Saturday, January 25, 2014

Generation Defining Movies

Recently, I, half tongue-in-cheek, described The Social Network (2010) as a generation-defining movie. I say "tongue-in-cheek" because, really, can you describe something as generation-defining while it is still making its mark and the generation is still in full force and how do you even define the term generation? Well I believe the movie to be a fascinating one, not simply because Facebook has had a monumental impact on how we relate to each other but because the entire creation of that particular internet beast was built on connecting-but-not-really-connecting, creating some sort of "chicken or the egg" question of what caused the other.

Anyhow, as I did a quick Google search of the phrase, "generation-defining," the first hit was a Rolling Stones article on thirteen movies that defined a generation. They seem to pick a movie about every three or four years from the 1960's on. The title is semi-misleading in that I don't think generations roll over every three or four years, but the point is still made.

Following Rolling Stones' lead (actually, I had this idea before the Google search), I would like to expound on the list. So my thoughts on The Social Network have already been discussed but I would like to propose that it, in some ways, serves as the middle man between two other generation-defining movies for the last ten years or so.
First, Garden State (2004) typifies a generation of young people (perhaps especially those currently in their 20's and 30's - so perhaps the older Millennials and whatever came right before them) who desire authenticity, accept messy relationships, and are fed up with previous generations' attempts to dull pain with anesthetics. Rather, there is a desire to feel and to feel deeply, even if it hurts.
Coming off of that, I think The Social Network takes a dark turn towards distancing ourselves from others, despite a veneer that might say otherwise.
My final generation-definer is Her (2013). Her takes the idea of connecting via a device and moves beyond it, where the protagonist actually enters into a relationship with his OS. I could gush a lot about this movie - its ability to make an "absurd" situation absolutely believable, the acting, the gorgeous sets and fashion, the score, the script, and the list goes on. But to the point of the blog post, Her explores what it looks like to experience true and intimate relationships in a world prone to disconnect us and create personalized worlds bent towards being self-centered while also introducing the idea of with whom we are actually connecting. Without totally giving away the conclusion of the movie, it ends on a hopeful note (or at least I thought so) that's not altogether different than the conclusion of Garden State, though certainly updated for a generation of today/tomorrow.

Any thoughts on movies that define generations? (I know, it's a bit pretentious of a concept.) Any gaping wholes in my connection of these movies? Movies you would add?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Funny Girls

Context: The past year, I have increasingly thought about gender equality issues in US culture, the church, the workplace, the family, and other places. I am no expert on the topic. And I am a man. So I don't have the lived-experience of being a woman in today's world. But I'm pretty sure there's a lot of inequality out there.

As award show season is upon us, I was looking through all the leading comedies and what I believe should be the leading comedies. It was at that moment that I realized something.

Female comedians are killing it right now - and Tina Fey doesn't even have a show out right now! I know this doesn't mean that everything is solved or that television / the comedy world is perfectly balanced. I just want to celebrate some seriously funny female leads out there.

Below are what I consider to be the best comedies currently in production. The only show I would potentially add would be Modern Family though it's been so-so the last season or two. And I could add the critically-acclaimed, female-led Veep but I haven't totally bought into it yet (only one season in). Regardless, I'm happy to see women taking the lead in a previously male-dominated arena.

Girls (HBO)
I've been getting the DVDs from the library and I binge watch until there is no more. This show is super smart, self-absorbed, and hilarious. There's a million thoughts out there right now on what it's doing for/by/to women that I'm not going to comment on. All I know is that I love watching. 
New Girl (Fox)
While this is certainly an ensemble deal, I think Zooey brings the show together in wonderful ways. I'm excited this show took hold with viewers. 
Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Protagonist Leslie Knope is smart, loveable, neurotic, funny and career driven. Another ensemble cast but clearly led by the indomitable Poehler (yay for that recent Golden Globe).
The Mindy Project (Fox)
Mindy is clearly a "girls girl" though it's also clearly by choice. She loves medicine... and celebrity gossip. Fantastically funny show and created by Mindy herself.

