Best Documentaries 2018

I like documentaries as much as I do (fiction) movies, particularly if they make me think, are well crafted and have a coherent narrative. Here are my recommendations based on documentaries that I have watched in the past year.

1. Avicii: True Stories

★★★★★★★★☆☆
Avicii: True Stories focuses on the Swedish DJ Tim Bergling, better known as Avicii. In contrast to the uplifting music he made, this film highlights the darker side of the trade-off of becoming famous. An artist that cares about music that gets dropped into a shark tank where the sharks care about money, and money only. If anything it serves as a big warning to not make your passion your profession. Contrast that with popular advice! It is similar in spirit to Amy and Cobain: Montage of Heck, taking the same personal perspective. This makes it all the more impactful. Sadly, like Amy Winehouse and Kurt Cobain, Avicii also joined the list of young people that took their own life. Watching this, one can’t help but think: wouldn’t he have been better off being less famous?

2. Generation Wealth

★★★★★★★★☆☆
Documentary maker Lauren Greenfield explores excessive wealth with a surprisingly personal perspective. Make no mistake: much of Generation Wealth is Lauren’s self-reflection, her choices in life, relationship with her family and participation in the ‘rat race’. That may sound corny, but for this subject matter: it really does work. If anything, she tries to understand her subjects through her own lens. By doing so, she reveals truths about human nature that may not be surprising in the end, but that are good to be reminded of.

3. HyperNormalisation

★★★★★★★★☆☆
If you don’t mind something a bit longer that uses its time to make you think, then look no further than this 2016 documentary. Expertly crafted by Adam Curtis, HyperNormalisation leads us through a large part of modern history to make one key point about the world: the difference between how we perceive it versus how things really are, and the consequences of this. Curtis interleaves major global developments: technological, political and cultural, to construct a tapestry of arguments to support his conclusions. Whether you agree with these or not does not really matter, as what he offers is a perspective that leaves you pondering for days about its deeper implications.

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Best Movies of 2014

1. Interstellar
science fiction, drama, adventure
★★★★★★★★★☆
Space science fiction as it should be: with sufficient depth, an interesting story line and focused on how human beings are affected by what they experience. Interstellar is as much about people, their motivations and relations, as about what they are exposed to: the dazzling effects of space-time. The ending could have been better, but despite that Interstellar is highly recommended.

2. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
science fiction, drama, action
★★★★★★★★★☆
Worthy successor to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, with a better and more interesting continued story. Seeing the first movie is certainly recommended, but not required to appreciate this one. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is extremely convincing in its portrayal of the apes. Ironically, they have the same basic hopes, dreams and wishes as people have, yet aligning their interests with the humans proves difficult, leading to heart wrenching scenes.

3. The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz
documentary
★★★★★★★★☆☆
This documentary tells the real story of Aaron Swartz: a child prodigy, prolific hacker and activist. Ending up in a legal battle that can not be won, he takes his own life at the age of 26. This documentary takes an honest and open look at the events that lead up to his death, shows the views of many of the people he touched, and makes one think about some of the twisted systems that are in place in modern society.

4. The Grand Budapest Hotel
adventure, comedy
★★★★★★★★☆☆
A strange, but highly entertaining movie about an eccentric hotel concierge and a lobby boy set in the fictional country of Zubrowka. Concierge Gustav is framed for the murder of one of his most beloved clients, after which a colorful adventure ensues. The way the story is told, the visuals and acting contribute to a rather unique ‘feel’. The Grand Budapest Hotel was definitely one of last year’s pleasant surprises.

5. The Lego Movie
animation, adventure, comedy
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Surprisingly fun movie about the famous toy bricks. Emmet, a construction worker, becomes the reluctant hero as he has to save the Lego world from the evil Kragle. Enough layered humor to be entertaining for both kids and adults, even those that did not play with Lego (but, who didn’t?). This is easily the best computer animated feature of 2014. “Everything is awesome! :)”

6. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
fantasy, action, adventure
★★★★★★★★☆☆
This final installment in the Hobbit trilogy primarily bridges the gap between Tolkien’s original “The Hobbit” book and the start of “The Lord of the Rings”. Though, the size of the ensemble cast is a bit overwhelming, the movie is well paced, entertaining and has good dramatic impact. Perhaps not as grand as The Lord of The Rings, but certainly worth watching.

7. X-Men: Days of Future Past
comic, action, adventure
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Easily the best X-Men film to date, surpassing even 2011’s X-Men First Class. The film shares similarities with Terminator’s storyline: sending someone to the past to prevent a dystopian future, in this case: Wolverine. Recommended thanks to a well developed story and what must be the coolest ensemble cast of an X-Men movie to date.

8. The Edge of Tomorrow
science fiction, action
★★★★★★★★☆☆
Though poorly marketed, the Edge of Tomorrow gives an interesting spin on the “reliving similar events repeatedly” genre. The movie achieves a nice balance between action and drama, perhaps best described as a mix between Starship Troopers and Groundhog Day. The end result is an entertaining ‘popcorn’ movie with a hint of intellectual gleam.

Other honorable mentions:

  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  • The Equalizer
  • The Maze Runner
  • Non-Stop
  • The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part I
  • Divergent
  • The Amazing Spider Man 2
  • Godzilla
  • RoboCop

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Her

2014-03-20-Her

Many people have a love-hate relationship with their computer, and probably: so do you, but have you ever thought of dating your operating system? Her explores the concept of affection in a whole new way. A look into the future which is both endearing and unsettling.

In 2025 people no longer write personal intimate letters by themselves. Instead they resort to beautifulhandwrittenletters.com, which has professional writers that compose these for you. Theodore Twombly is one of these writers. Her follows Twombly as he goes through a divorce with Catherine, his insecure, but talented wife. One day Twombly sees an advertisement for a new operating systems and installs it on his computer. To his surprise this `OS’ has a real personality: Samantha, with which he bonds and develops an intimate relation.

The premise of Her may sound a little strange. Yet, the movie raises interesting questions: what really is love? Is a relationship between a person and an artificial intelligence any less real than one between two people? What responsibility do partners have towards each other and do those still apply in this situation? Her has some parallels with Artificial Intelligence (2001). Though, it is much more intimate and less melancholic despite the movie taking place in a dystopia.

Though it may take some time before software is as sophisticated as Samantha, it is not unthinkable that we may live to actually see similar Artificial Intelligence. However, the many mediated relationships nowadays serve as an in-between step to think about this: Catfish is a good example.

Beautifully shot, Spike Jonze’s Her leans heavily on the performance of Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombly. Phoenix, already strong in The Master, gives a performance nothing short of excellent here. This combined with Scarlett Johansson’s voice as Samantha, and Amy Adams as Theodore’s closest friend, makes for an enjoyable two hours. There’s little to fault here. Highly recommended.

★★★★★★★★★☆

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