Rewatch: The Matrix

thematrix I have distinct memories of being the only person in sixth grade who had not seen The Matrix–well actually there was one other girl if we’re being honest–point being this film enraptured everyone entering into the 2000s. I was a sixth grader in 2002 and not having seen the 1999 film was a minor crime and I surely felt it. I don’t remember when I first saw it, but I certainly did enjoy it as well as its sequel (I never saw the third film for whatever reason, I guess it didn’t come on TV at the right time.) Going into this rewatch I wondered if it would be outdated or cheesy; if the mind blowing special effects (which are still talked about whenever somebody does some sort of dodge) wouldn’t live up to our modern CGI or whatever.

I’ll come right out and say it, this film certainly holds up. The action sequences still deliver in ways that are exciting. Though I imagine it (along with Tarantino’s 2003 release Kill Bill) owes a lot to old martial arts films that I am just entirely unfamiliar with, the action here is still some of the most exciting stuff I’ve ever seen. From Trinity’s opening wall running scene to Neo’s bullet dodging lean (which I must point out that though this is the most famous action moment in the entire film, the way this move ends is with him ultimately getting shot. Nobody remembers that this was ineffective, while all the other parts of that scene are fantastic and actually work).

When Neo comes into his calling as “the one” and starts just wiping away bullet after bullet and defeats Agent Smith in slow motion, no lie I had chills. I think this is a testament that the rest of the movie also works, all effects aside. I’ve long been a proponent that action films must have a solid story or ten years into the future they can end up as outdated boring spectacle (looking at you Avatar). The Matrix dodges this problem in two ways, by using inventive imagery and by shoving its standard storytelling devices under layers and layers of post-apocalyptic plot.

I’m a sucker for movie worlds that feel fresh, I fell head over heels for Wreck it Ralph upon first viewing because its real life video game world was the stuff of my greatest childhood imaginings. The Matrix invented an exciting new world–one that wasn’t all that different from previous stories (the computers win story of The Terminator franchis + the chosen one in pretty much any movie), we’ll go into this more later, but the world is built upon both very established rules as well as a repeated aesthetic and this is what ultimately allows it to thrive.

When Neo first chooses the red pill Morpheus guides both him and us through a set of rules for the new world. Our eyes are unveiled, we find out that “the matrix” is a computer system that every human believes themselves to be a part of (also a thought experiment that now gets The Matrix into most Film and Philosophy programs), there is a loading zone where computer programmers can write code to teach them or give them things to take into the new world, they can download Kung Fu into their brains, etc… Even as I was watching it, knowing what was to come and mostly remembering each of the rules, Morpheus’ revelations are exciting.

The rules establishment is met by an aesthetic and a repetition of symbols that fully establish the whole thing. Repeated symbols draw us in and connect us quickly with subject matter. This is why religious liturgies and reality show production design (big leap there, I know) draw us in even when their content isn’t great. The Matrix has its phone booths which are entirely unnecessary to the plot (the way that they get transported back to consciousness in their ship is via telephone booth?!? They have some extremely special way of getting transported into the world, but the way they get out is entirely reliant on a working telephone booth! They could have used anything to get them back!) yet it entirely works because of the aesthetic it adds. Watching characters rush to the phone booth and disappear just before an agent attempts to crush the booth adds something tangible to the film.

Let’s not forget how the actual matrix itself looks either, its green lines of code running down sideways that certain people can read and see exactly what is happening. This is a brilliant image, forever ingrained into my memory as ‘the matrix’, akin to Star Wars‘ light sabers or Storm Trooper costumes (or the Darth Vader Mask or the X-Wing or anything from those films basically!), Terminator 2‘s shape-shifting T-1000, or Jurassic Park‘s ripples in the glass of water. Having creative imagery that viewers can remember, like a liturgy gets repeated, can turn a film into a classic.

The Matrix takes place two hundred years into the future, but its costuming very much feels like 1999. The Wachowskis do their best to create some futuristic world, but as is often the case with trying to create futuristic visions, their ideas get caught up with modern notions of cool. Here, this is very much caught up in a rising internet culture with Neo a part of an internet subculture that existed at the time. It’s strange to think that the internet was barely even a thing upon the film’s release or even better that the Wachowski’s chose a weakly internet hacker to become a sort of super hero. Its cyberpunk, techno loving self does feel very much like a 1999 sort of idea of the future. This was a year in which Britney Spears was huge, Eiffel 65’s “Blue” dominated the charts, and Limp Bizkit was a thing. I think for the most part you can ignore the film’s 1999-ness, unlike what I remember from the sequel which I believe features giant techno dance parties (this is how the world will end, not with a bang, but with a rave!). It’s not 2199 yet, but I somehow doubt future stylings will consist only of skintight leather and long black trench coats, but hey, I am coming from my very 2015 perspective.

dodge The storyline is mostly follows archetypes of those before it, in fact I distinctly remember my sophomore English teacher using The Matrix as an example to teach us what an archetype was (is The Matrix an archetype of archetypes!?!), telling us (and spoiling the ending for me) that it followed the Christ figure archetype. I think this is true and the rest of the movie’s oracles, AI computer enemies, betrayals from trusted figures, and finding redemption upon true belief aren’t really anything new, but then again most stories aren’t. The Wachowski’s put the whole thing under the veil of something exciting and it’s not like it straight up steals whole plot lines like Avatar did with Pocahontas.

On a different note, I was impressed by how much diversity the Wachowski’s place in the film. The Nebuchadnezzar crew features eight members, three of them black and two of them women. The oracle is also a black woman, making four of the film’s featured characters black; I challenge you to try to come up with another film that has that off the top of your head–it’s a rarity.

Even so, the film has not escaped criticism. Last year, Tasha Robinson of The Dissolve, came up with something that she called “Trinity Syndrome”. Essentially the idea was that female characters are being created that at first seem strong, but are still relegated to serving the main character’s (often a male) purposes. It’s interesting that she uses Trinity as the main example, but it makes a lot of sense. Trinity comes off strong right out the gate–she’s a mysterious character who exhibits flashes of action brilliance–running along walls and beating up unknowing policemen left and right. As the film progresses she loses her importance while retaining an aura of mystery, but then the Wachowski’s take her character and turn her into someone whose job is only to advance Neo (literally, the Oracle has prophesied that her life’s purpose is to fall in love with “the one”). The scene where she kisses Neo back to life is no doubt the worst part of the movie on so many levels, taking everything she has built into and turning her into a pretty lame love interest device. It’s so unnecessary, plus Keanu’s Neo is so (soooooooo) much less interesting than Carrie Ann-Moss’s Trinity. She really deserves better.

