Jason Coffman’s Top 20 for 2013

| January 14, 2014

So here’s my Top 20 for 2013. As always, this is not some kind of attempt at an objective “Best Films of 2013,” these are my personal 20 favorite films that were released in 2013 in the States (theatrical, VOD, cable, whatever) that I actually watched during 2013. If I didn’t see it during the year, it’s not eligible for my list. Them’s the rules! And now, on with the show:

20. You’re Next (dir. Adam Wingard, USA)
A dysfunctional family–Mom, Dad, four adult siblings and their significant others–gather at a remote house for the parents’ 35th anniversary. Dinner quickly devolves into squabbling, then yelling, and then somebody gets an arrow in the forehead from someone stalking outside in the darkness. The game is on, but the deck is not as stacked as it first seems. You’re Next is a refreshing take on the “home invasion” horror sub genre that does two things very well: first, the cast is great, and the relationships between the characters and who they are are actually important. These aren’t just a bunch of punching bags (like the forgettable cast of the Evil Dead remake), they’re a believable family, which raises the stakes and makes it matter when one of them gets picked off by the vicious attackers. Secondly, the film introduces a character who keeps their head and tries to deal intelligently with the situation, a twist that completely changes the dynamic of the standard “home invasion” formula. This kind of film, like the slasher, usually so rigidly adheres to genre norms that any tweaks to expectations can be exciting. You’re Next starts off as a great, bleakly funny family drama and then transitions into something else entirely, and the results are exhilarating.


19. American Hustle (dir. David O. Russell, USA)
It’s kind of a shame that Russell wasn’t able to keep this film’s original working title, American Bullshit, because while “Hustle” is certainly appropriate enough, “Bullshit” more eloquently conveys exactly what’s going on here. Loud, brash, and hilarious, this is a movie that runs on coked-out showboating on every level. The cast is fantastic, and everyone looks like they’re having the time of their lives: Bradley Cooper as a desperate, manic FBI agent looking to make a name for himself at the expense of everything else in his life, Christian Bale as a bald, overweight, extremely charismatic hustler, Amy Adams as his mistress sporting a fake British accent (and an amazing wardrobe), and Jennifer Lawrence as Bale’s unbalanced young wife. Anchoring these four central performances are Louis CK in a surprising straight-man role and Jeremy Renner as a well-meaning politician who gets caught up in Cooper’s increasingly outlandish schemes. The costumes and music are incredible–if you like Electric Light Orchestra, this is probably going to end up on your year-end list, too–and the chemistry between the cast members is intoxicating.


18. Tabu (dir. Miguel Gomes, Portugal)
Miguel Gomes lifted the title of this film from a classic F. W. Murnau feature, Tabu: A Story of the South Seas. It’s an appropriate reference point for an entrancing, beautiful film that feels timeless. After an opening sequence involving a strange fable, the film opens in present day where Aurora (Laura Soveral) is compelled to return to a distant chapter in her life and track down the man she fell in love with while living in Africa. The second half of the film is the story of the young lovers, Aurora (played here by Ana Moreira) and Ventura (Carloto Cotta). Once the action moves to Africa (and the past), the film falls into a languid, sensual rhythm that is spellbinding. As if this wasn’t enough, Gomes manages to make the Ramones cover of “Baby, I Love You” fit seamlessly into this exotic black & white world.


17. Stoker (dir. Chan-wook Park, USA)
If I had to have guessed what Chan-wook Park’s first English-language film would be, I would never, ever, ever, ever have guessed it would be a creepy incestuous soap opera about a mother and daughter vying for the attentions of a man who is obviously a dangerous sociopath after the man of their house dies. Actually seeing Stoker, of course, was the missing piece of the puzzle: this film could have only been made by Park. The closest analogue in his previous work to what he does in Stoker may be “Cut,” his entry in the first 3 Extremes film, although dialed back a bit from the dizzying insanity into which that film descends (ascends?). Park’s style is in evidence in every frame of Stoker, with its saturated colors and strange scene transitions, as well as in the wildly dramatic performances. The elegance of Stoker‘s visual aesthetic tends to undercut the sinister goings-on in such a way that many film fans are hesitant to label it a “horror” film, but that’s about as close to any kind of simple genre classification as the film is likely to land. The film does sit rather uncomfortably in that genre pigeonhole, though, a curious amalgamation of parts as unique and compelling as the catalog of what its heroine wears as described in the film’s closing moments.
(Although it is completely unrelated, I do feel that Kim Jee-woon’s The Last Stand is worth noting here as an example of another Korean filmmaker tackling his first English-language film with somewhat less success. This may be at least partially due to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is pretty terrible for about half the film’s running time. I don’t know if they shot the film in chronological order and he was just getting warmed up from not making a movie for a reeeeeeally long time or what, but he did seem to get better as the film went on. The final act (the “last stand” of the title) is pretty spectacular, but the lead-in was not terribly interesting. Neither Stoker nor The Last Stand were big hits, so who knows whether either director will be returning to English-language filmmaking any time soon.)


