Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Best: The Catholic Skywalker Awards 2013

With 2013 coming to a close, it is time for us to choose what the best entertainment of the year was.  And just as the Academy Awards have their "Oscars", so too the Catholic Skywalker Awards have their "Kal-El's"

Now, you may be wondering why a blog called Catholic Skywalker would choose a Superman statue as it's award, and not something from Star Wars.   The reasons are 3-fold:

1.  The Catholic Skywalker Awards will cover movies, television, and comic books.  Superman is an icon for all three.
2.  The pose he has here, revealing his inner hero, is symbolic of the revelation of truth and beauty that we should find in all good art.
3.  It's a statue I actually own, so I can use this photo on my blog.

We have actually had a number of very good movies in theaters.  When I started doing my movie reviews on this blog, I feared that most of the articles would be me pointing out the flaws I saw.  Instead I was delighted to find that most of the movies I went to see kept me entertained and emotionally connected (except for the amazingly dreadful Upstream Color, one of the few movies that I just could not finish, and I finished Holy Motors!).  

Regardless, I have gone through as many movies as possible this year. There were several that I missed and so was unable to place. So of the movies  I've seen this year, here are the winners:

(My appreciation and judgment of a film should not be taken as a recommendation. Choosing to watch any of these films is the reader's responsibility)


Man of Steel

I know this will be a controversial choice, seeing as how critics and moviegoers are divided on this, but I remain adamant: Man of Steel was the best movie of 2013. Reboots and retellings are always difficult, especially when you have a story that has been told over and over again in so many different artistic mediums. But director Zack Snyder and producer Christopher Nolan have made Superman feel fresh and new again. There have been a lot of complaints about how angsty this new movie is, devoid of the fun found in Iron Man and The Avengers. But those are unfair comparisons. Man of Steel tries to bring this character of extraordinary power and virtue to a world that feels as real as possible. Snyder employed the shakey-cam method (the movie's biggest drawback) and a hard lighting scheme to make the film feel more grounded in reality than anything else I've seen Snyder do. The performances are top notch, with Henry Cavill owning the cape and tights, Amy Adams as the best written and performed Lois Lane I've seen, a scenery-chewing Zod from Michael Shannon, and the wearily paternal turn of Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent. And the movie soars as a spectacle of action. This is the Superman movie I've been waiting to see, something that visually matches my imagination. And thematically, the movie is rich with imagery and motifs regarding faith, free-will, morality, and the like. And then the movie has smaller, quieter moments, as when Jonathan watches his son play in the fields and you get the sense that all fathers must have: that their child has greatness within them. And it is in those moments that the movie truly touches the heart.

Gravity – Unlike any film I have seen. Astonishing in its visuals.
World War Z – I was as surprised as anyone with how smart, scary, and cool this film was.
The Wolverine – The best movie for this character yet. A grim, but well constructed action film
The Way, Way Back – a small movie with a big heart that is honest in showing the pain of growing up surrounded but alone.

Alfonso Cuaron – Gravity

There is one reason why this spot did not go to Zack Snyder, and that is because Alfonso Cuaron made a visual experience like none other in Gravity. I was mesmerized by the cinematography that had to be developed over several years. He makes space feel at once claustrophobic and an infinite nightmare abyss. All of this he does while gliding his camera with seemingly little effort to capture the action and the character. The visuals truly are beautiful and scary. And he uses the edits so effectively that his long takes feel like plunging underwater and holding your breath. But his film grabs you for its brief 90 minutes until its final, powerful last image that stays with you long after the movie is over.


Zack Snyder – Man of Steel
Ben Stiller – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
David O. Russell – American Hustle
Peter Jackson – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Christian Bale – American Hustle

This character is a far cry from his Academy Award winning turn as a crack addict in The Fighter. Bale is at his best here as Rosenfeld. He completely takes on the persona of a low-rent con man, with all of the tacky trappings. He is overweight and balding and looks like a low-life if ever there was one.  If that had been all to his performance, that wouldn't be much.  But Bale takes us past that exterior as Rosenfeld sinks into the quicksand around him.  You can see his desperation as he starts running out of choices and all the ones he has left are bad.  In the second half of the movie, he really grabs you through his eyes with every meaningful, potent glance.