Overall, rewatching it and doing these rewatches is really to determine whether the films that were cultural touchstones in their time are any good. The Matrix is deserving to be in the cultural canon, referenced here and there, occasionally parodied, and remembered fondly. But now the question, is it any good?

Previously I had given the film five stars on my Letterboxd account, I don’t know if I would quite do that. It isn’t a cinematic masterpiece, not deserving of a spot at the top of the Sight and Sound list of best films. But I do think that within its genre (action/sci-fi) it is one of the best, and excels as a genre picture and a piece of cinema. It may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but it is a very good film. 4.5/5

Rewatch: High School Musical


16 year olds were not the target audience of Disney’s smash hit High School Musical. We were out of range of Disney’s programming by this point–Even Stevens, Lizzie McGuire, and The Proud Family had ended; That’s So Raven and Kim Possible were coming to an end; those of us holding onto the Disney drama periods of our lives (and there were many) had to accept new programs like The Suite Life of Zach and Cody or the star making Wizards of Waverly Place (Selena!) and of course Hannah Montana.

Even the Disney Channel Original Movie selection had grown dim for us–looking at a list of films the only ones that stick out are 2004’s Stuck in the Suburbs (starring SNL’s Taran Killam!) and the third Zenon film, which I can’t be entirely sure I actually watched. I’m not sure there’s any evidence that Disney needed a hit, but to gain the attention of 16 year olds in 2006 would have taken something big. And that’s exactly what they did.

High School Musical doesn’t have the meaning for me that I’m sure it does for those in Jr. High or early High School when it came out; it was always a guilty pleasure of a watch. And I did certainly enjoy it, let’s make that clear, but I don’t think I would be writing this right now (or would I?) if it hadn’t absolutely blown up youth culture from 2006 to 2009. As 17 year olds we had a party to watch the premiere of the sequel, sure it was fairly ironic, and most people weren’t paying attention, but it was a thing.

So here we are 9 years later after the release, Efron has been everywhere and back as a star/troubled ex-child star, the same with Hudgens, and Tisdale is the only one who seems to have any spotlight left at all from the cast of young stars who ruled the world for three years. It was a Friday night and why not watch High School Musical? So we did, interested in how it would hold up aside from this strange nostalgia that sticks with me because of my strange interest in this franchise (perhaps the target audience was 12 year olds, but the problems being dealt with were those exactly like mine and this is why something actually stuck with me in this movie–more on this to come).

The Disney Channel (and its rival Teen Nick) is meant to be a soap opera-lite. It takes teenage situations (often adding magical realism to a strangely disproportionate amount of them) and makes them the most serious situations, filled with drama, and angst, while also being so capable of being solved and backed with light and bouncy music. They take place in teen worlds where teen problems are elevated to maximum levels and adults only serve as quirky side characters. High School Musical was never going to exist outside of these tropes and overall it really doesn’t. Adults only offer bad advice (Troy’s dad), set plots into motion (Mrs. Darvis), or are there just to let you know that these kids actually have parents (Gabriella’s mom, Troy’s mom). The whole thing is essentially a giant teenage soap opera set to song and dance.

Yet it all kind of works.

On the outset, the theme of the film is to break free from the clique that you feel you have to be a part of. This is the theme of roughly 90% of movies about high school and so it’s not that special. Each kid feels pressured to act a certain way and to fit in the realm of each clique (the highlighted cliques are: jocks, theater kids, math geeks, and skaters). Their school is filled with a rigid structure, so strict it’s laughable the lengths students go to in order to keep each type in it’s place–almost reaching a Big Brother like system filled with framing people and computer hacking. The stakes are high and dramatized, but it is a musical after all, where plot points are elevated into literal songs and dances of emotion. High School feels like the most intense period of your life when you’re in it, so why not play this to its highest level?

While, again, ostensibly for pre-teens, the themes throughout this and its two sequels (summer jobs, preparing for college) are for actual teenagers going through this stuff. Not gonna lie, when I saw High School Musical 2 I certainly felt something during the Troy and Gabriella break-up song, because that was that period of my life. I’ve talked to numerous others, perhaps too old for the film, that too express relating to its characters and themes. I wouldn’t be surprised if kids–now seniors in high school–find a lot of resonance in these movies now that they are actually dealing with the themes these nostalgic and beloved characters were going through when they first saw it at age 10.

But the question we are asking ourselves today is about how well it actually holds up now. As discussed above it does work on a certain level dramatically. It treats high school as a serious place, but it does essentially ignore every adult in the film (Troy’s dad is seriously the worst). We can’t ignore how cheesy and ridiculous some of its plot lines are, I mean, the film’s catalyst is a New Year’s Eve teen karaoke sing-off where Troy is catapulted into changing his whole lifestyle (as well as his school) by singing one song (watch out jocks, don’t let this happen to you!!!). The acting isn’t the greatest either and its funny because the whole film is about not being one-note in real life, while leaving so many of its characters bare (I’d forgotten how little Ryan Evans is in this film), but the tension it’s star faces is real and makes it worth watching.

As far as its musical chops go, it’s decent. The songs and productions are pretty light (I watched the sequel as well and think that coming off the success of the first one the production aspects get better, likely due to a bigger budget and having Disney’s complete trust). They aren’t as big as they could have been and are mostly duets sung on a stage with little to add. The times that they actually do go more Broadway, like “Get’cha Head in the Game” (which I didn’t like those years ago, but think is quite strong now) or “Stick to the Status Quo” are the film at its best both musically and emotionally.

“Get’cha Head in the Game” follows Troy’s inner monologue in the midst of basketball practice, showing the pressure he faces as his team’s leader as well as his new found love for drama and Gabriella. “Stick to the Status Quo” is mostly lead by minor characters who, while sitting in the cafeteria, start breaking out into confession about the ways in which they, like Troy, want to break free of the groups which hold them back (baking! dancing! cello playing!). These songs capture the complexity of this high school world, while incorporating catchy and showy musical numbers.

