Movies I Watched During the 2014 Winter Break, Organized into Almost Completely Arbitrary Categories
I. Movies About Elderly People Looking for Something
1. August: Osage County (2013)
Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts star in this film about The Most Dysfunctional Family in the World. By turns depressing and funny, it's certainly one of the best films listed here. It's not nearly as flashy as many other 2013 films, but the story is rock solid and the acting is amazing. Streep has received her share of accolades, but she deserves even more for her performance in this movie.
2. Nebraska (2013)
Bruce Dern plays a senile father of two sons, desperate to secure a fortune in Nebraska. This was another movie that was by turns depressing and funny, but it's a lot lighter than "August: Osage County." The actress that plays Dern's wife has all the best lines.
3. Philomena (2013)
Judi Dench plays an Irish mother searching for her lost son, and Steve Coogan plays the reporter trying to help her. This is a BBC film, and it probably received a lot less press than either "August" or "Nebraska." It is more of a meditation on religion, and the lengths to which people go to cover up past indiscretions.
II. Movies About Racial Inequality
1. 12 Years a Slave (2013)
Also one of the best movies on this list, and based on the true story of Solomon Northrup's time as a slave in the South. The acting is great, the direction is inspired, and Michael Fassbender turns in one of his best performances as the violent, lecherous master of Northrup's plantation.
2. The Butler (2013)
Forrest Whitaker stars as a butler in the White House. During his time in the White House, his son goes to the south and takes part in the struggle for civil rights. The film opens in the 1920s and concludes with the election of President Obama in 2008. A good movie, but less than subtle.
3. Machete Kills (2013)
Yes, when you think about it, Machete does say a lot about racial inequality (or the lack thereof) in the US. Even so, "Machete Kills" is a terrible movie. I liked the first "Machete," but this one seemed lazily done.
III. Movies About Scams or Heists
1. American Hustle (2013)
I didn't like this movie nearly as much as I thought I would. The director and many of the cast members from "Silver Linings Playbook" were in this film, but this movie lacked the sense of humor that made "Silver Linings" so good. It's worth seeing, but it seemed a bit labored to me.
2. Dallas Buyers' Club (2013)
A rodeo rider stricken with AIDS develops a scheme to sell medicine to AIDS patients. It sounds really depressing - and sometimes it is - but it's also a great movie. Made me think about how often bureaucracy stands in the way of people helping other people.
3. The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
I've seen "The Departed" about one million times, so I knew I'd like this one the minute I saw the poster. Leonardo Dicaprio stars as a stock broker out to conquer the world. It's full of memorable dialogue, and is also really funny. One of the best movies here.
IV. Movies That are Stories of Survival
1. Captain Philips (2013)
Tom Hanks stars as the title character, the captain of a freighter captured by Somali pirates. Hanks delivers another great performance, and the story is unusual enough to be interesting. My only problem with Tom Hanks is that he's in too many damn movies.
2. Gravity (2013)
Two astronauts survive a space disaster, and must find their way back to safety. I thought I would love this movie, but for whatever reason it just wasn't working for me. It was good, but a little too simplistic.
V. Movies About Being a Raging Homosexual
1. Behind the Candelabra (2013)
Michael Douglas stars as Liberace, and Matt Damon stars as his lover. I'm not sure if this movie was ever released in theaters. Michael Douglas all but vanishes into his character, and there are some delightfully absurd moments in this film.
VI. Movies That are Difficult to Categorize
1. Her (2013)
A man falls in love with his operating system. A lot of friends RAVED about this movie, but I thought it was just OK. It's definitely good, definitely very contemporary, but it dragged on a bit. The part where they have "sex" for the first time made me squirm.
2. Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)
The latest movie from the Cohen Brothers. A folk singer struggles to survive in New York. It's a great movie, and the soundtrack is excellent. John Goodman's cameo as an aging jazz musician almost steals the movie.
3. Only God Forgives (2013)
Ryan Gosling stars as an American living in Thailand. His brother kills a 16 year-old prostitute, and it's all downhill from there. Very dark, very arty, and it doesn't paint a flattering portrait of Thailand. I liked it, but I can understand why a lot of people lost their patience.
4. Stoker (2013)
This movie bored me to tears. A young girl's father dies, and her uncle moves in to take his place. It's by turns creepy and erotic. I felt like the screenplay might have worked better as a novel.
5. Don Jon (2013)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt's first directorial effort, in which he also stars as a ladies' man who receives his comeuppance. I couldn't quite figure out what the message of this movie was, and Julianne Moore was wasted on this movie. So what if he watches porn? Is it the end of the world?
VIII. Movies That are Based on Real People and Actual Events
1. Jobs (2013)
My first thought was: "Corporate bullshit," but to my surprise I really enjoyed this movie. Steve Jobs goes from being a dirty hippy to being The Man (in both the positive and negative senses of that term). One of my favorite movies here.
2. Zero Dark Thirty (2012)
Wow this movie was tedious. I'm sure it's very realistic and very well researched, but realism and authenticity don't necessarily make for compelling drama. The protagonist could have been fleshed out a bit better, and the plot was too convoluted for my liking. I found myself rooting for bin Laden by the end.
IX. Movies Adapted from Comic Books That Were Written After the Screenplay
1. Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Nothing great, but it wasn't all that bad either. I wasn't a huge fan of the first one, though I am a huge fan of Mark Millar. It was funny, but it could have been a lot funnier.
X. Movies That Gave Me Nightmares
1. Martyrs (2008)
A French horror film with a philosophical side. This is one of the best horror films I've seen in a long, long time - so good that I watched it without subtitles. Not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.
XI. Movies So Hyperactive They Gave Me a Headache
1. The Lego Movie (2014)
Saw this last Saturday. It has some funny bits, but watching it felt like being on the wrong kind of hallucinogen. Without a doubt the most hyperactive movie I've ever seen. I was very, very thankful that I didn't see it in 3D!