Check Out a Video Countdown of the Year’s Best Films

So far this week we’ve taken a look at John Waters’ top films of 2013, alongside Jean-Luc Godards own year end roundups from 1956-1965—but today we get another list in the form of a wonderfully edited video countdown looking at the top 25 films of 2013. For the past few years, Film.com’s David Ehrlich has been crafting his own visual guide to your favorite films of the year and this time around, he includes a healthy mix of mass appeal and the lesser known films we’ve fallen in love with over the year.

Ahead of our own look at the best of 2013, his countdown features some of our personal favorites—from Before Midnight and Upstream Color to The Act of Killing and The Great Beauty. Speaking to his list, Ehrlich noted:

There’s a brief intro to set the stage and paint a slightly broader picture of the year that was (with a few red herrings tossed in for good measure), but this video is ultimately a countdown of my favorite 25 films of 2013. I’ve played loose and fast with the eligibility requirements in the past, but this time around I thought it would be easier and more instructive to honor only those films that were publicly released in the United States during the calendar year of 2013 (my refusal to abide by this criteria in previous videos explains why Olivier Assayas’ Something In The Air and Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone In Love aren’t included this time around).

Check out the video below and stay tuned for our year end best coming next week.

Check Out Quentin Tarantino’s Favorite Films of 2013

Back in the summer, we ranked our top favorite films of 2013 six months into the year. Upstream Color, Frances Ha, Something in the Air, and Before Midnight fell highest on our list, with an updated version a few weeks ago, adding Stories We Tell, Blue Jasmine, and a few notable others to the list. Our next iteration will most definitely include Steve McQueen’s brilliant 12 Years a Slave, but in the meantime, Quentin Tarantino has provided his favorite films of 2013 for everyone to enjoy—and it’s a mixed bag. In alphabetical order his list goes as follows:

1. Afternoon Delight (Jill Soloway)

2. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)

3. Blue Jasmine (Woody Allen)

4. The Conjuring (James Wan)
5. Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg)

6. Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach)

7. Gravity (Alfonso Cuarón)

8. Kick Ass 2 (Jeff Wadlow)

9. The Lone Ranger (Gore Verbinski)

10. This Is The End (Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg)  

But if that list doesn’t satisfy you, check out Tarantino discussing his favorite films from 1992 to 2002 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 Lynch to Tarantino, All of Your Favorite Films are Playing in NYC This Weekend

Toss your beloved DVD collection to the side and head to the theater, because all of your favorite movies are playing this weekend. And no, I doubt I’m being hyperbolic when I say that there is surely a personal classic for everyone screening around the city, and what better way to view your most cherished piece of cinema than in the format it deserves? Whether you’re one for PT Anderson’s evocative ensemble dramas, Terrence Malick’s magic hour murders, David Lynch’s haunting and heartbreaking surrealism, or Quentin Tarantino’s black-humored violence there are plenty of undoubtable masterpieces of film to enjoy, alongside some of the most-acclaimed new movies of the year. I’ve rounded up the best of what’s playing throughout New York City this weekend—so peruse the list, see what you’re in the mood for, go get yourselves some Twizzlers, and head down to the cinema. Enjoy.

Film Forum

Badlands
The Man Who Knew Too Much
Post Tenebras Lux
Voyace to Italy
 
 

Museum of the Moving Image

The Rolling Stones in Gimme Shelter
The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night
The Who in Quadrophenia
 
 

BAM

Wild at Heart
L’Eclisse
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me
The Mother and the Whore
 
 

Nitehawk

Boogie Nights
Hit So Hard
Deceptive Practice
Serial Mom
 
 

IFC Center

Pulp Fiction
Something in the air
Robin Hood: Men in Tights
The Shining
Room 237
The Source Family
Upstream Color
Java Heat
2001: A Space Odyssey
 
 

Film Linc

An Oversimplification of Her Beauty
Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s
To the Wonder
Girls in the Band
 
 

Angelika Film Center

What Maisie Knew
Stories We Tell
No
Trance
Midnight’s Children
 
 

Landmark Sunshine

Sightseers
The Iceman
Love is all You Need
In the House
Alien

Olivier Assayas on Revisiting the Passions of Youth With ‘Something in the Air’

In the January 1969 issue of Life, the magazine takes a look back on 1968,  focusing on everything from space exploration to the student dissent occurring internationally that would shake the foundation of youth culture and the political system. The article on the latter opened with a two-page photo spread featuring a French university student called “Danny the Red” aka Daniel Marc Cohn-Bendit—a young man who led fellow students in rebellion and “earned his nickname as much for his nihilism as his red hair.” He and those around him were demanding to be heard, claiming “it’s the system we’re fighting against,” as they continued to riot in the spring of ’68. At that time, French filmmaker Olivier Assayas was just thirteen years old, but he, like so many of his peers, felt the effects of the unrest, living in the wake of what came before him, and hoping for a revolution.