I don’t think the movie will attract adults or really is worthy of being in any sort of larger pantheon, but as a cultural phenomenon that captured a group of kids over the course of five years, it stands out, and is deserving of what it became. It’s the family friendly Grease of the 00’s and will live on as that film does today, occasionally appearing on your television Sunday nights and with you intentionally choosing not to change the channel.


Oscar Week: Best Actor

The Academy Awards are approaching at the end of this week, so I present to you Oscar Week! These are my own movie awards from 2014, celebrating my favorite performances and scenes of the year.

Looking through this now completed list, I think I may have underrated Michael Keaton a bit–I haven’t seen Birdman in a while, so my memory of him is only in being out-acted by Edward Norton when in actuality he’s probably pretty good. He deserves a mention here, but I really do like my list and think it a finer crop of performances than the Academy pulled together.

Top 10 Actors of 2014:

10. John Lithgow, Love is Strange


Playing an aging man who must move out of his house due to his husband losing his job, Lithgow is sweet, semi-aware of the pain he is causing his loved ones and knowing he can do nothing about it.

9. Chris Pratt, The Lego Movie


Without Pratt voicing lead character Emmett there is no way The Lego Movie is half as good as it was.

8. Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything


It’s a very flashy role and Redmayne does a good job with it, maybe the fact that the film was lackluster or that they probably thought about Redmayne winning the Oscar every day on set prevents me from rating it higher.

7. Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler


I wrote in my short review on Letterboxd that I don’t think this character is very well written–he’s creepy, conniving, and sociopathic–and for some reason felt one-note and uninteresting, but I do think Gyllenhaal plays him really well.

6. Dan Stevens, The Guest


Stevens brings an insurmountable amount of charm in his role as yes a guest in the household of one of his military comrades (well, maybe). As things begin to unfold and his actions escalate in troubling ways, his charisma remains so abundant I would probably invited him into my home regardless.

5. Joaquin Phoenix, Inherent Vice


Phoenix plays a stoner hippy detective, which might not usually account for a performance worthy of writing about on these types of lists, but without all the effort Phoenix puts in here I think Vice falls flat. His comic reactions to the things happening (or are they?) around him are truly inspired.

4. Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel


Other than the lobby boy and his girl (which were both mentioned on previous lists) Fiennes was the other best part of Budapest. He is a suave oddball, very particular about his lifestyle, and strangely reverent about hotel processes. He is a lot of fun to watch.

3. Tom Hardy, Locke


Without Hardy’s performance Locke would have been an awful movie, literally as he is the only person to ever appear on-screen throughout the movie. He contributes with the way he handles the dialogue and is able to express every stressful moment he is going through while essentially driving his car away from everything he’s ever made for himself.

2. Brendan Gleeson, Calvary


Gleeson plays a priest who must be faithful (to his duties and to his God) despite everything in his life being moments away from coming undone. He is a pious character, able to comfort, to question, and to laugh with his parishioners. Gleason displays all of these qualities in a way that is darkly comic and sincere.

1. David Oyelowo, Selma


Oyelowo had a lot of pressure on him to get this character right–Dr. King is among the greatest people in American history and no movie has ever really been made about him. In Selma Oyelowo contributes to a fully flushed out character, one filled with the great heroic leadership that he portrayed in his booming speeches, but also conveys his doubts, insecurities, his reactions to petty arguments. For my money it was the best performance I saw all year.

Oscar Week: Best Actress

The Academy Awards are approaching at the end of this week, so I present to you Oscar Week! These are my own movie awards from 2014, celebrating my favorite performances and scenes of the year.

Another category of acting performances that I am fairly out of touch on as far as seeing some of the nominees. Julianne Moore is the apparent favorite in Still Alice, a film that sounds interesting for her performance, but other than that is not too intriguing. Reese Witherspoon is supposed to be good in Wild, but again that movie seems to be too much like Oscar bait. I did see Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything but (as you will see) I can name eight other performances I liked better than hers–it’s funny that she gets on a nomination for what is a fairly straight forward performance while most others who do the same get ignored; I think her nomination only comes at the hands of that pretty Theory of Everything/Stephen Hawking package.

10. Emily Foxler, Coherence


A relatively unknown actress in a small budget sci-fi movie, Foxler’s performance–especially near the end–is what really won me over.

9. Tilda Swinton, Only Lovers Left Alive


Swinton is great in everything and her turn as immortal vampire Eve is no exception.

8. Agata Trzebuchowska, Ida


A less flashy role than that of her aunt, Trzebuchowska’s quiet holiness that eventually turns to curiosity helps to hold the film steady.

7. Essie Davis, The Babadook


The Babadook features Davis’ character transitioning from being viewed one way to a complete other by the end of the film, let’s just say that Davis can play exasperated mother in quite a few ways.

6. Marion Cotillard, The Immigrant


Playing a Polish immigrant, Cotillard has to go through hell to get into the United States and to make a life for her and her sister. Cotillard captures all the pain and the regret and the doubt that comes with every decision she makes (that confession scene is beautiful).

5. Emily Blunt, The Edge of Tomorrow


Blunt’s character is not your typical female action archetype, she’s tough–tougher than Cruise’s character–experienced, and smart. The whole movie depends on her and Blunt deserves equal credit with Cruise for helping to make such a wonderful film.

4. Lisa Loven Kongsli, Force Majeure


She brings a strong presence to this family drama/masculinity in crisis film about an incident that changes the way an entire family sees itself. Loven Kongsli has a tough role to play, somewhere between playing the martyr and being a martyr; her experiences are legit, but is her reaction correct? Loven Kongsli plays with this tension in a way that is necessary.

3. Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin


Playing some sort of alien life form, Johansson switches off between being charming and emotionless, seductive and dead-eyed. She uses the former traits–ones she is probably most known for–minimally, showing that she is truly alien to the human experience.

2. Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night


A lot of big performances feature one or two scenes where an actor or actress must rise up, giving an emotional scene–one they will hopefully play when the Oscar nominees are announced during the show. Here Cotillard is forced to carry this emotional heft with her in pretty much every scene, making us feel the weight of what she is going through without causing us to feel drained emotionally; she nails it.

1. Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl


SOME SPOILERS AHEAD: For the first half of the movie or so I didn’t know if I really liked Pike’s portrayal of Amy Dunne (I had read the book prior to seeing the movie), it was dreamy and unrealistic. Well turns out, that is exactly how it should have been and the second half she comes alive as information is spilled and the sociopathic Amy is revealed. Pike is incredible as the cold hearted and manipulative Dunne and really helped to create a cinematic character that will live on as one of our greatest villains.