Hugh Jackman – The Wolverine
Martin Freeman – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Joseph Gordon-Leavitt – Don Jon
Robert Downey Jr. - Iron Man 3

Sandra Bullock – Gravity

Watching the first half of Gravity, I paid more attention to the daring visuals than to the performances. And in that first half, lead actress Sandra Bullock's performance was acceptable and fine, but nothing to write home about.  But about halfway through, she focuses her talent and her skill to give one of the most viscerally emotional performances I have seen on screen.  It is, without a doubt, the best performance of her career. Her emotion, especially her fear, is palpable. But when this gives way to the aching sadness in her heart, we feel a depth deeper than the cold space that surrounds her. Towards the end, she makes an emotional appeal for someone to pray for her soul and a somber statement that no one ever taught her how to do it. In those moments she holds the mirror up to our nature and shows our true helplessness without the Divine. I was so deeply moved, which is why she earned this spot.

Amy Adams – Man of Steel
Amy Acker – Much Ado About Nothing
Jennifer Lawrence – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Shailiene Woodly – The Spectacular Now

Sam Rockwell – The Way, Way Back

The Way, Way Back is the story about a very young teen trying to survive a blended family drama. But Sam Rockwell owns this movie. His character Owen charms his way into your graces from his first moments on screen, so that you are as gravitationally drawn to him. Rather than simply covering himself up with layers of cool, Rockwell shows you with his performance that he obviously cares deeply about others, though he covers it with aloof humor.  This is the most charismatic I have ever seen Rockwell, who embodies the kind of cool mentor/friend that we all wish we had when we were young. And Rockwell does not play him as a man with all of the answers, but simply as someone who believes that if you really care, your instincts can't be too far off.

Bradley Cooper – American Hustle
Jeremy Renner – American Hustle
Kevin Costner – Man of Steel
Michael Shannon – Man of Steel

Amy Adams – American Hustle

I've said already that Amy Adams is the best onscreen Lois Lane I've seen in this year's Man of Steel. But it is her performance in American Hustle that gets the Best Supporting Actress award. Amy Adams is fantastic as a smart woman who gets trapped in her own lies. As I noted in my review, her Sydney takes on a British persona "Lady Edith Greensley," and she slips in and out of her accent throughout the film.  At first I thought this was a flub, but then I realized what Adams was doing.  Her character can no longer tell what thoughts of hers are real and what are the fictions she's invented. She begins to lose track of who she was.  As her relationship strains with her partner and lover, her mutual attraction with the domineering FBI Agent DiMasso grows, but you can never tell if is real or a hustle. And the brilliance of the performance is that Adams shows you that Sydney can't tell either.

Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
Julianne Moore – Don Jon
Jenna Malone – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Rila Fukushima – The Wolverine

Nat Faxon and Jim Rash – The Way, Way Back

Oscar winners Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have written a script that feels alive and honest. How many of us as teens felt so alienated from everyone except our closest friends?  Duncan cries to Owen about the water park "This is the only place I'm happy."  The script captures that innate human desire to know and be known. And it shows the dangers of parents abdicating their roles as the adults and acting like adolescents. One of the most touching moments for me was when Duncan's mom finally begins to understand her son's life outside of the house, which she has completely missed because of her selfish hedonism. The dialogue is poignant and witty, often at the same time, without ever feeling heavy-handed or preachy.

Eric Singer and David O. Russell – American Hustle
Alfonso and Jonas Cuaron - Gravity
David S. Goyer – Man of Steel

The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

WETA once again demonstrates why they are the master of make-up effects, filling their world with enhancements that are both fantastic and subtle.

World War Z
Thor: The Dark World
Star Trek Into Darkness

Man of Steel

As I wrote above, the movie uses every special effects trick available to bring to life the fully imagined power of Superman

The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug
World War Z
Thor: The Dark World
Star Trek Into Darkness

Hans Zimmer – Man of Steel

He had the unenviable task of competing with the irreplaceable John Williams' score. But Zimmer filled his work with swelling, mythic heroism and delicate, heartbreaking melody.

