BlackBook’s 20 Favorite Films of 2013

As I find myself sitting on my knees typing away and thinking of the year behind and year ahead, I can’t help but wonder where the time has gone. Has it really been an entire year since I lamented over my least favorite films of 2012, or did I just blink a little too hard?But as 2013 draws the curtain on 2014, and for all of the myriad life changes, pleasures, heartbreaks, existential quandaries, and obsessions endured, a great deal of my emotional memory is centered around cinema. I can pinpoint my own state of being in correlation to the films I loved and the work that truly moved me. I look back on my absolute favorite film of the year, Shane Carruth’s confounding and beautiful Upstream Color and can remember precisely the person I was at that time and just what compelled me to see the film 23 times in a span of two months.

But whether it was 2013’s highly anticipated heavy hitters like Steve McQueen’s fearless 12 Years a Slave or hidden gems recently to have their premiere such as Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty, it’s safe to say that it’s been a pretty damn good year for film. From psychotropic teen nightmares and 90s dinner party-esque Shakespearean adaptations to transcontinental love stories and visceral documentaries, the films of 2013 surely offer a bit of something to please every cinematic appetite. So although I’ve  sadly yet to see some of the year end blockbusters—which I am sure they’re worth praising—I thought it still necessary to share my favorite films of the year, as well as a look back on our extensive interviews with the filmmakers behind the pictures. I’ve opted to not rank the films, as I believe they’re all vital and brilliant in their own right, but must  give away my personal Best Feature award to my favorite treasure of the year. Hope you enjoy.

***UPSTREAM COLOR, Shane Carruth***

With Upstream Color, Carruth has created a tactile film in which the sounds and textures engulf you in its layered and complex narrative that’s as much about the interdependence and madness of love as it is about our inescapable connection to nature and the world around us. There’s a poeticism to the film despite its rich sense of structure and science that allows it to possess a spiritual quality that hits the heart more so than the mind.

Upstream Color is a fractured story about broken people, shattering your notion of love’s conventions and what draws one person to another. It forces you to let go and immerse yourself in their world and the story Carruth has created in a way that you rarely feel compelled to with most contemporary cinema. You sink into the story and allow it to ripple over you with its subtle yet absolute approach, and although it may fall into the realm of the metaphysical, it remains emotionally tangible. And I will freely admit that this is not simply one of my favorite films of the year thus far, but perhaps one of the most incredible films I have ever seen. There are few things I cherish more than the physical act of watching a film, and the experience of sitting down for two hours and allowing myself to be overcome. From Upstream Color‘s first moment, something clicks inside of me and I’m hooked, mesmerized and embedded into the roots of its world.

Read out interview with Carruth HERE.

THE GREAT BEAUTY, Paolo Sorrentino 

Filled with striking cinematography and grandiose imagery that heightens everyday existence and existential quandaries into matters of personal faith, his work exposes a universal truth lying in his subjects. Whether he’s taking us on a perfectly scored journey through the vast open roads of the American landscape or through the hallowed halls and lamp lit streets of Rome, there’s a distinctly fantastic thrill, haunting charm, and absolute pleasure evoked from his sense of cinema.

And with his latest feature—both his personal best and one of my favorite films of the year—Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty is as ambitious as it is stunning. Starring the always captivating Toni Servillo—with a look that may be familiar but a freshness that enthralls—he and Sorrentino takes us into the world of Jep Gambardella (Servillo), a writer who has been drifting through a lavish lifestyle of parties and empty experiences since the success of his first and only novel. Examining the dichotomy between the history lingering in Rome’s landscape and psyche and the hollow artifice of modernity’s ephemeral charms, The Great Beauty studies Jep’s life as a “grand indictment of a man, and a society, that has lost its way.”

With an strange and oft grotesque hand—but one that’s always full of wonder—Sorrentino explores how we deal with love and loss, life and death, and the questions we must ask ourselves to give our existence meaning. “The great attraction of human beings, is that this beauty manifests itself in fleeting moments and thunders,” Sorrentino told me. “Exterior beauty is ephemeral, it comes and goes.” And it’s that sentiment which lingers throughout The Great Beauty,giving us a keen observation into the soul of both Jep and the Italy he strolls through night after night.

Read our interview with Sorrentino HERE.

FRANCES HA, Noah Baumbach

Frances Ha not only reflects what it means to simply exist at that time in life and in that universe, but shows the beauty in the mistakes made along the way, underscoring the idea that just because something isn’t working doesn’t mean it’s broken. Baumbach has crafted a film that feels refreshing and contemporary yet harkens back to to such European cinematic masters as Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Jean-Luc Godard in its casual essence, reminding us of what we love so much about the filmmaking of days past.

Co-written with the film’s brilliant and versatile star, Greta Gerwig, Frances Ha is infused with a unique magic that comes from a true meeting of minds. If you look back on Baumbach and Gerwig’s early work, it’s evident that the two are cut from the same cloth—both sharing an affinity for a particular kind of character’s journey, dealing with a sense of malaise as they meander through life, yet filled with a yearning for more. And whereas many of Baumbach’s film’s tend to err on the side of the misanthropic,Frances Ha is a film that makes you want to go out and engage in life. It’s an inspired and intelligent love letter to cinema that never stops moving while we follow the endearingly strange Frances as she dances from life to life.

At its core, Frances Ha is both a journey of self-discovery and a love story between best friends. With Gerwig’s frank yet tender touch, we see a realistic look at a fractured female friendship and the mourning that comes from feeling as though you’ve lost a part of yourself to someone else.

Read our interview with Baumbach HERE and our interview with Gerwig HERE.

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, Joss Whedon  

Playing out as a love letter to Shakespeare’s comedic tale of a merry war betwixt two lovers, Much Ado is brimming with charisma and sensual thrill. You don’t need to be a scholar of the bard to find yourself captivated by the story, with its silky smooth and velvety jazz-filled atmosphere, you’re eased into the film in a way that’s far from intimidating. Whedon infuses a conversational style to the story that makes it more accessible than any other Shakespearean re-workings in recent memory, adding to a charm that’s heightened by its phenomenal cast of characters.

Filmed in his own home in Los Angeles, for the director best known for hit shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, or Hollywood blockbusters like The Avengers, Much Ado was a welcome surprise. The comedy feels like a breath of fresh air, a respite from major studio pictures that allows Whedon the freedom to let loose with a rapturous mix of refinement and playfulness. Much Ado may seem minimalistic in its production style, but that speaks nothing of the beauty with which it was shot and the wonderfully nuanced performances by its sprawling cast.

Read our interview with Alexis Denisof HERE.

THE ACT OF KILLING, Joshua Oppenheimer

 The brilliant Texas-born director’s latest film, The Act of Killing, exposes its frightening subjects with a generosity and candor that you’re at once drawn to, yet viscerally unable to wrestle with. What you’re hearing and seeing on screen so unnerving that it almost feels like fiction. Executive produced by documentary film legends Werner Herzog and Errol Morris, Oppenheimer’s work focuses on the perpetrators behind the Indonesian genocide that occurred in the mid-1960s, a mass murdering of communists and Chinese by the death squad leaders who ushered in a regime of fear over the nation. But rather than simply tell the overarching story of these heinous acts, he worked with these now aged and troubled leaders to recreate their crimes in a highly theatrical and shocking way. Having murdered over a million people, one of the men to lead in the atrocity was Anwar Congo, whom Oppenheimer’s documentary focuses in on.

In a groundbreaking and uniquely evocative way to approach the subject, they reenact their crimes, playing out like homages to the American films that these gangsters idealized. Having spent years working in Indonesia, hearing these men’s stories and the plight of the survivors, he gives a raw and extremely personal look into the imagination and psyche of Anwar and his contemporaries. The film exists in the dichotomy of pure evil without remorse and the denial of that villainy in order to survive, and the result is a brilliantly executed exploration into a horrifying truth never before uncovered.

Read our interview with Oppenheimer HERE.

SUN DON’T SHINE, Amy Seimetz 

Bursting onto the screen with frantic gasp of air, Amy Seimetz’s Sun Don’t Shine grabs you by the neck and holds you captive. From its fierce and emotionally-charged opening scene—a rough and muddy lover’s quarrel—to the dreamy back road driving sequence that follows, you’re entranced in the film’s hot and sticky world straightaway, teeming with tension, anxiety, and fear. With swampy earthy tones of the Everglades and rosy hues of passion, Seimetz’s directorial debut is both visceral and expressionistic, playing out through feeling and texture, guiding you with potent emotion as you follow a young couple on the run.

A character study that picks up after the act of murder, Sun Don’t Shine exists in the balance of what comes after, the post-crime delirium and limbo before consequence. Hazy voiceovers that harken back to memories of hopeful intimacy are woven throughout the unraveling and unnerving narrative, shedding light on the paranoid couple that ventures into the seedy tourist trappings of southern Florida with a dead man in the trunk. Kate Lyn Sheil and Kentucker Audley bring a frightening sense of life into Crystal and Leo, playing them with every nerve exposed and emotions seeping out and fusing into the sweat on their skin.

Read our interview with Seimetz HERE.

12 YEARS A SLAVE, Steve McQueen 

With only a handful of features under his belt, director Steve McQueen stands out like a beacon for modern filmmakers. The fearless and outspoken filmmaker whose work is as brutally human as it is viciously beautiful, has given us the Michael Fassbinder-led Hunger and Shame, and now the absolutely visceral and exquisite 12 Years a Slave. And not only is McQueen talented, but it’s his self-possessed and outspoken nature and his refusal to pander to Hollywood or hide from challenge that sets him above his contemporaries. ‘Right now I couldn’t do a better film than Shame,’ he said back in 2012. “I couldn’t do better, but I hope the next one that I do will be better. It will be better.”