16. We Are What We Are (dir. Jim Mickle, USA)
Jim Mickle’s Mulberry St. and Stake Land are already two classics of independent horror from the last decade, so to say that expectations for his third film were high would be a serious understatement. Many horror fans were shocked to learn that Mickle’s next project would not be another original screenplay, but a remake of the critically-acclaimed 2010 Mexican film Somos lo que hay (released in the U.S. under the English title We Are What We Are). However, Mickle did with this remake exactly what was expected of him to do: he made it his own. Transplanting the action of the original film from urban Mexico to the rural American Northeast, Mickle’s version of We Are What We Are plays out like a Southern gothic, its isolated family near the end of its bloodline, following their long-established rituals. Mickle and his regular cinematographer Ryan Samul give We Are What We Are a muted, gray palette that effectively conveys the chill of the endless rain that falls nearly the entire film, and the hopeless repetition of the days of its sister protagonists (Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner, both excellent) leading to their annual ritual. Bill Sage is amazing and all but unrecognizable as the girls’ father, and Michael Parks turns in a great supporting performance as the local coroner. This is serious, dramatic horror, and about as good as the genre gets.


15. Inside Llewyn Davis (dir. Ethan & Joel Coen, USA)
Generally speaking, if the Coen Brothers release a film in any given year, it’s probably going on my top films list. I’m a huge fan of these guys (although I still have not taken the plunge and watched The Ladykillers. Someday, I swear!), and more often than not I find their films resonate with me in unexpected ways. This was certainly the case with Inside Llewyn Davis. I was surprised by the directions that the story had taken, and unsure how to feel about the film, but I immediately wanted to watch it again. There is something different here, although the film and its characters are firmly rooted in Coen Brothers territory. It wasn’t until I read a discussion of the film in which one of the writers explained how they saw it as a film about grief and loss that I realized what it was that made Inside Llewyn Davis so different from much of the Coens’ other work: despite the trials and humiliations Davis goes through (or, more accurately, that the Brothers put him through), there is a level at which they deeply sympathize with him. That’s not to say they go soft on him, of course; the Coens have never been sentimental.  But under the bluster and misplaced priorities, Davis is a man who has lost someone close to him, who struggles with his art and its place in his life, and who can only learn lessons the hardest way possible. It may be a bit presumptuous to assume there is more of Joel and Ethan in Davis than they’d like to admit, but it’s no question that there’s a bit of Davis in anyone who has looked at something they have created and wondered if it’s worth it.


14. Vanishing Waves (dir. Kristina Buozyte, Lithuania)
Vanishing Waves gathered tremendous acclaim during its 2012 festival run, and for good reason: it’s the kind of throwback to 1970s “science fiction” that reminds people what the term used to mean. Mainstream modern science fiction is all about massive scale and stuff blowing up; the kind of “science fiction” film that actually sparks discussion and thought has been almost exclusively the domain of independent cinema since the rise of the Marvel blockbuster. 2013 saw a slight uptick in interesting, thoughtful science fiction films, all very different from one another in tone and subject, but Vanishing Waves is the one most closely related to that 70s sci-fi aesthetic that is so frequently mourned by cinephiles. Lukas (Marius Jampolskis) is a sexually frustrated research scientist in a long-term relationship who has volunteered for an ambitious project in which his consciousness will be linked to that of a comatose subject to see if he can make contact with them. The first trip does not go well, but with some tweaks the second trip goes much better than anyone could have imagined. Lukas meets a beautiful young woman (Jurga Jutaite), and the two soon begin a passionate affair in this strange dream-space while Lukas becomes more and more obsessed with learning who the patient is, falsifying his reports to postpone the end of the experiment. There is plenty of striking surrealist imagery here, the soundtrack and sound design is top-notch, and the film closes with a pair of very long single shots that powerfully sum up everything that has come before. If I have a nitpick about the film, it’s that it may be a tad too straight-faced for its own good, but that somewhat dour tone perfectly complements the film’s tone and content. Huge thanks to Artsploitation Films for taking a chance on this and bringing it to the States!


