Friday, January 11, 2013

The last sparks of 2012

Last night was List Closing Eve, and I did something I've never done before on this special day:

I re-watched the movie that I thought might be my favorite of the year, because I wasn't sure how it could possibly be.

And though I don't usually like to go into details about my list in this obligatory preamble, I think I've already ruined the surprise with my title and poster art.

I didn't think much of the ads for Ruby Sparks. In fact, it might have been the movie I was most cynical about seeing this year. In fact again, I may not have seen it at all except that I made a rushed pick from Redbox when getting a couple movies for my wife and me to see. She had spoken on a panel with someone involved with this movie, so I thought she would probably want to see it. She didn't. So I watched it alone, starting on Christmas night, falling asleep, and finishing it the next morning.

So this was only two weeks ago. Can't get much fresher than that in terms of a fresh perspective.

Yet how? How could this be my #1? I hadn't seen it on a single other critic's top ten list. I hadn't even heard it discussed as an honorable mention. You might say I spent the last two weeks trying to figure out a way for it not to be my #1. And my #2 temporarily crept in there for a few days, just to give myself an out -- just to give myself a choice that would in some way have the respect of other critics (though I didn't see that one on any top ten lists either).

But I kept coming back to Ruby Sparks, and I knew I needed to watch it again before I closed this list. Last night, I did.

Fifteen minutes in, I knew it was still my #1. Thirty minutes in, I liked it even better than the first time. Forty-five minutes in, the DVD had a glitch that I thought might kill the viewing -- and nothing seemed more important than making sure I could keep watching.

And I discovered what I probably knew ever since I finished it two weeks ago: It has the most layers of any movie I saw this year, and it is by far the most adaptable.

How adaptable? It's both a romantic comedy and a deconstruction of a romantic comedy. It's about how we wish we behaved in relationships, and how we actually behave. It's about the creative process, equally about the writing of novels and the writing of screenplays, and about how the writer is the God of the universe he or she creates. It's also about writing and re-writing drafts until you get to writing what you know, instead of what you think you know. It revels in stereotypes and also explodes them. It takes one of the most inescapable cinematic cliches to be identified in recent years, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and turns it on its head. It's about genius and madness and mental illness. It's about the expectations we place on others and the realities of which they are actually capable. It's observant in both its grand strokes and its minor details, with even throwaway lines of dialogue carrying impossibly dense thematic relevance. It features probably my favorite ensemble acting group of the year (Paul Dano, Zoe Kazan, Chris Messina, Annette Bening, Antonio Banderas and Elliot Gould). It's both a cynical look at the emotional brutality we inflict on the ones we love, and an incredibly optimistic fable about our capacity to love them despite their faults. It's also really funny, though sometimes it is devastatingly painful. It's a fantasy, it's a metaphor, and it's achingly, wonderfully real.

But the best indication of how I feel about Ruby Sparks is that I started watching it at 10:15 on a night that followed three straight mornings of waking up before 5:30 a.m., twice because of being paged awake for work emergencies and once because of a sick son, yet I didn't for a moment feel like falling asleep. And, as inspired as Paul Dano's protagonist, I'm writing this now at 12:37 a.m., even though I will be awake in less than five hours to watch the Oscar nominations announced live on TV.

If that's not a #1 movie of the year, I don't know what is.

In fact, it's not only my #1 movie, it's my #1 by a long shot.

Here's the complete list, from first to worst:

