Favorites Of The Year 2013: Movies

It was tough picking my favorite movies of 2013. The problem is not because there aren’t any films to choose from, but I feel that 2013 has not been a very festive year for movies. For example, there weren’t many good animation and musicals. Most of the sci-fi films  were a disappointment despite this year’s unprecedented number of original and adapted sci-fi scripts. And let’s not even talk about Indonesian films – none of them made it into my list this year.

The ones I did pick, however, to be in the Top 10, I believe to be truly in a league of their own. The rest are okay; some are guilty pleasures and many others are important movies that I felt were educational for myself personally. What’s interesting is that I have movies in this list played by the same actors. Martin Freeman, Luke Evans, Vin Diesel, Chris Hemsworth, Rinko Kikuchi and Idris Elba. Apparently, my taste is kind of obvious!

Favorite Movies of 2013

Note: The movies listed here aren’t all released in 2013, but I watched them all this year.

1. Gravity

Despite having only watched it once, Gravity tops this list simply because it’s a stunning movie. It has the guise of a scientific story with shiny and highly advanced special effects but the story is really about loss and grief, accepting and overcoming it, and then finally moving on. With a terrific performance by Sandra Bullock (if she doesn’t win an award for this role, I will hate award committees everywhere), and an entertaining turn by George Clooney, Gravity is a thrilling space adventure and a truly inspirational story. As brilliant as the sweeping 13-minute non-stop opening shot is, my favorite bit is the ending. Truly brilliant. I salute you, Alfonso Cuarón!

2. Pacific Rim

The Mexican domination continues in this list as Guillermo del Toro gives me my first favorite movie of the year. Pacific Rim is, on top of all, an achievement of vision, innovation and ideas. This is the movie that teaches us to dream so big, so crazy, that it makes sense. It is also a love letter to the mecha and Kaiju genre that del Toro and many of his fans, myself included, grew up with. I will be forever grateful to him for giving us Mako Mori (played by Rinko Kikuchi), one of the most badass female characters in an action movie ever. And good Lord, all those beautiful Jaegers… move over, Transformers! Clearly, you don’t stand a chance against Gipsy, Striker, Crimson and Cherno!

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Rémi Bezançon’s vision in The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life

TF Loves

Rémi Bezançon’s vision in The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life

Small gestures always speak louder…

Before Marion Cotillard became a Hollywood A-lister, she took part in a French romcom production called Ma Vie En L’Air (2005). A love story between a man with a chronic yet hilarious case of fear of flying (played by the exotically handsome Vincent Elbaz) and his new blonde radio presenter neighbor (Cotillard), the film wrings out laughter through a few simple lines or gestures from the characters. But as stellar as Cotillard & Co. were, this feat is not achieved solely through their epic acting prowess. Rather it was owed to director and writer Rémi Bezançon’s ability to create spectacular scenes out of small things.

Three years later, Bezançon released Le Premier Jour Du Reste De Ta Vie (The First Day Of The Rest Of Your Life). Inspired by a dialog from Kevin Spacey’s character in American Beauty, as well as an eponymous song by legendary French singer Etienne Daho (that is also used in the film’s soundtrack), Bezançon this time gave us the saga of the Duval family whose members’ stories were told through five important days in the span of twelve years in their lives. It is an ordinary tale with extraordinary execution – the key lies in the director’s vision in telling that tale.

Using a scene or a short moment to leave a strong impression seems to be Bezançon’s main trick of the trade. He started early: in the beginning of Le Premier Jour, during the funeral of the family dog (which belonged to eldest son Al, played by newcomer Pio Marmaï), he ‘hid’ middle son Raph (C.R.A.Z.Y.’s Marc-André Grondin) in the kitchen. By removing him from the rest of his family in that scene that lasted for no more than a minute, Bezançon immediately showed us the Duval siblings’ dynamics, of where Al, Raph and their sister Fleur (Déborah François) stood with each other. Instant chemistry and no back story needed.

In another scene, Grondin once again carried Bezançon’s mission to deliver substantial messages through subtle sequences. This one in particular is both silly and heartwarming. When his Raph joined an air guitar competition, Grondin created a beautiful father-and-son moment with Jacques Gamblin who played the taxi driver dad, Robert. Seeing Raph play his air guitar on stage, having followed his earlier instructions, Robert’s expression shone with so much love and pride that a tug of the heartstrings was inevitable. Again, all credit goes to Bezançon.

“The first person that I cast was Jacques Gamblin. I chose him because he has a special air about him and I very much like him, as an actor. After that I cast Zabou Breitman as the mother. I liked her very much, because she has a huge range – she can play comedy, she can play drama and I was very much drawn to the tragi-comedy that she brings to the role,” said Bezançon. “But in France, these actors aren’t particularly bankable. So it was quite difficult to get the go-ahead to make the film with them, but I really wanted both of them for these roles.”

We are betting he breathed more than a sigh of relief for the green light to work with Gamblin and Breitman, especially as the latter was involved in one of the most beautiful moments – a scene that also became Bezançon’s favorite – in the entire film, a scene that punches you in the gut and makes you smile at the same time. It is one that put Le Premier Jour in the highest ranks of quality contemporary French films: after Robert was diagnosed with cancer and eventually died, Breitman’s Marie-Jeanne sat in her husband’s seat in the taxi and let out the air from Robert’s inflated cushion. As she breathed in the last of her husband’s breath that still remained in the world, Marie-Jeanne’s face took on the most bittersweet expression that squeezed your heart because you can just feel how much she missed him but at the same time has decided to let him go. Powerful.

Assited by Sophie Reine’s stylish editing and even more exciting musical arrangements by French artist Sinclair, Bezançon’s stylish vision makes him a filmmaker that should never be underestimated. This admirer of Wes Anderson’s and Sam Mendes’ works seems to know that just by placing his camera from a slightly different angle, one small movement can bring a whole different effect. To call Bezançon a mere filmmaker might not be enough – what he is is a young cinematic wizard who has captured us with his movie magic. AA

But TF doesn’t love…
… Cédric Klapisch’s artsy-fartsiness in Russian Dolls (2005)
Excusez-nous. We love Romain Duris but seeing him run around naked in a Parisian street does not move us at all. It’s crass and over the top but does not have any meaning. The same thing can be said about those beautiful girls that did the catwalk in a Russian street – what in the world could that possibly mean? We’re guessing only Klapisch and God know the answer.

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NOTE: This article is published in Indonesian language in Total Film Indonesia Issue #19. It’s my first original TF Loves column essay in the magazine, something that I volunteered to do because this issue came in the aftermath of the recent French Film Festival in Jakarta last April and because I’ve always been a great French cinema enthusiast. Being a huge fan of director Rémi Bezançon, naturally I picked him as the subject of the essay. I hope to bring more recognition to his works among moviegoers outside France–he truly is a force to be reckoned with in the future of French cinema.