghiu as the head female figure of the household, Child's Pose  really is a must watch for fans of World Cinema. 

6. "Approved for Adoption", France / Belgium / Korea
Part documentary. Part animation. Part biopic. Part coming-of-age film. Approved for Adoption is hard to label and rather simplistic, however it is just so effective in its storytelling that it will no doubt touch you. A really moving film and an insight to the life of an adoptee. Programmed at KOFFIA2013.

5. "26 Years", Korea
Unfortunately given the content of the film, 26 Years has not had much playtime worldwide. The threat of action from censorship and the government meant that the film was largely swept under the table. It even struggled to be made and had to resort to crowd-funding to raise the remaining production costs. However the film is worth seeing not just due to its 'controversial' subject matter, as its brilliantly written, directed and edited and one of the best Korean thrillers in the past decade. I selected the film for KOFFIA2014 but it was denied selection by the powers that be. 

4. "The Past", France / Iran
Being someone who watches hundreds of films a year, there are certain screenwriting tropes that get on my nerves, most notably when characters simply avoid confrontation to make the film last longer. Asghar Farhadi does the exact opposite, putting characters in situations that no other filmmaker does, having them mouth everything the audience is probably thinking in their head "oh no dont say that". Its cringeworthy, and its fantastic, as it propels the drama forward constantly in a brilliantly constructed way. Conclusion of drama leads to more drama. More confrontation leads to further confrontation. The Past is Farhadi doing what he does best. Simple. You dont need to know anything else, just go watch it right now! 

3. "Silver Linings Playbook", USA
The biggest surprise of the year for me. The excellent performances by Cooper and Lawrence and the pitch-perfect script swept me off my feet, and i cant wait to watch it again to see what i think on a 2nd viewing. Nothing else David O Russell has done has worked for me, but Silver Linings Playbook just seemed to tick all my boxes. Thoroughly enjoyable. 

2. "Juvenile Offender", Korea
The find of the year for me. I knew it would be in my top 5 as soon as i left the theatre. Juvenile Offender's first half plays like one of the bleak 30 minute drama shorts that emerge on a regular fashion from up and coming filmmakers at KNUA and KAFA each year (think Bleak Night, Broken Night, Safe etc). These shorts often go on to play at Berlin and Cannes and take top honours. But what Kang Yi-kwan does in the 2nd half of the film takes it to another level, and with Lee Jung-hyun completely sweeping me off my feet, it all comes together superbly. Juvenile Offender is a remarkable film. Programmed for Cinema on the Park 2014. 

1. "The King of Jokgu", Korea
A cinema experience i will never forget. Watching the world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival with the entire cast and crew in the audience was something that surely took the film to another level, however I am very confident that watching it in any setting will still deliver. While looking like a simple comedy-sports film, the film is so well rounded with a tight script, great cast and creative cinematography that is far surpasses any expectations of the genre. The King of Jokgu epitomises what has emerged in recent years from the filmmaking talent at Chung-Ang University, which the film obviously has some connections to. (Look out for the Moon Byoung-gon cameo!)

Director Woo Moon-gi is a fine filmmaker, with a solid collection of shorts, however Jokgu is his best work yet, and I cant wait to see what he makes next. Don't let its simple nature fool you, this is a film worthy of much higher praise. I programmed it as the closing film of KOFFIA2014, but due to the films unreleased status that was not possible. Now having secured a local Korea release, lets hope for more playtime worldwide in future!

 Well there you have it, my top 10 for 2013. 5 Korean films, 2 US, 2 France and 1 Romanian film. Feel free to give your list or any feedback on the above, and if you missed them here is my top 10 for 20102011 and 2012

Kieran Tully
Follow Me @TullysRecall

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