Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Best Movies of 2013

So, in preparing my list for 2013, there are some movies that I’ve ranked much lower than those preferred by the critics and awards-givers.  But that’s the benefit of having my own list…I don’t have to worry about what they say.
Kudos go out to a few actors this year who gave good performances in multiple movies.  They include Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips,” “Saving Mr. Banks”), Sandra Bullock (“The Heat,” “Gravity”), Carey Mulligan (“The Great Gatsby,” “Inside Llewyn Davis”), Jennifer Lawrence (“The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” “American Hustle”), Channing Tatum (“Side Effects,” “White House Down”), Scarlet Johansson (“Don Jon,” “Her”), Max Casella (“Blue Jasmine,” “Inside Llewyn Davis”), Rooney Mara (“Side Effects,” “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” “Her”), Brie Larson ("The Spectacular Now," Don Jon," "Short Term 12"), Benedict Cumberbatch (“Star Trek Into Darkness,” “12 Years a Slave,” “August: Osage County”), and the ubiquitous Amy Adams (“Man of Steel,” “American Hustle,” “Her”).

Now, those of you who know me and/or have read my list before, probably realize a few things about my movie preferences:

  1. My favorite movies have both a good plot and well-developed characters.  Unfortunately, not enough of today’s films possess those characteristics—there are a lot of good plots with no real characters, and there are just as many movies about characters with hardly any plot.
  2. I don’t like movies about nasty people doing awful things to each other.  I find those movies neither entertaining nor possessing any redeeming social value, so I leave them off my list.
  3. I enjoy movies that either entertain me and/or in some way uplift me.  I get plenty of reality in my daily life, so I don’t need to pay to watch it on screen.
  4. I don’t watch a lot of animated films because, let’s face it, how many times can you watch a talking rodent, even if he is somewhat humorous?  I figure I paid my dues in the animation department when Alex was young, so unless a film is in some other way outstanding, I skip the cartoons.
  5. I don’t include documentaries on my list, because comparing them to scripted and acted films is like the proverbial “apples to oranges.”
  6. I’m a writer, so I tend to like films where the script is fresh and interesting, but I’m also a guy, so I like well-made action films.
  7. I’m not invited to free movie screenings, nor do I get to meet the casts or directors.  I’m just a person who likes movies, pays to see them like everyone else, and writes about the ones he likes.

Now that we’ve cleared all of that up, I want to point out that as I see additional movies from 2013, I may add them to this list.  So, while it started as the 30 best movies, it may end up with several more.  Here it is—my list of the Best Movies of 2013, in inverse order:

34.    Inside Llewyn Davis
This is a movie about a fairly interesting character, but there is no real plot, so it appears on my list, but at the bottom.  Oscar Isaac does a fine job with the lead role in this Coen Brothers film, and he is well-supported by performances by Carey Mulligan, John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, and Max Casella.  But the film goes nowhere, other than painting a portrait of a fairly unlikeable person.  If you enjoy acoustic folk music, you’ll probably want to see this film somewhere with a good sound system.

33.    Man of Steel
So, I’m a sucker for Superman movies.  What I liked about this one was that it didn’t try to do too much…it just told the Superman story in an interesting way.  I also liked how it reimagined Lois Lane as a kickass Amy Adams.  Zach Snyder’s direction wasn’t perfect, but it reigned in a high-powered cast (including Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, and Laurence Fishburne) into (if this is possible) a little movie about a larger-than-life superhero.

32.    World War Z
While we’re on the subject of reimagining, director Marc Forster put together a film, loosely based on the Max Brooks novel, that added new elements to a tired genre by making the Zombies fast and the protagonists (including Brad Pitt) smart.  The character development was less than outstanding, but it was still fun and interesting to watch.

31.    American Hustle
I’m putting this movie on my list because of the performances by Amy Adams and Christian Bale.  However, in terms of the other two leads, Jennifer Lawrence overacted, and Bradley Cooper was terrible.  Nevertheless, it tells the true, albeit highly fictionalized, tale of the Abscam scandal of 1978.  It is directed by David O. Russell, who gets lost in the backstories, and as a result, the narrative flow suffers.  However, it ties together well in the end, and there are a few dark comedic turns along the way.

