Monday, January 14, 2013

2012 Wrap-Up

What can I say, I'm in a verbal place right now.

Even though I posted my 2012 film rankings on Thursday, I feel like following up with a more in-depth look back on My Year in Movies. I've written think pieces on the year in past years, but this will be less holistic -- more like various observations and honors from the year. I guess I haven't yet said all I wanted to say.

Keep in mind, what makes this different from pieces you see in the mainstream media is its subjective quality. Sure, I could write about how 2012 was kind of like Channing Tatum's coming out party, but that story has literally been written 317 times. Besides, I really didn't like one of his movie's this year (Steven Soderbergh's Haywire, my #102 out of 119). That's not my take on the year we had.

So let's jump right in and explain the artwork that's accompanying this post ...

Three who had a good year

Mark Duplass - Duplass was involved in three of my top 20 movies of the year, making him the only creative talent to do that. He directed The Do-Deca Pentathlon (#13) and Jeff, Who Lives at Home (#19) and starred in Your Sister's Sister (#2). In fact, he brought so much else to the table this year that I almost forget he bothered me in Safety Not Guaranteed (#86). I wrote a bunch about Duplass just a week ago, so let's move on.

Emily Blunt - Possibly my new favorite female performer, Blunt just brought so much damn soul to the work she did this year -- no mean feat for an actress who might strike some as a prissy Brit. In fact, I'm pretty sure it was her performance that primarily vaulted Your Sister's Sister to my #2 -- a spot where I'm not necessarily sure it deserves to be, and may not have been if I'd seen it a couple months earlier rather than ten days ago. She also stole the second half of Looper (#6), having not even appeared in the first half, and did great work in the bizarrely good The Five-Year Engagement (#27).

Paul Dano - Another Looper actor who really impressed me this year by being the only performer with two movies in my top ten, Looper (#6) and my #1 movie of the year, Ruby Sparks. I traditionally share other people's reservations with Dano, but he really won me over in 2012 -- he acted the shit out of his small Looper role, and it was the nuances of his work in Sparks that helped me appreciate that movie as much as I did. Like Blunt, real soul in his work this year. Like Duplass, he had one stinker (Being Flynn at #99), but like Duplass, I tend to forget it.

Honorable mentions: Scoot McNairy (Argo, Killing Them Softly), Kerry Bishe (Argo, Newlyweds)

Three who had a bad year

Amanda Seyfried - Seyfried would have starred in my worst movie of the year (Gone) if the disaster known has Cosmopolis hadn't come along a week ago to wrest that dishonor away from it. She's not the only or even the primary reason Gone is so bad, but she's got a couple moments of really terrible acting in it. But what sealed her inclusion on this list was that she was the worst part of a movie I didn't like very much at all, Les Miserables (#85). I told a friend that I don't think I'd ever -- ever -- had less sympathy for a character I was supposed to really care about than I did for her limp Cosette.

Spike Lee - Lee only made one movie this year, but that's because he's a director, and most directors not named Soderbergh make no more than one movie per year. But his one movie (Red Hook Summer) was so terrible that I considered it a contender for my worst of the year for at least the first half, until some decent decisions in the third act "elevated it" to #111. What really made this a bad year for him, though, was this continued need to be endlessly controversial, from circulating the (incorrect) home address of Trayvon Martin's shooter on Twitter, to making some kind of ruckus about Summer at Cannes that I won't even bother to look up now, to tearing Quentin Tarantino a new one for making Django Unchained (#30). All this wouldn't be such a problem if he still made good movies.

Helena Bonham Carter - Although I didn't dislike Les Miserables enough for it to really deserve two mentions here, I do dislike Carter that much, so here she is. The serial monogamist not only appeared in her 47th straight Tim Burton movie (the major letdown Dark Shadows, #105), but also collaborated with Tom Hooper for his second straight movie, failing utterly to repeat the success of The King's Speech. How many times have I seen Carter play almost the exact same character she plays in Les Miz? Sacha Baron Cohen also really annoyed me as Carter's character's husband, but his surprisingly hilarious The Dictator (#51) earns him some off-setting points.

