With a mere six films to his name, all of which were made during the last ten years, Iranian director Asghar Farhadi has become one of the most celebrated writer/directors in the world. His last three films About Elly, A Separation and The Past collected dozens of awards in film festivals and last year he was included among the 100 Most Influential People in the World according to Time Magazine. All of his films are intimate dramas that unravel like Dostoyevskian treatises on ethics and moral relativity, yet there is a warmth to them that allows audiences to connect with his characters in ways we almost never can with Ingmar Bergman for example.
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I attended a packed screening of American Hustle in New York City over the Thanksgiving weekend and after leaving the theater could only think of one thing: Jennifer Lawrence will take over the world. Not only was she queen at the box office for the second week in a row (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is poised to become 2013’s highest grosser! Which would also be the first time for a female-led film), she was also the clear standout in David O. Russell’s thrilling caper.
It takes a real artist to find poetry in the ordinary and an even greater one to make this poetry feel universal, yet this is precisely what Paolo Sorrentino does in The Great Beauty. His love song to Rome has been compared to Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita, and with reason, for his is an homage not to that specific film but to that untranslatable adjective of “Romanità”, a feeling of Roman-ness captured so uniquely in Fellini’s 1960 masterpiece. In that film, Marcello Mastroianni played a young journalist who abandoned himself to the pleasures and horrors of living in the Italian capital. From holy apparitions, to strange sea creatures and orgies and parties galore,La Dolce Vita captured a feeling of hopeful decadence and combined the postmodern worries of a new generation with the timeless richness of Rome.
As we enter awards season and start getting bombarded with glitzy ads, dirty PR and more glossy-looking contenders than we can shake a stick at, it’s always a good thing to look back at the year that was and remember the films that made the previous ten months turn 2013 into a truly banner year for cinema. One of them was Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, which kicked off the year in great fashion by winning a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. With its labyrinthine, cerebral plot, challenging structure and its complex sound design, it was easy to become too impressed or overwhelmed by the film’s aesthetics and miss out on the fact that it featured one of the best ensembles of the year.
Oscar season is officially upon us. Last week’s release of rumored Oscar frontrunner 12 Years a Slave along with the critical and financial behemoth that Gravity has become since its early October release have emphatically stated the start of the awards race. Things only get hotter from here. In the next two weeks, we’ll get Ridley Scott’s The Counselor, Naomi Watts in Diana, Cannes-winner Blue is the Warmest Color and Matthew McConaughey in Dallas Buyers Club. The films destined to be honored at the Dolby in February will be out soon for all to see. So what better time to talk about…Gangster Squad?
Before we get all caught up in the onslaught of fall films, we should take a few moments to do what the Academy (usually) doesn’t: remember the first 9 months of the year. This isn’t a Top 10 list. These are films that, if given a marketing campaign, could slip into the race despite their odds-defying early release. Starting with January and working our way up to October, PopMatters will try to remind you of a few gems from early 2013—and a few wannabes who flopped. Maybe they’ll even be one or two you’ll want to champion yourself. I know I’ve found mine.