Top 20 Films of the 2010s–#12

16 Dec

By Tanner Smith

Continuing my countdown of my top 20 favorite films of the decade, here’s a recap: 20) Mad Max: Fury Road, 19) Fruitvale Station, 18) Hugo, 17) Parasite, 16) Spotlight, 15) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, 14) Midnight Special, 13) Take Shelter

12) THE SPECTACULAR NOW (2013)

2013 was a great year for film–I already talked about Fruitvale Station for this list, and there are FOUR other films from that year that will appear somewhere on the remainder of this list, but there’s also “Prisoners,” Inside Llewyn Davis, The World’s End, Frozen, The Way, Way Back, Short Term 12, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, “Stories We Tell,” Mud, “When I Walk,” “Her,” Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Nebraska,” and there was even a new chapter of the Up documentary series released that year.

WOW! And that’s just to name a few!

I’m not going to lie–at the time I had to create a year-end list (which was published not on this blog, but for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette–link here), it was tough for me to pick a #1 choice. I had FOUR options…..FOUR!!

I mean, it’s easy to pick my favorite film of 2013 now that 2013 is long past and I’ve had plenty of time to rewatch these films and single one out as “the best” or “my personal favorite.” But back then, it was tough. I think the reason I chose The Spectacular Now because it was the one of the four that I wasn’t able to see again before making my top-13-of-’13 list (and the one I really wanted to see again).

I don’t know why most film critics are ashamed to admit they’ve rewatched movies they’ve reviewed and had their opinions change even slightly–we can like a film a little more or a little less after seeing it again or a few more times after that. This happens to everybody, not just film reviewers, and we need to be proud to admit that!

Blah blah blah, ramble over (or just beginning). Let’s talk about “The Spectacular Now”…now.

Obviously, this isn’t my #1 favorite film of 2013 anymore (like I said, I still have 4 more 2013 films to talk about amongst the other 11 selections for this decade-end top-20–obviously, there’s a film or two that I’ve learned to like better after subsequent viewings). But it is still on this list nonetheless, because it is still a film that means a lot to me.

When a film truly captures what it’s like to be a teenager in high school, or in a high school romance, it’s something special. Generally, most of us come of age in a major way in our high school days and so, a film that captures certain dilemmas or relationships (either platonic or romantic) can make for a great, effective coming-of-age story, given the right amount of detail in writing and characterization. I can think of many such films that are great examples of such, a lot of which even came out this decade (seriously, I think people are going to look at the 1980s and the 2010s for some truly great high-school movies); another to add to the list is “The Spectacular Now,” a truthful, incredible film about forming a high school senior forming a new relationship with someone he’d never met before, and learning to fully prepare for his own future.

High-school senior Sutter Keely (Miles Teller) lives in “the now.” He’s charismatic, full of himself, and constantly buzzed (he keeps a flask in his pocket and pours it into his soda cup much of the time). He gets dumped by his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson) because she wants more than “now”–she wants “tomorrow,” and she can’t have it with Sutter. After drinking his pain away, Sutter is found lying on a random front yard in the suburbs by wallflower classmate Aimee (Shailene Woodley), who wakes him up, thankful that he’s not dead. From there starts an interesting friendship that blossoms into somewhat of a romance (though Aimee is more into it than Sutter is), which then leads Sutter to confront his own issues, starting with meeting up with his father (Kyle Chandler), whom he hasn’t seen since childhood…

The trip to meet Sutter’s father is what makes the film far more than a high-school romantic comedy. Some very serious undertones are developed with this portion of the story, and it’s all the more deep and complex because of it. It shows the kind of person Sutter could become if he’s not careful, and it also shows glances of his former attitude and how he’s not treating his girlfriend the way he should. And so on.

When I showed this film to a friend, the main character of Sutter Keely was a difficult one for him to understand until the very end when he felt empathy for him. That’s what makes him so interesting, and when he gets his development in the final act, you really feel it and it hits you hard. The final speech he gives about his change is one of the most heartbreaking I’ve ever heard in a movie of this sort.

“The Spectacular Now” was directed by James Ponsoldt, who also made the solid dramedy “Smashed” and The End of the Tour (one of my honorable mentions for this list)–something I notice about his best works is that he’s not afraid to let his actors play with their characters and hold our attention for long single takes on-camera; you can sense he communicates well with his talent. The screenplay was adapted from Tim Tharp’s novel of the same name by screenwriting duo Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber, who have become very reliable in adapting both YA novels (such as this, The Fault in Our Stars, and Paper Towns) and biographical works (The Disaster Artist, for which they were nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar).

And I’ll say this–I like this film adaptation a lot better than its original source material. My reason as to why has to do with the film’s ending, different from the book. The book’s ending is tragic, yes, but it also made the rest of the book rather pointless and left me kind of empty. But the film’s ending, while ambiguous, gave me a lot more to think about. Where will Sutter end up? Will he truly change for the better? Will he relapse to his old manners? Will he and Aimee get back together? If so, how long will it last? Will it last?

(Fun fact: both actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley have their own different opinions as to what happens with Sutter and Aimee after this story ends.)

I love “The Spectacular Now.” I love the acting. I love the dialogue. I love the way the characters relate with each other. I love the story themes. And I love how it makes me feel by the time it’s over. It may not be my favorite film of 2013 any longer, but it will always be one of my favorites of the 2010s.

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