THE FEDREV 100: A Progressive Exploration of Film (81-90)

“The FedRev 100” is a personal top 100 films list from a progressive perspective, and on a weekly basis articles will be published revealing 10 films from the list at a time. Once all 100 titles have been revealed, the entire “FedRev 100″ will be published in list form with links back to the write-up articles, so readers will be able to scan the overall list, and then click on individual titles to read up on why each was selected. An in-depth explanation of the list’s criteria will be given when the entire list is revealed, but to briefly explain, the list is comprised of great films that uphold a progressive view of the world. The list is a blend of personal favorites with celebrated classics, as well as a few obscure gems that deserve greater exposure. Here is the The FedRev 100: films 81 to 90.

breathless

81. À bout de souffle [Breathless] (1960, J. Godard) 

“Modern movies begin here,” said Roger Ebert about Breathless, one of the most influential films of all time. Breathless exploded film into the modern age with its radical use of jump-cut editing, a jazzy score, and its overall sensation of freedom. One of the early films of the French New Wave, it has a powerful sense of youth and was a conscious break from the traditional, more conservative method of film-making. It shattered the mold, broke all the rules, and became an inspiration to new film-makers for decades to come. The story is relatively simple, about a murder suspect, Michel, evading the law in Paris, seemingly without a care in the world, while hanging out with his American girlfriend, Patricia, who establishes herself as an interesting and powerful character in her own right. Michel seems more interested in getting laid than getting away, and at times is resigned to spending his life in jail. But in the end he wouldn’t go quietly, free until his last breath. The film has a constantly moving camera, which leaves the audience breathless as well, and cinema was forever changed.

before82. Trilogy: Before Sunrise / Before Sunset / Before Midnight (1995/2004/2013, R. Linklater) 

In 1995, Richard Linklater released Before Sunrise, and every nine years since has released a sequel. While sharing certain characteristics, each film is unique and worthwhile in their own right, but taken as a whole, this trilogy is something truly special. Some say that they are the best films about love and romantic relationships ever made, and they just might be. The series follows Jesse and Celine through the years. Jesse is an American traveling through Europe when he meets a French girl on her way home. They get to talking and Linklater’s camera follows their conversation throughout the rest of that single day as the two fall in love. And every nine years, we revisit the couple at a different stage of life. Because of the time between the films we get the unique experience of watching two characters age, retaining the core of their personality, but taking on greater complexity as the years pass. The first film is about embracing the moment and forging a genuine human connection. The second film, Before Sunset, is about the regret of missed opportunities and the need to be true to yourself. The third film, Before Midnight, is about the consequences of actually getting what you want. Each film utilizes long takes which pull the audience deeply into the dialogue heavy narrative, and the fantastic performances by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy belie the fact that they’re actually acting. These magical films are not to be missed.

426+Frida+1483. Frida (2002, J. Taymor) 

Frida is a bio-pic about the surrealist Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The film details her early artistic aspirations and the way she met her future husband, the famous painter Diego Rivera. We also witness the horrific accident that left Frida in pain for the rest of her life, and her development as a master artist while living in the shadow of her husband’s fame. The film is uniquely stylized, literally bringing her paintings to life on screen, allowing the audience to connect the narrative to the artwork. But the greatest thing about Frida is the way it handles the politics involved, both in terms of social relationships, as well as treating Kahlo and Rivera’s communist views with dignity and respect. The film doesn’t celebrate their art while condemning their radical politics, as it easily could have in the wrong hands. Rather, it’s a celebration of the relationship between the two. Frida is ultimately a film about how politics informs and flows through art. Salma Hayek gives a career defining performance as the radical painter, and Julie Taymor directs this wonderful film with a vision that takes the story to great heights.

the_social_network_1284. The Social Network (2010, D. Fincher) 

While some may consider the comparison sacrilegious, The Social Network is essentially a modern version of Citizen Kane, and while it doesn’t have the same scale of Welles’ film, it’s almost as good (it even has its own version of Rosebud). It’s about the true story of Mark Zuckerberg, who became the youngest billionaire in history after founding Facebook. The film uses Zuckerberg’s life as a metaphor for the ironic isolating effect social networks have on individuals. He’s desperate for genuine human connection, but incapable of fitting into the world of the social elite, so he invents a virtual way to crash the party, which only isolates him even further from the society he wishes to be a part of, as well as the few real friends he started out with. It’s an excellent film about capitalism’s “expand or die” principle. Every time Zuckerberg hits a roadblock in his personal life, his answer is to expand the reach of the company in a futile quest to prove his worth. The Social Network features a haunting score by Trent Reznor; its dark tones establish a sinister atmosphere and prevent the perception that Zuckerberg’s attitude and achievements are something to celebrate, and Aaron Sorkin’s script weaves together multiple narrative threads in a seamless structure. David Fincher’s film should be remembered as one of the definitive films of its era.

diaries85. Diarios de motocicleta [The Motorcycle Diaries] (2004, W. Salles) 

The only “road movie” to make THE FEDREV 100, The Motorcycle Diaries is about the journey of a young Ernesto “Che” Guevara and his friend Alberto though South America. On the trip they are deeply impacted by the social and economic injustices they witness, and Che is transformed by the experience that would shape the rest of his life. It’s a film about poverty and exploitation, and it’s filled with a love for the poor and the masses of people. The film doesn’t get into how Che became a famous revolutionary, but rather focuses on his gradual political awakening as he comes to understand the nature of capitalism as a fundamentally oppressive system in which the wealthy benefit from the suffering of the poor. Everywhere Che and Alberto go, in town after town, country after country, that basic formula of oppression is consistent. Diaries stars Gael García Bernal as Che, and his expressive yet subtle performance keeps the audience engaged in the moment while also giving a hint of the future charismatic revolutionary.

proposition86. The Proposition (2005, J. Hillcoat) 

The Proposition is a Western that takes place in the Australian outback in the 1880s. It is brutal, violent, and uncompromising, but also beautiful and thought provoking. It primarily examines the impulse among imperialists to “civilize” the lands they occupy through violence. The film’s narrative flows through a “proposition” made by a local sheriff to a captured criminal. He must track down his outlaw older brother and kill him, or else his younger brother, who was also captured, will be executed. Interestingly, this proposition is essentially a sub-plot in a larger story about one civilization attempting to impose itself upon another, and the brutal oppression required to do that. The film perfectly illustrates this with the image of a perfectly manicured upper-class British home, surrounded by harsh desert populated by an indigenous Aboriginal people. The Proposition is an experience of pure cinema, fully utilizing image, sound, and music to achieve an artistic vision that can only be film.

Double-Indemnity-487. Double Indemnity (1944, B. Wilder) 

One of the best examples of Film Noir, Double Indemnity is a stylistic crime drama about an insurance salesman who is convinced to take part in a murder/fraud scheme by a beautiful woman. A great film to watch late at night, it’s a claustrophobic masterpiece, told from the point of view of the criminals in an utterly dark and irredeemable environment. It has a razor sharp script and exquisite use of light and shadow, both of which came to define the Noir genre. While the film has no virtuous characters, not even the murder victim or the investigators looking into the crime, the film stands as a document on lust, corruption, and greed in a world where profit and self-preservation are primary values. Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray star in Billy Wilder’s enduring, genre defining crime thriller.

Fall2012OliverStone1288. Born on the Fourth of July (1989, O. Stone) 

Born on the Fourth of July is Oliver Stone’s film about a U.S. soldier’s journey from war supporter, to Vietnam combat veteran, to anti-war activist. The film is based on the true story of Ron Kovic, who enthusiastically bought into the militaristic propaganda peddled by Army recruiters, and enlisted in the military to serve his country in Vietnam. Once there he kills a fellow soldier in a friendly fire incident following the murder of Vietnamese civilians, and then he himself is almost killed in the firefight. The film takes us through his recovery process, both physically and ideologically, as Kovic suffers through the bureaucratic failings of the VA healthcare system, and begins to see that he was fooled, starting early in life, into supporting a criminal imperialistic nation. It’s a powerful film about discovering the truth hidden behind propaganda and the political awakening that results when you stop living in denial and follow the truth to its logical conclusions. Born on the Fourth of July is Stone at his most effective, balancing his bold artistic sensibilities with a well crafted narrative, and Tom Cruise turns in one of his career’s best performances in a role that showed why he is a major acting talent as well as Hollywood’s biggest star.

mrsmith.389. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939, F. Capra) 

An all-time classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a scathing indictment of the American political establishment. It’s about Jefferson Smith who is an all-American “Boy Scout” who fully believes in the Constitution and all the myths of American democracy. He’s chosen to replace a U.S. Senator who has died, and because of his spotless reputation in the community and inexperience in politics, the Governor, controlled by capitalist interests, chooses to name him Senator thinking they could easily manipulate him. Once he arrives in the Senate, he quickly discovers that his idealistic (and naive) belief in the American system to reflect the will of the people does match up with reality. He’s smeared by the corporate media (the Washington Press Club denounced the film as un-American after the world premiere) and his efforts to pass a bill to establish a local camp are sabotaged by the corporate political machine because it interferes with plans to build a dam on the same land. Seeing Smith as a liability, the corporate state goes into full character assassination mode, while Smith embarks on a filibuster in the Senate with the goal of exposing the corruption of the system. The brilliance of the film is that it shows how capitalist interests own and control the political system (a system that is set up as a distraction from that fact), and yet it doesn’t allow Smith to be completely triumphant, which would have reinforced his idealism and proven the system can “work” if only good people are elected. The ending is left ambiguous and somewhat bleak as Smith proves his point but nothing is fundamentally changed. Jimmy Stewart gives a fantastic performance as Smith in this classic by Frank Capra.

cap07gattaca90. Gattaca (1997, A. Niccol) 

One of the “little films that could” of The FEDREV 100, Gattaca didn’t even finish in top 100 highest grossing films of 1997, yet over the years it has forged a reputation as a minor classic. It’s now often listed among the greatest Sci-Fi films of the 90s. It’s a story that takes place in the near future where genetic engineering of fertilized eggs allows the parents who can afford it to produce genetically optimal offspring. Children born in this way are considered “Valid” while those who aren’t are labeled “Invalid” and are forced into a permanent underclass. Gattaca is about an Invalid who dreams of becoming an astronaut, yet has no legitimate means of achieving this goal no matter how hard he works or how qualified he becomes. All that matters is his DNA, and so he has to find a way to circumvent the system. Gattaca is surviving the test of time because of how well its message resonates. It’s clear that the class system depicted is unjust, and despite the fact that it’s a story of someone who wants “in” (to the system) rather than “out,” what it has to say about the power of the human spirit to overcome great odds, as well as how artificial class divisions actually are even when (or perhaps especially when) based on genetic “superiority,” more than justifies the film’s limited scope and perspective.

- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 41-50)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 51-60)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 61-70)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 71-80)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 91-100)

THE FEDREV 100: A Progressive Exploration of Film (91-100)

FedRev.net is happy to announce “The FedRev 100.” It’s a personal top 100 films list from a progressive perspective, and over the next several weeks articles will be published revealing 10 films from the list at a time. Once all 100 titles have been revealed, the entire “FedRev 100″ will be published in list form with links back to the write-up articles, so readers will be able to scan the overall list, and then click on individual titles to read up on why each was selected. An in-depth explanation of the list’s criteria will be given when the entire list is revealed, but to briefly explain, the list is comprised of great films that uphold a progressive view of the world. The list is a blend of personal favorites with celebrated classics, as well as a few obscure gems that deserve greater exposure. So, to get started, here is the The FedRev 100: films 91 to 100. munich fin 91. Munich (2005, S. Spielberg) 

Munich is Steven Spielberg’s fantastic drama about Israel’s secret revenge program “Operation Wrath of God” in the wake of the 1972 Olympic Games massacre in Munich, Germany. While I believe Spielberg approached the subject with what he believed was a balanced and sympathetic perspective toward both the Israeli and Palestinian points of view, Munich is a film that powerfully shows the moral vacuum entered into when an oppressive government decides to inflict even more destructive terrorism on the people they’re already oppressing. The leader of Israel’s strike team, Avner, ends up looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life, knowing that he’s created more terrorists than he’s killed, and left wondering what he’s actually achieved. Pro-Israelis and Zionists were outraged by the film and called for boycotts, and many reviewers blasted the film for insinuating that Israel’s actions were actually worse than the terrorism they were responding to. One scene even allows a Palestinian militant to make a powerful argument for their cause, and the film ultimately makes the viewer question the kind of “eye for an eye” policies that exacerbate conflict rather than end it. Spielberg’s film is expertly directed and the performances are excellent throughout. The Wind that Shakes the Barley92. The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006, K. Loach) 

The Wind that Shakes the Barley is a politically sophisticated war film set during the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War between the years of 1919 and 1923. The film has a very authentic sensibility and depicts the war between the Irish Republican Army and the occupying British force. The British harass, intimidate, and murder the locals in their attempt to squash the rebellion, and the Irish utilize guerrilla tactics to ward off their occupiers. The film centers around two brothers who fight together for the IRA, and then later against each other on opposite sides of the Civil War after a compromise had been reached with the British. Barley examines two ideologies: one, the principle that people should fight to completely free themselves of oppression and imperialist occupation, and two, that the occupied should resist just enough to force concessions from the imperialists. The second faction turns on the first when they continue to fight for complete independence even after the Irish government signs a treaty with the British. While Loach’s film portrays both factions in the Civil War with generally equal time, it’s clear his film sides with the Republicans who didn’t compromise their principles and continued to fight for freedom and true independence, and rightfully so. Cuckoo's Nest 193. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975, M. Forman) 

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of the most beloved classics of all-time and features Jack Nicholson as McMurphy, a man who’s been ordered by a court to undergo psychiatric evaluation at a mental hospital. McMurphy doesn’t show signs of mental illness, but he does have a strong anti-authoritarian impulse, and he establishes himself as a leader among the inmates shortly after his arrival. He’s an obvious wild card in an otherwise stable population of patients who are tightly controlled by Nurse Ratched, played to chilling perfection by Louise Fletcher. Ratched employs a host of manipulative suppression techniques to keep the patients under her thumb, and McMurphy becomes her nemesis, attempting to subvert her authority wherever possible. The film, which swept the Academy Awards, on a surface level is about the personal struggle between the ideologies of the two major characters, but it can also be viewed as a metaphor for the culture wars of the 60s and 70s. The film also powerfully illuminates the oppression of the mentally ill under a system incapable of treating them with dignity, as they are stripped of their humanity and kept out of sight from society. snowpiercer-2-hp94. Snowpiercer (2013, Bong J.) 

The most recently released film to make “The FedRev 100,” Snowpiercer is an adaptation of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, which is a post-apocalyptic story that takes place following a man-made environmental disaster which caused the entire globe to freeze. The film is set on a continually moving train which houses the last remnants of mankind. A strict class system is imposed on the train’s passengers, and the poorest people are relegated to the tail section where they plot to overthrow the existing authority. The film is loaded with exhilarating action and beautiful cinematography, but what’s truly great about Snowpiercer is its highly sophisticated understanding of revolution. I have written at greater length about the film here. SVOD-L-Cry-Freedom95. Cry Freedom (1987, R. Attenborough) 

Cry Freedom is a film about the political awakening of white South African journalist Donald Woods after meeting black activist Stephen Biko during Apartheid in the mid-1970s. The film was produced prior to the end of Apartheid in 1994 and was based on the experiences of Woods who fled South Africa following the murder of Biko in order to publish books about the activist. Cry Freedom, along with the song “Biko” by Peter Gabriel, played a role in making Steve Biko a more widely known figure around the world, and also helped make a star of Denzel Washington, who received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Biko. The film is sometimes criticized as a “white savior” movie since it’s primarily about Woods rather than Biko himself, but the political transformation depicted in the film is significant in its own right. Woods pursues the truth and is eventually convinced by Biko’s radical argument, and as a result faced potentially severe consequences himself. Cry Freedom deserves credit for showing how systems of oppression operate, as well as for depicting the lengths people must go to in order to oppose such regimes. fortress96. Brestskaya krepost [Fortress of War] (2010, A. Kott) 

Fortress of War is a powerful war film that illustrates in microcosm the sacrifice made by the Soviet people in defeating the Nazis. Set in the Soviet outpost in Brest, Belarus, it’s an exhilarating film that takes place during the Nazi invasion in June of 1941. Vastly outnumbered, the Soviets bravely repel wave after wave of invading Nazi soldiers until they are eventually overrun. The film primarily follows Sasha Akimov, who at only 15 years of age was able to move around the fortress assisting many separated pockets of Soviet soldiers. While many believe the United States is responsible for defeating Hitler and the Nazis, in reality it was the Soviets who played the biggest role, and Fortress of War provides an excellent history lesson in that regard, as well as being an exquisitely made film. The Fever97. The Fever (2004, C. Nero) 

Adapted from Wallace Shawn’s play, The Fever is one of the more obscure titles on this list. It was made as an HBO film, but it never received much support from the network and subsequently was aired years after it was completed with little fanfare. It’s the story of an upper-middle class woman’s political awakening as she learns why there is such a massive gap between the rich and the poor, while coming to a realization about her own place in society. It utilizes long monologues and animated sequences to illustrate certain points, and it powerfully describes the exploitative and imperialistic relationship the first world has with the third. While some reviewers say it’s about “white guilt,” more accurately it’s about understanding the true nature of capitalism, as well as what is necessary to bring a new and better world into being: revolution. Hollywood legend Vanessa Redgrave stars and lends considerable gravitas to the controversial material. good-night-and-good-luck98. Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005, G. Clooney) 

Set during the reign of Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt, Good Night, and Good Luck. is the story of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow’s public battle against the senator. Shot in a beautiful black and white, the film details the pressure put on the public to declare loyalty to the United States and denounce Communism, as well as the struggle to resist that pressure. Murrow was able to leverage his position in the media to expose the evil of McCarthy’s crusade, and the film shows the lengths he and his team had to go to do that, as well as some of the contradictions and compromises involved. David Strathairn is brilliant as Murrow, and all in all the film captures the mood and explores the terms at stake in that era with clear purpose. It’s also an interesting film on the question of objectivity in journalism. Murrow has a definite perspective, and yet his reporting is fair and accurate. This kind of “activist” journalism is more honest and truthful and ultimately informative than the kind of false “objective” reporting we’ve been conditioned to accept as the standard.

northcountry
99. North Country (2005, N. Caro) 

A film inspired by the first ever successful sexual harassment class-action lawsuit against a corporation in U.S. history, North Country is based on the case of Jenson vs. Eveleth Mines. Charlize Theron turns in a powerful leading role as a coal miner who, along with her fellow female workers, endures a range of sexual harassment and assault. The film provides a clear road map for how to fight institutionalized injustice. While most people try to convince Josey to keep quite, keep her head down, and suffer through her work while being harassed, she refuses to take it and fights for her human dignity head on, in the process convincing several of her co-workers to join her struggle. The film features an excellent soundtrack of Bob Dylan songs, as well as excellent cinematography. The mine is always shot in wide angle, looming large over the landscape, often dwarfing Josey or her car in the foreground. It’s a David vs. Goliath story, but with a powerful lesson in strategy against seemingly impossible odds. Bravery and perseverance in directly standing up to injustice and exploitation is contagious. fastfoodnation100. Fast Food Nation (2006, R. Linklater) 

While perhaps not a cinematic masterpiece on par with much of what’s on this list, Richard Linklater’s Fast Food Nation is one of the most brutal anti-capitalist films I’ve ever seen. It’s an uncompromising take-down of the American fast food industry, following multiple narrative threads from the top to the bottom of a fictional (but all too real) restaurant chain. It exposes the exploitation of migrant and teenage labor, the chemical manipulation of ingredients, the cover-up of contaminated products, as well as unsafe working conditions, sexual assault in the workplace, and perhaps most powerfully, the torture of animals in slaughterhouses. This is a film that forces us to examine the way corporations allow nothing to stand in the way of the profits made on the backs of exploited labor and the rape of the environment.

- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 41-50)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 51-60)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 61-70)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 71-80)
- THE FEDREV 100 (Films 81-90)

My Reflections on ‘Boyhood’

Somewhere along the line during my education I was taught that the best way to write to persuade is to express your opinions as statements of fact, and then use supporting evidence and information to explain to your readers why they should agree with your position. For the most part, that’s the kind of writing I do on FedRev. I generally try to take the “I” and “me” out of the equation, and put forward a reasoned argument based on facts. I take a position on a topic and build a case. But as I was watching Boyhood I knew I wouldn’t be able to take myself out of my analysis and that it would be impossible for me not to approach the material from a personal perspective.

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Boyhood is a film 12 years in the making. Writer and Director Richard Linklater cast a young boy and used a groundbreaking concept of filming the movie in short segments as the actor aged from childhood into young adulthood. A similar effect was achieved with the Harry Potter franchise, where we were able to watch Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint grow up on screen in 8 films produced over 10 years. But the idea of intentionally making a single film gradually over 12 years to authentically capture the effect of aging, and having the vision, patience, and the opportunity to see it through, is unprecedented in film history. Perhaps not coincidentally, Boyhood contains several references to Harry Potter.

