10. The Way Way Back (Faxon, Rash)
Synopsis: Shy 14-year-old Duncan goes on summer vacation with his mother, her overbearing boyfriend, and her boyfriend’s daughter. Having a rough time fitting in, Duncan finds an unexpected friend in Owen, manager of the Water Wizz water park.
Partially written and directed by Oscar winner Jim Rash (Dean Pelton on NBC’s Community), The Way Way Back is the perfect blend of heartwarming comedy and bitter reality. Rash said that the film is loosely based on his life, in particular the scene when Duncan’s step dad tells him that he’s a three. You can see how comedy helped him better navigate the storms of a difficult adolescence which created a sentiment that I related to on a real level.
Also, Sam Rockwell is perfect. Keep an eye out for the Holding Out for a Hero scene.
As James Gandolfini’s last work, Enough Said was a perfect role. Since he portrayed mostly brute characters throughout his career, this movie showed that James wasn’t the monster that he so amazingly showcased, but a sweet, gentle, gifted soul. Through the eyes of Eva (Louis-Dreyfus) you find yourself falling in and out and back in love with Albert (Gandolfini) who remains static while his ex wife’s perspective clouds your opinion of him. It’s a fascinating study of the power of words, love, life and relationships.
8. Blue is the Warmest Color (Kechiche)
Synopsis: Adele’s life is changed when she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair, who will allow her to discover desire, to assert herself as a woman and as an adult. In front of others, Adele grows, seeks herself, loses herself and ultimately finds herself through love and loss.
When I mentioned that this film would make my top 10, one of my friend’s first comment was, “The lesbian movie?!” Yes. The lesbian movie. But don’t let the controversy that came along with Blue is the Warmest Color distract you from the story it tells. It’s an emotionally tolling account of love and the rollercoaster of things it drags you through. It could’ve easily been made about a straight couple, but making the leads lesbians adds en extra dimension because of the challenges they face in society. It’s heartbreaking and beautiful.
Slavery is such a sick thing that I think filmmakers often cushion it for audiences. Not so with 12 Years a Slave. To date, I believe it is the most honest look at what life as a slave is. Never before have I had to look away from the screen, not for gore’s sake, but because of the mental brutality that was being projected. Watching Solomon Northup dangle from a noose for what seemed like an eternity is an image that will stick with me for the rest of my life. Sadly, this is a part of American history and I think it’s an important story that needs to be told, despite it’s brutality.
From a film making standpoint, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyong’o and the rest of the cast give Oscar-worthy performances. There isn’t a weak link in the bunch.
6. Short Term 12 (Cretton)
Synopsis: A 20-something supervising staff member of a residential treatment facility navigates the troubled waters of that world alongside her co-worker and longtime boyfriend.
Troubled children are often passed over in our society because they’re too difficult to handle or considered a lost cause. Short Term 12 depicts these kids as they are – real human beings with hearts that want to love, but have never been taught how to or what love even means. Most of them come from horrific circumstances that they did not choose and from which they had no means to escape. But caring for abused children is an enormous undertaking that can wreak havoc in the lives of their caregivers. Still, if you have the heart for it, the reward is worth the sacrifice.
5. Philomena (Frears)
Synopsis: A world-weary political journalist picks up the story of a woman’s search for her son, who was taken away from her decades ago after she became pregnant and was forced to live in a convent.
Philomena blindsided me. From the preview I assumed it was going to be a cute story about a quirky old lady, but the tale is far more profound than that. I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase that we can’t control what happens to us, we can only control how we respond to it… Philomena is a living example of making a conscious decision to respond with love and the healing that can come from that difficult decision, both for you and the people around you.
The story of a man falling in love with a computer isn’t as skeevy as it sounds. Her actually manages to convey real emotions and situations that everyone who has ever been in a relationship can relate to. People change, feelings change, relationships change. Often it’s no one’s fault. It’s natural and Her impressively makes it feel remarkably human.
Confession: I walked out of Inside Llewyn Davis pretty disappointed. I don’t know exactly what I expected, but I expected something. Some resolution. Some moment. Some climax. But the lack of those things is precisely what made it brilliant. Llewyn Davis is the story of 95% of artists. They struggle for recognition. The feel every note. They sacrifice for their craft. But then, nothing. They don’t have the untangeable it. It’s a sobering reality.
And Oscar Isaac… wow. The subtle brilliance with which he played Llewyn was the best performance of the year. He’s a young Pacino. Mark my words.
2. Broken Circle Breakdown (Van Groeningen)
Synopsis: Elise and Didier fall in love at first sight, in spite of their differences. He talks, she listens. He’s a romantic atheist, she’s a religious realist. When their daughter becomes seriously ill, their love is put on trial.
Tragedy effects everyone differently. It can quickly expose cracks in a relationship or in an individual that you had no idea existed. It can also magnify what once seemed like inconsequential differences. But does real love truly end? Such is the story of Elise and Didier in Broken Circle Breakdown. I’m not afraid to admit that this movie ended my mutli-year streak of not crying in a movie. That’s right, my heart is not a hollow tin shell after all.
Also worth mentioning – I give the soundtrack an A+.
1. The Hunt (Vinterberg)
Synopsis: A teacher lives a lonely life, all the while struggling over his son’s custody. His life slowly gets better as he finds love and receives good news from his son, but his new luck is about to be brutally shattered by an innocent little lie.
As you can probably tell from my previous selections, I love sad endings. I’m not a Debbie Downer or anything, but it feels more real if everyone walks away a little damaged, but ultimately better after a grueling experience. Rarely do people ride off into the sunset. That said, I wanted nothing more than for Lucas to have a “happily ever after” in The Hunt. I have never watched a more frustratingly real film. The suffering that he had to go through based on a false accusation was heart-wrenching, but there was no one to blame. There is no villain. Everyone acted logically, just as they should. But it felt so wrong, which made for a film that was so good.
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