Oscar Week: Best Supporting Actor

The Academy Awards are approaching at the end of this week, so I present to you Oscar Week! These are my own movie awards from 2014, celebrating my favorite performances and scenes of the year.

The Best Supporting Actor category is a top-heavy one and four of the five Oscar nominees I concur with being among the best (The Judge? Really?). The rest are mostly really fun performances and one surprising one that though it may be ridiculous had to be on here.

My top ten supporting actors of 2014:

10. Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice


Brolin is riotous as the police officer/frenemy of Doc Sportello.

9. Kristopher Hinvju, Force Majeure


Hinvju comes into Force Majeure seemingly as a voice of wisdom between the two fighting couples, but he too proves to be a sort of bumbling fool when it comes to dealing with his own masculinity.

8. Luke Wilson, The Skeleton Twins


Seemingly too perfect as a sort of country nice guy, but throughout The Skeleton Twins Wilson shows himself as truly sincere and loving, especially in the face of the manic-depressive insecurities of Hader and Wiig’s characters.

7. Steve Carell, Foxcatcher


Carrell has gotten a lot of flack for being overrated at this point that I believe that he is actually quite underrated now. Technically he has been nominated in the best actor category, but that really belongs to Channing Tatum. Carrell is good playing out of type as the somewhat creepy, somewhat sad John du Pont.

6. Tony Revolori, Grand Budapest Hotel


How else would we know what a lobby boy was without the shining example of Tony Revolori in Grand Budapest Hotel. He brings all the necessary charm and quirk needed in an Anderson role and is an exciting actor to watch.

5. Bradley Cooper, Guardians of the Galaxy


My favorite character in Guardians of the Galaxy and my favorite Cooper performance of the year come in the form of a CGI raccoon. Cooper absolutely nails it, adding a truly unbelievable amount of charisma and charm to, again, a raccoon.

4. Ethan Hawke, Boyhood


Every time Ethan Hawke comes on-screen in Boyhood he drives the movie forward in such wonderful ways. He may have the easier job, as a dad who drops into his kids’ lives in order to take them out to fun things, compared with Arquette who must be steady, and Coltrane who has the whole film based around him, but sometimes the fun dad is so much fun it doesn’t matter.

3. Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher


I don’t really know what it is about Ruffalo in Foxcatcher, his character isn’t flashy at all, but is based in steadiness and having a true love and commitment toward his family. For me he and Tatum’s scenes together really were the best part of the movie and much of that was thanks to the gruff kindness and devotion exhibited here by Ruffalo.

2. Edward Norton, Birdman


Ed Norton is always good. In Birdman, playing a sort of version of himself (as most of the film’s characters do), he’s on fire. While Ruffalo was so good because he wasn’t flashy, Norton gives a passionate performance, using all the flashiness to his advantage.

1. JK Simmons, Whiplash


Simmons is the favorite here and he is is absolutely deserving of it. Playing a fierce, quasi-abusive, and manipulative drum teacher Simmons escalates and deescalates with ease, driving Teller’s character above (and beyond?). I get a form of PTSD just looking at that picture above, but I also–you know–feel like giving my all.

Oscar Week: Best Supporting Actresses

The Academy Awards are approaching at the end of this week, so I present to you Oscar Week! These are my own movie awards from 2014, celebrating my favorite performances and scenes of the year.

This was a weak year for Supporting Actresses and of the Academy’s picks I have not seen Laura Dern in Wild, Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game, or Meryl Streep in Into the Woods but I doubt any of these I would really think are top contenders. Because of this, I think I came up with a more creative (and perhaps ridiculous) list of my favorite performances of the year.

Here are my top 10 supporting actresses of 2014:

10. Lorelai Linklater, Boyhood


The kid’s have gotten a lot of grief for their acting, but I found both to be charming over their 12 year performance. Linklater isn’t given a lot, but I always liked what she was adding on screen.

9. Marisa Tomei, Love is Strange


Another small performance that stuck with me, Tomei plays the niece-in-law to John Lithgow and really serves to highlight both the attachment to the central characters and the growing frustrations that come with being surrounded by people you love.

8. Patricia Arquette, Boyhood


A bit overrated in my book, but still a performance worth talking about. Arquette does get the unemotional film’s most emotional scene and really does nail it.

7. Carrie Coon, Gone Girl

carrie coon

Coon’s character brings a lot to Gone Girl, bringing in humor and emotion in a film that is cold and calculated both in production and in content.

6. Saoirse Ronan, Grand Budapest Hotel


Grand Budapest Hotel is a film I was disappointed by, but I think the part that was the most moving to me was the relationship between lobby boy Zero and Ronan’s Agatha whose young love really did feel beautiful.

5. Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar


Mackenzie Foy pretty much out-acts Jessica Chastain as the younger version of Murph, Matthew McConaughey’s daughter in the movie. There is so much emotion in those early scenes and Foy is a delight.

4. Emma Stone, Birdman


Perhaps the toughest performance Emma Stone has had to give–one where she doesn’t have to rely on all that natural charm–Stone is aggressive here and really keeps up with Norton who is at his peak.

3. Katherine Waterson, Inherent Vice

inherentvice-katherinewaterston-orange dress

Waterson is excellent as the mysterious and somewhat-sultry “vice” of Phoenix’s Doc Sportello. She is presented as a near-apparition, being the core of the mystery that Doc attempts to uncover–Waterson is charming enough to make us believe that she really is worth chasing after, despite her lack of clear devotion.

2. Agata Kulesza, Ida


I was expecting Ida to be a serious film, perhaps overly serious, it is in fact a black and white shot Polish film about religion and the holocaust, but instead it features jokes, charm, and fun jazz songs–most of which is thanks to Kulesza. Kulesza plays Wanda Cruz, the irreverent judge polar opposite to her niece, Agata Trzebuchowska’s righteous Ida. She is bitter and hedonistic, but, as we discover, has faced great pain, some of which is too great to bear.

1. Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer


Watching Snowpiercer I convinced and unconvinced myself four different times that Mason was and was not played by Tilda Swinton. Turns out she was in an absolute riot of a performance as Wilford’s assistant and the face of villainy to those living amongst the poor on the Snowpiercer train. She is an evil character, but also self-serving enough to connive her way through any scenario. Swinton really disappears here in a way that is absolutely magical.