30.    White House Down
You might be tempted to laugh at this selection, but I laughed with it.  This Roland Emmerich-directed movie is a blatant rip-off of “Die Hard,” “Air Force One,” and a slew of other action-comedy films.  But it’s fun to watch, and the buddy chemistry is apparent between Jamie Foxx and Channing Tatum, not to mention Maggie Gyllenhaal, Richard Jenkins, James Woods, and a bunch of other actors who really appeared to enjoy making this very entertaining movie.

29.    Blue Jasmine
This Woody Allen-written/directed film is one of those movies that are all about the characters without much plot.  However, the acting by Cate Blanchett is Oscar-worthy, and because of that, I included it on my list.  Her performance is pitch perfect, as is her WASPy American accent, and her character is very well-developed.  While not one of Woody’s best, it still warrants a mention here.

28.    Before Midnight
Let me start by saying that this movie—the third in a long-term series, was not nearly so good as its predecessors—“Before Sunrise” and “Before Sunset.”  However, as the conclusion (or seeming conclusion) of this Richard Linklater trilogy, it had enough interesting moments to make my list.  Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy reprise the roles they first invented in 1995, and bring some sense of closure, however uncomfortable, to the saga of their characters’ intertwined lives.

27.    The Wolf of Wall Street
Remember how I said earlier that I don’t like movies about nasty people doing awful things to each other?  Well, this is one of those movies…and it lasts for three hours.  It’s on my list for one reason…Leonardo DiCaprio, who proved with this role that his time has come.  This was a bravura performance from beginning to end, as a character that made you love him and hate him at the same time.  Add in his amazing physical performance (he spent nearly the entire movie drunk, high, or both), and you have a performance that is my hands-down favorite for the Academy Award (even if the high-minded voters don’t give it to him).

26.    The Dallas Buyers Club
Set in 1985, as the AIDS epidemic began reaching a crisis, this movie, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, is a tender portrayal of one man’s journey from a straight stud who contracts the virus (from a prostitute) to a benevolent caregiver who is trying to bring relief, through medication, to thousands of AIDS patients.  The lead character, played  beautifully by Matthew McConaughey, develops a close relationship with another patient, in an Oscar-worthy performance by Jared Leto.  The antagonist in this film, written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, is the government, which doesn’t want medications to be widely distributed before they have been fully tested and approved through a lengthy process controlled by the medical establishment—all this while patients continued to die at a rapid pace.  Although the film bogs down at times, it is still a worthwhile two hours.

25.    Iron Man 3
The first “Iron Man” movie in 2008 was one of the better Marvel superhero movies, as director Jon Favreau gave Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow a free rein to create interesting characters, and their chemistry was palpable.  The second installment (2010) suffered a bit from sequelitis, so I feared for number 3.  But while sticking with the same two, very talented actors (plus Don Cheadle), they shook things up by having this film written by Drew Pearce and Shane Black and directed by Black.  Favreau stuck around as executive producer while reprising his acting role, and the cast was bolstered by the performances of Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley.  It worked, as once again the franchise seemed fresh, and the film was fun to watch. 

24.    42
It seems like every year produces one, good, sports movie, and 42 is that.  But Brian Helgeland’s film is also about the civil rights struggle, as it tells the story of Jackie Robinson (played by Chadwick Boseman) breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier.  Nitpickers will point out that some of the facts are off, but who cares?  The film is a surprisingly affective portrayal of a difficult time for African American athletes.  It also featured excellent performances by Nicole Beharie as Rachel Robinson (Jackie’s wife) and Harrison Ford (who appeared in four movies this year) in an outstanding portrayal of Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers executive who ushered in a new era of professional sports.

23.    Star Trek Into Darkness
In this, the second installment of JJ Abrams’s Star Trek prequels, I really enjoyed how this film built on the characters Abrams established in the first film while beginning to show how they will eventually grow into the larger-than-life crew of the Starship Enterprise.  The plot, although on the light side, kept me interested enough to pay attention to the actors, most of whom were reprising roles they first played in 2009, and who were joined in this film by Benedict Cumberbatch and Alice Eve, among others.  There’s a certain quality to this new franchise that I enjoy in each installment.

