Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Film Review: Joel & Ethan Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis

Set inside their moody, 'grey skies are never going to clear up' world, the brothers' Coen have created yet another slice of their unique brand of morose emotionally-macabre moviemaking.  And this critic would have it no other way.  Set in the early 1960's, mostly in Greenwich Village (with a sidetrip to Chicago and back), Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of a down-on-his-luck folk singer and guitarist, one of Ginsberg's angelheaded hipsters, thinking himself one of the best minds of his generation (a thing he may or may not be - we never find out), and several (typical?) days in his down-and-out life.  With the Coens at the helm, don't expect to see any personal growth on the character's part, nor any sunny rays peeking out from behind the gloom and doom of the film's atmosphere, in order to let our not-so-intrepid hero find his way out of the dark days of his life.  No siree, this is not what one should expect from a Coen Brothers film, and once again, this critic would have it no other way.

Now I am not saying there is not life inside the Coens' insular cinematic world, but that life is ofttimes ridiculed by whatever natural or unnatural forces may be crushing down on our protagonist.  Be it the law (Raising Arizona and Fargo), the corporate world (Hudsucker Proxy), the mob (Miller's Crossing), feral criminality (No Country for Old Men), possible insanity (Barton Fink), or perhaps even God himself (A Serious Man), a Coen Brothers' protag is never safe from what could befall and very possibly destroy them.  In their latest film, the duo's sixteenth feature, Oscar Isaac portrays a man who is not necessarily falling apart so much as a man who has never been together.  Like most artists in our society, Llewyn Davis has a dangerous disconnect with the norms of society, and thus has an outsider feel no matter where he goes, even with his fellow artists, with whom he presumably has something in common - and yes, as a lifelong writer and outsider myself, I too can empathize and thus sympathize with Llewyn's feelings of disdain and disgruntlement.  Llewyn is a sad case, but not a terminal case.  He is trapped inside a world he doesn't understand, looking for a way out.  Looking for a way out into the world that he feels he should be part of.  A world where his desires are not looked upon as lesser, but a world where he, as an artist, is respected, perhaps even adored.

And then there's the music.  As melancholy in mood as the film itself, or as Llewyn himself, the array of old folk tunes, sung on film by Isaac, as well as costars Justin Timberlake, Carey Mulligan, and Adam Driver, all arranged by the ever-capable T Bone Burnett give the film a sense of realness.  We aren't just watching a film set in 1961, we seem to be right there as the beat/folk Village scene is about to explode (you'll see a hint of the coming explosion as a certain someone takes the stage near film's end).  The one song actually written especially for the film (co-written by Burnett, Timberlake, and the Coens), the comedic bon mot, Please Mr. Kennedy (recently egregiously snubbed by the Oscars), is a shiny highlight in a film full of sad, seemingly endlessly sad, characters.  Now I am sure that those who won't even go near a sad movie (for some reason, everything must be positive for these silly people), will not like this film, even one bit, but for those who want tragic, yet sadly realistic, storytelling, done with a bravura central performance (and wait til ya get a load of John Goodman!), then Inside Llewyn Davis is the film for them/you/us.  Oh yeah, and there's a cat (or two or three) as well.

This review can also be read over at my main site, All Things Kevyn.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Oscar Nomination Talk..and an Oscar Poll to Boot!!

Well kids, it's time to see just who got nominated for that oh so coveted little golden guy, apocryphally named after Bette Davis' uncle Oscar, as well as find out just how well (or how poorly, but we all know this isn't the case) in my annual predictions.  To get that last little piece of information out of the way (so we can enjoy the rest of our date), I went 39 for 44 in my predictions, or for the more statistically-minded amongst my readers, an 89% accuracy rate.  Not bad, but considering how predictably boring the nominations were (again) this year, I should have probably broken 90% quite easily.  Anyway, I digress.  So, without further ado, let's get a-lookin'.

