The Best and Worst of 2013 - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Best and Worst of 2013

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How he should be rememberedAndrewCommentaryBannerShortLast year proved to be a horrifying duality for me.  On the physical and mental end I was dealing with a total body meltdown that resulted in a couple of surgeries and long months of pain.  That part wasn't so much fun, and taken on its own didn't give me much to hope for.

But that's where cinema comes in, as it always has, to give us a guidepost on how we have felt since 9/11.  That tragic day continues to cast an immense shadow over all of our entertainment.  The millennium started with bleak dramas of people obsessed with righting a past wrong like in Mystic River, moving on to the self-flagellation and numbing qualities of Hostel and its ilk, and finally culminating in Melancholia and other depressed visions of our self-annihilation.  It's amazing we made it out of that first decade wanting to feel joy ever again.

Then we finally started to heal.  As the decade rolled on we have films that are seeking less vengeance and more reflection.  Action films like Olympus Has Fallen are critical of American jingoism by subtly suggesting the negative aspects of foreign meddling.  Dramas such as Before Midnight catch us in the middle of a crisis of faith in our ability to move forward together and still do so by communicating with each other.  Even our current views on the apocalypse have finally lightened up, with This Is The End providing a happy ending not by adhering to a specific religious creed, but by being a good person.  Even the much-maligned The Lone Ranger made critical self-examination fun and intelligent by taking an ethically terrible period driven by Manifest Destiny and making it relevant to our current model for domestic and foreign affairs.  The heroes are continually those who ally themselves with the working class and not allowing themselves to wallow in despair.

That's why my favorite film of 2013 is Man of Steel.Not just an empty suitI'm one of those people who have has never really loved Superman.  He always seemed untouchable, both emotionally and physically, because he has always been able to sprint off at a moment's notice with his indestructible frame and save the day.  Even when he died, it took a force created for the specific purpose of destroying Superman to do it.  He has incorruptible purity and limitless powers, so there's little interest in a hero that can always do the right thing tirelessly and without questioning what is good and bad.  It wasn't until I started finding stories like Kingdom Come and All-Star Superman, both stories that try hard to get inside Superman and express the strain of hearing everyone who is in trouble every second of the day, that I started to love him.  Roger Ebert said that the best stories are based not around sadness, but goodness.  It's a lot easier to think of bad things to happen to good people, and harder to imagine a scenario where people make tough decisions to become better.

That's why I keep thinking of that scream.  For some, the moment where Clark breaks Zod is a violation of everything Superman stands for.  But Man of Steel is not about Superman saving everyone.  That's impossible, and even in the comics Superman's success to failure ratio is far from perfect.  It's about how someone born to a foreign land, seemingly incompatible with everyone around them, learns to embrace the best and worst of themselves to preserve what is good.Our heroThis isn't easy.  It really hurts to be a good person.  Action films, and especially this current wave of super hero films, show a momentary glimpse of struggle and return to the status quo by the end.  Iron Man 3 is now my go-to gold standard for this, starting with what seems a crisis of conscience and ending with the powerful staying powerful and making choices that affect the lives of many with no thought to their consequences.  Saving people one by one makes us feel great as an audience - who didn't get pumped at Tony's rescue of all those passengers?  But Tony does nothing to challenge the system that created their peril.  Clark's story is an enlightening contrast, beginning with him fighting what he thinks are the bad guys, and ending with him confronting the machines that work behind the scenes to destroy everyone.  He makes the tougher sacrifices because in order to save everyone it means that he can't save them all.

Zack Snyder loaded his film with images that make direct parallels to our post-9/11 frame of mind.  Zod's threatening messages to Earth recall the mocking videos of Bin Laden.  Everyday Americans who work and consume in equal measure are put in direct peril by an evil they are unaware of becoming as there's not too much distance between a bully doomed for employment at an I-Hop, and a warlord compelled by his genetics.  The machine that destroys the Kryptonians is developing at a fast clip on Earth, and Clark goes from taking out the products of the machine to realizing he is the only one who can destroy it.  This after he becomes so overwhelmed with his ability to empathize that he still saves his tormentors.  This is the wonder of Man of Steel, that even it's not enough to feel bad or grow accustomed to the devastation, but to find ways to fight it.DeterminationMan of Steel is dense with material and ripe for readings.  It's just as easy to see it as a story of post-9/11 healing as it is a modern-day story of immigration.  After all, Superman was created as a beacon of inspiration by Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century.  Or you could see it as a broadly Biblical parable about someone who actively rejects the devastation of an Old Testament God and embraces the teachings of Jesus while realizing that they are as much about love as they are radical destruction and reformation.  Maybe it's actually a tract about how we cannot progress as a people unless we abandon the Capitalist machine and learn to work for each other.  One of my goals for 2014 is to do a scene-by-scene analysis of the film because people keep treating Snyder films the same way they treat the movies of Michael Bay.  They are both geniuses, but Bay is a mad scientist who distracts us with explosions while Snyder uses the tent pole blockbuster to question our need for these stories.

Those appeal to the intellectual side of me.  But I love Man of Steel because it's about a man who tries to be good, cries when he can't reach his ideal, and still works to be better.  Art is a reflection of life, and that is a life worth striving for.

Thank you for those of you who have continued to read and support our site throughout the year.  Here are my reactions to the films of 2013, presented in easy-to-digest list.  Some, such as Star Trek Into Darkness and Only God Forgives, have shifted in my assessments a bit since the first review, but overall how I felt then is how I feel now.  Please enjoy, and I hope that 2014 is less physically eventful and more emotionally and intellectually so.

The BestThis shouldn't say as much as it does


GoodCasual meeting between friends

Zone of IndifferenceStill the smartest guy in the room

BadBlind luck

WretchedThe movie simplified

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Posted by Andrew

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