in film

My Favorite Films of 2013

This is a very long list and I’ve spent weeks on it. It’s hard for me to write anything serious, but I really want to try, so let’s consider this as a start and I’ll get better next year. I appreciate your reading it, telling me your thoughts, or checking out some of the movies I recommend. Thanks!

Ok, let the party begin! Here I have 100 movies (14 documentaries and 86 dramas) that I would like to recommend, which is a lot, but also less than a quarter of what I have seen this year. I find their posters online to help you get a sense of the movies, because poster is one of the very few things I know about a movie before going to the cinema to see it.

Shortcuts: Documentaries, Dramas, Top 10


14. The Armstrong Lie A well-made documentary about one of the most fascinating sport stars. In fact, I don’t really care that he doped, he is made and thus ruined by a hypocritical system.
13. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story A children’s book illustrator, and an erotic comic creator, how does Tomi Ungerer reconcile his two prominent roles in world of art?
12. Let the Fire Burn Mostly consists of footages and archival interviews, this film is an astonishingly powerful accusation of government coverup. It made me speechless and furious.
11. We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks From Oscar winning director Alex Gibney (who also directs The Armstrong Lie), this story is tremendously informative and lively.

10. 56 Up The whole Up series is marvelous, it’s the ultimate observance, appreciation and celebration of the most ordinary lives. Anyone who likes documentaries have to see the whole series.
9. After Tiller It takes a great deal of courage to bring up such a controversial topic, and the film is made with such overwhelming compassion and power. It’s time to stop hatred.
8. Blackfish The horrifying true story of killer whales in sea parks. If you have seen this film, I doubt if you will ever take your kids to SeaWorld and see Shamu. I definitely won’t.
7. The Act of Killing A documentary about a playful movie reenactment of a genocide, this is the bravest movie of the year, whose crew even could’t reveal their real names in the credits.
6. The Square Giving the similarity of my taste and Oscar’s in documentary, I am keeping a slot for the the only Oscar nominated documentary that I haven’t seen yet. Will come back next week.

5. Stories We Tell
This is a whole new concept of documentary, it’s personal, subjective, gripping and at times more dramatic than a thriller. You shouldn’t be too surprise about it though, because the film title already tells you that: this is a film about people telling stories. It starts with director Sarah Polley collecting interesting yet sometimes contradicting stories of her late mother from interviews of family members and her mother’s friends and colleagues, then it takes an unexpected turn as Sarah traces deeper in her family history and gets closer to a secret that has never been told. Stories We Tell is a joyful, moving memoir, an odyssey to the mysterious past, a compelling yet complex look at families and relationships, and an ambitious exploration of the elusive nature of storytelling. I really like it because it’s light and deep at the same time, more entertaining than an ordinary documentary and more authentic than an artificially contrived melodrama.

4. Cutie and the Boxer
In some sense, Cutie and the Boxer is the best documentary I have ever seen. All year long I have been watching documentaries about fascinating people like angry feminist punk singer or anarchist turned government informant, about important social, economical, environmental issues like income inequality or San Francisco cult culture, films that seem very interesting but often fall short of their promises. But who are cutie and the boxer? They are two old Japanese artists in New York, 81-year-old Ushio Shinohara and his 60-year-old wife Noriko, a couple still working on art to make ends meet. They sound like nobodies that few people would care about. But that’s why this film is so remarkable. It makes you sigh, it makes you cry and it makes you god damn care. Cutie and the Boxer is a great film about dream, persistence, and the beauty of life. The couple lives with nothing more than love and faith, yet with love and faith they find the quintessential peace in each other and in the unbearable trivialities and ordeals. In the ups and downs, decades of struggles in oblivion, a plain oath of “I still love you” means a whole world.

