Sunday, March 2, 2014

2013 Year In Review

So, the Oscars again, and I care less than ever. I think, in part, it's because it's all so rigged. I mean, probably not the winners, but there are never any surprises. There's no room in the nominations for an unexpected outsider; they know which films are going to be nominated—the ones that get released in November and December.

So, The Boy and I saw nearly 160 films last year. Counting a couple of double-screenings, that's 160 trips to the cinema, close to every other day!

12 Years A SlaveErasedMuch Ado About NothingThe Book Thief
20 Feet From StardomEvil DeadMudThe Conjuring
56 UpFaustMuscle ShoalsThe Croods
A Good Day To Die HardFill The VoidNebraskaThe Gatekeepers
A HijackingFrances HaNoThe Grandmaster
A Single ShotFrom Up On Poppy HillNo Place On EarthThe Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)
A Touch Of SinGangster Squad (In Color!)Now You See MeThe Heat
Aftermath (Poklosie)Genius On HoldOnly God ForgivesThe Hunt (Jagten)
AftershockGravityOur ChildrenThe Iceman
Ain't Them Bodies SaintsGreat Expectations (2013, London West End)Our NixonThe Impossible
All Is LostGreat Expectations (Newell, 2013)Oz: The Great And PowerfulThe Internship
American HustleHannah ArendtPacific RimThe Missing Picture
An Unfinished SongHava Nagila (The Movie)Paris-ManhattanThe Patience Stone
Anna KareninaHawkingPhilomenaThe Pin
Arena of the Street FighterHitler's ChildrenPitch PerfectThe Place Beyond The Pines
BarbaraHotel TransylvaniaPlimpton! Starring George Plimpton as HimselfThe Purge
BastardsHow I Live NowPopulaireThe Rabbi's Cat
Becoming TraviataHunger Games: Catching FirePrisonersThe Sapphires
Big Ass SpiderHush! Girls Don't ScreamPulp FictionThe Spectacular Now
BlancanievesIn A World...QuartetThe Untouchables (1987)
Bless Me UltimaIn The HouseRed 2The Way, Way Back
Bullet To The HeadInformantRed DawnThe World's End
By Summer's EndInside Llewyn DavisRenoirThis Is The End
Cannon FodderInsidious 2Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. HydeThor: The Dark World
CarrieIsrael Film Festival: God's NeighborsRust and BoneThérèse
Casting ByJack ReacherShadow DancerTurbo
Chasing MavericksJack The Giant SlayerSharqiyaWadjda
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2JewtopiaShort Term 12Warm Bodies
Come Out And PlayJurassic ParkSide EffectsWhat Maisie Knew
Dallas Buyers ClubKochSilent Hill: RevelationWhen Comedy Went To School
Dark SkiesKon-TikiSinisterWolf Children
Demon's RookLeonieStand Up GuysWolverine
Despicable Me 2
Star Trek Into DarknessWorld War Z
Detention of the DeadLife of PiStarbuckWreck-It Ralph
Dorfman in LoveLike Father, Like SonStill MineYou Will Be My Son
Drinking BuddiesLike Someone In LoveStories We TellZaytoun
ElysiumLoreTexas Chainsaw Massacre 3DZero Dark Thirty
EmperorLove Is All You NeedThe Act of KillingCaptain Phillips
Ender's GameMamaThe Angel's Share
Enough SaidMan Of SteelThe Attack
If I seem uncertain, it's because this list is based on blog posts, and I know I didn't manage to post a review of all the movies we saw. For example, I just realized I had forgotten Captain Phillips. (Not that it's going to win in any awards at Casa 'strom.)

Which, among these were the best? Note that I'm not including Broken Circle Breakdown, and several other Oscar nominees, since they didn't meet the qualifications for the Casa 'strom awards (i.e., I had to see it in 2013).

Well, let's start by eliminating the worst...
CarrieCannon FodderThérèseThe Place Beyond The Pines
BastardsA Touch Of SinAin't Them Bodies SaintsThe Attack
The PinOur ChildrenElysiumMan Of Steel
Muscle ShoalsThe InternshipOur NixonOz: The Great And Powerful
Demon's RookWhen Comedy Went To SchoolOnly God ForgivesSharqiya
Note that these were "bad" for a variety of reasons, and I hate to put some (like Demon's Rook) in this category because I wanted so much more for them. By far, the number one disease afflicting these films was self-indulgence (A Touch of Sin), manifested in over-long-ness (The Place Beyond The Pines), overbaked-special-effects (Man of Steel), self-importance (Elysium), or just adding nothing to the world (Our Nixon).

A few (like Oz or The Pin) were just misfires. The Attack has a special place on the list exclusively for being politically execrable. (Next year, Omar will occupy that spot.)

Turbo probably shouldn't be on there. It wasn't much worse than The Croods, and that's up for an Oscar. Actually, I've taken that out and put on Our Children which was truly awful on many levels.

