Our Favorite Movies of 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street movie

1. The Wolf of Wall Street- The funniest film of the year was made by one of the world’s greatest directors, Martin Scorsese, who is now into his 70s and nearing the very end of his career. You wouldn’t know it watching The Wolf of Wall Street, an impossibly energetic riff on the true-life exploits of Wall Street crook Jordan Belfort. The film depicts behavior most would find irrefutably lewd, misogynist, or downright amoral; most of which is played for uproarious laughs. The men in Wolf act out of humanity’s basest impulses; snorting drugs and screwing prostitutes in the office just because they have no one there to tell them “no.” Scorsese, much like the protagonist, never slows down to moralize anything on the screen, keeping the focus on the excessively sexual and drug-fueled life of Belfort and all of his brokers. It is in these outrageous slapstick moments and revolting conversations that the director becomes a sly satirist, allowing us to laugh at and observe this lifestyle from the self-aggrandizing narrator’s point of view. The uniformly great supporting cast, paired with DiCaprio’s career-best performance, carry out exhilarating, even visceral, comedy scenes that keep the film bouncing through its three-hour run-time.  Scorsese’s damning portrait of greed has a well-secured place in the canon of America’s great black comedies.

spring breakers

2. Spring Breakers- The perverse pleasures of cinema were mined and radicalized in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, an apocalyptic beach party and an unforgettable deconstruction of modern America’s excesses and wastelands. Aesthetically, it mirrors the sex-and-drug infused paradise of an MTV spring break, filmed under bright pink skylines and seedy red nightclubs. Malevolence has always been a way of coping with marginality for Korine’s characters, but for Brit, Candy, Faith and Cotty, it is a way to reach the ultimate high; attaining a transcendent euphoria, not through debauched revelries but through dominance and power. Big Arch and the indelible Alien are the walking, boasting incarnations of this ever-lasting Dream, and the girls’ eventual foray into criminal warfare is all an inevitable part of their quest for insatiable pleasure. As a major release in 2013, Spring Breakers is purposefully indefinable, and so nonplussed reactions from Gen-Y are unsurprising (strangely, our drug-obsessed culture doesn’t seem too interested in art inspired by drugs?). But not working directly as an obvious critique of anything is exactly why the film will endure; by evading a definite “purpose,” it is a piece of art that can be observed from a multitude of angles. If anything, the year’s masterpiece will serve as an important corrective: it’s not style over substance, style is the substance.

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REVIEW: Red State

Red State
Directed by: Kevin Smith
Written by: Kevin Smith (screenplay)
Starring: John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Michael Parks and Kyle Gallner

Usually, Kevin Smith’s status as a writer/director mirrors that of Woody Allen.  When he’s on, most notably in Clerks, he’s dead-on and when he’s off in movies like Dogma or Cop Out, he’s just dead.  Red State marks a departure for him as a filmmaker in many ways.  First and foremost is that it’s not really a comedy outside the occasional chuckle, and second is that the grotesque happens just as much as it is talked about.

Red State is neither a total success or complete failure.  It explores a militant anti-gay Christian church in an unnamed state in Middle America.  Though the church is meant to mirror the infamous Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, Smith distances himself from that as the church members lay down their picket signs and pick up automatic weapons.

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Color blind: Modern directors and black and white

For most of the movies’ existence, we’ve had the ability to show color.  Nothing personifies the transition from black and white to color more than that immortal transition in The Wizard of the Oz, when the movies took the audience from the bleak colorlessness of everyday life into the beautiful colors of Victor Fleming’s adaptation.

It’s weird, then, that many modern directors’ greatest film making achievements are in black and white.  One benefit of it, besides the beauty you can capture without color, is that it may be hard to tell which decade a movie came from.  It can make a movie timeless, which is good when you’re talking about subjects like WWII and the Holocaust.  To celebrate 100 posts, here is a look back at movie history at directors’ ventures into a world without any vivid color, and how it paid off for them.

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