Joe (2014)

Starring- Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter, Ronnie Jean Blevins, Adriene Mishler

Director- David Gordon Green

R- violence, disturbing material, language and some strong sexual content

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IT-rEF6RIPA

   Nicolas Cage is one of my favorite celebrities to try to psychologize. I’m not talking about his performances here — I’m very firmly on the side that says he knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s been in bad movie after bad movie, giving one spacey and absurd performance after another, but I see nothing but calculation behind each dumb haircut, each bout of random screaming, each moronic line delivered with a mixture of loathing and strange sincerity. He’s got the kind of comic timing that just doesn’t happen by accident.

   But it is fun trying to figure out what he wants out of it all. Well, money, duh — I understand the guy’s, like, a billion years behind on his taxes or something — but you’d think he’d have been in the position to get paid for quality roles or that even if he’s doing whatever pays, something good would come across his desk here and there. That’s what makes me wonder if he’s just totally satisfied with cementing his reputation as one of the all-time great Large Hams.

   But if he’s just taking whatever his agent hands him, I suspect he did a little happy dance when he read over the script for Joe.

   Yes, come ‘round, gather here, one and all, young and old alike (though probably not young because rated R and stuff) — see the one, the only, Nicolas Cage giving a legitimately good performance in a legitimately good movie! (Since it’s probably going to be the only one for another decade or so.)

   Cage plays Joe, a semi-reformed con man who now runs a small business killing landowners’ trees so they can plant stronger ones in their place. One day, a teenage boy named Gary Jones (Tye Sheridan) stumbles across Joe’s latest work site and, spur of the moment, asks if he can have a job. Joe sees something in the kid — who turns out to be dirt poor, living in a condemned building with his abusive drunk father (Gary Poulter) — and agrees. And before long, Joe finds he’s become a father figure to the boy.

   Cage really is quite good in this. It’s a refreshing and unfamiliar sight for me, especially, having grown up largely in the timeframe when Wicker Man Nicolas Cage was the only one that existed anymore. I have no memory of an era when the Nicolas Cage conversation didn’t center mainly on his self-awareness level.

   Joe is proof that he really does know what he’s doing, even if 95 percent of that is “being ridiculous.” He carries this movie easily. And it’s not as though Joe’s a simple character to pull off. He’s a complex leading man for what turns out to be a fairly complex movie. Joe’s criminal record mainly consists of assault. He’s an angry man, suffering bouts of rage uncontrollable enough to potentially qualify as some sort of mental disorder. He knows that, though, and he doesn’t want to be that way. He deliberately avoids situations that he knows will upset him. And when his safeguards fail, he goes into desperation mode, doing whatever he has to do in order to calm himself before something bad happens.

   Gary brings out the best in him. That Joe isn’t the greatest guy doesn’t particularly matter in a relationship like that. He is, by nearly anyone’s standards, a pretty awful father figure — he buys the 15-year-old beer, he lets him drive, he teaches him tricks for avoiding police on the highway, he gives him more than a little questionable advice. That’s not the point — Gary is a kid with no future. He’s never been affirmed for his work ethic. He’s been taking care of what’s left of his family and has never once had an adult in his life care for him. No one’s ever put his needs before theirs or helped him get ahead in life. Most importantly, no one’s ever really loved him. That’s what Joe is to Gary — not a responsible role model but a presence Gary desperately needs in his life. He’s someone who treats him like an adult, gives him a chance, takes an interest in him, and helps him out when he needs it.

   There’s something about the way Joe maintains that balance that’s actually somewhat inspiring. The film is set exclusively within the confines of severe rural poverty, where nearly everyone has given up and those who haven’t are toiling seemingly in vain and suffering under the weight of their circumstances. There isn’t much hope there, and for a kid like Gary, there really isn’t anyone to show him the way to something better. What happens here is not a knight in shining armor swooping in to clean up the mess and save the day. It’s ordinary people — and for the most part, you probably wouldn’t call them good people — finding it within themselves not even necessarily to do the right thing but to act on their better impulses in such a way that redirects their flaws into something less harmful or even positive. They stumble their way through love and trying to do good, and much of it is haphazard and arguably not fully moral, but they find a way in the mess of existence to set things on a better path.

   And that’s where Joe stands out. It’s been drawing comparisons to the 2013 film Mud, and it’s easy to see why — young boy played by Tye Sheridan, living in an impoverished rural area, meets an ex-con who takes a shine to him and becomes a father figure. After that is where they part ways. Mud is a coming-of-age story that focuses on the kid more than the mentor. Joe is largely about its eponymous character and the effect he has on Gary. Ultimately, it’s not really a film about becoming an adult; it’s actually a surprisingly hopeful story of newer, stronger things rising up from the ashes of their forebears. To some extent, it’s a movie about intergenerational anxieties — the fear of some that those who come after are going to wreck everything. Truth is, in some ways, it’s a mess now. Nobody’s perfect, but we can use what we’ve got to make sure life moves on. Pass on what you have to those who will outlive you, and trust them to breathe their own unique life into it and make something a little better than what stood there before.

   On the surface, Joe is a grim, gritty film that isn’t even a little bit afraid to get its hands dirty. But underneath, it’s surprisingly optimistic about the future of the human race. There’s something good inside all of us, and even the products of our flaws can help make something better than we are. Joe might suggest that it’s inevitable.

   It might get a little pulpy here and there, particularly where the villains are concerned. Its approach might be a little too stereotypically “indie.” But if Nicolas Cage decides to spend the rest of his career on movies like Joe, I can’t say that I’d complain.

   -Matt T.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Starring- Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Lea Seydoux, Tilda Swinton, Tom Wilkinson, Tony Revolori

Director- Wes Anderson

R- language, some sexual content and violence

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Fg5iWmQjwk

   I’m trying not to be too hard on myself over this whole Wes Anderson thing. I mean, it’s impossible that there’s anyone out there who likes all of the auteur-status directors throughout history, right? There’s got to be somebody they part ways with. I mean, there’s probably some weirdo somewhere who thinks Martin Scorcese’s an idiot or something.

   Then again, Wes Anderson movies fill me with a particular sort of anxiety — or at least, reviewing them does. But he’s not even the only celebrated filmmaker whose work doesn’t do much for me.

   I think the problem is that he’s the only auteur-status director who leaves me in a place where I just don’t get it. At all. There are other filmmakers whose work isn’t really my thing, but I understand fully why it works for other people. I can’t even assess Anderson’s output objectively. It just doesn’t do a thing for me. I’d explain why, but I’d probably only further embarrass myself. Just search for the debacle that was my non-review of Moonrise Kingdom.