22.    August: Osage County
Now, you might think that a film starring Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Juliette Lewis, Ewan McGregor, Dermot Mulroney, Sam Shepard, Julianne Nicholson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Margo Martindale, and Abigail Breslin would be ranked higher, especially because it is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play that was transferred to the screen by its playwright, Tracy Letts.  But John Wells’s direction seems to bog down this otherwise brilliant ensemble.  Also, the stage convention of having all of the secrets exposed in the last 20 minutes is less effective on film.  Nevertheless, this movie is worth seeing, if for no other reason than watching the interplay between the lead characters, played by Streep and Roberts—reaffirming them both as outstanding screen actors.

21.    The Bling Ring
This is a movie you’re not likely to forget, because in making it, Sofia Coppola crafted a very disturbing film that tells the true story of a group of high school students who broke into and stole from the homes of several Hollywood celebrities.  But really, it’s about how our celebrity-oriented culture messes with the minds of children and young adults.  I won’t go into greater detail for fear of ruining the all-too-true but remarkably unsettling ending of a story that would have been much harder to believe when I was a teenager.  I’ll only say that the excellent performances by Emma Watson and a few other rising stars, complemented by Ms. Coppola’s directorial choices, make this a movie worth watching.

20.    About Time
In addition to superhero movies, I admit to having a fondness for time-travel adventures, and this movie, directed by Richard Curtis (who also directed “Love Actually”), puts a whole new spin on time travel, because its lead character, played by Domhnall Gleeson has inherited a family trait (also shared by his father, played by Bill Nighy) that enables him to will himself back to any previous moment in his life.  At first, it seems a little like “Groundhog Day,” as he keeps correcting the past so he can end up with a woman played by Rachel McAdams, but he eventually learns that every slight difference in the past can have major impacts on the future, and so, if he doesn’t want to take a chance by messing up a major aspect of his life, he has to choose the points to which he’s no longer willing to return.  It’s like Doc Brown in “Back to the Future” said, “the results…could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum” (I told you I like time-travel adventures).  In any event, what is remarkable about this film is the tenderness with which the lead character treats his love and family relationships, and that’s what makes it so endearing.

19.    The East
Co-written by director Zal Batmanglij and star Brit Marling, this is a movie about an operative (played by Marling) with a private firm that provides intelligence for large corporate clients about eco-terrorist groups.  She is sent to work undercover with one of these groups, whose members include characters played by Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, and Aldis Hodge.  Also featured are performances by Patricia Clarkson, Jason Ritter and Julia Ormond, in what can best be described as a thriller with a conscience.  This is a movie that I added after I originally posted the list, having seen it on blu-ray.  I can’t say much more about the plot without spoiling it, but it is a very thoughtful examination of both sides of a complicated issue, and it is worth seeing.

18.    Side Effects
This Steven Soderbergh film was released back in January, so it’s easy to forget it was a 2013 film, but it was, and it is a very good movie about our society’s overdependence on psychopharmaceutical prescriptions.  It also happens to be a very effective thriller that stars Channing Tatum, Rooney Mara, Jude Law, and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and keeps you on the edge of your seat with notable twists and turns.  Soderbergh creates a weave of intrigue through his filming techniques combined with a well-written script by Scott Z. Burns.  It’s one of those films that combines plot and characters quite effectively.

17.    Fruitvale Station
This film, written and directed by Ryan Coogler, tells the true story of 22-year-old Oscar Grant III, who was shot and killed by Bay Area Transit Police, early on New Year’s Day, 2009.  It begins with an actual smartphone video of the shooting and then tells the story of the events of the day before—events that led up to the shooting.  This is a film that shows what a good director can do with an interesting story, well-developed characters, and fine acting by a cast that includes Michael B. Jordan, Melonie Diaz, and Octavia Spencer.  The movie starts at a somewhat leisurely pace, but that pace and the tension surrounding it build as the story unfolds.