And although Shame was an masterpiece of emotionally gutting intimate psychology in its own right, McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave has proved to surpass everyone’s expectations, and apparently, even his. As an unflinching and astounding director whose brilliance is evident in everything he touches, McQueen has delivered, what is sure to be, the year’s most epic film. With a passion and talent for exposing brutality with an honest and emotional eye, McQueen’s film showcases the work of a man who harbors an unwavering vision and an incredible ability to pull performances from the marrow of his actors. Without pandering to an audience, without trying to dull down the absolute horror of Solomon Northup’s story or the atrocity of slavery, McQueen’s film unravels you emotionally from its very start and leaves you with the sensation that you have truly just watched a film—that feeling you cannot shake even hours leaving the theater, that’s what cinema is about.

It may not be the first film about slavery, but it feels like the first to treat it with no filter, no safety net, no redemptive catharsis , but as an American holocaust, told entirely from the black perspective. To watch it with an audience is to participate in an act of communal, immersive exorcism, and the element that makes it not just bearable, but transcendent, is the pure, jaw-dropping artistry at every level of its production. The true life tale of Solomon Northup’s Kafkaesque nightmare—kidnapped from his free life and sold into brutal slavery—feels like a major step in healing the wounds of slavery’s past, by allowing us to take collective responsibility as we watch horror turned to exquisite art, without lessening any of its impact.  In a perfect world, it would win every Oscar hands down, but given the Academy’s predilection for unchallenging feel-good entertainment, it doesn’t stand a chance.  Fuck ‘em. It’s not just the best film of the year, but one of the best films ever made. And here’s a few of those superlatives to underline my point: Unmissable. Essential. Fearless. Profound. Unforgettable.’

SPRING BREAKERS, Harmony Korine

Sure, Spring Breakers has an easy allure: sex, drugs, violence, and gun-toting saccharine-sweet Disney stars in bikinis. But there’s more to Harmony Korine’s neon-fueled rite of passage tale than meets the bloodshot eye. Like a candy-coated nightmare, Korine gives a raw portrayal of what at first appears to be a fun and breezy ride filled with sparkles and the promise of escape from life’s mundane ennui, but Spring Breakers cuts deep and goes dark and filthy into places that frighten, mystify, tantalize, and thrill with a mix of pure pleasure and pain.

Getting his hands dirty in just about every medium, the 40-year-old auteur has been working for nearly two decades now, creating work that’s unapologetic and uncompromising, filled with morally ambiguous and socially maligned characters that exist in a very specific world on the fringes. Although Korine’s work breathes with a mise-en-scene of the hyper-real, there’s an element to his films that holds up a rusty, all too familiar mirror for ourselves in the most unexpected way. And with Spring Breakers, this is a new side to the director who has been warping our minds ever since the premiere of the Korine-penned Kids eighteen years ago.

Like a scratched album stuck on repeat, Spring Breakers follows four college girls (Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Rachel Korine, and Ashley Benson) who rob a diner a in order to fulfill their escapist fantasies of heading down to St. Petersburg, Florida for a debaucherous once-in-a-lifetime vacation. But when their beer-soaked and sexually charged trip goes sour, it’s rapper and drug and arms dealer Alien (Jams Franco) that comes to their rescue. And that’s when the nefarious story really kicks in as the world becomes much more rough and dark. With the tone of a haunted pop song, the film evokes something physical, leaving you in a trance that’s both erotic and dangerously chilling. It’s entertainment with a bullet, cinema with a bite of fantasy—it’s fizzing and bursting to the surface with color and entirely intoxicating.

Read our interview with Korine HERE.

STORIES WE TELL, Sarah Polley

When a film intersperses its usual narrative with super 8 home movie footage, my mind tends to wander to movies like Paris, Texas and the ways in which these reels of images presented to us are not simply reminders of the past, but the physical manifestation of memory—an artifact lost to time. There’s a quality to our personal bank of recollections that’s fallable and always subjective, pitting itself against reality. And with her fourth directorial feature and first documentary, actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell is by far her most stunning and human work to date.

As a personal essay about the hidden past of her family, the feature beautifully weaves together an incredibly well-constructed experiment in storytelling. In the film, there’s a line that reads: “When you’re in the middle of a story, it isn’t a story at all but only a confusion, a dark roaring, a blindness. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story when you’re telling it to yourself or anyone else.” And that sentiment plays out as the through-line for the feature, as Polley’s family and those close to it reveal familial secrets, shared truths, and show us the ways in which we create the own narrative of our lives.

Stories We Tell also confronts the challenges of love—be it romantic or maternal—while exposing the myriad ways our own memory can deceive us. There’s a delicacy and heartwarming touch in Polley’s style of filmmaking that shines through in all of her work but is never more present here. It’s absolutely enthralling and fascinating to watch but heartbreaking in its honesty—always leaving you hungry to discover more. The film works as a eulogy as much as it does a perfect vehicle for self-discovery, yet feels universal in its open-ended questions and speaks directly to your soul in way that’s both rare and tender.

BLUE JASMINE, WOODY ALLEN

With his latest summer film, Blue Jasmine, Allen delivers his weightiest film in years—putting to bed the shallow, slight nature of his previous work, To Rome With Love. Whereas my main argument with the latter rests heavily in his flimsy, two-dimensional portrayal of female characters, with Blue Jasmine, Allen has written a character ferocious and full of force, allowing Cate Blanchett to deliver one of the best performances of her career. From her opening line of dialogue spoken to a kind, elderly stranger on a flight to San Francisco, you see Blanchett has completely vaporized into the skin of Jasmine—tear-stained eyes, anxious cadence, and all—fully sunken into the character’s fractured psyche. In the way that you felt exhausted—both physically and emotionally—after seeing Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Freddie Quell in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master—the actor’s stamina in the role a marvel to watch—I left my screening of Blue Jasmine feeling more shaky and distressed than when I entered, my own anxiety and emotions unraveled by Blanchett’s bewitching performance.

Like a destructive force of nature that waltzes in and sucks the air out of the room, Blue Jasmine tells the story of a woman completely in the throws of a nervous breakdown. After losing her husband, her fortune, and any sense of security, Jasmine goes out west to San Francisco to move in with her adopted sister, Ginger (played brilliantly by Sally Hawkins). As a broken-down New York socialite cast into a middle-class world populated with “losers” she doesn’t find worthy of her time, Jasmine attempts to assimilate to circumstances but finds herself trapped by her own fantasies. After changing her name from Jeanette to Jasmine in college, she re-imagined a life for herself, elevating her place in society and relying on the kindness of rich men to aide in her fantastical delusions.

With a supporting cast of Andrew Dice Clay (as the tough blue-collar ex-husband of Ginger), Louis CK (as the seemingly romantic side-jawn of Ginger), Bobby Cannavale (the brutish yet vulnerable boyfriend of Ginger), and Peter Sarasgaard (Jasmine’s unsuspecting and ambitious boyfriend), the film lacks Allen’s typical sense of romantic flair and swaps it for a substantial and darker sense of emotion. There’s no fourth wall breaking, no slapstick, no giddy romance—even the romances in the film seem slight and tragic in comparison to the greater weight of existential and psychological unrest. It’s a colder, bitterer pill of a film from Allen than we’ve seen in recent years, and as it cuts back and forth from Jasmine’s fruitful past to her desolate present, we see how one person’s life can spiral down into oblivion as the agent of her own disaster and that of those around her.

Read our interview with the Blanchett, CK, and Clay HERE.

BEFORE MIDNIGHT, Richard Linklater

At one point in Before Sunrise, Jesse begins to admit that in the months leading up to his wedding, he couldn’t stop thinking of Celine. He would see her everywhere, all the time, always in New York—especially once folding up an umbrella and entering a deli on 13th and Broadway. But she was off living in Europe somewhere, so he knew he was crazy. And of course, Celine then tells him that she was actually living in New York at that time—on 11th and Broadway.  It’s a small moment but an absolutely heartbreaking one—knowing that their lives could have been entirely different had he just glanced out of the car window again to see if it was her, knowing that this person whom he met once, yet possessed him so completely as an intangible longing inside him, was in fact right under his nose— and he never knew it. They never knew it.

But yes, that’s is just one of many painfully wonderful and sob-inducing moments in Richard Linklater’s transcontinental love trilogy. And since Before Sunrise‘s premiere in 1994, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke have been our Celine and Jesse, playing out the epitome of rare requited love thwarted by time and space. You watch these films, and for all the tears you cannot help but shed, you’re always left with the pangs of hopefulness. It excites something in you and tickles your heart to know that somewhere on a tram in Europe, your ideal soulmate could be pensively starring out a window wondering if there’s something he’s missing.

But in the words of Anne Sexton, “To love another is something like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.” When it comes to matters of the heart, we’re often powerless to our desires, consumed by emotion over our will and no matter the time or distance, feel inextricably linked to the soul of another. And almost two decades ago, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy first simultaneously ignited our hearts and ripped them apart with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, only to do it all over again nine years later with Before Sunset.

But fast forward into the future with Before Midnight, we’re brought into the life shared between our Jesse and Celine—and it isn’t all romantic walks and silent longing that speaks to our hearts, but the way in which Linklater and his cast exposes what it truly means to love someone, and the struggles of a shared existence. Although still incomparably romantic, there’s a maturity and candidness about Before Midnight that’s mesmerizing and complex.

SOMETHING IN THE AIR, Olivier Assayas 

Opening with the Blaise Pascal quote: “Between us and heaven and hell there is only life which is the frailest thing in the world,” Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air takes us into a world of youth committed to the present. Going back to the year 1971, which he first explored with the poetic Cold Water (1994)—a film about the emotions of being a teenager—Assayas draws direct parallels between the two, yet where the former dealt in the abstract, Something is a more direct autobiographical look at his own memory of coming of age in that time. Paying tribute to those who inspired his own sensibilities as an artist, the film merges the person with the political, exploring the identity of youth in the aftermath of the May ’68 and the choices that inform our maturation into adulthood.