First off, let's take a look at Best Picture.  As the rules state (and as this guy hates) there can be anywhere from five to ten nominees (and there should be five, as tradition - mostly - dictates), and this year, for the third year in a row, we have ended up with nine.  Oh, and by the way, these are the exact nine that I predicted yesterday.  So take that!  They are: American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Gravity, Nebraska, Captain Phillips, The Wolf of Wall Street, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, and Her.  So, as they say, no real surprises here - not that there were any real surprises anywhere today.  In Best Director, I went 4 for 5, having picked Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips instead of nominee Alex Payne for Nebraska. The other four, Alfonso Cuaron, David O. Russell, Steve McQueen, and Marty Scorsese were all pretty much shoo-ins, and therefore easy pickin's in my predictin's.  As for who might win on March 2nd?  Pic is up between Slave and Hustle I do believe, with the slight edge going to the more dramatic Slave, and Cuaron is surely the frontrunner for the directing Oscar (the first Mexican to win?).  Hustle and Gravity are the big winners, each garnering ten nominations, with 12 Years a Slave coming in with nine.  Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa also received an Oscar nomination this morning, but more on that later.  Onto the acting categories.

I went 17 for 20 in the acting slots, acing Supporting Actor, and missing just one each in the other three categories.  The big news here though (at least I think it is) is the fact that American Hustle pulled off a nomination in each of the four acting categories.  Amy Adams and Christian Bale in the leads (Bale was my one misstep in Best Actor) and Cooper and J-Law in Supportings.  This is just the fifteenth time this feat has been accomplished in Oscar history.  The last time such a thing happened?  Just last year, with Silver Linings Playbook.  What?  Huh?  That was a David O. Russell film too.   Howzabout that?  The last time before that was Reds in 1981.  As for surprises...well, there really weren't any.  No Redford (which I predicted).  No Hanks (which I did not).  No Emma Thompson (probably the closest thing to a surprise).  But we did get Sally Hawkins (again, I predicted that one), so that's a good thing.  As for my of-the-top predictions for the eventual winners, I would say (at this time only - this may change before Oscar night) McConaughey, Blanchett (though look out for Amy Adams in a surprise win), Jared Leto, and Lupita Nyong'o (unless they are willing to give J-Law two in a row).   Snubs?  Not that they ever stood even the remotest of chances, I would have loved to have seen Julie Delpy, Mia Wasikowska, or Greta Gerwig in Best Actress (maybe Rooney Mara too), Oscar Isaac, Simon Pegg, or Michael Shannon in Best Actor, Nicole Kidman, Kristen Scott Thomas, or Tao Zhao in Supporting Actress, and Matthew Goode, John Goodman, and (of course) James Franco(!!!) in Supporting Actor - but that's just me.

The screenplay nods were just as boring and predictable as everything else, as I missed just one (predicting the shamefully robbed Inside Llewyn Davis instead of the nominated Dallas Buyers Club for Original Screenplay), so there's really nothing to talk about there.   As I said earlier, I had a success rate of 89% this year, up from my pathetic 77% turnout last year, so all is good.  As for the rest of the nominees?  Well, there are some mentionables, so let's mention 'em.  A snub for Sarah Polley and her doc, Stories We Tell, nominations for Arcade Fire (Score), and Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Song), no nod for Blue is the Warmest Color, but the wonderful Great Beauty is up (and will win!) for Foreign Language Film, Miyazaki gets an Animated Feature nod for what he has called his final film (but can he beat Disney's Frozen?), Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster is up for two Oscars (Cinematography and Costumes), and yes, the aforementioned Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is nominated for Best Make-up & Hair.  So there!  A pretty unremarkable year in surprises here, but that seems to be par for the course in these recent Oscar times.  I'll be back on March 1st with my final predictions, but in the meantime, check out the Oscar poll I'm a-running 'round these parts (you will find it near the top of the right hand sidebar).  That's it for now.  See ya 'round the web.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Final Oscar Nomination Predictions

Welly well well, here we are on another Oscar nominations eve, so, without further ado (other than the poster image of 12 Years a Slave, that is), here are my final, and as the post's title says, set-in-stone, Oscar nomination predictions.  Have at 'em.  Oh, and I have listed them in order of probability within each category.