   I did swear that I’d keep watching his movies until I figure it out, though. So, I begrudgingly added The Grand Budapest Hotel, already being called one of the hands-down best films of a year that’s only half over, to my to-see list.

   And I thought it was going to be simple. I really did. Knowing what I know of Wes Anderson, I expected one of two things was going to happen:

   Scenario No. 1: The film doesn’t do a thing for me, and I have basically no idea how to even begin getting my head around everyone’s appreciation of it. My intention in this case was to write the following review: “Nope. Still don’t get it.” I’m not kidding. That was going to be my review in its entirety. Simple, and it spares me the stress of trying to get my head around the thing.

   Scenario No. 2: I like it, and I get to write this lengthy, celebratory review raving about the successful conclusion of My Great Quest to Appreciate Wes Anderson Movies, whether that was because of there being something different about this movie that struck me as an improvement over the past films or because I’d finally seen enough weird art stuff to evolve into someone who kind of likes this sort of thing.

   Of course, because Wes Anderson is some kind of prankster demon who exists solely to mess with my head, neither of these things happened.

   On one hand, I actually kind of sort of almost actually liked The Grand Budapest Hotel, a little. Yay!

   On the other hand, I still don’t get it basically at all. I understand my enjoyment of this film about as much as my coldness toward the others, which is to say not at all.

   I keep trying to explain this in a review-like form. What did I like about it? Well, uh, it’s got this dry sense of humor that’s fairly amusing; I kind of like the weird visual thing it has going on; I like how quickly it takes these rapid hard lefts into being completely morbid; I like its sense of comic timing, visual and otherwise; I like, oh, wait, all of that is true of every single movie Wes Anderson has ever made. Um, okay. Ralph Fiennes’ totally unhinged performance in the closest thing the film has to a lead role — a committed and kind of lecherous hotel concierge who ends up in prison on false murder charges after a former guest of the hotel leaves him a rare painting in her will — yeah, I guess that’s not in other Wes Anderson movies. But did one guy seriously rescue this entire thing for me?

   For a second, I suspected that maybe I have changed. Maybe this is the new normal, and if I go back and re-watch the other Anderson movies I’ve seen, I’ll find my estimation of them has improved. I’m not at all opposed to doing that, but I don’t think that covers it. There were still long stretches of The Grand Budapest Hotel that left me cold for the usual variety of reasons. The dryness, the staginess, the underperforming, the primacy of its stylistic choices, what have you. I mean, this is still a Wes Anderson movie.

   Basically, I’m not sure why I wrote this. Other people wrote about it, I guess, and I take my free WordPress site way too seriously. And I’m kind of OCD about writing reviews of everything I see within whatever timeframe has my attention at a given moment.

   So, here’s your worthless review. If you already liked/disliked Wes Anderson, you knew whether or not you were checking this out anyway.

   Please keep reading my blog.

   -Matt T.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Starring- Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Terry Notary, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer

Director- Matt Reeves

PG-13- intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sHMCRaS3ao

I will absolutely stop complaining about franchise filmmaking if all of it is as good as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Set roughly 10 years after the events of 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn follows the intelligent chimpanzee Caesar (motion capture by Andy Serkis) as he attempts to lead a colony of sentient apes and their offspring into some semblance of society in the forests of California. The lab-produced chemical that created them also devastated the human race, and 10 years later, Caesar isn’t convinced there are any left at all.

Until one morning, when a group of humans from a large colony of survivors in the ruins of Los Angeles ventures into the woods. It turns out the humans have some chance of contacting other survivors and rebuilding society if they can restore power to the city by reactivating an old hydroelectric dam in the apes’ territory. Tensions are high between humans and apes — the apes are sore about the way humans treated them when they were only animals, and the humans blame the apes for the flu that killed nearly all of them — but based on his past experience being raised by humans and his esteem for the search party’s leader, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who seems to be well meaning, Caesar agrees to let them conduct their work.

But dissident elements on both sides refuse to cooperate, and soon, what had been an opportunity for peace turns into a potential catalyst for all-out war.

It’s not just that Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a good movie. It’s that it actually has aspirations. Its predecessor did, too, but I largely found it too dry and overly interested in the how rather than the why to quite qualify as great.

We’ve entered an era where our mainstream blockbusters, with a handful of exceptions, actually aren’t terrible, but that’s largely because they’ve found a simple and fairly easy formula that regularly produces passable entertainment but almost never turns interesting on any level. What we usually get are well-mounted spectacles that basically give you a hero you like, basically give you a villain you dislike, and then pit them in a conflict that basically has some sort of structure and is basically smart enough not to test your patience with cinematic chaos. It’s all part of ensuring that the story, such as it were, goes on for sequel after sequel after sequel.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, on the other hand, is actually a thematically complete story that both follows and realizes its own implications, thematically and otherwise, doesn’t adhere to a specific Point-A-to-Point-B formula, allows the story and characters to drive the action rather than the other way around, and isn’t afraid to take risks or send the story spiraling off in a totally different direction when it needs to. It’s a blockbuster and, yes, a piece of spectacle that doesn’t live inside a box; it’s free to follow the elements inherent to its story to their necessary resolutions and to deal with whatever that does to the trajectory of the franchise.

I’ll admit that part of that is because the Planet of the Apes franchise has always been more about the premise — hyper-intelligent apes becoming the planet’s dominant species and eventually making slaves of the humans — than about the characters, who get shuffled around and replaced from film to film, so there’s no real status quo that needs to be maintained. And the premise is large, so you can pretty much go wherever with it. Regardless, it’s genuinely exciting to see a big-budget action movie that’s so freeform in its approach and so singularly — and, for that matter, intelligently — focused on telling a good story. There was a moment during Dawn of the Planet of the Apes where I realized that even though the eventual endgame is a foregone conclusion, I genuinely didn’t know where the story was going or how it would end, and I felt as though not a single one of the characters, not even Caesar, was safe.

But moreover, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is an even rarer beast — actual science fiction, science fiction that doesn’t just throw some cool technology at you but that uses an unreal premise to highlight very real problems. I’ve seen critics draw direct parallels between this movie and the situation in Israel and Palestine, and while I might not go that far — though, hey, what you get out of it is what you get out of it — that certainly illustrates the surprising intelligence of this movie. Really, it’s about man’s inhumanity to man — or to apes, I guess. I mean, they’re kind of like men, right? It’s about the complexities of war and the ways in which the human race (again, represented here by apes sometimes) manages to keep falling into the same pits over and over again. And I do mean that it’s about that, not just that it invokes it as sidelined social commentary that gives it a time and place culturally but that doesn’t particularly say much.

