New York Film Festival 2013: Flixist Awards and Recap

Thoughts on the 2013 New York Film Festival

Can you believe that it’s all over? I can’t. For much of the past month, the New York Film Festival has consumed my life. And now it’s over. But we’re finishing it off with a bang. The video above is Hubert and my final thoughts/discussion on the subject, and it was shot in a Koreatown restaraunt called Arirang. The audio quality is subpar but audible. Just a bit of background noise. 

And below is our recap and awards. The awards were interesting this year, since there were so many great performances we gave extra awards in every acting category. And even with all that, we had to leave out some awesome stuff. It really was a strong lineup this year. I should mention that for the most part we wrote reviews of the movies that we really loved, so the fact that the reviews are so heavily positive is simply because we skipped the lesser ones (although we reacted to every single one in 30 seconds or less). So catch up on what you missed, and let us know how you feel about the whole thing.

When will there be more festival coverage up on Flixist, you probably aren’t wondering? Pretty soon, I’d guess, though I can’t say when exactly. There are always more festivals to be covered, even if I’ll be flying solo for a while.


Best Film

12 Years a Slave

With 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen has made one of the most gut-wrenching, emotionally exhausting, and yet ultimately human films about slavery. There’s a clinical, unflinching eye on the events that unfold, and McQueen’s long takes combined with Sean Bobbitt’s unassailable cinematography add to the dread, unease, and oppressive melancholy of the film. For some critics this sense of aesthetic distance has made them feel as if the material is antiseptic, but I think something else is going on. By approaching Solomon Northup’s story with such a calm lens, the horror of what happens within the frame and the quality of the performances becomes more prominent. 12 Years a Slave is not just the best film of NYFF51, it’s also one of the best films of 2013.   Hubert Vigilla [Read the review here!]


I almost skipped Her because of my silly refusal to watch trailers or read synopses. But the night before, I heard the premise (a man falls in love with his operating system) and knew I couldn’t miss it. I was right.. While I was in the theater, I was struck by all kinds of emotions that I hadn’t felt since… well, the previous day, when I was at Blue is the Warmest Color (which is oddly-worded-but-very-high praise, because that movie made me feel a whole lot). It’s not bombastic, putting it at odds with a lot of the big films at NYFF, and as a comedy it’s even rarer, so there’s something about it that just seems like it could get skipped over. But it couldn’t, of course, because it’s too good for that. When the end of the year comes, people will be thinking about all of the amazing films that have come out in 2013, and Her will be right up near the top of that list. — Alec Kubas-Meyer [Read the review here!]

Best Actor

Tom Hanks

Everyone talks about a certain moment in Tom Hanks’ performance in Captain Phillips as being Oscar-worthy, and it is, but let’s get away from the awards prognostication and really look at why Hanks is so good in this film. It’s everything else leading up to that capper that makes that scene work so well. There’s the quiet agitation at the beginning, the attempt at maintaining a calm façade as things get out of hand, the panic that’s barely contained when the situation continues to decline. We’re waiting and waiting for the rubber band to snap. Without all that prelude, the scene everyone talks about is just a great, emotional scene. With all this masterful prelude, the scene reveals the greatness of Hanks’ whole performance. Hubert Vigilla [Read the review here!]

Chiwetel Ejiofor

Chiwetel Ejiofor had both the easiest and hardest job in the world: he had to make an audience sympathize with a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery. There’s something about that that seems almost too simple, right? I mean, seriously, anyone with a conscience is going to feel bad for the guy just because of the circumstances. But that’s not all he had to do. Sure, he had to do that, but he couldn’t just play the part of a victim, even if that’s what he was, because a victim isn’t interesting, just sad. Solomon Northrup is not a sad character. He has a will to live and fight, even if he has to hide it. That excruciating internal struggle is where the part’s real difficulty lies, and he pulled it off. I felt bad for Northrup, but I wanted to see him succeed because he was a man who could succeed when everything in his life had gone horribly, horribly wrong. All of the credit for that can be rested squarely on Ejiofor’s shoulders. — Alec Kubas-Meyer

