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January

Ode to the Steambox by Matthew Nienow

[the shortlist]

Best Line:

That arch and bridge
will form a shape of repentance.
-Fanny Howe from Three Persons

February

The Last Time I Slept in This Bed by Sara Peters

[the shortlist]

Best Line:

The poetry of the earth never ceases
Ceasing
-Dan Beachy-Quick from The Cricket and the Grasshopper

March

Sonnet by Anthony Opal

[the shortlist]

Best Line:

Across the road our neighbor starts his truck
while God, feather by feather, downs a wren
-Bruce Snider, Devotions

April

A Chair in Snow by Jane Hirshfeild

[the shortlist]

Best Line:

I’d love to be the silk-shimmer

against the curve of anyone’s arm
-Jamaal May from Hum for the Bolt

May

The Day by Geoffrey Brock

[the shortlist]

Best Line:

Now the lovers’ mouths are open-
maybe the miracle’s about to start
-Peter Coal from Song of the Shattering Vessels

June

june2013_cover_360

Landays translated by Eliza Griswold

July/August

A Thank-You Note by Michael Ryan

[the shortlist]

Best Line:

We kiss on lips, where the tenses attach.
-Christina Davis from Mankindness

September

Thicket by Atsuro Riley

[the shortlist]

Best Line:

dark furlings of
tiny church feelings
-Meghan O’Rourke from  Sun In Days

October

Summer by Heather Christle

[the shortlist]

Best Line:

Water skips
undressed
over outcrops
-Tom Pickard from Prologue

November

Snake Oil, Snake Bite by Dilruba Ahmed

[the shortlist]

Best Line:

in the earth a corpse snapped
God’s rope
-Fady Joudah from Tell Life

December

Trying Fourleggedness by Rebecca Hazelton

[the shortlist]

Best Line:

I was like you once, he added, in love with turbulence.
-Louise Gluck from Aboriginal Landscape

The guidelines:

  • Any movie viewed in the year 2013 that I haven’t seen before qualifies for the list.
  • I balance artistic merit with a swinging good time.
  • In order of importance I rank artistic brilliance, “re-view-ability” and only then “a swinging good time”.
  • I do twelve top movies. Consider it cinema calendrics.
  • I never agree with my rankings three months down the road, but this list is at least a first impression ranking.

1. To the Wonder (2013, Terrence Malick)

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To the Wonder is not the visceral punch that Tree of Life was, but it shows that Malick is still at the top of his game. Click here for my review.

2. Gravity (2013, Alfonso Cuaron)

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Gravity is perhaps the most perfectly constructed action film of all time. It is the climax of the genre. Click here for my thought on it.

3. Prince Avalanche (2013, David Gordon Green)

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I once said “Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice and shame on Paul Rudd for making more movies.” I can happily separate this film from Rudd’s typical fair. My review is here.

4. Eternity and a Day (2003, Theo Angelopoulos)

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Theo Angelopoulos, whose The Weeping Meadow is among my favorites of all time, is a master. Every image is haunting, mythical, rich and worth as many eyes as the world has got.

5. Francis Ha (2013, Noah Baumbach)

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Woody Allen once said “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Francis, I am pleased to add, laughs with him.

6. Los Cronoscrimenes (2007, Nacho Vigalondo)

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Timetravel movies are tricky particularly in making us care since Time is a key aspect to drama: exactly what the genre tinkers with, but Los Cronoscrimenes shifts the focus to freedom and morality. It’s a sticky and sinister film.

7. [TIE] The Bling Ring (2013, Sofia Coppola),

and The Virgin Suicides (1999, Sofia Coppola)

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As a fan of Eugenides (who wrote the novel on which the movie is based) and as one who is mesmerized by whatever Coppola films, The Virgin Suicides has been on my must watch list forever. It is a testament to Coppola’s skill that I don’t hate her movies despite using protagonists that I wouldn’t care about at all.I don’t know why The Bling Ring is sticking with me. It doesn’t matter how shallow Coppola’s characters are or how far they descend into stupidity, she does magic before your very eyes.

8. Much Ado About Nothing (2012, Joss Whedon)

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Whedon is always good for some fun, but his take on the Shakespeare comedy was surprisingly thoughtful. Nearly every shift from the source text was fruitful and enlightening. Some of the staging was off, as was some of the goofing, but overall a pleasing remake.

9. After Earth (2013, M. Night Shyamalan)

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It’s cool to bag on M.N. Shyamalan now, but I found After Earth to be a tightly wound flick. With so many big action flicks clueless about the use of a flashback (Pacific Rim, Man of Steel) it was nice to see one tied nicely to the macrostory.

10. Attenberg (2010, Athina Rachel Tsangari)

written and directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari

I have a thing for Greek filmmakers. The awkward, funny, bizarre, heartfelt and soulcrushing Attenberg by Tsangari (producer of the grotesque, terrifying, hilarious, sad Dogtooth)

11. World War Z

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A competent popcorn flick.