This is an action movie without a true villain — at least, not in terms of the sides. In the war that’s brewing, you don’t know whether to root for the humans or the apes — both have very real needs at stake and understandable reasons for the lengths they’re willing to go to. Moreover, the two sides have largely the same composition. Each gets a protagonist — Caesar for the apes and Malcolm for the humans — who is essentially a good person, who believes that peace is possible, and who is willing to risk life and limb to talk the problems out and arrive at a mutually agreeable compromise.

Each side also gets an antagonist. For the humans, it’s the colony’s leader, Dreyfuss (Gary Oldman), who seems as though he hasn’t yet processed that the apes are as sentient as he is now and who is willing to go to extreme lengths to rebuild the modern world. For the apes, it’s returning character Koba (motion capture by Toby Kebbell), who was tortured and mutilated in lab experimentation and feels nothing but hatred for the human race.

But though they are antagonists, it’s hard to call either of these characters villains. In fact, based on how he was presented in the trailers, I was surprised and how much I didn’t dislike Dreyfuss — he shows a bit of a ruthless streak early on when he demonstrates that he’s willing to go to war to seize the dam even if the apes don’t draw first blood, but nearly everything else he does is totally justifiable within the confines of reasonable self-defense.

It would be easier to argue that Koba is more of a straight villain — as events progress, his true nature is slowly exposed, and it becomes clear that he is almost entirely devoid of positive characteristics. But his evil still inhabits a very real and understandable place. Terrible things have happened to him, and he’s no longer able to process that except through an obsessive desire for vengeance. What makes him even more real is the complex series of justifications he’s set up to convince himself that he’s not the bad guy. He gives Caesar time to solve the problem, but it’s clear he was never going to accept any answer other than “exterminate the humans” — though he probably thought he would. He’s also almost certainly convinced that he’s acting in the best interest of the apes, and he repeats that mantra endlessly, but whenever he faces a choice between his people and his revenge, he always goes for the latter. Nothing else matters to him. Hatred has blinded him, and he may be beyond convincing.

Both sides are composed mainly of neutral parties who just want to survive and will do what they have to in order to make that happen. There’s a chance at peace — there are leaders in each camp who want it, and most of the rank and file are likely willing to give it a try.

But the angry, paranoid, and/or hateful ones are the ones who bring guns to the exchanges and draw up secret plans behind everyone’s backs, so they also happen to carry the loudest megaphones. The reasonable people have to respond to what they’re doing — and they have to respond without all of the necessary information. How else are they going to discern the differences between the acts of a few and the acts of the many? And that’s how this whole thing gets started. Small acts of reactionary violence, mistrust, and unnecessary contingency planning set the stage, dousing it in fuel. And then, it only takes one person to drop a match. And all of a sudden, everyone’s marching off to war while the few peacemakers who remain scramble desperately to stop the tide, even as one domino crashes into another and everyone gets ready to annihilate an enemy they don’t understand in the least.

In that way, Dawn doesn’t really feel like your average blockbuster. It’s not fun. From the beginning, there’s a sense of desolation and loss permeating everything. It’s a morose film that, as it proceeds, becomes less and less frantic and more and more resigned to the inevitability of destruction. It punctuates that with moments of hope and light that are necessary both to keep the film from spiraling into monotone darkness and to make the heightening tragedy hurt that much worse for the realization of what everyone’s losing. It’s hard to say that anyone ever really won a war.

And it’s kind of impressive that Dawn manages to accomplish all that despite being a film containing a scene wherein a chimpanzee goes machine guns akimbo on horseback.

I do think there are a couple of plot and character developments that come off as touch undercooked. Note — I think that all of the development in this movie exists on the same continuum, so it wasn’t that I outright didn’t believe that these things couldn’t happen. But every now and then, a character would take a giant leap forward without a whole lot of justification. The most glaring example of this, for me, happens in the climax. There’s something one of the antagonists does that left me thinking there was no way anyone would continue to follow him afterward, and yet, they all do, just with trademarked Sideways Glances of Conflicted Henchman Conscience.

As well, the movie inherits one of its predecessor’s biggest problems — the flatness of its human characters. It’s less dramatic a problem here; at least the story is going out of its way to try to connect everyone emotionally. I actually think this is more of an acting problem than a writing one, though both are culpable. The actors all do a fine job of conveying the basic emotional fiber of whatever scene they’re in, but few of them are diving deeper and finding those little quirks and mannerisms that make a character register as a real person. Of course, Caesar is still the star of this franchise, and Andy Serkis is still knocking it out of the park. I think some love needs to go Toby Kebbell’s way, too, for bringing such palpable menace to Koba. It only takes a glance from that guy to set you on edge.

Despite its flaws, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is well-told, smart, and emotionally effective science fiction, arguably close to the level of the original Planet of the Apes. It’s amazing how one movie can take you from general disinterest in a franchise to excitement for its next installment. I can’t wait for part three.

 

-Matt T.

The Hunt (2013)
Starring- Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larson, Annika Wedderkoppe, Lasse Fogelstrom, Susse Wold, Anne Louise Hassing, Lars Ranthe, Alexandra Rapaport, Sebastian Bull Sarning
Director- Thomas Vinterberg

R- sexual content including a graphic image, violence and language
Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vK9cO7QN8Ak

We’re pretty far into 2014, so after Her came out, I was planning to be done writing reviews of 2013 films, with the possible exception of The Wind Rises, depending on whether or not I think my feelings about it are interesting one way or another. This was also because other than that film, there wasn’t much from 2013 that I was really planning to check out.

However, back around the beginning of the year, I decided to kick off a question to watch everything in the IMDB Top 250 that I hadn’t seen. That begin with adding everything that was available for streaming on Netflix. The Hunt was one of those. For some reason, I didn’t remember until later that it technically did qualify as a 2013 film based on the criteria that I use.

So, I’m not really game for a full review, but I’d like to share some of my thoughts anyway now that I’ve seen it. So, here’s a brief overview.

What It’s About: A kindly kindergarten teacher and respected member of the community has his life turned upside down when a student accuses him of sexual abuse, kicking off a relentless witch hunt in his formerly idyllic small town.

What I Think: No major complaints here. It’s a really good film, and it definitely deserved its spot on the foreign language shortlist at the most recent Academy Awards. It’s one of those movies that’s just impressively solid, in that everything is executed skillfully and with a feeling of effortlessness. Everyone knows what they’re doing, and the missteps are slight.