It’s a film about the intersection of creative passion and ideological inclination, where self-discovery for the teenagers in the film, comes through their devouring of films, books, music, and art of the time—from the poetry of Gregory Corso to the music of Syd Barrett. As representation of his own youth, Something in the Air tells the story of Gilles (played by Clément Métayer), a high school student in Paris who finds himself swept up in the political fever of the times. However, his passion really lies in his art—painting, drawing, filmmaking—which becomes a struggle with the others around him. Heavily embedded in the countercultural movement, we follow Gilles through his various muses/love interests Laure and Christine (played by Carole Combes and Lola Créton), and the evolution of his maturity. And as Assayas is a believer that cinema is a place “where what’s lost may be found, where the world can be saved,” he recaptures his idealistic outlook on the world that he sought to be a part of.

Originally titled Après mai, or After May, the film exists in the echoes of chaos, yet feels idyllic and gorgeously cinematic—but without over-sentimentalization or nostalgia. Rather, Something in the Air exposes the “places and emotions that exist in the daylight,” showing an arcane world slowing unraveling as a youth countercultural rebellion take precedence.

Read our interview with Assayas HERE.

LAURENCE ANYWAYS, Xavier Dolan

Spanning the course of an entire decade, Laurence Anyways tells the story of two people passionately and deeply in love with one another who are forced to confront their own notions of love and acceptance when the fabric of their relationship turns inside out. For Fred and Laurence, played brilliantly by Suzanne Clément and Melvil Poupaud, their romance is forced to change when Laurence reveals to Fred that he is becoming a woman. Together, they’re forced to examine not only the prejudices and fears of those they know and the society around them, but that which they unconsciously harbor within themselves. For ten years, Fred and Laurence find themselves breaking apart and coming together, ripping out their own hearts and that of each other, and dealing with the ultimate expression of dedication to another person and what it means to truly love unconditionally. Whether they’re physically together or apart, Fred and Laurence share an inescapable connection that is as volatile and potent as it is beautifully delicate and tender.

With his first feature, I Killed My Mother, Dolan crafted an artful yet minimalistic feature that bared the mark of his youth aesthetically but emotionally held an incredible amount of weight. And in his second feature, Heartbeats, he opted for ambitious style and gorgeous mis-en-scene over narrative complexity. But with Laurence Anyways, Dolan has melded the best qualities from his previous work into a film that is both absolutely stunning and wholly fantastic, yet hits that psychological and emotional sweet spot we so long for in a cinematic experience. And as his films are all wont to be, Laurence is impeccably scored with music that echoes the period of the film (the 1990s), utilizing the songs to reflect the interior of its characters and entwine us that much deeper into Fred and Laurence’s story.

Read our interview with Dolan HERE.

LEVIATHAN,  Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Verena Paravel

 After watching Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s collaborative documentary, Leviathan, there was no question as to how I was feeling. There was no other way to experience their film, that leaves you bruised from its wholly immersive and visceral cinematic ride that feels more like you’re looking in through a keyhole on frightening and isolated world beyond our reality, than to feel both exhausted and absolutely in awe.

More easily comparable to the anxiety provoking and emotionally stimulating sensations of looking at the work of Francis Bacon or Edvard Munch while listening to a dark, metallic piece of music filled with pleasure and fright,Leviathan is almost inarticulate in its possession. As a sensory ethnographic investigation that leads you through the world of commercial fishing, the sum of the film is far more than one might expect. Having first premiered in competition at the 2012 Locarno Film Festival, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel‘s film has been entrancing audiences’ since with its entirely unique wordless wonder and gives the perspective of the fishermen but also echoes their own haunting experience out at sea through the interminable sense of unease. But this anxious perspective is matched by the most striking cinematography that’s shocking in its beauty as it casts a light on every perspective of the boat and blends colors like an impressionist painting being thrown against the waves.

Read our interview with Castaing-Taylor and Paravel HERE.

STOKER, Park Chan-wook 

As deliciously evil and thrilling as it is visually-rich and haunting, Park Chan-wook’s fantastical gothic thriller Stoker plays out like an erotic waltz with sinister intentions. As his first English-language film, the acclaimed Korean director has crafted a quiet kind of suspense that shows the graceful unraveling of an isolated American family.

Stoker tells the tale of a highly intelligent girl, India (played by Mia Wasikowska), after her father dies in an auto accident on her 18th birthday. Following his death, her mysterious yet absolutely charming Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) comes to stay with her and her unstable mother (Nicole Kidman). India’s questions arise as to the nature of Charlie’s appearance in their lives and although sensing his dark ulterior motives, she becomes infatuated with him, inexplicably drawn to this dark figure who has crept his way into her world.

It’s a story about he inherent nature of evil, as well as the sexual awakening of a young girl when first tempted by the desirable. India’s coming-of-age is the undercurrent for this bone-chilling and stunning feature from Chan-wook and writer-actor Wentworth Miller. Staying true to Park’s strong affinity for character-driven tales and his arresting visual style, Stoker is also enhanced by its biting and beautiful soundtrack from Clint Mansell that acts as its own character in the film.

Read our interview with Park Chan-wook HERE.

SIMON KILLER, Antonio Campos

As one third of Borderline Films—alongside Sean Durkin and Josh Mond—Campos produced Durkin’s Martha Macy May Marelene, just as Durkin had his hand in producing Campos’s latest feature, the brooding and visceral Simon Killer. The film tells the story of a lonely, heartbroken, dangerous, and horny college grad who heads to Paris, where he becomes involved with a prostitute (played wonderfully by Mati Diop), Simon Killer is an entrancing waltz with destructive impulse led by star Brady Corbet. As interesting as he is talented, the 24-year-old gives a haunting performance, playing Simon with utmost complexity—vacillating between evil boldness and desperate vulnerability.

Simon Killer goes deeper into Campos’s affinity for the disturbed male psyche with a film that’s rich in texture, tone, and color. It’s a dance between passionate aggression and emotional isolation that’s primal and fiercely enjoyable in its discomfort. Filled with stunning visual interludes like psychological cues that bring you closer into Simon’s sociopathic, music-fueled, and violently sexual world, the film is an optically and emotionally stimulating character study that packs a punch. No stranger to portraying morally unsound characters that walk the line between tantalizing and creepy, Corbet carries out Campos’s vision with a frightening possession.

Read our interview with Campos HERE.

AFTER TILLER, Martha Shane and Lana Wilson

Abstaining from the harsh, political bent of most documentaries focused on the subject of abortion, Lana Wilson and Martha Shane’s After Tiller takes a tremendously emotional and controversial subject and endows it with warmth and humility. Providing an illuminating and wholly important look at the power of personal choice, the film leaves the floor open for discussion—both giving insight into the intricacies of late-term abortion and the incredibly challenging lives of those who provide them. Dr. George Tiller, the leading physician to provide third-trimester abortions, as well as a strongly religious and loving family man, was assassinated in his church in 2009 by a pro-life extremist. And it’s in the wake of the tragedy of his death, where After Tiller picks up.

Focusing on the four doctors across the country that still provide these services to women in crisis across the world—Susan Robinson, LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, and Shelley Sella—the film gives us personal look into the day-to-day lives of these doctors, allowing them a stage to voice their opinions and knowledge, while giving a compelling look at the exceptional challenges the women who seek their care must face. And after feeling both confused and shocked when learning about Dr. Tiller’s death, and seeing the way in which the news coverage of the tragedy failed to focus on who he was as a person, Wilson and Shane set out to make a feature that examined the intimate details of these physicians who are at the center of a debate that continues to rage on. And as an extremely moving portrait with unprecedented access into these clinics, through the lens of After Tiller, we bear witness to first-hand accounts of the women undergoing these abortions, the reasons why they’ve made their decision, and the immense weight of that on their lives.

Read our interview with Shane and Wilson HERE.

THE BROKEN CIRCLE BREAKDOWN, Felix Van Groeningen

With his latest film, the absolutely devastating and remarkably wonderful The Broken Circle Breakdown, he explores the complex ways in which we deal with loss, how grief can fracture even the most solid foundations, and the way in which love may never be enough. Telling the story of Elise (Veerle Baetens) a beautiful and full-of-life tattoo artist and Didier (Johan Heldenbergh) a strong and passionate blue grass musician, The Broken Circle Breakdown follows their relationship from the instantaneous bond and fiery romance of love’s first flames, to the disintegration of that connection and the despair that ravages their lives.

Adapted from the theatre play of the same title written by Heldenbergh, the film comes alive through its musical interludes that play like cue cards for our emotions, guiding us further into the story and allowing us to take a step back from the intensity of the narrative and slip into the visceral feeling living between the characters. And although the original stage play was a bare bones and simple expression construction—with only two characters narrating their tale between musical numbers—van Groeningen has managed to convey that same rawness and immediacy onto the screen. By telling the tragic and novel-esque drama with a non-linear structure, we’re forced to dive head first into the potent heart of the film, while Elise and Didier’s most sorrowful and blissful moments are presented side by side, giving even more weight to each unfolding moment. There’s a natural beauty and honestness to the film and in the performances of its brilliant cast that invites you in gently, entrances you, and then holds you in its tight grasp—digging itself down deep under your skin and into your veins.

Read our interview with  Van Groeningen HERE.

ONLY GOD FORGIVES, Nicolas Winding Refn

Set in the neon-lit back alleys and seedier parts of Bangkok, Only God Forgives is Refn’s penetrating and evocative take on the Western. It’s a film so dark—both aesthetically and tonally—that when I first arrived to see the film fifteen minutes late, I found myself sitting in the isles because there wasn’t a shred of light emanating from the screen with which to find a seat. The revenge story about the connection between mother and sons, the struggle for morality, and the fear of submission plays out like a psychotropic nightmare, aided by a brilliantly visceral score from Cliff Martinez.