13. The Battery (dir. Jeremy Gardner, USA)
I’m sick to death of zombie movies. Reviewing independent, mostly genre films for Film Monthly over the last five years or so, I’ve seen a hell of a lot of zombies. Staying up with the horror scene means being aware of a lot more zombie movies that I’ll never see (fingers crossed). And just at the height of my complete disgust, the point at which I could literally not watch one more damned zombie movie, I saw Jeremy Gardner’s The Battery, and I found myself evangelizing to other film fans about it. About a zombie movie. “I’m sick of zombie movies,” they almost all responded, verbatim, when I would start to tell them about it. I KNOW. Trust me, I know. We’re all in the same boat, people. And that’s why we all need to see The Battery, as a reminder that you can take the most tired-ass, overused, cheapjack horror trope and make a great, funny, genuinely exciting film by taking a fresh approach to the material. Writer/director Gardner stars along with Adam Cronheim as Ben and Mickey, respectively, two men making their way carefully across a post-apocalyptic America by staying away from urban areas and following strict rules of survival. Ben kills zombies, hunts, and basically does everything important; Mickey spends most of his time listening to cds on his portable disc player and wishing things would go back to the way they were before. The interplay between the two men is hugely important, since they’re pretty much the only people on-screen for the entire movie, and luckily Gardner and Cronheim are great together. The lackadaisical pace of The Battery makes it one of the few post-apocalypse films that suggests there may be some simple pleasures left after civilization collapses, although its daring final act thoroughly underlines the dangers of such a situation as well. Taking some big chances and a fresh approach to a severely overdone sub genre, The Battery is not only one of the best independent horror films of the past year, but one of the best films of the year, period.


12. Computer Chess (dir. Andrew Bujalski, USA)
When word first got out about Computer Chess, I was excited about it. I’ve still not seen director Bujalski’s previous films, but this sounded really interesting and much different from his previous work, and the early clips and trailers only added to the anticipation. So it was some surprise that immediately after watching the film, I had absolutely no idea what to think about it. Whatever you might be expecting from Computer Chess, it’s probably for the best that you put those expectations aside, because they are probably for a very different movie than Computer Chess actually is. It would have been pretty easy for Bujalski to make a zany comedy about super-nerds of the early 80’s, but instead he approaches the concept from a totally different angle. Shot (with ancient broadcast video cameras) as a sort of pseudo-documentary following the hardcore computer nerds who gather at a Midwest hotel for an annual computer chess tournament in the early 1980s, the film spends a good amount of time just observing the characters while they tweak their programs and hang out with each other. There are touches of the surreal, but for the most part, Computer Chess is an uncanny replication of a very specific point in the history of home computing and a sometimes uncomfortable examination of the kind of obsessives who defined the popular concept of the computer programmer. It’s the kind of film that blindsides you and gets better (and funnier) the more you think about it.


11. Behind the Candelabra (dir. Steven Soderberg, USA)
Matt Damon in Behind the Candelabra
Very possibly the funniest movie of the year, Behind the Candelabra may mark the end of Steven Soderbergh’s filmmaking career. If so, he’s definitely quitting while he’s way, way ahead. For whatever reason, Soderbergh was unable to find people willing to back this film until he took the project to HBO, and its release straight to cable disqualified the film from not only a number of major awards, but from many critics’ “Best of” lists. Ever the innovator, Soderbergh has proven that a straight-to-cable film can be absolutely on par with (or considerably better than) most other major-studio Hollywood releases. The production design is incredible, really conveying the sense that Liberace had more money than he could have possibly spent. However, as spot-on as the design, costumes, and other technical aspects may be, the whole thing would have fallen apart without strong lead performances to hold it all together. Michael Douglas and Matt Damon both give fantastic performances, often funny but also touching. Douglas in particular is amazing as Liberace, and one of Soderbergh’s best touches here is to remind the audience that Liberace was not just a crazy showman obsessed with excess, but truly an amazing technically adept piano player. As good as those lead performances are, Rob Lowe nearly steals the whole movie as Liberace’s personal plastic surgeon, impossibly bronzed and with a face that can barely move. He’s a great foil to the serious relationship at the film’s center, which is believable even as its almost unbelievable absurdities continue to pile up.