The cast is fantastic, and it needs to be. You don’t want to elevate a plot this emotionally intense into something maudlin and cheap, so you need the kind of actors who are going to imbue it with subtlety and realism, and all of them do. Mads Mikkelsen, of course, stands out in the lead role. You can tell he’s a fundamentally decent if noticeably imperfect man, and you can feel the weight of the burden these heinous accusations bring down on him. It’s tragic watching the life he’s tried to build crumble around him as nearly everyone he knows turns against him. His hollow eyes emphasize the isolation and shame of knowing he’s innocent when, in the minds of everyone else, he has been all but condemned for one of the most horrid acts a man can commit.

The main strength of the film, though, is in the way it asks serious questions about very weighty problems we face in the real world. If it has a singular thesis, it’s a condemnation of the human tendency to find someone to blame and to resist suggestions that our initial conclusions might have been wrong. I think it looks with disdain upon the media circus that surrounds certain criminal cases, regardless of their national significance. But it’s more complicated than that. The film doesn’t go down easily, and I mean that in the best possible way. It knows, one some level, that this is an extraordinarily difficult situation and the sort of thing that will never wrap up in such a way that people will forgive and forget. It’s already so difficult for rape victims to come forward that we can’t in good conscience create a situation in which it’s harder still, where they’re viewed with suspicion and judgment. Their claims have to be taken seriously. Of course, there are liars out there, and even if there isn’t any substance to their accusations, can it be possible for someone to be publicly declared a child molester and later go on to recover from that event and regain his or her old reputation? Can “innocent until proven guilty” really be the standard regarding who gets to be around children? It’s all very complex, and there’s no tragedy-free way to navigate that situation. That only heightens the pervasive sadness and ruin of this film.

My only real issue with it is some general skepticism about the ending. I know what it’s going for, and I think that’s even the right angle from which to approach it, but I think the execution could be better in a number of senses.

But overall, The Hunt is definitely a pretty great movie, and I’m glad the IMDB Top 250 retained it long enough for me to have a reason to see it. I wish I’d held off on my 2013 Top 20 for a few more weeks, because The Hunt would definitely have been on it somewhere.

-Matt T.

RoboCop (2014)

Starring- Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Earle Haley, Michael K. Williams, Jennifer Ehle, Jay Baruchel, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Samuel L. Jackson, Aimee Garcia

Director- Jose Padilha

PG-13- intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INmtQXUXez8

I don’t know whether or not I should consider it a success that RoboCop is strong and weak in exactly the same ways as the original film.

It’s definitely not as bad as you’d expect. From the moment all of the surprisingly high-caliber talent being courted for this movie walked away from it and we got those set photos of dark, gritty RoboCop in sleek, black armor designed for total seriousness, we knew what we were getting: exactly what we figured a modern RoboCop remake would be. Serious, dark, self-important, lacking in self-awareness, not even remotely cognizant of the fact that the original was supposed to be satire, and stamped with a PG-13 for mass consumption. Fortunately, only the last of those is true. Well, to an extent, anyway.

I guess the issue is that I don’t hold the original in particularly high esteem anyway. I went into it being told that it would sate my appetite both for cheesy, stupid 80s action flicks and for sneaky, intelligent satire disguised as the former. I didn’t really get either. It had its moments of over-the-top 80s-ness, but mostly, it wasn’t as bombastic as I’d hoped. And the satire is definitely there, but it’s all over the place and mostly hangs out in the background not having anything to do with the plot.

I can at least praise the new RoboCop for being aware that the original is satire and even trying to update it for modern times. (Well, it might be more accurate to call it a socially conscious action movie than a satire, because it’s fairly humorless overall.) This time, it’s drone warfare and American foreign policy. Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), CEO of OmniCorp, has made a fortune selling sophisticated robot soldiers to the U.S. Army, which has been using them as an occupation force all across the globe. Now, he wants to bring his inventions to the police force in America, but the government has resisted, fearing that putting the power of life and death in the hands of soulless robots could end in disaster.

When veteran cop Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) falls victim to a car bomb — designed to silence his investigations into the Detroit drug industry — OmniCorp sees an opportunity to combine the efficiency of machines with the soul of a man. A leading scientist in the prosthetics field, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), is hired to put what’s left of Murphy into a heavily-armored, digitally advanced metal body — becoming RoboCop.

You’ve got the drone warfare stuff, the American foreign policy double standard stuff, etc. Some of the first movie’s targets come back as well — corporatism, obviously, as the film turns into a war between Murphy’s need for a soul and OmniCorp’s need for a solid bottom line. There’s the fascism somewhat inherent in the RoboCop concept as well. It takes the same shots at the media, too, updated for the modern age — Samuel L. Jackson plays a TV host who’s Bill O’Reilly in personality and CNN in garish, over-the-top graphics.

It’s not a dumb movie, though. It actually gets close to justifying its existence as a remake in the way that it uses the story and the character to explore different, related concepts in our time. And that’s necessary — I sometimes suspect that maybe the reason the original didn’t resonate with me all that much is because what it called “satire,” I call “the world I live in.” The themes it does carry over from the source material happen largely as a byproduct of following the same structural beats — and even those aren’t overly beholden to the original. The biggest moments in this movie have direct counterparts in the RoboCop of the 1980s, but they’ve been totally re-contextualized here. It’s very much trying to be its own thing on a story level, while still being recognized as a modern take on the idea.

You could even argue that it handles the human elements of Murphy’s character even better, in that his corporate overlords aren’t trying to strip him of his consciousness from the get-go. That keeps his family involved in the story and gives him something to fight for, and it also turns OmniCorp’s decisions into a moral slippery slope that you can follow as things progress.

But like the original, it’s all so…unfocused. It’s definitely touching upon some big subjects, but it’s doing that in this really ancillary way. It marketed itself heavily on the foreign policy metaphor, but that only covers the opening scene of the movie. The corporate elements might not even be as strong as the original, which was constantly giving you a sense of the corruptive power its big, robot-inventing business had in that world. Here, it’s a couple of people in one ordinary-size corporation messing with one person’s life, and that’s it. And the media satire pops up pretty much the way it did in the original — relatively unnecessary scenes, mostly unconnected from the story at large, existing mainly to mock TV news and then move on to something else. It’s all there, but so little is done with any of it that it’s hard to call it satire or metaphor or whatever you would brand it.

