Bonus: A superb year for film isn’t over yet
FILMS LIKE “AMERICAN HUSTLE” AND “THE WOLF OF WALL STREET” are still waiting in the wings for release in Chattanooga, but the majority of the best films of 2013 have been issued, biding their time until Oscar season.
This has been an excellent year for film, assuming the discerning film-goer stays away from typical multiplex fare. As in many previous years, comic book films and epic spectacles dominated box-office sales, while comedy franchises frustrated film critics across the globe.
Some of the films were decent, some of them were less than inspired, and some of them were made by Adam Sandler. But while the middle-of-the-road crowd-pleasers soaked up the weekend sales, truly great films were being shown in solitary theaters across the country.
“12 Years A Slave” This heartwrenching, powerful story of a free black man sold into slavery during the 19th century is my pick for Best Picture of the year. Chiwetel Ejiofor, this year’s likely Best Actor, gives a dynamic and excoriating performance in a cast that is simply stacked with excellence.
The film reveals the barbarity of U.S slavery in ways not yet seen—it doesn’t just show outright, blatant racism, but also the passive hand-wringing of whites caught in a never-ending cycle of institutional prejudice. It has the same sort of emotional resonance as “Schindler’s List,” but lacks the distance of the Atlantic Ocean—this is a film that reminds us of the evils that lurk in our past and, as Harper Lee puts it, “the simple hell people give other people, without even thinking.”
“All Is Lost” This film is an example of how a simple story about a personal disaster can prove to be compelling and fascinating filmmaking. Here we have Robert Redford, a celebrated actor if there ever was one, disappearing into a role that features no speaking, limited voiceover, and no human interactions.
A testament to nonverbal communication, “All is Lost” is entertaining, tragic, and beautiful. The film is superbly crafted and tense, keeping the audience on the edge of their seat as an epic battle of man vs. nature unfolds in silence before them. “All is Lost” shows in glorious detail what film is capable of as an artistic medium.
“Blue Jasmine” Woody Allen offers up one of his best films in recent years with a story about the 1 percent. Jasmine, played by a stunning and fragile Cate Blanchette, is a social climber who has fallen from the top to the bottom. Once married to a Bernie Madoff-style investment banker, an inevitable scandal left her world shattered and her psyche damaged.
The film is something of an apology for the wealthy, but one with an incredible amount of heart and sophistication. Allen works hard at humanizing the gods of affluence, not excusing the excess but explaining the attitudes.
At no point are Jasmine or her late husband vilified in the traditional sense—instead, we see two very real people struggle with the same decisions as everyone else while cowering beneath the sometimes-justified derision of the general populace. The film is funny and touching and most certainly one of the year’s most special.
“Europa Report “ Science fiction is largely ignored during awards shows, especially the independent films without a major release. “Europa Report” was first found as an On Demand selection on cable television. Regardless, it is one of the most true-to-life, honest science fiction films in recent memory, one that doesn’t cater to the mainstream action movie crowd.
It is a science fiction film that is more interested in the unknown, in discovery, than horror tropes set in a desolate future. The science is more accurate than many films of its type and the unrestrained wonder of possibility that the characters exude is far more inspiring than the everyday lasers-in-space “Star Wars”- type movie. The film is slow and steady, bolder than “Star Trek,” and a genuine joy to watch.
“Gravity” Gravity is the big-budget cousin of “Europa Report,” featuring many of the same themes with slicker special effects and recognizable stars. Despite any criticism from noted astrophysicists, the film is tense and well acted, exciting and full of spectacle. The visuals alone make the film worth seeing—watching it anywhere but an IMAX screen is doing the viewer a disservice.
My initial reaction to the film was one of awe, an instant thought of Best Picture accolades, and a genuine and satisfied grin. While my original praises have softened some, “Gravity” is still light years beyond most films released in 2013.
As mentioned earlier, there are still films to be released and several that haven’t made it to Chattanooga. Some of them may surpass the ones listed above. The Golden Globes have announced their nominees—many of these films are among them. We’ll soon see if the Academy follows suit.