So much of this film felt familiar to me. Even though it’s about a child ten years behind me in age, the world he was growing up in was essentially the same one I experienced. Just like Mason in Boyhood, I too road my bike around my neighborhood with my friends, moved to a new house as a child, lived through some emotionally turbulent events at a young age, was bullied in the bathroom at school, and tried to develop as an artist, haunting my high school’s darkroom. I even came in 2nd place in a state-wide high school art contest, just like Mason did. And, just like Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane, I always felt somewhat isolated, and had the sense, somehow, that something was inherently wrong with the society we live in. Even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time, I was searching, and that’s really what the story of Boyhood is all about; searching for life’s meaning and struggling to find our place in the world as we grow up.

boyhood

Boyhood captures the process of surviving childhood with honesty and without a lot of sentimentality. It simply charges ahead through time, just like life does, without apology. A lesser film might have used clearly defined demarcation points to signal to the audience when one phase of life ends and another begins. There are no “One Year Later” or “Age 12″ title cards. Instead, despite being shot gradually over more than a decade, Boyhood is crafted as one cohesive piece; the years seamlessly blending together. The central gimmick of the film, the character aging, is barely emphasized. It just happens. Supporting characters enter and exit Mason’s life without any artificial Hollywood sentiment. One minute his mother’s second alcoholic husband is part of his life, and the next moment he’s simply gone from the film, never to be seen again. Even Mason’s mother, played by Patricia Arquette, gets a pretty unceremonious exit. In typical Linklater style, he doesn’t pander or feel the need to over-explain the details, he simply presents the reality of any given moment for what it is and trusts the audience to follow along without any unnecessary exposition.

Linklater is clearly interested in the subject of passing time, which is something I can definitely relate to. The universe and the concept of time and space is something that has always intrigued me for as long as I can remember, which is perhaps why several of Linklater’s films appeal to me on such a personal level. In addition to Boyhood, which was shot over many years, he is also the director of the ‘Before‘ trilogy, with 9 year gaps between the films, each depicting a single day in the life of one couple at various stages of their lives. But while the ‘Before‘ films weren’t designed from the start to be an ongoing document on love and age, Boyhood was intentionally conceived as a unique project, executed with a definite artistic vision, though lacking an overly pretentious attitude. Boyhood, while doing something daring and unique, manages to feel humble and grounded in reality. Linklater might be the anti-Wes Anderson.

richard-linklater-boyhood-variety-interview

Though as much as I appreciate Boyhood‘s concept, it’s a film that causes me to feel a lot of conflicting emotions. There are many moments in the film that feel mundane and ordinary. As I was watching the film there were several moments where I found myself wondering why they made the final cut. Whole conversations seem to be about nothing of any major significance and there are long stretches of time where the central protagonist has very few lines and doesn’t even seem to be all that interesting of a character. In a film that’s almost 3 hours long, that can be a bit tedious.

But on the other hand, isn’t life like that? Not every moment can be a major life-defining event. Some things are just routine, everyday parts of growing up, like fighting with your sibling in the back seat of the car on a road trip. I’m sure my parents wanted to kill me and my brother when we did that, and Linklater makes sure to spend a significant amount of time on these “everyday” moments. So while in the moment I found some of these segments a bit tedious and maybe one of the film’s weaknesses, upon further reflection, perhaps they’re actually one of the films strengths. Even my initial reaction of being slightly bored with the main character makes sense. Mason is just a kid, just like I was, and a film about my life as I grew up might have felt a little mundane at times, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important and worth examination.

It just goes to show how conditioned we are to Hollywood formulas, where there’s no room for any “wasted” screen time, and everything in a script has to deliberately, and sometimes artificially, drive a narrative forward and manipulate the audience into feeling certain emotions at specific moments. Boyhood totally throws this mindset out the window and, like I said before, trusts the audience to hang in there throughout a more organic, natural experience. The film doesn’t tell you how to feel, it simply shows you one boy’s life and allows you the space to react to it on your own terms, as well as the time to reflect on your own experiences as you witness Mason’s.

boyhood-richard-linklater-4807

In a Hollywood landscape dominated by formula-driven films, Boyhood, like a lot of Linklater’s work, is a breath of fresh air. He’s a director whose career began by taking experimental concepts and presenting them in a very accessible, down to Earth manner. Dazed and Confused, the first Linklater film I fell in love with, perfectly captures the atmosphere of small-town, USA in 1976 and takes place on a single day as several kids contemplate their lives, and Slacker, his claim to fame, was a film with a huge cast of characters who briefly own the screen for a few minutes at a time before passing the baton to the next person the camera decides to follow, giving the audience a whirlwind tour of Austin, Texas. It’s a disconcerting experience, but once you get used to it, you suddenly realize the limited range to which most mainstream film-making is confined, and that disconcerting feeling becomes a sense of liberation. Linklater has never allowed himself to be confined. Even his more conventional films feel refreshing somehow, like Bernie and School of Rock, perhaps because they tap into a kind of universal humanity that we can all relate to.

In the end, I think my biggest issue with Boyhood is the way politics are discussed by the characters. Mason’s father, played by Ethan Hawke, bashes George W. Bush, which is fine, but does so while encouraging his kids to grow up to vote Democrat. The film even has a segment in which a woman talks about how cute candidate Obama is while the children are putting Obama campaign signs in people’s yards. I suppose at the time those segments were filmed it wasn’t yet known how blatantly criminal Obama’s administration would be, but, given what we know now, those scenes leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I understand that people in real life are democrats who support Obama, and on one level the film is simply reflecting that fact, but I get the sense that Linklater got caught up in the excitement surrounding Obama back in 2008, and then failed to take the opportunity to challenge those views in any way as filming continued over the years. The way I see it, there’s really no excuse for this, given the now well-known abuses of the Obama administration, especially considering it would have been easy to craft a scene in 2012 showing how the “hope” of Obama had worn away.

But this aside, the film is an unprecedented and groundbreaking work of art. It’s raw and real, and yet refined and accessible. It’s simultaneously a challenge to sit-through and somehow very easy to watch, because it defies the standard formulas we’re so accustomed to and refuses to explicitly spell out every detail, yet it’s so natural and humanistic that the audience can’t help but connect with the film on a personal level. I know I did. And given the leap of faith Linklater took when casting a 6 year old boy, not knowing for sure how the child would develop as an actor as he got older, or even if he’d want to continue the project as the years went on, makes Boyhood a near miracle.

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The way Boyhood was able to capture the essence of what it was like to grow up in that specific time and place, and include a lot of details that make the cinematic experience ring true, while also making the film interesting and absorbing to an audience, is quite a feat. It manages to feel personal and intimate while simultaneously feeling universal. The mundane, everyday experiences of childhood are illuminated beautifully, and the dramatic moments are heart wrenching and real.

The magical experience of watching this film is that even though it’s a movie about one child’s journey into adulthood, it subtlety reveals how all of our lives are important, not only to ourselves, but to the larger fabric of the human experience. Life is something to cherish and celebrate, even while we struggle for understanding and search to find meaning in an infinite universe we’re only a tiny part of. Richard Linklater has somehow managed to bottle up that feeling and share it with everyone in the form of Boyhood.

Snowpiercer: Revolution in Microcosm

At the time of this writing, the Palestinian people in the open-air prison of Gaza are under brutal assault from their Israeli occupiers. Thousands of desperately impoverished innocent civilians are being deliberately targeted and killed, even as they seek shelter in designated United Nations schools and hospitals, and hundreds of thousands have been wounded or displaced from their homes by the actions of the well-funded and heavily armed Israeli state. Israel has sealed off Gaza, bombed its power plant, and made it virtually impossible for Gazans to get clean water and food, and any attempt by the people of Gaza to resist this brutal oppression is answered with even harsher military action on a totally disproportionate and inhumane scale.

The conflict in Gaza is a real-life example of the horror of capitalist-imperialism, infused with religion, and it illustrates the dire need for a revolution to rid the world of this genocidal system; a system which murders and exploits the poorest and weakest people with impunity, and then blames those victims for their own oppression. It’s time for this horrific injustice to come to an end, not only in Israel, but everywhere.snowpiercer-train4

Snowpiercer, a recent film by South Korean director Bong Joon Ho, takes place in a fictional situation that reflects the truth of what is happening in Gaza. Set in the not-too-distant future, Snowpiercer, based on the graphic novel by Jacques Lob and Jean-Marc Rochette, takes place following an attempt by mankind to save the world from climate change by spraying a chemical designed to cool the planet. But the plan has disastrous effects, causing a global ice age which kills almost all of humanity. Mankind’s last survivors board a train owned by a man named Wilford, who has constructed a continuous track which spans the entire globe. The train has to keep moving, taking a year to complete each circuit, to produce energy enough to sustain the lives of the survivor’s on board.

The train is divided into strictly enforced class zones. The poorest people, referred to as “freeloaders”, are kept locked away in the tail section, and forced to live in a dark, dirty, over-crowded environment, with only “protein bars” to eat, the ingredients of which are a mystery.

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The upper classes are allowed to live in luxurious cars in the front section of the train, where there is plenty of space and natural light, as well as quality food and a classroom for the children. The front has a spa car, a garden car, a dance club car, and even an aquarium. And, most importantly, the front section employs a large security force to maintain control over the passengers in the tail. Order is imposed with a brutal disciplinary system.

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While there is obviously a certain element of fantasy involved, and a certain suspension of disbelief required to buy into the scenario of the last humans trying to survive on a train during an ice age, what’s important to keep in mind is that Snowpiercer is clearly meant to be a metaphor. “The train is the world,” the film makes clear; a microcosm of civilization under the system of capitalist-imperialism. Those who could afford it were granted access to the front section, and those who couldn’t were forced to the back, where they were then oppressed and exploited.

There is no doubt that Snowpiercer is a highly entertaining film. It’s well paced, exciting, and an ensemble cast of major actors provide a certain gravitas to the material. Three Academy award winners, Ed Harris, Octavia Spencer, and Tilda Swinton, have supporting roles on a cast which also includes Hollywood stars Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, and John Hurt. Song Kang Ho and Ko Asung also turn in strong performances, both of whom were in Bong’s 2006 Korean film The Host. Snowpiercer also has a definite visual style that is both aesthetically pleasing and keeps the audience engaged.

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But while Snowpiercer is technically sound and entertaining on a surface level, what’s really important about this film is the way it depicts a genuine revolution of the people to overthrow an unjust class system. No fictional film could ever be a replacement for all the study required to fully understand this issue on a scientific level, but that being said, Snowpiercer’s understanding of the terms involved in people’s revolution is at an extremely high level, and the film illuminates several very important points.