10. Only God Forgives (dir. Nicholas Winding Refn, Denmark)
Casting Ryan Gosling in a similar role to the one he played in Drive was just one clever bit of misdirection on the part of director Nicholas Winding Refn’s approach to Only God Forgives, which plays such brutal havoc with audience expectations you half-expect to see Michael Haneke credited in the film somewhere. The plot line (and title) sounds like a Michael Dudikoff vehicle from the late 80s, but Refn’s approaches the material from a completely unexpected direction: it’s American Ninja 4: The Humiliation, directed by David Lynch as the first half of Lost Highway, all creepy empty space and dark hallways abruptly dead-ending in eruptions of either graphic violence or musical performance (maudlin karaoke ballads replacing frenzied jazz, befitting the more subdued tone). Refn uses these concepts as a way to examine the cyclical nature of revenge and the circumstances that drive people to violent behavior, and how that violence can doom anyone it touches.


9. Eega (dir. S.S. Rajamouli & J.V.V. Sathyanarayana, India)
There are plenty of revenge films, and no shortage of films about vengeance from beyond the grave, but I have to hand it to Eega: this is the first film I’m aware of in which someone is reincarnated as a housefly to gain revenge on their murderer. This being a Bollywood film, the first hour is all setup and musical numbers, so anyone not accustomed to the style is advised to stick with it, because that last hour is truly unbelievable. Sudeep gives a great performance as the crime boss who finds himself terrorized by a common housefly, starting the film off calm and suave and slowly descending into paranoia until he’s literally locked his house airtight to keep the bugs out. The CGI housefly is realistic enough to sell the concept, but not enough to be uncomfortable to empathize with as a hero, and the end-credits musical number sang by the fly is pretty spectacular. Bollywood or no, there’s nothing out there quite like Eega, and that’s high praise anyway. The fact that the film is also hugely entertaining is a nice bonus.


8. Blancanieves (dir. Pablo Berger, Spain)
This was a great year for throwbacks to the distant reaches of cinema history, with Miguel Gomes’s Tabu invoking Murnau’s island romance and Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves, a gorgeous silent fantasy recasting Snow White as the cursed daughter of a legendary bullfighter. Antonio Villalta (Daniel Giménez Cacho) is the greatest bullfighter alive, but the day his daughter Carmen is born (and his wife dies in childbirth), his career ends due to a tragic accident. He later remarries Encarna (Maribel Verdú), who moves in to Villalta’s mansion and separates the little girl from her father, although they manage to steal time together so he can teach the girl the art of bullfighting. After Antonio dies, Encarna orders her chauffeur to murder Carmen (Macarena García), but she manages to escape and takes up with a band of dwarves and their traveling sideshow, where she becomes famous as a female bullfighter. Blancanieves adheres strictly to the form and structure of silent cinema, and as such is a much more convincing replica of the era than Michel Hazanavicius’s The Artist, to which it is frequently compared, although other than evoking the silent era the films have little in common. Berger’s film is closer in spirit to Guy Maddin’s exploration of silent-era techniques, although its look is sharper and cleaner than most of Maddin’s work (before Keyhole, anyway). Absolutely essential viewing for anyone who truly loves cinema.


7. Antiviral (dir. Brandon Cronenberg, Canada)
Inexplicably, 2013 was the year for Bret Easton Ellis at the movies. Sure, there was The Canyons, actually written by Ellis, but films from The Bling Ring to the indie “found footage” horror film Upper brought the style and obsessions of Ellis’s best work to the big screen like never before. By far the best of these, however, was Brandon Cronenberg’s Antiviral, which managed the neat trick of being a vicious satire of celebrity culture and a horror film with a basic concept so intensely off-putting that even hardcore horror audiences gave the film a wide berth during the film’s brief theatrical run. This is a shame, as Antiviral was easily the best horror film of the year, all jet-black humor and cold technical precision. Every frame of Antiviral was obviously carefully composed, giving the film a classic look utterly unlike the legions of hand-held cameras most horror films opt for today. The major criticism I heard from friends who didn’t enjoy the film is that none of the characters acted in a recognizably human manner; I don’t disagree, but I don’t see that as a fault. Antiviral is almost less a film than a museum piece, every aspect of it designed to further distance the viewer from the (uncomfortably recognizable) world it presents.


