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Celebrating 17 Years of Film.Biz.Fans.
by Eric Kohn, Andrew O'Hehir and John Powers
January 11, 2014 1:05 PM
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Critics Debate the Highs and Lows of 2013 -- And What to Expect in 2014

Welcome to Critical Consensus, Indiewire’s recurring column in which two critics from our Criticwire Network discuss topics in current cinema with Indiewire critic Eric Kohn. This week, Salon critic Andrew O’Hehir trades e-mails with Vogue’s John Powers about the best and worst of 2013 as well as what they’re anticipating in the new year.

ERIC KOHN: John, your top 10 list overlaps with Andrew's to some degree, although you include two major fall season films absent from his list: "Gravity" and "American Hustle." Taking these studio movies into account, do you think this was a more promising year than usual for Hollywood filmmaking? The studios had a rough summer, but do these films make up for it? Or would it make more sense to look at these films as anomalies in an otherwise crass machine?

JOHN POWERS: I don't think that this film year reveals much about Hollywood that we didn't know before.  The year's biggest movie, "Iron Man 3," was in a way symptomatic -- an effects-laden sequel that the audience loved even though (because?) its central idea would flatter the most self-regarding of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs -- it's about a billionaire mogul who not only saves the world but gets to be hip while doing it -- and its star is a once-marvelous actor who's now reaching for the paycheck even more nakedly than Robert De Niro.

As for the movies on my list, it's part of the structure of the crass machine (as you dub it) that Hollywood will always turn out a smattering of anomalous films that critics can put on their 10 Best lists and that industry people can not hate themselves for making. Nearly always, such films are directed by the same 10 or 15 people who, thanks to earlier box-office success, a reputation for "genius," or the ability to knock people out in the room, are able to get financing.

On my list this year, those names would be Coen, Cuaron, Jonze, Linklater, McQueen, and Russell -- no real surprises here. (One who would've been surprising, and to my horror, I stupidly left off my list, was Alexandre Moors, whose “Blue Caprice” didn't get the attention it deserved -- including from me.)  And if you look at other critics' lists, you'll find names of other established auteur brands -- Scorsese, Allen, and Payne (whose "Nebraska" I found disappointing, perhaps because I'm also from the Cornhusker State and have a vivid memory of it being in color).

There undeniably were trends in American film this year -- a spate of procedural movies like "Gravity," "All Is Lost," and "Captain Phillips," a series of movies about profoundly isolated, even marooned heroes (add to the previous three "Mud," "Her," "Inside Llewyn Davis" and "12 Years a Slave"), not to mention the first real flowering of Obama Age films, most of them dealing more or less well with race. 

But, when it comes to quality, it all struck me as business as usual. If I seem to be championing a lot of work from Hollywood, that's because 2013 struck me as a down year for non-English-language cinema, especially by directors whose work I've often had on my list:  Almodovar's airplane comedy was mirthless, Arnaud Deplechin's "Jimmy P." was as about alive as a cigar-store Indian, Claire Denis' "Bastards" was so laughably rotten that her champions have knocked themselves out acting like it's a brilliant commentary on Late Capitalism. 


  • trustie | January 15, 2014 3:34 PMReply

    Great discussion. Perhaps Indie should make this feature more frequent.

  • marsha mccreadie | January 13, 2014 5:48 PMReply

    And how did the quote marks get transcribed to those little "a"?

    Apologies for my program.


  • marsha mccreadie | January 13, 2014 5:42 PMReply

    How great to see a thoughtful discussion like this, and get a peek at some of the intellectual backstory that goes into critic selections. I was especially gratified to see the mention of Caesar Must Die, though I must say it gave me a pang or two, as I had wanted to list it in my 2013 “10 Best” for, but had listed it the year before. At the time I was writing for the Voice, and asked my then-editor, who had requested “Bests,” if I could list a film I had seen at the NY Film Festival that fall. His response was “Sure, if you saw it last year.” Well, yeah . . . Technically yes, though it still didn’t seem quite right. Though of course a great film in any year, aesthetically innovative, wonderful acting.

    The listing did get me a pull quote alongside A.O. Scott’s in an ad for the film last February, so I guess you could say I was extremely early (or an unwitting cheat) in listing Caesar Must Die as a “10 Best.” It does point up the problem of a movie which opens so early in the year that it can get trampled in your memory bank by other more recently released, even aggressively marketed, movies. And of course brings up the over-all the issue of dating, and opinion-making, for movies which have opened in other spots, some time ago. Did somebody say Nymphomaniac?
    Marsha McCreadie
    Reviewing these days for and Film Journal International. And much more carefully checking “theatrical release dates.”

  • fernand | January 13, 2014 2:31 PMReply

    Gravity is bit more than a publicity stunt.

  • ernest | January 13, 2014 11:46 AMReply

    Great piece. Thanks.

  • afsahsadgf | January 12, 2014 12:16 PMReply

    Gravity is overrated as shit take away the 3d and you have ok acting a terrible story and some of the most basic symbolism ever seen

  • LS | January 11, 2014 7:04 PMReply

    Confused. How is Frances Ha related to I Am Sam? If you wanted to argue it was a pretentious Woody Allen rehash, sure, okay. Did a name get confused?

  • David Ehrenstein | January 11, 2014 4:52 PMReply

    Grievously ignored: "Hannah Arendt," "Kill Your Darlings," "You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet," "The Happy Sad," and "What Maisie Knew."

  • pam | January 11, 2014 3:11 PMReply

    Andrew O'Hehir, can you please explain how the Iron Man movie & Catching Fire can have similar "reassuring outcomes"? I thought John Powers comments on Iron Man were accurate & devastating, (& you seemed to agree with him). That is a movie featuring a wealthy white man who acts to preserve the world in which he lives & to maintain the status quo. In Fire a young poor white woman opposes poverty & a despotic government, (& she does not get to do this from within an iron suit!). How can you not include Fire as one of the movies exploring the
    "issue of social and economic inequality in America"?

  • Lawrence | January 11, 2014 1:26 PMReply

    Wonderful read. Just one thing--unrelated to film: is it possible for you guys to have a "view as single page" button? It just makes it easier when viewing on mobile or when I want to use an app like Pocket to save it for later.