Coming Tomorrow: Best Supporting Actors of 2014

A Pretentious Takedown of Middlebrow Cinema


This is going to be pretentious.

The end of the year usually produces a swarm of movies as studios throw out everything that could possibly win an award. The summer is known for its blockbusters–large and loud movies, with big time actors attached to them–the end of the fall to the winter emphasizes darker stories with artsier and riskier looks and content. This is an exciting time for me, usually overwhelming (I literally make long lists of notes of which movies I should see, where I will–and can–see them, and how I can afford to see so many movies without breaking the budget) and filled with a lot of great movies. But the studios aren’t dumb, there are strategies in place–why and when a movie should get released. The awards ceremonies are usually more generous to give out awards to those that come out later in the year–they have a strange sense of film amnesia where the first seven months barely count and so studios release films accordingly. Studios don’t really want awards though, I’m sure there is some sense of pride for a studio releasing an award winner, but the sense of pride does not outweigh their number one motivator: money.

The studio system’s whole purpose is to make money, thus they try to find films that will win the awards, because movies that win awards, particularly the big ones, attract a bigger audience even if they tend to be edgier. The ads show this all the time, big golden text lines the top of the film saying “nominated for seven Academy Awards, four Golden Globes, three Independent Spirit Awards, nine BAFTAS, and the MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss”. Awards are the reasons why studios push for artsy movies, not for artistry’s sake, but to gain a large crowd on a smaller budget.

This is fine, it’s going to happen, but when this is the case it creates the need to mimic what has come in the past. There is a certain style of Oscar movie usually involving some sort of liberal, edgy topic, an actor losing a lot of weight for the role or an actress not wearing any makeup. These are sort of emulated year after year in hopes that people will jump on board.

That’s the thing, these movies are created to fit into a certain sort of mold, when they are actually quite safe and seem methodologically produced to trick people into thinking they are seeing something important. These films come off as being really out of the box, creative, and dramatic, but really they’re not. This year’s version of these movies are two British biopics about important historical figures–The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game–both are period pieces, have lower budgets, and a good cast, but also seem to fall into every trope you can imagine for these films. In year’s past The King’s Speech, The Artist, The Help, The Blind Side, and Dallas Buyers Club all gave this vibe–important movies about history, race, or some other marginalized group. Most of these films are actually fine, they are pleasant tales and I would be fine with this if people didn’t feel like they had done some sort of cinematic duty by seeing it.

People know that I like movies, so I often get asked about which movies are good and whether I’ve seen [blank]. But the movies that often rise to the top as being depictions of cinema or indie films or whatever are these middlebrow, faux-artsy films that seem to somehow suck in people whose last movie in theaters had been the fourth Transformers movie. There is no challenge to them at all, but they are advertised as life-changing cinematic experiences.

Alright, enough of the complaining–people are gonna watch what they are gonna watch and I’m not very likely to recommend Under the Skin (my favorite movie of this year) to very many people, because I truly believe they will not like it. Let’s just not let the studios do this to us, we’re manipulated enough already. If you want to see something to impress people who like movies or those at your Oscar party make sure you see Boyhood (likely the best picture winner and a fantastic portrayal of a boy’s life), Selma (one of the best biopics ever probably), or Whiplash (an intense movie about a drummer that I think has the potential to be a real crowd please and features future best supporting actor winner JK Simmons).

Best Films of the Decade So Far

Last week, my friend Andrew Boring and I had a discussion about the best albums of the decade so far, afterwards I released a list in picture form here on the blog. Well, this week we had another discussion, this time about the best movies of the decade so far! I encourage everyone to go listen to it here, I realize it is very lengthy, but I think it has some fun discussion about what has come out and the process of making this top 10. This here list serves as an accompaniment (because you’re supposed to go listen, not just look at it and go hmmm).

Anyway, here are my top 30 films of the decade so far.

30. The World’s End

World's End

29. Declaration of War


28. The Past


27. Captain Phillips


26. The Descendants


25. Ida

Ida, other films

24. Calvary


23. Selma


22. Only Lovers Left Alive

Only Lovers Left Alive

21. Upstream Color


20. Zero Dark Thirty


19. Oslo August 31


18. Drive


17. Attack the Block


16. A Prophet


15. Django Unchained


14. Mother


13. Inception


12. The Cabin in the Woods


11. Exit Through the Gift Shop


10. 12 Years a Slave


9. Boyhood


8. Before Midnight


7. Of Gods and Men


6. Under the Skin


5. The Social Network


4. Beginners


3. Looper

Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Bruce Willis

2. Moonrise Kingdom

moonrise kingdom

1. The Tree of Life


Counting the Cost: The Theme of Sacrifice in the Films of 2014

If you’ve been following along, you may have seen the 12 or so best of 2014 lists I’ve made so far this year. Lists are fun and often easy ways to think about what popular culture has been consumed and at times can lead to deeper insight about what we enjoyed and why we enjoyed it. Sometimes various themes and trends can be noticed and in thinking about the movies I’ve seen this year one theme has appeared across a fairly wide margin of movies. I wanted to reflect on that theme here, though not necessarily to posit reasons as to why it might show up here and now–only time can tell I suppose–but to look into something that for some reason resonated amongst several films.

(Note: There may be minor spoilers for Selma, American Sniper, Interstellar, Calvary, Whiplash, and Two Days, One Night below)

The idea of sacrifice seems to have resonated this year. Of course the idea of living for something bigger than oneself is one that is oft-talked about. It’s something most people will cling to and is probably the most universally satisfying ethic; able to be translated across cultural, moral, and religious boundaries. The films this year cover this, but reflect on the sacrifice necessary to do what is right. To join in on the larger movement; fully committing oneself. There is a Biblical idea that talks of “counting the cost”–coming to terms with what having a belief and acting upon it may cost you. Cinematically filmmakers showed just what this might look like across all sorts of stories and genres.


Selma and American Sniper, two films whose main characters’ ideologies are somewhat diametrically opposed, show their lead characters struggling with the cost of their commitments to their causes. Dr. King is the wise leader of the civil rights movement, having already made tremendous steps forward, and has the president’s ear when it comes to policy decisions, yet he finds himself conflicted in how much he can give to the movement he is spearheading. Director Ava DuVernay not only shows King in his glorious speeches, but also in back room conversations with his wife, who must suffer the brunt of his work. King’s choices not only may end his life (as they eventually do), but cause his family to struggle. The Kings know the pursuit of justice is never-ending and the cost of that decision haunts them even in the best of their moments.

