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My Top 10 Films of 2013:

I wasn’t really planning on posting a personal favourites list for 2013, but upon seeing the results of “Vote: Best of 2013” and how greatly they differed from my own, I felt it necessary to share with you all my favourite films from the past year. As for the results themselves, in which you all kindly contributed, they will be posted this Thursday, so keep an eye out for that. I’ll do my very best to keep this list short and sweet. You can find my full review for each film by clicking on the corresponding title, enjoy!

Honourable Mention:

The Place Beyond the Pines:

Earlier on, when this film was released, it was very much at the top of my list. However, as the year progressed and more highly-sought pictures caught my attention, Derek Cianfrance’s lovely epic just couldn’t hold on to a spot. That being said, I truly believe it has a significant amount of staying power and if any of the films listed ahead of it falter with time, “The Place Beyond the Pines” will surely make a jump into the top 10.

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10: 12 Years a Slave:

Directed by skyrocketing genius Steve McQueen, creator of “Hunger” and “Shame.” “12 Years a Slave” depicts the unbelievable story of Solomon Northup, a free black man abducted and sold into slavery, where he stayed for twelve long years. Featuring a plethora of staggering performances, a tremendous musical score, and stunning, yet disturbing visuals. This flick is sure to be apart of cinema’s canon for a good, long while

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9: The Hunt:

The only foreign film to make my top 10 is Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Hunt.” About a man struggling against the simplistic destruction of a rumour, this film is, without question, one of the most disturbing on the list. Starring the magnificent Mads Mikkelsen, “The Hunt” is a lock for best foreign feature this award season, for me at least.

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8: All is Lost (review coming soon):

Having only become aware of this film in the recent months, its power and sheer brilliance knocked me off my feet. Following a man at sea who becomes shipwrecked and discombobulated, “All is Lost” is a magnificent triumph. Starring Robert Redford, and only him. What this film is able to achieve with limited cast, settings, and dialogue is miraculous.

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7: American Hustle:

My placing of this film may surprise a few as “American Hustle” will undoubtedly be in many cinephiles top 5 films of the year. There isn’t much fault in this flick, the performances are superlative, the direction unparalleled, and its soundtrack timeless. That being said, the film’s shaky story led to its positioning here at number seven.

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6: Gravity:

Up until about November, “Gravity” was very much in play to be in my top 5 films of the year. Unfortunately for Cuaron’s masterpiece however, a slew of infallible films came along and knocked it out of the top tier. Don’t be fooled though, this film is an unrivalled achievement and will be so for many years to come. The imagery, performances, and story are entrancing, not to mention the soothing musical score.

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5: Drinking Buddies:

Okay, here is my shocker, went off the board with this one. All kidding aside however, the truth is “Drinking Buddies” is a masterful character study and one of the most honest, authentic, heartbreaking films you will ever witness. Featuring fantastic performances from the entire cast, Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” managed to surprise everyone, me included, and force its way into my top 5.

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4: Inside Llewyn Davis:

Being a former musician, I can really sympathize with the lead in the Coen brothers masterpiece, “Inside Llewyn Davis.” Tossing that aside, this film is still a towering experience and undoubtedly finds itself amongst the Coen brothers best. Featuring outstanding performances and the best soundtrack of the year, “Inside Llewyn Davis” makes the list without question.

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3: Her

For a little while there, I thought “Her” was going to be number 1 on my list. Carrying the most original story, a breathtaking script, and spectacular performances, Spike Jonze really outdid himself with this one. People will be talking about “Her” long after the film has ended, perhaps even after humankind has ended…

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2: Mud:

Jeff Nichols “Mud” is a modern-day fable. Conveying a harsh lesson about growing up and love, this impeccable tale starring Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan is my runner-up.

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1: The Wolf of Wall Street:

Scorsese and DiCaprio, enough said…no, not enough? How about Jonah Hill and stunner Margot Robbie? This flick is absolutely crazy in every sense. I didn’t hesitate for one-second putting “The Wolf of Wall Street” at the top of this list.

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TIFF 2013: The Sacrament (2013)

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For the most part, Ti West’s latest outing “The Sacrament” avoids falling back on the tired, stereotypical ploys that have given the genre a bad reputation as of late. It’s an attempt at something different, an experiment that at the very least is respectable for simply daring to try something new. It’s a breath of fresh air for those of us who’ve been drowning amidst the congested, diluted, uninspired, synthetic blood-filled cesspool that modern horror has become. That being said, I expected nothing less from West who has slowly worked his way to becoming one of the brightest, most inventive, well-versed saviours of the genre. Granted, “The Sacrament” may fit better under the “thriller” label, even if it is only to satisfy the occasional horror die-hard. Nonetheless, this slow-burning walk through hell provides the tension, turbulence, and terror you’d expect from the creator of “The Innkeepers” and “The House of the Devil.”

