The Spectacular Now
(Rated R for alcohol use, language, and some sexuality – all involving teens)
This is the most realistic high school love story I've ever seen, not only because the acting is pitch perfect, but because the weight of ephemerality—that feeling at the end of high school that life does move beyond the "spectacular now" —is so beautifully drawn. (Alissa Wilkinson's review for CT.)
(Rated R for sexual content/nudity and language)
"We appear, and we disappear," says one character in Before Midnight. "We are just passing through." Third in Richard Linklater's "Before" series, Midnight drops in on a few hours of the lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) as they negotiate the challenges of commitment, family, and the pangs of time lost, regretted, wished for and not-yet-had. (Ken Morefield's review for CT.)
The latest entry in the every-seven-years Up documentary series, 56 Up is a powerful look at how we change and don't change over time. It's quite something to watch a collection of people grow up in seven year increments, from age seven to age 56. The series, which Roger Ebert famously called "an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium," truly does maximize cinema's innate ability to confront the viewer with the reality of passing time.
(Rated R for sexual references and language)
Noah Baumbach's black and white, French New Wave-esque portrait of a twentysomething (Greta Gerwig) in New York City is a funny, insightful look at the pangs of a quarter-life existential crisis. It's a film about that unsettled place where liberal arts fantasyland collides messily with the realities—jobs, rent, bills—of surviving adulthood. (Brett's review for CT.)
The One Movie I Wish Everyone Would See
To the Wonder
(Rated R for some sexuality/nudity)
It's easily Terrence Malick's most elusive and difficult film, yet patient, contemplative viewing is thoroughly rewarded. Wonder is a work of Christian art, an examination of Christ-like love through partially autobiographical episodes from Malick's life. The final ten minutes, essentially a recitation of St. Patrick's Lorica, is one of the most spiritually direct sequences I've seen in contemporary cinema. (Brett's review for CT.)
Brett McCracken is a Los Angeles-based writer and journalist, and author of the books Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker, 2010) and Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty(Baker, 2013). You can follow him @brettmccracken. His list of the best films of 2013 is here.