The only thread that comes close to consistency is Murphy dealing with the changes that were forced upon him, trying to balance them with his humanity, losing his soul entirely as OmniCorp slowly tightens its grip, and then trying to defeat his programming to regain it. And to be fair, that’s probably the most important one to get right, and the fact that RoboCop comes close is the main reason why it isn’t awful.

What kills that is a fairly typical issue with action movies of somewhat lower pedigree — Murphy and his family come straight out of Hollywood’s Generic Suburban White People Generator. It’s, perhaps appropriately, like robots attempting to mimic human emotion. “You see, audience humans? He derives satisfaction from viewing sporting events with his son and seeing his physically attractive mate in her undergarments. Please describe for our research how this makes you emote.”

   But I guess if I didn’t like the original RoboCop, it was probably inevitable that I wouldn’t care for the remake either. I do have to give it some points for actually trying to be something and even succeeding in a handful of ways. It’s not what you feared the RoboCop remake would be (well, again, other than rated PG-13). But it’s probably not what you’d want it to be either.

 

   -Matt T.

22 Jump Street (2014)

Starring- Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Peter Stormare, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens, Jillian Bell, Ice Cube, The Lucas Brothers, Nick Offerman, Jimmy Tatro

Directors- Phil Lord and Christopher Miller

R- language throughout, sexual content, drug material, brief nudity and some violence

Trailer- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqBePUi0I04

   Can you think of a comedy sequel that was as good as the original? I’ve been giving it some thought here and there ever since Anchorman 2, and I honestly can’t think of a single one. Yeah, okay, there have been one or two that have been all right, but they were steps down from their predecessors either way. And most of them are outright terrible.

   But look no further — at long last, we have a comedy sequel that matches the original. And in fact, as far as I’m concerned, 22 Jump Street skipped merrily on its way to breaking a second record — as the first comedy sequel that’s better than the original.

   After their success at the end of 21 Jump Street, the department calls part-time undercover cops and full-time complete morons Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) back into the fold for a new mission. This time, they’re to go undercover as college students to bust the dealers of a new “it” drug, WHYPHY (pronounced Wi-Fi). And their orders are to do the exact same thing as last time except with a lot more money.

   So, they do that. But their new case turns out to be a different beast entirely, and soon, they have to consider breaking the mold and striking out on their own — all the while their partnership threatens to unravel.

   The original 21 Jump Street came as a bit of a shock. There haven’t been many movies more transparently pinned with the “it’s January, nobody cares about this franchise, and we don’t care if it sucks” banner. At that point, we didn’t really know what Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were capable of, other than that they managed to make an amusing cartoon out of an unlikely premise. They were still fresh faces, new to live action, and making a reboot of an old television show that no one under the age of 25 has ever actually watched. It was all a part of reboot mania. No one was going to take a risk on this.

   …Except they did. Of all the franchises, they decided that 21 Jump Street was the one out of which they were actually going to try to make a good movie. I don’t praise studio executives much — in fact, this is likely to be the first and last time — but they deserve at least a couple of high-fives for taking a movie nobody cared about and giving a pair of up-and-comers the license not only to do what they wanted with it but to use it to ruthlessly mock their own employers.

   21 Jump Street definitely centered a lot of its humor around making fun of its own existence and the fact that the studio heads actually greenlit it, but those jokes were a relatively small part of the film overall. But as it was a success, the second time around, said studio heads gave Lord and Miller even more money to do the exact same thing, and oh, boy, do they ever — by having the entire movie mercilessly mock them for giving them more money to do the exact same thing. 22 Jump Street is the Inception of meta-humor: It makes fun of comedy sequels for doing the exact same thing as the original except bigger by doing the exact same thing except bigger, “the exact same thing” here already being defined as mockery of self and Hollywood in general.

   I don’t know if Lord and Miller secretly hate this project and decided to have that loathing manifest in the most hilarious way possible. Whatever they’re doing, it’s hilarious.

   From the beginning, Schmidt and Jenko are tossed into their new location at 22 Jump Street, where Nick Offerman’s character gives them pretty much the same speech as in the last movie — nobody thought rebooting the Jump Street Program from the 80s was actually going to do anything, but it turned out to be quite popular, so now, the department is giving you tons of money to do the exact same thing. The money, of course, is shown to have been spent extremely arbitrarily, largely on sprucing up the office into something out of Star Trek.

   And Schmidt and Jenko are careful to make sure they do the exact same thing as last time. I’m not sure whether I should be mad at this movie for being a complete and transparent retread of its predecessor or happy for the fact that it’s so funny about it. Schmidt and Jenko go through the exact same distancing and re-bonding exercise — they’re even warned beforehand that partnerships tend to get frayed on the second mission just because. Only this time, it’s Jenko who begins to break off the pairing after he falls in with a fraternity of party animals who think he’s the best thing ever.

   Throughout, the department keeps locking them into the same routine, completely overlooking obvious revelations and pieces of evidence and failing the investigation entirely solely to ensure that it does the exact same thing and doesn’t make fans of the first operation unhappy. (Seriously.) Schmidt and Jenko have to start doing their own thing in order to actually catch the bad guys — but it ends up in largely the same place, but instead of a big car chase, it’s a big helicopter chase. It has a lot of the same beats — but they’re fresh because, this time, our two heroes are actively trying to keep those beats from happening again but are constantly failing.

   22 Jump Street is an unnecessary sequel to an unnecessary reboot that, like its predecessor, knows it’s unnecessary, makes all its jokes about how unnecessary it is, and is so successful and satirizing its own uselessness and that of Hollywood franchises in general that it becomes necessary in its unnecessariness. Again — the Inception of comedy sequels. Every time you think it can’t go deeper, it manages to. At one point, the Jump Street Program exceeds its budget, so Schmidt and Jenko have to rein it in. This leads to an absurdly over-the-top car chase through museums and art displays where the participants keep crashing through everything and shouting, “That was so expensive!”

   And it’s the only reason I think it’s better than the original. 21 Jump Street got away with a lot, but the meta-humor mainly occurred in Offerman’s handful of scenes. 22 Jump Street goes the whole way. The comedy pays off in a way that it doesn’t in the first one, and the film as a whole feels more cohesive.

   As with the first movie, there are two duos that keep this thing going. The first one, obviously, consists of Lord and Miller. Whether by accident or design, they’re weird guys in a weird place career-wise, but they’re really smart and know exactly what they’re doing, whatever it is. And the best part is how unpretentious they are about that intelligence. I see too many comedies these days that are self-aware in the bad way — performers who seem like they’re trying to impress people with their wit or ideas. Lord and Miller’s films carry the sense of an entire production team trying to amuse itself. It seems like everyone involved is having a great time. In every scene, you know the directors and crew are off to the side fighting valiantly to maintain their composure. I’ll bet the behind-the-scenes features for this movie are going to be hilarious. All that energy comes together to make a film that never really slows down and establishes a sense of play between the characters and the situations in which they find themselves. Everyone is having a ton of fun, and it’s hard not to get swept up in that.

