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Films that nearly made the list.
Released at very end of the year in Denmark, I consider this a 2013 film. However, Nymphomaniac should be viewed upon as one film, and not two separate volumes, which is why I've listed Volume I and II here. Splitting up and releasing Nymphomaniac as two separate volumes is a bit silly, and it does make certain Listal things rather complicated. Nymphomaniac should be one full experience, and luckily, my local cinema decided to show both volumes with a ten minute long break between them. Anyways.
For all the controversy Nymphomaniac has caused because of its graphic sexual content, featuring body doubles having real sex, I was quite surprised to see that none of it felt pornographic or anything like that. Making me think that people are either really sensitive, or that I just don't see any problem with sex and full nudity in film.
But despite all of the different, various sex scenes and nudity in Nymphomaniac, it's never erotic or sexually arousing. It's not going to turn you on. Instead, it's probably going to make you feel dirty, and not in a glorified way, but really dirty. I felt for a shower immediately after the film ended. Lars von Trier delves into the dirty, and quite ugly side of sex and sex addiction, and he therefore manages to create a film that's truly fascinating and unique.
Because Nymphomaniac is not really a film about sex. It's a film about an individual's freedom, and ones desire to follow ones instincts to the very end, no matter the consequences. And Lars von Trier manages to tell us that extremely well. This is a film that never feels long. Because in between every sex scene, there's some really well-told drama mixed up with a lot of humour, and very clever references to literature, art, religion and nature. Nymphomaniac is certain to provoke a lot of people, but I found it to be a really rich experience. I f only it ended to minutes earlier.
Complex, intense, haunting and emotionally powerful. Prisoners is one of those really rare dramas/thrillers that manages to be brutal and intense, but also intelligent and emotionally engaging. It serves up a story that shows us the darker side of humanity. There are no proper heroes when terrible things happens to normal people. And it tells this story with such a great sense of realism. Everything comes across a being completely plausible. You believe every action that the character do. You understand them, and you feel with them. I've used the word "haunting" already, but it really is the best word to describe this film. It's haunting.
It's also visually stunning. The music is atmospheric and engaging, without being manipulative. And the performances are excellent. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal delivers some of their best work in their careers. They completely vanishes into their characters, which is an incredible achievement, considering how well-known they are. The ending (and final reveal) might feel a bit clunky, and I would have liked it to be five minutes longer, but this is a truly powerful experience.
Captain Phillips is an extremely tense and nail-biting thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat for the most of its running time. I appreciate that it manages to leave basically everything besides what's actually important out of it. Meaning that it tells a rather simple plot in a very effective way with characters that ends up being fully complex because of the actions we see them do in their situation, as opposed to forced and unnecessary scenes to simply develop them. Which was rather nice, and it does also mean that it's rather well-paced, despite it lasting over two hours.
It's also a showcase for Tom Hanks acting abilities. Particularly his final scene, which itself is worthy of an Academy Award nomination. And for me personally, I believe that him not getting nominated for this role is one of greatest injustices in Oscar history. Barkhad Abdi is also terrific in his role. If there's one flaw in the film, it would probably be that the last half could have been tighter, but it's not really a big deal since it's so tense.
I wrote a review of this film, here's a small part of it:
"I liked 2012's The Hunger Games. It was an entertaining and well-made film, but it also managed to be thought-provoking with some spot-on social commentary. The sequel, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, is everything the last film was, but improved even more. Which is a significant achievement, considering how good The Hunger Games was and seeing as Catching Fire is an improvement, it makes this film one of the best films from 2013 so far. It's an extremely entertaining, thrilling and thought-provoking blockbuster!
Catching Fire does in many ways follow the same structure as the previous film. There's the lead up to the games and then the games themselves. But thankfully there's been enough change in the story, to avoid the film being a rehash of the last film. Yes, the film has the lead characters sent into yet another deadly game, which can only end with one survivor, but luckily, director Francis Lawrence manages to steer the focus away from creating a simple bloodbath. Because even if the "main attraction" of the series are the actual games and the deaths that occur from those games, Lawrence manages to tone down the violence a bit. It's certainly violent for a film with the audience it has, but not anywhere near as being as violent as the last film. The reason for that is quite simple, but equally genius. Because this film is about the after match of the previous game and how it gave everyone hope. It's definitely darker and more grim, but behind all that, this is a film about the rise of hope. About giving a repressed people one thing to hold on, one thing to fight for. The previous film was about introducing us to everywhere, and showing us of cruel this world is. Catching Fire is still cruel, but it does also show us that shed of light. It's actually quite intriguing, and the actual themes of these films are certainly interesting to discuss."