6. Upstream Color (dir. Shane Carruth, USA)
Shane Carruth’s filmmaking debut Primer was one of my favorite films of the last decade, a time-travel story that presented the concept as a mundane reality, discovered by two friends who barely know what they’ve stumbled upon and whose simple attempts to get a handle on what they’ve made still have mind-bending results. Aside from some simple effects, Primer was mostly shot and presented in a straightforward, almost utilitarian fashion on 16mm film; Carruth was clearly more interested in ideas than in visual flair or much of a personal directorial style. After years of rumors and false starts, 2013 finally saw the release of his second film, and it could not have been more of a shock. Eschewing Primer‘s comparatively simple design, structure, and look, Upstream Color presents a storyline that is much simpler (relatively speaking) than Primer, but is told in a completely different way. In sharp contrast to Primer‘s gray, grainy, low-fi look, Carruth shot Upstream Color digitally, taking advantage of the many different lenses and techniques the format can use more cheaply that shooting on film. The result is a beautiful, vibrant color palette that bursts off the screen, instantly marking Upstream Color as something apart from Primer. Many viewers seem to think that Upstream Color is a “puzzle film,” but that’s not necessarily the case. Carruth offers up all the information the viewer needs to put the storyline together on a first watch (although there’s little doubt that further viewings will be rewarding) as long as they pay close attention to the film. Upstream Color is a strange, beautiful film that confirms Carruth as a major new talent, one who insists on engaging audiences on his own term, and who makes the effort well worth it. I can hardly wait to see what he does next, and I hope it doesn’t take another decade to find out.


5. 12 Years a Slave (dir. Steve McQueen, USA)
There’s “oscar bait,” the sort of readymade awards show fodder that seems to serve no other real purpose, and there are “prestige pictures,” which studios often crank out in the hopes of raising their profile as purveyors of Serious Art. 12 Years a Slave sounds like a textbook example of this kind of film, but instead it’s something much more. It actually does fulfill those purposes–it has difficult subject matter, it focuses on the strength of the human spirit in the face of unbelievable adversity, it has a cast of well-known and respected actors and an up-and-coming director–but it is also made with a deep seriousness and artful sensibility that make it one of those rare “prestige pictures” that is a genuinely great film. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives the single best performance of the year in the lead as Solomon Northrup, an incredibly affecting and powerful masterclass in agonizing restraint and repressed hope. The horrors of slavery are depicted in excruciating detail: a sequence in which Solomon is hung from a low branch for an entire day, barely keeping himself alive by standing on the tips of his toes, while around him the rest of the plantation goes about life as usual is particularly harrowing. All this horror makes Solomon’s unflagging hope all the more amazing. It’s brutal, and exhausting, but it’s also the model of what makes a truly great big-studio film.


4. It’s Such a Beautiful Day (dir. Don Hertzfeldt, USA)
Hertzfeldt is probably still best known as the creator of “Rejected,” an Academy Award-nominated short film that compiles a series of increasingly bizarre commercials he created that were never used by the people who commissioned them. However, he has also been creating a series of films featuring a character named Bill, whose mental state deteriorates over the course of the films. Hertzfeldt completed this cycle of films and put them together as the feature It’s Such a Beautiful Day, which played the festival circuit in 2012 before being released online through Vimeo in 2013. Hertzfeldt created everything on the screen himself, and performs all the narration in the films. There is some incredibly beautiful imagery throughout It’s Such a Beautiful Day that Hertzfeldt created entirely without the assistance of a computer, going the Stan Brakhage route instead. The result is a funny, heartbreaking, and deeply personal film, and one of the purest expressions of a single artist’s vision in narrative cinema.


3. Her (dir. Spike Jonze, USA)

The initial word on Spike Jonze’s fourth feature, early in its production, was that it was to be a “comedy” about a guy who “falls in love with Siri” (the virtual assistant software with the distinctive female voice–at least in North America). This did not sound promising. Thankfully, whoever managed to get that tiny bit of information out was spectacularly misinformed. Her has moments of humor, but I would be hard-pressed to categorize it as a “comedy.” Instead, it’s a low-key science-fiction story about a man named Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) who lives in a near future who falls in love with his computer operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johannsen), a program as far removed in its sophistication from Siri as Siri is from the hole-punch software used in ancient room-sized computers. The commercial advertising this software (called “OS One” in the film) is both funny and unsettling: in it, a large group of people wearing worried looks stumble around in a desert, seemingly unaware of each other, alone and angry. This ominous undercurrent runs throughout Her, which accepts the idea of a computer program that can dynamically evolve its own personality like a human being, but which retains the capabilities of a networked computer. Like Inside Llewyn DavisHer is at its core about loss. When we meet Theodore at the beginning of the film, he is putting off signing his divorce papers because he “like(s) being married,” although he has not lived with his wife for almost a year. Unlike Llewyn Davis, though, Theodore is aware that his loss makes him less than whole, and he is tentatively searching for a relationship to complete him again. He enters into a relationship with Samantha (his OS’s chosen name) almost by accident, without considering the potential complications of having a relationship with a consciousness capable of reading a book in fractions of a second and carrying on thousands of conversations at a time. As their relationship evolves, Her moves into darker territory, but never loses sight of its core humanity. There are a lot of things in play throughout Her, and Jonze handles them adeptly. But where the Coen Brothers pull back from any semblance of sentimentality, Jonze dives in headlong, ending Her on a note that inspires both a narrowly-focused hope for Theodore (who, like Davis, learns a very hard lesson) and, more broadly, an unavoidable dread of a world in which “Samantha”-level technology exists and what its implications might be.


