The movies and television we watched in 2013

Photo by Flickr user “when i was a bird”

With the New Year approaching fast, we here at Art Beat are reflecting on this past year. On Thursday, we rediscovered all the great musicians we listened to in 2013 and today, it’s all about movies and TV.

From political satire to heart-wrenching documentaries, here are a few highlights from Art Beat’s coverage in 2013 that we think are worth revisiting.

The 2013 Oscar Documentaries, Part 1: ‘How to Survive a Plague’

In “How to Survive a Plague,” filmmaker David France re-examines the in-your-face brand of AIDS activism that forced the nation to pay attention in the early days of the epidemic and eventually convinced the federal government to speed the approval of life-saving drugs. Former NewsHour correspondent Ray Suarez spoke with France about why a film primarily composed of archival, handheld video footage from the 1980s and ’90s remains so relevant to today’s fight.

The Oscar Documentaries, Part 2: ‘Searching for Sugar Man’
'Searching for Sugar Man'

In 1970, a singer-songwriter going by the name Rodriguez released an album called “Cold Fact.” It got some good reviews but sold next to nothing, and within a few years Rodriguez had returned to life as a laborer in Detroit. But in a kind of strange celestial fluke, his music was heard and caught on big in South Africa, where he became a major star — as famous as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. But his South African fans knew little or nothing about the man and he had no clue about them (or his status in their country) either. Jeffrey Brown spoke to the director of “Searching for Sugar Man,” which eventually won the Oscar, about his first film and the unassuming star at the center of it.

Documentary ‘Invisible War’ Reveals Culture of Sexual Assault in the Military
'The Invisible War'

The soaring rate of sexual assault within the ranks of the U.S. military has been the subject of studies and congressional hearing. Academy Award-nominated director Kirby Dick explores the crisis with devastating personal accounts in his documentary “The Invisible War.”

The Oscar Documentaries, Part 4: ‘The Gatekeepers’

'The Gatekeepers'

“The Gatekeepers” is a film predominantly comprised of interviews with just six men. But they happen to be the six former heads of the Israeli security agency Shin Bet. Largely or completely unknown to the public, these are men who have been running an organization that has been deeply involved in counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering in the West Bank and Gaza since the 1967 war. “They wanted to speak. Like everything else in life, it’s about timing. I think they felt that the timing for them to speak, to open their mouths and speak, was perfect.” The film was nominated for the Academy Award for best documentary. Its director, Dror Moreh, spoke to chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown on the phone from his home in Israel.

The Oscar Documentaries, Part 5: ‘5 Broken Cameras’

In 2005, a Palestinian farmer named Emad Burnat acquired a video camera to document the birth and early life of his son. But he also captured what was going on around his family: the building of a security wall in the West Bank by Israelis, demonstrations by villagers against what they saw as an encroachment on their lands and an increasingly tense situation that in some cases led to imprisonment, violence and death. Along the way, one camera after another — five in all — were destroyed. Each camera became a chapter in his story. Burnat and Israeli filmmaker Guy Davidi turned this footage into “5 Broken Cameras,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. Jeffrey Brown spoke with Burnat and Davidi both by phone.

‘Fruitvale Station’ Recalls Real Life Drama of Oakland Man’s Final Hours

“Fruitvale Station,” a film written and directed by Ryan Coogler, tells the story of Oscar Grant: a young, black Oakland man who was shot and killed on a train platform by a Bay Area Regional Transit police officer. NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill spoke with Coogler about his motivation for making the film and a resonant coincidence in the timing of its release.

Storytellers Find Fertile Material in Fictionalizing Washington Dysfunction

Real-life drama in Washington isn’t popular in the polls, but it does provide plenty of fodder for modern storytellers. Chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown spoke with a few who have found inspiration: Beau Willimon, co-creator of the series “House of Cards,” Jay Roach, director of the comedy “The Campaign,” and novelist and critic Thomas Mallon.

‘No Place on Earth’ Brings to Light Story of Holocaust Survivors Who Hid in Caves

'No Place on Earth'

The film “No Place on Earth” tells the incredible story of a small group of Jews who went into caves to escape the horrors of the Holocaust. The story began in 1942 in Ukraine, but only came out much later when a cave explorer from New York City happened upon the scene. Now it’s told in a documentary that mixes the first-person accounts of survivors with re-enactments of events from the past. Jeffrey Brown recently spoke to the filmmaker, Janet Tobias, who is a veteran of network news and PBS, and Sonia Dodyk, one of the film’s subjects who tells of her experiences as a young girl in the caves.

Rita Moreno Reflects on Life as an Entertainer, Stereotype Roles in Hollywood

Rita Moreno: 'Life Without Makeup'; Photo courtesy of

Rita Moreno is one of only a few entertainers to win an Emmy, Grammy, Tony and an Oscar — and the only Latino American to hold that honor. Born in small-town Puerto Rico in the midst of the Great Depression, Moreno headed to work as an entertainer at 13 and was on Broadway and in Hollywood before she was 20. In a new self-titled memoir, Moreno describes finding her place in show business. She sits down with former NewsHour correspondent Ray Suarez to discuss the continuing struggle for minorities to land significant roles.

’12 Years a Slave’ Restores Historic Firsthand Account to Cultural Consciousness

In depicting American slavery, Hollywood has long left some of the most brutal realities largely unseen. But the filmmakers behind “12 Years a Slave” tried not to flinch in showing the full system of human subjugation. Jeffrey Brown talks to screenwriter John Ridley about the challenge of humanizing a dehumanizing institution.

Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau Pokes Fun of American Politics in a New Medium

The web series “Alpha House” puts a comedic spin on politics in the era of tea party conservatism with a story about four Republican lawmakers who work and live together on Capitol Hill. Jeffrey Brown talks to “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau, the creator behind Amazon’s first original streaming series.