Any thoughts on the matter? 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Best Movies of 2013

I've been doing "best music of" lists for seven years now but have yet to dive into the "best movies of" arena as of yet. I'm probably more qualified to discuss movies over music but the process of watching movies in the year of release is more difficult than the more accessible music market despite the enormity of said market. Anyhow, I'd like to start listing my favorite movies. 

As for my "parameters," I'm restricting movies included to those released in 2013. As it's a few days into 2014, I may have watched a few of these after the designated year. Further, it's an imperfect system in that there will certainly be 2013 movies that I won't see until later on. It's for this reason that I will have a "Highly Anticipated" list in addiction to my "Honorable Mention" list.

As for criteria, I'm simply picking my favorite ten movies of the year. Unlike award committees, I feel completely comfortable including both comedies and blockbusters in my lists as they are as good (or better) than many dramas of the year. 

I think 2013 was a decent year for movies. Certainly some great selections. Though maybe no generation defining (The Social Network, 2010), classic (No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood, 2007), or perfect blockbusters (The Dark Knight, 2008). Though maybe my opinion will be changed in a few months. Alright, here are my favorite movies from 2013.

10. Before Midnight
Linklater, Delpy, and Hawke pull out a great third installment to the "Before" trilogy. I totally buy the long, involved conversation style of the films. Their ability to make each film fresh, relevant, and appropriate to each stage of life is nothing short of remarkable. And I kind of love that the two leads are so intimately involved in the production process as well. In a year of innovative film-making, Before Midnight adds its fresh style to the mix.
9. Dallas Buyers Club
This is a story of a homophobic man from Texas who gets HIV AIDS in the 1980's. Keeping it from some sort of "statement" movie, the story follows the relationship of the lead and a transvestite as they try their best to live life amidst tragedy. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leno give fantastic performances. The story is enlightening. And it is amazing to see where US culture has come in the last 30 years in regards to both AIDS and LGBTQ issues.
8. Don Jon
What isn't there to love about Joseph Gordon-Lovitt? In his directorial debut, Lovitt explores, in fairly graphic detail, how addiction, of many kinds, affects relationships. I found the style of the movie to be fun and appropriate to the plot line. The repetitive-ness of the filming mirrors Lovitt's character's addiction and is not dissimilar to Requiem for a Dream's use of repetition. Oh, and Lovitt and Johansson really pull off the Jersey thing.
7. The Place Beyond the Pines
One of the under-the-radar movies of the year, I found the story of this long story to be fascinating. The Place Beyond the Pines also innovates with its unconventional story format, where the leads rarely even interact with each other and the movie plays out in a three act format that, to some, could feel disconnected. The actions of all the characters are felt by multiple generations, making for a nuanced drama that more people should be paying attention to.
6. Monsters University
While many sloughed this sequel off as "not as good as the first one," I found the return to the Monster's universe to be a fun, enjoyable ride. While the plot wasn't revolutionary, it, in true Pixar manner, was heartfelt and sincere in addition to being funny and beautifully rendered. 
5. This is the End
Blah, blah, blah this movie promotes friendship and loyalty. Mostly, it's highly irreverent and lacking in much depth. So I wouldn't recommend this one to the easily offended. With that said, I laughed a lot during this movie. All the actors (and there are a lot of cameos) play themselves, making for hilarious versions of each character and adding to the innovative year of movies (across all genres). 
4. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I loved this sequel. While the original movie (and book) holds the most punch in introducing the concept where children are pitted against children in a deadly fight, I felt as though the second movie improved upon every aspect of the first. The acting improved, the hints of a revolution were hinted at very well, the action was more intense, and the final installments were set up perfectly. I love what's being done with this series. It's not everyday that a violent story involving themes of privilege and power can be sold to millions of teenagers.
3. Captain Phillips
Going into this movie, I was a little skeptical of it's ability to keep me interested throughout considering the ending was already known and the ending seemed to be a big part of the draw. I'm glad I was wrong. Moments of intensity were sustained throughout and both Somali pirates and U.S. seamen were portrayed in highly human ways. To top it off, and something I was not expecting (spoiler!), Hanks' performance of shock after being rescued was nothing short of incredible. 
2. 12 Years a Slave
Again, I wasn't super excited for this one, finding it hard for a movie on slavery to bring anything new to the genre. While it may not have reinvented the wheel, the film was done so masterfully that I wasn't paying attention. Acting was perfect, all around. Elements of power and submission were explored so expertly, leaving Jorjette and I talking for a long time afterwards. Lastly, there were a number of unforgettable scenes in this movie that will go down as classic moments in film.
1. Gravity
Innovation. I've used that word on a number of descriptions thus far. Gravity may very well take the cake in that category. I'm not going to go in-depth (nor could I, really) on how this film was made but the mid-space shots throughout the film are breath-taking. In my opinion, it out-did Avatar in the way it expertly used 3D filming to enhance the story. And while Avatar was a fun romp of visuals, Gravity wasn't merely a good-looking movie with a fun story. No, I believe Gravity explored what it means for humans to fight for life, the death and rebirth needed to do so, and the beauty that comes of it. That's where the incredible shots came in. All of this culminated to give us the most moving and aesthetically pleasing film of the year.

