Editor's note: Welcome to Slackerwood's 2013 in Review series. As in previous years, we aren't just posting standard Top 10 lists but also will highlight other aspects of 2013 that stood out for us. Keep an eye out all month for these features. We're kicking off with Don's annual Top Ten.
Here are my top ten and other notable films from last year. To be eligible for my lists, a movie had to release in the U.S. in 2013 and screen in Austin in 2013 also. Some well-reviewed 2013 releases have not yet screened in Austin.
10. 12 Years a Slave
Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was abducted and sold into slavery in 1841, 12 Years a Slave is a brutally realistic look -- as brutal as any in film history -- at slavery in the American South. The violence is repellant, but 12 Years a Slave's impact is unforgettable. Chiwetel Ejiofor is outstanding as Northrup, as is the entire cast. (Elizabeth's review)
9. Fruitvale Station
Another true story of racism and gross injustice, Fruitvale Station follows 22-year-old Bay Area resident Oscar Grant on the last day of 2008, as he crosses paths with friends and family before his tragic encounter with police in the Fruitvale BART station late that night. Writer and director Ryan Coogler's terrific first feature is an enraging story of an innocent man whose fate provoked national outrage. (Debbie's review)
Street-style photography seems almost pedestrian now, with blogs like The Sartorialist, Humans of New York or (my favorite) What Ali Wore popping up every day, but this wasn't the case when photographer Jamel Shabazz started snapping pics in the '70s. A friend of the artist says he was "capturing life in its purest form."
Shabazz depicted the history of his NYC borough, documenting the early days of hip-hop culture, the fashion and lifestyle he saw day-to-day in the subway or walking the streets of Brooklyn.
Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer (2013) delves into the photographer's influential work and follows some of his current-day activities. Director Charlie Ahearn's previous work includes 1983's Wild Style, a hip hop docudrama. In this film, Ahearn includes interviews with cultural figures such as Fab 5 Freddy and KRS-One among others.
Austin Film Society will show the Shabazz documentary this Sunday, Jan. 12 at 4pm [tickets] at AFS at the Marchesa. Watch the trailer below.
Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.
- Scott Harris, UT Radio-Television-Film alumnus and two-time Austin Film Society Grant (formerly the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund) recipient, will screen his debut feature-length documentary, Being Ginger, at 7:30 pm next Monday at AMC Barton Creek in Austin through Tugg. A Q&A with Harris will follow the screening. The documentary, about one redhead's attempt to regain self-confidence by going on a quest to find a woman, was made during Harris's time studying at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
- Meanwhile, out in Fredericksburg, the town's lone movie theater reopened last month. More than a year after the Stagecoach Theater closed, the Fredericksburg Standard reports that the rebranded independent theater Fritztown Cinema will have a small pizzeria and a beer/wine bar.
- Fritztown has partnered with the Hill Country Film Festival for a free Indie Screening Series, beginning next Wednesday night. This debut screening will showcase a collection of Texas-made short films provided by the Houston Film Commission
- Austinite Geoff Marslett's feature Loves Her Gun (Don's review), which won the Lone Star Award at SXSW 2013, will run for a week beginning Friday at the Village Cinema in New York City.
The new year may be here, but new movies are not. January is typically a dead zone for anything other than big studios burying genre pictures while rolling out potential Oscar nominees across the country. This weekend, there is only one new release and it's pretty strictly for horror fans. Everybody else should look into the amazing specialty screenings we've got on hand over the next week and maybe make a run to Vulcan Video or I Luv Video to ease into 2014 from the comfort of your couch.
You don't want to stay at home all weekend, because then you'd miss some very special local bookings. The Austin Film Society is launching a "Godard vs. Truffaut" series with Godard's Breathless (pictured at top) this weekend at the Marchesa. It screens in 35mm tonight and again on Sunday afternoon. I don't know why you'd want to take sides in this battle, but if you're new to these classics of the French New Wave, you need to check out several films before making up your mind. AFS will alternate between the two directors every weekend through the end of February. They've also got a new Essential Cinema series showcasing the last 20 years of Russian cinema. On Thursday night, you can see 2004's The Rider Named Death in a 35mm print, also at the Marchesa.
Per usual, the Alamo Ritz has some great programming gems to offer us. Raiders Of The Lost Ark is playing in 35mm tonight, tomorrow and again on Wednesday as part of the new "Alamo 100" series. Another new series called "Pop! Art! Film!" debuts with a double feature on Monday night with Batman: The Movie in 35mm paired with a digital screening of Who Wants To Kill Jessie? The theater is also paying tribute to the late Peter O'Toole with 70mm screenings of Lawrence Of Arabia tonight, tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.
Bachelor Mother, a 1939 romantic comedy from writer/director Garson Kanin (My Favorite Wife, Born Yesterday), is a film my sister and I make a point to watch together around New Year's Eve. It's one of the only DVDs of which we both have a copy (Monsoon Wedding might be the other). Ginger Rogers stars as Polly Parrish, a department store employee who loses her temp job the day after Christmas and stumbles upon an orphaned baby. Forces beyond her control make her keep the child, although she once attempts to foist the baby off on David Niven's rich playboy character.
