Monday, December 16, 2013

Reel Simple's Top 10: #6 & #5

Just about halfway done with this series! Comment below on what you think of my picks for #6 and #5.

In case you missed #8 & #7, read them here.

In case you missed #9 & #10, read them here.

#6: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Cast: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Director: Francis Lawrence
Release Year: 2013

For awhile there, I couldn’t decide whether I liked Catching Fire more because of the actual film or because of Jennifer Lawrence’s adorableness during the promotional interviews. But after some reflection, I know that as much as I love (and often want to be) J-Law, Catching Fire is on this list because it’s a genuinely impressive movie.  

In the hands of new director Francis Lawrence, the second release of the Hunger Games trilogy is an upgrade from the first in every sense of the word—greater loyalty to the book’s events; deeper layers to the characters (ie. Effie, whose genuine compassion for her tributes proves that she’s not just a vapid, face-painted priss); increased screen time for Gale, and thanks to an astronomical budget, exponentially more convincing special effects and set design. The movie looks and sounds exactly the way I envisioned it while reading the book, from the clocklike setup of the arena to Katniss’s spectacular mockingjay dress.

Though relieved of the burden that accompanies any first franchise film to effectively set the stage for the remaining installments, Lawrence rises to the equally daunting challenge of living up to, and even transcending, the expectations set by his predecessor. He builds a graveness and urgency that reminds us that there’s more to the story than a dystopian adolescent love triangle. Now, more than ever, it’s about an impending rebellion against an oppressive system, with potentially disastrous effects. With the narrative stakes set this high, I can’t wait for part three.   

#5: Like Father Like Son
Cast: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yoko Maki, Lily Franky
Director: Kore-Eda Hirokazu
Release Year: 2013

The last time I watched a Kore-eda film (2004’s Nobody Knows), I wanted to crawl into bed with the covers over my head and re-emerge only a solid month later. The true story of four children abandoned by their single mother is easily one of the most depressing movies I’d ever seen. It was therefore with slight trepidation that I approached the director’s newest tale: two families of varying social standing who, upon discovering that their 6 year old boys were accidentally switched at birth, must now decide whether to swap their unintentionally adopted sons for their biological ones.

But while Nobody Knows is the cinematic equivalent of listening to Radiohead on loop, Like Father Like Son is a tearjerker that also manages to be uplifting. A beautiful, restrained and tender portrait of parenthood's complexities, Kore-eda gently explores the familiar nature-versus-nurture motif, primarily through the paternal characters: one affluent father whose love for his son is overshadowed by his strict standards and workaholic tendencies, another working-class dad who compensates for his modest means by making family time a priority. As each wrestles with the prospect of losing the son they have invested so much in, a parallel journey of introspection subtly ensues for one of the men in particular, giving rise to questions and revelations about what familial bonds really mean.

For those who perceive relationships between Japanese parents and children to be constrained and unexpressive, this movie serves as a reassuring antidote to their misconception. The interactions between and within the families are playful, empathetic, and sensitive. Overflowing with warmth and compassion, Like Father Like Son will make your heart ache and sing at the same time.  

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