Snowpiercer accurately depicts the way the ruling class systematically oppresses and exploits the lower classes for its own benefit. The poor people in the back of the train aren’t only prisoners, their labor is often exploited for the benefit of people in the front, as well as for performing functions vital to the train’s continued operation. Even children are not spared this, and one man is forced to spend years in a single room making the protein bars for the rest of the passengers in the tail. Without this forced labor, the train would not be able to operate, and the people in the front section would not be able to enjoy their lives in comfort and luxury.

The film also shows how the ruling class perpetuates the false idea that the class hierarchy is somehow the “natural order” of things, and that the passengers’ positions on the train were “preordained.” In real life, the elite also use this line to justify their exploitation of the masses, and to make people think that the only way to improve their circumstances is to play by the rules they set up. The elite “earned” their place at the top, they say, and those at the bottom of society “deserve” to live in poverty. This is of course completely false, but it’s an ideology that they infect society with in order to keep things running in a way that maintains their way of life.

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Snowpiercer also gets many specific details of people’s revolution correct. First, there must be clear leadership to organize and prepare the masses for revolution. This is a point that is currently very controversial among those on the radical left, as there are many who believe revolution must be “leaderless.” But a people’s uprising without leadership is doomed to failure, and those who argue for a leaderless revolution are in essence ensuring that the current order will never be overthrown. The people in the tail section are reluctantly led by Curtis (Evans). He doesn’t want to lead, he’d rather Gilliam (Hurt) have that responsibility, but he is the unanimous choice of the people to lead them.

Part of why leadership is so important to a revolution’s success is so it can be determined when conditions are right for the uprising to begin. It has to be carefully planned and coordinated, and therefore can’t be done haphazardly. Throughout the opening minutes of the film people ask Curtis, “Is it time?” “Not yet. Soon,” he always replies. Curtis is forming a plan of action, gathering resources, organizing the people, and waiting for the right moment to make the big move. Even when a great injustice is being done to one of the tail section passengers as a public form of punishment, Curtis still makes sure the uprising doesn’t begin prematurely. “Are we just going to sit here and let this happen?” Edgar asks Curtis. While it’s difficult and painful to stand by and watch the unjust punishment be done, Curtis knows it’s not the right moment, and he keeps the larger goal of taking control of the engine in mind.

And Curtis knows that when the time is right, you can’t hesitate. When the moment comes, you’ve got to go for it all the way with steadfast commitment, even at the risk of your own life and the lives of those you’re fighting with. The scene in Snowpiercer when the uprising begins is brilliantly executed on screen, as everyone in the tail section works together to fight past the guards and jam the doors open, including women. Snowpiercer shows women fighting right alongside men as equals. Octavia Spencer might not be a typical action star, but her performance as a warrior is inspiring and illuminating. This is among the many things the film gets right, along with the general resourcefulness required of the masses required to succeed.

Because, of course, no matter how well your revolution is planned, things will go wrong, and unforeseen obstacles will present themselves, especially as the ruling order becomes more desperate to put down the revolt, further underscoring the importance of leadership to intelligently utilize the available resources in ways a leaderless revolution never could. There is one such moment where the lights are turned off and Curtis calls back to the rear to have torches made from recently discovered matches.

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There is also a pivotal moment in the battle where one of Curtis’ friends is being held hostage behind him by an enemy soldier. It’s clear that he will be killed if Curtis doesn’t turn around and stop fighting. But ahead of him is a valuable target from the front section the resistance needs to capture in order to be successful. Conventional wisdom is to cut your losses, give up, save your friend, and live to fight another day if you’re lucky. But Curtis knows that if the revolution is to be successful, he has to go forward and achieve the objective at hand, even if it costs his friend’s life. You can’t give away the entire revolution to save one person, and this is something that Snowpiercer gets exactly right in a very bold way.

And finally, Bong realized something of critical importance. He incorporated into Snowpiercer the idea that it’s not enough to rise up and simply replace the existing order while maintaining the established structure of society. Curtis’ plan was essentially, “When we take the engine, we control the world.” He says, “It will be different when we get there [to the front].” But as well intentioned as this plan is, that ideology isn’t enough. There is no point in attempting a revolution if your only goal is to change out the leadership, maintaining the basic conditions that oppress the masses. The goal must be to completely smash the unjust system, and then build an entirely new system from the ground up, fundamentally changing the terms of human social relations.

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The revolution Curtis led, as just and righteous as it was, didn’t go far enough on an ideological level, and was too limited in scope. But Bong, to his credit, developed another character who understood how Curtis’ plan, as bold and well executed as it was, was ultimately short-sighted. Namgoong Minsoo (Song) realized that they would never be free as long as they remained trapped on the train and argued an even more radical line than Curtis: they have to get outside and stop the train entirely. It’s the system that’s fundamentally wrong, after all, not just Wilford’s control over that system. If Curtis simply replaced Wilford, the train keeps going, and the only changes would be minor reforms while the system remains in place. This is not good enough, and so Minsoo takes radical action to destroy the system once and for all. The future of humanity must be outside the train, because even though it might have seemed like it to the trapped passengers, the train isn’t actually the world, and therefore truly revolutionary thinking must go beyond its boundaries.

The science of revolution is very complex, and it’s quite remarkable that Snowpiercer demonstrated a well-developed understanding of these issues throughout the film. Like Avatar before it, Snowpiercer not only shows a people’s war in a positive light, but it shows that struggle being ultimately successful, to one degree or another, and it deserves great praise for this. Given what’s at stake, and given the odds against progressive films in the current reactionary climate, Snowpiercer has achieved something truly remarkable. It should be noted that Harvey Weinstein, who owns the US rights to the film, requested that 20 minutes be cut from the film, and Bong refused to comply. The American distribution suffered as a result, but the film remained intact and its message uncompromised.

Snowpiercer was able to distill several important lessons about revolution down to their essence, and then portray them within the context of a highly entertaining, commercial film, which is no small feat. Given the state of the world we live in, a world where the ruling class is enabled through a system of exploitation to brutally oppress others for their own benefit, a world where the atrocities currently being carried out in Gaza are not only possible but common, a film like Snowpiercer is a much needed breath of fresh air. Humanity needs revolution, nothing less, and Snowpiercer reflects that urgency in a highly developed way.

For those interested in learning more about revolution, please visit: revcom.us

Godzilla and Reckless Arrogance in the Nuclear Age

:::SPOILER ALERT FOR GODZILLA (2014):::

The original Godzilla (a.k.a. Gojira) was released in Japan less than a decade after the end of World War II. In 1954, the reality of nuclear annihilation was still fresh in Japanese consciousness after the United States dropped two atom bombs on the already devastated and defeated nation. Gojira (1954), inspired by a real nuclear “accident” in which a ship of Japanese fishermen was irradiated by an American hydrogen bomb test in the Pacific, was a powerful anti-American* film that warned against the rush to use science as a weapon and condemned the arrogance of those who thought they could keep such destructive forces under control. The monster set loose by nuclear testing in Gojira is essentially a living atom bomb.

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Over the years, nearly 30 Japanese Godzilla sequels have been produced, as well as 2 Hollywood remakes, making the franchise one of the most enduring and prolific in film history. While many of the sequels don’t take themselves very seriously, descending into camp with outlandish, silly creatures and bizarre scenarios, there can be no denying the impact the original film has had on society. It was a terrifying but highly entertaining film whose politics were integral to the plot, and its pointedly anti-nuclear stance obviously resonated with millions of people around the world.

When Roland Emmerich directed the first Hollywood remake he openly admitted to not being a fan of the original film, and, not surprisingly, Godzilla (1998) de-emphasized the anti-nuclear theme. While the monster in Emmerich’s film was the result of French nuclear testing (not American), beyond that the morality and politics of nuclear power plays virtually no role in the film. Dr. Tatopoulos, a scientist studying the effects of nuclear radiation (Matthew Broderick) seems to have no qualms with hunting down and eliminating the monster, in direct contrast with the scientific minded characters in Gojira who caution against violent reaction and stress the importance of knowledge and patience.

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For Emmerich, nukes are just a convenient plot device to set the story in motion. Ishiro Honda, on the other hand, used nuclear terror to craft a metaphor of essential importance to the original film. Honda’s Gojira is a walking lesson in the destructive consequences of arrogance and imperialistic greed, and retaliation against the monster only makes him more angry and destructive, while Emmerich’s Godzilla is just an overgrown animal who happens to be inconvenient for mankind’s modern civilization, and therefore must be destroyed without question.

Emmerich’s take on Godzilla was met with harsh criticism from fans and professional critics alike. Many pointed out that the film lacked the “spirit” of a genuine Godzilla film. The heart of this criticism, whether the film’s detractors realized it consciously or not, is that the missing spirit was political in nature. Fans also didn’t like how the monster looked and behaved, but ultimately Godzilla (1998) simply had nothing of value to say. When Emmerich cut out the progressive core of the story there just wasn’t much left. What remained was a sarcastic, militaristic, reactionary mess.

The next Hollywood take on Godzilla was just released on May 16. While Roland Emmerich’s version was perhaps deliberately belligerent to fans of the original franchise, Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014) is clearly trying to be a crowd-pleaser. It pays homage to the Japanese films by bringing back Godzilla’s “atomic breath” and by incorporating other monsters for Godzilla to battle into the plot. Edwards’ version also restores the iconic monster to his lumbering, powerful, and self-aware roots. Here Godzilla appears capable of complex thought and operates on more than just base instincts, which is much more in line with the original conception of the monster.

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Edwards also brings the nuclear issue back to the forefront. Gojira (1954) was inspired by a real life nuclear incident, and it appears that Godzilla (2014) was similarly inspired by the Japanese nuclear power plant disaster of 2011. The film begins with the meltdown and destruction of a nuclear plant and a government cover-up to conceal the true cause of the disaster. But while Godzilla (2014) dedicates a lot of screen time to the topic of nuclear power and nuclear weapons, the film doesn’t take nearly as strong an anti-nuclear stance as the original film, even if on the surface Edwards wants you to think it does.

The central protagonist, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), is a military explosive ordnance disposal officer. At one point when asked how the “bomb business is going” he says it’s his job to get rid of bombs, not to set them off. However, despite his claim, he demands to be assigned to the team ordered to set off a nuclear bomb in the ocean as a trap for the monsters. Never once does he say that it’s a reckless idea and that exploding nukes so close to the coast should be avoided at all costs.

That stance is left to Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), the man, apparently named after the scientist in the original film, who had been overseeing the study of the newly discovered MUTO monster who had caused the destruction of the power plant. His is the only voice of dissent against the unwise and obviously dangerous plan to detonate nuclear weapons as the first course of action. He proposes that the military should allow Godzilla to battle these new monsters that feed off nuclear energy, thus letting nature take its proper course. Though his view is eventually vindicated, his protests against the official plan are pretty timid, especially for someone whose grandfather was killed in Hiroshima. Of course the military is completely unmoved by his argument until circumstances prove him correct.

