By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist December 24, 2013 at 12:40PM
Plot Points, Pacing And Other Peculiarities
Most Enigmatic Opening
We called Carlos Reygadas’s enigmatic “Post Tenebras Lux” “strange, wtf and baffling” earlier this year, but called it a must-watch. And six months later that still stands. It opens with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous toddler's dream, playing in a field by herself surrounded by their many dogs and also a pack of cows while lightning streaks across the sky and thunderclaps boom ominously in the background. Shot at the end of the magic hour, it eventually fades into an eerie purple blue darkness that leaves the child on her own and unattended. It’s bizarre, beautiful and set the stage for one weird, but deeply engrossing movie. The adventurous need to give it a watch.
Most Promising Opening To A Terrible Movie
For a second, we thought that Sam Raimi's "Wizard of Oz" reboot, "Oz The Great And Powerful" might actually be kind of fun: there's a lot of love and craft in those opening fifteen minutes or so as James Franco's con-man flees a dust-bowl circus in a balloon. Beautifully shot in black and white, it feels like Raimi, and Franco, are actually engaged in the material, and seems to set the character up nicely. Even Zach Braff is kind of palatable! Sadly, once he arrives in Oz, the film turns into a garish "Alice In Wonderland"-aping candyfloss nightmare.
Superhero movies haven't generally been noted for their unpredictability, but damn it if we weren't knocked down by the reveal in "Iron Man 3" that our hero's arch-nemesis The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) was actually a drink-sodden, narcoleptic actor (and former rent-boy!) called Trevor Slattery. Taking one of Marvel's most feared villains and turning him, quite literally, into a joke, is maybe the ballsiest thing in a Marvel movie to date. And thanks to an uproarious performance from Kingsley, it was enormously funny as well.
So it's not a joke per se, nor a one-liner from "Anchorman 2" (which we're valiantly trying not to spoil), nor Melissa McCarthy referring to curtains as "window blankets" in "The Heat," but the "Please Mr. Kennedy" song and scene from "Inside Llewyn Davis" had us all howling throughout, with its pitch-perfect skewering of pop-folk novelty songs, delivered brilliantly by a game Justin Timberlake, a ludicrous Adam Driver and a beneath-his-dignity Llewyn (Oscar Isaac). And like all the truly great gags, it's funny because it means something beyond the punchline: this is Llewyn's personal hell, and the place that he'll even damn himself to a lifetime of obscurity just to avoid.
Most Shocking Moment
When Joshua Oppenheimer met Anwar Congo and captured his frank, even boastful confession about his thousands of killings, he knew he had something important on his hands. Congo takes the filmmaker up on the roof of an old office building—now a shop—and conscripts his buddy into playing the victim, winding a wire around his neck and demonstrating the best technique for garrotting, a much less bloody and messy affair than beating. Watching him reenact the murders is gruesome and shocking, but it’s the little dance he does afterward, with a wire loosely roped around his own neck, talking of the substances he uses to erase the memories that creates that cognitive dissonance that creates a queasy juxtaposition that “The Act of Killing” reveals so well. It’s not manipulative in any way, just starkly revealing, and deeply, morally and spiritually unsettling. Oppenheimer just lets this moment unfold, bearing witness on our behalf to this shocking moment. Also: every other moment of "The Act of Killing."
Most Insanity-Inducing Image
The delirious mindfuck extravaganza that is Ben Wheatley's "A Field In England" boasts many, many unsettling moments, but the point at which we genuinely worried the mad bastard might actually have succeeded in sending us insane was when Whitehead (Reece Shearsmith) emerges from the tent (from which nothing but agonizing screams have been heard for quite a while) in grotesque slow motion, deranged and hogtied, as the music (Blanck Mass' "Chernobyl") crescendos to an almost unbearable pitch. The clip no doubt loses some of its power out of context—though it's still gonzo and weird and brilliant—if you haven't seen the whole film yet, but are intending to, don't spoil it.
In a year of Survival Narratives, which basically live or die (heh) on how well they communicate a kind of edge-of-your-seat tension, the most palpitatingly uncomfortable we've been all year (without the boon of "Gravity" 's 3D, we'll say) was actually towards the end of Denis Villeneuve's noir-styled, potboiler-plotted "Prisoners" *SPOILER* as a seriously wounded Jake Gyllenhaal drives a dying child (who literally has poison coursing through her veins) to a hospital. There's a similar scene, featuring another poisoned child, Matthew McConaughey and a motorbike in "Mud," but it was the "Prisoners" one that actually had us urging "Come on, come on, come ON" at the screen.
Best Single Edit
Outside of, we don't know, "2001," single cuts don't get the same attention that single shots do, but they can have just as much impact. The editing of "Frances Ha" by newcomer Jennifer Lame is a huge part of what makes the film so successful, and the cut from Greta Gerwig's delighted reaction to a tax rebate in the mail to her walking out of the bank is perfectly timed, laugh-out-loud funny, and says so much about being in your twenties and living from paycheck to paycheck.
Runner-Up: The absolutely gonzo jump cut in “Anchorman 2” that interrupts Ron Burgundy and co. mid-hysterical laughter and cuts to another take of the news team standing there silently. We can’t even imagine what kind of sleep deprived editing session might have spawned this inspired choice but we would have loved to have been there for it.
Most Convenient Plot Device
We're not logic Nazis: we're happy to give a film a little latitude for the sake of moving a plot forward. But the seams of the reshot third act in "World War Z" are so poorly stitched that it stopped the movie dead in its tracks. The screenwriting all-stars of Damon Lindelof, Drew Goddard and Christopher McQuarrie had a tough task on their hands to salvage the film (and for the most part, do an admirable job), but kicking off a set-piece with a zombie who, in a twist that makes no sense on absolutely any level, has been napping quietly in a cupboard for about four hours of a flight from Israel before waking up and going in search of a breakfast of brains, is a solution that stinks of "Will this do? No? But the cameras are rolling…"