Still 20 really horrible experiences out of 155-160 isn't bad.

I'd rule out the others bit-by-bit, but I don't really have a good way to keep track of all these things. So I'm gonna skip right to my top 25. 

The Act of Killing
Aftermath (Poklosie)
Dallas Buyers Club
Faust
Fill The Void
From Up On Poppy Hill
The Hunt (Jagten)
The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)
Inside Llewyn Davis
Like Father, Like Son
The Missing Picture
Monsters University
Much Ado About Nothing
Mud
Nebraska
Prisoners
Pulp Fiction
The Rabbi's Cat
Short Term 12
A Single Shot
12 Years A Slave
The Untouchables (1987)
Wadjda
Wolf Children

Some of these are hangovers from the previous year: Zero Dark Thirty; one of the kids' top 5, Wolf Children; my favorite for the first part of the year, Fill The Void; Faust, and The Rabbi's Cat. The Untouchables and Pulp Fiction, are of course from long ago.

The Act of Killing
Aftermath (Poklosie)
Dallas Buyers Club
From Up On Poppy Hill
The Hunt (Jagten)
The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)
Inside Llewyn Davis
Like Father, Like Son
The Missing Picture
Monsters University
Much Ado About Nothing
Mud
Nebraska
Prisoners
Short Term 12
A Single Shot
12 Years A Slave
Wadjda

Paring down from this last 18 is challenging. I'd drop out some as falling just short of masterpieces: Dallas Buyers Club, Poppy Hill, The Missing Picture (as The Boy says, not great cinema, just a great story), and with even greater reluctance Much Ado About Nothing (even though I love it for many of the same reasons that critics trashed it), A Single Shot (Sam Rockwell should have two Oscars by now), and Nebraska. If throw in 12 Years A Slave for having no character arc (which I concede is true without admitting that it's necessary for a great story), I've still got eleven left. Gun to my head, I'd drop Short Term 12, over some slight roughness in the story editing.

The Act of Killing
Aftermath (Poklosie)
The Hunt (Jagten)
The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)
Inside Llewyn Davis
Like Father, Like Son
Monsters University
Mud
Prisoners
Wadjda

At this point, I cry no más! I can reduce no further. I notice there's a commonality between these films: They're all kind of difficult. Even Monsters U deals with hard truths. Mud is a fun one, but also a sober look at friendship and love. I mean, for a coming of age movie, it's pretty heavy, man.

So, there's the official Bitmaelstrom top 10 for 2013!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Tim's Vermeer

Despite Jillette's bombastic voice, and their occasionally strident atheism, it's hard for me not to like Penn & Teller. I think they are basically good classical liberals with a live-and-let-live philosophy, who are genuinely concerned about the truth.

I mention this because, if you have any kind of P&T baggage, you shouldn't let it deter you from seeing their new movie, Tim's Vermeer (directed by Teller and narrated by Penn).

This is a joyous celebration of life, art, and genius. It's inspirational, compelling, and, at 80 minutes long, manages to avoid PDS (padded documentary syndrome).

It's a simple story: Fabulously wealthy Tim Jenison has spent his life inventing wild and wacky things, when he's not inventing industry-defining A/V software that makes him fabulously wealthy.

Well, Tim's got it in his had that the Dutch master Vermeer was a technologist, too. And, in fact, that he used a special gizmo to get the shadings of light he got in his paintings—shadings which no other painter of the day achieved.

Having established his premise and devised a hypothetical tool, Tim (who has never painted in his life) uses it as a proof-of-concept, painting a simple image of a vase. He shows his tool to other artists like Martin Mull (!) and David Hockney, and all agree that he's on to something.

So Tim (not a painter, remember) gets the idea to paint Vermeer's The Music Room to really demonstrate the worthiness of his idea.

The catch is, he wants to (has to, you could argue) do the whole thing using only the technology available to Vermeer, and recreate all the elements of the music room to boot.

This takes years.

Then, when he's done that, he's actually got to do the painting.

I have a bias here, of course: Obsession is favorite topic of mine. (I like being obsessed, too.) I sent my mom to see it (she tackles all kinds of projects) and she also found it inspirational.

It's just so much fun.

Also, while I generally don't pine for wealth, I do occasionally become aware of a story that makes me think, "Yeah, that's a good amount of money to have." This is one of those stories, since Tim and Penn and Co. all jet off to England and Holland, or wherever they need to whenever. Tim buys all kinds of hardware and generally doesn't let anything (least of all money) get in his way.

(By the way, my favorite "good amount of money" story is George Harrison listening to Erik Idle talk about the uncompleted Life of Brian, and Harrison funding it because it sounded like a good movie and he wanted to see it. Harrison of course went on to fund Handmade Films, which was credited with revitalizing British cinema.)

One of the best documentaries in years.

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