The Theme of Movies in 2013: Rich People Suck
Before I start, I want to address how silly a ranking like this is bound to be. It’s not that lists are inherently dumb—we at NPI (and the Internet writ large) LOVE presenting things in list form. But listing the best movies of 2013 IN 2013 (or, technically, immediately after 2013) feels misguided. It takes a while for feelings about a movie to settle. I saw five of these movies in the last two weeks; who knows how I’ll feel about them in a month? It’s not always clear which movies will be remembered well, or suffer on a rewatching. Looking back at my list from last year, I see about a dozen changes I would make. So consider this list somewhat provisional.
With that said, I saw a lot of movies this year, and lists can be a helpful way of organizing your thoughts on those movies. I’ve borrowed some of my category ideas from Josh’s ranking, but unlike Josh I find the distinction between “independent” movies and studio films to be arbitrary to the point of distraction. Plus, it’s a little pretentious. If a movie is good, it’s good; if it’s bad, it’s bad. Who cares who made it or what the budget was?
Anyway, here are the movies I saw in 2013, in order from worst to best…
The Esquire Theater in Denver, Colorado. Where I watched many of the films on this list, including Blue Jasmine.
I watched and will now rank 27 independent films that came out this year. I don’t expect to match this number until retirement absent a radical career change.
What’s an “independent film”? Defining the term is difficult. Wikipedia defines it as “a professional film production resulting in a feature film that is produced mostly or completely outside of the major film studio system [or] [by the indie] subsidiaries of major film studios [e.g. Fox Searchlight].”* That definition is good enough for me and I adopt it here.
*But why does it matter that a film is “independent”? There seem to be two prime reasons: (1) independence from major film studios — and, consequently, independence from the desires of the median viewer in the demographic the studio wants to attract — permits production of a broader range of content and (2) independent films generally have significantly lower budgets and accordingly have to make tough choices that major studio filmmakers don’t face. And a third reason for ranking purposes: outside of Los Angeles and New York City, most independent films play in different venues — independent theaters and arthouses — than major studio films and only a subset of filmgoers frequent these venues with any regularity. There surely is a bigger debate to be had on whether these reasons hold water and whether there’s a better way to define an independent film —- perhaps solely according to budget —- but I’ll save that for another day.
I missed a few of this year’s highly-acclaimed indie films (e.g. Blackfish, Wadjda, All is Lost) and I left off this list any film I saw that satisfied the above definition but received a lot of play in standard theaters (e.g. Twelve Years a Slave).
“A certain degree of debauchery was even seen as manly, rakish, the bold grasping of forbidden pleasure… In school, in short, they had still no knowledge of life, no sense of all the gradations from coarseness and lechery to sickness and absurdity that fill the adult with revulsion when he hears of such things.” —The Confusions of Young Törless
“This wasn’t just about spring break; it was about seeing something different.” —Spring Breakers
Like a Katy Perry song come to life, the opening minutes of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers are an ode to 21st century hedonism. We see a montage of beer flowing, asses shaking, and bikini tops vanishing, all set against the sunshine and splendor of a Florida beach. Then we’re thrust back to some nameless university in some dreary college town, where a quartet of young girls is trapped away from all this decadence.
Brit, Candy, Cotty, and Faith (Ashley Benson/Vanessa Hudgens/Rachel Korine/Selena Gomez) are introduced as more or less typical college girls: They pass each other notes in class, get bored by authority figures, and dance to bad rap songs in the dorm hallways. Their biggest problem is that they don’t have enough money to go on spring break, which they see as their only escape from the surrounding monotony. Continue reading
Did Lincoln make the list?
Although I already tried to identify the year’s “trend” in movies, I didn’t do a Top 10 list, and obviously no summation of the year is complete without a Top 10 list. Normally, I don’t do such a list for movies, because I rarely see more than 10 films in a given year. In 2012, though, for a variety of reasons—like embracing Josh’s philosophy—I saw more movies than in any other year of my life, so I finally feel qualified to make a list.*
*Of course, I didn’t see EVERY movie this year. So to clarify whether any given film missed the Top 10 because of quality or omission, here is the full list of movies I saw this year:
24) The Amazing Spider-Man
23) The Campaign
22) Zero Dark Thirty
20) The Five-Year Engagement
19) Jeff, Who Lives At Home
18) The Dark Knight Rises
17) The Perks of Being a Wallflower
16) Sleepwalk With Me
15) Safety Not Guaranteed
13) 21 Jump Street
For Love of Country?
It’s rare that I watch enough movies in a given year to identify a “trend” but this year one stood out. Two of main frontrunners for Best Picture this year—Argo and Zero Dark Thirty—were films about CIA operations. Both films have already been nominated for Golden Globes, and while Argo was the early frontrunner, Zero Dark Thirty has gotten most of the recent talk (they even run the gamut alphabetically).
Of course, it’s silly to extrapolate grand themes from two movies, or event to talk about “trends” in a year’s movies—given the variety of production times for movies, any trends are likely to be coincidental. But what’s interesting about both Argo and Zero Dark Thirty is that, though both were based on real events, they each took creative license to glorify the CIA: Argo minimized the role Canada played in the mission to rescue six hostages from Iran, and Zero Dark Thirty erroneously portrays torture as instrumental to the search for Osama bin Laden.
NOTE: This review contains spoilers for Compliance. Though the film is based on real events, if you are not familiar with the real events or the film, I strongly advise seeing the film before reading this or anything else about the film’s plot.
One of the most resonant scenes in Craig Zobel’s powerful new film, Compliance, comes near the end, when Becky (played by Dreama Walker), the fast-food cashier who has been falsely accused, stripped, imprisoned, and raped, wants someone to pay for her ordeal. She tells a lawyer she wants to sue her boss, Sandra. But that’s not the best course of action, says the lawyer. What’s the use in suing a now-unemployed fast-food manager? It makes much more sense to sue the chain where you worked: It will have much deeper pockets and, besides, wasn’t it really the company’s fault, for not having proper guidelines for this type of situation?
This rationale represents a perfect conclusion to the film, which is largely about how people absolve themselves of responsibility by submitting to authority and, moreover, how society tends to reward and condition this behavior. Compliance opens with a small but revealing scene: Sandra (played by Ann Dowd) has to get an emergency delivery after someone left the freezer door open the night before, but the delivery guy chews her out for not telling her supervisor first. “I thought I would deal with this first,” she explains, “I don’t know what I was thinking.” Continue reading
In general, I am against gun control laws. On most days, this is an easy position to take. When I’m not confronted with the threat of a gun, it’s easy to side with more liberty as opposed to less. I’m not a gun person—I’ve never fired or even held a gun—and I don’t think most people should own them, but I don’t want the government taking away a person’s ability to defend himself if he feels it’s necessary.
But then, of course, something like what happened Thursday night in an Aurora, CO movie theater happens. Then it becomes very hard to justify opposition to strict gun control. It is utterly sickening that this keeps happening and nothing changes. Two days before a gunman in Colorado shot 71 people—killing at least 12—at the movies, a gunman in Alabama shot 17 people outside a bar in Tuscaloosa. Six days before that, four kids in Chicago were shot in a park on the South Side. Two days before that, three people, including a 16-year-old kid, were killed in a shooting at a Delaware soccer tournament. One of the victims of the Aurora tragedy narrowly avoided a similar shooting in a Toronto mall only six weeks earlier. The quaint settings of these tragedies—parks, malls, movie theaters—only add to the horror. Continue reading