American Sniper‘s Chris Kyle too weighs his family life with the duty he feels toward his country and his comrades. He chooses to risk his life for what he believes will protect his country. As he goes on tour after tour both his life and mental health are put at risk. When his wife reminds him of his manly duties to be there for his family, Kyle retorts that he is in fact doing them good by participating in something that will not only protect them, but others as well.

Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar features another man abandoning his family in order to save the greater population. The dystopian future doesn’t look good until Cooper discovers that there may be a way to save his family and the rest of humanity. Using skills that he is uniquely qualified for, he leaves his family (and Earth) behind to save the day. Nolan shows the toll this takes on Cooper in one of the year’s best scenes that will absolutely wreck you.


Is the calling to do something great worth the cost that it might entail? Heroism certainly extends beyond great acts of sacrifice, the day in and day out support of friends and family is beautiful and probably necessary. Is it then irresponsible for those who do great things to force their loved ones to take on the cost they have come to terms with? Should they avoid this altogether?

Whiplash‘s Andrew certainly believes this to be true as we see him getting into fights with his family about what true greatness means and even breaking up with a girl because he knows she’ll hold him back. He’s seen the lives his musical heroes have lead and knows that to achieve greatness you have to give up on certain things. While probably the least heroic and most unwise of all the characters mentioned thus far, Andrew recognizes the cost and gives up the parts of life that seem normal, but he knows will not lead him to where he is trying to go. In a way he has done the most responsible thing by not allowing his loved ones to experience the pain he knows he will cause them.

Yet this is altogether unsatisfying. I would more likely take a moment of unconditional love accompanied with a lifetime of pain, than to avoid it altogether. They say it’s better to have love and lost than to never have loved at all.

Father James of Calvary has experienced this. The movie opens up with the threat of death by an unknown parishioner. James’ duty is to love and guide people according to the calling he feels he has from God. Like Jesus though, he is rejected by his group of unfaithful church attendees who delight in making him uncomfortable and rejecting his silent pleas for righteousness. His own inner turmoil leads him to have to make a decision to continue pursuing these people, even at the cost of losing it all for nothing.

Finally, the Dardennes’ latest, Two Days, One Night lowers the personal stakes for protagonist Sandra, instead flipping this idea of cost onto her coworkers who must decide whether they want to keep her on the company payroll or to give up their bonus–1,000 Euros. As Sandra goes to each one, they must–in a moment–decide what to do. For some the cost is extraneous things, for others the cost would be insurmountable, causing themselves to go under. They must consider whether they consider her to be a friend and if she is, what then are they willing to give to her. They must consider their religious and ethical beliefs and if these override the desire or even need to hold onto money that is rightfully theirs. Eventually the tables are turned and Sandra too must make a decision about what is important to her and what she is willing to sacrifice.

Our jobs, goals, desires, relationships, and needs are a mishmash of priorities–usually all consisting of good things. When there is a call to something else, something greater, we must decide what it is that’s worth keeping and what is worth giving up. It’s a haunting question, one that puts to shame so many of our daily activities, but when the time comes it demands an answer.

20 Best Films of 2012

I like to release my own personal film awards near the time of the Oscars in order to ensure that I can see as many films as possible before making my list. Here is my list for the top 20 films of 2012 along with why I liked them so much. Maybe soon I can write an essay of sorts of how the year turned out thematically, but for now this will have to do.

Below are a list of films I have not seen either due to lack of finances, time, resources, or enthusiasm. Pretty much everything else that was acclaimed in some manner or another I have seen (coming out to a grand total of 58 movies). Also, please view all films with discretion.

Need to see: Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, The Turin Horse, Holy Motors, Wuthering Heights, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, This is Not a Film, The Grey, Middle of Nowhere, Rust and Bone, Barbara, Elena

20. The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Young, introverted boy goes to high school, worried about fitting in and being bullied, he finds a group of people to take him in, and by the end is happy. Perks certainly does feature all of these things, but does so while still avoiding many of the cliches that would fit into this type of film. Writer/director Stephen Chbosky creates this coming-of-age tale in a way that perfectly encapsulates the teenage high school experience for the person that doesn’t quite fit in. What really makes the film stand out is the charisma of Charlie’s gang, an artsy alternative bunch (played by Ezra Miller and Emma Watson among others) who invite him into the way that they get by, showing him the good, the bad, and the ugly.  By the end, not all of the problems are solved, there is still pain, people are still hurt, yet they look forward in confidence, with the will to keep fighting through life. I think that this recognition is empowering.

19. Anna Karenina 


Having never read Leo Tolstoy’s masterwork, I cannot comment on how well Joe Wright adapts this to the big screen. After seeing the film though, I can say that I would like to read it. Joe Wright is like the Wes Anderson of period pieces, throwing together extravagant costumes, sets, and ideas for editing his films together, yet gets criticized for his stories much like Anderson is at times critiqued for a lack of realistic characters. Here, Karenina is a marvel in its unrealistic approach to the story which is used to bring out emotions and drive the story forward in absolutely brilliant ways. I wish I would have seen it on the big screen, but unfortunately was not able to. The story, like most adapted from 600 page novels, does seem to rush through or give less time to certain plot points that definitely seemed to need more development. As far as the main points though, it certainly did scratch the themes of infidelity, societal pressures, jealousy, and forgiveness in affecting manners, lead by the brilliant production that Wright put together.

18. The Loneliest Planet


Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet is a slow, contemplative film. It features wide shots over a vast landscape, focusing on the three main characters as they travel across the wilderness of Georgia. The film is very quiet, stories are told, meals eaten, mountains walked across, but other than that very little actually happens. The camera focuses in on their journey, building tension with every step taken. In one moment, something happens that is never spoken about again for the rest of the film. A split-second decision made out of fear and self-preservation brings about questions about a couple’s relationship. What Loktev does brilliantly aside from subverting traditional gender roles, is portray how a relationship functions after an event happens in which one person knows they are completely to blame for it. What is there to be said? What can be done? How can reconciliation possibly take place? Loktev throws us in the middle of the awkwardness, showing us the good, the bad, and the ugly of relationships and the roles we play in them.