3. Dirty Wars
I am a super peaceful and a moderately cynical person, so it makes perfect sense that I fall so hard for Dirty Wars. I just couldn’t stop crying. Dirty Wars is a provocative, powerful, courageous film but also helplessly depressing. Following the investigation of a deadly US night raid in Afghanistan, the film digs deep into the mighty, complex political and military power behind modern wars and becomes more and more skeptical in the righteousness of these wars. When soldiers sacrafice everything they have for the justice and peace they believe in, when lives of foreign civilians are in the hand of people whom they may never ask for help from, we more than ever need journalists like Jeremy Scahill, who dare to pursue the truth and relentlessly ask questions that no one is ready to answer: Are we fighting a right war in the right way? He might be narcissistic as some critics point out, but with his effort, we have a chance to make the wars shade of cleaner, so I’ll say that’s the narcissism he well deserves.
2. Blood Brother
Words are powerless in the face of death, and words are impotent to describe the experience of watching this film. Rocky, a young man from Pittsburgh, PA, after spending a few days in a trip with a group of AIDS children in India, decided to left his family, friends, and city life behind to live with those kids and take care of them. In their days together, he witnesses poverty, fear, death but also joy and miracles; love is all he can give, and also all he receives. Blood Brother is a heartbreaking and heartwarming film at the fullest, and a gem of independent film making (directed by Rocky’s college roommate). I am extremely lucky to catch a screening in Houston during New Year vacation and I feel very sad that this film has yet no national theatrical release despite winning Sundance. Watching a documentary as realistic and heavy as this is painstaking, yet the pains to watch it is infinitesimal to the pains endured by the children in the film, and the courage of facing such a story, is far incomparable to the courage of living one.
1. 20 Feet from Stardom
To put 20 Feet from Stardom ahead of Stories We Tell and The Act of Killing in this #1 spot, I have a very simple reason: I believe it’s harder to make a documentary so impressive and captivating in the traditional way than in novel, probably conceptually fancier ways. Telling the untold stories of some greatest backup singers of the 21st century, 20 Feet is a very down-to-earth documentary, just interviews, archival materials and great editing; no twists, suspense or climax moments. But it manages to really understand its subjects and present them in a way both respectful and heartbreaking. The film is more than a sincere, long overdue tribute to the unsung heroines standing 20 feet outside limelight, it sheds a beam of tender, compassionate lamp light on their faces so that we can see their wrinkles, listen to their stories, feel their pains and appreciate their passion. In 20 Feet from Stardom, there is excitements and disappointments, persistence and compromises, but there is no win or loss, it is the journey seeking the peace between them.

86. Labor Day I haven’t see this one yet, but it’s one of my favorite themes and I have to keep a slot for my dear Kate.
85. On the Road Garrett Hedlund as Dean Moriarty is too luminous to be left out of this list, but he’s the only highlight of this otherwise disappointing portray of the Beat generation.
84. Elysium The hard-hitting action sequences are definitely entertaining, but the many political implications of this earth – elysium relationship feel rather distracting every now and then.
83. Thor: The Dark World Is it weird that we are so desperate to see more Tom Hiddleston and Natalie Portman, or even Idris Elba in a movie called Thor?

82. Much Ado About Nothing There is quite a lot of unexpected fun when TV stars are put in a black and white Shakespeare comedy and say “I love thee” as if they really spoke that way.
81. Kon Tiki [Norway] Visually, Norway’s most expensive production doesn’t even come close to The Life of Pi, but its true story (which drove me to the Kon Tiki Museum in Oslo) is no less powerful.
80. The Artist and the Model An upgraded version of last year’s Renoir. It really understands both generations, the energy and uncertainty of the youth, and the wisdom and calm of the aged.
79. Yossi [Israel] 10 years after Yossi and Jagger, Yossi’s life is updated on big screen. I’m pretty excited to see the sequel and quite satisfied but still like the previous one better.

78. Mother of George Besides its intriguing story, the film is even more impressive in its strikingly beautiful cinematography and its gorgeous costumes with rich exoticism.
77. Enough Said James Gandolfini is pitch perfect in his last movie, so are his three female costars. Everyone in this middle-age chick-flick is more or less flawed, that’s also why they are so lovely.
76. Frozen I thought this one is too childish, but it turns out to be the only animation this year that is actually good. All others are just cliches and visual effects to entertain the kids.
75. The Butler It’s obviously an Oscar bait, except that it’s not a good enough bait to bite on. I like the beautiful montage intertwining the restaurant sit-in and white house banquet.