PLOT:

Jake (Swanberg), Sam (Bowen), and Patrick (Audley) are correspondents for a news affiliate known as Vice. One day, when Patrick receives a strange letter from his sister Caroline (Seimetz), who lives in a sober community as part of her rehab. The three decide to investigate the story surrounding the settlement from which the letter originated. Upon arriving, the group is stunned to see the beauty, serenity, and wholesomeness radiating from the community. However, upon realizing that the settlement has an intelligent, persuasive, charismatic leader whom the people call “Father.” The investigators soon come to understand that everything is not as it appears and that their lives might be in terrible danger.

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Today, where a majority of the genre falters, Ti West and his films, such as “The Sacrament,” impress. It seems nowadays that horror flicks and their creators try their best to separate themselves from any connection to past or present filmmakers and films. They conjure up their own unique premise or murder weapon and simply try to one-up their peers. What this leads to is an intriguing, entertaining first-half to a film that will eventually wind up resorting to cliches and a hackneyed finale. Yet, so far in his career, West seemingly has no problem with being the one to tidy up the genre. His flicks evoke a wonderful sense of nostalgia and lovingly embrace the homage label bestowed upon them. He willingly trades in the buckets of gore, which are currently a standard-issue to all horror filmmakers, for genuine fright, tense situations, and eerie sounds or objects. This is precisely the type of old-school terror you can expect with West’s latest outing. Except, much like his other full-length features, it brandishes a satisfying twist.

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Now, there might not be anything overly original about the style and story West has chosen to utilize in “The Sacrament.” For example. It’s premise orbits around a few journalists who travel a long way to investigate a secluded, cult-like community… essentially nothing we haven’t heard or seen before. Even the found-footage format used to unveil the film’s events is something that’s been eccentrically used and dulled over time. However, while the techniques and tactics employed by West aren’t unheard of or by any means revolutionary. The way in which West manages and manipulates them is anything but conventional. Through the hand-held camera, West better encapsulates the spontaneity, authenticity, and disheartening horror of this faux-documentary. And the moments when you feel as if the scenarios are unfolding right in front of you just further attest to West’s ingenuity and prowess when it comes to handling these common facets.

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The film itself bares a striking resemblance to the 1978 massacre at the settlement of Jonestown, in which 918 people died of cyanide poisoning. The events that took place are widely recognized, however, whether or not the massacre was a mass murder or mass suicide is still very much up for debate. While “The Sacrament” does share similarities with this terribly unfortunate tragedy, West seems to have merely used it as a motivational tool, inspiration if you will. Although some of you may consider this information to be somewhat of a spoiler, I beg to differ. Where the film and its apparent counterpart line up is nothing compared to where the two differentiate. I am simply stating the commonalities between fact and fiction. If you happened to read up on the film at all, the shared traits are fairly obvious…but I digress. If this topic has peeked your interest, I suggest reading into the Jonestown Massacre in preparation for the film.

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Guiding the viewer through this self-proclaimed utopia are some familiar faces. The cast of “The Sacrament” features Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, AJ Bowen, and Gene Jones. And everyone, with the exception of Gene Jones has worked with Ti West on another film in some way. So the chemistry between the cast and director is plentiful and undeniable. Bowen and Swanberg lead the way and maintain the viewers gazes like a magnet, as if they are holding our hand, waking us through and protecting us from harm. The duo is remarkably fascinating to watch as they stroll warily amongst the calm uneasiness, radiating this feeling of impending chaos. Gene Jones, without any doubt gives the best performance. His portrayal of the mentally unstable, abusive, persuasive community leader is hypnotic. You’ll slowly begin to feel yourself gravitate towards his inviting, albeit insane notions, it’s supremely effective. Seimetz is equally as seductive. Her demeanour and beliefs are contagious. Overall, the ensemble really sells the premise and fully deliver unnerving obliviousness.

Despite trailing off into a few familiar, bloody tendencies towards the end. Ti West’s “The Sacrament” is chilling, horrifying, and down-right entertaining.

The Sacrament: 8 out of 10.