Best Picture
1. 12 Years a Slave
2. American Hustle
3. Gravity
4. Captain Phillips
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
6. Nebraska
7. Dallas Buyers Club
8. Her
9. Philomena
10. Saving Mr. Banks

Wild Cards: Blue Jasmine and/or Inside Llewyn Davis (Yeah, right - but I guy can dream)

The first three here are pretty much locks, and the next three are pretty darn as close to locks as they can be.  Now since we don't know just how many nominees we will see in this category, as the rules claim anywhere between five and ten (a rule with which this critic is not all too fond), who knows what tomorrow morning will bring.  My guess though, is eight, but if it does go to ten, there ya have it.  Other (slim) possibilities are Before Midnight, Fruitvale Station, The Butler, and even Blue is the Warmest Color, if hell freezes over.

Best Director
1. Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity
2. Steve McQueen for 12 Years a Slave
3. David O. Russell for American Hustle
4. Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Paul Greengrass for Captain Phillips

Possible Spoilers: Alexander Payne for Nebraska and/or Spike Jonze for Her

Wild Cards: The Coen Brothers for Inside Llewyn Davis

The first three are locks here, with Cuaron the frontrunner to win then gold (another split between director and picture is likely again this year).  Scorsese is likely but not a sure thing.  Greengrass is a bit on the wobbly side here, with either Payne or Jonze (or maybe even both!) on the ready to (semi)surprise tomorrow morn.  A real surprise (and a welcome one) would be a nod for the Coens.  Who knows.

Best Actor
1. Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club 
2. Chiwetel Ojiofor in 12 Years a Slave
3. Bruce Dern in Nebraska
4. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
5. Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips

Possible Spoilers: Robert Redford in All is Lost and/or Joaquin Phoenix in Her

Wild Card: Christian Bale in American Hustle or Forrest Whitaker in The Butler

Wow, just think, a guy who was the frontrunner to win the statue a month or so ago, may now, not even get nominated.  The top three are locks, with McConaughey in the hot seat to win in March, but the next two are a bit shaky.  Redford was the frontrunner, but with Leo buzzing up a storm, it seems unlikely he'll be left out, and Redford is the most likely culprit to end up not having his name announced tomorrow.  Of course, I could be wrong - imagine that.  Perhaps the Leo buzz came to late to affect the outcome, and Redford's once vaulted slot is safe after all. Phoenix could just as easily slip in there as well, but less likely.

Best Actress
1. Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
2. Amy Adams in American Hustle
3. Sandra Bullock in Gravity
4. Emma Thompson in Saving Mr. Banks
5. Judi Dench in Philomena

Possible Spoiler: Meryl Streep in August: Osage County

Wild Card: Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color

What!!?  Streep not getting nominated!?  What am I, a fool!?  Yeah, well maybe I am, but with a sudden surge in buzz for Amy Adams, someone had to get knocked off the list, and La Streep is the injured party.  Otherwise, this seems a pretty tight race.

Best Supporting Actor
1. Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
2. Michael Fassbender in 12 Years a Slave
3. Barkhad Abdi in Captain Phillips
4. Bradley Cooper in American Hustle
5. Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street

Possible Spoilers: Daniel Bruhl in Rush and/or Tom Hanks in Saving Mr. Banks.

Wild Card: James Gandolfini in Enough Said

Again, the top three are sure-fire locks.  Numbers four and five, a bit more on the shaky side of things.  For a while, it looked as if Mr. Hanks might be a double nominee this year, but the buzz on Saving Mr. Banks, save for the lead performance of Miss Thompson, has pretty much taken the proverbial long walk off of a short pier.  That, along with the surge of both Hill and Cooper in this race, gives us our top five, but don't be too surprised if Herr Bruhl sneaks in there somewhere.  And let's not forget Oscar's reverence for the dead, and the, albeit slim, possibility of the late Mr. Gandolfini popping up as well.