It could be argued the film is making a statement against nuclear energy through the MUTO monsters in the same way Gojira (1954) did, by metaphorically making the monsters living nuclear power plants, just as Godzilla was envisioned as a living atom bomb. The MUTOs feed off nuclear energy and then harness that power to create massive electromagnetic pulses (EMP) that cripple society. But while it could be argued the film is creating that metaphor, the association is weak at best, and the point is never driven home with clear intention the way it was in 1954. The difference is a question of priority.

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With Gojira is was obvious that the film makers made the film in order to send a message. “The theme of the film, from the beginning, was the terror of the bomb. Mankind had created the bomb, and now nature was going to take revenge on mankind,” said Gojira‘s producer Tomoyuki Tanaka. The resulting film was raw, powerful, aware of its politics and direct about its intentions. With Godzilla (2014) the priority seemed to be making an entertaining movie that just so happens to include monsters that feed off nuclear energy. They have to eat something, right?

In the end, the strongest case the film makes against nuclear weapons is the way the military rushes to justify their use, and the cavalier way the weapons themselves are handled, easily falling out of their control in a situation they didn’t fully understand. However, the film misses its biggest opportunity drive home this message. While the “nature” plan proposed by Dr. Serizawa is ultimately successful and nuclear weapons ultimately revealed to be unnecessary, or indeed counterproductive, when the bomb does inevitably explode, it’s somehow, inexplicably, harmless.

In Gojira (1954), the monster is defeated with an experimental new technology called an Oxygen Destroyer. However, the scientist responsible for developing the technology, Dr. Serizawa, does not want to use it. He says it needs more research and that if they use it as a weapon that’s all it could ever be, just another weapon for people to kill each other with, as opposed to discovering more beneficial uses after further study. He believes this so firmly that before agreeing to use the technology to defeat the monster he burns all of his research, and then allows himself to be killed along with Gojira, ensuring the knowledge in his head could never fall into the wrong hands.

There’s a similar moment of potential self-sacrifice in the new film, but it doesn’t come to fruition, and somehow in only 5 minutes they are able to escort a nuke from the middle of the San Francisco Bay far enough into the ocean to detonate safely. No mention of damage, fallout, or any ill effects whatsoever. It’s all too convenient and easy, and the film makers passed on an opportunity to end the film with a brutal, powerful lesson in the arrogance, recklessness, and inhumanity of using nuclear weapons. Why not let the bomb explode in the middle of San Francisco after it’s already been established they were never needed in the first place? Imagine the irony of an ending where nature takes care of itself but mankind destroys itself trying to control it. The film wouldn’t have had a comfortable, feel-good ending, but then again, neither did Gojira, which, even in victory, ends on a somber note that forces the audience to reflect on the realities of the nuclear age.

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Godzilla (2014) isn’t a bad film. It’s extremely well made technically, has a plot based on solid character development, and it takes itself seriously enough to provide a sense of realism to the drama. It’s a vast improvement over the terrible 1998 version in every conceivable way, and it was a genuine, visceral cinematic experience, especially in IMAX 3D. But, ultimately, it’s still only a pale reflection of the original’s power and influence, even if it had some good intentions. As fun as it was to watch in parts, its inability to follow through with a cohesive anti-nuclear message and its missed opportunities will always outweigh the positives.

* It should be noted that the original Japanese version, Gojira (1954), was so threatening to U.S. interests that for the the American release of the film a significant amount of footage was cut from the original and new footage starring Raymond Burr was shot and added to the film. This version was called Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956) and it largely eliminated the judgments the original film made on the U.S. and its use of nuclear weapons. It is, unfortunately, the version most people outside of Japan are most familiar with, but it should by no means be considered “the original” film, even though it was more widely distributed and popularized than the true original.

Juan Pablo Reveals the True Nature of ‘The Bachelor’

Another season of ABC’s The Bachelor has ended, and while every year the network promotes its “reality” show as the “most dramatic” or the “most emotional” season yet, without a doubt, this season was the most honest. It’s not clear if ABC knew exactly what it was getting into when they cast Juan Pablo Galavis in the role of ‘The Bachelor,’ but what is clear is that this season exposed the ugly, backward nature of the show.

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After casting Juan Pablo, who was previously a contestant on The Bachelorette, ABC probably thought they would get credit for breaking barriers. Galavis, the single father and American born Venezuelan, is the first non-white person to star in the title role of The Bachelor, or The Bachelorette, for that matter. But what they might not have anticipated is the way Juan Pablo would shatter the illusory “fairy-tale” that the show is based upon through a series of controversies. Though ABC is probably happy to be cashing in the extra publicity surrounding this season’s turmoil, you have to wonder, did anyone bother to vet this guy?

Galavis was selected as ‘The Bachelor’ after becoming a “fan favorite” on the last season of The Bachelorette despite a small amount of screen time. But it wasn’t long after his season of The Bachelor started airing in January that Galavis started chipping away at his likability quotient, making homophobic remarks during an interview where he used the word “pervert” in reference to gay people and said that having a gay ‘Bachelor’ would set a bad example for children. He later apologized to GLAAD while blaming his comments on the fact that English is his second language. But looking at the full context, it’s clear this wasn’t a simple matter of his true feelings being lost in translation.

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Controversy also erupted from the show itself when Juan Pablo apparently had sex with one of the women in his harem well before the designated time producers deem extra-curricular activity socially appropriate. The next day Galavis “slut shamed” the woman, Clare, who ended up a finalist, scolding her for setting a bad example for his young daughter. He brought her to tears as he shifted the blame to her, as if he had nothing to do with their mutual act in the ocean.

Later, another woman on the show, Andi, made waves of another sort when she called out Juan Pablo for failing to take the time to actually get to know his suitors on a personal level. After spending a night in a “fantasy suite” with the ‘Bachelor,’ Andi revealed that Galavis didn’t ask her any personal questions and seemed only interested in name-dropping and telling superficial stories about himself. The next day she confronted him. “Do you have any idea what religion I practice? What are my political views?” she asked. Galavis admitted he had no idea, and at this point in the show Andi was one of only three remaining women after 24 others had already been sent packing. In theory, Juan Pablo should have known her pretty well by then, if only he had bothered to regard the women on the show as actual human beings.

Andi decided not to wait for Juan Pablo to eliminate her in the next ridiculous and degrading “rose ceremony.” She left on her own accord, making sure to explain to Galavis the “difference between being honest and being an asshole” on her way out.

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All this was just a build up to what was one of the most pathetic, yet revealing, nights of television in recent memory, when the ‘Bachelor’ Juan Pablo had to decide between his two remaining suitors, Nikki and Clare, followed by a live hour of analysis in front of a studio audience on March 10th.

Before making his final decision, ‘The Bachelor’ is allowed to go on one last fairy-tale style date with each remaining woman. But while on a helicopter ride with Clare, the same women he shamed and humiliated earlier in the season, when the cameras weren’t rolling, he took the opportunity to tell her he loved having sex with her even though he didn’t really know her very well. Stunned by his open misogyny, Clare fought back tears as she explained what happened during a side-interview.

That night, she demanded an explanation from Galavis, who seemed more concerned with why Clare didn’t give him a kiss the moment he walked through the door. After a lengthy exchange, Juan Pablo was able to appease Clare, convincing her that he respected her for more than just her physical appearance, even if his idea of complimenting her was also condescending in its own way. Given this reassurance in the final hour, she felt confident she would be the one chosen in the end and remained on the show for what she assumed would be a romantic proposal.

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But when she stepped into the designated proposal area and stood before ‘The Bachelor’ he rather casually told her that he “had to say goodbye,” as if she had meant virtually nothing to him, without the slightest regard for her feelings. He moved in for a final hug, but Clare put up both hands and blocked him, and as she stormed off camera, humiliated yet again, she told Juan Pablo that she wouldn’t want her children to have a father like him. A few moments later, Galavis callously muttered to himself, “I’m glad I didn’t pick her.” A woman demanding respect was simply too much for him to comprehend.

In the wake of Season 18 of The Bachelor, it seems clear that Juan Pablo Galavis is not only homophobic, he harbors a hatred of women, too. Throughout the season he treated the women on the show as disposable objects. Every time he had a private conversation with one of his suitors he would condescendingly speak in tone one might use to address a small child or a pet, while constantly touching their faces and tucking their hair behind their ears; a misogynist acting in a way he thinks women will interpret as romantic. But in reality, the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of women were insignificant to him, and the women who in any way challenged his assumed right as a man to walk all over them with impunity were either sent home or realized who they were dealing with and walked out. Justifiably so, Juan Pablo has been unofficially labeled the “most hated” ‘Bachelor’ in the show’s history by the fans.

But while it’s obvious that he is a homophobic, misogynistic pig, what’s important to recognize after all the controversy of this season is that Juan Pablo actually personifies the backward values The Bachelor has always embraced. The show is inherently misogynistic and promotes a truly unhealthy, unrealistic, and thoroughly reactionary view of romantic relationships and sex. Galavis might have been more crude and transparent, or, as he would say, “honest,” about what was going on than previous ‘Bachelors’, but his actions were right in line with what the show inherently is at its core.

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Take his homophobic comments, for example. Juan Pablo’s hate for homosexuals made headlines, and ABC was forced to issue a statement distancing the network from its ‘Bachelor,’ but Chris Harrison, the host of the show, actually agrees with Galavis. Though Harrison claims that he supports gay rights in principle, he doesn’t think having a gay ‘Bachelor’ would be a good marketing decision. To paraphrase, why mess with a profitable formula? It’s safe to assume that Harrison’s position is closely matched by his employer. The point here is that Juan Pablo’s widely condemned homophobia is just (to use his own word) a more “honest” version of the same core values upheld by The Bachelor‘s network, ABC.

Also, take a look at Juan Pablo’s apparent inability or unwillingness to see women as actual human beings with worthwhile thoughts and feelings. While not every ‘Bachelor’ has nakedly displayed this type of misogyny, The Bachelor is a “reality” show that’s as unrealistic as can be. The basic scenario is condescending and degrading, giving one man the licence to wade through a sea of women, narrowing down his potential mates during designated “rose ceremonies”. And instead of structuring the show so that each contestant has a fair and equal chance to build a relationship with the ‘Bachelor,’ the show intentionally forces the women to fight each other for “their time” with the show’s star. If the goal of the show is truly to develop a meaningful romantic relationship, why set it up in such a way that encourages petty in-fighting rather than allowing the potential couples the time to get to know each other as human beings?

