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.

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.

Top 10 Films of 2013 So Far

Ignore the 12 month calendar, when it comes to movies, the year is divided into two seasons: before the fall, and after the fall. We get mid-level genre fare from January until May, along with a couple of second-tier blockbusters. Summer brings out the big franchise sequels, and a few well-reviewed indies as counter-programming. But any studio—large or small—that has a promising movie made with artistry and intelligence, usually holds it back till the unofficial beginning of Oscar season, heralded by three festivals (Venice, Telluride, and Toronto) that take place in early September.

In Hollywood wisdom, this is where anything aimed at adults begins the four month race toward Academy Award nominations—without which, box office prospects are considered severely impaired. So, what this means for moviegoers, is that for right months we bemoan the lack of anything good in cinemas, catch up on all the quality cable TV shows, then find ourselves scurrying to catch up with a sudden embarrassment of riches, many of which get lost in the hustle. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s the way things are, and hey, at least we get a few months when loving movies is not a zero sum game.  

And yet, 2013 has been a schizophrenic year. On the one hand, the multiplexes have been filled with the usual bloated lowest-common-denominator dreck, but on the other, indie movies have been much stronger than usual, and I can count at least 10 films released thus far that I would heartily recommend without reservation. So, without further ado, my personal best of 2013, at the unofficial half-way point before the quality onslaught begins.  

Honorable Mentions: Pacific Rim was dumb as a brick, and yet, a movie aimed at 12-year-old boys that made me feel (and cheer) like one. The Great Gatsby was an over-stylized mess, and yet a bold and unique interpretation of a classic text. Spring Breakers‘s hallucinatory fever dream eventually fizzled, and yet contained a balls-out brilliant performance by James Franco. World War Z was instantly forgettable, robbed of the novel’s socio-political satire, and yet an undeniably exciting thrill ride with some fantastically realized set pieces.  

10. Stories We Tell

While I wasn’t a fan of Sarah Polley’s first two directorial outings, there’s no denying the emotional power and skilled construction of her very personal documentary essay—which interweaves an entire family’s memories and secrets into a fascinating rumination on the various facets of  so-called "shared truths" and the different ways people construct narratives from the seen and unseen events of their lives.   

 

9. Mud

Though not as transcendent or mind-blowing as Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols’ third feature is a well-told, laid-back Southern yarn, that blends Twain and Dickens for a sweet yet unsentimental coming of age story set in the swamplands of the Bayou, as a young boy’s chance encounter with an ex-con brings his ideas and notions about love crashing into reality.  

 

8. Frances Ha

Like an episode of Girls directed by Woody Allen, Noah Baumbach makes his best movie since Squid and the Whale, with this rarest of beasts—a romantic comedy with no romance. Greta Gerwig creates a vivid, completely unique character, whose growth and maturation has, refreshingly, absolutely nothing to do with finding a man.  

 

7. The East

Brit Marling writes herself a great role in this smart, complex thriller set in a grass roots eco-terrorist cell. The moral nuances are embraced, the characters are believable and fully realized, the pace is exciting, and the themes urgent and relevant without ever being preachy.  

 

6. Blue Jasmine

Woody’s best movie since Vickiy Cristina Barcelona is a searing indictment of 1% entitlement, and in Cate Blanchett’s performance, contains the best special effect of the year. Her performance is a thing to be amazed by—a slow motion breakdown that is never less than utterly hypnotic, and no matter how despicable, still manages to somehow, strangely retain our sympathies due to its unavoidable, messy humanity.

   

5. The World’s End

Edgar Wright’s third and final film in the loosely connected "Cornetto Trilogy" (`after Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) is hysterically funny, riotously entertaining, mind-bogglingly ambitious, and actually, genuinely about something: the dead end nature of nostalgia, the corporatization of culture, the effect of time on friendships, and the self-destructive yet utterly unique nature of the human ego, that sets us apart from all other species, animal or alien. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers beating up the The Big Chill after a dozen pints at a stand-up comedy night, The World’s End is two completely different films unapologetically smushed together to make something brilliant and unique, and the final ten minute epilogue is the most brazenly left-field and inspired ending I’ve seen this decade.  

