How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Film
I would like to preface this article by saying that I have been contemplating whether or not to share parts of this story in fear of this coming off as too self-serving or as a cry for attention. However, my experience, in regards to my viewing of Gravity in particular, is a true display of how much a film can mean. The following will not be a review of any film, but rather a retrospective into why exactly I have come to gain adoration for all films, good or bad; and how this year reminded me of that adoration. So now, let’s get started…
It’s the beginning of the year. Folks around the world have carefully constructed their own top 10 lists for their favorite films of 2013 and have thought about ways to legitimize why ‘this’ film is better than ‘that’ film and so on and so forth. While it’s truly fantastic to see everyone’s different tastes while also being reminded of how many great films were released throughout the year, it feels as though something gets lost in all the translation and well-developed arguments. Everyone, myself included, tends to put their critical hats on tightly at this time of year in an attempt to rank films from best to worst in lists that, in the end, are quite arbitrary.
I thought I’d take a different approach to look back at what was an intriguing year in film, and a benchmark (most would say life-altering as well) year for me personally. I hope to raise discussion about the issues that are inherent with the creation of top 10 lists; not only by sharing a personal experience to describe where I’m coming from in regards to certain attitudes towards movies, but by creating a different type of top 10 list.
From the outstanding smaller films like Mud and Drinking Buddies, to the big blockbuster annoyances like The Lone Ranger; From the goofy end of the world comedies like This is the End and The World’s End to the more romantic and serious comedies like Before Midnight; From the absurd White House takeovers in White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen to the equally absurd but more pretentious outing for Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel; All of these provided a joy that would not exist without film. All of these films had an impact on someone out there, whether the story portrayed carried some sort of deep and meaningful message or the movie simply allowed an escape from whatever difficult reality had been dealt.
On October 3rd, 2013 I was a fortunate enough person to be given that escape. That Thursday would of course start like any other weekday, with me waking up and going to work. The one caveat was that I was expecting a call from the doctor about a blood test that had been taken the previous day. The phone call came at about 10:00 AM, confirming what I had expected… that I would now be living with Type I Diabetes. This was not necessarily a shock to me. I had come down with the typical symptoms and my cousin has been living with the same since she was in the 6th grade. At 25 years of age at my diagnosis (now 26), the most shocking thing was actually that this hadn’t come a little sooner.
Now, for the past few months I’ve been slowly adjusting to a very new, more organized lifestyle and schedule. Since my body will eventually stop producing insulin, I’ll have to provide my body with the substance through my very own insulin pump (it’s pretty cool really). Needless to say, things really have changed more than probably even I realize.
While this was a big life-changing event for me, the whole diabetes thing wasn’t actually the thing I remember the most from that October day. Many who are reading this may recognize the aforementioned date of October 3rd. This was the first day of the wide release of a little film called Gravity. Every year there’s at least one film that, the first time you see it, it reminds you of why you love going to the movies. For me, Gravity was that film. The film allowed me to get away from what had been the first of many trying days that laid ahead (and will still lie ahead). It allowed me to stare at a screen in amazement as I watched Sandra Bullock (an actress whom I have generally despised in the past) put together a performance that is quite astounding.
Of course it’s debatable whether or not Gravity should be considered among the “best” films of the year, but the whole concept of determining what the “best” film is tends to really be a discretionary goal in the first place due to the many different ways a person may define “best.” Is the best film the film that made the most money? Most likely not in the particular audience which reads this website, but there could certainly be an argument that the most popular movie should be considered the best one (for those of you who just got angry at that statement please calm down). Does the best mean the most artistic film? And what would you even consider to be the most artistic? Or is the best simply the film that was the most enjoyable? I think most readers get the point; determining the “best” film of the year is a near impossible feat in terms of coming to a consensus.
To this writer, there’s not really a need to determine what film is better than another film. It’s all comparing apples to oranges to kiwi to bananas to any other fruit one can imagine. Watching a movie should be a visceral experience; an event that draws you in and gives something to the viewer, whether it be entertainment or bringing philosophical questions to light. How much of an impact the film has on a person’s life is very much in the eye of the beholder. Just for example, to many (myself included), Before Midnight was one of the best films of the year, however in the screening of which I attended, there were plenty of people walking out in the middle of the film. While some may be shocked by that realization, I understand that Before Midnight, and its predecessors, are very particular types of films that not everyone will enjoy.
