Saturday, February 23, 2013

Top 10 Movies of 2012


1.       Moonrise Kingdom
A couple of kids fall in love and make off for the forests of New England where they’ll live happily-ever-after Robinson Crusoe style.

As futuristic archeologists spanned the universe for the origin of life and Peter Parker avenged the death of Uncle Ben, it was Wes Anderson’s refreshingly original fantasy adventure that rose to the top. Replete with Anderson’s identifying trademarks: deadpan dialogue, afflicted characters, an arresting color pallet and familial themes, the movie awakens in viewers a sense of wonder often left dormant by most modern pictures.

2.       Argo
Argo chronicles the covert CIA operation to extract six American diplomat employees from revolutionary Iran in 1980.

Argo recalls the days when thrillers entertained but also told a story. I kept waiting for Faye Dunaway to sweep through on the arm of Robert Redford. It is a sprawling achievement that maintains a rousing pace while taking time to develop characters we can invest in. John Goodman and Alan Arkin as a schlock fx artist and batty Hollywood producer respectively are superb. Affleck is three for three behind the camera – though I do wish he’d have cast his brother rather than himself.

3.       Zero Dark Thirty
The decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden is the focus of Kathryn Bigelow’s military drama.

Bigelow is a masterful filmmaker, capable of segueing between scenes of heart-pounding action and moments of pure emotion. Zero Dark Thirty is a testament to the men and women who dedicated their lives to the capture of the elusive al-Qaeda leader. It is a gripping film, it is a superbly acted film and it is an important film with much to say about the methods and procedures of our intelligence community. The sequence detailing the raid on Osama’s safe house featured the most riveting twenty minutes of cinema I’ve seen in a while.

4.       Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Bathtub is a poverty-stricken, barren area of land removed from the rest of the world by a series of levies. Hushpuppy is the defiant 6-year-old who calls it home. Affronted with an ailing father and an imminent storm, she must learn to survive on her own.

An auspicious debut from first time director, Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a dazzling coming-of-age flick that transitions seamlessly from fantastic descriptions of extinct creatures to harrowing scenarios etched in reality. It is a bizarre, poetic of portrait of childhood innocence and imagination brought to life by Quvenzhane Wallis’s hypnotizing performance as Hushpuppy.

5.       Django Unchained
When Django agrees to aid dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz in the apprehension of the ruthless Brittle brothers, he is rewarded an egress from slavery and the opportunity to reunite with his wife.

Tarantino has crafted liberating fantasy flicks for women (Kill Bill), Jews (Inglorious Bastards) and now with his brutal Blaxploitation western, African Americans. The picture’s greatest success is its ability to effectively combine genre fare with an art house style while balancing austere historical revisionings with exaggerated violence and gore. Blood and guts are cast at the screen with aesthetic delight. It features Tarantino’s most straight-forward approach to storytelling and is his most accessible film to date.

6.       The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Based on the best-selling novel by Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower tells the coming-of-age tale of a reticent freshman’s introduction to high school.

A charming story about love and belonging, The Perks of Being a Wallflower hits close to home anybody who has ever been a teenager. It brims with humor and sadness, adventure and anguish, with an eclectic mix of characters at the helm. A sophomore effort from writer-turned director Stephen Chbosky, the shortcomings of the filmmaker seem suitable considering the depth and sincerity of the story.

7.       Amour
Retired music teachers, Georges and Anne, see their loving relationship severely tested when Anne suffers a stroke.

The film is both beautiful and terrifying in its depiction of love and helplessness. I found myself audibly gasping as Georges struggled to avert the inevitable. One can’t help but ask what they would do if faced with the same dilemma. It is an immaculate illustration of what it means to love. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Isabelle Huppert are extraordinarily brilliant in the roles of the aging couple. A movie as difficult to forget as it is to recommend.

8.       The Turin Horse
An aging farmer and his daughter live alone somewhere in the Italian countryside. A rich and rewarding experience, The Turin Horse creates a meticulous parable about endurance and the tediousness of life. Bella Tarr has come to be regarded as a cinematic poet and philosopher. Here he creates a film that is visually and thematically one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen this year. Identifying intertitles break up their repetitive daily lives: dress, work, eat a steaming-hot baked potato, sleep and repeat. A difficult, demanding flick that is not for mass consumption.