 

4. Short Term 12

Depicting the lives of a young couple as they navigate a roster of damaged, abused kids in a foster care facility, this absolute gem navigates truly treacherous terrain and somehow manages to avoid cheap sentiment and predictability, achieving its own kind of clear-eyed grace without ever hitting a false note. Brie Larson is a revelation as a woman whose no-bullshit  compassion with her young charges conflicts with her struggles to heal her own past, but the entire cast does stand-out work in this hard-hitting, deeply humane, genuinely important film about the actual skill it takes to love others, and ourselves.

   

3. Upstream Color

Shane Carruth’s second feature after the Sundance-winning Primer, is one of the boldest American art films of this young century, that practically invents its own cinematic language. There are elements of plot, there are characters, but the narrative follows the logic of dreams and emotions, which, if you surrender to their flow, provide a truly unforgettable trip (in all senses of the word). I’m not sure I can tell you what it all means—it involves identity-theft, fear of intimacy, alienation, love, and ur… pigs—but it made sense to me at a deeply sub-conscious level, and there are images and scenes forever burned into my brain, that still have me in awe. An uncompromised work of art by a true visionary auteur—this is the future of independently financed, independently made, independently distributed film, that breaks the mold of all pre-existing cinema within the prevailing, and failing, current system. A one-of-a-kind masterpiece, pure and simple.

   

2. Before Midnight

The perfect end to a perfect trilogy. Richard Linklater’s third and final rumination on romance is one of the most mature, realistic, yet deliciously enthralling depictions of a long term relationship, beyond its characters’ fantasies and idealized expectations of what love should be. Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are mesmerizing in their conversational dance around each other’s alter egos, who, after 20 years and sojourns in three European countries, reveal layers and complexities that most films daren’t even attempt. Before Midnight works as a great stand alone movie, but as the third part of a larger whole, completes one of the strangest and genuinely romantic cinematic experiments of all time.

   

1. The Grandmaster

Absolutely avoid the dumbed-down butchered version currently screening in US cinemas, head down to Chinatown or `yes.asia.com’, and buy the full, uncut, 130 minute Chinese version, in all its overstuffed, culturally specific glory. This jaw-droppingly beautiful movie is like Dr. Zhivago with martial arts, an elegiac tone poem for the honor-bound, highly coded world of kung fu before it spread its reach to the outer world. Ostensibly a biopic of Bruce Lee’s teacher, Ip Man, it is above all, another masterpiece from Wong Kar-wai, and like the rest of his oeuvre,  a highly stylized, achingly romantic mood mosaic about beautiful, heartbroken smokers, with the added bonus of the most hands down awesome fight sequences since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  

 

 

And that’s it for the first eight months. The rest of the year begins with a bang now, as I head down to the Toronto film festival. Stay tuned for thoughts on Gravity, 12 Years a Slave, The Past, Prisoners,  and many, many more, as we collectively forget the calamities on most studios’ slates, believe in a world where art and commerce happily co-exist, and let the fall feast of films begin.  

Daniel Hardy lives in a cabin in the woods, watches a lot of movies, and occasionally writes screenplays for a living. 

Cancel Your Plans: Shane Carruth’s ‘Upstream Color’ Is Now Streaming on Netflix

When I first saw Upstream Color last November, I had no idea that it would go on to be not only one of my favorite films of the year, but one of my favorite films I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching again and again…and again. But for those of you who still haven’t had the delight of seeing Shane Carruth’s bewildering and expertly-crafted sophomore film, you’re in for a treat: Upstream Color is freshly available on Netflix Instant Watch.

Now, for those of you that have seen the movie, I am sure this will be a welcome invitation to dissect its many layers and life cycles—or, if you’re like me, you’ll probably begin watching it enough times where Carruth’s mysterious and fascinating world that’s as sonically fascinating as it is narratively beguiling starts to just wash over you and your puzzling the pieces together and questioning every plot point begins to fade as you allow it to just sink into you.

When I spoke to Carruth back in the early spring, he talked about what he loves about cinema, saying:
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.
So yes, cancel whatever plans you had for the evening. Curl up under some blankets or atop someone you love and play this one loud.

From Tony Scott to Yasujiro Ozu, Here’s What You Should Be Seeing This Weekend in New York City

Oh, "the rhythm of the weekend, with its birth, its planned gaieties, and its announced end, followed the rhythm of life and was a substitute for it." Yes, and as tomorrow marks another first Friday of summer, we’re reminded that although the weather may be shaping up and boy does the beach sure look tempting, there’s still plenty of good reason to hide in the cozy comfort of a darkened theater. And this weekend, cinemas all around the city are showing everything from rare prints to classics, sure  to please everyone’s cinematic palette. Whether you and your film-focused lover intend on spending the weekend at Film Forum for an Ozu fest for two or your heart’s set on running down to Landmark Sunshine at midnight to celebrate True Romance, there’s a huge and exciting range of films to choose from over the next few days. So I’ve rounded up the best of what’s playing in New York for you to peruse before kicking off your weekend of play. Enjoy.