   The other duo, of course, is Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, whose chemistry has carried this entire series thus far. Pairing the brains and the muscle isn’t even remotely novel with buddy cop movies, but these two guys are just so good at it. Hill, of course, has usually been reliable for a laugh; he has a great sense of physical comedy that sells Schmidt’s complete helplessness in the face of danger. And while Schmidt is technically smart in a bookish sort of way, he’s a total idiot when it comes to analyzing his own behavior, thinking on his feet, and keeping composure when things get rough. Inevitably, his bad ideas throw Jenko into one humiliating situation or another (a scene in which the two are caught spying in a library is particularly…egregious).

   As for Tatum, honestly, I just kind of want to high-five his agent. He had a string of bad movies and bad parts that nearly bought him Ben Affleck levels of notoriety. Very few recover from that, but he almost has, and it’s because he’s handled it with uncommon grace. He achieved self-awareness and has now built a successful career on making fun of his own persona, which obviously fits great into a movie like 22 Jump Street. Jenko is one of the greatest “dumb muscle” characters of all time; he’s such a lovable moron that his antics eventually become weirdly adorable. Of the two, he’s the one who can handle himself in a fight and pull off all the big stunts, but every time he opens his mouth, idiocy spews forth. He flubs his one-liners midway through. The part of his mind that processes innuendo is completely broken. He treats all of the things he’s learning in his gender studies class like the Enlightenment (“I don’t want to be a homophone”). At one point, he even curses out his own brain.

   There’s this part of me that still feels as though, on some level, I’m culturally required to hate the guy. But I can’t. Tatum was probably the funniest thing about 21 Jump Street. And he’s definitely the funniest thing about 22 Jump Street. That’s no fluke. Without a doubt, he has the movie’s best scene — seriously, you need to go into it blind, so I’m not even going to hint at the specifics, but it involves Jenko reacting to an interesting piece of news. You will absolutely know it when you see it because your sides will be hurting.

   It’s hard for me to imagine anyone who liked the first one not enjoying 22 Jump Street at least as much, so if you haven’t seen it yet, what are you waiting for? And if you didn’t enjoy the first one, well, there’s no hope for you anyway.

   -Matt T.

Hey, everybody! It’s that time of year — time to name my favorite movies from last year!

“But wait!” you say. “The time of year to name one’s favorites is sometime in January or perhaps, with some apology, February, but absolutely no later!”

“This is a good point,” I would respond, “but firstly, if I was a time lord, it’s not as though I would tell you. And anyway, it is that time of year — for reviewers who live in an area with no theaters that play anything other than major blockbusters who therefore do not catch up on the films of the year before until well into June.”

So, here we are, and anyway, it’s my site. What are you going to do about it?

…Wait, don’t change the page; please, I neeeeeeed youuuuuuuuuuu.

So, um, anyway. 2013 wasn’t a half-bad year for movies. It was actually a pretty good one. I think I overstated its greatness a touch in some of my earlier reviews, but then again, after the total mediocrity of 2012 and, to a lesser extent, 2011, it was easy to forget what it feels like to have that many great and/or interesting movies come out in a single year. So, yeah, maybe I overreacted a little, but still — overall, 2013 was a quality year with some quality cinema.

So, here are my Top 20 favorites for the year of 2013. Keep in mind that this is not a list of the “best” films of the year, though if I were to attempt to make one, its structure would be at least a little similar. No, this is just a list that tries to compile my personal reaction to the year’s films in some kind of order — one that’s fairly arbitrary and likely to change as I revisit some of these. For now, it’s the best I can do. (Also, I should note that there’s one movie I have yet to see that, based on the critical reception, might be a threat to this list, and that’s The Wind Rises.)

Without further ado…

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20. All Is Lost

This was one of the most competitive years in recent memory for the Best Actor categories on the awards circuit. Regardless, it was insane how many of them opted to exclude Robert Redford from the running. Who else, this year, single-handedly carried an entire film? What other actor or actress had this much placed on their shoulders and worked it out? I’ll be clear — without Redford, this film wouldn’t work. The script supplies no information on this character, and it offers no supporting players with whom he can interact. It’s just him and the sea. I’ll admit that there are a lot of scenes in this movie that struck me as nothing more than a guy pulling on some ropes and whatnot, but what happens in between features some incredibly harrowing adventuring, some gorgeous visuals, and, again, absolutely brilliant acting.

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19. Frozen

There’s a cultural bandwagon surrounding this movie that I don’t quite think I’m on, but nevertheless, this is the best Disney Animation’s been since I was a small child. You’ve got your staples — rip-roaring adventure, fun characters, a snappy sense of visual comedy, a couple of decent songs, and some beautiful animation. Where Frozen goes the extra mile is in the surprising intelligence of its script. It goes well out of its way to subvert the usual Disney tropes of true love and specific gender roles, but it does that without hate and sarcasm. In showing the truth of the world we live in, it makes reality look better than fiction, and on that level, it really is a fantastic kids’ movie.

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18. Philomena

It’s always a pleasant experience to enjoy a movie more than you expect to, and that was the case here. It seemed like pretty transparent Oscar bait — likely a bit boring and stuffy and, honestly, kind of flat. And to be fair, I don’t think it ducks out of that entirely, but outside of that, it’s surprisingly sweet and funny, and moreover, it isn’t dumb. It wrestles with some pretty intense realities and gets through it mostly unscathed, even if it seems to like questions better than answers. The acting is great, the two leads have wonderful chemistry, and the film is a whole is quite charming.

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17. Inside Llewyn Davis

I don’t think anyone would argue that Joel and Ethan Coen aren’t among the best directors working, if they aren’t, in fact, the best period. But they’re a diverse pair, and on a personal level, sometimes, they make films I love, and other times, they make films that I find inscrutable, weird, and/or a touch off-putting. Inside Llewyn Davis is somewhere in the middle — there’s a level on which I love it and a level on which I found that it just lost me. Fortunately, I spent more time in the first mindset than the second, and that’s why it made the list. It’s an enjoyable if not entirely insightful study of a terrible person who doesn’t realize he’s terrible and realizes even less his potential to do something great. It’s a universally spectacular cast of actors, and no one ever looks worse for getting to recite Coen dialogue. But of course, it’s the music that carries it to the next level.

