Yes, finally my finalized listing of last year’s very best is done. You see, after seeing Amour I wanted to wait a few months for anything else in the pipeline that may have been coming. And a few other developments in my life caused some backlog so I needed to clear those up before I could write again. No more delay, here we go…
There are very few movies that go to theaters nowadays that get me me thinking “well this is an interesting direction, this is intriguing place to go”. When I realized where this film was setting up to go I could only feel gratitude for the it’s creators for taking it where they did. Going the unsafe route that they decided to go with the material. Truthfully and unblinkingly portraying addiction at its most unflattering and ugly. An indie film with unwanted quirks to be sure, but not one ounce less truthful and heartbreaking for it. Winstead certainly should receive more challenging and meaty roles in the near future because of her work here, she didn’t get any other significate accolades from it to be sure.
The most sci-fi’y movie ever made? Who knows but with multiple story-lines from multiple time-lines with actors taking on multiple roles this has to be one of the most ambitious ever made. The Wachowski’s and Tom Twyker craft a wholly original story(s) about the interconnectivity of people, society, time and space. Nearly everything is thrown at the screen in an effort to create alien and terrestrial fully realized worlds and cultures. I marveled at the audacity, scoop, and sheer ambition put on screen before my eyes for nearly three hours.Tom Hanks and Company shine, sometimes through mounds of make-up, in multiple roles across time and space.
The biggest surprise Oscar night was Ang Lee’s out of left field directorial win for ‘Life of Pi’. I was certainly floored, not because he didn’t deserve it but because I didn’t think the academy would recognize what was accomplished here. Remaining faithful to the source material, while giving a grand uncompromised cinematic vision, Lee crafts a lucid and hallucinatory journey of a boy, his life raft and an adult Bengal Tiger. Depicted here is man’s greatest struggle, not with the unforgiving sea, starvation or beast, but with himself… all in spectacular 3-D!
I love it when a personal connection is made between a film and myself. It is the why most of us go to the theaters instead of waiting around for it on DVD or on-demand, to be completely immersed in the experience of watching it. This was the case with ‘The Waiting Room’ documenting several overly burdened shifts in the lives of the staff and their patients at an Oakland area hospital. Medical care is THE hardest way to make an honest living in today’s world, and the time spent with the people in this documentary all serve to make that point clear. Yet the doctors and administrators portrayed in the film go about their jobs doing everything and anything they can for these uninsured patients, they know they are the last station for hope for most of these people and they treat that as much resolve as they can muster.
We go from a film chronicling people dedicating their lives to saving lives, to the CIA agent Maya and her one track quest to kill Osama Bin Laden. Released a year after taking out the leader of Al Queda, Zero Dark Thirty meticulously and methodically takes us into the manhunt leading up to that conclusion. Jessica Chastain is our guide into this decade long search, as Maya has nothing outside of this seemingly undying vendetta. Recent events earlier this year have only gone to prove that terrorism is now an everyday threat and must be handled with as much resolve as possible. ZDT serves as a docu-drama on what exactly that takes to fight the ongoing threat of terror and the emotional and mental toll on the pursuers.
John Legend – Who Did That to You (Django Unchained) again for atmosphere, Tarantino ups the blood lust and body count from Inglorious Bastards to tell a slavery vengeance fantasy. Un-PC, violent, tense, funny and stylized to no end… what more could I ask from a Tarantino flick? Helping to set this apart from a run-the-mill revenge flick, is the Director’s ear for dialoge and subverting the multiple genres he’s in at the moment. Though his kinetic style is always at play, the director finds time for the action to settle down and have characters shoot the breeze about the daily goings on. Enabling us to better understand character motivations and the worlds he has created. It seems that the unorthodox filmmaker has found quite a vessel to give weight to his writing style in Waltz, as he netted his second Oscar working with him.
Getting old and being in love isn’t for the faint of heart, and visionary director Michael Haneke tackles both in brutal detail in this sheering drama. Both actors in Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuella Riva give carrer bests as the bittersweet couple nearing the ultimate end. During the course of watching it in the theater a pet peeve of mine happened when I could hear someone talking, normally it annoys me to no end when this happens. In this case however the person was making an acute observation: “There’s no more music…”, indeed there is an air of uncomfortable silence in the couple’s home that used to be filled with the sound of the classics. In this case it is a more of the film’s central question, what happens when we are no longer a relevant part of the grand symphony of society? There in lies the uncomfortable truth in all of the Haneke’s work.
Marion Cotillard solidified her status as the goto anything woman with her role here as Stephanie. As in she can do anything as an actress, given the complexity and depth she brings to the table. Matthias Schoenarts delivers just as strongly with a fearless, powerful and physical performance as her romantic(?) opposite Ali. The two combine making Rust and Bone a dual character study in people adrift in their lives, trying to find some resemblance of a connection. As good of a examination of self-imposed isolation, life’s abrupt brutal nature and bonding as any in the last decade.
Shock and awe, are the two words that came to mind after finishing up this damn near masterpiece from first-time director Benh Zeitlin. Not just from the visuals provided from the vison of the filmmaker but from the central performance by Quvenzhané Wallis. Knocking the role completely out of the park and outright flooring me at times it is as good of a debut for any child star, hell the best debut for a child star. Combining fairy-tale imagination and real-world disaster this movie paints a portrait of a child’s world-view unmatched in years. One that I thought for sure would top this list, until a certain Paul Thomas Anderson got his say with his 2012 outing…
Stunning just stunning, I expected a lot and got it all back with interest. A friend from the blogosphere recently did a post on movies that resemble our favorite director’s style. If I were to make such a list P.T Anderson’s 21st century filmography is as close to Stanley Kubrick as you can get. ‘There Will be Blood’ seems like something out of Kubrick’s lost project folder, with it’s dark, complicated and insane main antagonist and iconic imagery. ‘Punch-Drunk Love’ analyzing the depths of alienation and self-destruction not unlike ‘A Clockwork Orange’ or ‘The Shining’ Which brings us to ‘The Master’, giving us a master-class, if you will, in filmmaking. Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman have a battle of wills unlike anything I’ve seen before. This examination of how far we will all go to belong and feel wanted is as engaging and thought-provoking as anything in 2012 or the last decade. Kubrick would be proud, and there is no greater compliment I can give a filmmaker and their work.
And 10 More Honorable Mentions: Searching For Sugar Man, Robot and Frank, Ruby Sparks, The Raid: Redemption, Magic Mike, A Late Quartet, Paranorman, Oslo, August 31st, Holy Motors, and Compliance (Harp on me all you for not including ‘The Avengers’)
And One More Honorable Mention: Earrings by Alex Withrow, made by a friend from the blogosphere, as good of a DSLR shot short as you’ll ever see, hell as good of a short film you’ll ever see.