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.

Earlier this week, I caught up with Assayas to delve further into his interest in revisiting youth, the painful truths of being a teenager, and staying true to what sparked his love of cinema.

Last weekend I saw a double-feature of Cold Water and Something in the Air, which was amazing, and seeing them together you notice so many similarities but also what makes them distinct yet from one singular vision. Why now did yo choose to revisit youth in this time? What has timed allowed for you to change or see more clearly?
In many ways it goes back all the way to when I made Cold Water. That was the first openly autobiographical film I made, and the strange thing is that it happened to be a commissioned work. It came from a producer that was producing a series of movies by filmmakers from various generations who were supposed to narrate their teenage years. So somehow it opened the door for the possibility of going forward and using elements from my own memories in my films. It took me by surprise; I think I probably knew what I was doing when I made Cold Water and it turned out to be a very important moment for me, a defining moment in many ways. It put me on track for whatever I made after that because it’s just a movie I made completely outside of the film industry—I did it with non-professional actors, we shot it in 24 days, and I had this freedom, this sense of capturing something in the poetry of filmmaking that I had been looking for in my previous films. After finishing the film I felt a sense of having opened the door on a period I had forgotten about, meaning the ’70s when I was a teenager, my formative years. And I said, okay through this movie half-consciously I have dealt with the energy of it, with everything that was lurking under the surface but somehow there was something about the surface that was missing. I had not dealt with the politics, I had not dealt with the art, with the spirituality—all the elements that made those years beautiful. So I stayed with the notion that one day I would make a film to compliment .
Cold Water felt more as if it was dealing purely with the emotions of the time.
It has to do with the abstract energies that are more universal.
You’ve said before that your films happen by themselves, as if they’re fragments of one larger body. How did Something in the Air develop in that sense?
I often say that my movies happen by themselves in the sense that I write them and film them without any form of logic or strategy. I do them because they are the only thing I can make at that specific point. You’re drained and looking to somehow revive the desire to make a film, and all of sudden something pops up, and I just grab it and try to follow it wherever it leads me. But I’m so happy to be find it that I don’t question it too much.
With this film you merged both that emotional, personal side with the political landscape of the time. Gilles’ story was about his romantic obsession with his art and how he fit into the world but told through politics. Was there something you wanted to say about the relationship between those two elements?
Well it’s certainly something that was extremely specific of those years. 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.
It seems like political beliefs were also a strong way of defining oneself, and even if you weren’t that absorbed in it, it was a way in which to figure out your identity and where you stood in the culture.
I see those years through a prism, in a very specific way, which is the perspective of a teenager who wanted to become an artist. So my vocation was more of a painter and then eventually film, and so I had a serious relationship to the politics which were extremely present in everyday life and present in our imaginations. There was no contradiction with becoming an artist while also hoping for a major change in society, it all went together. There was a very deep connection between art and politics, which is something that is part of 20th century history.
Do you feel like young people today are outside of that?
I think they live in a very different world. Certainly the perspective of politics is very different. The political philosophy of the ’70s was very unique—it was utopian, it was in many ways very disconnected from reality. And today, there’s a lot of kids that believe the they can have an influence on the world and their generation.
But they don’t believe in such a grand spectrum of change?
They believe in amending things, they believe in fixing what’s wrong with society, they don’t believe in overthrowing society. Overthrowing and creating something new is exactly the kind of utopian thinking they do not want because it just sounds too abstract.
In both this and Cold Water you show the connection between youth and nature—whether they’re in the woods or in these empty homes in the countryside, nature is present around them.
I grew up in the countryside, so my teenage years were not urban, they are connected to nature—be it nature or spring, which is also one of the deep differences between the two movies, how much Cold Water is a winter movie and Something in the Air is a spring, summer movie. There is also something that has to do with nature that was so much the thought, dreams, and hopes of the 1970s. There was this idea of leaving the city and establishing communes in the mountains and establishing some kind of utopian, agrarian community and it was part of the fantasy world of that time. And that’s something that even echoes in the music. When we think of the 1970s we think of prog rock but there was also folk rock and going back to the traditional folk—but there is this very deeply pastoral strain in the music and in the culture of that time and it’s really something I wanted to have in the film because it’s really he brighter side of the ’70s. It had a dark side but in this movie I wanted to show something to do with the beauty.
How did you go about choosing the musical elements of the film?
On one side you have the music, and that’s really as autobiographical as it gets; it’s really the stuff I was listening to at that age. Some of it has remained part of the culture and some has faded, but I used both. Often it’s complicated for me to choose the music for my films but this was not so difficult because there was something extremely obvious, that all of those songs were time capsules for me and so attached to my experiences in those years.
Speaking of music, I have to tell you that the scene in Cold Water, the morning after the party, that long tracking shot across the countryside with “Janitor of Lunacy” playing is one of my favorite moments ever. I found a clip online and have been watching it non-stop.
Thank you. It’s really something that wasn’t even part of the screenplay initially, and at some point I realized that I needed that shot. So I wrote it having the song in mind and I just developed the shot around the song.
In both films there’s also a very present element of fire, which seemed to signifying the energy of youth. Was that your intent?
I’m trying not to question it too much. I was hardly aware of it when I was writing and then when I was shooting I realized, oh my god I’m using a lot of fire in this film, there’s a lot of stuff burning up. And of course it’s connect to youth; youth is what burns. So I suppose there’s something maybe heavy-handed about it, but it happened on its own and I kept it in the film. There was something about it that was very connected to the film and the way things self-destruct and how art is not really meant to stay, it’s meant to be lived and appreciated in the moment and then eventually destroyed.
