Sunday, December 29, 2013

Favorites in 2013 - Movies

Photo from:  popturfdotcom Flickr
It's that time of year again, when our calendar is running thin. Soon we will have a brand new year to desecrate with fornications and debaucheries, but for now, it's a time to dwell on the time behind us. One way to measure that is to examine what media you consumed and how it effected you.  With that in mind, I want to look at my favorite things from 2013.

Note on two things: 1) these are my favorite things--not necessarily the best, or the highest class or whatever, just the things that I enjoyed the most, 2) these are my favorite things that I experienced this year--that doesn't necessarily mean they came out this year, just that that is when I found them.

For this post, I want to talk about MY FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2013!!!!

I want to split this post into two categories of movies: general films, and documentaries.

General movies will be just that--movies that were created for entertainment purposes. They involve stories, plots. You know...movies. This includes biopics and such.

General Movies

1. Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim was one of those movies that should have done better, but that probably came out at the wrong time. After a glut of mindless, giant robot movies, when Pacific Rim came out, it was hard to quantify why it was good. There wasn't a gimic to separate it--they're not actually giant robots, the people are just really really small!!!--so it came down to descriptions like, "It's like Transformers if you had good characterization, good writing, and you cared about what was going on beyond explosions and noises.

2. Fruitvale Station

This was one of those movies that is based on a true story, that just hurts to watch. If Michael B Jordan doesn't become a much bigger name in acting, I'm going to be one pissed off movie patron. He was fantastic. The movie starts with the main character getting shot. Then you follow him through his final day of life. The events of his death are tragic, and is a story that's all too common anymore, especially for people of color. Everyone should see this one...at least...if you have the constitution for it.

3. Don Jon

A movie about a porn addict and a romance movie addict. Both characters are selfish and are using their partners for some unrealistic idea of what is a "relationship." Joseph Gordon-Levitt was great, Scarlett Johansen was great. This was a movie with great characterization, and a great sense of humor while being put together. And it was surprisingly more complex than I thought it would be.

4. Prisoners

Very Silence of the Lambs. I don't know how else to put it. It's a thriller crime drama with a fantastic--and tense--performance from Hugh Jackman. It puts you in a very uncomfortable position where you understand what the main character is doing, but you're still horrified by what he's doing.

5. CSA: Confederate States of America

One of the movies on my list that explains what kind of weird guy I am, CSA is a mockumentary that uses some actual historical records and information and extrapolates from that a look at what America would be like if the Confederate States of America had won the Civil War. The film plays like it would if you were watching a History Channel special, complete with commercial breaks. The catch is that the products featured in the commercials are satire not only commercials of our time, but the products are also usually racist in nature, or have something to do with the keeping and maintaining of slavery. It's a fascinating and very well done movie.

6. Iron Man 3
This was a surprisingly controversial movie because of certain aspects of the villain Mandarin. If you haven't seen it, I won't spoil it for you. However, I can say that it was my favorite part of the movie. I loved this movie more than any other Marvel movie. Shane Black directed one of my favorite movies--Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang--and I could see his touch all over this movie. I also loved that this movie actually looked at the events in The Avengers and actually did something with it, unlike Thor 2, which basically just said, "Hey...remember New York? Crazy, huh?"

7. Evil Dead

In a sea of incredibly soft R-rated horror movies, and an absolute glut of paranormal haunted house movies, this was a breath of fresh air. It does lack the cheesy charm of the original movie--because this is a big budget movie and not a shoe-string 70's B-flick. And while the characterization was a bit thin, I thought it moved at a nice pace, the main character at least was well developed, and my God they didn't skimp on the gore. It was funny, intense. I actually enjoyed it, despite its flaws. This was a nice contrast to that horrible movie I saw last year, The Collection, which also had lots of gore. Both movies are over-the-top, but where Evil Dead seems like it's having fun with itself, The Collections nonsensical plot and meaningless gore felt like another tired Saw rip-off...which according to what I've read online, it actually was.

