This year I saw a number of great movies or shows for the first time. Notables among the more literary are Barton Fink, Sleepwalk With Me, Life of Pi, The Rum Diary, Drive, Into the Wild, and Looper, with Pacific Rim, Dredd, and Alphas leading the more genre-defined. Notes on all these and more are in my 2013 movies log. The following though are the top highlights. I definitely don’t necessarily mean these are “the best” in some objective sense, and a few are actually from some years back, but these are the five movies new to me in 2013 that I most want to highlight for one reason or another. All are on NetFlix Instant and similar services.
Downfall. This is a tough movie to get excited about, in that it manages to bring out the humanity of absolute monsters. Even just for that regard though it is an excellently accomplished movie. Further, it does a good job of highlighting the banality and cowardice of those monsters, and what would be their otherwise comic flaws if it weren’t so real. If you really want to go into this with a lot of background of what’s happening, I strongly recommend Beevor’s World War Two.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Bear with me here. This movie is, of course, totally over the top and ridiculous. It starts moving out of B movie territory with excellently choreographed fight sequences. But, most importantly, this is a more credible movie about slavery, the South, and the Civil War than any number of other movies ostensibly hitting on those topics. The vampire allegory cuts much harder to the truth, and more successfully conveys the true ramifications and scope—moral and economic—than the vast number of efforts that effectively brush slavery off as the south’s “pecular institution” or the Civil War as a battle over abstract “states’ rights.”
Redemption. This is an awkward movie in many ways. If you ever wanted to watch Jason Stratham get it on with a nun, well, you’ve found your outlet. But it’s a very solid, intriguing movie, much deeper than almost all of Stratham’s other movies. The characters are complex and it doesn’t resolve prettily, but there’s really no way it could have. Further, the moments that I find particularly troubling—e.g., why does the Arab thug get the shit kicked out of him much worse than his white compatriot???—make sense on re-viewing more carefully, and literally put another shade on Stratham’s character, adding to depth even as it strips sympathy.
Flight. A gripping movie, from the excellently done opening crash sequence to the closing hearing. Denzel Washington does a great job with a character simultaneously very sympathetic and deeply flawed. The movie also never strays into melodrama or pulls punches, at least until the very end. Further, it’s stylsh all along the way, with a soundtrack of classic rock staples backed up by great looking suits and entrances that is admittedly all fairly conventional, but feels great at first and then later brings another layer as you question the presentation and show of these characters’ lives. I would have preferred that the movie ended earlier, but it’s excellent.
Senna. An absolutely incredible documentary. Some of the imagery and symbolism is beautiful, e.g., Senna gets his first real F1 gig and there’s a great shot of other cars pulling aside as he comes through to the starting line. Similarly, he gets his first taste of F1 politics and the film cuts to a view of him putting in his earplugs. It keeps its punch going by having no modern-day footage, using solely contemporary video with voiceovers for the interviews. There are a lot of dramatic literary aspects to the story as well—the dueling rivalry with Prost, Senna’s doubts about his own safety overcome by ambition and drive, the broken friendships as he switches teams for better equipment. On top of all this is an awesome soundtrack. Absolutely riveting real life drama.
Coming up shortly: Music and book highlights!