74. The Patience Stone [Afghan] A one woman show about marriage, desire, loneliness and the longing of being listened to. Fascinating and thought-provoking story, great performance.
73. Starbuck [France] This French comedy is so good that an American remake is in theaters within a year, but obviously the remake doesn’t get anything good from the original.
72. Side Effects Soderbergh may be on the decline but he can still assemble a great cast and make something worth watching, and this film is indeed a little comeback, smart and suspenseful.
71. Something in the Air [France] The original French title After May (the May 1968 events) is a better summary of this film, a long, depressing summer where idealism and realism diverge.

70. Fill the Void [Israel] Some people believe weddings and funerals are the windows of traditions in a culture, then this film is a big, bright window of the Orthodox society.
69. The Hunger Games There are a couple of very interesting new characters in this sequal, but I hate its “See ya next year!” ending, especially even next year is not the finale!
68. No [Chile] Hardly there is a political movie so cheerful and colorful. It’s a feel-good tale of democracy, but also reveals how prone public opinions are to propaganda influences.
67. Wrong (@SFIndieFest) It’s tons of fun and fantasy, often wildly illogical but oddly believable. A cult comedy where everything going wrong seems the perfectly right thing to happen.

66. Trance Danny Boyle’s thriller is not only compelling but also sexy. I am ridiculed for thinking Rosario Dawson is very sexy, but at least Michael Fassbender would totally agree with me on that.
65. Gravity My friend “blacklists” all guilds that name Gravity the best picture of the year and I totally support her. Sure it’s visually dazzling but story-wise I find it quite unsatisfying.
64. Sightseers A sightseeing trip takes an unexpected dark turn, then rushes non-stop into darkness and halts at the end in such a brilliant way. Really enjoyable indie cult movie.
63. Warm Bodies A gem of young adult vampire/zombie movie that fulfills our fantasy while keeps itself away from melodrama. The first person perspective is very hilarious.

62. The Place Beyond the Pines One of my most anticipated film this year but falls short of its own ambition. I enjoy each act separately but don’t like the way they are put together.
61. Kill Your Darlings Playing the innocent yet seductive Lucien Carr, Dane DeHaan gives such a radiant performance that even Daniel Radcliffs’s gay sex scene looks rather banal and gimmicky.
60. Blue Caprice A bleak, intense reenactment of the shocking true events of two series snipers randomly killing people, a heavy and disturbing film without any bloody violence.
59. The Kings of Summer As youthful and energetic as its name, this coming-of-age comedy-drama is a delicious treat for a boring summer afternoon. Summer and youth are both meant to be wasted.

58. Ginger & Rosa There ain’t many good movies in March, so this slow, cruel, tense coming-of-age story easily caught my eyes. Elle Fanning is really good.
57. Upstream Color An elusive sci-fi thriller with Malick style cinematography and beautiful editing. Mysterious, delicate but sometimes too obscure.
56. Star Trek: Into Darkness My favorite blockbuster of the year, although I can’t even remember its plot. You know, it’s sort of about Captain Kirk and his crew defeating a bad guy called Khan.
55. Zero Charisma It is one of the best, if not the best, movies about geeks. I really like its truthfulness and unashamedness towards geeks’ uninteresting, sometimes pathetic, lives.

54. Basterds (@French Cinema Now) [France] I like Claire Denis’ realism and pungency, and although this contemporary, deeply perturbing film noir isn’t her best, I still enjoy its cinematic power.
53. Blue Jasmine Cate Blanchett’s performance is extraodinary and effortless, but it irritates me that Woody Allen doesn’t even bother to understand San Francisco (just like what he did to Rome).
52. Lone Survivor The tense and realistic combat scenes are simply stunning and breathtaking, but the film is heavily impaired by its propagandist third act even though it’s based on a true story.
51. What Maisie Knew It poses an interesting question: what children know of this complicated, often hypocritical adult world? A sweet, feel-good, sometimes cloying tale of parenthood.

50. My Brother the Devil A compassionate and poignant look at the strayed young men in London’s lower class, an ambitious film about sexuality and brotherhood.
49. Prisoners Tense, suspenseful and thought-provoking, it’s a textbook thriller and easily best of the year in its genre. It’s a pity that it doesn’t garner much attention this award season.
48. The Story of Luke (@SFIndieFest) An uplifting story featuring an introverted, often misunderstood anti-hero that is also so easy to root. Definitely my favorite at last year’s IndieFest.
47. Beyond the Hills [Romania] For religions, salvation and suppression are not that different at all, only depend on the side you are standing on. Cristian Mungiu doesn’t cease to impress after 432.

