BEST FILMS OF 2013: Documentaries

2013 was a pretty great year for documentaries. I liked a lot of them. Rewind This, First Cousin Once Removed, Cutie and the Boxer, Our Nixon, The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, Gideon’s Army, Call Me Kuchu, and Let the Fire Burn were all memorable. Sure, everyone gushed over Stories We Tell, and it was a well-done doc, no doubt. But, for me it felt like a million New Yorker stories I’ve read, something in that comfortable tradition of upper middle-class literary memoir that while good enough on its own terms, didn’t really seem to be adding much to what the documentary form is capable of doing. So, these three docs and one hybrid are the ones that seemed to be working in those directions, pushing at the boundaries, opening up new possibilities.

1. The Act of Killing – Joshua Oppenheimer

the-act-of-killing3This film is hard to watch and hard to stop watching at the same time. For me, it’s one of the most important documentaries I’ve ever seen, and one of the hardest to truly recommend watching since the act of watching is so emotionally draining. The premise is a masterstroke: the gangsters responsible for a witch-hunt of leftists in Indonesia (that clearly earns the genocide label) are asked to recreate their killings as they see fit for a big screen production. These mass murderers (who are now regarded as heroes by the Indonesian government) are more than happy to help depict their past deeds, and for over two hours we spend time listening to them as they gloat over their killing, grapple with the horror of it, and argue for how to make filmic images that fit their heroism.

Still from The Act of Killing, a documentary about Indonesia's mass killings

At times the images they decide on are surreal, almost beautifully psychedelic, though just as often dip into the wells of action film star-making tropes. It’s baffling, really traumatizing material, yet the film is devoid of any graphic historical images, opting to view all of this madness only from the point of view of the perpetrators, through their words and crafted images.


The film has done a lot to help change public perception of the genocide within Indonesia, but it also clearly speaks to the falseness of collective memories of violence shaped by any nation. The quote from Voltaire that opens the film speaks to this: “All murderers are punished, unless they kill in large numbers, and to the sound of trumpets.”

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The 25 Best Films of 2012

Ok, so after a month and a half vacation spent watching movies as fast as I could download them, I’ve put together a list of my favorite films from last year. There’s still a handful that seem like promising additions to the list. For instance, Two Years at Sea and Neighboring Sounds look fantastic, but haven’t yet hit the torrents. That said, there are more than enough great films here to occupy your time. If you want to get a sample of any of these, all the titles link to a trailer on YouTube. To save space, I’ve paired up a few of the movies that share thematic or visual themes.


Amour (2012) – Michael Haneke, France

A somewhat clinical, though no less heartbreaking look at an elderly man coping with his wife’s rapid mental and physical decline. It’s hard to watch, as most of Haneke’s films are, but it is certainly one of his best.


To Rome With Love (2012) – Woody Allen, USA

Woody Allen is back in form here after the cute but largely forgettable Midnight in Paris.


The Raid: Redemption (2011) – Gareth Evans, Indonesia



L’exercice de l’État (2011) – Pierre Schoeller, France

L’exercice de l’État, or The Minister as the English title has it, takes as it’s protagonist the French minister of transportation as he negotiates his way through the political landscape in a time of austerity measures and rapid privatization. Sounds boring? The film plays like an action film, and yes, that naked women climbing down the throat of that alligator is the opening sequence. Don’t expect too many more surrealist touches, but this one will keep you on the edge of your seat.


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Beyond PSY: A Korean Music Sampler

Gary Sullivan’s Bodega Pop website was kind enough to post a mix I put together of Korean indie music titled Throwing Egg at a Rock: Sounds from Koreaan antidote of sorts to the wave of K-pop currently saturating airwaves and straining eardrums around the world. Whether you find K-pop annoying, bemusing, innocuous, or actually feel comfortable horsey dancing in elevators on youtube, this mix will open your eyes to a much larger spectrum of the Korean music scene. And perhaps surprisingly, it’s really, really good!

GET IT HERE!!!!!!!

Included are “hipster chillwavers, post-rockers, folk artists, shoegazers, weirdoes, punks, electronic experimentalists, drone metalheads, and indie poppers all making unique and wonderful music within a dominant culture that doesn’t respect difference when it comes to musical taste.”

For those of you who want to check out more from any these bands, I’ll be posting links to websites, bandcamp pages, and downloads over the next few days. Just check back at this post and you’ll find them below here…

Heavy Industries / AWP Chicago 2012 / Book Push

If you haven’t seen their work before then go check out Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries. Their simple Flash based text sequences are hard to look away from. Collaboration / Based in Seoul / Killer stuff. I want to meet you guys. Also, Cunnilingus in North Korea is sassy as fuck.



I didn’t write anything about AWP and I intend not to say too much about it, but it was certainly nice to see a bunch of familiar faces and hear some great poetry. Joe Hall and I did reading from The Container Store for some cool kids at a library, Erin and Mark from SpringGun Press were really awesome people, I some-drunken-way made it into the presidential suite in the middle of the night, there was a mindblowing simultaneous reading in Outer Space, and I blew my cash on some great books. All in all it was a good time. ImageJoe Hall getting ready to drop some Container Store

The Container Store / (((10))) / Goodmoney


Good news consumers! Early next year, SpringGun Press is going to publish the first two volumes of the ever-expanding Container Store collaboration with Joe Hall. Not sure of the official release date, but for those AWP inclined, it will be available in Chicago. So, buy that shit. You can get an online preview of TCS in the fantastic Bernadette Mayer Portfolio in Drunken Boat #14. There are also a handful of pages in print form brought to you by the wonderful Caketrain journal, pictured below. Oh boy!


While the prospect of making much headway into the underbelly of Korea’s art world is fairly low given my foreigner status and non-existent Korean language skills, I have, through sheer luck, run across a number of worthwhile bands and artists in the past couple months. For example:


While most of the live music in Korea plays things pretty safe (the university scene consists mainly of music students playing generic indie rock to politely seated crowds of peers) or else caters to a specific audience (the foreigner butt-rock market by way of bars like FF), there are, thankfully, a few exceptions. Perhaps the most interesting show I’ve seen in the past year happened at Gogos 2 (which has been redesigned to hold performances) and featured a group who goes by the name (((10))) which made finding them online nearly impossible. (I did, and you can check out some of their songs here.) Vocal loops, skittering beats, bent electronics, and a penchant for improvised exploration. Sonically somewhere between Actress and the work of Honey Owens, (((10))) fills a noticeable gap in Seoul’s music scene, and fills it well.


On the art side of things, here are some pictures from a tiny gallery in Hongdae, Seoul of an exhibition titled GOODMONEY, work by artists concerned with the aesthetics of commerce. Good stuff:

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