Starring Gosling, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Vithaya Pansringarm, Only God Forgives is a shot to the arm of pure id Refn. He employs the close-fisted anxious aggression of his pre-Drive days while taking his visual cues from a post-Drive world, completely blanketing us in the violent underbelly of Bangkok and putting a sword to our throat. Although the film is riddled with silence and languidly glides through darkened moments, Refn manages to hold us captive with his always-present sense of ecstatic desire. He plays on the dichotomy of what’s in and out of frame as well as what we do and not know is stirring in the characters’ psyche. It’s a film that warrants multiple viewings, but only because there’s a real pleasure in the experience of disappearing into his neon dreams and bloody obsessions, and as he says: that’s where the fun is.

Read out interview with Refn HERE.

LIKE SOMEONE IN LOVE, Abbas Kiarostami

…I think giving away too much information is being disrespectful to the viewerʼs intelligence and own personality. I think I’ve always believed that spectators are just as creative as filmmakers. Filmmakers happen to have been in touch with a camera and production and so they’ve made something, but it doesn’t mean that people who are there to see the film have nothing to think or nothing to say or donʼt have their own creativity. So I just pay tribute to this creativity, not giving too much information. I have my loyalty to real life and in real life we never say anything to the other and we let the other also bring their own information and their own experience of life in the relationship that have with us, so why should it be different in film because you are sitting in a theater in front of a screen? Do you have to leave your curiosity and your own thinking aside and be fed by the film? Whenever I have the opportunity to see the people who are sitting in a theater after seeing one of my films, I look at their faces and I look at the features of the faces and I suddenly feel responsible and say well, these people look intelligent and thoughtful, they have plenty of things to say and so thereʼs no reason why I should be the one who tells them, they have things to tell me. So I create but then I need their creation back.

…this again is only loyalty to the real complex nature of human beings. I think even painters in classic paintings, they tried to show the soul of the portrait, of the human beings that they were drawing or painting because they realized that human beings were not uni-dimensional. So there was no reason why they couldn’t try and give something to this complexity of this plain character, this fool character. So in cinema, we have moving images, we have three dimensional images and why should we show people just as blind characters. Of course they are complex, and this complexity and even this secretiveness is part of human nature. Your soul dictates you not to reveal yourself immediately and not to appear naked and to have your own complexity, your own intelligence. So this intelligence should be considered. It has been in art and paintings so it definitely should be in filmmaking too.

Read our interview with Kiarostami HERE.

The Best Films to Watch Without Ever Leaving Your Bed This Week

Every Wednesday morning, I find myself whispering the old Beckett adage “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” to myself as I settle down into work. No matter how thrilling the day’s prospects may be, it’s that midweek slump that always seems to rear its ugly head in the worst way. But never fear, the hours are sure to breeze on by and soon it will be the weekend—one that happens to be rife with fantastic films both premiering and screening around the city, thanks to NYFF and various other retrospectives.

But in the meantime, what better way to spend an evening than curled up under the sheets enjoying the best of cinema—new modern masterpieces to wonderful classics—from the comfort of your bed? And with myriad options to choose from on Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes, the nightly decision of what to show in your private bedroom screening can prove a challenge. So to make your time easier, I’ve rounded up some of the best films available to stream, so peruse our list, get cozy, and enjoy.

Much Ado About Nothing (iTunes)

Playing out as a love letter to Shakespeare’s comedic tale of a merry war betwixt two lovers, Much Ado is brimming with charisma and sensual thrill. You don’t need to be a scholar of the bard to find yourself captivated by the story, with its silky smooth and velvety jazz-filled atmosphere, you’re eased into the film in a way that’s far from intimidating. Whedon infuses a conversational style to the story that makes it more accessible than any other Shakespearean re-workings in recent memory, adding to a charm that’s heightened by its phenomenal cast of characters.

Filmed in his own home in Los Angeles, for the director best known for hit shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, or Hollywood blockbusters like The Avengers, Much Ado was a welcome surprise. The comedy feels like a breath of fresh air, a respite from major studio pictures that allows Whedon the freedom to let loose with a rapturous mix of refinement and playfulness. Much Ado may seem minimalistic in its production style, but that speaks nothing of the beauty with which it was shot and the wonderfully nuanced performances by its sprawling cast. 

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Simon Killer (Netflix)

Simon Killer goes deeper into Campos’s affinity for the disturbed male psyche with a film that’s rich in texture, tone, and color. It’s a dance between passionate aggression and emotional isolation that’s primal and fiercely enjoyable in its discomfort. Filled with stunning visual interludes like psychological cues that bring you closer into Simon’s sociopathic, music-fueled, and violently sexual world, the film is an optically and emotionally stimulating character study that packs a punch. No stranger to portraying morally unsound characters that walk the line between tantalizing and creepy, Corbet carries out Campos’s vision with a frightening possession.

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Shock Corridor (Hulu)

Haunted by doomsday visions, the mental hospital is a tabloid version of America — a place where war games and race riots are played out on the central corridor, a.k.a. the Street, as in Main Street. Or put another way, America is imagined as bedlam. At once compelling and incoherent, "Shock Corridor" was shot entirely in interior — the outside world only present as hallucination. It’s a movie that regularly, if unpredictably, breaks free from its narrative straitjacket and erupts into mayhem. Social pathology merges with individual delusion. The three witnesses to the murder are a guilt-ridden nuclear physicist regressed to age 5, a brainwashed Korean War traitor imagining himself a heroic Confederate general and the first black student to integrate a Southern university, who believes he founded the Ku Klux Klan and, in true split personality fashion, crafts signs directed at himself: "Black foreigners can’t breathe our white air and go to school with our white children."

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Something in the Air (Netflix)

Opening with the Blaise Pascal quote: "Between us and heaven and hell there is only life which is the frailest thing in the world," Olivier Assayas’ Something in the Air takes us into a world of youth committed to the present. Going back to the year 1971, which he first explored with the poetic Cold Water (1994)—a film about the emotions of being a teenager—Assayas draws direct parallels between the two, yet where the former dealt in the abstract, Something is a more direct autobiographical look at his own memory of coming of age in that time. Paying tribute to those who inspired his own sensibilities as an artist, the film merges the person with the political, exploring the identity of youth in the aftermath of the May ’68 and the choices that inform our maturation into adulthood. It’s a film about the intersection of creative passion and ideological inclination, where self-discovery for the teenagers in the film, comes through their devouring of films, books, music, and art of the time—from the poetry of Gregory Corso to the music of Syd Barrett.

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Room 237 (iTunes)

Ascher’s Room 237 is not a film that asks us to hold any of its ideas as truths, nor does it present them as such. For how could we ever know the turth that lived inside the confounding mind of Stanley Kubrick? The Shining is a film that explores the maze-like complexity of the tortured mind’s unconscious, and takes our idea of the nuclear family and throws it in our face. And with Room 237, we’re left to question where subjectivity and art collide—was any of this really Kubrick’s intention, and where do my personal affinities transfer themselves into his world? Ascher presents us with these ideas in an invigorating way that makes us question not only our own understanding of the work but career of a man whose films have continued to baffle, excite, and penetrate our subconscious inqueries and desires for over half a century.

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À nos amours (Hulu)

Painful, beautiful, and discomfiting, À nos amours remains as startling in its honesty, its unique mix of savagery and delicacy, as it was in 1983. Next to it, most adolescent “rite of passage” films, with their predictable dividing lines and alignments of sympathies, look tame, even reassuring. François Truffaut, who had his own take on the miseries of childhood, and thus was perhaps the closest to Pialat in interests, admired him immensely, but from our vantage point, this late-blooming director was not one of the “new people.” Not just a late starter but a cranky outsider to boot, Pialat was never part of the nouvelle vague, had none of the collegial feelings or movement enthusiasms of a team player. And although he shared a revolutionary aesthetic, and was as adamantly opposed as they were to the tyranny of the “well-made film,” he was more interested in autobiography than genre. In a series of films, made and seen with difficulty, he explored his life and concerns in terms so uncompromising and so deeply felt that, though he was not easy to take in his own time, he has emerged like a prophet of the conflicts that are convulsing today’s families and relationships.

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The Bling Ring (iTunes)

In the past year we’ve seen myriad films about rebellious teenage behavior, youth in revolt against their mundane lives—from dangerously wild films like Spring Breakers to the more heartfelt coming-of-age stories like The Kings of Summer. As the inundation of social media and the  obsession with celebrity culture increases, it’s easy for young people to get sucked into the idea of fame and success as the ultimate goal. But what happens when you get there? What happens when you’re knee-deep in Paris Hilton’s leather Louboutin boots? How do we reconcile the aspiration of affluence with the reality that undercuts it?  But with The Bling Ring, Coppola’s kinetic fashion heist film based on the 2010 Vanity Fair article "The Suspect Wore Louboutins," we follow a group of reckless teens lusting after the sheen of materialistic pleasures.

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Leviathan (iTunes)

More easily comparable to the anxiety provoking and emotionally stimulating sensations of looking at the work of Francis Bacon or Edvard Munch while listening to a dark, metallic piece of music filled with pleasure and fright, Leviathan is almost inarticulate in its possession. As a sensory ethnographic investigation that leads you through the world of commercial fishing, the sum of the film is far more than one might expect. Having first premiered in competition at the 2012 Locarno Film Festival, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel‘s film has been entrancing audiences’ since with its entirely unique wordless wonder and gives the perspective of the fishermen but also echoes their own haunting experience out at sea through the interminable sense of unease. But this anxious perspective is matched by the most striking cinematography that’s shocking in its beauty as it casts a light on every perspective of the boat and blends colors like an impressionist painting being thrown against the waves.

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The East (iTunes)

Now more than ever, in a time where our personal sense of security is constantly in question and our beliefs are always on the line, we need films that not only speak to where we’re headed as a society but how it feels to exist in the world today. As we’re forced to assimilate to ever-changing and frightening state of things, the culture that we’re consuming should not only be a means of escapism to dull our anxiety but a reflection and a call to action, an inspiration for ideas that will fuel us. And with The East, Batmanglij has created a film that’s as intriguing as it is topical, as emotionally stirring as it cinematically thrilling.