16.    The Spectacular Now
This is one that I added after I first published my list.  I had wanted to see this film, directed by James Ponsoldt, when it came out early in the year, but I missed it and only saw it recently on pay-per-view.  Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, it is a beautiful, coming-of-age film about two high school seniors, played magnificently by Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, who come from difficult households and who begin as strangers, despite sharing classes.  He's an extrovert on the border of alcoholism, while she's an introvert who has had little experience with relationships.  They somehow find and help each other while learning to take control of their lives.  It's a little story but it is well-crafted, and there is something about it that leaves the viewer wanting more.  It would be nice to see where these characters end up in a few years, and I hope we get the chance to do so.

15.    Rush
Written by Peter Morgan and directed by Ron Howard, this film tells the true story of Niki Lauder (played by Daniel Bruhl), the Formula One Racing World Champion, and his courageous battle to live and return to racing after suffering life-threatening burns in a crash.  His situation and personality are positioned in contrast to those of his chief rival, James Hunt (played by Chris Hemsworth), whose lifestyle and approach were very different from those of Lauder, while their rivalry propelled both men to succeed.  At first, I had thought this movie would be cliché, so I passed on seeing it in the theaters and waited for it to become available through on-demand.  I was wrong to do so, because it's a wonderful story of a kind of odd friendship between two very different and somewhat unlikeable people.  Ron Howard generally makes good movies, and this is one of them.

14.    Her
You can think of this as “Pygmalion” for the digital age.  It initially presents itself as a somewhat whimsical, futuristic tale of a man who develops a relationship and eventually falls in love with his operating system.  But it’s much more than that because while the man (played outstandingly by Joaquin Phoenix) is essentially staying in one place, seemingly content to relish his new (albeit unorthodox) love, the operating system (voiced by Scarlet Johansson) is constantly learning, growing, and experiencing.  In addition, director Spike Jonze creates some outstanding visual images while developing a futuristic setting that is similar to but different from our current world, even down to the types of clothing the characters wear.  The script, which Jonze wrote, is often brilliant, but occasionally mundane.  I realize he did this intentionally to make it sound like a real relationship, but it tends to bog down the pace, which is why I didn’t it give a higher ranking.  Nevertheless, this is a movie that begs to be seen.

13.    The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
I like the “Hunger Games” franchise, and I really liked this installment, which is deeper and better developed than the initial film.  Based on the book and series by Suzanne Collins, director Francis Lawrence demonstrates an ability to pull complex performances out of this excellent cast, headed again by Jennifer Lawrence (no relationship to the director).  What is mistakenly viewed by many as a series just for teens is at times dark and brooding, and at other times reminiscent of Nazi Germany.  Along the way, the characters are forced to make difficult, life-and-death decisions, but through it all, there is a sense of honor and rebellion against tyranny.  The sequel-style ending is somewhat unsettling, but make no mistake…this is a good movie.

12.    Don Jon
Initially, this film, which is written, directed by, and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, seems like an examination of the seedy underside of internet pornography.  But as the story moves along, it’s apparent that it’s really about the confusion that many young males feel about their sexual place in society.  Are they supposed to be the Don Juan (as the title’s play on words surmises) that society has often glamorized, or is there a real role for them as sexual beings within a loving relationship?  This movie examines those questions and the journey of one young man to find answers, even if he thinks he already has those answers.  While it’s fun to see Tony Danza play the lead character’s father, the real heavy lifting in this film is done by Scarlet Johansson and Julianne Moore, who represent vastly different roles on the spectrum of modern womanhood.  Overall, Gordon-Levitt has shown amazing potential as a writer-director of his first, full-length film.

11.    The Conjuring
Most home-possession, horror films are formulaic, badly filmed, and poorly acted pieces of crap.  Notable exceptions to this rule are “The Amityville Horror” (1979) and “Poltergeist” (1982).  But both of those movies are more than 30 years old, and since then, there has been a dearth of quality films from this sub-genre…until “The Conjuring.”  What makes this film different is that it is positioned as the true story of Ed and Elaine Warren (played expertly by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), real-life ghostbusters who rid homes of demonic possession and keep souvenirs from each adventure.  The family whose home is being haunted is headed by a down-to-Earth couple played very well by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor.  Now, you may be thinking, like all sane people who watch home possession movies, “Why don’t they just get the hell out of there?”  This movie answers that question by making the haunting about the family, not just the house, so leaving does not fix the problem, but rather it exacerbates that problem.   In other words, this film handles the topic intelligently, and manages to be scary without resorting to the typical, jump-out-at-you, horror tricks.  If you’ve been looking for a good horror film, try this one.