Supporting Actress
1. Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
2. Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave
3. June Squibb in Nebraska
4. Oprah Winfrey in Lee Daniels' The Butler
5. Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine

Possible Spoiler: Julia Roberts in August: Osage County

Wild Card: Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station

Again, the top three are locks.  After that, it's pretty much a free-for-all.  If Oprah is nominated, she may very well win, but it's still debatable if she will be nominated (and if she's not, then maybe we'll see back-to-back Oscars for J-Law).  As for the fifth spot, conventional wisdom goes to picking Julia Roberts, but if Streep is snubbed (as is my prediction above) then perhaps the whole film will be, leaving the spot open for one of my faves of the year, one Miss Sally Hawkins.  Then again, there tends to be a big surprise somewhere in the acting categories, and perhaps our wild card Spencer is just that surprise.

Best Original Screenplay
1. American Hustle
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Nebraska
4. Her
5. Blue Jasmine

Best Adapted Screenplay
1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Captain Phillips
3. Philomena
4. Before Midnight
5. The Wolf of Wall Street

The screenplay nods seem pretty firm right about now, which is kind of unusual, so there is bound to be a surprise or two in here somewhere  Possibles surprises for Original are: Saving Mr. Banks, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Frances Ha, Dallas Buyers ClubFruitvale Station.  Others for Adapted are: August: Osage County, Blue is the Warmest Color, and The Spectacular Now.  So there ya go. 

Well, that's about it for now.  I'll let the other categories go for now (though I'm sure the 3D spectacle, Gravity, will be up for most of the tech awards, just as Life of Pi did last year).  All-in-all, I think American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Captain Philips, and Gravity are the films destined to lead the nominations, and maybe The Wolf of Wall Street, if that pans out.  We'll see tomorrow morning, and I'll have a wrap-up of the nods, as well as my stats in the ole predicting game.  See ya 'round the web.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Film Review: Spike Jonze's Her

When I first saw Spike Jonze's feature debut, Being John Malkovich, over fourteen years ago (has it really been that long?), I was, as some are prone to say, blown away.  To this day, I still consider the film to one of the best movies of the 1990's.  With the director's second film, 2002's Adaptation, I was not blown away so much as heatedly intrigued.  However, with each of Jonze's two follow-up films, replacing my aforementioned blown away and/or heatedly intrigued feelings, my emotions have ranged from less than mildly amused (Where the Wild Things Are) to slightly more than mildly amused (the director's latest, Her). Now don't get me wrong, Jonze is a talented director, his visual nuances are actually quite spectacular in each and every film he has made (including most of his music video work as well), but the one thing the director had going for him in his first two films, and what is missing from his latest two, is the warped genius pen of Charlie Kaufman.  One of the most fascinating screenwriters working today (that genius pen is also responsible for Human Nature, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the writer's directorial debut, the brilliantly subversive Synecdoche, New York) made Malkovich and Adaptation flow beyond even Jonze's visual dexterity, and that is sorely lacking in the sadly tepid Wild Things and the seemingly tired Her, both written by Jonze himself.  But maybe that's just me and my deep love for pretty much everything Charlie Kaufman touches.

Perhaps I am being a bit too harsh on Her. It is far from a bad film, and to be honest, I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed most Hollywood movies this year.  Maybe my 'more than mildly amused' should be upgraded to 'fun but not the funnest.'  Who knows?  The story is interesting and offbeat (which is usually my kinda thing) but it does tend to drag and sometimes repeat itself, as if it really didn't know how else to fill the void of the middle of a movie.  The storyline by the way, goes a little something like this: Her is the quirky tale of a lonely writer who falls in love with his computer's operating system (my favourite part of the story is how most people in this slightly futuristic landscape, don't even find such a thing strange or unusual) and how relationships are the same no matter who the partners may be.  Like I said, it is an interesting tale, but Jonze's lack of narrative interest and way of shallowly filling these gaps in interest (of course, as the director is wont to do, there are some rather hipstery shoe-gazing songs tossed in there to annoy anyone with even a modicum of musical taste), just makes this critic wonder even more what the film would have ended up being like if Kaufman were around to write the damn thing.

