Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Movies: The Year 2013 - A View Into The Rear-View Mirror

(Drivebycuriosity) - 2013 was a solid movie year. We got at least 3 spectacular cinema events. The most eye-catching was  "Gravity", a drama about a space station falling apart causing a struggle of live. Even that the film was set in outer space it isn`t science fiction. Director Alfonso Cuarón showed just a technology which has been existing for decades. Anyway, the drama is pure cinema magic and might be the first film that let us experience awe and horror of space travel while sitting in a cinema theater. "Gravity" showed what modern cinema is capable to.
I also got hypnotized by "Trance". In the foreground stood a theft of a precious painting, but director Danny Boyle focused more on psychology and the mysteries of the unconscious mind. The makers took the audience on a psychedelic trip and created a furious dance of pictures which could make you drunk.  But anyway, the movie had to share my love with "Stoker". The mystery thriller had many different layers: A coming of age story, a subtile vampire tale, a very special  family film and a cynical fairy tale about people who behave far outside the boundaries of the common world. All three masterpieces showed the magic of the camera (and the digital post-production) with amazing compositions of picture and color.
Speaking of vampires. The genre of vampire movies got another gem: "Kiss Of The Damned". The film was a stylish exercise about eternal desire, passion, thrill & gore. The superb cinematography captured the sinister but alluring ambience with intoxicating pictures.

The zombie genre was still alive and delivered the powerful "World War Z" where a super fast spreading virus transformed people into raging zombies who almost overrun the whole earth. I was impressed  by the dynamic and sheer force of the undead. The attacks of the undead masses almost looks real and scary thanks to the awesome digital effects and the brilliant 3D photography.

The horror genre scared again. I enjoyed "Mama". The tale about 2 little girls who have developed a close relationship to an evil paranormal entity (called "Mama") had claustrophobic and surrealistic scenes which reminded me of Luis Buñuel and painters like Salvador Dalí (who cooperated with Buñuel). But I was disappointed by  "Evil Dead 2013", which wasn`t´ scary at all. The makers lacked the imagination the genre needs and used just overused and stupid cliche´s which often looked unintentionally funny.

The science fiction genre blossomed in 2013. "Star Trek into Darkness" let the audience virtually visit futuristic cities, alien landscapes and participate on breathtaking trips into outer space -  cutting edge action cinema and a hell lot of fun. The super realistic science fiction thriller "Europa Report" described a human expedition to the Jupiter moon Europa with dramatic consequences. The plot, which is based on real science and partly on data acquired by the NASA, showed the bliss of deep space travels but also the risks. In contrast stayed the movie  "Her" on the earth and displayed a realistic and believable near future. The film about a lonely man who fells in love with an intelligent operating system had many ideas that could inspire the whole science fiction genre. In opposition to the popular dystopian flicks you could see a pleasant and wealthy future, a world I would like to inhabit and maybe will sometimes. "The Wall", a under rated jewel, told the story of a woman who spends a weekend in a hunting lodge in the Austrian mountains (Alpen) when suddenly an invisible wall appears and bars her from the rest of world. It was a modern Robinson Crusoe story and a beautiful meditation about a solitarily life in the nature without any human support. "Grabbers" entertained with a very special Irish version of the struggle between humans and alien monsters who want to invade earth. The film was full of funny hilarious ideas and combined the usual alien-horror topics with traditional Irish clichés -  a roller coaster of ludicrous ideas and not too shy of gory elements.

2013 was another interesting year for psychological thrillers. Steven Soderbergh´s "Side Effects" followed Hitchcock´s tradition and told the story of a young married woman who got a new experimental pill subscribed in order to deal with her depression which caused unintended and dramatic side effects. The movies greats assets were the gorgeous Rooney Mara, the exquisite Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jude Law as an analytical and cool shrink. "The Prisoners"  told about 2 fathers who try to find their abducted daughter. The film dealt with self-administered justice and turned more and more into a sinister freak show. The plot was a bit too construed but  the cinematography by Roger Deakins underlined the scariness of the plot with dark pictures in a sad grey and brown and showed a country were creeps grow like pumpkins.  The French production "In the House"  (Dans La Maison) was a fine mystery tale and blended entertainment with smart object lessons on manipulation, seduction, desire, sex, family and delivered charming discussions about art and literature. The ambiguity and a lot of surprises made the film enthralling.

Hollywood also took another look at the Mexican drug cartels. "The Counselor" told the story of an attorney, who does business with the cartel, neglecting warnings about their viciousness. Soon things go awry and the counselor and other people are sliding into a deep mess. The plot left a lot of questions open, but there were a lot of smart & philosophical lines, spiced with a bit kinkiness and cynical messages. Cameron Diaz had a memorable appearance as a delicious, but kinky and hyper-emancipated woman and Javier Bardem delivered another awesome performance, this time with a philosophical funniness.

The genre of outlaw movies got enriched by "Ain't Them Bodies Saints" about an outlaw who escapes from prison. The movie was a psychological study about sacrifice, passion, competition, stubbornness and violence.

Some movies were pure entertainment, like "The Wolf Of Wall Street" which was based on the memoirs of the New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who received a long prison sentence because of securities fraud, stock manipulation and money laundering. The film focused on his "hedonistic life throughout the ’80s and ’90s, consistently indulging in women, drugs and alcohol". It seemed that director Martin Scorsese and his superb ensemble had a lot of fun while shooting the "Wolf". The film didn´t waste much time on the complex financial implications, instead the flick looked like a huge party with a big hangover or a "Kindergeburtstag", which is when rich parents give a birthday party for their spoiled kids, with clowns, silly games and plenty of popcorn, marshmallows and other food. "The Wolf" translated this into the world of adults with pussies, coke and booze.