The plot involves screwball antics, a stern and wealthy businessman (played nimbly by character actor Charles Coburn) who yearns for his son to settle down, dancing (of course!), a New Year's Eve sequence at Times Square, sweet romance and It's a Wonderful Life's Frank Albertson (we say, "Hee-haw!" when we see him onscreen) playing a sneaky toy department employee trying to break into management.
Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut, cinema legends and titans of the French New Wave, duke it out for the Austin Film Society's series "Godard vs. Truffaut" from Jan. 3 through Feb. 23 at the Marchesa Hall and Theatre.
But there's no need to take sides*, as various seminal works by each filmmaker are spotlighted biweekly. Discover your inner Francophile at 8 pm Fridays and 2 pm Sundays at the Marchesa.
The rules of cinematic composition are thrown out the window in Breathless, Godard's first feature-length film and one of the earliest of the French New Wave. A young petty criminal with delusions of grandeur drags his American girlfriend (Jean Seberg, whose haircut alone was influential) into his escape plot after killing a police officer.
The tumultuous and dangerous political atmosphere that defined 20th-century life in the Soviet Union made it difficult for Russian artists to reach their potential, and it wasn't until the dissolution of the USSR that expressing creative freedom at home became a real possibility.
Beginning in January, Austin Film Society will present a series of movies that reveal the pent-up talent and emotion of six different Russian directors working at a time when they were finally free to analyze and critique Mother Russia and its people. All released in the last 20 years, the eight films of "Pushing the Curtain Aside: Russian Films of the Past Two Decades" portray a range of styles and subjects but share a dedication to originality.
Screenings all take place Thursdays at 7:30 pm at the Marchesa. Go here for more information about screenings and tickets, and take a look at the lineup below.
Benavides, a small town in south Texas, is the setting for the 2011 slice-of-life drama All She Can. Immigrants attempt passage over from Mexico, drug searches occur regularly at the high school, and senior Luz (Corina Calderon, End of Watch) worries she may be stuck. She hopes her weightlifting prowess can net her a scholarship to The University of Texas at Austin ... but this film doesn't follow the formula of your typical sports movie. Heck, All She Can doesn't really follow any typical formula at all.
The plot of this narrative feature seems anything but far-fetched. For instance, since her family has no internet access, Luz has to use a computer at the town library to Skype with her older brother JM (Jesse Medeles), who is stationed in Afghanistan. The military seems the only career path open to many of her peers. She's accepted into UT Austin, but her mom can't afford to co-sign any school loans. Her family is barely getting by, and Luz feels utterly limited by her lack of options.
Many other factors give All She Can a realistic feel, from the wardrobe to the low-key acting by the cast. Even the lighting adds a natural touch, with nighttime scenes washed in a soft yellow as if from a sodium light. The predominantly Latino cast delivers a compelling story with familiar elements for most Americans.
"There is no time, only now." -- Winnie Mandela, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom is an imperfect biopic about an imperfect hero. Idris Elba (Pacific Rim, HBO's The Wire) plays South African activist and revolutionary Nelson Mandela. The movie is based on Mandela's autobiography of the same title, published in 1995, so it only covers his life to that point -- which is still quite a fantastic spread.
The story starts with montages (this movie is quite heavy on the use of montages) of the statesman's rural childhood, then kicks into gear in 1942 Johannesburg where Mandela, as a young lawyer, becomes involved in the newly-formed African National Congress. He marries, separates after infidelities and a harsh altercation with his wife, then meets and falls for Winnie (Naomie Harris, Skyfall). After some years of work with the ANC and leading the group in a more aggressive direction against the apartheid authority of his country, Mandela is imprisoned for 28 years. The film tries to stress Mandela's humanity, frailties and all, over the almost mythical figure celebrated in his later years.
On my first day of college orientation, the RA asked everyone on our hall to tell one fact about themselves. I proudly boasted that "I see everything in life as one big movie." My RA snickered. "Doesn't everyone?" she replied, as I shut my mouth and felt foolish. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a film that, if my old RA and I were to watch together, would agree is a great example of "life as one big movie."
The best way I can describe the film is like this: It reminded me of those days where you put your headphones on, rev up a good playlist, and just take in all that's happening around you. You might create a scenario for that guy who's in line ahead of you at the coffeeshop, or wonder where that mom and her kids are going. You create your own personal movie, one that only you know how it will end. I believe this is what lead actor and director Ben Stiller was going for.
Stiller plays Walter Mitty, a middle-aged man who works in the Negative Assests Department of LIFE Magazine. In this busy, fast-paced environment, we see that Walter seems out of place. He is awkward, mumbles each sentence and can't quite figure out how to interact with people. Instead, we see everything that he imagines (or maybe wishes) he could say -- to his friends, his coworkers and especially Cheryl (Kristen Wiig), the woman he has his eye on. These daydreams are played out in the most absurd of ways, although probably not too far off from something audience members have probably envisioned themselves doing in their own lives.