Howard Shore – The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Steven Price – Gravity
Joss Whedon – Much Ado About Nothing
Michael Gianchinno – Star Trek Into Darkness

I See the Fire” - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

A stirring guitar ballad about loss, death, and the friendships that can endure those things.
"Dirty Paws" – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Silhouettes” - The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hobbit – The Desolation of Smaug

Not only are the costumes beautiful, but they feel as if they belong in that world. In other words, it never feels like the characters are wearing “costumes”, but are wearing the clothes of a bygone culture

Man of Steel
Thor: The Dark World
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Below are the list of all the films of 2013 that I have seen, ranked in order of excellence:

Man of Steel
World War Z
American Hustle
The Wolverine
The Way, Way Back
Much Ado About Nothing (2013)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Iron Man 3
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Thor: The Dark World
Monsters University
Star Trek Into Darkness
Now You See Me
The Great Gatsby
Oz The Great and Powerful
Despicable Me 2
We're the Millers
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Warm Bodies
Ender's Game
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
The Internship
Delivery Man
The World's End
Don Jon
Identity Thief
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
Grown Ups 2
The Heat
The Hangover Part III
Computer Chess
The Spectacular Now
The Lifeguard
To The Wonder
Frances Ha
Upstream Color

And now we here at Catholic Skywalker would like to celebrate the best in Television this year.

There are a lot of wonderful programs out there that, unfortunately, time has not permitted me to see (I only caught up the Breaking Bad this year).

Shows we watch:

How I Met Your Mother
New Girl
The Middle
Parks and Recreation
The Big Bang Theory
The Office
The Soup
Raising Hope
Brooklyn 99
Walking Dead
Game of Thrones
Agents of SHIELD
Downton Abbey
Breaking Bad
Amazing Race

Best Drama:
Breaking Bad

I was a late convert to this show, so this summer was spent catching up on the entire series before the finale. And I have to say that the accolades thrown onto this series were not hyperbolic. Breaking Bad is bold and fresh and violent and funny and scary and tragic all at the same time. This past season was fantastic as it built everything to its final, inevitable conclusion. And yet even in the end, when I thought I had everything figured out, the show still surprised me, particularly Walt's final confrontation with his business partners. The direction of the show was absolutely gorgeous while drawing you deeper into Walter's world. What was great about the show was that it had a clear moral line, even when its hero broke it. You could follow the through-line from Walt's sins to his suffering like an arrow. And the finale was what a finale should be: satisfying with closure and definitive in its finality. If you missed this show, watch the entire thing now.

-The Walking Dead

Best Comedy
The Big Bang Theory

When I was convalescing after some surgeries this year, the one show that was my biggest comfort TV viewing was The Big Bang Theory. I've talked to some people who like the earlier episodes which were much more science-nerdy. However, I prefer this later development with bringing in two more female leads in Bernadette and Amy. It rounds out the show better and creates more balance in tone and humor. One of the things that makes this show stand out from all other Chuck Lorre productions is that the characters are actually growing and changing. There is a big beating heart under all the the geeky-crude humor. Now that we are in the 7th season, the show doesn't feel like it is slowing down. Instead, it feels like it is just hitting its stride. This is a sitcom that can still be mined for comedy gold after repeated viewings. And for that reason, it is the Comedy of the Year.

Parks and Recreation
The Office

Best Actor in a Drama
Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad

I don't know what more I can add to the accolades that Bryan Cranston has already earned for his Walter White. He has created one of the most compelling characters ever seen on television. His work on the show is masterful. One moment, his is the most pitiable, puny man in existence and the next he is a steely-eyed mastermind. And this transition never feels forced or false. Every action is potent with believability. And through it all, even at his worst, Cranston infuses Walter with enough pathos that you yearn if not for his success then at least his salvation. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like what Bryan Cranston has done, in all my years of television watching. I don't think I will again.

Nathan Fillion – Castle
Johnny Lee Miller - Elementary
Andrew Lincoln - The Walking Dead

Best Actress in a Drama
Anna Gunn – Breaking Bad

While I can't say that I was a fan of her cloying and selfish character, Gunn did a tremendous job of showing the strain of her relationship to mastermind Walter White. Her Skyler White wanted to be a smarter, less violent Lady Macbeth, but she also is left to wrestle with the damned spot of her sin. She knows that she bought into Walter's world and that the reckoning is upon her. Gunn mixes guilt with fear and anger not only at Walt, but especially at herself.