2. Laurence Anyways (dir. Xavier Dolan, Canada)
I suppose it makes sense that Blue is the Warmest Color, a similarly epic examination of a non-traditional couple over the course of many years, is the film people are talking about more this year than Xavier Dolan’s Laurence AnywaysBlue is the story of a pair of beautiful young women who fall passionately in love, their story punctuated by explicit sex scenes that have gained the film a tremendous amount of attention, although to be fair the performances by both of the leads are excellent and the film is absolutely worth watching. On the other hand, Laurence Anyways follows a traditional hetero couple in their 30s from just before the point when Laurence (Melvill Poupaud) decides to become a woman with the hesitant support of his committed girlfriend Fred (Suzanne Clément) through the next decade of their tumultuous relationship. Dolan ups the ante by making Laurence Anyways a period piece that opens in the late 80s and ends around the turn of the century, delighting in period dress and hairstyles (he has a credit for designing costumes in addition to writing and directing) and perversely shooting the film in a square 4:3 aspect ratio that often feels like it can barely contain everything happening on the screen. And there is a lot happening: where Blue often feels almost documentary in its straightforward visual style, Laurence is bursting with the sheer joy of cinema. Vibrant colors, perfect production design, an amazing soundtrack (rivaled this year only by The World’s End, which still doesn’t even come close), on-screen text and touches of the surreal are all layered on top of the fantastic performances by Poupaud and (especially) Clément, everything propelling the lovers ever onward. Dolan, insanely talented and accomplished already in his early 20s, has already created a masterpiece: gorgeous, powerful, and undeniably aliveLaurence Anyways makes this specific story feel universal. It’s probably (attempting to speak somewhat objectively) the best film I saw this year, and it was damn near my favorite, too. It is absolutely criminal that such an amazing film managed only the barest art-house theatrical release before being picked up by micro-indie Breaking Glass Pictures for home video release. Do yourself a favor: Buy this film and watch it on the biggest screen with the loudest sound system possible, with as many people as you can get in one room to watch it with you.


1. Spring Breakers (dir. Harmony Korine, USA)
When word first got out that Harmony Korine was making “a spring break movie” starring former Disney channel stars, confusion reigned. Already a big fan of Korine’s earlier work (especially the totally unique Trash Humpers), I was on board from the start. I was anxious to see what Korine was going to do. I can now say with 100% certainty that any expectations I might have had were completely confounded by the final product: I don’t think anyone could have predicted thisSpring Breakers is pure cinema narcotic: it comes on like someone found a lost Russ Meyer script, hired Abel Ferrarra to do a rewrite, and managed to knock out a movie that sounds like Drive, looks like Enter the Void, and is edited like The Tree of Life. With all the apocalypse comedies that were released this year, it’s easy to miss the fact that Spring Breakers is the best of them, among any number of other things it may or may not be. Korine approached the film much in the same way David Lynch did Inland Empire, treating images and lines of dialogue more like recurring musical motifs than for the simple conveying of information and advancement of story. The result is a straightforward narrative structured like a mirror dropped, shattered, and put back more or less in the way it looked in the first place, but with pieces out of place giving the film weird, unexpected resonances and juxtapositions of image and meaning (or the implication of meaning). Anyone so inclined will find plenty to chew on in Spring Breakers, although it works just fine as a ridiculous escapist entertainment, largely thanks to James Franco’s completely bonkers performance as Alien, a totally incompetent white rapper whose day job is selling drugs and trying to muscle in on the territory of his former best friend Archie (Gucci Mane in a very memorable supporting role). It’s impossible to start watching Spring Breakers without sitting through to the final, perfect shot, which is always the mark of an all-time favorite. God only knows what Korine might do next, but it hardly matters: he has officially achieved cinematic immortality as “the guy who made Spring Breakers.”

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom

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