Saturday, January 3, 2015

Art begets art. The movies and TV shows that influences me in 2014.

I saw many great movies and TV shows this past year. We went on epic space adventures together, uncovered secret organizations within the one we trusted the most, we got a feature-long, single shot, look behind the curtain of Hollywood film making. On a more weekly basis, we saw a man run faster than the speed of sound, a bright-eyed detective try and take on an entire city (including the police force), and later than most, I watched the story of a man who gave everything for his family only to learn how cruel and selfish he can be.

In case my vague descriptions of my favorite movies and TV shows weren't revealing enough, don't worry, I'll give more detailed breakdowns of all of them as I reflect back on this year's worth of entertainment and let you know how they effected me as a person and made me want to grow as an artist. A few of these properties may not be well known or widely liked, while others are major blockbuster hits, but they all effected me in different ways that make me want to be better and more involved in my life as well as contribute more art to this world. This medium of visual story-telling has been more than just an interest to me for quite some time now; impacting my daily life for nearly 5 years now. Although I don't have much to show for it (aside from a total of around 6 minutes worth of footage I made in high school), I've wanted to tell stories with film for a while now and have been doing massive amounts of research in the form of observing our entertainment world.

One of the greatest things an artist can do, is further the medium so that those who come later may continue to make better and better art. In my opinion, and taking into account all of the opinions that I have about the film industry and what makes something good or bad, these are my favorite things of the year:

Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
Guardians of the Galaxy.

The Flash.
Breaking Bad.

It's obvious that I'm a fan boy, in case you haven't read any of my previous posts, screaming with glee about the comic book properties that have entered the main stream of our media over the past 5 years or so. Therefore, I hope it's not too much to ask for you to excuse me while I geek out over these movies and TV show one last time. Thanks. Also, big time spoilers ahead. So if you don't want any spoilers, go watch these things, and then come back.

Interstellar. One of the late-comers of my year but certainly worth the wait. I haven't seen science fiction like in quite some time. It's the movie that revitalizes my interest in the space travel and exploration of the modern day. I've likened it to being the 2001: A Space Odyssey of my generation and I don't think that's much of a stretch. The realism of the travel and concepts applied by the characters raise so many questions in me about modern day science. This movie is a visual marvel to look at and behold. The effects and physics of this movie are stunning, as are many of Chris Nolan's other works. But this movie also has an Inception like heaviness and heady concept to wade through, which makes it compelling for me on a personal level. This movie becomes a journey that we take with the characters, rather than just being an inactive spectator.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Move over James Bond, you're not the only secret agent and master of espionage. The tonal difference of this movie from the American-dream loving and stars behind the eyes Captain America we saw back in 2011 is night and day. Marvel Studios took what was one of the cheesiest characters in the first tier of Marvel comics and turned him into a conflicted, tortured soul grappling with disagreeing with the way his government operates. It was a telling tell for Mr. Steve Rogers and an adventurous tale for us all to witness. Filled with lots of action and over the top wide-shots, the scale and enormity of this movie is breath taking. For me, this is one of those movies that opens up more concepts that superhero movie can tackle and widening the net for the future. In a genre that people say the market will become over saturated with over the course of the next 5-10 years, this isn't a by the numbers superhero movie by any stretch of the imagination.

Birdman. I'll start his write up off by saying, if you haven't seen this movie and you have any vested interest in the the film making world or art form: see it. This is one of those movies I mentioned previously that has furthered the art form of making movies and made me want to go out and try it for myself. This movie pushes the boundaries of what movies can look like, what they can feel like and truly inspires me. In case you haven't heard, the movie is made to look like one continuous shot. Much in the same vein as Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, which many said was a failure. Sticking with the motif, there are some time-lapses, because the movie takes place over the course of about a week, but other than that it's composed of nearly one shot. The thing I found most intriguing about the movie is that I really had never considered how Micheal Keaton, as an actor, paved the way for all of the superhero movies we're so used to. This isn't a subtle undertone shrouded in metaphors, they come right out and say it. It's a great revitalization role for Micheal, and one of my favorites of the year.

