As we approach the end of the year, I thought I would take a moment to highlight some of the films that were pleasant surprises. While some of these may not necessarily rival some of the year’s best, though there are a few that could easily slot into my top ten, they are all well made films that deserve a little more attention.
I absolutely adored Pablo Berger’s ode to the silent film era. Berger’s take on the Brothers Grimm’s classic fairy tale Snow White was both refreshing and extremely inventive. It offered a modern take on the silent film genre that even managed to top many of the great things that The Artists had achieved just a few years ago. Though I am fully aware that this film will not be everyone’s cup of tea, the measured pacing will irk some, those willing to allow themselves to be immersed in the film will be in for a treat.
12 O’Clock Boys
Lofty Nathan’s wonderful directorial debut flew under the radar of many this year due to the sheer number of exceptional documentaries that were released. However, I was really taken by Nathan’s exploration of Baltimore’s dirt bike culture. By introducing us to the underground biking scene through the eyes of ten year-old Pug, we are treated to a unique perspective of both the dangers that come with stunt riding and the way the riders are idolized by the younger generation. Nathan crafts a film that is both visually stunning and thought-provoking. 12 O’Clock Boys paints a fascinating picture of both a culture and city locked in a no-win situation.
Prince Avalanche was the film that reaffirmed people’s faith that David Gordon Green could still make films that were deeper than his most recent Hollywood offerings. While I enjoyed that film, it is his film Joe that stuck with me the most this year. It was the film I was not expecting much from when I saw it during the latter half of TIFF. Though there seems to be a slew of recent films set in the Deep South, Joe’s raw emotion captures the rage within the men who inhabit the region like no other. The performances by Nicolas Cage, Gary Poulter, and Mud’s Tye Sheridan are fantastic. Joe will hit theatres in the April of 2014, be sure you mark this one on your calendars.
Think Blue is the Warmest Color was the only film to focus on a young woman’s sexual coming of age? Louise Archambault’s Gabrielle tackled a similar theme in a charming way. Think of it as the sugar to Color‘s deeper spice. The film focuses on a young woman with special needs who is struggling with her desire for independence in every aspect of her life. As odd as it may sound, the best thing that could have happened to Canada’s official Oscar selection was not making the Best Foreign Language shortlist. Without the unjustified weight of “importance” that often comes with most Oscar nominated works, people can go back to appreciating Gabrielle on its own sweet merits.
Over the past few years I have seen a lot of films that center around school shootings. Each one has had to find that balance between getting its message across and not glorifying the subject matter. Director Matthew Johnson achieved this feat in a way that truly felt original. He crafts a film that is both thought-provoking and surprisingly funny. It wears its love for pop culture on its sleeve without ever cheapening the subject matter.
Big Bad Wolves
Since this film will be hitting theatres in January, I will keep this brief. The biggest thing you will have heard about the Big Bad Wolves is that Quentin Tarantino declared it his favourite film of the year. While this will no doubt boost the film’s profile, try to go in with measured expectations. Big Bad Wolves is a great film, it ranked #2 for me just behind The Battery in terms of my favourite films at this year’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival, that does many things right. Everything from the performances to the overall execution hits the mark. While there will no doubt be those going to simply prove Tarantino wrong, like he really cares what we think about his taste in film, it is best to go into the film with an open mind and judge it on its own merit.