Commentary on Culture | Midrash Blog

Midrash-Recommended Films

We’ve seen some terrific films in 2014. But let’s not neglect 2013, an incredibly rich year in film. I love top 10 lists because they make me think of what films are best and why; because they provoke discussion with others who agree or don’t; and because I can draw on the top 10 lists of film reviewers I respect and find they lead me to some brilliant films that I would not otherwise have found. For example, some of the best films in 203 I saw came from Michael Leary’s list of best films of 2012. Michael is a ethicist, a theology teacher and a film aficionado of the highest order (including a member of the Midrash STL Film Award jury, along with yours truly, Aditya Siram and Michele Oesch) and Filmwell.org is a must-visit for serious lovers of film. 

A word on that, serious loving of film. People watch movies for all kinds of reasons, and most of them are surely valid. In this day and age of large number of really high qualify films (a happy result of the surge in independent film-making, growth in film studies in universities, and the advent of digital filming that makes it easier to make movies) it behooves us (sometimes the archaic terms are just the most appropriate) to give serious considerations to the film we see. A fine film deserves thought, discussion, some research or reviewing of reviews, to draw from it all there is. You can let yourself be washed in blue light for 90 minutes and emerge undchanged, with a simple, “that was good”; or you can delve deeper, draw more, benefit more, from the high state of film we enjoy these days. Try the latter.

All that being said, here’s my humble offering of the best films I happened to see in 2013. Most of these were released around 2013. All of them should be available (the depth of Netflix’s DVD catalog has amazed me). My top 10, in no particular order, all of which are highly recommended:

1. The Great Beauty: achingly beautiful, a parallel meditation on a city and life

2. The Past: exploring whether it’s ever completely behind us

3. Short Term 12: a window into a world of teenage scars and brokenness and just maybe, the possibility of redemption

4. 47 Views of Leslie Laskey : winner of Midrash STL Film Award; an artfully made documentary about an artist

5. Frances Ha: stumbling and dancing one’s way through the ups and downs of beginning adult life; has one of the most striking visuals of the year

6. Nebraska: pathos and comedy and the chasm of a father-son relationship

7. The Turin Horse: gorgeously filmed, heavy and the slowest film you’ll ever see; soak in its pace and reality and you’ll think on where to draw meaning for the life you have

8. The Loneliest Planet: exploring what a relationship should or shouldn’t reveal and recover from

9. Waiting Room: a window on a river of humanity for 90 minutes, you get pulled into story after story

10. Sound City: a celebration of music, artistry, originality and the redemption of an incredible historic sound board (if those knobs could talk . . .)

Watch one with a friend, if you can, then brew up a pot of java or pop a cap on a craft brew, and explore together. Isn’t a good film yet better when discussed and shared? 

Coming soon: our Top 10 list of most beautiful films ever.