Joaquin Phoenix

When coming up with this list, I knew Joaquin Phoenix had to be on here. Seriously, he’s one of the greatest living actors. But whereas Tom Hanks and Chiwetel Ejiofor had intense experiences to drive them and their characters, to bring them to their most raw places, the places that Oscars are made of, Phoenix had nothing. He gets emotional in Her, sure, but it’s a romantic kind of emotion. He’s never in the kind of physical peril and doesn’t have his life threatened. He’s just a guy who falls in love with an operating system. But to stand out with so comparatively little to work with is impressive in and of itself. In Her, Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore Twumbley. Plus, after seeing his depressing/amazing performances in both The Master and The Immigrant, it’s nice to see that he can do the light-hearted stuff too. — Alec Kubas-Meyer

Best Actress

Adele Exarchopoulos

I want to meet Adèle Exarchopoulos, and it’s not just because I feel like she’d be interesting to talk to: I want to know just how closely she actually resembles the character she portrays in Blue is the Warmest Color. I’ve heard arguments both for and against actors playing themselves, and it’s an interesting discussion to have, but while it won’t change my objective view of a performance, it would change the way I perceive it. The emotions that Exarchopoulos displays in Blue is the Warmest Color are brutal in their honestly, and it hit me really, really hard at times. What she was able to do. It it was her, and I mean Adèle the person and not Adèle the character, then I applaud her for being willing to put herself out there both physically… and if it wasn’t? Well, goddamn. — Alec Kubas-Meyer [Read the review here!]

Lea Seydoux

While Blue Is the Warmest Color can be viewed as a vehicle for Adèle Exarchopoulos’ extraordinary performance, I think Léa Seydoux is just as responsible for making the film work as well as it does. As Emma, Seydoux isn’t just meant as an object of a teenager’s desire. She’s a charismatic woman, driven and so self-assured, fire made flesh, and Emma is every bit as compelling as her young lover even though she’s her opposite in so many ways. In little looks and small gestures, Seydoux can convey a great depth of emotion, and even the slow reveal of that gap between the teeth is a monologue’s worth of delight. Her performance says so much even when she isn’t saying anything. Hubert Vigilla

Paulina Garcia

Without Paulina García, Gloria would be a warm and inviting film about an interesting woman whose life seems uninteresting on its surface. García brings the whole film to life, though, to a point where I can’t think of the  movie succeeding without her. It’s a combination of body language, delivery, and little gazes through the big glasses. These choices say so much about the interior life of Gloria, and by the end of the film she feels like someone with a rich past behind every movement. To watch García on screen is to watch someone living in the moment, experiencing all the events before her spontaneously and with such remarkable authenticity. Hubert Vigilla [Read the review here!]

Best Supporting Performance

Michael Fassbender

From the moment Michael Fassbender opened his mouth in 12 Years a Slave, I knew it was a brilliant performance. I mean, the dude pulled off a Southern accent better than a lot of the actual Americans. But as great a first impression as that is, it’s really in the silence that Fassbender’s abilities shine through. The image above is from one of the most tense moments of the entire film. The camera holds the shot, and Fassbender is silent. But his body language, his face, and his eyes are terrifying. Earlier today, I was reading something that referred to 12 Years a Slave as a horror movie in disguise, and while that’s kind of a shocking thought, it’s true. And looking at it that way, Fassbender’s Edwin Epps is a villain even more horrifying than Freddy Kruger or Michael Myers. That Edwin Epps was a real person and somehow even crueler than what McQueen had him portray only makes it worse. But the Fassbender-McQueen relationship continues to impress; they are definitely one of (if not the) best actor-director pairings working today. Alec Kubas-Meyer

June Squibb

Meaty roles for older woman are rare, and while Bruce Dern is excellent in Nebraska, June Squibb steals every scene she’s in. That may be because the character of Kate Grant deepens in our eyes each time she’s around. Kate seems like a foul-mouthed crank at first, but there’s a reason why. The best thing about Squibb is how she finds just the right key and tone in her performance to communicate the many facets of the character. I’d have to watch Nebraska again, but Kate never changes in a dramatic way, she simply acts consistent with her character. Squibb also never changes but knows exactly the melody to play the entire time. Hubert Vigilla [Read the review here!]