46. The Angels’ Share Its British humor crude but not vulgar, its story moving but not overwhelming, this film is delightful and really feel-good. And it’s so Scottish that it has an English subtitle.
45. In the House [France] A brilliant film between reality and imagination. It feels like striping someone down without him even notices it, and when he does, it’s already too late – he’s all naked.
44. Pieta (@Denver) [Korea] Kim Ki-duk’s Golden Lion winner is a cruel, pessimistic, disturbing story about vengeance and redemption. It’s hard to watch it through but even harder to stop watching.
43. All is Lost I really like the whole concept of the film and Robert Redford’s outstanding performance, but at the same time it is really a dreadful idea to watch it again anytime soon.

42. Her I resent myself for not liking this film more. I feel human-OS romance is utterly ridiculous and Shanghai’s sky unbearable. Everything else is superb, especially Spike Jonze and Joaquin Phoenix.
41. The Way, Way Back A funny and gently touching coming-of-age movie that feels like a breeze in the hot summer days. Carell, Janney, Rockwell…You can’t ask for a better ensemble of comedians.
40. Free Fall (@Frameline) From a gay man’s wife, “I can’t even be properly jealous” is one of the most heartbreaking movie quotes, an accusation so powerful and powerless at the same time.
39. Prince Avalanche Seriously, I don’t understand why David Gordon Green and Paul Rudd are so fond of making shitty comedies while they can be so sincere and so damn good.

38. To the Wonder Although this is a critical flop, I like it and think it is more enjoyable than The Tree of life. Not Terrence Malick’s best but still breathtakingly beautiful and poetic.
37. American Hustle I am crazy for last year’s Silver Linings Playbook, but David O. Russell’s star-stubbed new film is too full for me. Nevertheless Amy Adams’s boobs are jaw-droppingly gorgeous.
36. Stranger by the Lake (@French Cinema Now) [France] A shockingly raw and explicit portray of the lust and danger in the gay community. Unsettlingly gripping and gratifyingly audacious.
35. Me and You (@SFIFF) [Italy] This is probably not the Bernardo Bertolucci film you’ve been waiting for 10 years, but it’s so gentle and comforting that I find it very hard to resist.

34. Stoker Park Chan-wook’s English-language debut is slow, sleek, and dark as usual. I like all three leading actors who collectively create a world full of jealousy, suspicion and seduction.
33. Beyond the Walls (@Frameline) [Belgium] Love at its most powerless is to see passion worn out through time but unable to stop. I felt really touched and depressed watching this one.
32. Rush A terrific movie about rivalry and friendship, as sexy as the F1 race. Easily Chris Hemsworth’s best movie so far, but Daniel Brühl is the more impressive one. Great music from Hans Zimmer.
31. Only God Forgives Nicholas Winding Refn goes too far in both style and story, too many implications and metaphors. But the more I think about it the more I like it. Very unique film.

30. Motel Life This is the type of film that doesn’t have a big market but I truly enjoy. A deeply moving story about two nobodies who struggle for the better through the seemingly never-ending hard times.
29. The Past [Iran] Asghar Farhadi’s new film is still about conflicts, disputes, truth, and marriage, as twisty as but less powerful than his Oscar winner A Separation .
28. A Hijacking [Denmark] The business negotiation view of cargo hijacking. Some people prefer this one to Captain Phillips, I like the latter a little bit more.
27. Fruitvale Station I don’t like it that the fate of its character is revealed at the beginning, except for this it is a genuine and powerful film from a pair of very promising young director and actor.

26. In the Name of (@Frameline) [Poland] Not-so-new gay priest story can still be very captivating. Emotionally constrained and provocative at the same time; beautiful images and great scores.
25. Wadjda [Saudi Arabia] Who can imagine the first feature film ever shot entirely in Saudi Arabia is such a refreshing and humorous story about religion and feminism starring a 10-year-old girl?
24. August: Osage County Funny and touching, amazing scripts. Meryl Streeps incredible as always, Julia Roberts hasn’t been so good for a decade, Julianne Nicholson is heartbreakingly attractive.
23. Caesar Must Die (@Portland) [Germany] Its story and its form are definitely one of a kind. As plain as a documentary but extremely emotional and powerful.

