Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Inside Llewyn Davis

Dir. Joel and Ethan Coen, 2013

The Coen Brothers may be the perfect filmmakers. While they like to re-use images, tropes, and ideas, nobody can predict quite when or how those elements will come into play. That’s one of the reasons people dislike their films.

Inside Llewyn Davis is one film that is bound to divide audiences. It centers around the titular Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac), a down-and-out folksinger struggling to make his way after the suicide of his partner. He’s not an unappreciated musical genius, just a journeyman, and the film takes us on an odyssey around New York and beyond.

When I saw the trailer for this film, it was nearly a year before it came out, and I was really disappointed. It looked like a very sombre and sad movie, so I was surprised how much fun it ended up being. The film is very episodic; elements and characters are introduced that are never really explored, so my only complaint is that I wish we had more. But that’s a good complaint for a movie to have, and I highly recommend it. A-

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Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus and 2012 (2013)

Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus and 2012

Dir. Sebastián Silva, 2013

Once upon a time in Santiago de Chile, a local filmmaker decided to make a drug movie with his roommate, Michael Cera. The results were…mixed.

Crystal Fairy is a thoroughly strange movie about four brothers and their ne’er-do-well control freak of a friend (Jamie, played by Cera), who unwittingly invites a gratingly quirky hippie chick (the titular Crystal Fairy, played by Gaby Hoffman) on their road trip to partake of a psychedelic cactus on the shores of the Atacama. The gang takes a liking to Crystal Fairy while Jaime obsesses over the cactus.

After watching the film, I didn’t dislike it, but I had no interest in seeing it again. Sebastian Silva is obviously a talented director; he has a good eye, and his washed-out version of Chile really gives the impression of being on the far side of the Earth. But I wish he had enough confidence as a screenwriter to simply let things be. His need to give the film a satisfying conclusion may or may not ruin the whole thing. It’s up to you to find out.

C+

Frances Ha (2013)

Frances Ha

Dir. Noah Baumbach, 2013

For all the talk about those durn kids with their unemployment and their black friends, cinematic treatment of millennials has been surprisingly mature, with a light heart and a serious mind. In contrast to the self-congratulatory boomers of The Big Chill and the adult children of Slacker, movies about millennials usually end with the main characters having to face the realities of change and adulthood, a change that is always portrayed as good. Even Superbad reaches this conclusion, and after a decade of arrested development, one gets the feeling that our generation wants nothing more than to grow up.

Enter Frances Ha, the newest film from acclaimed director Noah Baumbach. While Baumbach has been accused of ripping off his mentor Whit Stillman, Stillman was never able to escape the prism of his own young adulthood, while Baumbach managed to take the same character types and situations and adapt them to the present day. In Frances Ha, the titular character (Greta Gerwig), is a professional dancer in New York City who refuses to give up on her dream, even as she loses her job and her best friend moves to Tokyo with her new fiancé. Frances’ stubbornness is painful to watch as she turns down various opportunities and her friends move on with their lives. But eventually she does get the hint.

Filmed in colour but screened in black-and-white, Frances Ha is a beautiful portrait of Brooklyn, the 2010s, and Greta Gerwig (her smile is gorgeous). Baumbach’s reputation as a Brooklyn and New York icon is now clear. This was my favourite film of 2013. And I don’t know if this says more about us or about Hollywood, but giving up on your dream has never been more life-affirming. A

Seeking Asian Female (2013)

Seeking Asian Female
Dir. Debbie Lum, 2013

As long as I can remember, white men have had a fascination with Asian women that goes well beyond personal preference, and I just don’t get it. I’m not the only one. Filmmaker Debbie Lum constantly fought the urge to bail on her documentary Seeking Asian Female when she saw how her potential subjects were objectifying Asian identity. Finally she settled on Steven, an unassuming old man with a Chinese fetish bordering on mania.

To this end, Steven actually marries Sandy, a girl freshly imported from China. Sandy is not the docile servant-heart he imagined, and neither is he what she imagined. The relationship is rocky, but gradually morphs from societal construct into an actual romance as Steven gradually relinquishes his Chinese obsession. Seeking Asian Female is not always easy to watch, but it has done the best– often funny– job at a subject that demands further attention. B-

Clear History (2013)

Clear History

Dir. Greg Mottola, 2013

HBO’s Clear History is an odd bird. A rare original comedy film from the network best known for more dramatic fare, Clear History stars Larry David as a fictionalized version of himself called Nathan Flomm. In 2003, Flomm is a marketing executive who disagrees with his partner (Jon Hamm) on the name of their new electric car, the Howard, and withdraws his shares. In the process, the Howard becomes a hit, and Flomm misses out on a billion dollars. Humilliated, he moves to Martha’s Vineyard, where he becomes a beloved member of his community under the name Rolly DaVore. When Hamm’s character builds a ghastly house on the Vineyard, Rolly sees an opportunity to get even.

Despite the deft work by all involved, Clear History is very much a television movie. Larry David chose to make the film this year instead of making a new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and though the film is very similar (the different narrative lets David do some things he couldn’t on Curb), it’s hard not to walk away from this feeling like another season would have been better. B-