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Weekend (Hulu)

With its pop art color scheme and two-dimensional characters, Weekend is less like a novel than a pamphlet, and more like a fairy tale than either. The presiding trope is Alice’s tumble down the rabbit hole. Weekend opens conventionally enough, like a Chabrol movie or a Balzac novel: a married couple, Corinne (Mireille Darc) and Roland (Jean Yanne), are planning each other’s demise with their respective lovers, and plotting together to help Corinne’s ailing father into the afterlife— maybe her mother as well, if she refuses to split the inheritance. But any illusion of melodramatic realism is quickly punctured in a scene where Corinne’s lover assumes the role of psychiatrist, sitting at a desk in a darkened office while Corinne sits on the desk in her bra and panties and describes a recent three-way with a different lover and his girlfriend, an orgy, involving eggs and a bowl of milk, loosely borrowed from Bataille’s Histoire de l’œil. The episode is a parody of Bibi Andersson’s emotionally overwrought “orgy monologue” in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, rendered flat and passionless by Corinne’s bored delivery, the camera’s slow zooming in and out in near darkness on the barely distinguishable figures, and swelling, “ominous” B-movie theme music that occasionally drowns out her voice. Godard establishes here an atmosphere of neurotic apprehension and narrative unreliability sustained throughout the rest of the film. “Is this a dream or did it really happen?” “I don’t know.”

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Tape (iTunes)

‘Tape” made me believe that its events could happen to real people more or less as they appear on the screen, and that is its most difficult accomplishment. To describe the movie makes it sound like an exercise in artifice: three characters, one motel room, all talk, based on a stage play. But the writing, acting and direction are so convincing that at some point I stopped thinking about the constraints and started thinking about the movie’s freedoms: freedom from idiocy, first of all, since the characters are all smart and articulate, and testing each other’s nerve and values. Freedom from big gassy meaningless events. Freedom from the tyranny of an overbearing soundtrack that wants to feel everything for us. Freedom from the expected.

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Fox and His Friends (Hulu)

Make no mistake, this is the real Queer as Folk, but for all of Fassbinder’s gripes with an elite gay culture’s many sexual hang-ups, Fox and His Friends is first and foremost a riveting evocation of social Darwinism in action (Fox is called "stupid and primitive" and the tagline that follows the film’s title on the Wellspring DVD of the film aptly proclaims: "Survival of the Fittest"). A mere child at heart, Fox is unconsciously rude to his elders and pounds his hands at the dinner table. His sweetly innocent behavior nonetheless brings shame to Eugen, who has no problems borrowing 100,000 German marks from Fox to prevent his father’s printing business from going under. And after Eugen and his elite family (they prefer Mozart to loud modernist composers and are easily mortified when Fox drops chunks of bread into his soup) successfully bilk Fox out of his entire fortune (embarrassing him by forcing him to work at their factory and then suggesting that his slave labor is his interest due), Fox returns to the earth, so to speak, after dying of a broken heart.

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I Killed My Mother (Netflix)

I Killed My Mother is determinedly quotidian, albeit suffused with betrayal and disappointment. Chantale, whatever we may think of her gaudy taste (some of the film’s best comedic moments come from her literally wild faux fur ensembles), is not the worst mother in the world, and sometimes, when she’s fiercely defending her son to his haughty boarding-school principal, she’s truly admirable. In the midst of the film’s arguments and disavowals, it’s easy to lose track of its dramatic core, which is less about adolescence than moving past it. “I love you,” Hubert tells his mother late one night. “I’m telling you so you won’t forget.” Though the fighting inevitably resumes, the unexpected tenderness of these words lingers on. Dolan knows that as Hubert passes into adulthood, this moment will seal itself off. Its intensity will fade, leaving behind just a few words and images, tokens to remind us of, but also to shield us from, the searing pain of the too-recent past.

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Side Effects (Netflix)

Because Side Effects is brilliant: a noir psychological thriller – like a 21st-century Marnie, or Rosemary’s Baby – that is also an acid satire on big pharma, the mental healthprofession and its terrifyingly powerful, priestly caste of doctors. There is a compelling lead performance from Rooney Mara who lays down the law with her presence. She demonstrates a potent Hitchcockian combination: an ability to be scared and scary at the same time, and Soderbergh’s film manages to introduce its effects in some insidious, almost intravenous way. Fear and fascination swam through my skull simply watching it. And the later scenes involving sex, lies and videotape will be especially involving for those on the lookout for recurrent authorial motifs.

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Picnic at Hanging Rock (Hulu)

"The film is just too damn impenetrable for its own good,” writes the Web-based critic Kevin Maynard. I’m sure he speaks for a lot of viewers, but of course if you could penetrate it, there would be no film — simply a police case, or an account of an accident. My idea of Australia has been fashioned almost entirely from its films, and I picture it as a necklace of coastal cities, from which depend smaller inland towns, surrounding the vast and ancient Outback — where modern logic does not apply, and inexplicable things can happen…Nicolas Roeg’s "Walkabout" touches on some of the same feelings as "Picnic at Hanging Rock." In it, a white girl and her brother are left abandoned in the wilderness when their father kills himself. They would quickly die, but are saved by an aborigine boy who, in an ironic reversal, kills himself after they all wander back to civilization. The suggestion in both "Walkabout" and "Picnic” is that aboriginal life cannot be sustained in cities, nor European-based life in nature, and it is intriguing that girls on the brink of maturity are the focal point in both films.

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Babette’s Feast (Hulu)

The quality of the film is, in the end, a spiritual one (which is why mention of Dreyer is merited). Since its release, critics have pointed out that the story is open to religious interpretation, which is fair, and fine, as long as one understands what is meant by this. Certainly, story and film are studded with religious references—to the Last Supper, to sacramental grace, to the importance of charity, and so on—but given that the milieu being depicted is religious, this should contain nothing to surprise us. Plainly, as viewers, we need to acknowledge a certain irony and genial good humor being directed against the narrowness of the village sectarians, while also taking the trouble to observe that the critique provided (such as it is) is congruent with broadly Christian sentiment. As in Ordet, there is puritanical Christianity and a more enlightened Christianity “of the body.” The feast given by Babette to the pious townspeople opens their minds to the notion that the pleasures of the senses aren’t necessarily sinful, but the satire involved here is very gentle, and it would be false to interpret the great sequence we are talking about as some simple endorsement of epicureanism. Actually, you could argue that the film itself resists interpretation because, as with the story, everyone already understands its essence.

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Persona (Hulu)

Shakespeare used six words to pose the essential human choice: "To be, or not to be?" Elizabeth, a character in Ingmar Bergman’s "Persona," uses two to answer it: "No, don’t!" She is an actress who one night stopped speaking in the middle of the performance, and has been silent ever since. Now her nurse, Alma, has in a fit of rage started to throw a pot of boiling water at her. "No, don’t!" translates as: I do not want to feel pain, I do not want to be scarred, I do not want to die. She wants . . . to be. She admits . . . she exists. "Persona" (1966) is a film we return to over the years, for the beauty of its images and because we hope to understand its mysteries. It is apparently not a difficult film: Everything that happens is perfectly clear, and even the dream sequences are clear–as dreams. But it suggests buried truths, and we despair of finding them. "Persona" was one of the first movies I reviewed, in 1967. I did not think I understood it. A third of a century later I know most of what I am ever likely to know about films, and I think I understand that the best approach to "Persona" is a literal one.

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Hunger (Hulu)

McQueen is renowned as an artist and winner of the Turner prize, and this is his first feature film. I came to it sceptically, having been alienated by his video-art work Deadpan (1997), which seemed to me an uninteresting and frankly supercilious appropriation of Buster Keaton. But Hunger shows that McQueen is a real film-maker and his background in art has meant a fierce concentration on image, an unflinching attention to what things looked like, moment by moment. There is an avoidance of affect and a repudiation of the traditional liberal-lenient gestures of dialogue, dramatic consensus and narrative resolution. This is a powerful, provocative piece of work, which leaves a zero-degree burn on the retina.

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From John Cassavetes to Terry Gilliam, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing This Weekend in NYC

By this time tomorrow, hopefully, you’ll find yourself out of the office and rolling around on a beach somewhere. If not a beach, perhaps a nice rooftop, relaxing with a cold cocktail, enjoying a rare Thursday untethered to your work space. You’ll indulge in one too many drinks, eat all the holiday BBQ, and come Friday when you’re back in the office you’ll wonder if the previous day of bliss was all a dream. But not to fear, as night rolls around and the weekend kicks off there are many dream worlds to enter—and I don’t mean through sleep, I mean through the cinema. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself into a brilliant and bizarre world from the mind of Terry Gilliam or to cut yourself open and bear it all on the stage with John Cassavetes, there are myriad classic and beloved films playing around the city this weekend for you to enjoy. I’ve rounded up the best of what’s playing, so peruse the list and see what tickles your cinematic fancy. 

IFC Center

Brazil
Berberian Sound Studio
Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me
Frances Ha
Jurassic Park
Museum Hours
Manaic
Young Frankenstein
Byzantium
   

BAM

Opening Night Nostalghia 2001: A Space Odyssey Frances Ha Before Midnight The Dirty Dozen    

Nitehawk

Before Midnight
The Bling Ring
Frances Ha
Byzantium
Metropolis (Anime) Hardbodies A Band Called Death The Longriders Ghostbusters    

Film Forum

Rosemary’s Baby
A Hijakcing
Singing Me the Songs That Say I Love You
12 Angry Men

 

Landmark Sunshine

I’m So Excited! Much Ado About Nothing The East Stuck in Love Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom The Room    

Film Linc

Much Ado About Nothing A Life of Ninja Comrade Kim Goes Flying Forever Love Drug War The Last Supper Summer Talk: Crystal Fairy Woman Revenger

Looking Back on the Best Films & Filmmakers of 2013 Thus Far

I’m not quite sure which cinematic hole of sand I have been burying my head under, but it appears that 2013 is already halfway behind us. And although many of the films which had their premieres at this year’s festivals that have been lauded as the best of the year have yet to be released, the movies that we have been enjoying in theaters since January proved pretty damn incredible. From Shane Carruth’s confounding metaphysical beauty Upstream Color and Harmony Korine’s Skittles-lit nightmare party Spring Breakers to Richard Linklater’s decade-spanning classic love story Before Midnight and Joss Whedon’s absolutely charming take on a Shakespearean tale Much Ado About Nothing, there was surely something for every cinematic appetite. So as we await the next six months of premieres, let’s take a look back on my picks for the best films of 2013 thus far, plus, read our extensive interviews with the filmmakers behind the picture. Enjoy.

