Top 3 Film Picks of 2013
31 Dec 13
What were the best, worst, and most confusing moments you experienced in 2013? I’ll spare you my own life stories and keep the focus on movies (see last year’s list here). First off, I’ll admit that I haven’t see all the big movie releases this year. I skipped a ton of what I perceive to be crap, and acknowledge there were more than just a handful of good films out there. A few that didn’t make the list but I really enjoyed were Dallas Buyer’s Club, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Place Beyond the Pines, Blue Jasmine, and Frances Ha.
For 2013, I’ve streamlined my list into three films that left my brain the most active after leaving the theater. So here they are:
This finely executed documentary was easily the most memorable experience I had in theaters this year. Creatively utilizing our addiction to spectacle, Blackfish plays like a powerhouse thriller. The footage is eye opening but so is the reality. Like many people who watched this film, I grew up going to SeaWorld, where I had fond visual memories of watching black and white killer whales cradling humans in mid-air (then anticipating the size of the splash coming my way). Majestic, entertaining, and enough fun for the whole family. Watching Blackfish snaps us out of that delusion quickly, and offers a ripe dosage of truth.
What really impressed me was that Blackfish also shares insights that go beyond the evils of SeaWorld’s circus act. The film is a beautiful reminder about the power of orcas, and how their range of harmony and social emotion run deeper than anything we can experience as humans. They have something special about them, that to this day, we do not fully understand. In many ways, that is what makes SeaWorld’s actions that much more painful and infuriating to watch. There’s a lot you can take from this movie, but most tangible is its current impact (see recent article on SeaWorld’s crumbling empire). When balanced stealthily, cinema can be very powerful. Documentaries have been evolving into a real humanitarian weapon. By revealing stories that directly affect us, films like Blackfish crack open our living room windows, encouraging us to scream out for change. I wish the makers of this film continued success.
Alfonso Cuaron’s foray into 3D cinema is another example of how to make a film stand apart from the rest. Although I’m normally doubtful that 3D can wow me, I went into this one based on my faith in this director’s previous work (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men). Cuaron has a firm grasp on visual cinema, and has finessed the one-take master shot (with no cuts) down to a science. I knew that in the least, Gravity would be worth watching. So, I put on those dorky 3D glasses, and before I knew it, I was suspended in space alongside George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. The use of 3D was subtle and visceral, allowing the viewer to move right with the characters, to a point where you feel like you’re sharing their air supply.
Gravity‘s story is simple and engaging, allowing for easy points to focus on as you float through different textures and atmosphere. At its core, the film was about survival and the belief we should have in ourselves when it really counts. The dialogue isn’t always incredible, but the acting is impressive (especially Bullock). I also had an affinity for how the film moves in real time, yet manages to shift through different states of consciousness. That is not easy to pull off, people – this is one finely crafted film. The question remains, is Gravity just as good a film without 3D? I don’t have that answer, but it’ll be fun to find out.
Spike Jonze has returned to form with a bittersweet commentary on our evolving relationship with technology. Joaquin Phoenix takes on the character of Theodore, in a performance that strums gently on our heartstrings. Her is an intimate look at digital love set against the softly urban palette of Los Angeles in the near future. The film examines the psychology of loneliness, as enabled by the devices we spend our days with. Jonze wants us to wonder who we are, as we watch Theodore develop real feelings for his new operating system… Samantha.
This is a great concept, and one that is in many ways a growing reality. Recovering from a broken marriage, Theodore’s social skills are rusty and he’s hesitant to meet new women. Samantha feeds his damaged heart by becoming a perfect outlet to battle his sorrow, inspiring him to feel again. But even though she has a hot voice, she isn’t physical. Theodore is hesitant, embarrassed to tell anyone… but at the same time cannot deny how enchanting it all feels. This is when the film starts to offer up some deeper questions. What if were able to guide machines to grow emotionally alongside us? Could we nurture them into something truly utopian? Is there real love to be found out there, just as beautiful as anything you’ve shared with a real person? Our fear is that this is too far from reality, and if we’re not careful, we’ll simply drift aimlessly into a virtual adaptation of who we once were. Her thrives on these open-ended questions, and reminds us that stepping back a moment to really think about it… is time well spent.