Read the rest here, if you're interested: Superior sequel
From my review
"The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is that difficult second film in this trilogy. It's difficult in the sense that it has to improve on what, in many peoples eyes (not mine), was a quite disappointing first feature. But it's also difficult because we're going to go into this film knowing that it doesn't have a proper beginning nor a proper ending. It's that difficult middle chapter. Just like The Two Towers was in the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But fear not, where The Two Towers could arguably be considered the weakest instalment in its trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug is better than An Unexpected Journey. Even if it's only slightly better.
From what I can see, people seems to be disappointed by these films because they don't feel and look like what we got ten years ago. It's silly criticism. Like I stated with An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit is a completely different journey than The Lord of the Rings. The Desolation of Smaug continues that different journey in a very good, and mostly fluent way. It could definitely be argued that three films are unnecessary, as some of the detours in this film (as with An Unexpected Journey) feel slightly clunky. But seeing as I've grown so much in love with Middle-Earth and its characters, I would take those clunky detours before anything else."
Whenever a film presents a rather simple premise, it all lies in the execution of that premise. And Gravity is beautifully executed. This is a tense technical and visual spectacle that holds your breath throughout its entire length. Lead on by glorious special effects, as well as tight directing and two fine performances, Gravity is one of the best films in its genre.
It might be a bit too short, I certainly went thinking "is it over already?", but that might be more of a strength rather than a flaw. Because it does say that I wanted more. That I was enjoying myself so much that I wanted to see more. But still, this is one of the rare theatrical experiences that comes out once every year and probably the best use of 3D I've seen so far. This is how cinema should be experienced.
The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
With The Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese delivers a rise-and-fall story he has delivered previously in some of his other films, most notably Goodfellas. But Scorsese makes sure that The Wolf of Wall Street is a blast. Rarely has three hours felt so short. This is an extremely fast-paced, exhilarating, over-the-top work of modern art. In a time where few comedies makes me laugh, it's almost unbelievable that a film like this can come around and cause me to burst out in laughter several times.
It's not just the funniest film this year. It's arguably the funniest film in many years. But what's so damn great about it is that it manages to connect several different emotions flawlessly. It can go from being very funny to being downright sad and/or intense in the very next moment. And it takes a very skilled filmmaker to pull that off without having the film suffer from tone issues. Scorsese delivers.
12 Years a Slave (2013)
When viewing 12 Years a Slave I found myself constantly thinking that this was powerful, brutal and unflinching stuff, but that it lacked something to really hit me emotionally. But when I left the cinema, I fully realized what I had just seen. And then it struck me with emotionally devastating force, and when that happens, you know you've seen something extraordinary.
Ranking up there with films such as Schindler's List, this is essential viewing on our own history, and a prime example of how you can achieve great, insightful, emotional and powerful stuff with the help of cinema. Because I believe that 12 Years of Slave is not just simply a great film because it's about slavery. Everyone can a make a film about slavery, and then whip some people. But not everyone can make a film that's so honest as this film. Not every film can shake up your emotions after you've left the cinema. Only a tremendously powerful film can do that. I've used that word, powerful, a lot now. But that's simply the best word to describe the experience that 12 Years a Slave is. It's powerful.
The last part of the adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel is really dark. But oh my, it's damn good. It's quite brutal and bloody stuff, as well. Not really anything for young children. Unless they can find some enjoyment in The Joker going on a real killing spree. And speaking of The Joker, I liked this version of him a lot. Simply because of his brutality. But this last part is honestly all about the confrontation between Batman and Superman. Which is handled perfectly. Note that I haven't read the graphic novel, so I don't know how its been interpreted, but from what I've understood, it follows Miller's vision pretty closely.
I think the lead up to final fight against Superman is build up quite well throughout Batman's fight against The Joker. It's the final confrontation between those two, that leads up to Batman and Superman's final confrontation and it's quite powerful stuff that hits on an emotional scale and on a "holy shit, that's awesome" level.
Once in a while you encounter a film that just really hits every personal and emotional note in you, a film that in many ways manages to visually portray many of your own emotions and feelings. For me, Her turned out to be a film like that. I felt personally connected to this film. Having gone through my very first break-up a couple of months ago, and in many ways suffering from loneliness myself, I ended up seeing a lot of myself in this film. And when it was over, I felt inspired to change my own life and to actually do something with my own emotional struggle. Needless to say, this film managed to bring out a few tears in me.
While that certainly is the main reason for why I absolutely love Her, I do also adore it for it's very simple sci-fi premise, it's charm and humour, and touching love story. It's beautifully acted, cleverly written, gorgeously shot and the music is instantly memorable. Best film of 2013.
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