  1. Ruby Sparks
  2. Your Sister’s Sister
  3. Silver Linings Playbook
  4. Wreck-It Ralph
  5. Argo
  6. Looper
  7. Lincoln
  8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
  9. Headhunters
  10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  11. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  12. Amour
  13. The Do-Deca-Pentathlon
  14. The Impossible
  15. Killing Them Softly
  16. Oslo, August 31st
  17. The Cabin in the Woods
  18. Monsieur Lazhar
  19. Jeff, Who Lives at Home
  20. Bernie
  21. Newlyweds
  22. Cloud Atlas
  23. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
  24. The Hunger Games
  25. Wanderlust
  26. Magic Mike
  27. The Five-Year Engagement
  28. Life of Pi
  29. The Queen of Versailles
  30. Django Unchained
  31. Beyond the Black Rainbow
  32. Indie Game: The Movie
  33. Sound of My Voice
  34. Klown
  35. The Grey
  36. Flight
  37. 21 Jump Street
  38. Compliance
  39. Zero Dark Thirty
  40. Turn Me On, Dammit!
  41. A Cat in Paris
  42. Killer Joe
  43. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
  44. Get the Gringo
  45. The Pirates! Band of Misfits
  46. Nobody Else But You
  47. Moonrise Kingdom
  48. The Avengers
  49. The Master
  50. Seven Psychopaths
  51. The Dictator
  52. The Kid With a Bike
  53. Silent House
  54. Arbitrage
  55. The Watch
  56. Sparkle
  57. The Secret World of Arrietty
  58. Sleepwalk With Me
  59. Skyfall
  60. Friends With Kids
  61. The Campaign
  62. The Odd Life of Timothy Green
  63. God Bless America
  64. Gerhard Richter Painting
  65. The Loved Ones
  66. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
  67. The Dark Knight Rises
  68. How to Survive a Plague
  69. Take This Waltz
  70. Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection
  71. Prometheus
  72. The Paperboy
  73. Goon
  74. Men in Black 3
  75. Lockout
  76. John Carter
  77. Damsels in Distress
  78. The Loneliest Planet
  79. For a Good Time, Call …
  80. The Innkeepers
  81. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
  82. Contraband
  83. Lawless
  84. The Tall Man
  85. Les Miserables
  86. Safety Not Guaranteed
  87. Vamps
  88. Rock of Ages
  89. Ted
  90. Casa de Mi Padre
  91. Mirror Mirror
  92. Rise of the Guardians
  93. One for the Money
  94. Brave
  95. Alps
  96. 2016: Obama’s America
  97. Dredd
  98. The Three Stooges
  99. Being Flynn
  100. This Means War
  101. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
  102. Haywire
  103. Celeste and Jesse Forever
  104. The Deep Blue Sea
  105. Dark Shadows
  106. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
  107. Jack Reacher
  108. Alex Cross
  109. Hick
  110. Chronicle
  111. Red Hook Summer
  112. Total Recall
  113. Stolen
  114. The Raven
  115. Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie
  116. The Pact
  117. Piranha 3DD
  118. Gone
  119. Cosmopolis
Most regret not seeing in time to rank them: Anna Karenina, Hitchcock, Holy Motors, The Sessions, This is 40, Wuthering Heights

Was sure I would see, but somehow didn't: Battleship, Savages, Snow White and the Huntsman

If you're looking at any patterns, I can see one right away: My top three movies are all about an impossible form of love. I guess the (twisted) romantic in me really came out in 2012.

As always, would love to hear your thoughts.


Groundskeeper Willie said...

I have to admit that I was only vaguely aware of Ruby Sparks, and that's even with my pretty constant reading of the AV Club, where they're always on the lookout for all things Manic Pixie Dream Girl. This film totally would've fallen through the cracks for me if not for your raves here -- I think I'll give it a shot this evening.

Great list, as always. Reading this monster list in January (or February, once upon a time) is one of my favorite pop cultural events of the year.

Vancetastic said...

Thanks Keeper. The only problem with me delivering these raves is that Ruby Sparks probably can't help but disappoint you if it doesn't meet the lofty expectations I've set for it. However, I do think it's useful to go in looking at the film as a metaphor and not taking it literally. I know a lot of people who took much of it at face value and were comparatively disappointed. Anyway, I'd love it if you circle back with your thoughts, good or bad. I'm convinced that as soon as more people see this movie, it'll have considerably more fans.

Nick Prigge said...

That was the second time my jaw dropped. When I saw the poster and knew what was coming.

I saw Ruby Sparks. I liked it. I might even say I liked it a whole lot. Didn't make a huge impression on me but, hey, whatever. I love that you made it your #1 and I love reading your argument for it, partly from the points you make and partly from just your general TONE in making them. That's totally the type of joy a #1 should instill in a person.

And so then I can also assume you did not have a problem with the third act of Your Sister's Sister?

Vancetastic said...

You know Nick, if I hadn't seen YSS for the first time just over a week ago and had more time to sit with it (a phenomenon you mentioned on your own top ten list related to Zero Dark Thirty), I might see it drop down a bit. Even today I am wondering if I should have flip-flopped it with Silver Linings Playbook (and I know you would argue that I should have). But I had an incredibly positive emotional response to it on my first viewing, so much so that I temporarily had it installed at #1. I don't mind that it's a bit messy, maybe even a bit icky in the third act -- I think it has a perfect ending. And it's another one of those movies I gravitated toward this year that indicate how people are going to try to love each other despite how hard it can sometimes be -- you could say that Looper, Amour and The Perks of Being a Wallflower also contain examples of this (although with Looper it would be a mother-child relationship).