Lists: Top 25 Performances and Top 10 Song Usages from 2012 Film


After this, all that’s left is my Top 30 Films of the Year. Now, to pay homage to the acting and use of music in this year’s films. As far as songs go, the criteria are that use of instrumental score composed for the film does not count nor do songs from musicals. Otherwise Anna and Vronsky’s dance scene from Anna Karenina and “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables would have made it.

As for the performances, 10-25 are listed alphabetically and the top 10 are listed alphabetically. It feels even weirder to outright rank performances than it does films, so I figure putting them in two broad groupings gives some semblance of structure.

There’s nothing better than the inspired application of a song . Here are the ten, in order, that stayed with me most this year.

Top 10 Song Usages

Honorable Mentions: “Ghost Rider” – Suicide – Attenberg, any number of songs in Django Unchained, “Strokin” – Clarence Carter – Killer Joe, “Let It Out” – Girl Talk – Girl Walk//All Day, anything from Shut Up and Play the Hits, Heroes – David Bowie – Perks of Being a Wallflower, etc.

Perks
Okay, 11. “Come On Eileen” – Dexy’s Midnight Runners – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Charlie comes out of his shell to one of the best New Wave songs of all as Patrick and Sam spread their infectious dance-crazed flamboyance.

rust and bone

10. “Firework” – Katy Perry – Rust and Bone
Who knew? A turning point for the character of Stephanie, reclaiming her life as she confronts her former place of employment.

bondtitlesequence_620_121312

9. “Skyfall” – Adele – Skyfall
Adele channels Shirley Bassey with her momentous throwback Bond song. Her powerful yet calm delivery backed by surrounding strings and brass gives chills.

django

8.“I Got a Name” – Jim Croce – Django Unchained
Folk floats on in as the budding bounty-hunting friendship between Django and Schultz gets a perfect landscape-filled montage.

mkbeachdance-thumb-510x286-49267

7. “Le Temps de l’Amour” – Francoise Hardy – Moonrise Kingdom
Jared Gilman’s flailing inelegance paired with the concentrated smooth of Kara Hayward and Anderson’s slightly hovering straight-on take make this scene an instant classic.

EDIT: Inserting “Revivre” by Gerard Manset in Holy Motors after the fact. Having seen it again reminded me of this scene and how I forgot it for this list is beyond me. Probably still too swept up in “Let My Baby Ride”.

Alps

6. “Popcorn” – Hot Butter – Alps
In a final scene that bookends the first, the Gymnast is finally ready for pop music.

ttw22a_555

5. “Take This Waltz” – Leonard Cohen and “Video Killed the Radiostar – The Buggles’ – Take This Waltz
Technically three usages in one spot as the latter is used twice. Burning desire finally gets released as time passes and cyclical yearning reigns in these two wondrous scenes.

polisse7
4. “Stand on the Word” – Keedz – Polisse
The employees of the Child Protection Unit let loose  with French rapper Joeystarr as Fred leading everyone in a dance. You can feel the momentary relief of the experience run through as you watch beaming.

the-imposter-header

3. “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” – Johnny Cash – The ImposterA haunting and kitschy end to a film that provides unnerving suggestions about a story with no clear conclusion.

master, the_philip_seymour_hoffman

2. “On a Slow Boat to China” – Frank Loesser (sung by P.S Hoffman) The Master
Transfixing and ever-ambiguous. One of the most beguiling scenes from this year. I could not find a picture from this scene, tried though I did. Instead I chose this frame I’m in love with from an unrelated scene. Loving the color on that suit.

holy-motors-12172012

1. “Let My Baby Ride” – R.L Burnside – Holy Motors
“Trois! Douze! Merde!”

Top 25 Performances:

Honorable Mention: Anne Hathaway – Fantine – Les Miserables

25-10 (in alphabetical order)

Rust

Marion Cotillard – Stephanie – Rust and Bone
Shattered. Defiant. Physical.

Leonardo DiCaprio – Calvin Candie – Django Unchained
Hammy. Savage. Refreshing.

Thomas Doret – Cyril – The Kid with a Bike
Scrappy. Stubborn. Hurt.

Ann Dowd – Sandra – Compliance
Earnest. Misguided. Astray.

michael-fassbender-as-david-in-prometheus1

Michael Fassbender – David – Prometheus
Precise. Inquisitive. Blond.

Philip Seymour Hoffman – Lancaster Dodd – The Master
Cloying. Defensive.  Sincere.

Nina Hoss – Barbara – Barbara
Guarded. Austere. Compassionate.

Ezra Miller – Patrick – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Boisterous. Assured. Wounded.

Alps

Aggeliki Papoulia – The Nurse –  Alps
Desperate. Stilted. Cipher.

Michael Rogers – Barry Nyle – Beyond the Black Rainbow
Nightmarish. Unstable. Seething.

Lea Seydoux – Agathe Sidonie-Laborde – Farewell, My Queen
Enigmatic. Loyal. Observant.

Channing Tatum – Jenko – 21 Jump Street
Goofy. Atypical. Dependable.

Walken

Christopher Walken – Hans – Seven Psychopaths
Collected. Grieved. Soulful.

Dreama Walker – Becky – Compliance
Vulnerable. Simple. Credulous.

Rachel Weisz – Hester – The Deep Blue Sea
Luminous. Fretful. Smoky.