22. Barbara [Germany] A story of freedom, love and conscience. It feels exactly like my stereotypical image of Germans, seemingly grave and suppressed but intrinsically kindhearted and hopeful.
21. The Spectacular Now Best film this year about adolescence romance, relatable and touching. Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller are both amazing young actors, I can’t wait to see more of them!
20. Captain Phillips Paul Greengrass kept me uneasy for the entire movie! I really like how the film portraits the pirates, although patriotism eventually dominates the story.
19. Sun Don’t Shine (@SFIndieFest) Amy Seimetz’s talent as a director seems even bigger than hers as an actress. Her directorial debut is emotionally intense and irresistibly arresting.

18. Before Midnight Full of compelling and realistic conversations, a very good new installation to the legend. I am completely immersed in the dialogues and two hours passed like just one.
17. Blue is the Warmest Color [France] Genuine and intense performances from two incredible young actresses. Three hours seem still too short to taste the sweet and pain of a unforgettable first love.
16. 12 Years A Slave Technically flawless, but emotionally fail to touch me. While Steve McQueen finally rises to Hollywood’s spotlight, I still prefer his first two features Hunger and Shame.
15. Aftermacth (@SFJFF) [Poland] A controversial true story of the dark secrets in WWII Poland. Great tension and suspense, and hits me hard with a disturbingly powerful ending.

14. C.O.G. (@Frameline) First adaptation of David Sedaris’ short stories. Sleek, funny, unexpectedly dark and strangely enjoyable. And I really adore Jonathan Groff.
13. Mud Matthew McConaughey might go home with empty hands on Oscar night, but he is consistently one of the best. Mud is the only “really good” movie of the whole spring.
12. Lore An engrossing look of the trauma of war not in blood, death and debris but through a coming-of-age girl’s eyes, the lies and fear in a bleak world beautifully captured by the camera.
11. In the Fog (@SFIFF) [Russia] A story about dignity, humanity, how to live and how to die in the terror of war. Deep, solemn, thought-provoking. Beautiful cinematography, spectacular long takes.

Top 10
10. Crystal Fairy
Many comedies try so hard in their jokes and pranks and inprobables that you can’t help laughing but also feel ashamed about your bad taste or even can’t remember what’s so amusing the next day; Crystal Fairy is exactly the opposite, it doesn’t try at all. It is inspired by a true person, it is largely improvised, and it is deadly funny. Usually I can perfectly hold my laughter in a movie theater, but I completely failed this time. Crystal Fairy is a very eccentric girl, she doesn’t shave her bushy armpit, and every morning she exercises her odd yoga ritual. She doesn’t care what others think of her too. When she goes on a road trip with three young crazy hippie boys, including the ultra naturally funny Michael Cera, she seems quite fine being mocked the whole trip. At the end, when Crystal’s shield to contempt cracks and reveals for a brief moment her unexpected fragility, I begin to wonder: why we laugh at others? Is it because we are superior and know it all, or just because it’s so much easier to despise than to appreciate? I like how the movie ends in a hint of bitterness, it adds a delicate layer to wrap up the wildly hilarious journey and asks us viewers to do more than just laughing and then forgetting.
9. Nebraska
I knew very little about Nebraska before I saw it (despite I’ve been to Nebraska twice!), I knew it’s directed by Alexandra Payne (whose The Descendents isn’t my cup of tea though), but I didn’t know it is in black and white, and I definitely didn’t ever thought it is a comedy. That’s why I felt cheated and so uncomfortable first time watching it. Everybody laughed their asses out but I was like, “Come on, guys, isn’t this supposed to be sad?” Then I watched it a second time and finally everything seems right. The movie shows a compassionate picture of the ordinary Midwestern life, and makes lots of fun out of its boredom and vulgarity. Highlighted by the stubborn, demential father played by Bruce Dern and the outspoken mom played by June Squibb, the script is lovely, moving and funny as hell. I totally wish I have a family like this, although it might make life much harder. My only complaint about the movie is, the son or mom could have told people the truth the very moment they heard the “news”, and it feels unnatural not to do so. But of course, had they done so, the movie would be much less funny, if at all.