 

IFC Center

Frances Ha
El Topo 
Alien 
Dirty Wars 
As Cool as I Am 
Jabberwocky 
Something in the Air 
The Twelve Chairs 
The Wall 
Upstream Color

 

 

Nitehawk Cinema 

Velvet Goldmine 
The East 
Stories We Tell 
Spaceballs 
The Iceman 
2001: A Space Odyssey 

 

 

Museum of the Moving Image

David Byrne in True Stories 
Talking Heads in Stop Making Sense 
Bjork in Dancer in the Dark 
Panel Discussion: Blacks and Latinos in Asian Martial Arts 

 

 

Film Linc 

Much Ado About Nothing 
Dormant Beauty 
The Thing
It Was the Son 
Nina 
The Face of Another 
Pretty Butterflies 
The First Man 

 

 

MoMA

Greenberg 
The 400 Blows 
Somewhere 
Man to Man 
Whatever Works 
The Yards 
Milk 

 

 

Film Forum 

Late Spring
Hannah Arendt
Floating Weeds
Bye Bye Birdie
Days of Youth
I Was Born, But…

 

 

Landmark Sunshine 

True Romance 
The East 
The Kings of Summer 
Shadow Dancer 
Fill the Void 
Much Ado About Nothing 

 

 

BAM 

Nostalghia
The Russian Winter
Frances Ha
The Great Gatsby
Before Midnight 
In the Fog

See a New Set of Stills From David Lowery’s Texas Drama ‘Ain’t Them Bodies Saints’

As one of the most anticipated films to come out of Sundance this year, David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a beautifully painful southern drawl of a film. Starring Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck, Ben Foster, and Keith Carradine, it has the touch of Terrence Malick with the bite of 1970s crime dramas. And Lowery has had quite the prolific year—between shooting this, editing Shane Carruth’s stunning Upstream Color, finding himself attached to numerous other projects in the works, and now heading to Cannes next week where the film will screen as part of the festival’s Critic’s Week. 

 
And today, The Playlist has a new batch of stills from the gorgeous feature before it hits France next week. Arriving in theaters August 16th thanks to IFC Films, you can also catch Ain’t Them Bodies Saints at BAMcinemaFEST this June. The official synopsis of his film reads:
Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) and Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara), an impassioned young outlaw couple on an extended crime spree, are finally apprehended by lawmen after a shootout in the Texas hills. Although Ruth wounds a local officer, Bob takes the blame. But four years later, Bob escapes from prison and sets out to find Ruth and their daughter, born during his incarceration.
 
Set against the backdrop of 1970’s Texas Hill Country, first time director David Lowery paints a poetic picture, evoking the mythology of westerns and saturating the dramatic space with an aching sense of loss. Featuring powerful performances by Affleck and Mara as well as Ben Foster and Keith Carradine, AIN’T THEM BODIES SAINTS is a story of love, motherhood and searching for peace while faced with an unrelenting past. 
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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

Amy Seimetz Talks Complex Women & Strong Emotion in Her Directorial Debut ‘Sun Don’t Shine’

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.

 

With her first feature, actor, writer, director, and producer Seimetz has established a voice that’s powerfully distinct, pulsating with a heartbeat that screams. After making short and experimental films for years, producing other people’s work, and acting in films from Joe Swanberg and Megan Griffiths—to name a new—Seimetz stunned us in this year’s Upstream Color alongside Shane Carruth. Not only did their performance prove to be one of the most enigmatic yet beautiful portrayals of love, but it was the first collaboration for the two filmmakers, who seem to share more in common than the simple idea of confounding audiences. And while continuing to write and direct on her own terms, Seimetz also recently joined on to be a part of AMC’s mysterious hit The Killing, and HBO’s upcoming Christopher Guest project The Family Tree.

 

In anticipation for the film’s theatrical release last Friday, I got the chance to speak with Seitmetz about evoking feeling rather than exposition, the complexity of female characters on film, and not having to answer to anyone.