The Top 10 (alphabetical order):

levant

Denis Lavant – Monsieur Oscar and about nine other roles – Holy Motors
Grotesque. Chameleon. Encompassing.

Logan Lerman – Charlie – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Authentic. Sheepish. Damaged.

Daniel Day-Lewis – Abraham Lincoln – Lincoln
Timeless. Wise. Reedy.

Oslo
Anders Danielsen Lie – Anders – Oslo, August 31st
Haunted. Splintered. Contemplative.

Matthew McConaughey – Joe – Killer Joe
Virile. Smooth. Penetrating.

Sara Paxton – Claire – The Innkeepers
Naturalistic. Singular. Spry.

joaquin-phoenix-the-master
Joaquin Phoenix – Freddie Quell – The Master
Feral. Externalized. Obscene.

Emmanuelle Riva – Anne – Amour
Lost. Fragile. Deteriorating.

Matthias Schoenaerts – Jacky – Bullhead
Brute. Meaty. Blockaded.

Michelle Williams – Margot – Take This Waltz
Childish. Wistful. Idiosyncratic.

Advertisements

The Top Fives of 2012 Film


Continuing to encapsulate the year in film, I present you with my list of Top Fives. After this, all I’ve got are performances, song usages and finally, my 30 favorite films of the year. I’ll probably end up condensing those first two into one post in an effort to save time and space. I would’ve done scenes, but without keeping track of something like that throughout the year, it becomes impossible to make a scenes list. Suffice it to say, The First Processing Scene from The Master would’ve been my number one. Without further ado…on to the 2nd Annual Cinema Enthusiast Top Five Awards! Being a huge fan of The Film Experience’s Film Bitch Awards, I borrowed a few categories from there. All of these are in order and I tried to make them as accurate as I could considering this is all after the fact.

I would love to hear your thoughts on my choices, what you would’ve put in these categories and if there are any categories I should add for next year!

Argo

Beginnings:
1. Argo (Storming the embassy)
2. Attenberg
3. Alps
4. Seven Psychopaths
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

skyfall-titles

Use of Title Card/Opening Credit Sequences:
1. Skyfall (Title Card/Opening Credits)
2. Bachelorette (Title Card/Opening Credits)
3. Cabin in the Woods (Title Card)
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Title Card)
5. Amour (Title Card)

the_grey_1_1

Endings:
1. The Grey
2. Holy Motors
3. The Imposter
4. Zero Dark Thirty
5. Alps
Honorable Mentions: Take This Waltz and Monsieur Lazhar

your-sister-s-sister06

Ensemble Cast:
1. Your Sister’s Sister
2. Django Unchained
3. Silver Linings Playbook
4. Bachelorette
5. Moonrise Kingdom
Honorable Mentions: Killer Joe, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

filmroundup-articleLarge

Underrated Films:
Films that were critically acclaimed but were forgotten by the end of the year and didn’t get enough attention or films that didn’t get the critical love they deserved. Or, as my number five illustrates,a film that the entire internet invested in minutely taking to task.
1. Gerhard Richter Painting
2. Farewell, My Queen
3. Pirates! Band of Misfits
4. Beyond the Black Rainbow
5. The Dark Knight Rises (yeah, I went there )

wuthering heights

Films That Started Strong But…
1. Wuthering Heights (Older Catherine and Heathcliff are excruciating)
2. Django Unchained (Those last twenty minutes shouldn’t be there, period)
3. Silver Linings Playbook (Don’t buy Pat’s arc once he pieces things together re: the letter)
4. Moonrise Kingdom (The storm made the film lose itself a bit)
5. The Hunger Games (The games just don’t cut it and that climax is laughably bad)
Honorable Mention: Frankenweenie (Turns into chaotic monster movie tribute in last third albeit with fantastic character design work)

Damsels in Distress

Disappointments:
1. Damsels in Distress
2. Django Unchained
3. Lawless
4. In Another Country
5. Paul Williams Still Alive
Honorable Mention: Haywire

Matthias

Newcomers:
1. Matthias Schoenearts (Bullhead, Rust and Bone) (Ok, maybe not a newcomer, but this was absolutely his breakout year as far as exposure in the States is concerned)
2. Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild)
3. Dane DeHaan (Chronicle, Lawless)
4. Mikkel Følsgaard (A Royal Affair)
5. Sophie Nélisse (Monsieur Lazhar)
Honorable Mentions: Ariane Labed, Sarah Gadon, Dreama Walker, Hani Furstenberg, Alicia Vikander. Any number of other child actors such as Thomas Doret in The Kid with a Bike and Kacey Mottet Klein in Sister.