But again, perhaps I am being a bit to harsh on the old girl.  Every time I say I like the film alright, I go off on a tangent about how it could be better with Kaufman, and let's face it, many a film would probably be better with Kaufman at the writing desk, so we probably shouldn't keep thinking coulda woulda shoulda thoughts, and just say that Her is more than mildly amusing, and is indeed fun, though not the funnest.  After all, we do get yet another bravura performance, this time at the other end of the emotional spectrum than the actor's other recent work in The Master or his installationesque performance piece-cum-docudrama I'm Still Here, from the mighty Joaquin Phoenix.  And even with its drawbacks, Her is a charming and rather quaint little film.  It's quite cute, indeed.  Still though, one must wonder what Charlie Kaufman could have done with such a creative story idea.  Okay, okay, maybe I did like the film more than I let on, and yes, perhaps my desire to see what the all-powerful Mr. Kaufman would do with the material is not enough of a cinematic foible to toss away an otherwise fun (but not the funnest) film.  So there.

This review can also be read over at my main site, All Things Kevyn.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Film Review: Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing

Let me attempt to put a more US audience-tested face on this whole shebang.  Try to imagine the likes of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, still being alive, and reenacting their crimes against humanity for a documentarian's camera, and for all to see.  Now imagine the terrorist and despot actually starring in these reenactments, as both victim and victimizer.  Now try to imagine a few elaborate musical numbers being thrown in, to ironically liven things up a bit.  If you can indeed imagine such a beast, then you too can imagine the alluring yet harrowing documentary, The Act of Killing.  The only difference here is that we are not in the caves of Afghanistan or the airways of September 11th, nor are we in the spider-holes  and war-ravaged streets of Bagdad. 

Here we find ourselves in the paramilitaristic land of modern day Indonesia.  Following the failed coup of 1965, gangsters like Anwar Congo, to whom the moniker of main antagonist-cum-protagonist can be applied here, were put in charge of government-sanctioned death squads.  These death squads of 1965-66 have evolved into a political party that has since run the country with the proverbial iron fist.  And these crimes (people being dragged from their homes, tortured, executed, homes burned to the ground in a firestorm of pseudo-righteousness) are still all too real, and now being relived by those who perpetrated them, all for the camera's roving, unceasing Kino-eye.  And I gotta tell ya, as disturbing as many of these war crimes are, it is really hard to not be riveted by a strange fascination for the things being explained and reenacted up on the screen.

The film opens with a chorus line of pink clad dancers slowly sliding their way out of the mouth of an enormous fish sculpture (as seen on the film's poster) and quickly moves from campesque farce to brutal reality.  The main brunt of the film follows the aforementioned Congo around as he, often swelling with pride as he wears the most Cheshire of grins, matter-of-factly tells of his exploits as state executioner - a position where he claims to have murdered over 1000 people, all in the name of the anti-communist Indonesian government.  Congo and the camera are visited by other fellow death squaders, as they are heralded and praised as great people of Indonesia.  The final act of the film, as we delve deeper into these repugnant crimes, and as Congo begins questioning what he has done in life, the film becomes more and more surreal and more and more bizarre in its uniquely stylized narrative.  This film really is a strange beast, unlike any film this critic has ever experienced. It is also one of those films one would be remiss not to say it is a certain must see.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Best of 2013

Hey everybody!  It's that time of the year again.  That time where we film critics (and others of a similar cinematic bent) dole out our annual best and worst of the year lists.  Well, that is just what I will be doing below (and over at my main site, All Things Kevyn).  But this ain't just some boring ole top ten list.  No sirree.  This will be my choices for the best that cinema had to offer this past year, from the best to the worst.  A top twenty or so offering (a top 21 to be exact), followed by some runners-up, followed by my choices for the best performances of the year, which then will be followed by my choices for the dregs of then past cinematic year.  But enough of this introductory nonsense.  Without further ado, I give you the cinematic year that was 2013, beginning with my choices for the best films of the year.  Oh yeah, and due to some scheduling conflicts, two films that would have likely made this list (and still might through the wonder of the retcon), Spike Jonze's Her and The Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, have yet to be seen by your not-so-humble narrator, and therefore are not included below. Anyway, on with the show...