I imagine there’s a large difference between filmmakers who grew up in this period of time and experienced what you did and then those who inherent this sense of chaos that was born out of it. Perhaps that accounts for the many romantic depictions of the era.
For some reason there’s a fixation with he culture in the late ’60s and early ’70s and you have so many different takes on it which fantasize those years. But as for myself, I was happy when the ’70s ended because the ideology, the utopian way, all this was completely cut off from reality and it was becoming oppressive. And yes, you have so many romantic versions of the period but you also have so much irony about it. I wanted to work simultaneously as a memoirist or a historian; my concern was really to try to get it right and hit the right note, which is a certain way of being respectful of the time and respectful of the hope. I was part of that story but I also did not want to erase the contradictions and what was ultimately wrong about the politics of those years. I think when you make movies about history and recent history, you have a responsibility because people will somehow trust you. People who were not there in the ’70s, their vision of the that time will be defined in part by how you are presenting it. So you have a responsibility to be serious about it and faithful. In the end, that’s why I use a lot of my own memories and details and anecdotes because I remembered them precisely and knew that it was solid and real and that in using them I could build something that was genuine.
Gilles moves from painting and drawing to film, which feels like a repression of this passion; was his entrance into cinema more about his personal change? 
The film can be seen as a the story of a kid who starts with throwing things on a piece of paper and finishes with the same kid who understands that art is about representing real life characters and reviving real life characters. This path takes him from graphics and visual abstraction to be able to understand how the reality depicted by movies can be meaningful for him. He is trying, looking, experimenting, and he’s attracted to movies but not sure what kind of movies or how to appreciate them. He ends up confronted with militant filmmakers who have little to say to him, or he ends up doing some very basic job in the film industry—as I did in those years—and he feels completely out of place. Ultimately, the one moment when things open up, is when he’s in this experimental movie theater and he understands that through this notion, films made in the first person, something was happening that was speaking directly to him, where all of a sudden he understood that movies had this power to touch him deeply and at the most sensitive point. Then all of a sudden the whole path makes sense, all of a sudden he understands that’s what he was looking for, that’s what he was attracted to, and that’s where his path starts.
The female characters were very interesting because they represented two sides of himself. Christine gave him a love that he needed but was also very radical and strong, whereas Laure was more effervescent and was the creative impetus for everything he did.
In many ways they are archetypal of those times; they are really two 1970s types, but both of them existed, both of them are based pretty closely on real life characters. Also, when you are a boy and you’re a teenager, the painful truth is that girls are always a little but ahead you—they’re more mature, they’re already women when you’re a boy—and Christine and Laure, they go much further than Gilles. Gilles had this desire to go into movies and politics but he stays on the threshold whereas Christine goes all the way and she lives through it. With Laure, she really lives the life Gilles would love to live, she has this connection to art and to the zeitgeist but Laure is more of a muse, she’s really the poetic voice of his calling.
How did you go about finding these three?
When you make this kind of film, the casting’s pretty much the key. You have to trust kids with no experience. I did not want to work with professional actors anyway, so I really had to do what I usually do and cast individuals. I was not casting actors, I was looking for people who could be believable in the context of the 1970s, which is really the toughest part of it. We saw so many teenagers and they were interesting but a lot of them, they were so much of today, they had the energy, way of talking and thinking of today and they would were unthinkable in the 1970s. So it was a long journey, but in the end I realized that what I was looking for, what they all had in common was that they were artistic and they wanted to be artists—painters, musicians, filmmakers, writers—and they had these artistic ambitions that made them different, they had something deeper than other kids their age because they had more imagination, more of an inner life and it showed and transmitted to something the camera captured. I tried to protect them from the weight the film, of the responsibility of it, I tried to keep it as much of a game as I could. I took the weight on my shoulders. They would walk on the set and really walk into frame; I tried to make it as simple and casual as possible and somehow it protected something about their innocence or spontaneity, which was what I cared for the most.
Were you thinking about how teenagers seeing this nowadays would react and how it would impact them?
Obviously when you make films, you make films for a younger audience—that’s the movie crowd, it’s young. Especially when you make a movie like this, a movie that deals with youth, you hope that whatever your experience, you can transmit it, you can share it. And you don’t want to share it with people from your generation because they know of that, they went through it; you just hope that something from your experience can be meaningful or understandable to youth from another time and generation. I obviously had a first-hand experience on set because the actors in the film were ultimately very similar to the kids in the theater, so I really listened a lot to what they had to say. I was very careful to integrate their reaction, their view of those times and to understand what they got and what they did not get and what part of those years was meaningful for them. I constantly adjusted the film listening to the actors. There was some stuff I ended up cutting out because they just did not understand it; so much of the critical language of those times is just a foreign tongue to them.
Was making a second film that revisited your youth a cathartic thing for you now that so much time has and you can really reflect upon it?
I’m sure that I did learn stuff on the way and I’m sure that I’ve become a little bit more aware of what I’m doing. But again, I’m trying not to be self-conscious. I’m trying to protect the naivety of a very spontaneous approach to cinema. I suppose it’s also one of the reasons why I constantly go back to movies with teenagers and young actors because, to me, it’s a way of going back.
A way of being reborn.
Yes and eventually being reborn as a different person—at least not losing touch with the desire and with the initial dream that attracted me to this art form. I just don’t want to envision myself as some professional filmmaker; I want to remain an individual who makes movies and the part of being an individual being foremost and essential. I don’t think it’s good when you get too skilled, you have to follow your instinct and intuition and you have to be daring when you can. Ultimately, technique is dangerous, that’s the way I’ve always seen it; so I always try to break that.