2013 also had the usual flood of comedies. I indulged in "Blue Jasmine". Woody Allen delivered a kind of cinematic dark chocolate. The master drew a thin line between comedy and tragedy and contemplated about conflicting philosophies of life, mental problems, self-deception & self-destruction. It seemed that Allan, who is a product of New York City himself, was reckoning with Manhattan´s culture of blowhards and praised instead the common people of the West Coast. "The English Teacher" showed the life in and around the class room from the educator´s perspective. The film, shot on a small budget, was a hilarious and funny cabinet piece of high ambitions, classroom mockery, betrayal and cooking sexual hormones.

Hollywood has always been fascinated by politics, especial corruption scandals, so 2013. "American Hustle", my wife´s favorite of 2013,  was set in the late 1970s and early '80s as the FBI convicted an U.S. senator, plus six members of the House of Representatives and other U.S. politicians of accepting bribes. Director David O. Russel turned this into a slick comedy about a conman and his partner who in cooperation with a FBI agent are trying to convict top politicians. The flick had at least 4 outstanding actors: Watching Christian Bale as a crafty con artist was a lot of fun, but he easily got outplayed by the superb Amy Adams as his swell partner in crime and the amazingly alterable Jennifer Lawrence, as the conman´s unstable & but glib wive. Bradley Cooper completed the quartet as a crafty FBI agent. "Broken City" focused on the struggle between economical and political power in New York City which created danger & mayhem. Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and the elegant Catherine Zeta-Jones made this movie highly watchable. "Dallas Buyers Club" had a different approach to politics. The film told the true life story of Ron Woodroof, who in the 1980s was diagnosed with HIV and was given 30 days to live. He started smuggling anti-viral medications from all over the world, which were still unapproved, for his own treatment and created the "Dallas Buyers Club" providing its paying members with these alternative treatments. The movie showed how a determined and savvy man fights for his life and is doing good for a lot of others, but he had to struggle against a rigid & outmoded law system and against an arrogant & hypocritical bureaucracy. Matthew McConaughey, as Ron, showed how this character grew on his challenges. Jared Leto as a HIV positive transvestite also was quite impressive. "Dallas Buyers Club" was an entertaining biopic and a compelling retrospective on an episode of the history of medicine.

The movie year 2013 also offered a lot of sex and erotics (not always identical). The psychological drama "Blue Is The Warmest Color" got the most public attention. It showed an intense relationship between 2 girls - garnished with generous filmed sex scenes. The way they were teasing, stimulating and exploring each other was highly esthetically.  The newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos was a canvas for the emotional awakening of a teenager. Her curiosity and her hunger for life, food & sex defined the movie. The British film "The Look Of Love" about an entrepreneur who build an empire, centered around strip clubs and soft-porn magazines was an entertaining study about an egotistical person who pursues his libertarian and hedonistic Weltanschauung with little empathy for the need of others. The film showed lot´s of amazing naked women which was appropriate for this issue. The sex was tasteful photographed and cinematographer Hubert Taczanowski & editor Mags Arnold fabricated an amusing kaleidoscope of  "Swinging London" and the British capital´s further cultural advance. "Lovelace" focused on the deep throat artist Linda Lovelace while making the hard core porn flick "Deep Throat" (1972) that transformed her into the world`s most famous porn star and into an icon of the sexual revolution. It was a very decent movie and a well-made study about an abused woman and delivered a perfect mixture of entertainment, provocation and thoughtful reflection.
"Afternoon Delight" told an episode in the life of Rachel, who is around 40. Hoping to treat her marriage and to rekindle her sex drive she visits a strip club where she gets a lap dance by a young stripper & prostitute. Rachel develops some social interest and curiosity in the girl and invites her to life in her home for some time, together with her husband and a toddler. This causes a lot of confusion, irritations and complications in Rachel`s social environment which is conservative jewish. "Afternoon Delight" was a tale about an intruder in a rigid world and an amusing study about a woman who wants to discover new sights of herself.

The most underrated movie 2013 was  "The Lone Ranger", a surrealistic Western movie which described a kind of an alternative history - maybe set in a parallel universe that is close to ours but not really. There were some events possible there which aren´t here. And some things were different and weird, like rabbits, horses and crows. But "Ranger" also dealed with some of the dark parts of U.S. history in our universe and the fact that the native Americans got cheated, murdered and deprived of their land, their rights and their existence. I indulged in the gorgeous cinematography that created fascinated tableaus of the "Wild West". I agree with Mark Hughes of Forbes magazine who commented, " it's about a hundred times better than you think it is. It’s a wonderful movie."

The disappointment of the year was "Elysium", starring Jodie Foster & Matt Damon. It showed a rich elite living on a protected space station in a close orbit around the earth, while the rest of the humanity spend their life on an impoverished earth. It could have been an interesting topic, as for instance the Justin Timberlake thriller "In Time" (2011) showed. But the makers delivered just an action movie to entertain unaspiring adolescents. The audience didn´t learn much about Elysium and the alleged superior technology & lifestyle. Instead the picture was full of fight scenes in the dust. Elysium wasn´t science fiction, there was no gram science in it, the audience instead got a bad rip off of "Mad Max".
I also found "The Great Gatsby" underwhelming. Maybe my expectation had been too high after all the buzz created by a well oiled marketing campaign. I couldn`t see the outrageous wealth this Gatsby allegedly had, "The Wolf of Wall Street" was much more convincing in this respect.

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