10.      Captain Phillips
Unless you are really young, or you had your head in the sand, you can recall the story of the real-life ordeal faced by Captain Richard Phillips and the Maersk Alabama, the first American cargo ship to be hijacked in two hundred years.  And you probably remember how it ends.  It doesn’t matter, because much as he did with “United 93” in 2006, director Paul Greengrass builds the tension and pacing of this movie as the story progresses.  So, from a plot perspective, the film is almost a documentary.  What makes it interesting is how the movie develops and pits against each other the two captains, played by Tom Hanks (who is just a marvelous actor) and Barkhad Abdi (in his first movie role).  The cat-and-mouse game between these two headstrong men is what kept me glued to my seat.

9.      The Way Way Back
We’ve all seen coming-of-age films, and we can recall a slew of movies about dysfunctional families, and of course, you can likely list a number of stories filmed at amusement parks of one kind or another.  But this may be the first film I can think of that combines all three of these sub-genres.  That’s right, it’s a movie about a boy from a dysfunctional family, who comes of age mostly at an amusement park—well, to be precise, a water park (to be more precise, Water Wizz, a real water park actually located in Wareham, MA).   And the most surprising aspect is that it’s a really good movie.  Directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash started with a good script (that they wrote) and hired an outstanding cast that includes Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Maya Rudolph, Rob Corddry, Amanda Peet, and Sam Rockwell (in one of his movie-stealing performances).  What emerges is an occasionally funny but often poignant tale of growing up under difficult circumstances.

8.      Short Term 12
Watching this film, I couldn't help but remember when I first started to notice independent films, long before Harvey Weinstein and others hijacked the term.  This movie reminds me of those films.  Brilliantly written and directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, this film stars Brie Larson and John Gallagher Jr., as two adults overseeing a housing facility for at-risk teens.  As the movie unfolds, you learn about their pasts (particularly that of Larson's character) that led them to their current situation.  This is a movie with heart and soul that made me think and feel about each of its characters.  It also establishes Brie Larson as a rising star.  I just saw it after it was released on DVD, and I urge you to see it.

7.      Nebraska
Alexander Payne has a knack for directing oddly sensitive movies (“Sideways,” “About Schmidt”) that put people in and out of somewhat uncomfortable situations.  He is also expert at drawing out compelling performances, such as the ones given by Bruce Dern and Will Forte in this black-and-white beauty of a film.  In it, Bruce Dern’s character is an older alcoholic at the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease who believes that a magazine offer promising him one million dollars means that he only has to travel from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize.  Although realizing that the offer is simply a come-on to get Dern’s character to buy magazines, his son, played by Will Forte, eventually agrees to drive him to Lincoln.  On the way, they stop in the town where they used to live, and they experience the celebrity and envy that can come with supposed wealth.  Written by Bob Nelson, this is a wonderfully directed, acted, and filmed movie.

6.      The Butler
Directed by Lee Daniels, this film tells the story of Cecil Gaines (played by Forest Whitaker), a fictional butler who served in the White House during the administrations of multiple presidents, beginning in the 1950s.  However, the movie uses this device to trace the roots and development of the Civil Rights movement, and how African Americans from different backgrounds and generations viewed the tactics of different groups involved in that struggle.  As a white American who was alive during most of that movement, I found it incredibly interesting how the film demonstrated that, as different methods were tried and tested, each met with both support and resistance from various elements of the population intended to benefit from the results.  I also liked the portrayal of different presidents and their levels of sensitivity to the people who surrounded them every day.  Gaines’s personal story, as written by Craig Brewer, was also bolstered by supporting performances by Oprah Winfrey, David Banner, Terrence Howard, and a slew of other talented, well-known actors.

