A month behind the annual spectacle of critics and awards groups racing to be first across the finish line with their year-end tallies—in some cases even before the films selected have been seen—we occupy the opposite extreme, finally coming in like Bing Crosby’s horse long after anyone has any further desire to look back at 2013 with a second nudge to read some favorite articles from the year.
Much deserved praise went Martin Scorsese and Steven Soderbergh’s way for their state-of-the-cinema reports, the former’s impassioned, almost spiritual sense of history under threat of being forgotten dovetailing nicely with the latter’s tombstone-humor assessment of money men taking over the temple. But the clearest view is often afforded at the margins. For all their self-serving resignation to the new paradigm, Paul Schrader’s interviews to rehabilitate The Canyons (after Stephen Rodrick’s already legendary set report, well worth a read itself) offered the year’s most provocative sense of where movies are now, for good and ill. (Film Comment, Indiewire, Now Toronto, and Filmmaker.)
Other favorite interviews include Soderbergh, again, laying out his case even better in conversation (“But an alarming thing I learned during Contagion is that the people who pay to make the movies and the audiences who see them are actually very much in sync. I remember during previews how upset the audience was by the Jude Law character. The fact that he created a sort of mixed reaction was viewed as a flaw in the filmmaking…. And I thought, Wow, so ambiguity is not on the table anymore. They were angry.”); Athina Rachel Tsangari exploding several neatly partitioned definitions of what a feminist or a nationalist cinema can be (“Take David Lynch, for example. He’s experiencing life fully, and reflecting it in cinema fully. And I respond to that because I see a revolutionary anarchy in it. Breaking rules and being personal, combining formalism with emotion—this is something I’m trying to negotiate.”); Juan Luis Buñuel on his father (“No. I don’t think [he liked making films]. What he enjoyed was when it was easy. When he was in the studio, he liked that. And when he had his friends around him, [Michel] Piccoli and Fernando Rey and others like that, and then they would be laughing constantly.”); and John Hyams on movie violence (“Is their issue with violence or is their issue with seeing violence look like something upsetting? They want their violence to look clean and not upsetting.”).
Two autobiographical pieces—Howard Hampton on being raised by a struggling former stuntman and Tom Sleigh on the childhood lessons learned in a Jim Crow-era drive-in—are compelling portraits of growing up at movie’s fringes. While a third confirms that ghosts and science have haunted Apichatpong Weerasethakul all his life.
Jeff Sharlet’s profile of Harry Belafonte is of a grand figure unbent by historical forces that set out to crush him. The forces aligned against Dorothy Comingore tragically won out, as Kathleen Sharp relates. While Anne Helen Petersen suggests the defining greatness of Robert Redford is that tragedy seems never to have brushed up against him.
Adrian Martin’s breakdown of the poolroom shootout in Carlito’s Way manages the neat trick of analyzing De Palma’s numerous choices without losing the exhilarating rush of the sequence as it unfolds.
B. Kite and Bill Krohn have a marvelous reading of Fleischer’s Follow Me Quietly, whose “generic efficiency…holds at its center an image so odd and resonant that its phantoms crowd the surface.”
Imogen Sara Smith considers the use of narrative ellipses, and Roger Livesey, in a pair of Powell and Pressburgers. I realize year-end lists like these are meant to spread the wealth, but since Smith was just as fine on Ida Lupino’s torch-singer films and on performance and passing the test in Hawks, may as well include them here.
Speaking of Hawks, Paroma Chatterjee is terrific on the two bookstores in The Big Sleep.
A philosophical revel through the New England autumn, as Adrian Schober considers the Wordsworthian dimensions of The Trouble with Harry’s young Arnie Rogers.
Kent Jones’s sterling essays on Jubal and 3:10 to Yuma are reason enough to thank Criterion for releasing the films.
David Bordwell, who can always find more than meets the common eye, explores some varied uses of flashbacks via Mildred Pierce.
She still doesn’t make A Countess from Hong Kong out to be a masterpiece, but Donna Kornhaber finds it a culmination of Chaplin’s efforts in sound pictures all the same.
Tony McKibbin praises Truffaut’s masterful use of color and time in Two English Girls.
I can’t imagine higher praise than saying Cristina Álvarez López describes Carax’s Les amants du Pont-Neuf with language as lovely as his imagery.
Jack Welch charts the spiritual development, and increased fascination with exploring a “uniquely, darkly American cosmos,” of Paul Thomas Anderson.
Two bits that do a far better job than Room 237 at prompting fresh thoughts on Stanley Kubrick: From the world of fiction, Chris Okum lays out the instructions on making the master’s French toast as meticulously, and dryly hilariously, as you’d expect. And from the stranger-than-fiction pile, here’s the Howard Johnson comic book promoting 2001 to kids.
Finally, if you think I’m going to ring out the old and ring in the new while ignoring Jerry Lewis altogether, you don’t know me very well.
You may not know the name Mike Vraney, but if you’re a fan of Herschel Gordon Lewis horrors, Betty Page shorts, David Friedman sexploitation films, and other artifacts of vintage trash cinema, you can thank Vraney for his efforts in bringing them to home video through his company Something Weird, first on VHS and later on DVD. Where a lot of companies simply dumped films like those to home video with minimal effort, Vraney reached out to producers and filmmakers like Lewis and Friedman to license the films, teamed up with filmmaker and collector Frank Henenlotter to expand his catalog, sought out good quality prints, and curated his releases with bonus shorts and other supplements. I had the pleasure of knowing and working with Mike when I was a manager at Scarecrow Video, where together we curated a special Something Weird sales rack, and he was a regular customer, always bringing an upbeat energy with him when he walked through the door. He passed away at age 56 after a battle with lung cancer. News via the EB Forum and here’s an audio interview with Vraney by Seattle’s Mark Rahner and Brandon Jerwa from earlier in 2013.
Juanita Moore was nominated for an Academy Award for her quietly intense performance as Annie Johnson in Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life (1959), which was only the third time an African American had received an Oscar nomination. Before that, she was a dancer who performed in New York, London and Paris before settling back in Los Angeles, where she was a movie extra before landing speaking roles, mostly as maids and servants. While she never again had another role as strong as Annie, she continued acting on the stage and TV as well as in movies, where she had roles in such films as The Skin Game (1971) and blaxploitation classics The Mack (1973) and Abby (1974). She died at age 99 on the first day of 2014. More from Ronald Bergan at The Guardian.
Polish composer Wojciech Kilar wrote scores for over 100 films, including features by Andrzej Wajda (The Promised Land, 1975, Korczak, 1990), Krzysztof Zanussi (The Constant Factor, 1980, A Year of the Quiet Sun, 1984, the anthology Weekend Stories), and Krzysztof Kieslowski (Blind Chance, 1982). His score of the Francis Coppola film Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) brought him international recognition and led to more films outside of Poland, including Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady (1996), James Gray’s We Own the Night (2007), and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist (2002), which earned him BAFTA and Cesar nominations and the Polish Film Award for Best Score. He passed away at age 81 after a long battle with cancer. More from the BBC.
James Avery, best known as Uncle Philip on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, was also a busy voice actor on animated shows and had recurring roles on many other TV shows in addition to small roles in such movies as The Brady Bunch Movie (1995) and Raise Your Voice (2004). He died at age 68 from complications following open heart surgery. Chris Lee at Los Angeles Times.
Visit the film review pages at The Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.
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The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.