1. Stoker - This film, the first English-language offering from Korean enfant terribles, Park Chan-wook, came onto the screen quite early in the year, and ever since the March 21st screening I saw, the film has been the runaway winner for best of the year - no film was ever able to topple it from its high and mighty perch.  Loosely based on Hitchcock's 1943 classic thriller, Shadow of a Doubt, Park brings his unique, oft times batshitcrazy, style to Hollywood, and casts a pitch perfect Mia Wasikowska in the central role of lonely little girl lost-cum-potentially demented serial killer - all via a bubbling sexual cauldron of Lolita-esque desire.  A gorgeously harrowing near-masterpiece, indeed.

2. American Hustle - The only film that even came close to toppling Stoker from that top spot, came quite close to the year end deadline - as many big name Oscar potentials do.  Taking a riff on making a Martin Scorsese film ("the best damn Martin Scorsese film ever made by someone who is not Martin Scorsese"), David O. Russell has finally made the great film we all knew he had in him all along.  Granted, many thought his last film was that great work, but the obvious cliché of that film (really, how were so many fooled into thinkig it was anything better than typical Oscar-bait pabulum?), is wiped away completely with this new, great visceral work of art.  Bravo.

3. Spring Breakers - From its opening montage of a typical spring break setting that looks to be an auteuristic take on Girls Gone Wild, to its dangerously sexualized interior involving several actresses with usually (usually) squeaky clean images, all the way to its killer final scene that could have been lifted straight out of a Brian De Palma-fuelled wet dream, Harmony Korine's succulently filthy paean to the Godardian ideal of a girl and a gun, or in this case, several girls and lots of guns, may not be the film for everyone (what an understatement!) but that doesn't change the fact that this is indeed, cinema as it damn well should be.

4. Before Midnight - This acerbic love(esque) story is the culmination (unless Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke decide on making a fourth one down the road) of one of the smartest, most beautifully filmed trilogies around.  Beginning in 1995 with Before Sunrise, and continuing in 2004 with Before Sunset (my personal favourite of the bunch), the aforementioned director, Richard Linklater, and his stars and co-screenwriters, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, have given us a deft comedy-cum-potential tragedy in this continuing tale of the life and love of Celine and Jesse.  Simple, yet deceptively perceptive, this film (along with its predecessors), and its filmic couple, is just so so fun to watch.

5. Frances Ha - Noah Baumbach, the Brooklyn-born writer/director of such arthouse hits as Margot at the Wedding and The Squid and the Whale, is at it again.  This time around he is joined by muse/girlfriend Greta Gerwig as co-screenwriter and star - in fact Gerwig pretty much created the character, foibles and faults included, from the so-called ground up.  The film, done in crisp black and white and shot on a minimal budget in and around Brooklyn, is the story of a twentysomething New York dancer, all done in the most post-new wavy kinda manner one can imagine.  So much so that one can actually see, hear, and smell the ghosts of Francois Truffaut wandering around in the background somewhere.

6. Blue Jasmine - Once upon a time, a Woody Allen film meant something special.  Lately, the guy can be pretty hit and miss.  Luckily, his latest film, though panned by many this year, is one of those aforementioned hits.  But no matter how well written it is (and it is), and no matter how great a performance is given by supporting player Sally Hawkins (and it is indeed, a great performance), and no matter how glad this critic is to see the Woodman back in such fine form (and yes, he is back baby), it is Cate Blanchett's stellar take on one of the most complex characters Allen has ever drawn, that steals this movie away from anything and everything else.