 

As an actress and a filmmaker you’ve done so many wonderful things just in the last year. But in terms of this film, what was the inspiration to tell this story? I’ve heard you say it stemmed from a recurring dream you were having.

I was having this reoccurring nightmare for a very long time—initially from when I was very young and I’m not sure why—but I was more Leo’s character. But in the sense that your dreams are all you, I guess I’m all the characters. The dream is that I have a lover and this lover has killed somebody, and I want to do anything I can to cover it up. And so that was the impetus for it, because I find that level of love and wanting to do that for somebody very beautiful. But I also find it really dangerous and interesting, and can tumble into something very bad very fast. So there’s that, and I had been through a pretty rough time and wanted to make a film that dealt with death. There’s an angle that deals with death in this film, but the two characters are not in denial of the actual death. You keep it out of sight, but the whole movie is about death even though these characters are doing these things that seem like it’s not about it.

 

It’s interesting that it came from a dream, because the whole movie felt like a nightmare. It was very expressionistic and so much more about tone and atmosphere than actual narrative. I found that very beautiful because it evoked so much more feeling than any sort of exposition would have. The feeling of anxiety and fear speaks for itself.

I have no interest in exposition at all. I get that it serves a purpose in a narrative for people, and I use it sparingly in the film to help people along, but the idea that they would say anything outside of what they would say to each other is not very interesting to me. To force people to say stuff just so the audience can get on the same page is really not that interesting in my head. Also, I started with no interest in narrative film at all, I wanted to make experimental film—I don’t even know what that means anymore, everything’s sort of an experimentation at this point. But I was more concerned with mood and tone and emotion and how that feels, and just to visually and sonically tell emotion and tone and what it feels like to exist. I don’t think that that is literal. And so, specifically with this story, I was obsessed with what it feels like to have crossed that boundary into this space.

 

Some of my favorite moments were the shots out the window when they were driving with the cut up voiceover. There was strength to those scenes . They were filled with so much emotion and understanding of the characters even though very little was being said.

Yeah, the voiceover is beckoning back to a period in time when they’re feeling okay and they’re feeling intimate and discussing things. That’s a place that they can’t go back to, and that was an acknowledgment on my part that I’m not really interested in the story that ended before this story begins. Everyone’s life is a series of different stories and I make reference to what they were like before and how they got there because that is interesting, mostly to the emotional plot points that I wanted to explore—which is how you can be so irrational and tumble into these things. I’m not really concerned with if she’s telling the truth or not, but to her it makes sense and to her that’s the story that she remembers and that’s the story she’s going to tell, and that’s all that really matters at this point. And not only that, the story that happened before she’s killed her husband, the end of the story is that she kills her husband and now a new narrative has begun because she’s completely cut herself off from society. She’s crossed this boundary, and so the new narrative begins when you cut yourself off from being able to relate to society as a free standing citizen who plays by the rules and expects things back from society. So her new narrative begins when she’s made this irrational decision and then is completely cut off and society coming back is consequence. So I was interested in the suspended period of time after the cut off from society, which is the crime and then the consequence, the reentry into civilization which is going to prison. 

 

What’s so appealing about their relationship is how cut off they are from the rest of the world. They’re so alone and this is all they have, but we rarely see them in a tender moment. They fight but you understand why that tension is there, and understand that there was a time with a lot of love there but they’re in a completely place now.

I definitely can relate to those emotions, but without murdering somebody. 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.

 

Yeah, even the smallest things. She keeps telling him about these things she wants to do with him—go to the grocery store, lie in a bed, get on a boat. They’ve never been able to do these things and now they never will.