Dishonorable mentions: Chloe Grace Moretz (Dark Shadows, Hick), Gael Garcia Bernal (The Loneliest Planet, Casa de Mi Padre)

My most confronting moment of 2012

And I don't mean "shocking," I mean "confronting."

If you've heard anything about Amour (#12), you've probably heard that it deals with the intimate and painful realities of two octogenarian Parisians nearing death. But I actually think that two scenes near the beginning of the movie had a more profound and startling impact on me -- the very opening scene, which I won't spoil even though it's the opening scene, and a scene soon afterward that I want to discuss now.

Around the time that Michael Haneke introduces us to the characters for the first time, he has them attend a live piano concert. You've probably heard that the film is a series of so-called "master shots" (from wikipedia: "recording of an entire dramatized scene, from start to finish, from an angle that keeps all the players in view"). One of these is a scene straight on of the audience at this concert, waiting for the show to begin, and it fills the screen from top to bottom. It last for around two or three minutes, some of which is in total silence before the music starts. In this extremely profound moment, two audiences -- the one in the movie and the one watching the movie -- are essentially staring at each other, waiting for something to happen. There was something intensely visceral about that moment, and it's not a moment I could have had if I'd been watching it at home.

I suppose the "meaning" of this moment, such as there was one, was to indicate that this movie will involve us looking in a mirror -- that in these two old people reaching the end of their lives, we are seeing our own inevitable fate, since we will all one day die as well. But a moment like this doesn't need to have a meaning. It can exist only for the disquieting effect it has on us, and disquiet me it did -- in the most wonderful way possible. 

Filling the various buckets

Everyone has genres they gravitate toward, and I am no exception. But because I like to have my year-end list function as a representative sample of all the movies that were released in the previous year, I like to make sure I've gotten in enough types of movies that are not necessarily in my wheelhouse. Or maybe are in my wheelhouse, but aren't publicized extensively so they take a little seeking out.

Okay, so let's see how I filled these buckets:

Foreign language films (13): Headhunters (Norway), Amour (Austria/France/Germany), Oslo, August 31st (Norway), Monsieur Lazhar (Canada), Klown (Denmark), Turn Me On, Dammit! (Norway), Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkey), Nobody Else But You (France), The Kid With a Bike (France), Gerhard Richter Painting (Germany), Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Japan), Casa de Mi Padre (Mexico - I guess this counts), Alps (Greece). How I did: Very well. Probably higher than in most years.

Documentaries (6): The Queen of Versailles, Indie Game: The Movie, Gerhard Richter Painting, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, How to Survive a Plague, 2016: Obama's America. How I did: Poorly. One of my worst showings in recent years. My excuse is that I just did not hear that many documentaries being buzzed about this year. I guess it was a poor year for documentaries.

Movies featuring primarily African Americans (4): Beasts of the Southern Wild, Sparkle, Tyler Perry's Madea's Witness Protection, Red Hook Summer. How I did: Not terrible, given the total number of movies available that fit this description. Twice tried to rent Good Deeds from Redbox but didn't find it there either time. Was not going to see Think Like a Man

Chick flicks (5): Friends With Kids, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, For a Good Time, Call ..., One for the Money, Celeste and Jesse Forever. How I did: Not good, considering that I had to stretch to fit most of these into the category. Only One for the Money is a really pure example (and even then it deals with criminals and bounty hunters). I really should have made time for The Vow.

Animation (6): Wreck-It Ralph, A Cat in Paris, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, The Secret World of Arrietty, Rise of the Guardians, Brave. How I did: Very well, considering that I have made a conscious decision to a) save some animated movies for when my son is old enough to watch them, and b) skip animated movies where I haven't seen the most recent previous movie in the series (Madagascar, Ice Age). In fact, the main reason I'm considering animation to be a non-wheelhouse film is because I still want to see a representative sample despite these two restrictions on my viewing tendencies.

