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My Top 5 Films of 2013

December 23, 2013

It’s been a productive year for me: 3 new screenplays in the bag, plans to get one into development, and all infused by an ever-inspiring supply of cinema from around the world.

My favourite five films I’ve seen this year encapsulate work from countries as diverse as Saudi Arabia, the US, France, the UK (via Albania), and Italy. It’s interesting to see how I’m subconsciously gravitating to films with recurring themes and sensibilities: three of them are to some extent parables of female self-determination, and four of them experiment greatly with conventional dramaturgy (ironically, the film from Saudi Arabia is the most ‘orthodox’ drama of all five)….

Here they are, in no particular order…..

Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour)

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A staggeringly assured drama from one of the most impenetrable and repressive of Middle Eastern countries, Saudi Arabia. Just getting the film out there is success enough for director Haifaa Al-Mansour (it’s the first feature film ever directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia, she had to film a lot of it covertly, and the narrative is to some extent a subversive parable of female empowerment against religious and patriarchal institutions in that country). That the film is actually masterly structured, majestically acted, and contains a pitch-perfect ending that would shame many a Hollywood hack, is even more to her credit.

(My full review of the film:

To the Wonder (Terrence Malick)

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I sense a growing undercurrent of condescension and fatigue in the critical reception of the work of the previously hallowed and infallible American auteur, Terrence Malick. Maybe it’s because his first three films were spread out over a prodigious 25 years, where as his most recent three films have been released a mere 6 years apart. I put it down to cynicism and the tyranny of genre and conventional storytelling. Malick’s films conceive of diegesis as the senses and a spiritual engagement with the elements of life, not dramaturgy. The opening 30 minutes to this film felt to me like a perfect requiem to the first burgeoning shoots of love in a relationship – but told entirely through light, scenery, architecture and music. My advice: submit and bask…

(My full review of the film:

Blue is the Warmest Colour (Abdellatif Kechiche)

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Another film that understands the true essence of love through sense and atmosphere, although this time director Abdellatif Kechiche is less interested in the poetry of life as Malick, but more in naturalism, the passing of time and the carnal, primal hunger of two young women. The film is not sexist – overly caught up in its own dramatic portentousness, at worst – but it’s one of the most moving films of recent years, and contains two performances of staggering grace from Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.

(My full review of the film:

Here Be Dragons (Mark Cousins)

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An act of documentary filmmaking alchemy. Not to disown this film’s focus on matters to do with Albania, but give Mark Cousins a camera and a locus, and he could make anything lucid and thought-provoking. Here Be Dragons is not only a valuable micro-discourse on the great forgotten country of Europe, Albania, but also an ambitious macro-discourse on memory (both personal and collective) and history.

(My full review of the film:

The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino)

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Paolo Sorrentino is perhaps the most purely ingenious commander of cinematic grammar I’ve ever seen. He’s an absolute master of image-making and editing, and he finally marries all that technique to a thematically nailed-on narrative about an ageing Roman socialite undergoing a gentle pang of nostalgia. It does everything – it’s riotously funny, satirical, romantic, politically acute, and highly, highly moving.

(My full review of the film:

(December 2013)

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