7. The World's End - Judging from the genre-spanning satirical films Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the cinematic combination of director Edgar Wright, and stars Simon Pegg (also co-writer with Wright) and Nick Frost, pretty much guarantees a witty and wry comedy, and with the release of The World's End, their collective take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and probably the most acerbic of the trio's loosely-based trilogy, that guarantee has become even stronger.

8. Upstream Color - Finally, the long-awaited second film from Shane Carruth, director of the 2004 ground-breaking indie sci-fi film Primer, and this mother is just as mind-fucking trippy as his first film.  Taking on the idea of identity and self-awareness, this film slowly builds to a bizarre climax, all the while giving momentary hints, though barely revealing the truth as to what exactly is happening on screen.

9. The Act of Killing - A documentary about gangster squads and para-military assassins, told in various manners, from reenactments to talk show appearances to elaborate musical numbers, and all done with not only the complete cooperation of these very same gangster squads and para-military assassins, but also actually reenacted by these very same men.  Imagine something akin to a Taliban reality show, and you have this bizarre and intense film.

10. To the Wonder - Sure, when compared to Terrence Malick's previous film, The Tree of Life (the one and only true masterpiece of this decade so far), this much smaller-in-scope work is sure to look minor in such a comparison, but still, a film that can be considered (and is by the director himself) a companion piece to The Tree of Life, a footnote even, then To the Wonder is a marvelous miniature work of art.

11. The Grandmaster - How good a filmmaker is Hong Kong master Wong Kar-wai?  Good enough that even my least favourite film of the director's oeuvre, makes it to number eleven on my best of 2013 list.  Yeah, that's right, The Grandmaster is probably the auteur's least interesting film, and it is still better than most films made today.  Of course by least interesting, I mean that only when compared to the rest of the guy's filmography.  Standing on its own, The Grandmaster is a gorgeous and quite succulent work of art.

12. Blue is the Warmest Color - A three hour French lesbian drama, complete with a ten minute or so unsimulated sex scene smack dab in the middle, probably is not the most mainstream friendly movie out this year (many audiences, including those at official Academy Award screenings, either scoffed or even laughed during said sex scene), but once the gratuity is overlooked, this graphic novel adaptation ends up being a heart-wrenching and tragic love story.

13. Only God Forgives - Cool and strangely calming, this otherwise visceral work from Nicolas Winding Refn (the man who gave us both Bronson and Drive) is a psychologically brutal and visually haunting look at the underbelly of Thai society and familial dysfunction, all done with three bravura performances from Winding Refn muse Ryan Gosling, and Kristen Scott Thomas, and Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm.

14. Fruitvale Station - More often than not, when we are given a film about tragic real life events, the end result is either pandering schlock or trite mishandling.  In the case of the debut film from Ryan Coogler, the end result is a riveting look at tragic real life events, that almost never blinks away from its harrowing storyline.  A (would be) star-making performance from Michael B. Jordan helps out a lot too.

15. The Bling Ring - Sofia Coppola has made a directorial career out of portraying lost little girls in her films, be they suicidal sisters or legendary teen queens, and she keeps that going here, as she tells the story of a TMZ-addled youth culture, that, no longer able to differentiate between reality and reality TV, lives by their own (im)morality code.  A chilling film indeed.

16. The Lone Ranger - Yeah, that's right bitches!  This movie, an epic failure due more to its ridiculous (and completely excessive) epic budget than any sort of box office dilemma, can be found on more than quite a few worst of 2013 lists, but I say bah to them.  Bah indeed.  Sure, this may not be a great work of cinema that should be held high in the annals of film history, but it is a rather spectacular grand guignol of Hollywood spectacle, indeed.  Fun fun fun!

17. A Touch of Sin - This film, the latest from Chinese master of melancholy,  Jia Zhangke, slowly builds its intertwining plot threads into an eventual boiling pot of despair and destruction.  Allowing his camera, and some pretty damn spectacular work from his actors, to explain the otherwise unexplained, Jia's film resonates like an unending drum.  Thump, thump, thump, thump...