No they can’t, and there’s a love behind it but there’s also this fantasy version of what the relationship can be. I notice in myself, being a complicated human being and making mistakes, my reaction is to be like—I can be the good girl, I can be the wife, I can be ambitious, I can good at my job, I can be a good mother—I’m not a wife or a mother—but the idea of it. I go back to like, wait, I want to be those things. And then you start fantasizing about those things even though it’s not taking reality into consideration—I’m complicated and I come with problems and I should be loved with those problems. And so going back to the love thing, I do think it’s really beautiful, the idea of somebody really wanting to love you through this giant mistake. I do think that that’s a beautiful idea and I wanted to flip that trope on its head. Very rarely do you see it being a man loving this troubled woman. Very often you see this troubled man that a woman wants to save—unless it’s a stripper. So I found it really alluring. Going to Badlands for instance, she’s so innocent and so trusting and loving and accepts whatever he says and goes along with his reality even though he is an extremely troubled and bad person. And you just accept that she loves him and you don’t really question it. But it’s a really interesting thing to flip it and allow it to be a man with a woman. I’ve seen some distaste for that, like, why didn’t he get the fuck away from her? I’m glad, I want those questions to be raised because I see it a lot in cinema, this idea that women are supposed to accept that a man’s troubled. For instance, I was very fascinated when I was younger about Kierkegaard, and he said to Regina— the love of his life—that he was too dark to be with her. So he removed himself from her and wrote all these works like Fear and Trembling yet kept sending her manuscript after manuscript, which is like torture to this poor woman. But also being in love with someone and being like, I’ve already accepted that you’re this tortured soul and now you’re telling me that I don’t have the capacity to understand it. As if I don’t have any existential crises of my own? This idea she has to accept that he would be this way and just move on, and he would never accept her was basically what he was saying. So time after time after time narratively I kept seeing these stories of women accepting the neuroses or violence of men, the stand-by-your-man sort of idea. But never really saw it flipped on its head; so it was fun to play around with that.

 

Crystal wanted to be this good woman but she just couldn’t do it. And these extreme emotions she was feeling and had no control over reminded me a lot of Gena Rowlands in a A Woman Under the Influence.

Totally. A Woman Under the Influence and Gena Rowlands’ performance in that, or Gloria or—

 

Opening Night.

Exactly, anything. She was so fearless and so explosive. Also Barbara Loden in Wanda or Isabelle Adjani in Possession—her performance in that is unclassifiable, just this gorgeously crazy emotional roller coaster and she’s so unpredictable. What makes her so interesting to watch, including Gena Rowlands, and even Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek in 3 Women, is what’s so alluring about them is that you start to trust them and as soon as you start to trust them and love them, they turn and become unpredictable. That became fascinating to me, that you could hold a movie with that. Kate’s not only a great actress, she’s a cinephile and she’s a very interesting person, and wonderful and not crazy but a complex woman, and actually quite a wallflower when you meet her. It just became completely interesting to place her in a sense where its like, we’re going to want to love you and as soon as we want to love you, you’re going to flip a switch and be unpredictable because that’s intriguing.

 

There was such a juxtaposition in her performance depending on her emotional state. When she was upset, even her voice was totally different than, say, the voiceover, or when she was in the bar with him acting calm for once. To see those two very distinct sides to her was so dynamic.

She’s fun to play with. There’s a play on sound; I’m not just directing her on an emotional level, I also direct her with her voice. I’d tell her a certain pitch that I want and she understands that sonically we’re taking it to this high frequency, pulpy level. That takes an incredible amount of trust and I’m lucky that I got it from her. It’s musical and her performance is extremely sonic as well as emotional.

 

Yes, and it seemed absolutely exhausting.

Oh yeah, for both of them. We’re shooting in 100 degree weather in the middle of the summer in that humidity. So there were exhausting days, but we didn’t shoot more than eight-hour days because we were shooting on film so we only had so many takes. And on top of that it was just brutal outside, so we had to be really economical.

 

Setting the film in Florida, there’s so much to the location because it’s this place that’s part tourist attraction but has this seedy, violent underbelly. It gives the film a haunted, almost southern gothic quality. You grew up in Florida. Did you write the film specifically for this place?

Speaking to the southern gothic thing, Flannery O’Connor is one of my favorites and the story…

 

A Good Man is Hard to Find?

Yes! That’s one of my favorites, and that totally has come back around to me. But then also Florida is this really strange fantasy world where people came to build dreams and build this vacation or a place to relax and retire. But it took a really long time to colonize Florida because it was so uninhabitable, it was swamp lands, and no one was really supposed to live there—the same way Los Angeles is a desert and no one’s supposed to be living there. But  they sent all these prisoners down to Florida to dredge it and they were given this deal that if they dredged certain parts that they could get out of their sentence and they could get a piece of property. So they were workers for the government and for these companies that were going to make money off vacationers, but the first people that were there—aside from the Native Americans who had been killed off—were these criminals that were sent down and promised their freedom. And then they sent vacationers down, so that’s the foundation. Well, that’s not just the foundation of Florida, that’s like the foundation of the United States. But on top of that, the vacation aspect of Florida also bred the road trip idea and there’s all these road side attractions there and a lot of southern sort of Americana elements to Florida still, and I really wanted to incorporate that into the film with the underbelly of denying all these dark things. But that’s also part of the narrative—they’re denying what they’ve done and she ends up watching mermaids in her final hours of being a free person with a body in the trunk that’s needing to be dealt with. 

