1. “The year in movies: Iron Man, Ted Cruz, race and power.” Andrew O’Hehir on the chaos of 2013, from Snowden to the shutdown to complex films about race relations.
“I don’t think it makes any sense at this point in history, if it ever did, to talk about “the year in movies” as if that could be divorced from any social or political context. Sure, some people are content to write year-end pieces from inside a self-referential bubble of empty symbolism, meaningless fluffery and puppet theater, devoid of any social meaning or relevance to ordinary people’s lives. And those are the political reporters! I’m here to talk about the serious stuff, like why Brad Pitt’s abolitionist-Canadian carpenter character in 12 Years a Slave has such amazing hair (and doesn’t sound anything like a Canadian). Answer: That question answers itself.”
2. “Spike Jonze’s Abandonment Issues.” Christine Smallwood on Her and how it isn’t a love story at all.
“He’s built a career on filming the body, and now, in his first original screenplay—the first feature he’s made that is wholly and completely a Spike Jonze production—one of the sexiest actresses in Hollywood is present only in her breathy tones. It looks like a change of direction—a new dream of freeing the mind from the physical world, of separating consciousness from the body. It’s an intriguing, if strangely old-fashioned, idea. Johansson’s voice creates a cocoon, or environment, that incubates the romance. Samantha and Theodore’s intimacy is more, not less, intense because Samantha is everywhere and nowhere, immediate and absent, emanating from inside Theodore’s head. Voice becomes a way to think about how we relate to our devices, not as objects that we manipulate manually but as co-consciousnesses that we create worlds with. But as the movie goes on, the solipsism of this idea becomes ever more apparent.”
3. “When 60 Minutes Checks Its Journalistic Skepticism at the Door.” David Carr on the show’s frequent and significant lapses into credulousness.
“Coming as it does on the heels of the now-discredited Benghazi report—in which 60 Minutes said it was fooled by an eyewitness who was apparently nothing of the kind—the N.S.A. segment raises the question of whether the program has not just temporarily lost its mojo, but its skepticism as well. It didn’t help that the day after the piece aired, a federal judge ruled that the agency’s program of collecting phone records was most likely unconstitutional.”
4. “Good Film, Extremely Bad Wolf.” Farran Smith Nehme answers a question raised by The Wolf of Wall Street: Will Jordan Belfort ever be forced to repay his victims?
“The movie’s addiction narrative is about money, and how it turns a middle-class kid into, well, Jordan Belfort. Money is a drug that corrupts and rushes in to fill a moral void. And while DiCaprio owns this movie—there’s scarcely a shot that doesn’t include either his face or his voice—most of the other characters are equally contemptible. It’s showcase Scorsese, the most sardonic entry yet in his cinematic rogues’ gallery.”
5. “The Elmore Leonard Paradox.” Why so many screen adaptations of the work of America’s most cinematic novelist are so bad—and what makes the exceptions, like TV’s Justified, so good.
“But more even than their content, it is the style of Leonard’s books that evokes the movies. In contrast with writers—and, in particular, crime writers—whose paragraphs bulge with physical detail, Leonard was, after Hemingway, perhaps America’s preeminent evangelist for literary concision. About half of the ’10 Rules for Writing’ that he offered to readers of the Detroit Free Press in 2010 are pleas for reduced verbiage, including: ’Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.’ Rich in dialogue; written in short, point-of-view chapters; and populated with recognizable yet idiosyncratic types—the ex-con trying to go straight, the wife or mistress who’s grown tired of her wealthy man—Leonard’s stories flow by in an easygoing cinematic wash. It is a testament to his efforts that his books are very nearly effortless to read.”
Video of the Day: Season three of Girls gets a second trailer:
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