8. You're Next

Another R-rated horror movie that was a breath of fresh air, this movie had me completely by surprise. The trailers for it made it look incredibly bland, boring, just...like a big 1.5 hour chunk of nothing. I was wrong. I had a blast at this movie. It was a ton of fun. If you like horror movies, but you thought this one looked like another bland home invasion movie, give it a chance. I think you'll enjoy it.

9. The Conjuring

I like horror movies, okay? Anyway, one of my favorite directors, James Wan, released two movies this year. This movie, and Insidious 2. And while I liked Insidious 2, it had a lot of flaws that I didn't see in the first one and ultimately it felt like a fun but unnecessary follow-up to the first one. This movie, strangely, felt like a truer sequel in spirit to Insidious. It was atmospheric as hell, and it employed the music and framing to its advantage, scaring the shit out of you at just the right opportunities. I saw it a couple of times, and it was just as good with repeat viewings.

10. The Way Way Back
Sam Rockwell is one of my favorite little hidden gems in movies. Just about every movie he's in, he makes it just a little bit better. The Green Mile, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, 7 Psycopaths, even the otherwise meh Iron Man 2 was much better when Rockwell was on screen. This is very much a sort of hipster, "boy finds himself through his misadventures with wacky side characters" movie, but dammit, I like those kinds of movies. And this movie is better than most. And, while the girl isn't a central character, she's not handled as insultingly as she is in other movies. Still not great, but better. But really, you want to see this movie for Sam Rockwell.

Documentaries

I have a love of documentaries. I like to learn things. Documentaries about how the brain works, documentaries about how healthcare works, documentaries about political espionage and party politics. I'll watch them about whatever. However, I'm especially partial to documentaries about social or cultural practices.

This year, I've seen several fantastic documentaries that I want to go ahead and give a big thumbs-up and a recommendation for. If you haven't seen these, consider checking them out.

1. Reel Injun

One thing that I'm constantly trying to do is learn how other people live and feel. As a young, white, cis-het, mostly able-bodied white dude, I have it pretty easy compared to many in this country. Because of that, it's easy for me to overlook how other people feel. It's why I try to keep my twitter feeds, Facebook, Tumblrs, and whatever else in my life filled with different viewpoints. I like to be reminded of other perspectives. It gives me things to think about. This documentary looks at the history of Native Americans portrayal in movies throughout the history of cinema and how that has contributed to our nations viewing of the group as a whole. It also shows a people struggling with their identity. I highly recommend watching it if you haven't. Added bonus: you can get a list of lots of movies to check out.

2. Tales from the Script

I'm fascinated with the creative process. Learning how others view and function helps me learn about myself as well. This is a documentary that looks at different screen writers in Hollywood. It gives you an insight into how film scripts get turned into movies, what influence the writers of those movies have over their films--if any in come cases--how directors can change the script, and other neat insider information.

3. Indie Game: The Movie

Another film that deals with look at creative-types, this film looks at how some of our most popular and famous indie video games get made. It's usually one or two guys doing something they're passionate about and hoping this will be the thing that gets them to the big time. These are some honest portrayals, showing the awesome power of the creative person in all of their flawed and inspiring selves. Quite a fan of this one.

4. Miss Representation

This documentary didn't necessarily show me a whole lot I didn't already know from a ton of reading, but it was a fascinating look at how the lack of representation of women in media--and the lack of certain kinds of representation especially--can contribute to a lack of female representation in positions of leadership and authority as well. The most effective moments involve interviews with teen boys and girls giving their opinions on female representation.

5. Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines

This was, by far, my favorite documentary I watched this year. I got to catch an NPR sponsored showing of the film at a nearby library and stayed for the panel discussion, but honestly this film is totally worth watching. The film divides its time between a history of the character of Wonder Woman and how she was treated and changed alongside the rise and fall of other female characters. You can spot trends that are absolutely fascinating. It also hits the nail on the head explaining why stories matter, especially to underrepresented groups of people.

________________

So that's my list of favorite movies from 2013. See anything you're interested in? See anything in the list you've already seen that you have a burning desire to discuss? Fire off in the comments.

Next time: Books