Watch a New Clip From Olivier Assayas’ ‘Something in the Air’

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of catching an Olivier Assayas double-feature ay 92YTribeca. They first screened his beautiful new film Something in the Air, followed by his poetic 1994 feature Cold Water. Seen side by side, the two work as wonderful companion pieces to one another with striking similarities—aside from just the character names—but where Cold Water explored the abstract emotion of being a teenager in early 1970s France, Something in the Air takes a more literal and direct approach, where the political merges with the personal to create something deeply poignant and passionate.

Something in the Air tells the story of Gilles, 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, friendships, and the evolution of his maturity. And on the eve of the film’s theatrical premiere, there’s a new clip from the feature that takes us inside the theater with Gilles and his radical girlfriend Christine.

Take a look at the clip below and check back for our in-depth interview with Olivier Assayas tomorrow.

Watch the First US Trailer for Olivier Assayas’ ‘Something in the Air’

After making its way around the festival circuit, Olivier Assayas’ beautiful new film Something in the Air will finally be having its theatrical run this May thanks to IFC Films. The moving political and social drama from the director of Carlos and Summer Hours is a coming of age tale that encapsulates a moment in history swirling with politics, sex, and art. Focusing on a group of kids, mainly a young French artist, we see their struggle to find themselves amongst a time of revolution in early 1970s Europe. 

The official synopsis for Something in the Air reads:

…In Olivier Assayas’ ‘Something in the Air’ it is 1971 and Gilles (newcomer Clément Metayer) is a graduating high school student in Paris deeply involved in the counterculture of the time. As Gilles begins to realize that his interests lie more in the revolutions in art and music, he finds himself pulled into ever more dangerous political protests by the people around him, especially his radicalized girlfriend, Christine (Lola Créton). After a vandalism attack against their school goes terribly wrong, Gilles and his friends flee to Italy, where they spend a bohemian summer in the countryside drifting between parties, rallies and agitprop film screenings. Amidst this whirlwind of politics, art and sex, the group discovers that at their age every day holds new possibilities, and life awaits the curious.

And today we have the first domestic trailer for the film which stars wonderful young actors Clément Métayer, Lola Créton and Félix Armand. Take a look below.

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