The 8th Annual Davies Awards in Film

A Look Back at 2013:

It angers me when people complain about the state of film today.  Yes, there’s an orgiastic onslaught of celluloid and digital excrement shoveled into multiplexes every year…but if 2013 proved anything, it’s that art finds a way to survive and quite often thrives in the manure laid across the silver screen.  This past year saw both one of the most accessible art films (12 Years a Slave) and one of the most artistic blockbusters (Gravity) of the decade blossom in the verdant soil of cinema.  I mean hell, Gravity proved that a money gouging gimmick (3D) utilized in so much of that dross that strangles viewers every year can actually be used in the correct artistic context to add…fancy that…new dimensions to film.

And survival and blossoming in the midst of a shit storm – thematically that’s what the year in film was about.  Witness surviving: being kidnapped into slavery (12 Years a Slave), outer space calamities (Gravity), adolescence (Mud), young adulthood (Frances Ha), marriage (Before Midnight), the sins of the father (The Place Beyond the Pines), the lonely high seas (All is Lost), Somali pirates (Captain Phillips), and false persecution (The Hunt).  Hmmm…they do say that all great stories are essentially the same story, don’t they?

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Short Term 12 Long Term Promise

Brie Larson takes a major leap forward with charm and Grace.

Brie Larson takes a major leap forward with determination and Grace in SHORT TERM 12.

The best independent films take their cue from the best literary short stories.  They cut through the fat so often found in more commercial fare and focus on the moment, on character.  Minimalist in style.  Maximum in feeling.  Writer/director Destin Cretton’s Short Term 12 is one such film.

Grace (Brie Larson) is happily toiling away with her boyfriend Mason (John Gallagher Jr.) working together as counselors at a group home for troubled youth, but when an unexpected pregnancy pops up and a deeply disturbed new ward (Kaitlyn Dever) arrives, Grace finds herself at a crossroads still trying to cope with her own dark past.

Brie Larson plays Grace with a breezy charm.  She instantly relates to the kids (for reasons we later learn go beyond the standard love of job), and she’s both care-free and deadly serious.  There’s so much stuff bubbling up underneath her surface, and Larson is shockingly adept at traversing the slippery slope of her character’s arc.  As her boyfriend, Mason, who so desperately wants to dive beneath that surface with her, John Gallagher Jr. (so insufferable on the insufferable Newsroom) comes across as a likeable hipster duffus with a huge heart.  He loves telling stories and he connects with the kids because he’s a kid himself, and again we learn later on why he is the way he is.  Cretton, as he does with all of the characters circling in Grace’s orbit, reveals backstories bit by bit, not with a self-aware sense of revelation, but with the same casual charm as Grace.  He allows us to connect with them through small moments, character revealing details, just as Grace does when working with the kids at the home in her sincere attempts to get through to them. Continue reading