 

1. Upstream Color, Shane Carruth

I love narrative and how it exists and why it exists and how it’s meant to be used. You can come up with a paragraph full of some truth, something that’s universal, some exploration, and it can be really informative, but it’s likely to not be that interesting. But you can spin a story, you can tell a narrative, and you can infuse it with this stuff, and if you’ve done your job right, you haven’t just captured somebody’s attention long enough to take them on this journey, you’ve also figured out something about the exploration through the act of the story because that’s what we key into. So I love narrative and I think that film is the height of narrative, and I don’t know what 100 years from now looks like, but from right now, to be able to communicate non-verbally but still explore, I don’t know what would be better than that. That’s what I love about it. It’s like you’re feeding right into the main line of how we experience things. READ ON

 

 

 

2. Simon Killer, Antonio Campos

We knew we wanted this very brash, loud soundtrack to the movie and it was part it from the beginning—it was always going to have these musical interludes following Simon. Then the score came about when we felt like the soundtrack needed a counterpoint—something more primal and stripped down, whereas the soundtrack was so spruced and poppy. Design-wise, we do this quite a bit: getting tones that capture something about the character. We tried to give those visual interludes a sound that was more of a frequency or a pulse. But it was all, again, a way to get closer or inside Simon’s mind without every directly saying it. READ ON

 

 

 

3. Before Midnight, Richard Linklater

I’m very interested in the reality of these actors on the screen, so I know you can’t just say lines that are written by someone else. The script, the text, has to work its way through the person, and so by having Julie and Ethan kind of work with me in rewriting that script, and personalizing it and demanding they give a lot of themselves, I thought that was the only way that film could ultimately work the way I wanted it to. The script was really a first step, but for it to give the effect that I wanted, I was looking for the two most creative young actors to fill those shoes, because I knew what would be asked of them.

   

 

 

4. The East, Zal Batmanglij

We’re like gardeners, we come to the garden and dig the soil, plant the seeds, and water it. Then we tend together. But it’s also about being kind to each other, you know, when  ideas are first starting they’re so weak, they’re like these little single cell organisms, they’re like amoebas and they’re gelatinous and you have to hold them really delicately like this little jelly fish creature and it goes from my hand to Brit’s hand. You just have to hold it and and it’s a very soft enterprise—it’s something that if you do with someone you don’t really trust it feels silly. And also, if you feel a lot of push back that little character or idea will die, so you have to create a space where you can do that back and forth with each other. It’s funny how it just starts growing and pretty soon it’s not in your control anymore. READ ON

 

 

 

5. Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine

I never try to do anything or speak to anything specifically; I never try to prove a point. But at the same time, it’s definitely of that world. It’s the idea of that world, that sort of post-everything. I wanted the filmmaking style to be very much of that. There was no real conscious referencing of other films, just more the idea: now things just live inside of me and of people and images and sound coming from all directions and falling from the sky. I wanted the film to never stop moving; I wanted it to be floating and falling and breaking apart and coming together and then smacking the shit out of you and then disappearing. And at the same time, there’s a world that’s created—the way things look and feel—that I want people to identify with that and say, "I’ve been to those places and have experienced those things." READ ON

 

 

 

6. Much Ado About Nothing, Joss Whedon 

We were certainly not attempting something highbrow and sophisticated, this was not a reproduction of Elizabethan theater, and we’re not attempting to present poetry to people. We wanted to get under the skins of these charters, and bring them to life, and find a journey through these relationships, and bring a real contemporary authenticity to it, but still respecting the fact that this was written 400 plus years ago. Some of it is very poetic, but we wanted to let the audience find that poetry rather than present it to them. So it’s very conversational and we took a very relaxed approach with the language. I think the roots go back to the readings at Joss’ house where we would have fun with plays and you could do whatever you want and weren’t’ necessarily cast in a role that you would ever play—but who cares, it was a reading and a glass of wine. READ ON

 

 

 

7. Mud, Jeff Nichols

But not wanting to make a simple getaway film about a man on the run, Nichols thought about young boys finding Mud, and who those boys were. "A girl had broken up with me and I was feeling defeated and pained," he admits. "I started thinking, yeah, what if this kid’s going to get his heart broken and there’s this guy who always gets his heart broken, but for some reason always keeps coming back. All the sudden I had what ended up being the core of the story." And that core being love–first, unmerciful love. "A lot of the time we look down on that young love we had and think, oh wasn’t that cute or puppy love and all, but its kind of the fiercest love there is," he says. "You don’t have your hands up yet, which makes the fall so hard because you’re fully committed to it, you’re all in. And oh man, it hurts." READ ON

 

 

 

8. Sun Don’t Shine, Amy Seimetz

Sometimes you get in situations where love seems like the most important thing, whether or not it’s hard and upsetting, and you suddenly feel like it needs to be solved right now. You’re stuck with this person or you want to figure it out with this person, and so the voiceover is another metaphor. I know they’re trapped in the car most of the time and they’re trapped it these situations where it’s just them, but its also like in love. There’s this idea that as long as you just don’t leave the bed or the bedroom that you guys are going to be totally fine, and then once you start thinking about society and introducing all of these other elements and these other people into the equation, it starts to unravel. READ ON

 

 

 

9. Something in the Air, Olivier Assayas

The early ’70s in France—the way I experienced them—were obsessed with politics, it invaded the whole space. There was very little left for anything else, even when you were a teenager or a kid there were questions about your place in the world. Of course it has to do with France because of the aftermath of May ’68; because that was a historical event, it was something that exploded like a bomb within the fabric of French society and it echoed profoundly. It was a failed revolution in many ways in the sense that it didn’t overthrow the government, there was no major change overnight, so it was perceived as a failure. But again, there was a sense that a successful revolution would be coming. And although that revolution never happened, the echo completely changed the values in French society. Kids are extremely sensitive to change, sensitive to what is happening in the present, they are like echo chambers. So yes, now it seems crazy looking back how focused we were on politics and how much we knew about politics. We really were extremely educated in Marxist theology and we knew about the social history of the 20th century. I don’t think it was good or bad but an interesting factor, and I don’t think anybody really ever made a movie that even remotely tried to capture that. READ ON

 

 

 

10. Laurence Anyways, Xavier Dolan

I do believe a relationship is a mix of the relationship you have with your parents and the relationship you have with your best friends. And for me, the way to have access to relatable truths is to base it on some of the closest relationships I had to my best girlfriends or best boyfriends, as well as the tenderness of a mother to her son. I think the goal of Laurence Anyways is to invite the audience in the story and because it’s so long and spans a decade, to make people feel like they’re part of that love story. So that’s why they’re introduced to so many things about these characters and their rituals and inside jokes. And then sometimes there are bigger cinematic manifestations of those rituals, as if it took such volume and importance and the life itself was acknowledging their love and granting them permission. READ ON

 

 

 

11. Frances Ha, Noah Baumbach

I’m interested in how psychology becomes behavior. Takes Frances. What she accomplishes at the end of the movie, out of context, is relatively minor in that she takes a desk job and she finds an apartment. But in the context of the movie, it’s kind of heroic. And, to some degree, it’s always trying to find the context for these things, these little movements we make in life. Like the end of Greenberg, where he goes and picks her up at the hospital, this sort of little thing for these characters means a lot. I’m always thinking of those things as cinematic and big and I see no reason why they shouldn’t be.  READ ON

 

 

 

12. Leviathan, George P. Cosmatos

It’s sort of a 90-minute blow up of all the fear and trembling and beauty that we ourselves witnessed, but not in a narcissistic way. It’s an experience that we had and we shared but we also felt we shared with the fisherman, even though they had a much more long-standing experience than we’ll ever have. So I don’t think there’s an easy way of dissociating our experience from their experience but we didn’t ever have the presumption that we’d come up with some dispassionate portrait of their experience that was disassociated with ours at all. And I think we always constantly improvising and experimenting with technology and style and how can we do justice to this world.  It’s a world in which we had our experience, the fisherman’s experience, the fish’s experience and the—completely overwhelming acoustically as well as visually overwhelming—unremitting presence of the boat, the noise of the boat, you cannot get away from the boat. You’re out there in this sublime seascape, you’re in the middle of the Atlantic at night, and you suffer from agoraphobia in the unbelievably claustrophobic space of the this boat. So we wanted to bring into play— everything: the elements, the birds, the fish, all of the crustatians, and all of the death and blood. READ ON

 

 

 

13. Stoker, Park Chan-wook

Yes, absolutely. The fact that Stoker is a coming of age story about a young girl, it’s actually an extrapolation or a continuation of the themes I explored in I’m a Cyborg But That’s OK. Also, the fact that I have a daughter that’s exactly the same age as the protagonist, and as a father, that has to be a subject matter that sparked my interest in the first place. And because of this, I actually focused more on this aspect of coming of age and expanded it from what he had found originally in the script. But rather than to say that I was interested in sexual awakening itself, in this film India’s sexual awakening is very much linked to her violent urges and what this has to do with, you know this cathartic feeling of allowing yourself to be drawn to something that’s evil? That’s acutely true of those young girls and boys who are going through their teenage years and he wanted to depict and describe the kind of chaotic state that you go through. READ ON

 

 

 