Horror (7): The Cabin in the Woods, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Silent House, The Loved Ones, The Innkeepers, The Tall Man, The Pact. How I did: Could have done better, especially since a couple on this list are a hybrid between horror and one other genre, with that other genre perhaps being the dominant genre. To be clear, I love horror, but it's one of the hardest genres to do right, and I mostly avoid the many lesser entries.

Best non-2012 movies of the year

I thought I might honor my ten favorite films I saw this year that didn't come out in 2012 (or come out in 2011 that I watched during my January cramming session). So I'll list them in alphabetical order:

Big Trouble in Little China (1986, John Carpenter). The funniest 1980s movie I can't believe I never saw in the 1980s.

Close-Up (1990, Abbas Kiarostami). Iranian filmmakers combine fiction and reality like no one I've ever seen before.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988, Isao Takahata). Immediately became my favorite anime movie of all time, if also the most depressing.   

Irreversible (2002, Gaspar Noe). If it's wrong to like this brilliant film because it has a nine-minute rape scene, then I don't want to be right.  

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976, John Cassavetes). Finally I love a John Cassavetes film, which does my sense of cinematic self respect a world of good.

The Long Goodbye (1973, Robert Altman). Don Handsome kept telling me it was great, and he was right.

Marwencol (2010, Jeff Malmberg). I'm a sucker for miniatures, and this movie reminds me I'm a sucker for well-made documentaries.

My Kid Could Paint That (2007, Amir Bar-Lev). Another documentary that bowled me over for the ways it explores the nature of art and its authenticity -- or lack thereof. 

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928, Carl Theodor Dreyer). Simply put, perhaps the most astounding film I've ever seen compared to other films that were made at the same time.

Sunset Boulevard (1950, Billy Wilder). Yes, I had never before seen Sunset Boulevard, and yes, it was terrific.

The Thin Blue Line (1988, Errol Morris). Finally I love an Errol Morris film, which does my sense of cinematic self respect a world of good.
Lightning round

Prestige movie I thought I'd love, but didn't: Zero Dark Thirty
Prestige movie I didn't think I'd love, but did: Lincoln
Best mashup movie: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Worst mashup movie: Dark Shadows
Mopiest mashup movie: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Most genres: Cloud Atlas
Funniest comedy I thought would be bad: The Watch/21 Jump Street
Least funny comedy I thought would be good: Ted
Funniest movie I didn't expect to really be funny: Wreck-It Ralph
Favorite name of the year: Zal Batmanglij (director, Sound of My Voice)
Movie that didn't end up being about what I thought it would be about (bad): Brave
Movie that didn't end up being about what I thought it would be about (good): The Grey
Best Steven Soderbergh movie: Magic Mike
Worst Steven Soderbergh movie: Haywire
Most surprising use of an actor: Hugh Grant (Cloud Atlas)
Least surprising use of an actor: Katherine Heigl (One for the Money)
Movie helped most by a second viewing: The Hunger Games
Movie hurt most by a second viewing: Prometheus
Most American foreign movie: Nobody Else But You
Most foreign American movie: Casa de Mi Padre
Best movie I really didn't want to see: The Odd Life of Timothy Green
Worst movie I really wanted to see: Chronicle
Best movie named after the lead character: Ruby Sparks
Worst movie named after the led character: Alex Cross
Movie I felt meanest saying I didn't like: Celeste and Jesse Forever
Movie I most hated saying was better than I expected: 2016: Obama's America
Best sophomore directing effort: Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)
Most disappointing sophomore directing effort: Alps (Yorgos Lanthimos)
Director who may have finally won me over: David Wain (Wanderlust)
Director who may have finally driven me away: Tarsem Singh (Mirror Mirror)
Best movie with a miniscule budget: The Do-Deca Pentathlon/Newlyweds
Worst movie with a huge budget: Total Recall
Best animated reminder of my childhood: Wreck-It Ralph
Worst animated reminder of my childhood: Dr. Seuss' The Lorax
Movie I was most surprised wasn't too long: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Shortest movie that should have been much shorter: The Loneliest Planet

Okay, this was fun -- for me at least, if not for you. Maybe I'll do it again next year.

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