8. The Broken Circle Breakdown [Belgium]
Not too long into the film, I knew The Broken Circle Breakdown is exactly what I had been waiting for: a realistic, exquisite and probably heartbreaking look of relationships. Like pieces of broken windows collected and reordered from debris, the film unfolds with parallel stories of the past and present of Alice and Didier, a happily married couple going through the pain of their daughter’s terrible disease, joy intertwining with sorrow, laughter blended with tears. The bluegrass music runs through the movie is absolutely beautiful, bringing me to a romance so tender and sweet. While watching The Broken Circle Breakdown, I kept thinking about Blue Valentine, my favorite film about romance/marriage, as both films consist of life at both its sweetest and cruelest. What separates them apart is the way fervent passion breathtakingly turns into irreconcilable conflicts, and obviously Blue Valentine scores higher with its ephemeral and subtle transition. Nevertheless, I completely enjoy The Broken Circle Breakdown and have absolutely no reluctance to put in on my top 10 list.

7. The Hunt [Denmark]
The Hunt is the most thought provoking and psychologically disturbing film in this list. I won’t spoil you too much in case you haven’t seen it, but let me put it this way, the movie starts with a little girl telling a terrible lie to revenge the unreturned obsession she had for her male teacher. That’s just a butterfly flapping its wings, the tsunami is yet to come. It’s ugly, dark, horrifying, and very relatble. I was all emotional and outrageous sitting in the theater and had a strong urge to drag the perpetrators out of the screen and punch them in their faces. Even at the end, when the disturbance seems subsiding, the undercurrent is still enormous and intimidating, leaving the audience in a world with permanent fear. Director Thomas Vinterberg did a remarkable job in making this little town drama as intense and gripping as it could be, and Mads Mikkelsen’s riveting performance well deserves the best actor win at Cannes. Nordic films often inherit from its weather a depressing atmosphere that I find artistically very appealing. Definitely look forward to more Nordic films in the future.

6. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
From the stunning cinematography to the seemingly leisurely storytelling, it’s very hard not to think of Terrence Malick’s Badlands and Days of the Heaven while watching Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, a deeply moving and tragically beautiful modern western romance story. In this film, time seems going slower in the somber color of eternal longing, only the claps that run through the film remind us the rapid elapse of time and signals the forthcoming grand finale of a desperate journey. I especially like the ending of the film, extremely peaceful yet tremendously emotional. The slow pace of the film requires patience, but watching it is such a rewarding experience. The film also makes a star of DP Bradford Young, who won Cinematography award at Sundance for his stunning, magnificent camera work. Mother of George, another film he shot, is visually equally stylish but surprisingly bleak and forbidding, proving he is even more than what he has shown. I’m gonna keep an eye on him.

5. Inside Llewyn Davis
First of all, I never imagine that Oscar Issac is so damn good at singing, but I later realize he is indeed a musician and had a band in Miami so everything now makes perfect sense. The very first scene of Llewyn singing Hang me, Oh Hang Me is absolutely arresting (Kudos to T-Bone Burnett who produces the music of this film!) and sets the melancholic tone of the film that really lingers in my head for a long time. Despite all the rejections and hardships Llewyn Davis is going through, this film is Coen brothers’ warmest work so far. It’s true to life, and creates an inspiring anti-hero through his helplessness yet persistence in depression. When everything goes wrong for Llewyn, there is just enough warmth keeping him alive, even his own bad luck at giving up music. I’ve been anticipating Inside Llewyn Davis for a long time, although Carey Mulligan’s exaggerating anguish and Garrett Hedlund’s insignificance are not exactly what I expected, this is still the only movie this year that lives up to my high expectation.
4. Short Term 12
Short Term 12 is genuine, warm, sometimes heartbreaking, and one of the sincerest films of the year. The authenticity and subtlety of the film are incredible, and we have to give credits to director Destin Cretton who writes the story based on his personal experience (working) at a similar center; and the outstanding cast whose natural acting really transforms scripts into a convincing, touching story. The leading actress Brie Larson is pitch perfect in her role, a young girl who tries to face her own relationships while work wholeheartedly to help the teens at the center make sense of their lives. Larson’s performance brings both authority and vulnerability into her character, managing to find the balance between both her bright and dark sides; it is definitely one of the most overlooked performances of the year. Captured in the beautiful film poster is the most memorable scene of the film: counselors chasing runaway kids on the lawn. That concludes everything in the film, the rebellion, the fun, and most importantly, the feeling of a family.