Guardians of the Galaxy. I know this is at the top of many people's "best of" or "fan favorite" lists for the year, and I've already fellated it enough in a previous blog post. But I just want to touch on it one last time and remind you all that "We Are Groot." The emotional strings that this movie tugs at gets me every time, especially after having gone through a similar situation as Peter in losing his mother. Without being (too) cheesy, I just wanted to applaud this movie on showing us how coming together as friends can really change the course of someone's life. So thank you to the Guardians, and to all of MY guardians. Thanks. Also, the thing that makes this movie so fun is it was willing to put the color back into space movies and take it out of the sterile environment we're used to seeing when we go to space.

Gotham. I've known for quite some time now that Jim Gordon is one of the most badass comic book characters that wears a badge. I've been sold ever since the first time I read Batman: Year One and got my first inside look at the personal struggles of a police officer trying to make a difference in Gotham City. This show has a really good balance of comic book detective work, surrounded by hints to the all of the artifacts and figureheads in the Batman mythology. I watch it with my girlfriend, who most of the references are lost on, and she thoroughly enjoys as a detective show with strong, compelling characters and I lose my mind when they mention "venom" or show little, frizzy-haired Pamela Isley. The show's dark, as it should be, but not just in content, it's shot in a way that makes you feel the dread of the city our characters are trying to change.

The Flash. Now to the complete opposite of Gotham. This show is one of the most fun things I've watched all year on a weekly basis; it's light, fun, and kinda campy. But the most compelling reason I've heard praise is that the characters in the show are like us (the fan boys). Barry and Cisco are constantly fawning over how cool the crime-fighting they do is, and giving code names to bad guys and secret lairs. It's like when we were kids and we would play superheroes together on the playground and name people and places very obvious names that were good enough for us. The C.G.I. in the show is really great, I love the way they make The Flash move and react with his environment. My personal favorite thing is about how Barry is so well adjusted. He's had terrible things happen to him in the past, and he's processed his emotional weight and moved on the best way he can. Sure, he may be a little obsessive about the mysteries of his past at times, but that's what we do when terrible, unexplained things happen.

Breaking Bad. I know I'm way late to the party on this one, but I can't let it go by without commenting. This fucking show. I'd never gotten further than a few episodes past the first season until later this year, then I became obsessed. If there's one thing I cannot get over, it's that the writing on the show and the character development make me question my morals because I'm cheering for certain characters for reasons I can't explain, despite them doing awful and terrible things. This is a show about intentions and interests. I think that's what I've gotten out of it in the 24 hours since I've watched the finale. There were certain characters I've cheered for since the beginning and characters who I've hated since the beginning. Somehow I was able to discount all of the personal changes that these (fictional) people went through over the course of the show and still have a flag to wave in Walt's corner at the end of the show.
I can't explain it, because these characters motivations, intentions and actions are so complicated and convoluted. But the thing that I enjoyed most about the finale is that Walt was finally able to admit to himself and to Skylar that he didn't just do it for his family, that he did it for himself. That seems like a weird point for me to make, but I've been through something like that before, where I told myself and everybody that I was doing something for others and by the end I realized it was more for my sake than what I was telling everybody. Sometimes we're selfish, we don't mean to be, we don't start out trying to only influence our lives for the better. I know that I've really set out to help people before, but by the end I wanted to follow through with the task to make myself feel better. That's the thing that gets me so invested in this show and these characters, is my ability to relate to them, even though what they're going through is completely fantastical to me. That's why they're so compelling and why I enjoyed the show so much. Not to mention, as someone who considers myself a visual story-teller and a visual learner, the simplicity in the cinematography of the show is astounding. This show displays the stories we form behind inanimate objects and the things that they represent in our life in such a natural way.  That's why as a work of art, Breaking Bad inspires me.

That's what this post is really about, not to be just another year end list or list of accomplishments that we all got in the form of a Christmas letter this year. But for me it expresses my growth as a consumer of media and potential creator of some one day. These are the things I consume and enjoy and mull over to draw inspiration or learn life lessons from. That might sound weird, to pull literal lessons from fictional stories, but it's true. This is how I interact with my environment and learn (good and bad) examples of how to treat and interact with other people. These are the stories that stick with me and teach me things about how the world works, because as I've learned, the world is a terrible place that can get us down if we let it. It's going to keep knocking us down and trying to make us quit, but I draw strength from the stories I read and watch, because I'm trying to learn how to make it in this world just like everybody else.

I hope you all had a great New Year's, and I look forward to the prospect of a new year. I guess I'll see what art I can make and what art will influence me this year.

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