Honorable Mention
American Hustle, Mud, The Way Way Back, The Great Gatsby, Side Effects, The Spectacular Now, Pacific Rim,  The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Wolf of Wall Street

Highly Anticipated
(I had a chance to catch many of these after originally writing this blog. Movies that I would add to this post's list have been made bold.) 
Inside Llewyn DavisHerMuch Ado About Nothing, Frances HaOut of the FurnacePrisonersAin't Them Bodies SaintsShort Term 12Fruitvale StationIn a World..., Blue Jasmine

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The West Wing: My Reason for Watching

I’ve nearly finished the fifth season of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. The show revolves around the lives of the West Wing staffers and of Sorkin’s television resume (Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The Newsroom), this is his most popular. As to it being the best is up for debate. I’ve heard strong arguments both for and against the series – my major criticism is its over-infatuation with democracy/The White House itself. While the series supposedly lowered in quality in the fifth season, I believe it has held its own though it may not be at the same place it was earlier in the series. Being a network show, there are twenty-two-ish forty-two minute long episodes in each season. So, to state the obvious, they are long seasons.

What keeps me watching, and I would contend makes it one of Sorkin’s best, are the characters. This is somewhat of a clich├ęd remark to make about a television show as good characters are typically what make an ensemble-cast show good in almost any case. That said, The West Wing is more often noted for its quick-witted writing style, ability to deal with modern political issues in an enlightening manner, or film in this talking-while-walking way that’s so cool and simultaneously so smarmy. While Martin Sheen’s performance of President Bartlett or Rob Lowe’s ability to play a young, speech-writer might be grouped in there, they typically aren’t in the first breath.

While I enjoy the political debates and long discourses, I find the interaction of the characters’ lives in the political arena to be the most fascinating aspect of the show and I believe the show has created some great characters to do so. Though I have not yet finished the series, I would like to now, perhaps prematurely, list my five favorite characters from The West Wing.
5. Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe)
Sam is an idealist without being disconnected from life. Rob brings a sharp-edge to the character and, perhaps bolstered by his Parks & Rec role, humor as well.
4. Charlie Young (Dule Hill)
What’s not to love about Charlie? He’s on top of it. He’s a hard worker. He comes from a troubled past but has successfully built a strong life. He knows when (and when not) to speak. And his romance with Elisabeth! Why won’t it happen?!
3, 2. Donna Moss, Josh Lyman (Janel Maloney, Bradley Whitford)
I haven’t gotten there yet but I assume these two eventually get together, right? They have to. Donna is incredibly thoughtful, motivated by emotion, and intelligent enough to not let those attributes be weaknesses. Josh is brash and daring, typically in order to better the administration. They’re great individually though when they operate together, they balance each other out like any modern television couple should.
1. C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney)
An episode without much C.J. is a sad day (and it being an ensemble show, it happens). C.J. lights up the screen. She’s quick, funny, and extremely caring. She’s able to be firm without being stand-off-ish. She fights for what she believes in. And her lip-syncing The Jackal!!!