14.  Room 237, Rodney Ascher

It’s one of the big questions of the movie and I don’t think 237 set out to answer that but how much of this is intentional—of course a fascinating question but unanswerable. I think he was trying to do something much more ambitious than the story of three people trapped in a haunted hotel but he would also never want to explain that kind of stuff in an interview. But some of the research he did and the places he went, like Freudian ideas of the uncanny and the research he had already done about WWII and themes, moments in The Shining that seem evocative of his earlier films—the ghosts seem to have a kinship with some of the characters in Barry Lyndon or Paths of Glory and that sort of corrupt ruling class. But since he would never explain it in an interview and if he said something it might not always be thoroughly reliable. People can often work subconsciously, make a thousand little decisions without ever exactly thinking why—I get kind of lost in exploring the area around it. READ ON

 

 

 

15. The Place Beyond the Pines, Derek Cianfrance

I couldn’t make Blue Valentine for 12 years and I just sat on the bench and thought about what kind of films I wanted to make and thought about the failings of my first film. That was a very formalist film; it was very much, look Ma, no hands!  It was very fancy and tricky and in those 12 years, in order to keep moving as a filmmaker, I started making documentaries. And in doing so, I just fell in love with people and embraced true characters, human beings. In that time, I was able to formulate a new way of seeing movies—which was to try to approach them with just an honesty and approach every one of my characters as a human being and every one of my actors as a real person, not as an actor, but the same way I would treat someone I was shooting a documentary about. So when I make films, I’m trying to make pure, human, honest, stories that get at some sort of emotional truth and respect the audience. I’m trying to challenge too. Structurally, what this film is doing, it’s definitely trying to tread new ground. I think part of the job of the filmmaker is to tell new stories in new ways and provide new images and ways of seeing things. READ ON

You Want More ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ Footage? They’ve Got It!

We’re pretty excited about Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, playful with its modern dress and staging and gorgeous in black-and-white. And lest we forget, the idea of Nathan Fillion playing a character named “Dogberry” is probably the making of many an Anglophile fan’s deepest and darkest fantasies.

The film, which is in limited release now in select theatres in New York and Los Angeles, will be in UK theaters before you know it (starting this Friday, actually), and throughout the rest of the States on June 21st. If you’re not in any of those places and just can’t wait that long, though, three new short clips from the film are available via the Much Ado UK Facebook page. This is also a friendly reminder of how many characters Much Ado and most Shakespeare plays have, as there are a lot of similarly clean looking dudes in suits and ties and they are all different.

In one clip, Claudio (Fran Kranz) paces around a child’s bedroom while Benedick (Alexis Denisof) sits by the dollhouse, and their conversation escalates pretty quickly until Don Pedro—sweet, goofy Don Pedro—interrupts. Elsewhere, behind what appears to be a quaint suburban home, Dogberry and Verges (Tom Lask) inform Lenato (Clark Gregg) of their findings of some “errant knaves,” and Verges seems pretty urgent about the whole thing, but Dogberry is encouraging him to just chill, bro, or at least that’s how someone trying to be really cool while teaching a freshman English class would explain it. In the third, poor Beatrice (Amy Acker), takes a bit of a spill. Watch below. 

 

Watch Joss Whedon Talk ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ and Much More at The Film Society of Lincoln Center

Last Friday, Joss Whedon’s absolutely delightful adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing finally had its theatrical premiere. The black-and-white comedy about a merry war betwixt lovers is a fresh, sexy, charming, and energetic revisiting of the classic story that took Whedon out of his massive budget studio film world. Shot over the course of twelve days  in his own home, his Much Ado is populated with brilliant actors from Alexis Denisof to Clark Gregg and Amy Acker who we’ve seen rotating around his universe of television and film for years now.

And last week, to celebrate the release, Whedon took to The Film Society of Lincoln Center to talk about his fantastic new project. If you were lucky enough to have been in the audience, the floor was open for questions, which Whedon happily answered wonderfully—but if not, now you can watch the 36-minute conversation online. So whether or not you’re a scholar of the bard or just the biggest Firefly fan, check out Whedon’s evening at Film Linc and head to cinemas now to see Much Ado
 
Enjoy the conversation below.
 

The Best Films to Get Excited About This June

When it comes to summer at the movies, it’s typically the big blockbusters that win out. But if you’re looking for a little something beyond Man of Steel, June happens to be rife with wonderful releases on a more intimate level. Whether 1990s dinner party-esque Shakespearean comedies tickle your fancy, or if you’re looking for something a bit more serious like groundbreaking documentaries, there’s really something to please all cinematic affinities. Here’s a reminder of what you should be seeing throughout the upcoming month—grab some candy and enjoy.

Much Ado About Nothing, June 7th

 

The Bling Ring, June 14th

 

Violet and Daisy, June 7th

 

Call Me Kuchu, June 14th

 

Twenty Feet From Stardom, June 14th

 

Berberian Sound Studio, June 14th

 

Maniac, June 21st

 

I’m So Excited!, June 28th

 

Byzantium, June 28th

 

 

Laurence Anyways, June 28th

Alexis Denisof on Reawakening the World of Shakespeare in Joss Whedon’s ‘Much Ado About Nothing’

When it comes to cinematic preferences, I lean toward the darker side, falling for films that make me ache—in the best way possible. More often than not, it’s the more haunting, dramatic features that evoke the physical reaction I so yearn for. But on occasion, a film comes along that’s so absolutely delightful, so pleasurable in every aspect that I cannot help but find myself in a state of utter glee, completely tickled with what’s happening before me on screen. It’s a rare occurrence, but with Joss Whedon’s contemporary retelling of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, I found myself transfixed in the allure of his black-and-white world. 

Playing out as a love letter to Shakespeare’s comedic tale of a merry war betwixt two lovers, Much Ado is brimming with charisma and sensual thrill. You don’t need to be a scholar of the bard to find yourself captivated by the story, with its silky smooth and velvety jazz-filled atmosphere, you’re eased into the film in a way that’s far from intimidating. Whedon infuses a conversational style to the story that makes it more accessible than any other Shakespearean re-workings in recent memory, adding to a charm that’s heightened by its phenomenal cast of characters. 
 
Filmed in his own home in Los Angeles, for the director best known for hit shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, or Hollywood blockbusters like The Avengers, Much Ado was a welcome surprise. The comedy feels like a breath of fresh air, a respite from major studio pictures that allows Whedon the freedom to let loose with a rapturous mix of refinement and playfulness. Much Ado may seem minimalistic in its production style, but that speaks nothing of the beauty with which it was shot and the wonderfully nuanced performances by its sprawling cast. 
 
Peppered with members of Whedon’s world, from Nathan Fillion and Clark Gregg to Reed Diamond and Fran Kranz, the film stars Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as its main pair of lovers, Beatrice and Benedick. With an instant and palpable chemistry between the two, we see them verbally spar their way into love in the tale that goes as follows:
Leonato, the governor of Messina, is visited by his friend Don Pedro who is returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious brother Don John. Accompanying Don Pedro are two of his officers: Benedick and Claudio. While in Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter Hero, while Benedick verbally spars with Beatrice, the governor’s niece. The budding love between Claudio and Hero prompts Don Pedro to arrange with Leonato for a marriage.In the days leading up to the ceremony, Don Pedro, with the help of Leonato, Claudio and Hero, attempts to sport with Benedick and Beatrice in an effort to trick the two into falling in love. Meanwhile, the villainous Don John, with the help of his allies: Conrade and Borachio, plots against the happy couple, using his own form of trickery to try to destroy the marriage before it begins.A series of comic and tragic events continue to keep the two couples from truly finding happiness, but then again perhaps love may prevail.
No stranger to Shakespearean text, actor Alexis Denisof takes on the role of Benedick with a mix of humor and sensitivity. Beloved for his roles on Buffy, Angel, and Dollhouse, here we see a new side to Denisof that’s as endearing as it is hilarious to watch. So with the film’s premiere this Friday, I got the chance to speak with him about stepping into his leading role, his natural chemistry with Amy Acker, and the passion behind the picture.
 
You’ve been traveling around a lot with the film, bringing it to different festivals and premieres. I imagine this is a pretty amazing group of people to be doing this with.
It’s very true. We are genuinely friends, so it didn’t feel like work when we were making it and it doesn’t feel like work when we’re promoting it. All of it has been a huge amount of fun and that’s the best kind of work there is. If you can make it fun, then it doesn’t feel like work.

I absolutely loved the film. I can’t remember another recent film where I found myself just grinning the entire time.
Oh good, that’s a perfect way to say it.

What I loved about it was that it felt like a very indie 1990s chamber comedy, like The Anniversary Party, with Shakespeare as the vernacular. The combination of those two things is probably my ideal film.
Yeah, that’s very well put. I’ve seen it a few times now and each time I get a slightly different feel and I see more of the references that Joss is inserting here and there. I love how it all pulls together even though it’s 400 year old language, two-year-old suits and ties, mid-century black-and-white, and cool jazz.

The jazz was a great element and gave it that extra bit of play.
And yet somehow it all pulls together into one experience that just flies by. I normally find it difficult to watch films or television shows that I’m in because I pick them apart, but with this one, I just get carried away and remember how much fun we had making it . I think almost all of that fun is on the screen.

As someone who loves Shakespeare it was obviously enjoyable, but what’s great with this is that it feels much more accessible than a lot of other adaptations of the work.
I agree. If you love Shakespeare and you’ve seen Shakespeare, I think you’ll go to this movie surprised and delighted at this fresh interpretation. I think people will watch this movie and feel good that you understood it and enjoyed it. It’s accessible and it’s fun and hip and sexy and cool, and it’s very hard not to like it. The movie is not trying to scare you off or make a statement about Shakespeare or become a polemic about the Bard, it’s just these people brought to life in a way that the directors and actors felt were right for them and creating a world that we believed in. And we tried to make it fast and fun.

