All right, before 2014 progresses even more, let me round up my look at 2013 by sharing my top five films of that year with you. Note that I do not follow recent releases too closely and that what I watch and what tickles my fancy often is anything but recent.
If you enjoy unexpected encounters and rediscovers of old gems keep on reading.
2046, which was released in 2004, is a multi-layered film with the hypnotic quality of a labyrinth. 2046 refers to a lot of things: the number of room the main protagonist, Chow Mo-wan, first wants to move in when he returns to Hong Kong from Singapore; it also refers to the end of the one-country-two-systems period during which Hong Kong will remain a mostly autarchic entity within the People’s Republic of China; and it also refers to the year 2046, about which Chow Mo-wan writes a science-fiction novel. It is a film about lost love, about unrequited love, about not seeing what is right in front of you. I do not think I have even begun to understand this film, and I will need to revisit it many times over before having any right to claim that I do, but I already like it. It combines the lavish visual language of In the Mood for Love with exceptional performances. For instance, Ziyi Zhang bedazzles as Bai Ling, the later inhabitant of room 2046. One thought that kept me occupied during this film is whether it aspires to turn melancholia, the knowledge that Chow Mo-wan’s relationships are doomed to fail, into a positive feeling. I know this sounds contradictory, but this is how large swaths of the film felt for me.
Age of innocence
The Age of Innocence was released in 1993, and it is an adaptation of Edith Wharton’s 1920 like-named novel. Newland Archer (Daniel Day-Lewis) and Countess Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer) meet each other in late 19th-century New York, but the attraction they feel to each other never escapes the cage of contemporary cultural conventions, since she is a soon-to-be divorce (shocking!) and he is already engaged. I had some vague memories of this film from watching it back in the last millennium, and I have to say that this work of Scorsese definitely holds up well (the other that comes to mind that has aged well with me is Bringing out the Dead). The acting is sublime and the settings stunning. What really fascinated me was how the narrow culture of that time not only traps Countess Olenska but also Newland Archer. While one often might cast the past of oppressive for women while men were free ranging, I rather doubt this simple equation carries much water, and the film does a great job at illustrating how everyone is ruled by the cultural code of the time, and few seem to actually thrive.
The Italian Job
The Italian Job is a late 1960s caper film that is pure fun. Don’t expect any deep contemplations about life, crime, the Mafia, Italy. Rather, this film is a mere action film featuring very enjoyable acting, and the film is not apologetic about being a mere fun ride.
Le Mouton Enragé (Love at the Top)
This film is a fascinating reflection on the sexual revolution (as it plays out in 1970s France) and the story of Nicholas Mallet and his climb up the social ladder through the bed of a seemingly unending chain of women. Jean-Louis Trintignant excels as Nicholas Mallet, and the film never forces the viewer in liking or disliking Mallet’s rather sleazy figure. While he seems to have achieved everything he originally wanted at the end of the film, his victory has a rather strong Pyrrhic taste. I still think the closing scene has to be counted as a modern classic.
This film stars Gwenyth Paltrow as the daughter of a brilliant mathematician, and she might rival him in his greatness. However, the story is not that simple: her father suffered from schizophrenia and she is afraid that that is what she actually inherited from her father, not her mathematical gifts. This is the second time I watched this film, and her portrayal of the borderland of brilliance and disease while retaining her vulnerability differentiates this film from your boiler-plate “crazy-genius” flick. While I do not think it’s the best film ever about this topic, Paltrow’s performance managed to captivate me yet again and I find it deeply touching.
I also have to mention Pitch Perfect for partially brilliant a-cappella performances, The Hunger Games for a solid novel adaptation, and Push as my guilty pleasure of the year. I know it’s not an artistic master piece, it is pure and simple fun for me.