So when it comes down to tearing down a film like Gravity, like many did after it received plenty of hype (it’s funny to me how people react to hype), I have to shrug my shoulders and say “whatever”, because in reality Gravity is a spectacular film. How can something that has this much impact on a life NOT be spectacular?
This, of course it not just a defense of Gravity, but a celebration of the year in film and what film can do for us i.e. society, families, politics etc. And the Sandra Bullock space thriller was not the only film with which I had a love affair this year. Let’s take a look at some of the films that had an impact this year with the aforementioned “different type” of Top 10 list. As far as the upcoming list goes, the numbers will not signify anything other than the number of films being discussed. There is no “ranking” and I won’t be arguing for one film over the other. This “Top 10” list is simply a demonstration of how many different ways there are to enjoy the cinema. I’m certainly going to try to hit as many different types of films as I can.
(It may go without saying, but I will not be including films that I have not yet seen, Inside Llewyn Davis & Her are two examples of films that I’m sure I will absolutely adore. In addition, since I already talked about it, Gravity is excluded).
10. The Conjuring – Oh the Horror!
While this writer is typically not one to indulge in the horror genre, The Conjuring is the rare occurrence of brilliance in its respective field. Teeming with elements from just about every famous horror film one could think of, this film terrifies in a relentlessly efficient manner, and it does so with good actors performing like they actually care about their roles (a rarity in the typical horror film).
Everything from the exquisite camera work to the exceptional use of sound in The Conjuring aided to the effectiveness of not only the scares, but the story as a whole. And while this may spawn mind-numbingly ridiculous amounts of lackluster sequels and become annoyingly repetitive a la Paranormal Activity, this initial entry was certainly a memorable one.
9. This is the End – Oh the Funny!
Who would have thought a film about celebrities acting like morons during the apocalypse would be so interesting? Many will write This is the End off as ridiculous, filthy fun, however there was a little more to this film than simply making jokes. Yes, the jokes are persistently graphic and gruesome and they come at a tremendous pace, however the performers are providing an intriguing commentary on society with the comedy that ensues.
Differentiating the actual importance and the perceived importance of celebrity is something that is rarely done in films, especially from films like this. Watching actors like James Franco and Seth Rogen become this self-aware is extremely refreshing.
This film is also a perfect entry to illustrate just how different a top 10 list can be. There is probably no way I would add this movie to my list if I were trying to develop a list determining what the 10 best films of the year were, however, the fact that such a subversively crude film was as big a hit as this was says something about the importance of this movie. What we have is a film about celebrities making fun of celebrities… and it probably made a lot of money because of the importance society puts on celebrities.
8. Drinking Buddies – Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?
I first saw Drinking Buddies when it was initially released on iTunes (I believe it was in the Summer but I can’t be positive). I was amazed at how refreshing of a film this was and how much I enjoyed the performances, especially from Olivia Wilde. This is a film that directs the audience at believing it’s going to be a typical romantic comedy, yet ends up going in a direction that left me pleasantly surprised.
Drinking Buddies is a story about friendship, and it doesn’t turn into something it shouldn’t be. It’s a film that doesn’t force anything upon the audience and has a very natural feel to it.
7. Fast & Furious 6 – The Little Franchise that Could!
Star Wars. Lord of the Rings. Fast & Furious? Yes, it’s true. The Fast & Furious franchise has accomplished something that it probably should never have as it has developed staying power with the big boys, establishing a clear cut strategy of filmmaking (don’t give a crap about plot and focus on amazing set pieces).
While the death of Paul Walker is tragic (R.I.P. Mr. Walker), the fact is that the recent passing of the franchise’s default lead man will only make the success of the blockbuster adrenaline filled series more relevant and the series will, in all likelihood, not miss a beat.
6. Side Effects – What the Hell is Steven Soderbergh Doing?
This is it. The alleged final film (although Behind the Candelabra was released after it) from the director that gave us the likes of Out of Sight and Traffic was an interesting, 2-faced film in which the plot twisted and turned without caution. Steven Soderbergh definitely had an interesting final (allegedly) few years of his career.
Soderbergh seemed to have a very experimental period to close out (allegedly) his career beginning in 2009 with The Girlfriend Experience in which he cast adult film star Sasha Grey to play a high-class call girl. He went on to create a bizarre action film with Haywire, and he found an odd sort of muse for himself by using Channing Tatum effectively.