Drinking Buddies (2013)

Okay guys, this will be the last post written by me (key words “written by me”) for a little bit. TIFF is officially underway today and I am soon to be on my way downtown for the festivities. So for the next 10 days, I’ll try my best to post reviews for the films I see at the festival as quickly as I can. Look forward to a new segment launching tomorrow. Oh, and let me know what you think of the new site layout/set-up!

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Very rarely does a film so authentically capture the bittersweet, infuriating, and most private moments of a relationship. Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” accomplishes this feat with flying, albeit, melancholic colours through the observation and dissection of multiple, interweaving bodies. Perhaps what’s even more disconcerting than the film industry’s inability to steadily and genuinely recreate films that display such universal emotions, is its refusal to acknowledge and rigorously promote the ones that do. Regardless, “Drinking Buddies” is poignant, funny, and adamant in its portrayal of disheartening, yet rewarding bonds. Tossed in alongside Swanberg’s swift, structural direction and marvellous performances from the entire cast. This whimsical, visceral romantic comedy has overcome its limited release and every obstacle thrown to steal even the most critical cinephiles heart.

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Kate (Wilde) and Luke (Johnson) are good friends and co-workers and at a Chicago brewery. The two spend their days working and the nights drinking with their co-workers and significant others. And even though the two are very flirtatious with one another, they are very devoted and in love with their other halves. Kate is with Chris (Livingston) and Luke is with Jill (Kendrick). While Jill and Luke occasionally discuss marriage, they both agree the timing is not right. Soon, the two couples paths cross and they eventually become good friends. Having planned a weekend at a cottage together, the couples prepare for a night amongst the wilderness, but are soon faced with difficult, life-altering decisions and situations. Trust me, it’s not what you think.

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Granted, there isn’t anything overly unique about the themes or settings, and the story is nothing we haven’t heard before. That being said, much like another dramatic rom-com released earlier this year entitled “The Way Way Back.” The familiarity and well-intended cliches sprinkled, intentionally throughout “Drinking Buddies” are overrun by subtle quips, endearing circumstances, and situational laughs carried out by enthralling, relatable characters and heavy, yet luminescent direction. Writer and director Joe Swanberg is superlative both behind the camera and on paper. This results in his most mature, complete offering to date, which is without question, his best. “Drinking Buddies” might come off a bit bland, appear uneventful, and the ending a little too ambiguous for those diluted by the horrid, hackneyed mainstream rom-coms. Nonetheless, to those who can handle the reality of looking in a mirror, “Drinking Buddies” is nothing short of spectacular.

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What I find to be the most original and well-utilized aspect of “Drinking Buddies” is Swanberg’s ability to poke fun at our vulnerability and stupidity as we succumb to this illusive, complex, intangible cohesiveness called love. Which, by the way, Swanberg portrays effectively and genuinely. I mean, he isn’t simply degrading what ultimately gives our life meaning without direction or purpose. The hilarity throughout “Drinking Buddies” has definition and is a “funny because it’s true” type of humour. While openly mocking our most weak, honest selves might seem a tad cruel. This film and its easily accessed connectivity is a much needed release, I’d even go as far as to brand it a muse. Although not out-loud, body-aching knee-slappers. Swanberg’s comedic prowess evokes an array of reaction and emotion that bewilders, uplifts, and saddens.

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Speaking of cohesiveness, it is something Swanberg and his brilliant cast ooze with. Starring the striking Olivia Wilde and graceful Anna Kendrick alongside the flexible, yet formidable duo of Ron Livingston and Jake Johnson. “Drinking Buddies” has performers and performances that radiate with talent and believability.

Undeniably, Olivia Wilde steals the show. She’s funny, smart, beautiful, heartbreaking, just to name a few off the top of my head. I hate to sound like I’m firing off a list of cliched personality traits used in every romantic comedy ever, but I can’t deprive you of the truth. Jake Johnson is nearly as impressive as Wilde, but is outdone, minimally albeit. His performance bursts with the wonder and yearning of a kid in love, mid free-fall. Everything about him is relatable, truthful, hilarious, and empathetic. Anna Kendrick is massively effective in her supporting role. No matter how enraged and disappointed you feel towards her character, she always lures you back into understanding and leaves you completely smitten. Livingston, although the least used, arguably provokes the most diverse reactions. He gives a phenomenal, thorough performance without hesitation or regret.

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Sweet, honest, and utterly entrancing. Joe Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” is the sleeper hit of 2013.