5.      Philomena
Stephen Frears directed this exquisite movie, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope, based on a book by Martin Sixsmith.  It’s about a woman who seeks the help of a burnt-out journalist to locate the son who was taken from her decades ago in the Magdelene institutions run by the Catholic church in Ireland.  I have to admit that I went to the theater expecting a typically slow, British film, but I walked out impressed by the story, the acting , the flow, and especially, the interactions between the two lead characters, played marvelously by Dench and Coogan (who is more known for his over-the-top comedic roles).  It’s not what you expect, even as those expectations change throughout the film, but it is simultaneously tender and infuriating.  I’m sure this will soon be on pay-per-view and Netflix, so if you haven’t seen it, be sure to do so.

4.      In a World…
In a world where the Golden Globes try to convince us that “American Hustle,” “Her,” “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Nebraska,” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” are comedies, the best actual comedy of 2013 was “In a World….”  Written, starring, and directed by Lake Bell, this is a humorous portrayal of the shady underside of the voiceover profession.  In it, Bell plays the daughter of a voiceover legend, played outstandingly by Fred Melamed (whom you will recognize instantly if not for his previous movie roles than for his voice).  Bell, who has acted in several films and TV shows, enlisted the help of her friends in this, her first full-length feature film.  Fortunately for the viewers, those friends include Rob Corddry, Eva Longoria, Demitri Martin, Nick Offerman, Ken Marino, and Gena Davis.  This is a well-made, interesting, funny, and touching film about family dynamics and a small slice of the entertainment industry that we experience every day but to which we rarely pay attention.

3.      12 Years a Slave
Chiwetel Ejiofor (a great actor with an unfortunate name) stars as Solomon Northup, a free black man who is hoodwinked and sold into slavery, in this brilliant film directed by Steve McQueen (who also directed “Shame” and “Hunger”).  Based on a true story as originally written by Northup himself, and transferred to a screenplay by John Ridley, this is a gut-wrenching, personal portrayal of life as a slave, primarily on a plantation owned by a character played convincingly by Michael Fassbender.  The other supporting performances are just as convincing, particularly those by Lupita Nyong'o, Dwight Henry and Adepero Oduye, who portray characters born into slavery.  While attempting to intellectually and viscerally convey the helplessness and confinement of slavery, the film is occasionally too focused on the life of one talented and educated man and less inclusive of the suffering of slaves outside of the tiny sphere in which Northup has to survive.  Nonetheless, it is a well-made and finely acted movie about a time in America that should be regularly revisited.

2.      Saving Mr. Banks
One would think a film about the making of the movie, “Mary Poppins” would be a light, humorous, romp through the Disney time machine.  That’s not the case.  Instead, what we have is an examination of the difficult and unpleasant events in the life of P.L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins books (player perfectly by the always amazing Emma Thompson) that led her to eventually create this character, in part to overcome the scars of her Australian childhood.  Pit that determined woman against the character of Walt Disney himself (played by Tom Hanks), and the movie presents a clash of wills and the eventual process that was required to get “Mary Poppins” onto the silver screen.  The script by Kelly Marcel and Sue Smith draws on actual recordings made by the creative team during the movie-making process, and the direction by John Lee Hancock is right on the money.  Add in fine supporting performances by Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell, Ruth Wilson, Kathy Baker, and Rachel Griffiths, and you have a movie that combines good storytelling with great characters to make you sing, laugh, cry, and want to see it again.

1.      Gravity
What Alfonso Cuarón accomplished with this film is no less than mind-blowing.  He created a drama that envelopes you in a three-dimensional vision of space while making you feel the way you might in zero gravity.  Add to that a story about a broken person (played by Sandra Bullock) trying to survive in immensely difficult circumstances, even if she’s not sure she wants to survive.  Some criticize it by saying there is no way the character would have lived through all the hardships she faced.  But get real folks…it’s a movie.  If the lead character died after 20 minutes, would you go to see it?  If it makes you feel better, assume that 20 other people in similar situations died and that this film is about the exception.  Then you can focus on what makes this movie outstanding—the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, the score by Steven Price, the editing by Cuarón and Mark Sanger, the acting by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and the vision, skill, and guts of Alfonso Cuarón to put it all together into a film that is so powerful and absorbing that you leave the theater feeling exhausted, almost like you went through it yourself.  This is what filmmaking is supposed to be about…losing yourself for 91 minutes in the fantastic vacuum of space, only to fall to Earth before exiting the theater.  I don’t know about you, but that’s why I go to the movies.