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16. The Kings of Summer

Here was another pleasant surprise in 2013. I’m kind of burned out on indie comedies because, as I said in this review, they tend to be more quirky and unusual than actually funny. The Kings of Summer, fortunately, is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Each of the three main characters fits well into the overall comedic tone — you’ve got your uptight, paranoid straight man, you’ve got your idealistic, melodramatic moron with tons of bad ideas that seem like great ones at the time, and you’ve got your complete lunatic. It’s a tried-and-true formula. And while the dramatic bits at the end don’t quite stick the way you’d hope, they still wrap the film up nicely and turn it into something that’s real but optimistic. We’ve been getting some great coming-of-age films lately, and The Kings of Summer belongs at the top of the stack.

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15. Upstream Color

It’s difficult to talk about this movie because it’s difficult to watch this movie. Honestly, it’s been a year, and I’m still not entirely sure what actually happens in this. But you know what? I’m totally fine with that. Upstream Color is like one of the great symphonies — they’re sound only, not about anything concrete and containing no particular thesis, and yet, they’re beautiful. Upstream Color is imagery and sound in a beautiful and heartfelt narrative. It’s like someone set music to your favorite painting. Those, combined with what story it’s possible to comprehend, make Upstream Color, if not an intellectual experience, one that, emotionally, seems to take you on a journey through life in its entirety.

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14. Pacific Rim

Because I like it when giant robots punch giant monsters in the face. I like it a lot.

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13. Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station qualifies as “good enough that I wish it was better,” but still, it’s very good. More importantly, I think it’s the sort of film our society needs right around now, for all the things that have happened of late and how they’ve affected us as people. It’s gentle and unobtrusive, and yet, it feels like a desperate cry. It heard the controversy, and instead of going after it politically, it targets the moral element. Regardless of how you think this problem ought to be solved, it says, we absolutely cannot forget that we’re talking about human beings here. And whether you think they were good ones or not, they all had the potential to be. Each of them loved and was loved by someone. That’s about the most important thing a film can do, and I’m glad that Fruitvale Station managed to do it so well.

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12. Wadjda

It says something about the quality of the films that were released this year that Wadjda didn’t even manage to scratch the Top 10. It’s pretty fantastic. It seems that films about bigotry and oppression are in vogue right now, and I’m glad that we managed to get a movie like Wadjda before it passed. To some extent, we need the films that focus on the major historical and modern injustices; they are weapons against complacency. But we also need films about the small ones — the little things we do that we perceive as bearable, not that bad, not technically limiting one person or another all that much more than oneself. We need films like Wadjda that show how the little things compound to restrict one’s identity and to transform the mundane and the everyday into an endless series of quiet suffering. All the better that Wadjda is otherwise a fairly lighthearted family film. I think this movie passed the year far too underrated. It needs to be seen.

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11. This Is Martin Bonner

It’s strange, but it’s difficult to put this film at the top of a year-end favorites list for precisely the reason that it’s great — it’s low-key, small, short, and has no interest in anyone’s accolades. And I love that about it. It’s a simple story about the everyday, ordinary problems of a pair of everyday, ordinary people. And it executes that with grace, subtlety, and insight.

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10. The World’s End

This isn’t even my favorite Edgar Wright movie, which says so much about his work. Yeah, you can definitely count me among the people who are very unhappy with Marvel right now over this whole Ant-Man situation. I’m always excited for anything Wright does. He might not be the best director working right now — though he probably belongs on the list somewhere — but he’s distinct and daring in his approach, and that’s sorely lacking in Hollywood culture right now. The World’s End is a true genre-blender: an adventure sci-fi comedy drama horror disaster movie. Most of Wright’s films are like that, and The World’s End is no different from them in that all of these disparate elements work somehow. No one is quite as good as Wright at managing absurd and constant comedy against incisive and gut-wrenching drama. The World’s End is a ton of fun, and you don’t have to turn your brain off. Sign me up.

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9. The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street is not for everyone. I know I keep saying that, but it always bears repeating, because I would hate to send an unprepared soul into the dark pit of insanity that is this movie. It’s Martin Scorcese at the top of his game, and let’s face it, this is a guy who plays pretty well even when he isn’t. The Wolf of Wall Street is directed with an electricity lacking from far too many of its counterparts — and given its willingness to do literally anything for a laugh, it badly needs that sense of completely unbound adventurousness. It is the id of a fraternity party animal unleashed on the big screen. And it’s kind of hilarious, in a guilty sort of way. A lot of people see it as embracing Jordan Belfort’s lifestyle, but not me. This isn’t really a film about indicting him anyway. It’s more of a wake-up call: These, by their own admission, are the guys who run your financial system and hold the power to crash the global economy in the palms of their hands. What are you going to do about it?

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8. Mud

Seeing a movie like this clock in at only No. 8 really puts in perspective exactly what a good year 2013 was for movies. Without seeing it all laid in front of me like this, I would probably have guessed it for the Top 5. But yeah, Mud is a really, really good movie, and it only solidifies my opinion that Jeff Nichols, only three films into his career, is one of the best directors we have. As I said in my review, his greatest gift is his ability to examine and develop his characters so well that the viewers practically share their thoughts. It’s plain to see how everything that happens to them impacts their worldviews and shapes them for better or worse. This is the first time he’s tackled a Spielberg-esque coming-of-age story: rough and sometimes uncomfortable, but ultimately sweet, heartfelt, and adventurous. Despite its flaws, Mud is the sort of movie I could watch again and again, and I don’t think I’d ever get bored with it. Also, how about that Matthew McConnaughey, huh?

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7. Frances Ha

Greta Gerwig needs to be a star, like, right now. She’s an incredibly likable on-screen presence: haphazard and uncertain but filled with hope, wonder, and good humor. Frances Ha came along in my life exactly when I needed it. It’s one of the best films ever made about my generation. It’s ultimately a story about learning to become the master of your own destiny and realizing exactly how significant that ability is, how far it can take you and how much it can change. The way it tells that story is fluid, graceful, and subtle. More importantly, it doesn’t languish in its own misery. There’s a way to understand the darkness that exists while remaining optimistic about the light, and that’s the middle ground this film inhabits. It’s charming, funny, and, in the end, deeply moving.