•    Shoot in available natural light
•    Do not underexpose the negative Keep true blacks
•    Preserve the latitude in the image
•    Seek maximum resolution and fine grain
•    Seek depth with deep focus and stop: “Compose in depth”
•    Shoot in backlight for continuity and depth
•    Use negative fill to avoid “light sandwiches” (even sources on both sides)
•    Shoot in crosslight only after dawn or before dusk; never front light
•    Avoid lens flares
•    Avoid white and primary colors in frame
•    Shoot with short-focal-length, hard lenses
•    No filters except Polarizer
•    Shoot with steady handheld or Steadicam “in the eye of the hurricane”
•    Z-axis moves instead of pans or tilts
•    No zooming
•    Do some static tripod shots “in midst of our haste”
•    Accept the exception to the dogma (“Article E”)

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David Gordon Green, with his debut feature George Washington ensconced in the Criterion Collection, seemed poised to be the next great American filmmaker. His second feature, All the Real Girls, built on that promise, launching careers and further superlatives, and his third, Undertow, was produced by his hero and reigning American auteur Terrence Malick. His career as the next serious filmmaker seemed set until a string of studio pot-smokin comedies, Pineapple Express, Your Highness and The Sitter, befuddled those following his career. In Prince Avalanche he has returned to his indie roots, eschewing the loud zaniness of the likes of Seth Rogan, James Franco and Jonah Hill for the more subdued antics of Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch.

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Prince Avalanche, based on the Icelandic film Either Way by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurðsson, is set in central Texas in the summer of 1988 after a forest fire requires the repainting of traffic lanes along interminable and winding country roads. Alvin, played by Paul Rudd, has taken the dull task with aplomb, filling the hours with German language tapes and reflections of solitude. His partner, and potential brother-in-law, Lance (Hirsch) is far less enthused at being away from the city and its “fresh” parties and increasingly becomes an irritant to his sister’s boyfriend.

The movie is shot by Green’s collaborator Tim Orr whose eye is constantly being drawn away by rabbit trails: shots of charred forest, blossoms and bugs. This habit gives such a focused and simple story a wider scope, a beckoning to the grander scale. Hinting at a renewal of life all along the margins despite destruction.

The tale, ostensibly, is a coming-of-middle-age story, wherein the two characters grapple with love.; Lance, in his flighty post-teen adulthood, is keen on the physical act. At the beginning he complains how horny he is in nature. He questions his own ability to go the entire summer without having his “little man squeezed” whereas the slightly older Alvin is stoic in his abstinence. He is happy to spend his free time reflecting on himself, planning the future and “doing right” by those he loves. He diligently sends home money in the letters he writes to his girlfriend, supporting her and the child she’s had by another man.

The fire at the beginning injects a sense of loss that is carried throughout the film. Love, we know from ancient sources, is fire; whether destructive or constructive, whether cleansing or clearing, love sets us aflame. That the loss in fire signals the loss in love is depicted in a scene in which Alvin reenacts a homecoming on a burnt out foundation.

The ground is covered in ash, drywall, warped plastic and glass. Alvin looks dismayed. He ascends the stairs and opens an imaginary door. He calls for the wife, the quotidian comments: Honey? Sweetie? where are you? smells good in here… He opens the oven, he fiddles with charred knick-knacks, he jogs up imaginary stairs. As he does this there is a tension that grows. What started out as a cute bit of pantomime becomes ominous. At the beginning there was no house, his play began and a house leapt to life, but the wife was gone: had she left? was the marriage over?

He finds her upstairs, in the bedroom on the phone. He apologizes for interrupting her, tells her not to hang up and trots back downstairs. There is a relief, he’s found her, she wasn’t gone, she cannot speak to him, but she’s there. He finds a surviving chair and sits, the pater familias at rest, his domain secure, while sitting there he says, “That was nice.” And the home life so recently created comes down again.

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Complimenting this is a quiet ghost story. Whether any real ghosts appear is debatable, but a woman moves through the film, a figure of loss, both seen and unseen, embodying love. The unseen love interests of Lance and Alvin also operate as ghosts. They are spoken of, but not seen. Early on Alvin concludes a letter to his girlfriend with: “True love is just like a ghost, people talk about it but very few have actually seen it.” Alvin talks about love plenty, whether he has seen it is debatable.

Paul Rudd throws himself into the serious work of stifling his own laughter in his role as the taciturn Alvin. Emile Hirsch, best known for his role in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, is earnest and convincingly numbskulled. Their easy mirth as they interact goes a long way in driving the narrative forward, built upon the steady rhythms of the score from Explosions in the Sky, neighbors of David Gordon Green and fellow Texans.

The curious title, while haphazardly chosen by Green, draws together the Dionysian challenge of Apollonian order that Alvin and Lance embody. Alvin delights in the strict duty of lines and the manly outdoor activities, while Lance prefers wild parties and the presence of ladies. Like the threat of riot to rule and the cliff of hubris over humility, the prince of lines must be careful or else be buried under the hotmess of human conflict.

While the crisis is never resolved and catharsis comes through drunken revelry, the call of “doing right” has been sounded, and the movie ends with Alvin and Lance in high spirits and renewed vigor. Like the slow recovery from the fire, the lesson seems, that life recovers perhaps with scars, perhaps with regret, perhaps haunted with ghosts.

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Always tempted to make a top ten list of Ange Mlinko’s extensive vocab. Some more gems in Epic.

Eileen Myles’ Prophesy is crass and necessarily so.

It’s uncivil of me to suggest, but Alex Dimitrov’s poem Together and by Ourselves is much better if you start in the middle: from “we must have been lonely people…”

A devious, but wonderful poem, Rebecca Hazelton : Trying Fourleggedness

Tomas Q. Morin evokes quite a lot in Nature Boy

Michael Dickman : Where We Live

Both poems by Patricia Lockwood are full of biting humor and dark forboding: Government Spending and The Hypno-Domme Speaks, and Speaks and Speaks

You must always read Rae Armantrout with interest: Geography

“Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted. The Southerner, who isn’t convinced of it, is very much afraid that he may have been formed in the image and likeness of God. Ghosts can be very fierce and instructive. They cast strange shadows, particularly in our literature. In any case, it is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.”

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