18. Side Effects - If we are to believe director Steven Soderbergh, this is to be the enigmatic auteur's final theatrical release.  If so, it's a damn fine way to go out.  If it isn't (and let's face it, it probably isn't), then it's yet another unique experiment in what is probably the strangest oeuvre of any director working today.  In other words, Side Effects is yet another reason why everyone should be in love with the films of Steven Soderbergh - and for that matter, the equally enigmatic acting of the often overlooked Miss. Rooney Mara.

19. Ain't Them Bodies Saints - My wife says that Casey Affleck may very well be the best actor of his generation, and, aside from Christian Bale and Affleck's own bro-in-law, Joaquin Phoenix, I am prone to agree, especially after seeing yet another seering performance from the guy in this little seen gem of a film.  As for the film itself, think Arthur Penn meets early Nicholas Ray, with a kinda stormy Terrence Malick feel.

20. Gravity - I have always been, and will always be a most loud proponent of, whenever possible, watching a film on the big screen, where it should be seen.  This is especially the case with Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity.  In fact, I would even go so far as to say the only proper way to watch Gravity is on the big screen in 3D.  That's right, this noted 3D-hater is proposing one see a film in 3D.  So be it.  Gravity is a stunning work of art that will probably end up being just average when it makes its way to smaller screens at home.  But up on that big silver screen?  Just gorgeous.

21. Much Ado About Nothing - A black & white Shakespearean adaptation, set in modern times and using the Bard's original Early-Modern English dialogue, and directed by the man responsible for the third top-grossing film of all-time, Joss Whedon's foray into classic lit may not have been the runaway box office success that The Avengers was in 2012, but it is certainly good enough to round out my best of 2013 list.

Some worthy runners-up (in no particular order): Warm Bodies (Jonathan Levine); Trance (Danny Boyle); The Last Stand (Kim Jee-woon); Mud (Jeff Nichols); Star Trek Into Darkness (J.J. Abrams); The Angel's Share (Ken Loach); Dallas Buyer's Club (Jean-Marc Vallee); Pacific Rim (Guillermo del Toro); Wrong (Quentin Dupieux); Lore (Cate Shorland); Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski); The Iceman (Ariel Vromen); You're Next (Adam Wingard); Enough Said (Nicole Holofcener); Passion (Brian De Palma).

Best Female Lead Performances of the Year:
Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine
Mia Wasikowska in Stoker
Adele Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Color
Julie Delpy in Before Midnight
Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha
Rooney Mara in Side Effects & Ain't Them Bodies Saints

Best Male Lead Performances of the Year:
Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club
Christian Bale in American Hustle
Simon Pegg in The World's End
Michael Shannon in The Iceman
Casey Affleck in Ain't Them Bodies Saints
Ethan Hawke in Before Midnight

Best Female Supporting Performances of the Year:
Sally Hawkins in Blue Jasmine
Nicole Kidman in Stoker
Jennifer Lawrence in American Hustle
Kristen Scott Thomas in Only God Forgives
Tao Zhao in A Touch of Sin
Lea Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Color

Best Male Supporting Performances of the Year:
James Franco in Spring Breakers
Jared Leto in Dallas Buyers Club
Matthew Goode in Stoker
James Gandolfini in Enough Said
Vithaya Pansringarm in Only God Forgives
Nathan Fillion in Much Ado About Nothing

And then, ever so briefly, come the worst of the year...
1. 47 Ronin
2. After Earth
3. A Good Day to Die Hard
4. The Counselor
5. Machete Kills
6. Oz the Great and Powerful
7. A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III
8. Elysium
9. Bullet to the Head
10. Gangster Squad

One final note: Though it is not quite bad enough of a film to make the above Worst of the Year list, plus I would've broken my heart to have to include this filmmaker, one of my all-time favourites, on any sort of worst list, but nonetheless, the biggest 2013 cinematic disappointment for this critic has to be Martin Scorsese's surprisingly banal The Wolf of Wall Street.  Cool poster though.

Well, that's it kids.  See ya 'round the web.