9.       Oslo August 31
Recovering drug addict, Anders, is granted leave from rehab to take a job interview in Oslo. While away, he takes time to reunite with old friends and bad habits.

Somber speeches and handheld photography reflect Anders quiet regret and anxiety respectively. It is an aesthetically penetrating look at the emotional and mental constitution of a man dealing with self-doubt and inner fury; a profound, compassionately penetrating examination of addiction that rips your heart out at every turn; an antibiotic for anyone who’s struggled to comprehend a loved one’s fight with addiction.

10. Cabin in the Woods
Cabin in the Woods is drafted by our old friend Joss Whedon, creator of fantasy TV and all-around nerd deity. As we all know, Joss does the wiliest genre deconstructions since Wes Craven: stuff like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly and Toy Story. This one opens with a classic setup: a hottie, a jock, a practical joker, a nerd and a resourceful girl take a trip to a remote cabin in the woods.

A character gets run-through with a bear trap; another is pulled apart by the tentacles of a large creature. I know, I know, not your typical genre fare, but Whedon likes to shock and amaze when given the opportunity. This flick both dissects and celebrates the devices of the genre while simultaneously creating a unique experience for viewers.
As soon as our youthful group arrive at their vacation spot, they notice an array of bizarre items strewn about, including the diary of Patience Buckner, a girl abused by her sadistic father. Of course the group recites an incantation from the book, causing zombies to rise from the dead and the hottie to make out with a stuffed wolf head. But I digress. Apparently, there are forces at work in the cabin beyond the understanding of its inhabitants, or those viewing the film for that matter. You see, ancient demonic beings that dwell beneath our feet require government officials to sacrifice young people who embody specific archetypes each year to keep them from destroying the planet. I know what you’re thinking… Actually, I don’t. If I had the ability to read thoughts I’d be doing greater things with my life than posting feeble horror reviews to a crummy blog.
In keeping with the theme of the film, nothing is what it seems. It pays homage to the genre while calling attention to its flaws and rewriting the rules. It’s a ridiculous blending of horror and humor that should appeal to both genre fans and non-genre fans alike.

Arbitrage, Compliance, End of Watch, Headhunters, The Hobbit, The Master

Bernie, The Do-Deca-Pentathalon, Frankenweenie, Killer Joe, The Raid: Redemption, Savages, The Sound of My Voice

Cosmopolis, Holy Motors, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Promised Land, Return, Snowtown

Best Documentary Features of 2012 (that I saw)

Best Documentary Features of 2012 (that I saw)

THE IMPOSTER – A troubled French teen claims to be the missing son of a grieving Texas family in the hopes of gaining a new life. A fascinating true crime documentary, if forces you to ask yourself over and over how this family allowed themselves to be duped into believing this man was their son.
THE AMERICAN SCREAM – Neighbors in a Massachusetts town compete to prepare the best haunted house each Halloween. Styrofoam skeletons and latex monsters clutter the yards of three charmingly amusing “home haunters” as they celebrate the bewitching holiday. A must see for any fan of Halloween.

SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN - Rodriguez spends his days laying foundations and restoring homes in Detroit. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, he is a rock icon in South Africa. An uplifting, lyrical tribute to a mysteriously fascinating man. A commendably simplistic doc that at a mere 86 minutes, is as tight as the tunes produced via its central character.
WEST OF MEMPHIS – Reveals a number of the injustices surrounding the Wests Memphis Three. Big money allowed for a re-examining of old evidence and the conducting of new interviews with those directly involved in the case. I only hope that if I am wrongly accused, Eddie Vedder gets my back.
THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE – Ken Burns’s latest effort examines the 1989 case of five youths who were wrongly convicted of raping a woman in New York’s Cental Park. A shocking examination of injustice. What’s amazing is the lack of animosity on the part of the victims.
JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI – The world’s greatest sushi chef is an 85-year-old man running a 10-seat restaurant inconveniently located in a subway station. A sparse, affectionate documentary that takes something as seemingly banal as preparing raw fish and makes it look fascinating. You leave with a profound respect for the craft.

The Queen of Versailles – Opening as a biopic studying the decadent lifestyle of a billionaire and his trophy wife, The Queen of Versailles quickly changes gears as the real estate bubble bursts and our protagonists are forced to make a change to their comfortable lifestyle in a major way. You’ll be stunned, you’ll be revolted, you’ll laugh, you’ll frown and somehow, you’ll empathize with the queen through it all.