And there’s the rub. The real objective is to reel in viewers with the contrived “drama,” even if that means undermining the supposed central purpose of the show. So again, while Galavis might have been more openly indifferent to the women selected to seduce him than most previous ‘Bachelor’s, in actuality, he was simply acting out the mentality encouraged by the inherently debasing structure of the show, like everyone else has throughout all 17 previous seasons. ABC might have cast Juan Pablo as “the villain,” but the show’s audience should realize that he was simply a personification of the values The Bachelor has always upheld and encouraged from the beginning. The only difference is that Galavis doesn’t bother to mask those reactionary values. He simply embodies them openly.

Now, critics of this analysis will undoubtedly point to ABC’s female-centered spin-off The Bachelorette as proof of the network’s innocence on the question of misogyny. But that show is also inherently problematic. While it’s about a woman deciding the fate of a pool of men on The Bachelorette, the men competing for the lone woman still reap this society’s benefits of manhood. Invariably for the ‘Bachelorette’ it’s a process of weeding out the men who aren’t there for the “right reasons,” discovering who’s attempting to cash in on quick fame rather than actually trying to develop a real relationship. On The Bachelor it’s always about a man with total power deciding which woman can fit into his already established identity, while The Bachelorette is always about the woman carefully deciding which man to concede her power to.

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Both versions of the show are sick and reinforce unhealthy gender stereotypes and relationship models. So while there might be a temptation to point to Juan Pablo as nothing more than a bad apple, an anomaly who somehow got his homophobia and misogyny past the show’s casting directors, if you look closely you can see that he is actually the perfect ambassador for the warped values The Bachelor has always stood for.

One positive that came through during this train wreck of a television season is that in several key moments the women on the show stood up for themselves, powerfully asserting the idea that they aren’t just sex objects to be tossed aside when a man decides he’s done with them. They turned the tables on Juan Pablo by reclaiming their power and dignity, openly rejecting his misogyny and demanding respect. Each time this happened Galavis did his best to play off the moment as if it was no big deal. But under that casual dismissal was a palpable anger that a woman dared to challenge his authority. By the end, the audience, too, had completely turned on their former “fan favorite.” Hopefully this will be a moment that illuminates the truth about the nature of The Bachelor and causes the show’s loyal audience to question what they’ve been watching. Or, better yet, to stop watching altogether.

The Good Guys Won the Oscars (This Time)

rs_634x1024-140108134218-634.Ellen-Degeneres-Oscar-Promo.jl.010814This year’s Academy Awards were special and historic, and they stood in stark contrast to last year’s ceremony, and to the Oscar’s long history of stealing victory away from deserving progressive films. The tone of the broadcast was radically different than last year, including the way the show was hosted. A year ago we were subjected to Seth MacFarlane’s misogynistic, mean spirited, and offensive “humor” during a ceremony that culminated with Michelle Obama awarding the reactionary film Argo the top prize while surrounded by military personnel.

This year, a strong progressive wind blew through the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. If last year’s Oscars were a reactionary celebration of “guy culture” this year was a progressive tribute to the oppressed minorities of society, including women, the LGBT community, and black people. Ellen DeGeneres, an openly gay woman, hosted the ceremony for the second time. Her jokes were funny without the need to be offensive simply for the sake of shock value, and her best line of the night was when she alluded to the ceremony’s racist history. “Possibility #1: 12 Years a Slave wins Best Picture. Possibility #2: you’re all racists.” It was a joke, but it definitely contained an element of truth.

Ellen also made several genuine attempts to connect to the audience in a personal, fun way. At one point she ordered pizza for the audience, and then got the celebrities to cough up money for it later on. She also took a hilarious selfie with several actors crammed into the frame, and then posted it on Twitter, involving the audience around the globe. As of now that image has over 3 million retweets, breaking the previous record set by Obama’s tweet announcing his reelection campaign. The ceremony also included a tribute to The Wizard of Oz in which the singer Pink sang a beautiful rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which reinforced the progressive theme of the evening, celebrating women in film and supporting oppressed minorities. Overall, it was a refreshing and much needed alternative to the open celebration of reactionary values from a year ago.

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Most importantly, and perhaps amazingly, virtually all the major awards went to progressive films, capped off by the historic victory of 12 Years a Slave, now the first film principally about the oppression of black people to win Best Picture. Director Steve McQueen became the first black person in the history of the Academy to win a Best Picture Oscar. Lupita Nyong’o won the statue for Best Supporting Actress, marking just the 15th time a black actor has taken home an Oscar, and John Ridley won for 12 Years‘ Adapted Screenplay, which is only the 2nd time a black person has won an Oscar for writing.

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Dallas Buyers Club, a film that powerfully skewers the corporate health care industry while embracing the humanity of the oppressed LGBT community and those suffering from the HIV/AIDS epidemic, also won three Oscars. Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto received both of the male acting awards for their transformative performances, and the film also won for Makeup.

The most prolific winner of the night was Gravity, which won seven total Oscars, including almost all of the technical awards as well as Best Cinematography for Emmanuel Lubezki and Best Director for Alfonso Cuaron. Given that female actors are still paid significantly less than their male counterparts and most major blockbusters are male driven films, Gravity proved that original, female driven films can be both highly entertaining and financially successful, and hopefully Hollywood is getting the message.

Best Actress went to Cate Blanchett for her brilliant role in Woody Allen’s film Blue Jasmine. Despite the controversy surrounding the director, Blanchett didn’t hesitate to praise Allen in her acceptance speech, which was brave considering it would have been all too easy to simply avoid the issue. Piggy-backing on Gravity‘s success, she spoke about the importance of making female-centered films and argued that they can connect with audiences, while celebrating Allen’s contribution to women in film.

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While it’s important to focus on the progressive winners, it’s also worth noting what didn’t win. The film that glorifies Wall Street hedonism, The Wolf of Wall Street, went home empty handed, despite heavy campaigning by Leonardo DiCaprio. In a delightful irony, DiCaprio’s other film, the one he didn’t go to the mat for, The Great Gatsby, won two Academy Awards (Production Design and Costume Design). American Hustle, the drastically over-hyped snooze-fest, also went home with zero Oscars, and the deeply pessimistic film with the most publicized Oscar campaign of the year, Inside Llewyn Davis, received only a single nomination and also went home with its tail between its legs.

The only potential missteps during yesterday’s Academy Awards were in the Documentary Feature and Foreign Feature categories. While 20 Feet From Stardom is certainly a progressive documentary about important issues, considering the gravity of alternatives like Dirty WarsThe Square, and The Act of Killing, it was perhaps a missed opportunity for the Academy to make a major statement on some very serious and controversial issues.

It’s also a shame that The Broken Circle Breakdown, a brilliant Belgian film about a couple in a folk band suffering through a religious conflict during a personal tragedy, lost out on the Foreign Feature award. The Academy had the opportunity to make a significant progressive statement and they passed on the chance.

Though, it’s worth mentioning that this year’s Academy Awards closely mirrored the traditionally more progressive Independent Spirit Awards. All the same actors won in both ceremonies, as well as 12 Years a Slave for Best Film, and John Ridley for Best Screenplay. The Independent Spirit Awards also honored 12 Years‘ director Steve McQueen and cinematographer Sean Bobbitt. Gravity, which wasn’t eligible for the Spirit Awards, won those two awards at the Oscars.

You might be asking, who cares? What’s the point? Why does it matter who wins Oscars and who doesn’t? The Academy Awards have always been political, and these days the studios spend a lot of money to lobby for Oscar wins. Given that all films serve one sort of politics or another, and represent the worldview of the film makers in some way, the awards handed out by the Academy carry political weight and can be interpreted as approval for what a film stands for. An Oscar gives prestige to a film and guarantees that people will seek out those winners for years to come. So, when the Academy honors reactionary films, or chooses not to honor quality progressive work, it does actual harm to society.

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This year however, progressive politics held sway at the Academy Awards in a way they never have before. In past years when powerful progressive films were up for major awards, such as Reds in 1981, Brokeback Mountain in 2005, Avatar in 2009, or even Django Unchained last year, invariably those films aren’t allowed to win, and often films with reactionary politics are upheld instead (The Hurt Locker, Argo). And given the history of progressive films being denied on Oscar night, that just makes this year’s progressive sweep all the more powerful and important.

Steve McQueen’s film 12 Years a Slave strikes directly at America’s ugly, racist history, and forces the audience to confront the true nature of this society. Its victory at the Oscars reinforces and amplifies this powerful progressive message against slavery and ongoing racial oppression, and guarantees that it will be seen for decades to come, rather than being swept conveniently under the rug.

Last night, for once, the good guys won decisively, overcoming the reactionary forces that often influence the Oscars’ outcome. Though you can bet that next year a strong campaign will be mounted on behalf of a reactionary film in retaliation for this year’s defeat at the hands of progressives, for now, we can celebrate the victories of Gravity, Dallas Buyers Club, The Great Gatsby, Blue Jasmine, and especially 12 Years a Slave.

The Top 10 Films of 2013

Film is an amazing medium that combines a huge variety of artistic pursuits, and 2013 was a year that saw a great diversity of quality films. The goal of this list is to highlight the best and most socially important films, some of which were widely seen, and others that deserve a much wider audience than they received. Each in its own way, they speak to what it means to be human and they have important things to say about the world we live in and the societies we’ve created. I definitely encourage everyone to seek out these special films, and to embrace the genuine art that finds a way to succeed under conditions that often discourage creativity.

Enjoy this list, and please feel free to comment with your own favorite films and top 10 lists.

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1. 12 Years a Slave

One of the most powerful films in decades, 12 Years a Slave tells the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. Steve McQueen directs this beautiful film that thrusts the audience directly into America’s ugly history. As Northup awakens to the terrible shock of having his freedom suddenly wrenched away, the audience is forced to confront the brutal horror of an institution upon which a nation was built right along with the central character. People may think they understand what slavery looked and felt like, but depicting the entire process from the beginning, showing the dehumanizing impact on a man who was once free, forces the audience to acknowledge slavery with new eyes.

12 Years a Slave is a film that comfortably explores duality. It is both subtle and direct, nuanced and bold. It’s a powerful examination of the human condition, illuminating both the best and the worst in mankind; the will to persevere against all odds, and the forces of oppression bent on achieving total domination over others. A devastating contrast, for example, is made between a “good” slave owner and a “bad” slave owner, and of course, both scenarios are equally awful experiences for Northup, damning slavery from every angle, and refusing to give apologists an inch. Its ending, just like the rest of the film, brilliantly inspires conflicting emotions; the joy of freedom paired with the bitter pain of ongoing institutionalized racism.