17. Amour


I like to call Michael Haneke’s Amour sweetly terrifying. It features many charming moments about an elderly couple’s life together, showing their routines, the simple things that life and love are about. From the start Haneke let’s us know that it won’t be as sweet as this though, life and love are more complicated than this, and in the end it can be terrifying. Haneke’s tale affirms that life is sweet, but doesn’t ignore the gritty details. He seems to highlight that while love is something that certainly “makes the heart grow fonder”, it can turn selfish when we refuse to let go or move on. What do we do when the one we love no longer wants to be around? Is it wrong to keep them alive at all costs? Haneke throws us into these questions in a moving, frightening way.

16. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia


This film is dark, slow, features a long shot of an apple rolling along the ground, and the main storylines are driven forward by conversations and accusations. It’s a who-dun-it that doesn’t care about telling you who did it, rather it keeps you in the dark, showing us slices of human nature as the camera slowly pans the dark, vast landscape. It is seemingly about the nature of truth, how we perceive it, and how at times the lie we tell ourselves in order to get by may in fact be okay. It is beautiful, although difficult to get through, but in the end worth the watch.

15. The Master


It didn’t seem as if Paul Thomas Anderson could create any bigger of a production after the epic There Will Be Blood, but with The Master he certainly went larger. Unfortunately, The Master gets a bit lost in its grandness, becoming confusing in its truly strange narrative. Fortunately, Anderson is a genius at exploring the human condition and here he seems to touch on everything that affects the modern American, including religion, war, sex, and substance abuse. Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman give incredible performances, the cinematography is wonderful, and certain scenes stick in your head for long periods of time. Certainly a film to be explored for the years to come.

14. Searching For Sugar Man

searching for sugar man

One of the most heartwarming tales of the year, a documentary about musician Rodriguez, a singer-songwriter in the early 70’s who some claimed to be as great of a talent as Bob Dylan, but never made it huge. The filmmakers do an excellent job of getting his producers to talk of his skills as a musician and their shock for him to never have been able to break it big. They establish this fact, before leading us halfway across the world to South Africa, into a place where Rodriguez is a legend. Through interviews with music writers we learn that Rodriguez had a bigger influence musically than Elvis, The Beatles, or the Rolling Stones uniting people in an underground movement to fight against apartheid. Yet, nobody knew anything about him. There were rumors that he had killed himself, but all they knew were rumors. The documentary goes on from there as several musicologists and journalists go on a search to find out what ever became of him, what they find is incredible, touching, and nearly moved me to tears.

13. 5 Broken Cameras 


5 Broken Cameras is a documentary following Palestinian farmer Emad Burnat and his community’s struggle against Israel invading their land slowly. Emad is the main camera operator and the film follows his people’s struggle by the amount of cameras he has had broken by the Israeli army and by the age of his son who was born around the time the Israelis came. The narrative essentially follows the story of his life as outsiders come and take over everything he knew and loved, the land his ancestors have owned. The people of Bil’in are neutral actors who are being impeded upon by things outside of their control, so what they try to do is nonviolently fight back. Their struggle is a beautiful portrayal of nonviolent resistance, people fighting back against oppression, and the kind of culture that is created when a society is forced to live in a place such as this. Some have called the film one-sided and it is in a sense, but it does not actively try to dehumanize the Israelis, rather, it simply shows a community’s perspective from one man’s five cameras as they struggle for freedom and abundant life.

12. Zero Dark Thirty


Another one of the year’s most controversial and critically acclaimed pictures, that may or may not celebrate, approve of, be balanced on, or despise torture. When I first heard about the film, it seemed like a subject that needed more time before being explored. I worried that it would be a celebration of the death of one man, something that I question whether we should be celebrating. The film does fall into this trap a little bit, by treating Maya as the sort of underdog hero who stood in the face of everyone in order to get Osama. However, I believe what director Kathryn Bigelow does here is portray what happened in a way that echoes the feelings of the public at large.

The film opens with torture, vengeance in the air, trying to get back at “our” enemies, but is never satisfied, at least in the sense that the figurehead is never got. The film goes on and the hunt continues, but at the sacrifice not only of lives, but of time, emotions, and perhaps their very soul. Time passes, a new president enters and the film shows what is a post-torture society (at least that’s what is shown). They seem to realize that what they’ve done is wrong, they slowly approach the attack on Osama, seeing that there are consequences to their actions. The attack on Osama does come, it’s successful, and you feel a sense of pleasure in his death, but this pleasure isn’t necessarily a celebratory one, but rather a sense of relief. The era is over. We can move on. Maya’s face, the closing shot of the film, echoes this. Was it worth it? It’s a hard image to read. Does it bring a sense of closure? I would say yes.

11. Skyfall


Skyfall has probably caused the most tension for me as a viewer this year. On the outside it is a brilliantly shot, acted, written, scored, and edited film, blowing me away in so many different ways. There are so many great moments in it, from Adele’s opening song, the shadowed fight scene in Shanghai, any speech that Javier Bardem delivers, to the epic ending at Skyfall. Sam Mendes certainly put together a wonderful piece of filmmaking. However, the film seems to advocate for a return to a classic style Bond, one that objectifies women, and isn’t affected by the deaths of peers or strangers.

Set in a world that seems to have moved beyond the need for classical spies and agents to do their government’s dirty work, Bond (and boss M) feel like outsiders. Everyone from the British parliament to the new Q (played wonderfully by Ben Whishaw) to Javier Bardem’s villain seem to agree that Bond’s ways and methods are archaic. Even Bond begins to question whether he is a part of soulless work after a questionable decision is made by M at the film’s start. Yet, for seemingly no reason Bond chooses the old way; the new Bond girl is treated as nothing more than a sexual pawn, they do a throwback to Bond cars of old, and Bond makes sure they go to a place that is off the grid.

It almost feels that at the film’s core, it sees Bond as out of date and the assassination method’s inhumane (much like The Bourne Series portrayed), yet felt forced to protect the future of the series by issuing in new character’s and assuring us that the old Bond is here to stay. It is hard to judge these merits against each other, because it is a film that I loved a lot of, perhaps more viewings will push me one way or the other.

