What I Learnt from 100 Movies

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On the 12th of September I finally made it, I could finally say that in 2013 I was a film fan, for I had watched my 100th new release of the year. Sure it wasn’t the best film, it wasn’t the worst either but it had class and it got me over the threshold of the century. The film was Travis Fine’s Any Day Now, a quiet movie about two gay lovers and their attempts to keep a mentally handicapped boy in their care during the 1970s.

Some might ask why I didn’t wait to see Riddick so that at least a few people might know what I was talking about when I wrote this article but the truth is I thought a film like Any Day Now might just be the character driven film that deserved to be No. 100, oh and Riddick was already 99.

What I realised when watching Fine’s often sanctimonious yet consistently moving picture is that it didn’t really matter what film I saw to reach this supposedly lofty total, the total didn’t even matter. Somewhere in the world there is a man/woman who has seen over 130 films this year and yet that will not stop him/her from watching another 30 before the year is out. What matters is that drive to experience different things every time you enter that darkened room.

Obviously not every experience was a pleasant one, for instance, I luckily wasn’t beaten and bruised by my brothers when I forced them to sit through A Good Day to Die Hard, John ‘Max Payne’ Moore’s hypothetical answer to our planets overpopulation problem. Luckily I went alone to Disney’s Planes, a Cars knockoff with almost the same exact characters and some not so subtle racism thrown in for good measure.

That being said, 2013 on the whole has treated most moviegoers to a decent crop of blockbusters, indie features and documentaries to whet even the most apathetic of whistles. In fact it may have taught viewers a thing or two like it did me. Now forgive me if I ramble on or gush a little but here are but a few things that I learnt about the movies this year and by extension, about life.

First and foremost I learnt that deep down I’m a sucker for a love story, from the grand romantic notions of Cloud Atlas (I’m British, here it came out in February) to the simplistic pleasures of Love is All You Need, Pierce Brosnan’s heartfelt tale of an introverted widow (Brosnan) meeting a erratic yet quite lovely cancer survivor (an excellent Trine Dyrholm). However some love stories proved too saccharine, over the top and most of all stupid to be worthy of watching twice. Films like Safe Haven, The Sessions and failed Twilight replacement Beautiful Creatures unfortunately find themselves in this category.

If romance isn’t your thing, finding a decent horror film proves just as hard in 2013 as it was last year. Last year found its saving grace in Cabin in the Woods and 2013 luckily has the wonderfully gruesome and genre hopping You’re Next, a mixture of family drama and slasher flick filled with snappy dialogue and wonderfully excessive scares and kills. Also worth a watch is Jennifer Chambers Lynch’s Chained, a disturbing, unflinchingly brutal look at the life of a young boy brought up in the same house as the man who killed his mother, a serial killer with a deep hatred for women. Clearly not a film for children, Chained is a telling story of human optimism and the never ending desire for something better, a message buried beneath the films horrific content. Ultimately great horror films contain some of the most important statements about humanity and the way we react to trauma. Bad horror films on the other hand seem to sap the life out of the heart racing genre. The Conjuring managed to get my heart pumping right up until the point it became a little too outlandish to handle.

While films like Chained look at hypothetical situations and characters worthy of following, documentaries often provide a look into the life of an individual or group worth devoting your time to. Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a look into the mind of praised sushi chef Jiro Ono is one of those films, not only a look into a culture we still don’t fully understand (The study of Japanese culture is a common trend in 2013, see Emperor and The Wolverine) but a man whose work habits and commitment to excellence will astound almost any casual viewer (World leaders and Nobel prize winners should only be mildly impressed). Films like Side by Side on the other hand use the medium of film to say very little and pander to a group of film watchers much like myself with a passion for the medium without actually discussing it in any real depth. Then there are the offensive ones, the documentaries made by people who clearly haven’t heard of the word tact. The Act of Killing lacks the moral core needed to make a topic like the 1965 Indonesian genocide acceptable to discuss. Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer it treats the event like an inevitability, a necessary evil and it tells its story by interviewing the perpetrators and no one else. To call it one sided and callous is not cruel enough.

Getting the bitter taste of a film like that takes some doing but thankfully comedy has made a comeback in 2013 after last years depressing turnout. However raunch seems to be everyones favourite flavour at the moment with films like This is the End and We’re the Millers taking the box office by storm. British comedy on the other hand seems to be the critical darling with films like The World’s End and Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa winning over critics all over the country and for good reason. The World’s End may be the most anticipated of the two but Alpha Papa will leave you laughing all the way to your car and a good distance of the trip home.

Low budget comedies like Drinking Buddies and Robot and Frank also made an impact, not for their laughs but for their clever concepts and moving stories with Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies being the perfect antithesis to the modern romantic comedy. In fact Robot and Frank perfectly advertises a new emerging trend in Hollywood at the moment, the old age comedy. Films like Fisher Steven’s Stand Up Guys and Robot and Frank wouldn’t have been made five years ago but with the emergence of popular hits like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and this years delightfully quirky Quartet, the old age comedy has quickly developed as one of this years most prevalent trends.

Finally 2013 has continued the slow empire building of Disney and their sister company Marvel with the box office hits of Iron Man 3, the aforementioned Planes and February’s Wreck It Ralph (Once again, I’m British and we have an odd release schedule). In fact big budget blockbusters as always have occupied most of the summer months with hits like Star Trek: Into Darkness, Oblivion and Man of Steel proving that Sci-Fi is now the name of the game. Defending the honor of big budget action is the ever popular Fast and Furious 6, a decent way to spend two hours without doing too much cerebral exercises but most of all this year taught me that big budget blockbusters will never be as good as small independent yet personal films.

If anything 2013 has been better than 2012, something I didn’t think possible due to last years plethora of excellent titles but films like The Impossible, Django Unchained, Cloud Atlas, Mud and the indescribable joy that is Before Midnight have proved me wrong and have taught me the most important lesson of all, never jump to conclusions, especially when it comes to the movies.

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