The Innkeepers

Underrated Performances: (Again, how do you do this? Everyone I think of putting down, I immediately imagine being called out on my choice)
1. Sara Paxton – The Innkeepers
2. Logan Lerman – The Perks of Being a Wallflower
3. Jude Law – Anna Karenina
4. Dreama Walker – Compliance
5. Christopher Walken – Seven Psychopaths
Honorable Mention: Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) (I realize this is in no way an underrated performance. But she’s got a legitimate shot at winning an Oscar for another film, while everyone forgot her work in this. I actually far prefer her work as Katniss)

Seven-Psychopaths-Tom-Waits

Bit Parts/Smaller Supporting Roles:
1. Tom Waits – Seven Psychopaths
2. The Embassy Staff (Clea Duvall, Tate Donovan, Scoot McNairy, etc) – Argo
3. Ben Whishaw – Skyfall
4. Liev Schreiber – Goon (Yes, he’s a main cast member, but I don’t recall much screen time)
5. Paul Giamatti – Cosmopolis
Honorable Mention: Garrett Dillahunt – Looper

liz-dick-trailer-behind-the-scenes

Worst Performances:
1. Lindsay Lohan – Liz & Dick
2. Chloe Grace-Moretz – Dark Shadows
3. Kaya Scodelario and James Howson – Wuthering Heights
4. Johnny Depp – Dark Shadows
5. Guy Pearce – Prometheus

jonny-greenwood-the-master_jpeg_630x420_q85

Scores:
1. The Master – Jonny Greenwood
2. Moonrise Kingdom – Alexandre Desplat
3. Cloud Atlas – Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild – Dan Romer, Behn Zeitlin
5. Beyond the Black Rainbow – Sinoia Caves

Sara Paxton

Characters:
1. Claire (Sara Paxton) – The Innkeepers
2. Patrick (Ezra Miller)– Perks of Being a Wallflower
3. Mr. Whiskers – Frankenweenie
4. Oblonsky (Matthew MacFadyen) – Anna Karenina
5. Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) – Django Unchained
Honorable Mentions: Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd – The Master

Direct action … Quentin Tarantino on the set of Django Unchained.

The Why Are You Even Here Award?
1. Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained
2. Laura Dern – The Master (You have Laura Dern in your film and this is what you do with her PTA? For shame!)
3. Maiwenn- Polisse
4. Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Lincoln
5. Zac Efron – The Paperboy
Honorable Mention: Juno Temple – The Dark Knight Rises

The-Master3

Character Dynamics:
1. Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd (Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman) – The Master
2. Driss and Philippe (Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet) – The Intouchables
3. Claire and Luke (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) –The Innkeepers
4. Schmidt and Jenko (Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum) – 21 Jump Street
5. Louise and Simon (Lea Seydoux and Kasey Mottet Klein)– Sister
Honorable Mention: Sitterson and Hadley (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) – Cabin in the Woods

Killer Joe

Villains:
1. Joe (Matthew McConaughey) – Killer Joe
2. Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) – Django Unchained
3. Barry Nyle (Michael Rogers) – Beyond the Black Rainbow
4. Silva (Javier Bardem) – Skyfall
5. Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) – The Raid: Redemption
Honorable Mentions: Aggie – ParaNorman, Lola – The Loved Ones

Rust and Bone

Romances/Couples
1. Ali and Stephanie (Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard)  – Rust and Bone
2. Lancaster Dodd and Freddie Quell (Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix) – The Master (Not a romance in the traditional sense, but they fit the bill of two people inextricably and inexplicably drawn to each other and I say theirs was a romance ‘of sorts’)
3. Caroline and Johann (Alicia Vikander and Mads Mikkelsen)- A Royal Affair
4. Sam and Suzy (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) – Moonrise Kingdom
5. Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) – Amour
Honorable Mention: Denis Lavant and a certain furry animal – Holy Motors, Anna and Vronsky – Anna Karenina, Barbara and Andre – Barbara

2013 Oscar Predictions


Time for annual Oscar Predictions! I’ve been casually following the race this year and this season has had a lot of monkey wrenches thrown into it. E-voting has confused voters leaving out a chunk of the constituents (though who knows how many), a shorter screening period, a narrower number of sure bets, etc. We pretty much know who and what all the contenders are but it feels like there is a wider possibility of combinations than usual, making this a slightly more exciting awards season I must admit. But just slightly.

What are your predictions? Anything you are predicting gets snubbed? Any surprises?

Best Picture:
Lincoln
Zero Dark Thirty
Argo
Silver Linings Playbook
Les Miserables
Life of Pi
Django Unchained
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Moonrise Kingdom
Skyfall
Alternate: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
8/9

I was really tempted to put The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in here but I just couldn’t find the room for it. But I think it’s a possibility so it’s my alternate. I’d like a Django snub so I’m placing it at the bottom. I don’t think enough people had time to see Amour for it to sneak in here. I think Foreign Language and Actress will be where it shows up.

Best Director:
Ben Affleck, Argo
Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
Alternate: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
2.5/5

I’d rather see Russell get in for directing than writing if I had to choose between the two. His deft navigation between comedy and drama was really memorable whereas I mad major screenplay issues with SLP. The Anti-Hooper brigade is much stronger amongst the blogosphere than elsewhere so I think he’ll get in. People are more likely to remember when his directorial choices yielded one-of-a-kind results than its more frustrating elements. And while I haven’t seen Life of Pi, Lee’s adaptation is from a highly regarded novel seen as a difficult screen transfer with integral incorporation of CGI and 3D so he’ll be in. Affleck, Bigelow and Spielberg are locks.

Best Actor:
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
John Hawkes, The Sessions
Hugh Jackman, Les Miserables
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Alternate: Denzel Washington, Flight
4.5/5

Day-Lewis has his third nomination and win in the bag. Actor and Supporting Actress will be the recognition for The Sessions.  I’m taking Washington out because I can’t in good conscience kick out Phoenix. Jackman is a lock as far as I’m concerned. Cooper’s spot is not as likely ( I should be picking Washington over him) but I’m keeping his. I never thought I’d be putting Phoenix in as a longshot. Not in a million years. I’d really like his force-of-nature performance to get recognized here as a better 2012 performance there was not (except maybe Denis Lavant).