3. The Great Beauty [Italy]
Its grandeur beyond words and its nostalgia so profound, The Great Beauty is a film you need to see many times and I assure you every time you watch it, you’ll have some new discoveries. (You may also fall asleep if you can’t endure the loosely connected plot and meandering pace.) I have seen it twice and am eager to do it again. Following the steps of Jep, the king of Rome’s high life, the film stretches into the corners of this magnificent city, and spans the full spectrum of the old man’s uniquely fascinating life. The film effortlessly shuttles between void and richness, in a way that resembles how Jep enjoys and resents his glamorous yet unfulfilled life. He is honest at what he hasn’t done, albeit reluctant to admit what he could have done. At his age, looking back is a painful thing; no time ahead to start over and no where behind to bury the memories. I can’t stop thinking, when I am old enough to look back upon my lifetime, what will I remember and regret? Will I be happy, content, disappointed, or do I still even care at all? Maybe, I sometimes believe, maybe the journey of looking for the great beauty of life, is exactly where it lies.

2. Dallas Buyers Club
If I had a top list last year, the early years of AIDS documentary How to Survive A Plague would be easily high up in the documentary list. So it’s not surprising that Dallas Buyers Club, a drama film about the same period and similar events lands #2 in my this year’s list. I just love the story, how strangers come together and fight fiercely and tactically against not only the epidemic but also bureaucracy and ignorance. The illegal AIDS drug dealer, played by the exceptional Matthew McConaughey, is desperately cynical and ferociously determined, even when he is nothing but skin and bones. Jared Leto gives the performance of the year in playing Rayon, a transgender AIDS patient who firmly stands out for his friend to prolong other people’s lives, but cries heartbreakingly in the face of her own death. (It’s simply unacceptable to me if Leto loses at Oscar, but the same thing has already happened to Brokeback Mountain, so I can’t expect too much.) I couldn’t hold my tears even the second time watching the film, when in the grocery store Ron forces his old friend to shake hands with Rayon, when Dr. Eve hangs the painting Ron gave her onto the wall in anger and tears, when the crowd applauds for Ron at his return from San Francisco even though he lost the case. To see this heartfelt friendship born among people to whom “normal” people can only render fear, hatred and repugnance is an overwhelmingly uplifting and heartwarming experience. And Ron’s seven years’ survival, wow, what a loud slap.

1. Frances Ha
Frances Ha is a film that haunts me. It’s a film about Frances Ha, but also about me, about every young person out there trying to make sense of life. Frances is an apprentice at a dance company and dreams of getting big but she is only a good choreographer, not a good dancer; she is almost broke and drifts around New York crashing at friends’ apartment but goes on a two-day Paris trip in a rush of blood to her head; she is reliant on her only good friend Sophie who eventually moves out from their shared apartment and is getting married; she is looking for a relationship so ideal that she can’t even handle the normal ones. Frances is stuck between herself and reality, a loser in a city famous for its mercilessness on losers. Yet it’s impossible not to fall for her, because she is also funny, real and joyfully lighthearted. She walks like a man, she plays games too childish even for children; she cares about her career and relationships but shows not a hint of anxiety; and her occasional selfishness, is just her lack of self-awareness. There are people finding Frances ignorant or the movie irritating, and that sort of condescension is maybe exactly what Frances feels at the embarrassing dinner with the intellectuals, living in a world so splendid and abundant as if it’s your own fault if you are short of glamour. The truth is, Frances is humble, decently knowledgeable and very interesting, it’s not her who is short of glamour, but people who dislike her too arrogant to see.

As the title character Frances, Greta Gerwig is absolutely ravishing. Her performance is so ephemeral yet convincing that I can’t even tell if she is acting at all. I almost believed that Greta Gerwig is Frances Ha until I later watched an interview of her and realized how different they actually are. Greta Gerwig is elegant, confident, and definitely self-aware. She also co-writes the film and has been dating Noah Baumbach for years, which is a big advantage of her as an actress: she not only plays a character, she creates one. The current lineup of top actresses is kind of boring, as quite often some of them make award ceremony appearances just because they can act hysterically or dare to wear ugly makeups. Greta Gerwig isn’t that type, she is natural, refreshing, and with out doubt she is one of the best actresses in her generation, or maybe in all generations.