Stana Katic – Castle
Emily Van Camp – Revenge
Lucy Liu - Elementary

Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Scott Wilson – The Walking Dead

Playing virtuous is much more difficult than playing wicked. Not only does playing evil allow for a lot more scenery-chewing, but it is much more difficult to put your thoughts and actions into the kind of person who is better than you actually are. Most of the time, someone of heroic virtue comes off as bland or unreal. That is why Scott Wilson's Herschel is so good. Herschel is a man who is trying to be a saint in a world without rules. Wilson lets the strain of that show on every inch of his wrinkled face. And he carries that burden in his voice, a voice dripping with aged wisdom and compassion. His speech about making a choice about risking your life was one of the best moments ever on The Walking Dead. The entire episode focused on Herschel not giving up on people. I found Scott's portrayal inspiring and moving and worthy of praise.

Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad
Dean Norris – Breaking Bad
Manu Bennet - Arrow

Best Supporting Actress, Drama

Emily Bett Rickards's Felicity Smoak is arguably the best thing on an already terrific show. What makes her performance so good is that she grounds it in the psychology of the audience. The writers have her ask the obvious questions that we in the audience would ask (“If it's an energy drink, why is it in a syringe?”) but she does it in a way that taps into our collective feeling. She is our mouthpiece for the show and she brings some much needed humor to the dark doings in Starling City. Rickards knows when to play for laughs, but when she is in a scary situation, her fear is palpable and real. Outside of the lead, she may be the most important person to the success of Arrow.

Laurie Holden – The Walking Dead
Lauren Cohan- The Walking Dead
Lena Heady – The Game of Thrones
Danai GuriraThe Walking Dead

Best Actor, Comedy
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory

He has already won a few Emmys and other awards, so why not spread the wealth? Because Parsons' Sheldon Cooper is as funny as he is infuriating. Guest star Bob Newhart's “Professor Proton” asked the obvious question to Leonard: “Why are you friends with him?” This is a question that could be posed to the audience. Sheldon is self-centered, elitist, and judgy. Yet we have a deep and abiding affection for him. I think it is because Parsons not only milks the laughs with amazing skill, but he gives Sheldon a child-like quality. Sheldon is an innocent child who throws tantrums. And just as you show patience to a child who doesn't know any better, Sheldon gets the same accommodation while you laugh along the way.

Rain Wilson – The Office
John Krasinski – The Office
Garret Dilahunt – Raising Hope
Joel McHale - Community

Best Actress, Comedy
Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation

Once again Amy Poehler takes the best actress spot. There are a lot of good women comedians out there, but Poehler is the funniest one working in television today. Her Leslie Knope is full of an insane amount of energy at which you work hard just to keep up. And it is very difficult to play someone fully sincere while at the same time not making them stupid. While Poehler's Knope is smart, she wears her heart on her sleeve. She gives herself over to any emotion she feels, like Homer Simpson if he were oriented towards public-spiritedness. What's great is watching Leslie try to overcome things that she can't. After she has a mini-breakdown from lack of sleep because of her heated campaign for city council, I dare you not to laugh.

Zooey DeChannel – New Girl
Kaley Cuoco – The Big Bang Theory
Patricia Heaton – The Middle

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy
Simon Helberg – The Big Bang Theory

Howard Wolowitz was my least favorite character on The Big Bang Theory for a long time. He was a lothario with no game. But over the years Helberg not only gave him a lot of charisma, but he also brought up a ton of laughs. Helberg probably has the best zinger-delivery on the show. And he can actually act. Watch the episode about his father's letter or when he sings about Bernadette and you can see the big, beating heart covered under layers of self-loathing. Helberg has run the slow game of making Howard lovable.

Neil Patrick Harris– How I Met Your Mother
Donald Glover – Community
Nick Offerman – Parks and Recreation

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy
Martha Plimpton – Raising Hope

For years, Plimpton has been playing the foolish-yet-wise matriarch of the Chance family. And she has always matched the wacky, warm tone of this crazy show. Her Virginia is alternately venal and virtuous. She is a woman who tries to do the right thing (but only after trying out a lot of bad things). Unlike her husband Burt, Virginia constantly tries to act and appear smarter than she is. I love how she thinks she can be a lawyer because she's watched a lot of Law and Order. Plimpton doesn't hold Virginia up for ridicule. We laugh more with her than at her, because she taps into our own unspoken assumptions about life that we get from pop culture. Her timing with jokes and sight gags is fantastic and she helps bring the laughs to this little gem of a show.

Aubrey Plaza – Parks and Recreation
Yvette Nicole Brown – Community
Alison Brie – Community
Mayim Bialik – The Big Bang Theory

The Catholic Skywalker Awards for Comic Books will be posted this Wednesday.