Best Actress:
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Helen Mirren, Hitchcock
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Alternate: Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
4.5/5

Chastain and Lawrence are the only locks. Like I said, I think the late release date and crunched screening periods are going to hurt Amour but Riva’s performance has been a major talking point in 2012 film going on half a year since Cannes. People will remember Wallis’ spunk and so many were taken aback by her mere presence, though I feel that performances from actors that young should share the nomination with the director. I think her age will hurt her. There’s young and then there’s young. People cannot stop talking about Watts in The Impossible and her nomination will stand as recognition for the film as a whole.

Best Supporting Actor:
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
Alternate: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
3.5/5

I honestly think Waltz is getting in over DiCaprio but I’m choosing to put DiCaprio in instead. Alan Arkin does a fine job in Argo, but it’s an unremarkable performance, only notable for livening up the film with his ‘Ar-go-fuck-yourself’. That’s never stopped the Academy before. People will be too happy to have seen De Niro in something of note (playing comedy and drama no less) to not nominate him. This has been the Year of McConaughey and his nomination for Magic Mike will be recognition for his comeback year. Philip Seymour Hoffman is more of a wild card than we think. Nothing for The Master is a lock at this point. It’s made a weak showing this awards season but if one acting nomination feels possible, it’s for Hoffman. Sam Jackson, Javier Bardem and Eddie Redmayne could sneak in for semi-shockers. A lot in this field is up for grabs.

Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams, The Master
Sally Field, Lincoln
Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Maggie Smith, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
Alternate: Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
4/5

Kidman may have stunned with SAG and Golden Globe nominations but I’d be surprised to see her sneak in. Instead I think Adams has this in the bag. The other four feel rock solid, Smith less so.

Best Original Screenplay:
Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty
Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
Michael Haneke, Amour
Alternate: Rian Johnson, Looper
4/5

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Tony Kushner, Lincoln
Chris Terrio, Argo
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Lucy Alibar & Ben Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
David Magee, Life of Pi
Alternate: Ben Lewin, The Sessions
5/5

 

Best Cinematography:
Roger Deakins, Skyfall
Janusz Kaminski, Lincoln
Mihai Malaimire Jr., The Master
Seamus McGarvey, Anna Karenina
Claudio Miranda, Life of Pi
Alternate: Zero Dark Thirty
4/5

Best Costume Design:
Jacqueline Durran, Anna Karenina
Eiko Ishioka, Mirror Mirror
Sharen Davis, Django Unchained
Joanna Johnston, Lincoln
Paco Delgado, Les Miserables
Alternate: Jacqueline West, Argo
4/5

If the late Eiko Ishioka does not get nominated here, this is one snub I will be seriously upset about. Her death received a ton of attention in the blogosphere with retrospectives galore. Hopefully voters will have seen the film (the costumes are its only merit but worth watching just for) and will give her due credit.

Best Film Editing:
Dylan Tichenor & William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty
William Goldenberg, Argo
Chris Dickens, Les Miserables
Tim Squyres, Life of Pi
Fred Raskin, Django Unchained
Alternate: Stuart Baird, Skyfall
3/5

I say don’t count Les Miserables out for any major categories. Even Editing.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling:
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Les Miserables
Lincoln
Alternate: Hitchcock
2.5/3

Best Original Score:
Dario Marianelli, Anna Karenina
Mychael Danna, Life of Pi
John Williams, Lincoln
Dan Romer, Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Jonny Greenwood, The Master
Alternate: Alexandre Desplat, Argo
3/5

Best Original Song:
“Skyfall”, Skyfall
“Suddenly”, Les Miserables
“Still Alive”, Paul Williams Still Alive
“Learn Me Right”, Brave
“Pi’s Lullaby”, Life of Pi
Alternate: “Ancora Qui”, Django Unchained
3/5

If “Still Alive” gets a nomination, it’ll be my favorite of the day. Will the vote be split amongst the multiple Django choices, cancelling them out?

Best Production Design:
Sarah Greenwood & Katie Spencer, Anna Karenina
Rick Carter, Jim Erickson & Peter T. Frank, Lincoln
Eve Stewart, Les Miserables
David Crank, Jack Fisk & Amy Wells, The Master
Hugh Bateup, Uli Hanisch, Cloud Atlas
Alternate: Adam Stockhausen & Kris Moran, Moonrise Kingdom
3/5

I know Cloud Atlas has been entirely shut down this season but it’s impossible to deny the sheer volume of production design work covering six different periods of time, two of them conceptually futuristic. So I’m throwing it in. In a just world, since Wes Anderson films are an onslaught of meticulous production design, you would think this would be a lock considering its Picture contender status and this being the director’s first period film. But apparently no? Will voters go for the theatrical staging of Karenina? I cannot wait to see what pops up here.

Best Sound Editing:
Skyfall
Prometheus  
Zero Dark Thirty
Django Unchained
Life of Pi
Alternate: The Avengers
4/5

There are a lot of strong contenders here, but since I have no real skills to even begin to decipher the merits of them (despite having read a book on film sound this past year), this is all (mostly) guesswork.

Best Sound Mixing:
Les Miserables
Skyfall
Django Unchained
Zero Dark Thirty
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Alternate: The Impossible
2/5

I’d be truly surprised if The Dark Knight Rises gets in here. Everything else is up for grabs really except Les Miserables and Skyfall I’d say.

Best Visual Effects:
The Avengers
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Life of Pi
Snow White and the Huntsman
Prometheus
Alternate: The Amazing Spider-Man
5/5

Best Animated Feature Film:
Wreck-It-Ralph
ParaNorman
Frankenweenie
Brave
Rise of the Guardians
Alternate: The Rabbi’s Cat
4/5

The Rise of the Guardians had a lot of supporters despite its tepid release. So I’m putting it as my fifth.

Best Documentary:
Searching for Sugar Man
The Gatekeepers
Mea Maxima Culpa
How to Survive a Plague
This is Not a Film
Alternate: The Invisible War
3.5/5

What a jam-packed shortlist. Anything could happen. Anything. It feels wrong to be leaving some of these off the list and don’t be surprised if an entirely different set of five is announced. It says something that I left my favorite documentary of the year, The Imposter, off the list entirely. Along with Eiko Ishioka and “Still Alive”, This is Not a Film would be a wholly gratifying and significantly triumphant nomination. But will they accept it as a documentary? How to Survive a Plague relies so heavily on archival footage, making its construction less of a feat but its power should overshadow that. The Imposter has the opposite approach but I’m leaving it off. That’s to say nothing of the many other possible contenders here. This was the hardest category to predict.

Best Foreign Language Film:
Amour
The Intouchables
Kon-Tiki
No
War Witch
Alternate: Sister
4/5

Amour and The Intouchables are locks. Everything else, I’m really not sure. But I don’t see voters going for Beyond the Hills but Mungiu’s last film getting snubbed caused the Academy to CHANGE THEIR RULES there’s a good chance I’m wrong.

Total: 81

50 Favorite New-to-Me Films Seen in 2012


Pussy Goes Grr’s recent post on her favorite new-to-me films she saw this year inspired me to do my own. I had a project of watching a bunch of film from each decade that petered out for me mid-year. But from the considerable amount of film-viewing I did accomplish, I saw a boatload of great work. Here are the 50 non-2012 releases that I plan on having life-long affairs with.

Note: These aren’t ranked at all.

1. The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933, Korda)
2.The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, Wellman)
3. The Conformist (1970, Bertolucci)
4. This Land is Mine (1943, Renoir)
5. A Separation (2011, Farhadi)
6. Sabrina (1954, Wilder)
7. Pepe le Moko (1937, Duvivier)
8. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943, Powell and Pressburger)
9. Caught (1949, Ophuls)
10. Les Dames du Bois du Bologne (1945, Bresson)
11. Le Jour Se Leve (1939, Carne)
12. The Smiling Lieutenant (1931, Lubitsch)
13. Shanghai Express (1932, von Sternberg)
14. Destry Rides Again (1939, Marshall)
15. The Gay Divorcee (1934, Sandrich)
16. Only Angels Have Wings (1939, Hawks)
17. People on Sunday (1930, Siodmak and Ulmer)
18. Rembrandt (1936, Korda)
19. A Page of Madness (1926, Kinugasa)
20. Pygmalion (1938, Asquith and Howard)
21. Love Me Tonight (1932, Mamoulian)
22. Holiday (1938, Cukor):
23. The Pearls of the Crown (1937, Guitry)
24. The Story of a Cheat (1936, Guitry)
25. Madam Satan (1930, Demille)
26. Désiré (1937, Guitry)
27. The Edward G. Robinson vignette in Tales of Manhattan (1942, Duvivier)
28. The Heroic Trio (1993, To)
29. Secret Beyond the Door… (1948, Lang)
30. Green for Danger (1946, Gilliat)
31. The Thief of Bagdad (1940, Powell, et al)
32. The More the Merrier (1943, Stevens)
33. Brighton Rock (1948, Boulting)
34. Shoeshine (1946, De Sica)
35. Ordet (1955, Dreyer)
36. Los Olvidados (1950, Buñuel)
37. Germany Year Zero (1948, Rossellini)
38. Yes, Madam (1985)
39. Valerie and her Week of Wonders (1970)
40. Nights of Cabiria (1957, Fellini)
41. The Furies (1950, Mann)
42. Senso (1954, Visconti)
43. The Band Wagon (1953, Minnelli)
44. Les Enfants Terribles (1950, Melville)
45. Red Desert (1964, Antonioni)
46. Harakiri (1962, Kobayashi)
47. Smiles of a Summer Night (1955, Bergman)
48. Street of Shame (1956, Mizoguchi)
49. Caged (1950, Marshall)
50. Daisies (1966, Chytilová)



Review: Girl Model (2012, Redmon & Sabin)


Always lingering in the back of the mind while watching the new documentary Girl Model is the opening sequence, featuring scores of barely-clad teenage girls in Siberia being strutted forth like cattle in order to be critiqued as they fight for the decidedly awful position young Nadya Vall finds herself in.

Girl Model takes a cinema vérité approach, which just happens to be my favorite kind of documentary. It may have a distance that prevents a true excavation of the issue at hand, but the tip-of-the-iceberg strategy works better because of the narrow first-hand look that we do get. We don’t have to be geniuses to conclude that these are not regionally restricted issues. I’ll take a documentary that is constricted but more intimate over a broad but deeply investigational doc any day of the week.

At 13 years old, Nadya is a blank slate. She describes herself as a plain “grey mouse”, but she’s at an age where everything is unformed, as up for grabs as it gets. She doesn’t know who she is or who she wants to be; but is at that point where possible answers to such big picture questions will begin to emerge. What she does know is that home life is unfulfilling and she wants to expand her horizons, experience the otherness of city-life and help support her family. Nadya isn’t exactly compelling subject fodder, that is precisely what makes her cipher-like representational qualities all the more resonant. She’s just one out of a never-ending number searching for a needle in a haystack. Lucky for her, she fits the pre-pubescent aesthetic the Japanese market so preciously covets.

The involvement of her parents is a tricky one. Sure, they love and care about her. Yet they pin their hopes of rebuilding their house on the money they expect their daughter to make abroad. They do not suspect being had, but the central action of sending their barely teenage daughter to Japan by herself is hard to justify and even harder not to judge even if modeling is seen as an ‘only way out’ option to strive for.

The well-oiled scamming machine these modeling agencies demonstrate is more than a little reprehensible if not at all surprising. And surely Noah Models represents neither the best nor worst of the bunch. Certain agencies must at least adhere to some kind of respectable age range and/or not employ largely exploitative contractual obligations. On the other side of the coin, modeling scout Ashley Arbaugh speaks of the elephant in the room, underage prostitution, as something that is relatively commonplace for agencies to engage in simultaneously. Of course, in typical Ashley fashion, she absolves herself of complicity by stating that while she knows of this trend within the industry, she stays away from those kinds of transactions. She then doubles back, pondering whether modeling at that age is somehow harder than prostitution. Ahh, but that’s Ashley for ya; more on her later. The central issue at hand in Girl Model is in the title; 13 is an irreparably damaging age for girls to be throwing themselves, and all of their hopes and dreams, into this industry.

This  vérité approach of directors David Redmon and A. Sabin make the topic’s girth of humanistic and developmental evils readily apparent. Nadya is abandoned at the airport, left to figure out where she is staying despite being in another country alone and unable to speak the language. For two months she is schlepped around to go-sees where she is judged and subsequently not chosen, all while being further isolated by the language barrier. She does intermittent photoshoots but is not paid for them (despite being supposedly promised a minimum of $8,000 worth of work in the contract) or given any access to the people who hired her. Her apartment is dingy and she is left to support herself, putting her and her family into debt. The contracts at the agency are purposely elusive, and in English, giving Noah total control and the model none. Nadya is depicted as a deer caught in the headlights for the film’s entirety. Exhausted, confused and hurt, she just wants to go home.

Ashley Arbaugh, who suggested the subject of the documentary to the directors, is an odd duck. An odd and almost impossibly self-absorbed duck who sees the doc as a twisted vanity project. As a teenager, she tried her hand at modeling, going to Japan just like the girls she recruits. She loathed it and kept a video diary that, as far as the chosen clips suggest, support her claims of misery. Yet she stays in the industry, now making promises she knows will not be kept to other young girls. Her business associates are troubling men. One is Tigran, a skeevy slimeball of a man who has convinced himself he is educating these girls in a biblical kind of calling. He goes so far as to bring the “hard-headed’ ones to the morgue to look at fallen youths and occasionally to witness an autopsy…? Yeah, I couldn’t tell you the logic behind it either; everything about him is vague. His appearances are bizarrely manufactured in a way the filmmakers cannot get a handle on or control (based on interviews with the directors, this was certainly the case). His agency, whatever part he has in it, is a machine. All we know about a Japanese businessman we meet is that he evades questions that are asked of him by the documentarians and that he, as Ashley says with clear discomfort, “likes girls”.

Ashley is a diametrically opposed combination of completely narcissistic and a hot mess of insecurity-driven denial. Most of her used interview footage has her talking about not being passionate about what she does, her hardships in the industry, and that her associates do not know or care what she does as long as she “brings them the girls”. She is a fascinating figure, not for the reasons she would hope for, who makes a living lying through her teeth to others and herself. What makes her even more of an oddity is the way she evidently thinks her present-day confessionals reek of honesty, when in fact they just read as an ever-contradicting headspace of self-justification. Hell, she can’t even face the cameras at any point in the film, always obliquely looking off into space, talking herself out of moral quandaries.

The money and flexible schedule is worth it to her, even if it comes at the cost of living in a haze of denial. Her glass house is empty and barren with nothing on the walls. She very much lives in her own world, at times speaking of things that must only make sense to her. Those creepy-ass dolls for one thing, which have a normalized place in her universe. Not to mention the endless snapshots of models feet. Does she have friends? Or are her only interactions with her business partners? Granted, we’re only seeing one sliver of this woman’s life, but gracious me does hers feel like a lonely existence going off the evidence provided.

The highlight of the film comes when the two halves of the fly-on-the-wall narrative intersect. Ashley goes to check in on Nadya and fed up roommate Madlen. It is the only time we see her check in on the girls, but it is unclear what other kind of contact they have with members from the agency. It is the kind of awkward scene that comes around once in a blue moon. It is so awkward that uncomfortable laughter became a side effect. There is something morbidly funny seeing Ashley squirm, trying to save face by purposely misreading Madlen’s somewhat broken but serviceable English and subsequently having nothing to say. And there is also something morbidly funny in Madlen purposely exploiting the awkwardness, trying to make Ashley uncomfortable while shooting her death-stares.

The end of Girl Model suggests an inevitably morose and frustrating continuation of the cycle. Were Nadya’s experiences not all bad? Does she just think there are no other options? Unsurprisingly, Nadya (who hasn’t seen the film but heard of its content) and the agency are appalled with the way they were depicted. There were even some disturbing allegations thrown around that feel like mud-slinging, but bare mentioning all the same. Rachel, a 23-year old model, pops up in the film from time to time to frankly discuss the problems that plague the modeling industry.

Many others like Rachel have defended the film saying it struck a personal and familiar chord with their experiences and confirmed the accuracy of the issues addressed. Girl Model unsettlingly tackles the unregulated meat market aspects of modeling with a digestible tip-of-the-iceberg approach that slaps a face on the roles of the recruiter and the recruited.

There are a couple of fascinating interviews with the directors, who talk about the struggle of making a documentary while having the controlling Ashley Arbaugh as a middlewoman:

http://thefilmstage.com/features/interview-girl-model-director-david-redmon-talks-objectivity-in-documentary-more/

http://www.filmoria.co.uk/2012/02/exclusive-interview-with-david-redmon-and-ashley-sabin-directors-of-girl-model/

Review: Sinister (2012, Derrickson)


IMDB Summary: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

Horror films tend to firmly root themselves in their respective subgenre of choice. Sinister is a kind of hybrid film that blends current trends of found footage with peripheral creaky house thrills rolled up in a supernatural mythology package. Taking place almost entirely in one setting, its eeriness operates on several different levels, the most startling of which is the grainy Super-8 reels that Ethan Hawke’s hopelessly narcissistic character happens upon.

The slow burn investigation hashes out the discoveries in digestible doses. A lot of the expositional backstory in these kinds of films can become quickly convoluted, somehow being overly complicated and all-too familiar. Ghost wants revenge? No way! But Sinister keeps the mystery going and comes up with a tale that’s familiar in its Horror 101 structure, but is still just original enough to remain compelling. It slowly ratchets up tension using escalating repetition. In the case of the Super-8 films, we know what is going to happen in each one, but the suspense is driven through the question of ‘how?’ and the unsettling normalcy that occurs at the beginning of each. Every time Hawke hears creaks and bumps, something slightly more alarming occurs each time. And as the film progresses, his two children become more and more affected by their surroundings.

Grounding, and in fact elevating, all of this is Ethan Hawke who has a habit of making films better with his presence. His casting is crucial since a lot of Sinister is a one-man show. Can he just be in everything? Playing the only developed character, (the others can be boiled down to loyal and concerned wife, creative daughter and typical teenage boy) the writers do something pretty shrewd with his characterization. Ellison is trying to build his ‘legacy’, as he arrogantly puts it. His only true-crime bookselling smash was ten years ago. Two duds later and he’s back at square one, only with added desperation. He moves his family into the house where the crime he’s investigating took place, without telling them by the way. Basically the fella’s an asshole.

The screenwriters use his arrogance, drive and desperation to act as the answer to all of those ‘What the hell is wrong with you? Don’t go in the attic you fucking idiot!’ exclamations we so often have in horror films. Where other films use par for the course logic to excuse its characters’ ceaselessly poor judgment, screenwriters Scott Derrickson (also director) and C. Robert Cargill make us understand why Ellison makes the very silly decisions he does.

There is one type of scare employed in Sinister which did not work for me; the ever-popular creepy children. It is employed pretty heavily towards the end, which causes some of the tension to somewhat evaporate. The spooky kid trope can really get under the skin but the problem is it so rarely works. And what’s worse is that it is used all the time. Writers seem to think that dead-eyed innocents are an automatic scare-tactic win but it demands precise execution. In this regard, Sinister doesn’t have the goods and it becomes distracting at points. But it has so much else working in its favor for this to do too much damage.

It must be said that the throbbing industrial score by Christopher Young is easily one of the best scores I have heard this year. It pulsates through each scene, subtly switching it up in some surprising ways. Derrickson’s use of darkness, space and sound are consistently disquieting.

Sinister is without a doubt the scariest film I have seen in quite some time. It finds ways to disturb without resorting to gore and much of its imagery makes quite a lasting impression. It had me actively stressed, often dodging center screen with my eyes in jittery anticipation. Only when I left the theater did I realize just how tense my body had been throughout. When a film can get me that on-edge, all shortcomings be damned. Sinister more than gets the job done.

Review: Looper (2012, Johnson)


With three films under his belt, it’s clear that Rian Johnson loves to tinker with genre form, structure, presentation and expectations. With 2005’s Brick, an audaciously bold vision of Hammett-style noir set in the emptied outskirts of high school suburbia, Johnson presented two tried and true genres and welded them together to create something that had not been done before. It was a concept that could have and should have fallen to pieces for, well, pick a reason. But it didn’t. His third film Looper sees a repairing of the director with now bona-fide star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This time, they take on sci-fi, using high concept to ask questions about cycles, or loops if you will, of violence, selfishness and stepping outside routine monotony to look at who we have become and the choices we make.

Looper gets the world-setting out of the way in its first act with expositional narration delivered by Levitt with grade-school lesson preciseness. The basics are this; the year is 2044. Time travel has not been invented yet but it will have been in 30 years only to be immediately outlawed. Since circumstances make it impossible to get rid of a body in the future, the criminal underworld send those they want gone back to 2044 to be killed by ‘loopers’.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper. He spends his days executing, taking drugs that are administered via eye drops and partying at the club that his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) owns. Being a looper means you make serious change, which from the looks of things, cannot be said for the greater populace. He is saving up to go to France. Lately, contracts are increasingly being terminated as loopers are being forced to kill their older selves, thereby “closing the loop”. This means they get a ginormous payday, an early retirement and the knowledge that they have 30 more years until they bite the dust.

The story kicks into gear when Bruce Willis, playing the older Joe, is sent back but escapes with a questionable agenda of his own. The younger Joe has to track down his eventual self so he can save face with Abe and his goons who are now after him.

The near-future Johnson creates is shrouded in big-picture ambiguity and is brought to life by minutiae and the immersion into an underground subset of life in 2044. The technology has progressed but has a tinkered rusty old-world feel to it. The gadgetry and panoramic views that can potentially drown out other sci-fi is smartly nowhere to be seen, mostly because the budget does not support it. Looper keeps small-scale dystopia in check throughout, throwing expectations out the window by having the second half set far removed from what we commonly think of as sci-fi settings. In fact, it comes to feel more like a ‘protecting the ranch’ kind of Western.

The marketing for Looper reminded me of the marketing for Brave. Both decided to focus on the basic ideas, and exclusively cover the first third to first half of their products. There were audience members who are thrown by the turns each film takes. Frankly, we need more marketing of this kind. While there are problems that emerged for me upon reflection, the unpredictability of most of the film was thrilling. It is a sensation that does not come around often, that sense of not knowing where a film is going. There are a couple of sequences that took me by such surprise that I felt like a kid in a candy store. There are moments when Looper had me gleaming. Most of this can be attributed to the non-formulaic storytelling, but some of it can be credited to how the film was sold to the public. It is proof that we rely far too much on what we see from trailers and that trailers have for the most part lost the art of intrigue. I hope more marketing campaigns take this route in the future.

Johnson and Levitt have gone on record talking about the cycle of violence the film comments on. It humanizes the concept by pointing out that at the center of violence in the abstract, you have people making decisions. What is this catalyst and how can it be changed? What drives a sense of responsibility? Would our actions be unrecognizable to our former selves? Johnson successfully walks that fine line between indulging in onscreen violence without it compromising what he is trying to say.

Johnson’s cinematic eye consistently excites me, particularly in the way he uses the horizontal streak of the frame for maximum effect. By using widescreen to have multiple planes of movement happening at once, he utilizes back and forth stationary panning to follow the action as opposed to a more traditional cutting technique. This touch can be seen quite a lot in Brick as well. He calls attention to the different ways action can be shot and cut by having the scene where Willis escapes Levitt shown twice. The first time the camera is right up with the action, employing point-of-view shots and expected cutting choices. The second time we see the scene the camera is placed far away and the awkwardness of the scuffle is caught and even played for laughs. It’s a delightful moment that calls attention to how thoroughly formal elements dictate how we perceive what happens onscreen.

The hiccups in Looper feel more marked because it gets so much so right. This is one of the best films I have seen this year, and certainly a sci-fi flick for the books, but it cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

The older version of Joe, played by Willis, faces a surprising antihero-based dilemma. The groundwork is laid for a captivating older Joe and Willis brings what he can to the table. But the script increasingly treats him like a lazy subplot presence as opposed to a co-lead who is facing very tough decisions, confronting the fact of what he is willing to do at a chance for self-preservation. His role starts out strong; the diner scene between him and Levitt is probably the film’s highlight and I would have sopped up the glory of that scene more had I known it would sadly be the two actors’ only significant time onscreen together. Then older Joe is quickly demoted to provide a forcibly injected pacing jolt and to try and justify the existence of Piper Perabo’s wholly disposable character.

The ideas introduced are carried through to the end, but the character focus shifts too dramatically. Despite always keeping the younger Joe’s arc in eyesight, the central focus of Emily Blunt’s Sarah and Pierce Gagnon’s Cid (both doing fabulous work) cannot help but take away from the impact of the younger Joe’s conscience building. Sarah is introduced with a nice touch that immediately pushes her into a level past ‘love interest’ (a category I’d argue she does not fit in the first place). Johnson gives her perspective and right off the bat she becomes a character with feelings, motivations and backstory in her own right. If only the film could have succeeded at keeping Joe’s arc in the foreground throughout all of this.

The climax highlights how the two Joe’s become a footnote in their own film. The telekinetic piece of the Looper world puzzle (10% of the population has TK…?) is the only bit to feel out of place, and yet it becomes central to the story. Joe steps into a story bigger than him and the addicting dichotomy between the two Joe’s becomes underexplored. While I love the jagged curveball that Looper throws at us, Johnson struggles to keep what was introduced at the beginning in focus and the centrality of the two Joe’s, especially Willis, is somewhat compromised as a result. These shortcomings, while notable, do not change the fact that Looper remains an invigorating genre-affirming piece of science-fiction.