How did you find yourself cast in the role of Benedick? You’ve worked with Joss in the past.
I have been fortunate to collaborate with him quite a few times over the years. Before Much Ado, the last time was on The Avengers, in which I had a small part. So I saw him in the middle of shooting that huge movie and when we wrapped principal photography, I got a call at home asking where was I and if he could come see me. I told him he could come over right now and I hung up the phone and said to my wife, "Oh dear, I think he’s coming to tell me that the footage we shot of me in The Avengers was terrible and they need to recast and reshoot, and wants to break the news in person." And she told me to relax and see what he wanted to say. So it was a double surprise when he arrived and plucked the script for Much Ado out of his pocket and said, "So I’ve got a couple weeks off and my wife has suggested that instead of the European vacation we planned, that we shoot Much Ado at my house. It starts in three weeks and we have twelve days to shoot it." I said yes before he’d even finished the question, and thankfully didn’t have enough time to freak out. A couple weeks isn’t much time time to prep for that kind of role, and 12 days is certainly not a lot of time to shoot that kind of film, but everybody involved has worked with each other either directly or knew each other socially, and we had pretty much all worked with Joss, so we had a rapport and could work quickly with each other— that was a key element. And most of us participated in casual Shakespeare readings at Joss’s house just for fun from time to time, so that created a springboard as well and all that conspired along with Joss’s extraordinary vision for the film. 

Did he say right away that he wanted you for Benedick? 
He did. When he first proposed it, he said that he was thinking me for Benedick and Amy for Beatrice—for me, that’s the holy trinity: Joss, Amy Acker, and myself. I couldn’t be happier than when I’m working with those people. We just have a very special chemistry, the three of us, and it’s always challenging and exciting. We feel relaxed and free to play. If you really boil it down, whether it’s comic or tragic, it’s all play in this movie-making, television, or theater business—it’s complicated versions of playing and I think Joss and Amy and I play well together. 

The scenes between you and Amy were certainly my favorite, whether it was a dramatic moment or the many moments of comedy, you two have such a wonderful chemistry together that was befitting of your characters.
I do appreciate it and I want to speak frankly about my feelings about it, but at the same time, I’m not trying to give myself compliments. I agree, I feel we have a chemistry but it’s up to everybody else to agree that the chemistry is working. I feel like in this case we hit on something special.

The film was shot at Joss’ house and on a very small scale, yet it still felt so polished and the cinematography was beautiful.
Yeah, if you were just told about a black-and-white movie shot in 12 days at his house, you would immediately think it sounds down and dirty and it’s going to look down and dirty and be all that shaky camera kind of hand-held flip cam style of shooting that’s become in vogue—but it’s not that. It’s very luxurious to look at and very sensuous and sexy, and I think the black and white lets you ease into it comfortably, and the language is not intimidating. Anybody that has spoken to me about the movie, all of them have said, "It’s so strange, after a couple of minutes I didn’t realize it was Shakespeare anymore, I understood what people were saying." So it is beautiful to look at, and I knew Joss had fallen truly in love with this movie when he told me that he was composing the score. Once he starts to hear music when he’s working on something, then it means his heart is in it, it’s taken him over. By the time he was in editing and post-production, he was having to do that on his own free time from post-production of The Avengers. So that meant occasional late nights during the week and occasional late hours on the weekend on his laptop and yet, that’s the kind of talent he is: from the moment he conceived his vision of this movie, to the final note on the bass and treble clef that he wrote, it was one fully-realized vision that was slow and extremely challenging, but nevertheless beautifully extracted from him.

My first thought when hearing about the film was that doing something like this so passionately in such a short amount of time, and so cheaply, it must have been a wonderful revitalizing breath of fresh air for him.
You don’t have to know anything about movies to conceive what it must be like to shoot a $200 million movie. It’s just painstaking minutia, thousands of decisions, and many, many people involved in every aspect of the film. So a movie like The Avengers is a military operation, and I think he wanted to go back to grass roots and let things fly a little and get back to that feeling of being in a rip-roaring collaboration with people that he loved to work with and just see what happens. So with low or no expectations—which was what we all had—you’re free really to do whatever and that’s one of many strengths of Joss as a director: he creates an atmosphere in which you feel absolutely safe and free. I think that’s a perfect balance when you’re in a creative process—safety and freedom.

With such short time shooting and in prep, did you and Amy have a chance to rehearse a lot together, or did your relationship develop more on set?
The rehearsals were grab them when you can. Amy and I called each other immediately after Joss dropped this bombshell and said, "How soon can you get together?" And the three of us would meet whenever possible before shooting began, and Amy and I would work on things ourselves and bring Joss in when we could, or he would pull us aside when he could. That was a process, and that continued throughout the shooting. If we were in a lightning turn around, we would walk off and take a look at things and map them out. And of course it’s his house, so he has the advantage of knowing every nook and cranny and has total comfort in the space, in terms of what it is and what it can do. And while shooting in a real location confines the cast and crew into small spaces—which a film stage doesn’t—a real house gives you that authenticity that supports what you’re doing. There’s something about real walls as opposed to flimsy painted canvas walls that give you reassurance, and if I open the fridge in the kitchen there’s actually milk and eggs and the kid’s lunch because it’s his house. All of that lent itself to the movie.

And just as a play, Much Ado offers itself so well to physical comedy, and with something like this where you’re able to see small details closer than you would on a stage, you were able to play more with that and it really added to the entire film.
That’s a good point. Joss wanted to have a feel of live theater in this to some degree, but at the same time, because it’s film and there’s a camera, you can direct the eye more than you can in a theater. He took long takes when he could and shot things a little bit wider so that you could see everybody that was in the scene in the room. That pulls the audience into the room, and if it’s a party scene you really are in the party, and if it’s a love scene, you’re comfortably close to the lovers. This film is as close to merging film and live theater as anything I’ve seen successfully. Of course if you were just to put a camera on sticks and shoot a theatrical performance, it’s very tedious, it just doesn’t translate and it rarely works. You’ve got to get the cameras in closer and you’ve got to have cut-aways and close-ups —you just have to because the screen is a different visual medium. Somehow this is a successful merger of the two.

I feel like so many Shakespearean adaptations nowadays are either the very grand, romantic Kenneth Branagh-type pictures, or the more veiled, contemporary re-imagining of the text. This, to me, felt like the perfect merger of both those worlds.
I would agree with that. We were certainly not attempting something highbrow and sophisticated, this was not a reproduction of Elizabethan theater, and we’re not attempting to present poetry to people. We wanted to get under the skins of these charters, and bring them to life, and find a journey through these relationships, and bring a real contemporary authenticity to it, but still respecting the fact that this was written 400 plus years ago. Some of it is very poetic, but we wanted to let the audience find that poetry rather than present it to them. So it’s very conversational and we took a very relaxed approach with the language. I think the roots go back to the readings at Joss’ house where we would have fun with plays and you could do whatever you want and weren’t’ necessarily cast in a role that you would ever play—but who cares, it was a reading and a glass of wine.

Did those readings happen often?
Well, they were in a nice groove during the Buffy and Angel days when Joss was on a TV schedule. Now that the shape of his career has changed and there’s much more of a movie schedule to his life, it’s been difficult to get together and read the plays as of late. But it’s always a possibility and they’re always spontaneous. He’ll think of it on a Wednesday and call a bunch of people, then email a bunch of people on Thursday, and if enough people say yes, then he sends out a list of parts on Friday or Saturday, and then you show up on Sunday and read the play. I know it’s not everybody’s idea of fun…

Are you kidding? I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening.
Well, clearly you would find this great, and for people who have an interest in the plays, it is fun. I think what this movie has done is take the fun that we all have in the reading of the plays and brought it to life in a very vivid way. We’ve committed to it whole-heartedly here, so now with this movie, you could like the plays or not like the plays, the movie stands on its own as the story—a complex story about two pairs of lovers clearly meant for each other but instead are quarreling and resisting each other. The other pair are on the opposite end of the spectrum and are models for Romeo and Juliet and the whole cosmopolitan political world in which they’re set, and all of the wonderful characters that weave through the whole story. The bottom line with this movie is that it’s an indie. There’s no big studio behind this, we want to get it out to people, and we’re lucky that LionsGate picked it up and people will get a chance to see it. But it’s only people like you and people who tell their friends about it that creates the demand that will give it a shot to get out to a broader audience.

[More by Hillary Weston; Follow Hillary on Twitter]

From Gus van Sant to Orson Welles: Looking Back at the Best Shakespearean Adaptations on Film

For the last century or so, many a filmmaker has tried their hand at revamping the wonderful world of William Shakespeare. It’s certainly no easy feat but there have indeed been a handful of minds who’ve mananged to capture the essence of the text in a way that allows it to rise from the page and come to life with vigor, whereas others sadly just fall flat.  There are those which have provided literal and deeply precise re-workings of plays such as King Lear, Richard III, Hamlet—brilliantly acted and cinematically challenging, yet a bit stale. Then there are the Baz Luhrmann’s of the world who take Billy Shakes’ age old words and wind them into a modern world, blowing dust off the pages and infusing classic tragedies with a renewed sense of purpose and thrill. And lastly, there are those who have abstractly crafted their own contemporary tales based on various pieces of Shakespearean a la My Own Private Idaho.

And this weekend, we’ll see the premiere of Joss Whedon’s absolutely charming, sexy, smart, and delightful Much Ado About Nothing—which mixes both the classical precision with modern thrill to give us unqiuely totally refreshing. So if you’re in the mood to revisit some favorite adaptations in anticipation for Whedon’s Much Ado, here are our favorites for you to peruse. Enjoy.

 

Romeo + Juliet, 1997

 

 

Richard III, 1955

 

 

Hamlet, 2000

 

 

Ran, 1985

 

 

Hamlet, 1948 

 

 

My Own Private Idaho, 1991

 

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1935 

 

 

Much Ado About Nothing, 1993

 

 

West Side Story, 1957

 

 

Hamlet, 1996

 

 

Othello, 1952 

 

 

10 Things I Hate About You, 1999