10. I Wish

i wish

Hirokazu Koreeda is a master at presenting stories about children. He did so in Nobody KnowsStill Walking, and yet again in I Wish. Perhaps this is because he can see that a child’s thoughts, desires, emotions, and dreams are at the core of every person. I Wish follows one child dealing with having his family split apart. His brother and father live in a different city, while he lives with his mother and grandparents. With childlike logic he clings to a story he heard, a legend that will give him the ability to have wishes granted. Little by little the legend is spread and we see children and adults react to this proposition. We hear them discuss their dreams, ones that are ultimately quite mature, selfless, beautiful, and heartbreaking. As the day approaches where their wishes may come true, we see them have realizations about their lives that go beyond their dreams and lead them to make decisions that move themselves forward in a way any wish would not have.

9. Wreck-it Ralph 

wreck it ralph

Disney’s latest cartoon venture was one of the best times I had in the theater all year. While it might not be filled with the depth of some of the others on this list, it certainly contained emotional weight, believable stakes, and a clever story in between all its laughs, references, and eye-candy. I thought Wreck-it dealt with how we treat others, particularly outcasts in a thoughtful way, showing each person to have worth aside from what we think we know about them. Aside from this, this Toy Story-esque world they created was fantastic, even for the most casual video game fan (like me). Time will tell where this ranks among Disney’s great animation films, but for now consider it among the year’s best.

8. Beasts of the Southern Wild


Beasts is all about a community of people that live in a world that is pretty nothing like the one that I inhabit. They are a part of what is called “the bathtub” an island just off of Louisiana that is constantly underwater due to storms and floods. However, within this deeply poor group of people, and particularly within protagonist Hush Puppy, lives a deep and imaginative hope. We see her as someone who has suffered a lot at such a young age, but we never come to pity her; in fact, she becomes someone who is inspiring, as she shares her community’s hopes, dreams, and fears. Her world in the way she knows it is soon coming to an end as her father grows sicker, the floods grow worse, and the government threatens to kick them off of their land, but she clings to something bigger than the poverty surrounds her. Perfectly scored by director Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer’s soundtrack, Hush Puppy shows a capability to find beauty all around her whether it be in fireworks, her dreams of her mother, or standing up to the Aurochs that we all face in life.

7. The Kid With a Bike

kid with a bike

The Dardenne brothers latest is one that fits in perfectly alongside the rest of their catalogue (Lorna’s Silence, L’enfant) it is a slow paced, realistic look at a portion of society. Here they follow Cyril, a rebellious young boy in an orphanage, who insists that his dad is coming back for him. On a whim he asks if he can start spending weekends with a stranger from his dad’s former apartment complex, Samantha. The story that unfolds from there is one about grace in the face of people who reject it over and over. The Dardenne’s give us a tale that frustrates the viewer’s patience, while simultaneously painting a wonderful picture of how relentless mercy is more effective than punishing justice.

6. Declaration of War


A poignant film about a child’s horrid health problems and the couple that is trying to deal with it all. They fight back against the terrors with optimistic war cries, tears, jokes, and frustrations, something that is imaginable in a situation like this. While a young child’s battle with cancer could easily be emotionally manipulative, director Valérie Donzelli (who also wrote and acted in the film, which is a story about her) focuses on the beautiful ways that we cope with tragedy.

5. The Cabin in the Woods


The horror-comedy-twist laden Cabin was one of the most entertaining times I had in the theaters this year. It succeeds by simultaneously building tension through typical horror tropes, with the suspense of just what is actually happening behind the scenes. It meets the audience’s expectations of a slasher movie only to quickly pull the rug out from under them. Each character seems to fit a certain role, that Hollywood loves to shove people into, but director Drew Goddard doesn’t let it remain as simple as that. The film culminates with one of the craziest scenes of the year, as Goddard (and writing partner Joss Whedon) criticize the moviegoing community with their meta-narrative.

4. Django Unchained


Quentin Tarantino’s latest work is as controversial as they come, bringing to light racial tensions and causing a plethora of writing pieces addressing his depiction of violence. While I don’t believe that a revenge fantasy is the best way to empower minorities, Tarantino certainly seems to be giving a voice to people who experienced deep, deep tragedies. As violence goes, Tarantino does seem to love it, but at the same time, rather than making it seem awesome, he almost cartoonizes it while pushing it to a whole other level, making the viewer uncomfortable. On top of this, Tarantino has once again created a fascinating film with imaginative characters, amazing images, and sharp dialogue. Not something I would recommend to the irresponsible movie watcher (which is how most people would view him, in either a horrified or this-is-awesome manner, neither of which I would deem what he’s going for).

3. Oslo, August 31


Oslo follows drug rehab patient Anders on his first day outside the rehab in months. With little time left in the rehab program, he is given leave in order to go to a job interview that will hopefully give him some stability when he gets out of rehab for good. The film explores the ups and downs of this day with him meeting people he hasn’t seen in ages. It ponderously follows each moment as his friends and family awkwardly try to test out just where he is at. Anders knows the pain he has caused and cannot fathom moving past it. It revels not only in this day and his story, but also in his past, his history, and the normal lives of those around him, portraying pain and lack of grace in a devastating manner.

2. Moonrise Kingdom

moonrise kingdom

Wes Anderson is known for his quirky indie dramedys, filled with indie songs, Bill Murray, and wonderful set designs. Moonrise Kingdom is all of those things and more. It is a story of two kids living on an island who find companionship and young love in one another when the rest of the world seems to have let them down. The kids (Jared Gillman and Kara Hayward) have a naive maturity within them; they long for something that they are not being shown around them, but their idealism is something that could never work. They are deeply flawed and in certain moments perhaps mentally unstable, but in each other they find something to lead them out of the darkness. As the rest of the island tries to find them, they begin to mature as well; their sins are brought to light, making them realize that their own repentance has come due.

1. Looper


Rian Johnson’s third feature film is one of the best sci-fi films to be released in recent memory. It is the kind of film that will live long past awards season with the way that Johnson creates this unique world that is both familiar and distant. It touches notes that will satisfy geeks, cinephiles, and the casual fan. It asks the typical time travel questions similar to something that Back to the Future would do, but in a much much darker fashion. What truly elevates the film though is the complexity that exists behind each character’s motivations. The end seems to insist that we take responsibility for our actions (and even the actions of others), while questioning the notion of grace.

Honorable mentions: End of Watch, Pitch Perfect, Monsieur Lazhar, Chronicle, Ruby Sparks, Sound of Noise, The Queen of Versailles, Undefeated, Your Sister’s Sister