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6. Captain Phillips

I honestly didn’t think this movie could possibly be as good as it ultimately was. While the events on which it was based unfolded, I remember thinking that it was inevitably going to become a movie. The fact that it was released so soon after the event itself had me thinking it was just trying to capture the moment. The trailers only confirmed, in my mind, that the movie was made mainly to win awards. But lo and behold: not only is Captain Phillips pretty darn great, it’s arguably the best movie Paul Greengrass has ever made. Yeah, he still spends the entire run-time trying to nauseate you with the camera, but the story is absolutely fantastic, hands-down one of the best scripts of the year. The movie could easily have settled for being an action-thriller, but Billy Ray and Greengrass aimed for something higher, essentially turning the whole production into something of a metaphor for the West’s interactions with the Third World in general. It’s not very straightforward; it chooses to be emotionally complicated and to make everyone human, composed of good and evil alike. The ending is probably the year’s best; that scene — and this movie — belongs on Tom Hanks’s highlight reel. Captain Phillips is gripping, intelligent, and extremely well made.

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5. Before Midnight

Richard Linklater is slowly turning into one of my favorite directors (and on that subject, am I the only person who seriously cannot wait for Boyhood?). He’s great with characters, actors, and dialogue, and he’s proven capable of working out a variety of different projects: from the raucous comedy of School of Rock to the quiet drama of, well, this. It seems of late that he’s interested in the impact of time on stories and on the filmmaking process. It started with the Before movies, and I’m loving this experience: creating a pair of characters and then jumping in on them every nine years, in our time as well as theirs, to see how their relationship has changed. As such, there isn’t much of a “plot,” per see. Largely, our two lovers, Jesse and Celine, just walk around and talk to each other. But they are wonderful together, and it’s heart breaking to see this film finally begin to expose the weaknesses in their relationship. It’s so grounded and real that it begins to feel like watching a pair of your own friends fight. Few scenes this year — or ever — have been as painful as the climax of Before Midnight. But there’s beauty here, too, and I’m hoping that I’ll get to spend another two hours with Jesse and Celine nine years from now.

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4. 12 Years a Slave

I’m not sure how to even begin condensing my feelings about this movie other than to say that we needed this. Badly. Wadjda covered the minutia of oppression. 12 Years a Slave went for the jugulars. The story of Solomon Northup is an incredible one and the best one possible to expose the evils of slavery, seeing that he was traded from “kind” masters to brutal ones to those somewhere in the middle. It’s not just about the work and the beatings and whatever else, though. It’s about the inevitable way in which such a system deprives you of your humanity and drags you slowly into despair. That’s the part we all too often forget exists. And that’s the part that makes it hell. 12 Years a Slave is dark, haunting, and deeply disturbing — and that’s why it’s great. It’s a cry in the dark that refuses every temptation toward easy catharsis and traditional storytelling tactics. It’s intelligent, but it is also passionate. It was a worthy Best Picture winner.

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3. Gravity

This movie is an incredible experience. It’s stripped of bloat and pretense and focuses solely on creating the perils and beauties of outer space in intense detail and taking audiences on an adventure through it. Visually, it’s on the all-time list — Alfonso Cuaron achieved, at the very least, his directorial masterpiece with this. It’s not just the effects — though those are fantastic — it’s the technique. It’s the way he holds shots as long as he can, anchoring the camera to our heroine and following her through one terrifying calamity after the next. It’s the way he gives the camera weightlessness and unlimited freedom in movement, dragging it in and pulling it out and swirling above and below the action. It’s incredibly fluid filmmaking, and Cuaron uses it to maximum effect, making a movie that knows exactly how long to let the audience breathe and exactly when to ratchet the tension up to insufferable levels. Moreover, he knows that a functional experience works only because the audience is connected to it emotionally, and with incredibly limited storytelling tools at his disposal, he nevertheless manages to attach his viewers to his characters and to say something interesting about the human spirit and finding meaning in life. It’s that rare survival story that actually leaves you feeling truly glad to be alive.

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2. Short Term 12

Any other year. Any other year, I’d be putting this in the No. 1 slot without the slightest doubt in my mind. Short Term 12 is amazing. It’s very nearly perfect. For me, it was eye-opening, taking me into a very real world about which I knew nothing and teaching me something new about my fellow man. It’s simultaneously dark and, yet, incredibly hopeful. It’s a film about healing and moving on. It helps immensely that Dustin Cretton worked in a group care home and brought his wealth of knowledge and experiences to writing this story. It’s very detailed and is constantly coming forth with new insights into the way abuse and neglect affects the minds of the children who suffer from it and have to carry it into adulthood. And it is so very compassionate toward them. It suffers alongside them but also urges everyone toward finding peace with the past. It’s a well told, well acted, emotionally involving, and insightful story. I wanted to give it the top slot on this list. I was convinced I was going to; I even suggested as much in my review of it. But I can’t put it at the top of this list. And the reason I can’t is…

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1. Her

Yeah. I imagine this is no surprise to anyone who reads this site. For me, 2013 definitely saved the best for last. I pretty much temporarily lost my sanity over how good this movie is. Like I said, it’s my favorite of 2013 without question, and right now, I am very ready to put it somewhere on the list of the one hundred or so best movies ever made. I think it might actually be my favorite movie out of the over 300 that I’ve reviewed to date. Movies don’t get much closer to being perfect than Her. The script is a piece of honest-to-goodness genius, with fully realized characters, a rich science fiction world, tons of original ideas, and a thousand different things to say about relationships, not just in the digital age but throughout history. It’s about human selfishness, but it’s more than that — it’s about the ways in which we’re selfish and don’t realize it. It’s about the complexities of social interaction, how the deepest hurt is so often caused unknowingly because of our failure to fully understand even ourselves and to communicate properly about the small burdens. But it’s not miserable; far from it, Her is a hopeful and sweet film. The angle from which it approaches this premise is the last one you’d expect it to — it’s not an uncomfortable, gradually agonizing, dark, and psychological cautionary tale about the dangers of certain technological advancements, though it certainly has a few things to say about increasing human detachment in the modern world. No, it’s a love story, through and through. It’s gentle and involving. You get genuinely wrapped up in these characters, even as their exploits occasionally inspire discomfort and wariness. It’s all structured to slowly bring its protagonist to realization and then, change. On top of that, it’s shot beautifully, acted expertly, edited gracefully, scored perfectly, and GAH. I love it. So help me, I love it. Favorite movie of 2013. I have no doubt whatsoever about it.

So, that’s the list. Again — 2013 was a pretty respectable year. Given the lateness of the hour, I’ve already gotten a small taste of what 2014 holds, and there’s been some surprisingly great stuff early on. Let’s hope that continues and makes my job easy next June.