Chiwetel Ejiofor turns in a commanding and heartbreaking performance as Northup, who struggles throughout the film to maintain his human dignity and hold onto hope in the face of incalculable hardship. Hans Zimmer provides a haunting musical score that perfectly accentuates the emotion of the film, especially the sinister tones that accompany Northup’s trafficking into the South, and Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography is breathtaking, contrasting the beauty of the natural world with the ugliness of slavery.

Steve McQueen has crafted a near perfect film, a masterpiece that cries out to be seen, because by illuminating the past we can better understand the root causes of the ongoing horrors of the present. 12 Years a Slave is the best and most important film of the decade.

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2. Prisoners

Prisoners is a mesmerizing crime story about two families whose daughters are kidnapped in broad daylight on Thanksgiving in suburban Pennsylvania and the desperate search to find them. The film is a slow, agonizing burn, gradually building tension as the investigation stretches on over the course of several days, testing the moral strength of both sets of parents, and the skill of the lead detective on the case.

Hugh Jackman’s intense performance as Keller, a desperate father who takes the law into his own hands, is one of the best of his career, and Jake Gyllenhaal also crackles as an edgy, arrogant detective who has to meticulously comb through the clues and evidence while also keeping an eye on the suspicious activity of the missing girls’ families.

Prisoners takes a story that could have easily been dumbed down to the level of a “Law and Order” episode and elevates it to high art. Not only is the film exquisitely made on a technical level, due in large part to Roger Deakins’ masterful cinematography, it also incorporates heavy moral, philosophical, and religious themes on top of the narrative’s mystery.

The title of the film refers not only to the kidnapped girls, but also to the person Keller believes holds the key to his daughter’s location, as well as those who are trapped under the spell of religious fanaticism. The film, featuring strong supporting roles by Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, and Melissa Leo, is a searing and emotional exploration of the limits and hypocrisy of religious morality.

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3. Before Midnight

The third film in Richard Linklater’s fantastic ‘Before‘ series might be the best yet, which is extremely high praise. Midnight arrived right on cue, nine years after Before Sunset (2004), which came nine years after the original, Before Sunrise (1995). The latest installment in this cinematic dissertation on love follows the star-crossed relationship of Jesse and Celine, played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who also co-write the films along with Linklater. They know their roles inside out and they embody their characters so deeply that they don’t appear to be acting at all, allowing Linklater to shoot very long, naturalistic takes. This technique pulls the audience into the film as if it were an extension of real life, making the exploration of contemporary love all the more compelling.

In Midnight, we step into Jesse and Celine’s lives while they’re on vacation in Greece after they’ve been a couple for several years. The film sets up a scenario where there are couples from several different generations gathered together, and they have the opportunity to discuss the dynamics of romantic love at various stages of life. Jesse and Celine fall somewhere in the middle, and this moment allows them to evaluate their relationship and examine what they’ve each sacrificed to be together. While Before Sunrise is about the thrill of new possibilities, and Before Sunset is about the regret of missed opportunities, Before Midnight is about the consequences of actually getting what you want. It strips away the fantasy and idealism of the first two films and dives right into the everyday reality and struggle of sustaining a long-term relationship.

Given the empty, formulaic romantic comedies that Hollywood has churned out for decades, Linklater’s Before series is a breath of fresh air. All three films are both humorous and serious, and they provide a huge number of topics and themes to ponder long after the credits role. Hopefully Linklater, Hawke, and Delpy revisit this brilliant romantic series in 2022. Before Twilight, perhaps?

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4. Big Sur

Based on the novel of the same name by Jack Kerouac, the film picks up the story of the legendary author’s life as he struggles with the success of his classic On the Road. After helping to define the Beat Generation, Kerouac feels a great burden on his shoulders. People expect him to be Sal Paradise, his alter ego from Road in his mid twenties, but the real Jack Kerouac is approaching middle age, and the world is changing around him. The film follows Kerouac as he seeks refuge and solitude in the Big Sur region on the central coast of California.

Michael Polish’s film is exceptionally beautiful, and not just because of the natural scenery on location. His camera captures the magnificence of the surroundings- the forest, the sky, the waves on the beach, and the dramatic rock formations jutting upward from the ocean- in a way that appears effortless, but is the result of a perfect union of subject and artist. Polish conjures a true character from the environment surrounding the cabin that Kerouac inhabits as he undergoes an existential crisis. A last gasp, of sorts, as his restless soul continues to struggle for meaning in life.

Big Sur integrates Kerouac’s words into the film through a beautiful use of voice-over, which, in combination with the breathtaking scenic elements, is almost Terrence Malick-esque. The film also has a fantastic musical score by composer Kubilay Uner and brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner of the rock band The National. All the performances in the film are very high caliber. Jean-Marc Barr plays the aging Kerouac with great depth. It’s not easy to carry a film as an actor, but Barr does so with a nuanced performance that owns the screen without overshadowing the supporting actors. Josh Lucas plays Neal Cassady, who even as he approaches middle age, shows shades of what made him such a charismatic and inspirational figure in Kerouac’s life. Rhada Mitchell plays Cassady’s wife, and a strikingly beautiful Kate Bosworth plays his mistress. Big Sur is a magnificent film; a genuine work of art in all aspects of the medium.

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5. Gravity

In a Hollywood that pumps out sequels and comic book films at an alarming rate, Gravity was perhaps the most refreshing big-budget film of the year. It centers around astronaut Ryan Stone, played by Sandra Bullock, who after an accident in outer space must survive a series of obstacles in the harshest of environments. Alfonso Cuaron’s exciting film follows Stone on a metaphorical life cycle from fetal state to birth as she struggles to rediscover her will to live while up against seemingly impossible odds, and by the end she must either “evolve” or die.

Gravity is a technical and artistic marvel, blending life-like digital effects with human performances in perfect harmony. Emmanuel Lubezki, arguably the greatest cinematographer working today, composed several long shots that develop character while moving the narrative forward, maintaining a sense of motion and a heightened state of suspense throughout much of the film. In perhaps the best use of 3D technology yet, the screen seems to melt away, enveloping the audience in the action.

Though the film suffers from some weak dialogue that feels a bit forced and at times unnecessary, Gravity is one of those rare gems that thrills through the sheer force of its unique concept while simultaneously allowing the audience to connect to the human drama.

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6. Fruitvale Station

Oscar Grant, a 22 year old black man, was murdered on New Years day in 2009 by a white police officer at the Fruitvale BART station in San Francisco. Fruitvale Station follows Oscar on the last day of his life, painting a vivid portrait of a man, flaws and all, attempting to change the direction of his life during difficult circumstances, before it was unjustly cut short.

The film cuts through stereotypes, allowing the audience to get to know Oscar both as a fully developed character, and as a human being, which amplifies the tragedy of his death. During the course of a single day we meet Oscar’s girlfriend, daughter, mother, grandmother, and several friends, as well as a couple new acquaintances. We witness the struggle of his everyday life. He just lost his job but doesn’t want to fall back into a life as a drug dealer. Unsure of how he will make ends meet in the future he decides to have a fun night out with friends to celebrate the new year. His spontaneity, his kindness and compassion, his positive outlook, and his desire to do the right thing are all illustrated through several episodes that all lead up to his murder at the hands of the police who don’t see him as a nuanced human being. To them, he’s entirely defined by his race, and all his human complexity is ignored.

Fruitvale Station is the first feature film by director Ryan Coogler, a Bay Area native who felt compelled to make a film about an event that rocked his community in the hope of showing people the humanity of a person who became a symbol to rally around. And in his first leading role, Michael B. Jordan brings Oscar’s story to life in haunting fashion. Octavia Spencer, fresh from her Academy Award winning role in The Help provides a powerful cornerstone for the film. Fruitvale Station is an important film. By telling this story, hopefully people will understand that it’s important to see each other as human beings, to not be so quick to leap to conclusions, and also to understand the real role that police play in this oppressive society.

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7. The Great Gatsby

Others have tried to adapt Fitzgerald’s classic novel to the big screen and achieved nothing but lifeless tedium, which makes Baz Luhrmann’s successful attempt at The Great Gatsby all the more impressive. Luhrmann is definitely a true artist, and his film is alive, colorful, and exciting. While other film makers have struggled with a way to translate the internal monologue of the novel to the screen, Luhrmann solves that problem in the boldest ways possible. He puts Fitzgerald’s words directly on the screen and places the narration front and center, which allows the prose to drive the narrative, just as it does in the novel, while utilizing a visceral and inventive visual style to establish the setting.

The Great Gatsby is a film that simply must be surrendered to. It has flaws, some of which are inherited from the source material, but the film is a force of nature. While perhaps not exactly the anti-Wolf of Wall Street, Gatsby is a loud, bold look into American style capitalism that succeeds while Leonardo DiCaprio’s other major film on the same subject fails. Though Gatsby does maintain a certain level of admiration for the pursuit of wealth, it does so with great disdain for the outlook of the elite, personified by Tom Buchanan’s paranoid racism, greed, and misogyny, as well as Jay Gatsby’s own corruption, and the story clearly articulates the consequences of giving material wealth greater value than human life.

Luhrmann’s style has always been divisive because of his willingness to take artistic risks, but here it pays off in extremely entertaining fashion, as long as you give yourself over to the unconventional experience and enjoy the ride.

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8. Don Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon, in which he also stars, is a surprisingly layered and intelligent film about relationships in the age of internet pornography. The title character, Jon, is obsessed with porn and masturbates compulsively and almost ritualistically. He lives a highly structured and routine oriented lifestyle, keeping to his weekly schedule of working, cleaning his apartment, going to church with his family, working out at the gym, and going to the club with his friends to pick up women. There’s nothing out of place and nothing to disrupt his pattern until he encounters Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) at the club.

Jon and his friends always stand in the center of the club to look for women to potentially take home, sizing them up from a distance, instantly rating them on a scale of 1 to 10. Barbara is “the most beautiful thing” Jon has ever seen, and he becomes determined to make her his ultimate sexual conquest. This is the point where Don Jon could have easily descended into formulaic drivel typical of romantic comedies, but it masterfully avoids going down that road and instead takes on a wonderful complexity.

Don Jon becomes a major statement against a culture that celebrates pornography as a form of women’s liberation. Having developed totally unrealistic expectations from his pornography obsession, Jon is unsatisfied by the real women he objectifies, and he must be jolted out of his old habits. Barbara starts him on the right path, but the brilliance of the film is that it isn’t black and white and it criticizes her controlling perspective, too, ultimately arriving at a highly enlightened view of romantic relationships.

Gordon-Levitt’s film is what great art is all about. It’s entertaining in a way that’s very accessible, but it packs an extremely relevant and important message. It suggests that we might all be better off by breaking with some debilitating habits that we’re convinced are normal, altering our rigid routines that isolate us from the world, and learning to truly connect with other people as equals.

