Wednesday 4 December 2013

Top 30 Of 2013: 20 To 16

20) Lords Of Salem by Rob Zombie

Rob Zombie has surprisingly proven to be one of the most consistently interesting voices within the US indie horror, even with his misguided Halloween remake and its sequel. And I hold The Devil's Rejects as one of the best and most exciting horror films of the last decade. Yet he takes another unexpected turn with his latest, Lords Of Salem, which features a cast that is not just a tribute but actually includes the entire group of genre actors from the 80's (Dee Wallace, Maria Conchita Alonso, Meg Foster, Ken Foree...).

Following a gentler pace (the sort favoured by Ti West), Lords Of Salem is wonderfully and nightmarishly atmospheric, weaving in elements of history from witches' trials into some truly singular and inspired visions, all the way to a fantastically operatic finale, which recalls the excess of the genre in the 70's and 80's (think Argento, think Melies meets Gothic rock). Miles away from the endless derivative horrors we, horror fans, have to suffer, with Lord Of Salem Rob Zombie yet again proves that he is a unique talent.

19) American Mary by Jen & Sylvia Soska

Yet another example of how US indie horror is where it is all about at the moment. The Soskas Sisters are two colourful and extremely likeable characters, who connect with their fans at festivals or on Twitter like no others. And they impress with their incredibly assured second film, which I discovered at FrightFest over 16 months ago and which has stayed with me since. Charting the descent of a medical student in the murky waters of extreme body modifications (arm-swapping anybody?), it has a fantastic woken-dream element to it, and features a motley-crue of increasingly bizarre characters (my favourite being the half-cat/half Betty Boop Beatress) which soon reveal themselves to be a lot less ugly in the inside than most other "normal" people in this. A tale of female self-empowerement and revenge, feeling like a modern-day Freaks set in a bikers' bar, American Mary is a unique film which celebrates strangeness and alterity.

18) Pacific Rim by Guillermo Del Toro

I must admit I am surprised at the mixed reactions Pacific Rim got. To me, it was everything it promised to be (giant robots beating up the crap out of giant monsters) and then some more. Unlike all these heinous, macho modern Hollywood blockbusters, there is a welcome giddy, child-like innocence to the mayhem, and the film never feels the need to resort to irony and cheap wise-crack jokes. And there is a melancholic rather than triumphant tone, which makes a refreshing change, with characters you actually root for (I liked the unlikely pairing of Charlie Hunman and Rinko Kikuchi). As for production design in general and the monsters in particular, this is where Guillermo Del Toro excels yet again (and this is no surprise), with the whole thing looking absolutely stunning, thanks to some almost poetic creations with an inspired colour palette. Spectacular, stupidly entertaining, wildly imaginative... Pacific Rim captures the essence of what makes cinema exciting.

17) Computer Chess by Andrew Bujalski

Computer Chess is certainly not what it seems at first. This story of a computer chess tournament set in the 80's, filmed in black & white with what appears to be a camera from that era, it looks little more than a nerd wet dream at first. And I must admit I found it almost underwhelming to begin with. But then film turns into something else entirely, by slight, bizarre touches at first until it entirely dissolves into surrealism, with weird characters and weirder scenes one after another. I won't spoil any of them (I'll just say: cats), but this is no futile style-exercise, you begin to join the dots and realise that there is so much more to it. Just like the main character in Pi discovering patterns everywhere, the audience is soon made to face the dizzying depths and the big themes being braced here. Experimental cinema has rarely been that playful and smart all at once.

16) Blue Is The Warmest Colour by Abdellatif Kechiche

This film is precisely why Cannes is worth all the tears, the hours long queuing under the rain (and the expenses aherm). This is the place where you can discover films before anybody else, free from any judgement, with all its surprises intact. I saw Blue Is The Warmest Colour terribly hungover and after about four hours of sleep, a little concerned about its three hours. I also actually expected some fantasy elements bizarrely, given its graphic novel origins. Yet the tiredness and the alcohol were soon forgotten, as I was completely mesmerised and won over, witnessing the explosion of a fantastic new actress in the process, Adele Exarchopoulos.

Some have complained about its running time but that is what I like about it, it gives a chance to the story to breathe, to take its time, to explore all the developments of a romance with much details, in a way that has rarely felt so natural and involving, not to mention terribly moving. I am not sure how much this resonated with foreign audiences but I particularly enjoyed the emphasis on knowledge and culture as a way of improving oneself, a typical trait of French culture. I loved its Cannes triumph, the buzz all the way to a heartfelt Palme D'Or, but I have been incredibly bored with all the redundant column inches spent writing about THOSE scenes, as well as the media circus that has followed the director and actresses fall-out. I just want to remember it as pristine and intact as at the moment of its Cannes glory, the rest will soon be mercifully forgotten.

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