APOLLO 11: Audacious, Triumphant And Necessary

Early in Apollo 11 there is this impossibly clear, incredibly close-up shot of the Saturn booster rocket taking off, lifting the Apollo 11 mission towards space. In this shot you can see the enormous nozzles which funnel the thunderous fire created in the main cylinder of the rocket, and the clarity of this shot lets you see every rivet, every overlapping plate, every spot where human hands had to touch and manipulate this metal to create the miracle you’re seeing before you.

It’s an overpowering moment, especially in IMAX. The screen is so huge that you almost get a sense of the scale of the thing (almost – it’s clear that these rockets are so big and the thrust so immense that even the IMAX screen shrinks them down), and the sound is so intense that the deep bass rumble almost disrupts your atoms. But it isn’t just the physical scale of it all that is overpowering; what makes Apollo 11 a brilliant film is how it captures both the material achievement of the mission and the spiritual achievement. In moments like that we are not only in awe of the size and fury of the rocket, we are overwhelmed with the knowledge that humans came together to do this thing, and to do it well.

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MINDING THE GAP: A Beautiful, Emotional Documentary Masterpiece

Of course the best movie of the year is a skateboarding documentary. If that sounds weird to you, you may not know skateboarding culture, a truly unique and consistently revolutionary subculture that has fueled so much else that happens in the larger pop culture for decades.

For one thing, filmmakers come out of skateboarding. That’s because skateboarders are obsessed with capturing their tricks and moves for everyone to see; every gaggle of skaters ahs the one dude who is filming EVERYTHING. Those guys often grow up to get into the movie industry, as did Rockford Illinois’ Bing Liu, director of Minding the Gap.

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THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS: Nature, Nurture, Neither, Both

What makes you you? What are the things that create the person you are? Are you created by the sum of your genes? Is there a genetic destiny that exists beyond our control, that will send you down a path no matter the circumstance?

Or are you created by your circumstances? Does the environment in which you were raised have a greater impact? The question, when boiled down, is the familiar head-to-head battle: nature vs. nurture.

A trio of triplets offer a unique look at this question, as each of them was adopted out at six months, and they spent the first 19 years of their lives not knowing they had a sibling, let alone two who were identical at the DNA level. In 1980 two of these three met through strange coincidence; when they appeared in the newspapers their third brother had the shock of seeing himself – twice! – on the front page. Then they were three, and there was an automatic bond. These three identical strangers took to each other, filling gaps in one another they didn’t even realize had been there. You might think that discovering there are two other yous in the world would make you feel less unique, less special, crowded in. But for these three it seemed to be the moment that set them free, that allowed them to be who they should have always been. They soon discovered remarkable similarities about their lives – they were all wrestlers! They all smoked Marlboros! They all liked older women! – and basked in the glow of pre-internet viral fame.

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