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9. Dallas Buyers Club

Set in the mid-1980s, Dallas Buyers Club is about Ron Woodroof, a hard living racist and homophobic man who is diagnosed with AIDS and told he only has one month to live. After overcoming the denial that he has a “faggot” disease, he seeks help through a drug trial for the experimental treatment AZT. However, he soon realizes that the drugs he’s been given are doing more harm than good, and, unwilling to give up, he searches for ways to circumvent the medical establishment. Along the way he has to become allies with people he previously despised in order to combat the powerful forces of the for-profit medical establishment and the government.

Woodroof is played by Matthew McConaughey who lost a significant percentage of his body weight for this incredible, career defining role. He’s supported by by Jared Leto, who turns in an iconic performances as Rayon, a transsexual Woodroof meets in the hospital who forces him to put his bigotry aside for mutual benefit.

Dallas Buyers Club is no technical marvel. It’s a sparse film that used almost no artificial lighting and put little effort into visual style. It also suffers from several noticeable background props out of place in the 80s. But these problems become virtually insignificant next to the overpowering substance of the narrative. What makes this film great is the way it exposes the collusion between the government, pharmaceutical companies, and health care practitioners to make a profit at the expense of patient’s health, and the lengths ordinary people must go in order to get the care they need.

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10. Lore

Germany is losing World War II, and as the Allied forces push into the country, the rank and file Nazis scramble to avoid justice. Hannelore (Lore for short) is the eldest daughter of a Nazi officer. After being abandoned by her parents she is forced to care for her siblings as they flee to the countryside.

Having been poisoned by Nazi ideology throughout her life, Lore harbors a deep hatred of Jewish people while blind to the true horror of Hitler’s genocide. So, when she and her young family encounter a Jewish refugee on their journey she has to confront the beliefs her parents and Nazi society instilled in her head on.

Lore is a fresh look at an era that has been documented extensively in film, showing the collapse of Nazi Germany from the perspective of children and adolescents. It’s a coming of age story set in the upheaval of a crumbling society; a loss of innocence as the central character comes to understand the true horror of the Holocaust, and that everything she thought she knew is a lie.

Lore is a beautiful film that flows through its narrative arc with a dream-like quality, as if being recalled from a deeply repressed memory. Indeed, the film drew inspiration from director Cate Shortland’s husband’s family history. Saskia Rosendah leaps off the screen as Lore in her first major role, and Kai Malina turned in a haunting performance as Thomas in which he refused to say most of his scripted dialogue, allowing the pain behind his eyes to speak louder than words. And the film’s ending is a powerful break from the poisonous ideology of Fascism as Lore rejects the temptation to turn a blind eye to genocide.

 

10 More 2013 Films I Highly Recommend

The Broken Circle Breakdown
Her
Frances Ha
As I Lay Dying
Blue Jasmine
August: Osage County
The Place Beyond the Pines
Something in the Air
Upstream Color
Spring Breakers

The Worst Films I Saw in 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street
42
Man of Steel
Inside Llewyn Davis

There’s a Reason it’s Called *American* Horror Story

“I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.” — Malcolm X

There’s widespread consensus that television is currently experiencing a golden age of the serialized drama characterized by the literary format of the novel being applied to TV. The staggering list of high quality serialized television novels on the air right now includes Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, House of Cards, Mad Men, and The Walking Dead, just to name a few.

HBO’s mob drama The Sopranos, which began in 1999, is largely responsible for triggering this tsunami of high-quality serialized programming, which imported the artistic sensibility and production value of film to the small screen. Shows like Six Feet Under and Lost soon followed. AMC’s Breaking Bad, which ended last year, is perhaps the high water mark of this flood, representing a pinnacle of artistic achievement during this renaissance of the medium.

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But now that Breaking Bad is off the air, there’s one television drama that stands above the rest; fearlessly, creatively, and artistically redefining the possibilities and the limits of the medium. FX’s American Horror Story is unlike anything else on the air right now (or perhaps ever before), both in terms of its general concept and its ability to put forward a bold artistic vision, which includes powerful social commentary, all while being deliciously entertaining.

Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk created a unique format for a television series. Each season of American Horror Story is a self-contained mini-series, and a troupe of actors play different parts each year. This concept allows the show to explore new themes and subjects each season while retaining a core group of talented actors who thrive in a variety of roles.

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The focal point of the cast is the magnificent Jessica Lange, whose career has been reinvigorated by the three roles she’s played so far. In season 1, retroactively named “Murder House,” she played a conniving next door neighbor to a family who moves into a house that traps the souls of anyone who dies inside. In season 2, “Asylum,” she played a nun who oversees a horrifying mental hospital in the mid-1960s. In the latest season, “Coven,” she plays a witch bent on obtaining eternal life no matter the cost to the coven she leads.

The cast also includes Evan Peters, Lily Rabe, Frances Conroy, Sarah Paulson, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Zachary Quinto, Dylan McDermott, and Jamie Bewer, all of whom have all appeared in at least two of the three seasons. There have also been strong supporting roles by major actors such as Kathy Bates, Joseph Fiennes, James Cromwell, Angela Bassett, Connie Britton, Danny Huston, Chloe Sevigny, Kate Mara, Emma Roberts, and Gabourey Sidibe. Ryan Murphy has admitted that he’s had Academy Award winning actors practically beg him for parts on the show.

American Horror Story is a highly stylized drama. Virtually every shot is pushed to its artistic limit. The camera floats around the action and establishes a perpetual sense of unease by presenting awkward angles that bend and twist reality in a way that enhances the atmosphere of the show without being a distraction to the narrative or appearing cheesy. The show blends the real world with a spiritual realm, and brilliantly treats each with complete legitimacy. At any given moment you can’t be sure of what you’re seeing, or even if a character is dead or alive. And the hideously creepy opening title sequences, which perfectly set the tone for the show, are amazing achievements in their own right.

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The show is totally diabolical and unrelenting, and it’s not for the faint of heart. There have been Horror shows on television before, but none quite as jarring, visceral, and purely entertaining as this. It is also unique in its ability to incorporate deliberate social commentary into its narrative. It’s a show that definitely has something to say, which justifies the violence and gore during its descent into darkness. American Horror Story wants to shock, horrify, and entertain, but it also illuminates the repulsive underbelly of America that is all too often kept safely out of sight.

Each season, with a different setting and cast of characters, American Horror Story has new themes to explore. The first season, “Murder House,” seems to be about the dark side of American domestic life, the illusion of the American Dream, and the haunting of the past. It deals with infidelity and betrayal within families, and the struggle to maintain family cohesion through the inevitable harsh realities of life. It’s a horrific exploration of the “traditional family” and the Murder House setting allows for a bleak and morbid view of the idealized American household. Secrets don’t stay secret, the dead don’t stay dead, and the past always comes back to haunt you. Moving into the perfect big house is nothing but an attempt to avoid facing problems, and so much is sacrificed to maintain the appearance of a perfect family. “Murder House” seems to imply the question: is it worth it?

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“Asylum” takes on the treatment of the mentally ill in America and deals with religious based oppression, race relations, and discrimination against homosexuals, all of which are issues deeply embedded in America’s roots. The second season is an absolute television masterpiece that ends up in a totally different emotional place than where it begins due to its meticulously crafted story arc. There are characters you loathe at the start but find yourself rooting for toward the end, and vice versa, and all the plot lines are tied off in the most emotionally satisfying way possible. It’s a journey from darkness to the light in a way that is oddly uplifting because of the depth of the terror experienced along the way. “Aslyum” shows there can be hope and redemption, even for the most lost among us, as long as oppressive conventions are broken with and love for humanity is kept in your heart.

The third season, “Coven,” is perhaps the boldest, most over the top chapter of American Horror Story, and its critique of American society is the sharpest the series has offered so far. It follows a coven of witches who are under assault both from society at large as well as from a rival group of voodoo witches. American Horror Story has always been a female driven show, but the focus on the all-female coven brings themes of women’s oppression in society into focus. Zoe, the newest member of the coven, can kill men by having sex with them. Madison, another young witch, is raped early in the season, and she kills the men responsible with a flick of her wrist. These are the ultimate fears of a patriarchal society that wants to maintain ownership over women’s sexuality. “Coven” also explores America’s crime of slavery and its deeply entrenched and ongoing racial discrimination. In one moving scene, a black witch forces a racist serial killer to watch the mini-series Roots as punishment for her crimes.

American Horror Story tackles these issues head on, and the show definitely has a point of view. It’s a perfect demonstration of the way art can be utilized to offer pointed social commentary in a highly entertaining form. It’s a free-form, sometimes abstract show, but despite its avante garde presentation, or perhaps because of it, it clearly articulates a political worldview that condemns inequality, discrimination, and oppression of all kinds, while putting forward strong female characters who challenge a male-dominated world. The show’s social critiques are organically embedded into the narrative, which allows the audience to be horrified and repulsed by the fundamental ills of the system they live under. American Horror Story does not hesitate when forcing viewers to deal with brutal and uncomfortable truths.

In each season of American Horror Story real life characters are introduced. “Murder House” incorporates the famous Black Dahlia murder, as well as a sub-plot with a Columbine-like school shooting. “Asylum” imagines a grown up Anne Frank, and also deals with an ex-Nazi party member who performs sadistic medical experiments on human beings. “Coven” brings to life the true story of the New Orleans serial killer known as the Axeman, as well as Madame Delphine LaLaurie, a New Orleans socialite who tortured and murdered her slaves. These historical figures are woven into the fabric of the show and reinforce American Horror Story‘s underlying concept of exploring the deepest fears and horrors of American society.

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In this golden age of the television drama there’s a great show out there for everyone. If The Walking Dead or Falling Skies aren’t your thing, you might love Game of Thrones or House of Cards. However, because American Horror Story is unafraid to approach uncomfortable subjects in the most grotesque manner possible it’s obviously not a show for everyone, but it’s possibly the best and most important show on television today because it exposes the horrors at the roots of America through a unique artistic vision. It pries up the floorboards to examine the foundation upon which America is built, and it’s not afraid to reveal the ugly truth, while still holding on to the hope that people can be good. As Kathy Bates said in an interview with Collider, “That’s what I like about what Ryan [Murphy] does. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘American’ Horror Story.”

The show is uniquely American, both in form and in subject. Set in any other country it would be a wildly different show. From its inception America has been wrestling with fundamental contradictions; “founded by slave owners who wanted to be free,” as the late, great George Carlin was fond of pointing out. American Horror Story dives right into those contradictions and uproots them for all to see, creating an unnerving and terrifying experience in the most gratifying and entertaining way possible.