 

Her watching those mermaids was great, it’s the ultimate escape and transports her back to a childlike state where none of this ever happened.

There was some woman years ago that kidnaped her kid and she’d been missing for days and when they found her she was at Disney World, just sort of hangin. And I was like, I guess if you’re with your kid and you love them so much you’re willing to kidnap them—in that desperate, maybe not healthy love—then yeah, you shouldn’t be holed up in a house, go to Disney World. You know you’re screwed, why not have your kid’s last memory of you be that? But on top of that, while I was writing it and while we were shooting, the Casey Anthony trial was going on. I couldn’t tell if she knew she was lying anymore and I couldn’t tell what story she thought was straight. She would get so emotional but then she’d get real cold real quick.

 

It’s pretty fascinating how the mind works sometimes.

It’s incredible, almost brilliant in a way. I don’t want to say that because it’s so dark and awful, but just misguided storytelling. And she believes it and the only way to do that is to believe it. I was also fascinated with a character you didn’t really ever know if you could trust. 

 

Watching Upstream Color and watching this, the two share a sensibility. You and Shane both seem to share a similar cinematic language with a very unstructured and emotionally-rooted way of storytelling.

Both of us see our tropes of narrative as subversive ways to get at something that’s transcendent. It feels like there’s a lifetime to tweak it, but I don’t think that linear or logical explanation for anything explains how it feels to be an emotional human being or an experience of the world. You have the facts, and those facts are important for sanity purposes, but what it feels like to be within those facts is a much more interesting. Using the caveat that there is a problem to be solved is a way to keep the audience engaged and come with you to solve it, so I think we both share the same attitude that it doesn’t really matter—here are the ideas I want to explore and I’m going to trick you into exploring them with me. 

 

It’s much more about evoking something in the viewer. The entire time I was watching this I felt totally ill at ease, and for me, that’s how I knew I was truly engaged and enjoying it.

You bring character and mood and that’s more interesting as a sensual and experiential element because the universal thing about human nature is that there really are only a few narratives, and if you can just tell those and bring your subjectivity to it, that’s what we’re interested in. 

 

As someone who works in a specific pocket of the independent film world, where do you find the state of things?

We’re in a period of independent film where, in order to make something that is actually your own voice, you have to fight so hard to do it and find the money to do it. I think the recession gave filmmakers a lesson in who gives a fuck, I’m going to make what I want and play around with ideas. But I don’t even know what it means to be independent anymore, it’s lost its meaning, its like HD or organic.  I don’t really care to be a part of a club or be indie unless it means that I don’t have to answer to anyone.

David Lowery’s ‘Aint Them Bodies Saints’ Heads to Cannes Critics’ Week

Emerging from Sundance as one of the most anticipated films of the year, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints is a beautifully painful southern drawl of a film. Harkening back to 1970s classics yet with the freshness and grit of a new filmmaker truly establishing a voice, writer and director David Lowery has found himself on the tip of everyone’s tongue. After editing Shane Carruth’s stunning Upstream Color, Lowery completed his own directorial debut, and now the southern crime drama will officially be headed to Cannes.

Although it will not be in competition, the film will screen alongside a slate of foreign and relatively unknown films that populate the festival’s Critic’s Week. Showing as one of two films in the Special Screening category, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints tells the story of:

Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie, an impassioned young outlaw couple on an extended crime spree, are finally apprehended by lawmen after a shootout in the Texas hills. Although Ruth wounds a local officer, Bob takes the blame. But four years later, Bob escapes from prison and sets out to find Ruth and their daughter, born during his incarceration.
 
Opening Film
Suzanne, Katell Quillévéré (France)
Closing film – TBA
 
Features
Salvo
Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza (Italy-France)
The Lunchbox
Ritesh Batra (India-France-Germany)
For Those in Peril
Paul Wright (UK)
The Dismantlement
Sébastien Pilote (Canada)
Nos héros sont morts ce soir
David Perrault (France)
Los Dueños
Agustin Toscano & Ezequiel Radusky (Argentina)
The Major
Yury Bykov (Russia)
 
Special Screening
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
David Lowery (USA)
You and the Night
Yann Gonzalez (France)