The Ides of MarchThe Ides of March
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen every film this year. I’ve seen most of the major releases, and while there are groups in Chattanooga making great strides in bringing independent and art films to our fair city, we still can’t get everything. But of the films I’ve seen, the following (in no particular order) are the ones that I feel were the most successful.
“Moneyball” isn’t your typical sports movie; it doesn’t have the same underdog feel to it, the same storybook journey to a dramatic championship win. This film is about the unfair amount of influence money has in baseball and how the careful application of statistics can circumvent it. While a movie about math might seem boring on paper, even someone who isn’t a baseball fan is drawn into the film by the stellar performances of Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. With the possible exception of “The Natural,” “Moneyball” is the best baseball movie of all time.
Named one of the Top 10 independent films of the year by National Review, “Another Earth” forced the audience to think about possibilities. While it is a sci-fi film, it isn’t an action-oriented space opera driven by special effects. Instead, it is a film about the questions of fate and the nature of choice. It tells the story of a young astrophysicist who makes one bad decision that changes the direction her life entirely. This decision coincides with the appearance of another Earth in the sky, one that has the same history and people as our own. It is the best kind of sci-fi film, as it asks questions without giving answers, and is a genuinely thought-provoking film experience.
“Super 8” is a film that wasn’t initially on my list. But I recently watched it again with my 11-year-old stepdaughter and was reminded how incredible a good summer movie can be. It is a film that reminds me of my favorite summers as a child and is filled with heart-stopping action and earnest performances by the child actors. The film is full of open skies, kids on bikes and hearty adventure. While directed by JJ Abrams, executive producer Steven Spielburg is evident throughout the film. It is reminiscent of “E.T.” and “Goonies,” but with a better cast. It’s just a good movie.
Great performances make great films. “The Descendants” is funny, heartbreaking and real. Losing important people is a universal experience, one that can be sudden and devastating. It can also be a process, one in which every day is met with increasingly bad news. In the case of the King family, it’s both. The subject matter here is rich and engaging, told expertly by the filmmakers and portrayed confidently by the cast. Profound sadness is balanced by charming levity, making the film enjoyable and accessible for the audience. This one may get several Oscar nominations.
Another film that will most likely get an Academy Award nomination, the success of “Take Shelter” belongs to Michael Shannon. He gives a terrific, understated performance as a man slowly losing his grip on reality due to powerful and prophetic nightmares. This film takes its time with the material, letting the audience’s own anxieties build alongside Curtis’. The result is a distressing look at the slow process of mental illness and its effects on the security of a family.
Yet another independent film, “Higher Ground” is the directorial debut of actress Vera Farmiga. It is a reflective look at the life of a woman who lives and breathes evangelical Christianity, but doesn’t quite fit into the narrow view of the church. Farmiga doesn’t make any broad generalizations or portray evangelicals negatively. She instead shows the building of faith, the dedication necessary for maintaining it, and the realities of leaving it behind. Goodness and mercy may not follow as surely as promised, at least not for everyone. The film is honest in its storytelling and smart in its execution.
Midnight in Paris
Not everyone is a Woody Allen fan. But I am and found “Midnight in Paris” to be a wonderful cinematic experience. It is a film for lovers of literature and art, lofty in its goals and its language. It is a love letter to both Paris and liberal-arts majors. The more references you catch, the smarter you feel. I love that Allen makes films like this.
“Rango” is a smart animated film that may be more for adults than children. It has all the makings of a spaghetti western, played by beautifully rendered desert creatures. The humor is often as dry as the setting, with Greek Choruses of mariachi owls and Delphian armadillos packing layers of hidden jokes. “Rango” should be watched and re-watched, if only for the elegance of the animation.
The Ides of March
The American political system is such that good ideas only matter if the person championing them can get elected. “The Ides of March” seems to argue that the process of getting elected ruins the champions because the necessary reciprocity weakens the deeply convicted. It is, at its a heart, an accurate portrayal of political campaigns and a powerful vehicle for the exceptional talent of Ryan Gosling. It should be required viewing during primary season.
This film isn’t going to win any awards. The premise is a bit too far-fetched to be taken seriously. However, it is a great sci-fi film, one that features good performances by Jake Gyllenhaal and Vera Farmiga. I include it because, of the films I’ve seen this year, it stuck with me as a genuine surprise. I love having my low expectations blown away by quality filmmaking. The premise could have made it repetitive, but the characters were plausibly written and emotionally believable.