Drinking Buddies: 9 out of 10.

You’re Next (2013)

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What do you get when you “blend” gallons of gore, a clever story, and pitch-black humour? A rip-roaring, brain-scrambling, lung-aching comedic blood-fest that’ll give your entire body a run for its money. If this happens to sound like your diabolical, twisted, hemorrhaging cup of tea. Watch “Your Next” at a local theatre and drink in the laughs, carnage, and fear until you get your fix. Which shouldn’t take too long considering this abhorrent, funny, and down-right disgusting nightmare is oozing with all the necessary, horrifying accoutrement. This soon-to-be cult favourite puts its own unique stamp on home invasion flicks. And although there isn’t much presented that’ll revolutionize, when the hunters become the hunted, redefining the genre is the last thing on any given horror enthusiasts mind. With a classic, almost giallo feel and an absolutely awesome soundtrack. “You’re Next” is a strong contender for horror flick of the year.

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A wealthy family heads up to their remote vacation house to celebrate the parents anniversary. Each sibling has brought their loved one with them and the first evening is spent getting to know one another. At dinner, things begin to unravel when sibling rivalries and jealousy works its way into the meal. When things get heated, one of the guests is murdered by an unknown assailant. Little does the family realize that they are being hunted and their night of terror has just begun.

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It’s rather difficult to summarize the tension, violence, and gory substance of “You’re Next” into perspective. Every aspect sort of congeals together to such an extreme satisfaction that these facets now, somehow transcend all definition and memory to become something you’ve never experienced before. The genuine effectiveness of the onslaught, ferocity, and expelling of human innards is nearly unprecedented. It seems as if every five minutes your looking away or cringing, not out of terror, but gleeful disgust. The viewer is so willing to abandon all morality just to urge on the brutal assault and keep the ending of human lives progressing. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when mayhem, bloodshed, and disconcertion was so tasteful. Never has watching continuous murder and being subjected to physical torture been so much fun. “You’re Next” perfectly encapsulates what horror is and should always be.

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During the first five minutes, my bud, who normal despises watching horror films, turns to me and says “I guess they’re just gonna get right to it,” which made me chuckle…but the laughs didn’t stop there. The hilarity is paced and constant throughout “You’re Next,” but make no mistake, it is the darkest of humour and is definitely not for everyone. Which shouldn’t really surprise anyone considering that writer Simon Barrett knows his target audience fairly well and tends to stick to what he does best. That being said, “You’re Next” is without question his best outing to date. Barrett’s bizarre, witty, and savage script is devilishly captivating. And although the story isn’t overly original, it is definitely unique. Littered with quips, brute force, and what seems like an endless stream of unrivalled kills and household murder weapons. Barrett’s melodramatic family never stood a chance, much to the delight of viewers everywhere.

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As much as the violence, story, and laughs are left up to the scribe, the tension and overall effectiveness of the screenplay is placed in the hands of the director. “You’re Next” is fortunate to have such an imaginative and ruthless writer like Simon Barrett and a firm, visonary director of Adam Wingard’s caliber. The two play off each other extremely well, which is why the film is so abundantly successful. Throughout “You’re Next,” I lost count of how many times Wingard’s excellent camerawork spawned an unbearable amount of strain and nervousness. He doesn’t just capture the imagery amongst the carnage and destruction. Wingard absorbs it through the lens and expels it with meaning purpose. A truly magnificent job done by the pair, both on and off screen. I also want to mention “You’re Next’s” outstanding soundtrack. It has this old-school, slasher feel to it which melds perfectly with Barrett and Wingard’s visuals.

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Rarely does a film rely so heavily on the collective performances of its ensemble instead of individual bright spots. “You’re Next” is a terrific example of how a casts ability to invest, collaborate, and perform as a singular unit benefits the general efficiency and power of the films material. In all honesty, apart from Sharni Vinson and Joe Swanberg, it’s nearly impossible to differentiate the strength in performances of the supporting cast. Seeing as they’re all so equally outstanding and potent. The group doesn’t force the humour, terror, or violence either, every aspect of their portrayals is smooth and authentic. That being said, without question Sharni Vinson is the shining star here. Her performance supersedes all others and should be enough to launch her into the mainstream. As for Joe Swanberg, he is so incredibly and consistently frustrating and hilarious, it’s insanely hard not to give him kudos.

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Bloody, violent, and decidedly funny, “You’re Next” is further proof that the genre isn’t dying.

You’re Next: 8.5 out of 10.