Jeremy Renner

In The Immigrant, Jeremy Renner plays against acting powerhouses like Marion Cotillard and Joaquin “Remember When Alec Said I’m One of the Best Actors Working Today Like Three Minutes Ago?” Phoenix, and his performance the best of the bunch. I was already a little biased, because he plays a magician and I love magicians, but he really does knock it out of the park. He’s been mostly pigeon-holed into action star roles lately, and while he’s pretty great at those and I’m not really complaining, he’s a much better actor than that type-casting might suggest. He’s shown that before, but The Immigrant is some of his finest work yet, even The Immigrant itself isn’t all that great. — Alec Kubas-Meyer

Jeff Goldblum

Jeff Goldblum at his Jeff Goldblum-iest. Le Week-End could not exist without his brilliance. Wonderful. — Alec Kubas-Meyer [Read the review here!]

Biggest Disappointment

Stray Dogs

I admire Stray Dogs on one level, but while Tsai Ming Liang’s long takes do so much intellectually and aesthetically, many of them fall short emotionally. As with his other films, each shot in Stray Dogs stands on its own as a work of painterly beauty. Yet I was alienated by about one-third to one-half of the film, which is less about the actual metamorphosis of a shot but the static nature of a shot. As a single take holds for more than 10 minutes and nothing (even of minor aesthetic variation) occurs, I’m led to wonder about the driving force behind the image. It may be the character’s ennui, but it’s become my own. Hubert Vigilla [Read the review here!]


Bastards has promise: it’s nice to look at and listen to, well-acted, and pretty interesting, but it lacks a cohesiveness that keeps everything together. The weird narrative structure caused confusion in a whole lot of people (myself included), and trying to follow it requires constant attention. I zoned out for about two minutes because I was thinking about Gravity, and I spent the rest of the film trying to figure out what I had missed (nothing, as it turns out). Even if it were just a bit more clear, Bastards would still be an excellent example of minimalistic filmmaking, but it’s just too vague for its own good. I want to like it, and I do… a little bit, but I wanted and expected more. — Alec Kubas-Meyer

Worst Film

Child of God

Child of God is like a so-so high school book report project done over the weekend. More than that, though, Child of God makes me wonder if James Franco really has his heart set on filmmaking or if this is just some kind of hobby between acting gigs. (His prose and his visual art evokes the same response from me.) Scott Haze is at least quite good as the lead character, but he’s basically running around a-mumblin’ and a-shittin’ and a-humpin’ corpses and a-mumblin’ s’more. There’s a lot going on lyrically in the Cormac McCarthy novel, but not in this film. Hubert Vigilla [Read the review here!]

Abuse of Weakness

Abuse of Weakness shouldn’t have been made. It is based on actual events from filmmaker Catherine Breillat’s life, but it’s not really a story so much as a premise: A filmmaker has a stroke, sees an ex-con on TV and decides she wants him in her movie. Then he makes her give him lots of money in “loans.” That’s a pretty interesting idea and first act, possibly getting a little bit into a second, but the narrative needs to go somewhere from there, and it doesn’t. When it seems like something may possibly consider happening, it’s over. There’s no conclusion of any kind, just some weird, meaningless statements about being. And is that how it went in reality? Probably, but so what? Since when is “This happened to me one time” sufficient reason to get a movie made? — Alec Kubas-Meyer

Everything Else

Reviews listed in reverse chronological order

All Is Lost – 68 (Decent)

Her – 92 (Spectacular) Editor's Choice!

Gloria – 81 (Great) Editor's Choice!

Only Lovers Left Alive – 78 (Good)

Blue Is the Warmest Color – 87 – Hubert / 88 – Alec (Excellent) Editor's Choice!

Nebraska – 85 (Excellent) Editor's Choice!

12 Years a Slave – 90 (Spectacular) Editor's Choice!

The Missing Picture – 68 (Decent)

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – 85 (Excellent) Editor's Choice!

Tim’s Vermeer – 80 (Great) Editor's Choice!

Alan Partridge – 80 (Great) Editor's Choice!

Captain Phillips – 86 (Excellent) Editor's Choice!

A Touch of Sin – 80 (Great) Editor's Choice!

Stray Dogs – 51 – Hubert (Average) / 40 – Alec (Sub-par) 

Le Week-End – 78 (Good)

Inside Llewyn Davis – 88 (Excellent) Editor's Choice!

The Wind Rises Discussion – 70 – Alec / 77 – Hubert (Good)

Like Father, Like Son – 77 (Good)

Child of God – 33 (Bad)


Jia Zhangke & Zhao Tao (A Touch of Sin)

Video Roundups

NYFF in 30 Seconds or Less Roundup #1

NYFF In 30 Seconds or Less Roundup #2