Side Effects is one of those films that forced me to think for quite awhile afterwards to figure out what I really thought of it. And I still haven’t really decided. It’s a film that calls for multiple viewings and could be viewed as many different things. It’s certainly a film that has split personalities.
5. Spring Breakers – Just What the Hell?
I have to admit something. I HATED this movie. Absolutely, positively despised just about everything about this movie. However, I’ll also admit it was a hate in the way people hate car wrecks but can’t look away.
So why is a film that I hated appearing in a top 10 list. Well, this is another illustration of how much everyone can get wrapped up in arguing about films that they don’t realize that most opinions about film come down to a subjective core, not objective analysis.
The truth of the matter is that Spring Breakers wasn’t technically a bad film. There were a lot of things in the film that were extremely interested (James Franco’s ridiculous character included). However, if I were to make a true top 10 list, there’s absolutely no possibly way this movie would have made it because of how much dread I felt as the story moved along.
4. Mud – So Matthew McConaughey Had a Good Year
Alright alright alright. Matthew McConaughey is going to end up appearing on this list more than once because of my number 1 film on this list, but I could not leave out the latest from director Jeff Nichols in which a boy finds a suspected murderer (McConaughey) hiding on an island.
The film has a very familiar and local feel. Set in Arkansas near a river, the movie mixes a sort of folk tale style with mystery and, to this writer, ended up feeling very similar to another favorite, A History of Violence.
A strength in this film was absolutely the performances from the young actors Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland, Ellis and Neckbone respectively. The two characters played very well off of each other and there was an authenticity to this film and story that wasn’t as apparent in most other films of this ilk.
3. Frances Ha – The Most Woody Allen Movie Not from Woody Allen
On the surface this film is like most Woody Allen films. It’s about a person aimlessly wandering around and trying to be smart. Frances is a character that should be unlikable. She’s a character that has a hard time grasping reality and doesn’t really put a whole lot of effort into anything except for maybe trying to make it seem like she achieves everything effortlessly.
Yet there is something inevitably charming about this little film from Noah Baumbach and it held my interest. It was funny, and had interesting neuroticism, something that is very akin to every Woody Allen film.
2. Pacific Rim – I Mean… It’s Giant Robots vs. Monsters
I feel like the subtitle pretty much explains everything, but I guess I can still say a little something about this spectacle.
Besides Gravity, Pacific Rim was the visual spectacle of the film year. With the attention to detail on every nook and cranny of every giant robot, one could tell how important this project was to director Guillermo Del Toro.
This is certainly a film created to be seen on a big screen, and it was absolutely beautiful, ugly monsters included. It was a film that truly captured the shear magnitude of the story being told. There isn’t a movie out there that better displayed the size and scope of its given situation.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street – You Can’t Go Wrong with Scorsese
If I were to create a list of the top 10 films of this year, this movie would be at the top. So that’s where it’s going now. And this is not because it’s the latest Scorsese movie or because it’s the best Leonardo DiCaprio performance of his amazing career or because of all the obscenely wild events that take place throughout the film; including a Quaaludes scene that will surely go down as the most famous scene of the film.
This film is in this top spot because I found this to be the most fascinating and enjoyable experience I had in the theater all year. The film is told through the perspective of Jordan Belfort, and that perspective is a very important part of the film and will be a determinant in how each particular audience member will receive this film.
On one hand, there are many who will look at this film as celebrating the debauchery at play. There are others who will see the film in the light of Jordan Belfort’s eyes, as a questionable narrator who very much sees things in his own way.
The Wolf of Wall Street is the perfect example of a film that could be loathed and hated or could be absolutely adored depending on a person’s perception of what a great film should be. I will admit at times that the film has some scenes that maybe went on for too long, however I saw this as necessary because there was an element to the film that displayed more and more discomfort the longer things lasted.
From the perspective of this writer, however, The Wolf of Wall Street is the film of the year. But, I reserve the right to change my mind and rearrange films in an arbitrary order as I see fit.
While I’m sure there will be many who disagree with the choices in the preceding list, I certainly feel this list is a more representative of the year in film than it would be for me to discuss what movies I thought were the “best” of the year. We all love to create our lists and argue about the films we loved the most, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, sometimes the lists are taken too seriously and the year as a whole can get muddled. I would love to see everyone stop worrying about lists and what movie goes where and start learning to love movies in general.
Here’s to a happy new year and looking forward to another excellent year at the movies.
What do you think? Leave a comment.