2013 Film: An Embarrassment of Riches

I thought I could glide into 2014 without discussing my Indiewire year-end critics poll but if even Michael Corleone couldn’t step out, I sure was some kind of chippie to think I could. (Yep, I’m equating film criticism with Cosa Nostra.) Herein lie my top ten films of 2013—a tremendous year for cinema, and one whose finest projects directly descend from the best of 2004, the last time film was this good.  (Think Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I Heart Huckabees, Rois et Reine, Head-On, even The Incredibles).

10. Enough Said

Writer-director Nicole Holofcener has always made full-frontal honesty both her charm and weapon but this exploration of middle-aged dating feels wonderfully truthful even for her. Credit is partly due to Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini (in one of his final performances) who work against type to achieve a sweet, slow melancholy rarely achieved on American screens. If the ending doesn’t entirely satisfy, that’s only in contrast to how well this ensemble otherwise pulls off a premise that could have been more Three’s Company than Billy Wilder in less able hands.

9. The Immigrant

This story of a 1920s brothel in NYC’s Lower East Side costars Oscar winners Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard, boasts a rich, painterly cinematography, is directed by the terrific James Gray (Two Lovers, We Own the Night), and burrows deeper into the intersection of the American dream, sex, and financial survival than few before it. So why didn’t this film hit movie theaters? Possibly because US distributors didn’t trust audiences would buy nookie served up with this level of moral complexity. When it crosses your path, prove them wrong.

8. Short Term 12

Starring the uncanny Brie Larson as a 20something supervising a fostercare facility for at-risk teens, this is a hopeful film about seemingly hopeless lives. Its sometimes too-tidy plot is trumped by a powerful emotional truth: that even the worst traumas can be trumped by our ability to heal, possibly the most urgent biological impulse of all injured beings. Carefully drawn and edited, it introduces desperate stories that already seem permanently written, and then reminds us revisions are always possible.

7. Concussion

The snarky synopsis would be “a lesbian Belle D’Jour,” and this gorgeously shot indie about a bored housewife (Deadwood’s Robin Weigert) who works as a prostitute while her wife is off making the big bucks does directly echo Luis Buñuel’s 1967 Catherine Deneuve vehicle. But it is also a hypnotically singular (and sensuous) investigation of how traditional romantic mores may no longer suit anyone though they’ve become increasingly available to everyone.

6. Gravity

Now this is a movie! Director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men, Y Tu Mamá También) makes use of the possibilities of 3D filmmaking like no one before—or likely after—without sacrificing any of his sweeping soulfulness in this (often literally) breathless account of a medical engineer (Sandra Bullock) struggling on her first space mission to return to Earth after her ship and shipmates are destroyed. Continue Reading →

Love for Sale (Craigslist Haikus)

Ever since I became Home-Rehab Harriet, I’ve been obsessed with Craigslist. Not the personals—that glimpse into modern mating rituals is beyond me—but the “for sale” category, which already has coughed up an armoire and French dresser that I’ve made lovely for a song. Every morning I read the listings, and  they never fail to fascinate me. The guy in Howard Beach selling a white polar bear rug for $35,000. The Upper East Side denizen charging $1,100 for her broken lamp. The Bay Ridge lady selling used soap, deodorant, and razors. Such an opportunity to practice compassion for humanity in all its spiky forms, this Craigslist.

The engagement rings in particular break my heart. I’d love to follow up on each ad but, having burned through at least eight lives, content myself with merely imagining the stories behind them. In haiku form, no less.

Enjoy this diamond/ My predilection for cads/ Is your happy gain Continue Reading →

Every Winter Is the Winter of Our Discontent

“I cannot get you close enough, I said to him, pitiful as a child, and never can and never will. We cannot get from anyone else the things we need to fill the endless terrible need, not to be dissolved, not to sink back into sand, heat, broom, air, thinnest air. And so we revolve around each other and our dreams collide. It is embarrassing that it should be so hard. Look out the window in any weather. We are part of all that glamour, drama, change, and should not be ashamed.”—Ellen Gilchrist. (Painting by Alice Neal.)

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy