Capsule Reviews: Films Seen in 2014 #130-134


belle
#130. Belle (2014, Asante)

“I have been blessed with freedom twice over, as a negro and as a woman.”

Belle is much more than the following sentiment, but all the same; Amma Asante’s gratifying yet subversive period piece makes my heart go pitter-patter. Some may scoff at the love story (indeed a few reviews I’ve read knock it down a peg for just that) but what about how sweetly investing it is? The adorable abolitionist with unshakable moral footing (Sam Reid) is so steadfast that he amusingly dips into caricature at times. It becomes part of his charm, as does Reid’s slight woodenness. More importantly, Amma Asante gives a mixed race character the otherwise non-existent pleasure of participating in British aristocratic romance with all the heart-racing and letdowns of love and its foibles.

Belle is inspired by a rare 18th century painting (a rare marker of what could and should be), and the life of its black subject, who is portrayed in the piece with equal height, dignity, and grace to her white counterpart. The film takes on a bit of everything (coming-of-age, race relations, period piece, romance, courtroom drama), a juggling that at times threatens to capsize. Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is a biracial aristocrat, allowing her a unique position not only in history but also in film’s depiction of history. She is ‘blessed’ with relative agency through her bloodline and financial independence, but while the white half of her is lauded, the other half of her lineage robs her of standing, saddling her with the self-loathing society embeds in her. She has a place in her family and is genuinely loved by them, but certain basic customs still keep her at bay. Her upbringing quarantines her from her slave heritage; she is an anomaly, with no connection or relation to her blackness, always aware of the ways she is made limited by it, but otherwise kept away from the accompanying culture and systemic atrocities. A lot of Belle is about the title character finding some sense of racial identity in a world that shuns her from doing so.

It’s not just Belle who is restricted. Her cousin and best friend Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon, a favorite up-and-comer) has to barter herself a husband to secure status. The fact that she has no dowry makes her an undesirable despite her standing and revered porcelain beauty. For her, and women in general, there’s also a bartering of flesh. You feel the humiliation and self-worth slipping from Elizabeth as she casts her line out, waiting for some dweeb or scumbag to hook. When Elizabeth and Belle fight, we don’t hate her. We’ve grown invested in their bond and in Elizabeth’s misguided infatuation and her peripheral disquietude. And then there’s our abolitionist who comes from a class lower than Belle or Elizabeth, his occupational drive seen as having a shallow ceiling.

There are a ton of subversive subtleties at work. In case you didn’t get the memo, race, class, and gender constructs are constantly being prodded at. The Jane Austen framework and conventions are used to further engage with obliviously embedded mindsets of racism. It’s a different angle for this kind of historical film, and in some way more complex than depicting the hard-hitting horrors of slavery. It takes the conversation outside the slave experience and more explicitly mirrors the racial politics of today.

This is a historical space where a feisty, playful, astute, contemplative and determined young woman fights to find a place and identity for herself, to embrace her heritage in a world that isn’t ready to afford her that. Somehow Belle keeps from feeling too weighty without ever glossing over its social, racial, or gender concerns. And Gugu Mbatha-Raw is just incredible. I don’t know how else to put it. Anyone who sees this will have her on their permanent radar. Raw flips through Belle’s youthful contradictions and the myriad number of her differing facets (that hey guess what, all young women have! But film rarely crafts or performs them this thoughtfully) with ease.

In some pockets there’s an interesting, for lack of a better word, streak of hesitancy to engage with the more vicarious tropes of period dramas. Belle plays in the same pond its characters do, recognizing that these obstructions are part of what can make period romances, well, so romantic. And for once, changing history to imagine direct historical impact and a conveniently happy bow is a hopeful and earned statement. It’s entirely moving instead of a cop-out. It’s a conclusive statement for Belle being an unapologetically revisionist romance, and by the end I had to wipe a happy tear away.

It’s the Little Things:
Tom Felton. And Tom Felton’s wigs.

Joe Cage Sheridan
#131. Joe (2014, Green)

“Smile through the pain”

Probably, and so disappointingly, my least favorite film of 2014 thus far (granted, I’ve only seen 30) and the second worst I’ve seen from David Gordon Green (I’m a fan). It comes down to the critical difference between letting ‘regional authenticity’ materialize naturally, and using it as your sole playing card for the deluded support of yet another masculine-soaked redemption narrative. Joe is, quite frankly, a barrel of overkill. I felt like one of those damn trees the characters inject with poison. Joe (Nicolas Cage) begrudgingly bonds with a boy named Gary (Tye Sheridan), who is stuck in a hopelessly repellent family situation. And guess what guys; Joe sees a bit of himself in this kid.

It’s a shame about Joe because the two lead performances, particularly their organic chemistry, are very good. I’m not going to play the Nicolas Cage Returns to Acting headline (it’s a reductive and uninteresting way of looking at his career) but yes, this is engaging work from him. Tye Sheridan stands out more though. There’s such a messy and loaded moment that must have been on some level improvised by Sheridan (it’s the standout moment of Joe), where he taunts his father with the drink. Gary Poulter and his story are an uneasy illustration of contradiction. Contradiction isn’t the right word, but I’m not sure what is the right word. Of course Poulter has some serious chops and it’s great that he was given this opportunity to play this character. I realize there’s no solution or responsibility that comes saddled with his casting, but then he’s just released into the last throes of alcoholism, playing out the end of his onscreen character and himself.

The couched hillbilly miserablism is used as a distraction/qualifier to fill out a thin and exhausted story. Not even the sense of hidden humanity that Green is able to peer at can make up for bleak tedium. Men make their living by illegally poisoning trees. There’s a dog named Dog. Lots of visual dog metaphors. Deer are butchered. Joe won’t take his girlfriend out to dinner. There’s a guy who works at a general store and collects war paraphernalia. There are lounging prostitutes. There’s incest. There’s endless mumbling and drudgery. There’s also a scene where Poulter and one of Joe’s employees yell the same things back and forth to each other at an escalating rate, a microcosm representative of the approach to Joe.

Its best moments all feel improvised. Gary asking Joe to buy his truck. The ‘smile through the pain scene’. The snake. There’s a lighthearted touch to these moments the rest of the film could take a note from. Not that Joe needs to be lighthearted. Far from it. I mention these moments because they were touches of texture otherwise missing. It’s as if the actors themselves subconsciously injected a bit of levity into the proceedings.

It’s the Little Things:
-The first shot
– Cage’s delivery of “Kristy, call the cops before someone gets killed. Would you do that for me honey?”
– I will say that the scene the brutal murder of that homeless man was profoundly disturbing. And not in just a shock value kind of way. It had a genuine effect on me in ways few things do. Yes, it’s the kind of unproductive ugly the rest of the film goes for, but it’s also frightening in that you don’t often see murder take place in film with this blend of senselessness and intimacy. I can’t properly articulate it.

Enemy-2
#132. Enemy (2014, Villeneuve)

Enemy had been one of my most anticipated films of 2014. I’d read José Saramago’s The Double, which became a favorite book despite its callous dismissal of women. Doppelgängers, bifurcated identities, dream logic, psychological angst, etc. This all screams ‘KATIE’. But I don’t know what to make of Enemy. Much of it feels somehow easy; artificially symbolic and existential. Like Denis Villeneuve looked at a stripped down template of psychological mind-fucks and never followed through with expansion. It has a simple recurring framework; spiders, Toronto as a piss-cream smog factory with an endless emphasis on presence of skyscrapers and criss-crossing wires (webs), music and scale that recalls German Expressionism. Ever notice that a clarinet, if used in a certain solitary way, suggests an off-key almost paranoid melancholia? Well, Enemy understands and makes good use of that. This isn’t Villeneuve re-teaming with Jake Gyllenhaal after Prisoners; Enemy was shot first. This is the re-teaming. Lacking as these two films are, in one sense it’s worth it for the  Gyllenhaal performances, which have double(triple?)-handedly made me invested in his career again.

Sarah Gadon (hello again!) leaves the biggest imprint out of anyone or anything here. Her expressiveness, and the way she shares her secrets and fears with the camera represent the best work I’ve seen from her. Anthony (Gyllenhaal) looks past her constantly, so she carves out a special bond with the audience in these silent scenes. I do like the disbursement and sense of psychological space taking place within the inner. But Enemy’s few developments (there’s a way to do effective minimalism; this isn’t it) are rendered blank because the flow is careless to anything outside conveying monotonous dread. The first meeting between Adam and Anthony is inertly underexplored. It doesn’t release any of its built-up energy. It’s so concentrated on maintaining atmosphere that character becomes background, in a frickin’ doppelganger story, despite Gyllenhaal’s subtle rendering. How do you have a film about identity without, in some way (again, this can do this visually but these are just not enough), foregrounding character? Even its final image is desperate, a last gasp at food-for-though, but the joke seems to be on us.

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#133. The Story of Qiu Ju (1992, Zhang)
“He’ll pay. That means you’re right and he’s wrong”

Qiu Ju’s (Gong Li) efforts to be heard are emphasized by sight and sound. Qiu Ju is not made special by the camera. She is not centered visually, always caught in long or medium shots. She also isn’t especially heard, her voice always threatening to be drowned out by those around her. She is compromised or diluted in her own ramshackle environment, and in the big city she is simply overwhelmed. The characters knock about different ideas of justice, none of them particularly fulfilling. There are increasingly comic dead ends as we climb up the bureaucracy, and enter fish out of water territory. There is repetition through the same piece of music, linked with the tiresome act of travel. Qiu Ju chases something that doesn’t really exist. The higher up she goes the more elusive her goals are as well as and the powers that be. Her chiles are gone. And her husband is upset.

The cyclical comic roundabout of the story didn’t engage me; it’s just a taste thing. What I find most interesting is admittedly extratextual; its placement in Zhang Yimou’s career (trading prestige for rural), how China felt about him and Gong Li up to this point, and how this turned the tides. Also, the hidden cameras give us a priceless look at modern day China. It is unprecedented in that way, but not much else.

Hyenas
#134. Hyènes (Hyenas) (1992, Mambéty
)
“Life made me a whore, so now I’ll make the world a brothel”

I shamefully, but perhaps unsurprisingly, have very little experience with African cinema so I can’t speak to a larger context. Explicitly anti-colonialist, using the cautionary fable to illustrate the slippery slope into superficial Western modernity. Colobaine is in an economic crisis, and all it takes is one person to come in with their vendetta, their goods, their temptations; but change comes with a blood price. The mayor says the village’s decision is not for the sake of money. He uses the values of past wrongdoing as a transparent excuse for turning on their most popular resident. Dramaan Drameh (Mansour Diouf) is literally consumed. The transition from incorruptible to corruptible is a bit forced in its mechanization, point or no. Linguere Ramatou (Ami Diakhate) is transformed into an icon of power, using money for revenge but not as reconciliation for her own experiences. So money doesn’t make up for hardships, but it does sustain bloodlust. She is surrounded by adornments and even a Japanese security guard! The tone is perfectly gentle and lacerating.

Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up #214-224


I’ve got a bit of catch-up to do here. And I’m also 2 films away from being ready to work on my Top Ten of 1983 list (finally!). It took longer than I thought. And I still don’t know what the ten are going to look like. But here is a round-up of some films watched this month.

Drug War

#214. Drug War (2013, To)
I’m happy to say that Drug War lived up to my cautiously set expectations (meaning that expectations are a dangerous and destructive tendency to have with films and so I avoid them as much as I reasonably can, even with a film such as this). 2013 seems to be the year where the film community has taken on To’s intimidating filmography with rigor. It’s an exciting development largely triggered by Drug War’s Western success. Not including Drug War, I’d only seen a couple of To’s films (everyone needs to see The Heroic Trio because it has amazing Hong Kong lady stars becoming superheroes and kicking ass!) and Drug War definitely left me pining for more of his work.

This is rigid, disciplined, alive. Entirely driven, on a content level, by its plot mechanics which make up a serious and twisty crime/action film laced with politics of Mainland China where rigidity is a false pretense because everything feels like it can go bust at any second. And oh boy does it ever.

On its surface it may on first glance look like a really solid action flick, but when you watch it, it doesn’t quite feel like others of its kind. It’s hermetically sealed and about the illusion of order. Everything is slick (what glorious sound!), not supported by the notion of ‘cool’ so much as the notion of pure craftsmanship. There is an immaculate tracking of space and place. You can tell this is special just in the way it goes about introducing all the key players at the beginning. It doesn’t dumb down character intros but it’s a casually intricate map rooted in clarity. Drug War gets more compelling by the minute and is contains a pretty fantastic female detective played by Huang Yi.

I went from really wanting to see Blind Detective to really really really wanting to see Blind Detective.

Only God Forgives

#215. Only God Forgives (2013, Refn)
Short review coming soon

Pauline at the Beach

#216. Pauline at the Beach (1983, Rohmer)
My first Rohmer film! And I found it delightful. It’s a brisk comedy/coming-of-age film about the lack of self-awareness that young (well mostly) idealistic folk carry around with them when it comes to how people talk about love versus how they actually partake in it. The lesson here is that active self-awareness is a virtue but self-awareness in and of itself doesn’t get you far if you don’t know how to apply that knowledge to your actions. These characters talk about love and other characters prospects. But they are unable to listen to their own advice. And so we spend the film watching a small group of people making poor decisions driven by naivete and their own weaknesses. What’s additionally amusing is that the ‘love’ in question purposely lacks any potency.

Pauline is the only one who takes anything away from the film’s events as she observes, grows, and learns from other people’s choices as well as her own. It ends on a grace note which signifies that her learned lessons will be kept to herself. People will behave how they want and believe what they will. Some will learn from their experiences and some won’t. The exclusive-feeling message that I took from it is that it’s better to affirm and to nod your head because people won’t take to a romantic reality even if you try and shed some light. This doesn’t go for everyone, but for a character like Marion? Honey, you are wasting your time. And Pauline knows this. A naturalistic combination of Kristy McNichol/young Scarlett Johansson/Ellen Page, Amanda Langlet is such a presence. She is our access point and without her the film would fail to bring us into the film’s world of fleeting bygone ‘love’.

Blue Caprice

#217. Blue Caprice (2013, Moors)
A case of love-the-approach, not the execution. Blue Caprice admirably goes for an unsensationalistic and determinedly opaque fictional take on the origin of the Beltway sniper attacks. But that opaqueness never coalesces into anything memorable. I also think it should have ended right before the shootings begin. Moors unwillingness or way of tip-toeing around depicting the crimes makes the final act feel sort of pointless. The focus is smartly not on ‘why’ but on how a father-son-like bond of such destructive force comes to be. It’s a deadly bond made up of outward world-is-against-me-blame and the silent pliable mind of someone who seeks a fatherly figure no matter the cost. It defiantly hits its plot points without magnifying them. But their somewhat cliched presence to begin with, the fact that these marks are hit at all if we weren’t going to focus on them much, makes them feel a bit like lead. Both lead performances are quite strong, each bringing a different kind of menacing quality to their roles. But Blue Caprice’s wishy-washy quality makes it forgettable and without much staying power. It has its moments but that resolute ambiguity doesn’t fulfill itself as a work about the unknowable nature behind an atrocity such as this.

Frog

#218-219. Frog, Frogs (1987, 1991, Grossman)
On the one hand most critics/reviewers would write this off immediately. And yet…Shelley Duvall’s brand of unrelenting well-meaning cornball and DIY charm that her exec prod. credit and general presence infuses is oddly endearing at times. Especially when you take into account the sequel which is surprising in the ways in manages to bring a lot of continuity to the table. Real thought was put into portraying the false posturing of adolescence and that it’s a time where identity can be lost as easily as it can be found. If you can look past Paul Williams career nadir as a lounge singing frog with a broad Italian accent, you’ll actually find yourself rooting for Robin Tunney (in her first role as an adorable scientist geek) and Scott Grimes to hook up and you’ll be wanting more Elliot Gould baseball analogies and Duvall life lessons complete with lizard slippers. I watched this with a crowd and against your better judgment you’ll be left wanting to incorporate rhubus as an insult into your vocab.

Three Crowns of the Sailor

#220. Three Crowns of the Sailor (1983, Ruiz)
Alternately engaging headspace of wandering mythos which would then go into bouts that had trouble taking me along the contemplative ride. It’s on a wavelength that constantly threatens to leave you behind if you’re not in the right frame of mind to latch onto its mysterious episodes. Gets into a lot about the act of storytelling and its contexts and cultural influences which felt like they went a bit over my head. Not in a sense of content but in its air of historical heritage and folklore that I’m not privy to. But there were a few sequences I loved and it left me wanting to see more Raul Ruiz as well as revisit this again several years down the road.

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#221. Bastards (2013, Denis)
Denis gets a bit restricted by tethering herself to the bare bones outline of this very dark noir story. On the one hand she still, as ever, places conventional narrative at the bottom of the totem pole, but in this case those noir bare bones can be a limiting cage of convention and trope without nuance due to Denis’ other priorities. So we end up with plot points you can see coming from basically the first minute as well as certain characters having confusing motivations on the most basic of levels in ways they shouldn’t be (I’m thinking mainly of Lindon). Denis is known for her opaque poeticisms but it clashes with the presence of tropes here and there is a bit of stumbling to be had.

So I got all of that out of the way because even though this is my least favorite Denis film I’ve seen, I liked it a hell of a lot and anything by her is far more interesting than most films that get released. She still doles out images that will stick with you for life. A bleeding and naked, still impossibly young, and yellow street-lit Lola Creton in heels click-clacking like a zombie down the backstreets of Paris will be with me forever. As will that last scene; My God. Even though the way Denis uses narrative can be a detract from Bastards, the way she uses that same ambiguity as an unwillingness to directly deal with the horrors of what’s going on, focusing on thematic and intuitive image, makes everything all the more unsettling and skin-crawling. Once again, Tindersticks provide ample support.

One Deadly Summer

#222. One Deadly Summer (1983, Becker)
Maybe ultimately a bit too faithful to the book? It certainly doesn’t help that I had just finished reading the novel before watching this, making me hyper-aware of the beat-for-beat story points and perspective changes. This makes it an overlong slog at times. But I still say this is a largely underseen film thanks in large part to Isabelle Adjani’s performance (and *lots* of nudity which manages to be somewhat empowering and also nice to look at). She somehow manages to capture Elle, a supremely contradictory, complex, and difficult character to grasp.  It’s a fresh take on the fall of man by a calculating woman which favors female perspective in ways that eventually undercut the typical male perspective. But ultimately it’s not one that makes its mark. It’s the definition of a solid piece of work said as a slightly backhanded compliment.

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223. Something in the Air (Après mai) (2013, Assayas)
We all have directors that we think of as ‘one of ours’. I’d have to say Olivier Assayas is one of those for me with his post-punk sensibilities and occasional all-time home-runs. This is easily my least favorite from him since demonlover (2 of the 3 Assayas films I haven’t seen are Clean and Boarding Gate), despite crackles of brilliance and the accomplished way it takes a blanket snapshot of the confusing aftermath of revolution from French youth of the 60’s when nobody knows what or who they want in life. This is when the film worked for me. It struggles when it reveals that Assayas wants to have it both ways. He wants that autobiographical coming-of-age romance too. The cliches of the personal story fall flat and can’t gain much interest because the film is torn by two sets of ambition, much like the protagonist. But there are still heights to be reached such as a sequence when we stay back at a party with Laure (Carole Combes) and a personal moment of loss is interrupted by a blazing fire. The time period also allows Assayas to show off his music taste and I always take any opportunity to say he has bar none the best music taste of any filmmaker working today. He puts most everyone else to absolute shame.

L'Argent
224. L’Argent (1983, Bresson)
A mite too didactic and unsparing (at times you think ‘we get it; money is evil, Good God man!), but certainly a masterwork of sorts. Engaging but partly in that kind of dry way in which you’d find a great thesis or textbook engaging. It follows the money trail to its natural sociopathic endpoint. It takes some time to lead us to our main character but once it settles into his lack of luck, this remains gripping to the end. Bresson’s language of spare absolutes makes for a brutally cold descent where sets and sound feel on edge and discomfiting in their pure purposefulness. His trademark use of non-actors make the sealed-off exchanges feel effectively robotic, as if real people barely even exist anymore. A treatise about money as corrupter, destroyer, weapon, power, and an agent for the erasure of humanity. While that didactic absolute can, as I said, be a bit much, it makes for an uncompromising last film that will haunt you in the days afterward.c

Short Review: Star 80 (1983, Fosse)


Mariel Hemingway_Eric Roberts_Star80
For all its qualities, Star 80 will not leave your mind alone primarily because of Eric Roberts who is astonishing in a searing and deeply disturbing portrait of a hanger-on parasite unable to overcome his own insecurities. This is based on a true story and his Paul Snider does some horrific things but because of the performance and the script we feel for this monster. This man who was beaten by himself, unable to adjust his social dial when needed. Though the film ends with a rape/murder/suicide, I had just as hard a time watching a scene where Snider meets Hugh Hefner. He introduces himself by misquoting Hef, his pimped-out loser persona made up of self-loathing and desperation oozes out of him to the point where it becomes difficult to watch. And then he obsesses over the encounter afterwards. He’s identifiably nervous and rightly over-analytical of himself.

He ‘discovered’ Dorothy but couldn’t hold onto her, couldn’t keep her. The act of ‘discovering someone’ doesn’t go any further than the initial action requires and so Paul is left on the sidelines, back to proudly hustling together wet T-shirt contests which fail to make the projected profit. As Dorothy rightly breaks away from Snider (he is clearly a ticking time bomb), he tries to refocus his energies as advised by his roommate. When he tells Dorothy over the phone about his new health spa pet project, she is uneasy and unenthusiastic about the whole thing. She wants out of the marriage at this point, and it’s just a matter of getting up the nerve to tell him. And though he will be the one to end her life, and though we couldn’t be more empathetic to her conflict of interest, Eric Roberts makes us feel for this man in that moment when we see that he’s trying and she’s over it. We’ve seen characters like this before, these desperate hustler types trying to inch in at a taste of the spotlight. Reconciling the impossibility of actual fame with the hopefulness of at least being surrounded by it. But Roberts takes it to a new level of complexity, impressive all the more because of the context of the story.

Fosse never lets us forget where the story is going; happy moments are tinged with the future. This was a filmmaker who burrowed in deep, who lives in the dark corners and presents them to us with a streak of pizzazz and patterns of repetition. This is exploitative material, based on something that happened two years before the film’s release. It’s the type of story that immediately gets turned into a tawdry and untimely Lifetime movie (and of course there was an even earlier take on this material in the form of a TV movie starring Jamie Lee Curtis) but Fosse lifts it up and actually does something with it. He looks at that line that divides fame and the endless outskirts. What gets you in and what keeps you out? The Dorothy Stratten story is a worst-case scenario of what this craving does to a person when its a perfect storm of insecurity, mental imbalance, and ambition.

A special shout-out to Mariel Hemingway, equally impressive with a less complicated role. She carries with her an indefinable innocence and a buoyant youthfulness that becomes far more difficult to see stamped out than other potential actresses in this role.

List: Top 30 Favorite Films of 2012 (#30-16)


Finally! Almost the end of the month and I’m shipping out the list of my thirty favorite films of the year. At the end of this and the next post, I will have a list of all the films I watched this year that were up for a spot. I always hate the idea of a Top Ten list. It seems far too exclusive and unfair to narrow down a year in film to only ten films. I like to celebrate the year with more love all around. Same goes for ‘best’. I prefer favorite. The films I did not get to see that I most would have liked to, but I really just maxed out on motivation towards the end, were Tabu, The Turin Horse, Goodbye First Love, Wreck-It-Ralph and Life of Pi among others. So! I present to you the first half of my 30 Favorite Films of 2012 list.

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30. Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, USA)

The achievement of Zero Dark Thirty is its towing the line. By prioritizing painstaking scrupulousness, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal neither glorify nor condemn anything we see. The result is a complex procedural led by the single-minded Jessica Chastain that burrows in the grey.

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29. The Invisible War (Dick, USA)

The first of seven documentaries on here, The Invisible War sees Kirby Dick taking a mature step up from the addicting but intrusive This Film is Not Yet Rated. Here, he shines a light on the ongoing atrocities of sexual assault committed against women within the United States Armed Forces. Even worse than the trauma is the unconscionable treatment of victims who attempt to get justice. Between the women being told to ‘suck it up’, that it was their fault, getting discharged and their cases getting lost in very quick dead ends, you will find yourself crying and wringing your hands in fury up to the gods at the self-serving impartial justice system depicted.

girlmodel

28. Girl Model (USA, Redmon & Sabin)

“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 and that the river runs deeper.”

“The Ashley Arbaugh figure is a fascinating one, not for the reasons she would hope for, making 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.”

My full review here: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/review-girl-model-2012-redmon-sabin/

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27. Beyond the Black Rainbow (Canada, Cosmatos)

The best executed pastiche piece these eyes have seen in a while. A head trip of the first order, this take-off of similarly demented sci-fi/horror sources from the minds of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter is destined for underground fame. Its plot is thin as a whistle, merely an excuse for a fuzzy wandering logic that feels like a combination of being half asleep and also on drugs. Mixing and matching monochromatic palettes and a meticulous sound design to get under your skin, this retro lo-fi mock-acid outing is one genre film that demands to be seen.

Looper-Diner-Scene

26. Looper (USA, Johnson)

Rian Johnson’s third film 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. 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. This and Beyond the Black Rainbow were the two sci-fi films of note this year.

Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/review-looper-2012-johnson/

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25. Farewell, My Queen (France, Jacquot)

Historical witness films can be really hit-or-miss. The key is that if the bogus ‘witness’ isn’t compelling, you are often left with history porn that only lights up when the icon of choice appears onscreen. Luckily, Lea Seydoux’s Madame Laborde fits the bill. It is hard to tell what is going on behind those doting saucers since she favors the colder side of demeanor and her absorbing ambiguity make her worthy. She is more than our gateway. With one foot dipped into Marie Antoinette’s quarters and the other one steeped into the whispers of massive impending change downstairs, the film covers all angles well without making too much explicit. What I love about Farewell, My Queen are little touches; the one costume that Seydoux wears, the fact that she ungracefully falls twice, the rat-infested conditions below, etc.  And Diane Kruger makes a great Marie.

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24. Gerhard Richter Painting (Germany, Belz)

“Gerhard Richter Painting explores the universality of creation and the individualistic relationships between artists and their visions, process and products. It confirms that these individualistic relationships belong only to the artist. As gratifying as the insight that Belz gets and gives us is, neither a witnessing camera, nor words from the creator himself can truly represent the process of creating. What Belz and her marvelous film assert is that it makes being a bystander to the process is no less meaningful, and that our own individual relationships and responses to any work of art are no less essential.”

Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/review-gerhard-richter-painting-2012-belz/

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23. 21 Jump Street (USA, Lord & Miller)

“21 Jump Street remains self-aware throughout, acknowledging its own lack of originality. But it never allows that one-joke gimmick to define the film; far from it. This is a mostly great comedy (and how few comedies can even be defined as ‘mostly great’ these days?) that thrives on being hilarious and sincere in equal measure. The rocky road the central friendship takes is clearly just as important to the filmmakers and actors as the laughs. Only time will tell, but I predict that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum will go down as one of the best onscreen pairings of our time. Yep. I said it.”

Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/review-21-jump-street-2012-lord-miller/

Jiro Dreams

22. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (USA, Gelb)

Jiro, the elderly shokunin, has devoted his entire lengthy life to perfecting the art of sushi. While we will never get to taste it, David Gelb intoxicates us with the slippery and shiny just-so imagery of Jiro’s creations. More than just food porn, although it certainly is that, this is a look into someone who at eighty-five and better at his craft than anyone in the world. And he is still striving for perfection. His unwavering policy on life is something to behold. Insights into the pressure put on his sons, the process by which fish are chosen and more make this a must-see portraiture.

Anna Karenina

21. Anna Karenina (UK, Wright)

I walked out of Anna Karenina just a little let down. I had just read the Tolstoy monolith and despite going in with an understanding that Cliff Notes were to be expected, the second half was streamlined even in the most basic sense and Knightley’s Anna felt like it was played a bit broad. Surely twenty more minutes to the length would have been doable.

Yet Anna Karenina stuck with me in a big way. Its meta-spectacle was the most visually entrancing of the year taking the theatricality of Russian aristocracy and literalizing it to the hilt. All the visual aspects from Jacqueline Durran’s costume design to Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography to Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer’s production design are flawless. The passion between Anna and Vronsky was palpable and handled beautifully as well as the juxtaposition of also-protagonist Levin. Jude Law and Matthew McFadyen are stand-outs. It is a majestic film and one I have the urge to get to know more than almost any other this year. It will leave you awe-struck.

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20. Compliance (USA, Zobel)

Compliance gets a lot of its mileage out of the ‘this really happened’ gimmick. And that mileage goes a long way. This is a tough and unpleasant watch and Craig Zobel leaves us with a resignedly depressing take on humanity as judged by this chamber piece. How did a prank call turn into sexual assault? Zobel ponders these questions while giving us a very matter-of-fact imagined version of the scenario playing out. The material is handled admirably. It is disturbing but never feels exploitative. Zobel knows how to frame his shots and when to cut so that it remains harrowing but never unnecessarily lingering. Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker have two of the toughest acting jobs of the year and both excel. The director takes the disbelief of the story as a narrowing challenge, using his script to try and get inside the heads of the people, environment and dynamics that came to be that day. Becky is outspoken against the orders of her cell phone being taken away early on but by the time we get to the end she is like a zombie, wholly resigned to the most heinous of acts. A voice over the phone had control over an entire room for a day for no other reason than falsely representing himself as an authority figure. A simple click would have ended the trauma. This really did happen.

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19. Skyfall (UK, Mendes)

And now for my favorite franchise film of the year; who knew I would ever become a fan of Bond? Bond is and never will be my thing. The sexual politics get old even in the most dated kitschy sense very quickly, and I have never seen drawn to the character. He’s a male fantasy after all. But with Casino Royale and now Skyfall, I find myself hooked. This one got almost everything right. Focusing on M made for a more engaging and stakes-ridden plot. Sam Mendes opens the film with a rousing multi-stage chase sequence. Javier Bardem, onscreen far too little, commands with his cubist-face. Ben Whishaw geeks the joint up with his tech savvy, glasses and cardigan. Adele’s theme song is a home-run. Last but not least is Roger Deakins and his cinematography, my favorite of the year outside of Mihai Malăimare, Jr. for The Master. I spent a decent chunk of this film with my jaw hanging open because of his imagery. In short, I can forgive that the draggy final act is a rip-off of Home Alone and the handling of Bérénice Marlohe for all the other riches.

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18. Cabin in the Woods (USA, Goddard)

“To simply label Cabin in the Woods as meta is reductive. The film works on several different levels, fully committing to its ideas with an admirable audacity. It carries a fondness for its underdeveloped characters; an immediate deviation from the norm. It refuses to conform; every time you think it has, director/writer Goddard and producer/writer Whedon have another trick up their sleeves. Every cliché it takes on serves the film’s larger purpose. It places an additional layer of onlookers/stakeholders who are central to the story (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and the incomparable Amy Acker) between us and the victims, forcing the audience to dissect how we interact with horror films and what we really get out of them. It does all of this without the false sense of superiority Michael Haneke insists on seeping into every frame of Funny Games (huge fan of the director though I am, as this list will later reveal). Goddard and Whedon fully implicate themselves into the genuine curiosities the film ponders.”

Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/review-cabin-in-the-woods-2012-goddard/

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17. Your Sister’s Sister (USA, Shelton)

Watching Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt sit around and talk, fight, spar and banter with each other is a cherished delights of this year. I bought, and more importantly felt, that Duplass and Blunt were best friends and that Blunt and DeWitt were sisters. They had a rare lived-in quality. This is a fresh indie that, save for a guitar-strumming montage towards the end of people contemplating LIFE, had me at hello. Or rather, it had me at the moment when Duplass’ Jack cuts into Mike Birbiglia’s speech at the one-year anniversary of his brother’s death. Meanwhile, DeWitt manages to somehow sell a really appalling decision her character makes and all three actors give exceptional performances.

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16. ParaNorman (USA, Butler & Fell)

Visuals that excel in the details, a snappy pacing and a cast of characters that feels instantly familiar, even iconic. ParaNorman is one of the best times I had watching a film this year. It reeks of imagination and hits high notes of all kinds throughout. The animation is top-notch, an always morphing scape of ideas and the depiction of the supernatural. The Judge Hopkins character alone; you feel the centuries of regret within him through the character design and voicework. The villain ends up having a bittersweet backstory with no easy solutions. The group dynamic of the main characters is so fun that I wanted to spend hours watching them get into risky situations. Or better yet, a TV series! I kid you not; the connection was that instantaneous. And of course, Jon Brion’s reliably wonderful score.

Films Seen This Year: Haywire, The Woman in Black, Gerhard Richter Painting, The Secret World of Arietty, Found Memories, 21 Jump Street, The Hunger Games, The Raid: Redemption, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, Miss Bala, Cabin in the Woods, The Imposter, 2 Days in New York, Wuthering Heights, Paul Williams Still Alive, Damsels in Distress, The Queen of Versailles, The Avengers, Beauty is Embarrassing, This is Not a Film, The Kid with a Bike, Take This Waltz, Polisse, Prometheus, The Grey, Headhunters, Brave, Moonrise Kingdom, The Intouchables, Chronicle, Mirror Mirror, The Deep Blue Sea, Bullhead, Shut Up and Play the Hits, John Carter, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunter, Oslo, August 31st, Bachelorette, The Moth Diaries, Bernie, Indie Game: The Movie, V/H/S, Side by Side, Kill List, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Attenberg, Snow White and the Huntsmen, God Bless America, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, The Master, Silent House, The Innkeepers, Dark Shadows, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Looper, Frankenweenie, ATM, The Tall Man, Argo, The Sound of My Voice, Girl Model, Seven Psychopaths, Red Lights, Klown, The Woman in the Fifth, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Michael, Pirates! Band of Misfits, The Girl, Cloud Atlas, Elena, Monsieur Lazhar, Holy Motors, Skyfall, Silver Linings Playbook, Anna Karenina, Lincoln, Marina Abromovic: The Artist is Present, Alps, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Cosmopolis, Sound of Noise, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Girl Walk//All Day, Your Sister’s Sister, The Invisible War, The Central Park Five, The Loneliest Planet, Killer Joe, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, A Royal Affair, Sleepwalk with Me, Compliance, Searching for Sugar Man, Farewell, My Queen, Sleep Tight, Barbara, The Paperboy, Dredd, Sister, Lawless, In Another Country, The Day He Arrives, Zero Dark Thirty, Rust and Bone, I Wish, Amour

List: Top 30 Fall Films to See (September-December)


We are two weeks into the Fall Movie Season; that lovely time of year when theaters are crowded with anticipated releases big and small. I have to admit that there are not a ton of films I’m dying to see these last several months of the year. My Top 30 is a strong group indeed, but this is the first year in a long time where I didn’t have about 45 films clamming for a spot on the Top 30. To put it simply, several of the bigger fall releases I’m feeling ambivalent towards. These include Flight, Promised Land, The Impossible, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Hyde Park on Hudson and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I’m really looking forward to On the Road, Therese Raquin, Skyfall, Frankenweenie, Detropia, This is 40 and The Sessions but not enough to earn them a spot on the list.

If all of those highly anticipated films do not appear on this list, the question begs; what does? These are the 30 films I am most looking forward to. What are yours?

30. Barbara (Germany)
Synopsis: A doctor working in 1980s East Germany finds herself banished to a small country hospital.

Germany’s official submission for this year’s Oscars. I have yet to see a film directed by Christian Petzhold although I always meant to see Jerichow. I’m always going to be a sucker for films set in East Germany.

29. Lincoln
Synopsis:
As the Civil War nears its end, President Abraham Lincoln clashes with members of his cabinet over the issue of abolishing slavery.

The recently released trailer for Lincoln felt admittedly stuffy and anticlimactic. But I have faith in this film, despite the actors playing historical dress-up vibe and not caring about Spielberg’s 2011 one-two punch of War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin. But look at this cast! Look at it! Daniel Day-Lewis appears in one film every few years, so any opportunity to see him on screen must be seized immediately. Especially since his last film role was the start-to-finish miscalculation known as Nine.

28. Dredd 3D
Synopsis:
In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.

Out of nowhere, Dredd 3D is getting really solid notices. Like, ridiculously solid review. In a world where the film industry deals in remakes and comic book adaptations as a daily ritual, I don’t think anyone had this on their radar. For the countless middling forgettable release and anticipatory disappointments, there aren’t as many ‘where did this come from’ surprises. Alex Garland wrote the screenplay, whose credits include Never Let Me Go, Sunshine and 28 Days Later. Color me intrigued. But if the notices are to be believed, this is more than worth checking out.

Bonus: Olivia Thirlby sporting blonde hair while kicking ass and taking names.

27. Sister (France)
Synopsis: A drama set at a Swiss ski resort and centered on a boy who supports his sister by stealing from wealthy guests.

This sibling drama doesn’t seem to fit too comfortably into any easy box (outside of the aforementioned ‘sibling drama’) which is what draws me to it.  Lea Seydoux continues to stamp her presence as a French arthouse bombshell with her second release of the year after Farewell, My Queen.

26. Smashed
Synopsis: A married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of alcohol gets their relationship put to the test when the wife decides to get sober.

I have had my eye on Mary Elizabeth Winstead for a while now. Forget Scott Pilgrim. We’re talking the days of Final Destination 3, Death Proof and Black Christmas. Yes that’s right; Black Christmas. Last year she got a starring role in the remake of The Thing, walking away with all of her dignity in a film as forgettable and rote as they come. I think what most people are excited about in regards to Smashed, is Winstead finally gets a chance to show us what she’s got. And by all accounts, it was worth the wait.

Bonus: Aaron Paul, people. Aaron Paul. Aaron Paul: that is all.

25. How to Survive a Plague
Synopsis: The story of two coalitions — ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) — whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.

This documentary has the subject matter and the kind of upcoming exposure to really get some attention. It looks like the type of inspiring impassioned history lesson that I look for in this type of doc.

24. Killing Them Softly
Synopsis: Jackie Cogan is a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game.

I have to admit that the trailer for this left me really underwhelmed and relatively uninterested in the story. However, the pairing of director Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt has me salivating for this. Considering that The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is in my top 10 of the 2000’s, you best believe this earned a spot.

23. Argo
Synopsis: As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.

Ben Affleck’s first two films managed to impress me enough without bowling me over. But it’s clear the man’s got a sure and efficient directorial hand. The cast, the based on a true story concept and 70’s period detail are all promising, not to mention its warm reception on the festival circuit.

22. Zero Dark Thirty
Synopsis: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osams Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy SEAL Team 6 in May, 2011.

Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker, chronicling the hunt and kill of Osama Bin Laden. I can’t wait to see how the film depicts its subject matter and how functionally rooted in factual reconstruction it is.

21. The Other Dream Team
Synopsis: The incredible story of the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team, whose athletes struggled under Soviet rule, became symbols of Lithuania’s independence movement, and – with help from the Grateful Dead – triumphed at the Barcelona Olympics.

Been hearing a lot about this documentary (one of only 3 on this list since the majority of documentaries come out during the Spring and Summer months). This is a truly fascinating subject, ripe for potential exploration, and it looks genuinely educational and uplifting to boot.

20. Sleep Tight (Spain)
Synopsis: An embittered concierge at a Barcelona apartment building plots to make one happy-go-lucky resident completely miserable in this psychological thriller from [REC] and [REC 2] co-screenwriter/co-director Jaume Balaguero.

I feel pretty confident that this is going to be a reliable, solid slice of horror. It looks like the kind of low-key, suspense ratcheting creepfest that focuses on its antagonist over other characters. And Spanish directors certainly know how to deliver the scares: The Orphanage, The Devil’s Backbone, REC, The Others and last year’s The Last Circus to name a few obvious examples.

19. V/H/S (seen)
Synopsis: When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for.

I’ve already seen this one but this is where it would have been placed. Horror anthologies are always worth a watch and these directors take the stylistic experimentation that videotapes inherently offer, with its glitchy worn-down visuals and static white noise, and channel it through the possibilities of the genre. That alone makes this worth watching. For all the mediocrity of the stories themselves and the fevered gender-based discussion it has incited, V/H/S has a DIY aesthetic that makes its mark.

18. Keep the Lights On
Synopsis: In Manhattan, filmmaker Erik bonds with closeted lawyer Paul after a fling. As their relationship becomes one fueled by highs, lows, and dysfunctional patterns, Erik struggles to negotiate his own boundaries while being true to himself.

This looks emotional and moving with strong lead performances. It has been impressing audiences since Sundance.

17. Bachelorette (seen)
Synopsis: Three friends are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman they used to ridicule back in high school.

Another film on the list I have already seen, this is where Leslye Headland’s self-adapted mean streak of a comedy would have been placed.

16. Sinister
Synopsis: 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.

Since premiering at SXSW in March, I have heard nothing but good things about this one. Good horror films that get wide releases are far and few between, but this looks like it will garner Insidious levels of attention with the buzz I’ve been hearing.

15. Silver Linings Playbook
Synopsis: After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

Winning the Audience Award at Toronto today is a huge signifier as to how this film will be received. The trailer didn’t do much to impress, looking too by-the-book with empty quirk thrown in. But all signs point to David O. Russell having a huge hit on his hands post-The Fighter. Russell is one of my favorite directors working today so I cannot wait to see him working in the comedic realm again.

14. Girl Model
Synopsis: A documentary on the modeling industry’s ‘supply chain’ between Siberia, Japan, and the U.S., told through the experiences of the scouts, agencies, and a 13-year-old model.

The second of two documentaries on this list, Girl Model looks like a chilling and illuminating look at the international modeling industry.

13. Seven Psychopaths
Synopsis:
A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.

Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges reunites him with Colin Farrell as well as Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell, both of whom starred in his play “A Beheading in Spokane”. McDonagh a master of the kind of dialogue that knows it’s clever, a Snatch-like trait that I usually veer towards not liking. Somehow he pulls this style off with aplomb and if it’s anywhere near as good as In Bruges, we are in for a treat. Oh, and Tom Waits people. Tom. Waits.

12. Wreck-It-Ralph
Summary: A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.

This is the only children’s film I really can’t wait to see this Fall. The trailer had me full-on cracking up in a way no trailer has in ages and it has got a golden goose of a high concept. Add in the voice work of John C. Reilly at the helm and the smorgasbord of video game references and this looks like a guaranteed winner.

11. Looper
Synopsis: In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.

A brainy sci-fi headed by Rian Johnson? The amount of hype going into this one is considerable, but it looks like it will live up to expectations. I’m a huge fan of Brick and Johnson has directed two of the best “Breaking Bad” episodes in existence (“Fly” and “Fifty-One” respectively). So to see him get the opportunity to headline a considerably mounted genre film with its own world and rules is sure to impress. It is already well on its way to its own spot in the pantheon of great sci-fi flicks.

10. Wuthering Heights (Seen)
Synopsis: A poor boy of unknown origins is rescued from poverty and taken in by the Earnshaw family where he develops an intense relationship with his young foster sister, Cathy. Based on the classic novel by Emily Bronte.

I got the opportunity to see this at the Independent Film Festival of Boston and this is where Andrea Arnold’s adaptation would have been placed had I not seen it. It would have been one of my favorite 2012 films had the last hour not been entirely unbearable. Here is my review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/review-wuthering-heights-2012-arnold-iffboston-2012/

9. Django Unchained
Synopsis: With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

I realize that it looks like Quentin Tarantino’s latest gets a pretty low spot. Surely this is Top 5 material, right? Well, while I’m sure this is going to be fantastic, I’m also feeling ready for the director to do something else besides revenge across different genres. But this promises memorable characters, references galore and the type of crackling two-person dialogue scenes we love from him. I think I’m most interested to see how Leonardo DiCaprio fares in one of the auteur’s films and as a villain at that. It’s a much-needed and refreshing step out of his comfort zone.

8. Perks of Being a Wallflower
Synopsis: An introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world.

I’ve had high hopes, really high hopes for this, for a long long time. A lot of us have been waiting forever to see if Stephen Chbosky seminal coming-of-age novel was ever going to be adapted, and lo and behold, the day is almost upon us. It has a remarkable trio of actors in the lead roles. I am particularly amped for Ezra Miller, who quickly climbed his way onto my list of favorite young actors. There hasn’t been a memorable high school flick in a while. And this soundtrack, which takes from the book, is to die for. To. Die. For. The fact that Galaxie 500’s “Tugboat” is going to be in this film is a fact that single-handedly earns ‘Perks’ a spot on the list.

7. A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Synopsis: A young queen, who is married to an insane king, falls secretly in love with her physician – and together they start a revolution that changes a nation forever.

This is shaping up to be a great year for Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. He won Best Actor at Cannes for The Hunt (which will hopefully get a Spring release for 2013), he is set to star in a TV series as Hannibal Lecter and he received excellent notices in the very well-received historical drama A Royal Affair. This looks like an intriguing much better-than-average historical drama that is right up my alley. It also stars Alicia Vikander, a young actress to watch out for who also will appear in Anna Karenina.

6. Rust and Bone (France)
Synopsis: Put in charge of his young son, Ali leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Ali’s bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.

This being the latest from Jacques Audiard (A Prophet and Read My Lips) with a reportedly stellar lead performance by Marion Cotillard gives this a very high anticipatory spot. Cotillard has been relegated to pretty thankless roles since catapulting to the Hollywood A-List. It’ll be nice to see her in a meaty lead once again.

5. Holy Motors (France)
Synopsis: From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man…

All I heard during this year’s Cannes coverage was Holy Motors, Holy Motors, Holy Motors (well, that and a certain other film to appear on this list shortly). By all accounts, this is a surreal whackadoo head trip in the best way possible. It seems well on its way to earning a cult status and I intend on checking it out the moment it comes near me.

4. Cloud Atlas
Synopsis: An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

What will likely be the most divisive film to come out this season, I for one am counting down the days until this film gets released. The 6-minute trailer is a thing of beauty, bringing tears to my hypersensitive eyes. We can attribute a lot of this to the inspired use of M83’s brilliant “Outro”.  And I am over halfway through David Mitchell’s novel as we speak.

The way I see it, whether the film turns out to be a disaster or a triumph (or both at the same time), these filmmakers are going for it. The Wackowski’s and Tom Tykwer have together tackled what is widely thought to be an unadaptable novel (more so than most novels given the unadaptable label). It’s weaving six stories in one film, all in different time periods, with the same actors with the tired old theme of interconnectedness. No matter what the outcome, the film will be discussed for years to come. Without having seen it and going on gut instinct, it feels like the type of film that will possibly be reassessed for the positive as decades pass. As you can see, I’m preparing myself for the bashing to come. I can already see that Cloud Atlas is going to bring out the worst in the blogosphere, Prometheus-style. But no matter what the outcome, this is going to be an ambitious, epic and challenging work that nobody can fully write off. It may end up becoming a flop, but it sure as hell will go down swinging.

Ridiculous Bonus: Bae Doona, one of my very favorite actresses working today is going to get some serious international exposure here as Sonmi-451.

3. Amour (Austria)
Synopsis: Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple’s bond of love is severely tested.

New Micheal Haneke. That not enough for you? It won the Palme D’Or. That still not enough for you? Haneke regular, and my favorite actress, Isabelle Huppert appears. Want more? This is Haneke doing a tearjerker about the elderly with two lead performances that supposedly devastate. My common sense tells me that Amour is going to stomp out my soul. Part of me has been mentally preparing myself for this film since this year’s Cannes.

2. Anna Karenina
Synopsis: Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.

Another film that is sure to divide. Joe Wright’s decision to set the Tolstoy adaptation on a stage and to use theatrical stylization is sure to distract some. But frankly, if all we are left with are the visuals evident in the trailer, this will still likely land a spot on my favorites for the year. The costumes, production design and overall look of the trailer is sickening. Joe Wright is one of my favorite directors working today. He pushes himself into challenging and creative directions that breathe new life into familiar tales. Wright reteaming with Keira Knightley, surely one of modern cinema’s most rewarding director/star collaborations, is always thrilling. The way his camera illuminates this woman (who is already stunning to begin with) is beyond my ability to comprehend. We’ve got a screenplay by the great Tom Stoppard, cinematography by the great Seamus McGarvey, music by the great Dario Marianelli and costume design by the great Jacqueline Durran. So basically what it comes down to is that lots of great people are involved in this. I plan on reading this monster of a novel before the film comes out. Now that’s anticipation for you.

1. The Master
Synopsis: A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future – until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.

I honestly feel like I don’t even need to put reasons here. It’s at the top of everyone’s list. Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite working director. It’s been 5 years since his last film. This was very close to not getting financed. It’s a near miracle we even get to see this. His films engage me more than any other director. They make me feel things that are unrepeatable, unfamiliar and challenging. His films are dense, complex, elusive, pretentious and indefinably uncomfortable.  I live for his films. And on Friday I will finally be seeing his latest in 70mm. Oh, and welcome back to Joaquin Phoenix. It’s been too long. And if the trailers are any indication, this performance is one for the books.

Screening Log: June 16th-30th, 2012 – Films #193-213


All grades are arbitrary and subjective; they are there for posterity.They reflect on what level the film worked for me personally on a first viewing and are not reflective of their ultimate worth. Obviously a film like Casque D’Or is not B- level work, but the film failed to fully cast its spell on me, thus a B- grade.

193. A Man Escaped (1956, Bresson): A/A-

194. High Art (1998, Cholodenko): B

195. Floating Weeds (1959, Ozu): B+/B


196. Les Enfants Terribles (1950, Melville): A-

197. The River (1951, Renoir): B-/C+


198. Casque D’Or (1952, Becker): B-

199. Le Plaisir (1952, Ophuls): B+/B

200. Night of the Demon (1957, Tourneur): B+

201. The Band Wagon (1953, Minnelli): A-


202. The Grey (2012, Carnahan): B/B-


203. Les Cousins (1959, Chabrol): C

204. House on Haunted Hill (1959, Castle): C

205. Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, Sturges): B+

206. Headhunters (2012, Tyldum): B-

207. Brave (2012, Andrews & Chapman): B+/B

208. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Anderson): A/A-

209. The Intouchables (2012, Nakache & Toledano): B-

210. Sudden Fear (1952, Miller): B-


211. The Wrong Man (1956, Hitchcock)
: B-


212. Chronicle (2012, Trank)
: B

213. Mon Oncle (1958, Tati): B

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

Screening Log: December 1st – December 16th


346. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011, Herzog): B

347. Warrior (2011, O’Connor): A-

348. Margin Call (2011, Chandor): B-

349. In Time (2011, Niccol): D-

350. The Artist (2011, Hazanavicius): B/B-

351. Le Quattro Volte (2011, Frammartino): B+

352. The Debt (2011, Madden): B-

353. The Devil’s Double (2011, Tamahori): C

354. The Arbor (2011, Barnard): A

355. Hesher (2011, Susser): C

356. Terri (2011, Jacobs): B

357. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, Johnston): B-

358. Moneyball (2011, Miller): A-

359. My Week with Marilyn (2011, Curtis): C-

360. Shame (2011, McQueen): A-

361. Another Earth (2011, Cahill): C-

362. The Thing (2011, Heijningen Jr.): C-

363. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011, Ramsay): A

364. Redline (2011, Koike): B

365. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011, Wyatt): B

366. Young Adult (2011, Reitman): A

367. Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011, Yuh): B+

368. Nico Icon (1995, Ofterringer): B-

369. The Mill and the Cross (2011, Majewski): B