Most of the time I feel it rather pretentious to say a film is “A {director’s name} film” as always stated at the beginning of a movie, but Frances Ha is an exception. This film is apparently a truly Noah Baumbach film, except that line of declaration is never seen in the credits. Baumbach is a genius, I like all his films I have watched and Frances Ha is yet the best, inevitably reminding me of the enchanting French New Wave. The characters are subtle, unique and irresistibly lovable; the dialogues, often hilarious, are full of wit and intimacy; and the segments of Frances’ life are glued together with beautiful soundtracks and fluid editing. Everyone who has seen this film cannot forget the montage of Frances running and twirling across Chinatown on the news of her joining the Christmas show. The delightful news turns bad not long after, but the exuberance and lightness stay in the film even though Frances has a very hard life. In his directorial debut Kicking and Screaming, Baumbach’s twentysomething college grads are perplexed by the future and stay in their shells to avoid confronting the reality; the same uncertainty of future is also what 27-year-old Frances Ha is facing, but despite she isn’t fully prepared for it nor able to deal with it, she chooses to live in it; she hangs on, struggles and learns to accept whatever is best for her. To eventually redeem Frances from her mess, Baumbach takes a brilliantly positive view on failure in assuring us not “things will get better” but “nothing better is gonna come”. While Frances’ dancer dream is dead, she is still a woman so capable of dreaming; she wins a battle in a war she is doomed to lose.

In some sense, I am Frances. I have a job that I am actually quite good at but am still looking for that passion of my life; I once insisted paying for an expensive dinner with friends and regretted it for days; I often overstay my welcome just because I want to be with people and I am tired of being alone; I crash on my friend’s couch in San Francisco every now and then but never pay her rent nor make up my mind to move into the city; I went to Oslo just because I love a film about Oslo; I always travel alone since literally I have no friend to travel with; I went to college football games as if I was still a part of the school although I was never a part of it even when I was a student there; I have a couple of friends who understand my peculiar soul so well but probably I love them more than they love me; and of course I am undateble, or I should say, undated, because I am just as an idealist as Frances is. Frances Ha is a mirror in which I saw my own confusion, aimlessness, and disappointment, but I still snapped and danced exuberantly through the entire ending song after rewatching it alone, because I like Frances, I like who I am.

I want to see Frances Ha many times, savoring every bit of it. There is a particular scene that I love fanatically, and I was like “Oh my god, this is so fucking good!” the very moment I saw it. I’m saving the best for last, just like what the movie did. Well, I hope now you’ve got it.

Write a Comment



  1. I feel obliged to write a comment in English, so here it goes…
    Many movies in your list that I wanted to see but failed the action…some of them I will watch on DVD, such as blue jasmine, the great beauty, kill your darlings, blue is the warmest color, Stranger by the Lake… and I will recommend Zero Charisma to my Dungeons & Dragons role play group. LOL
    I sometimes try to write movie review as a critic, but most of the time I simply document my personal experience while watching the film. I see you are doing a little of both (kind of New Yorker movie review style). During my undergrad years, when I was devoured by my passion for cinema, I read some cinema studies that helped me to see movies from a movie maker’s perspective. And it definitely enhances the experience once the methodology behind movie making is understood. I would revisit those books if I have the time….!!!

    • Good luck with getting those DVDs, you can get a Chromecast (and a TV, and Netflix or whatsoever)!
      Here’s the problem, many movies on this list, I forgot what I felt about them…I have something on Douban but aren’t really helpful. Haha. I need recommendations of the books!

  2. This is Awesome 🙂
    And agreed that Frances Ha is worth watching again – the many touching and beautiful details are brilliant.

    where to find the movies if they are no longer in theatre? wait for DVDs or…?

    • Mainly online streaming like Netflix, hulu, Amazon video, and TV movie channels like HBO, cinemax. I guess. There are some DVD rental services too, like redbox or netflix DVD.

    • hmm. u’r right. I never read it on phone. It’s not the theme problem, it’s because I manually set div box sizes. Never thought of mobile compatibility, my bad!