Let me start 2013 with a final look back at the 2012 I had at the movies.
I saw 44 films in the theater. Four of those films (DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, BERNIE, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, KILLING THEM SOFTLY) I saw twice. As is usually the case, I liked most of what I saw. This isn't because I have unusually low standards, but because I'm not a professional movie critic and no one is paying me to see movies I don't want to see. With one exception this year (THE HOBBIT--an obligation viewing with family) I only saw movies I wanted to see. Some far exceeded my expectations, some let me down, and most were about what I expected. I went to the movies more than most people, but not as often as I would have liked.
But, hey, this is a new year.
A look back on 2012:
My Favorites Of The Year (let's do a top five)
1. ARBITRAGE-A full on neo-noir about a hedge fund genius whose world of wealth and privilege is endangered when an accident sends him hurtling headlong into an existential crisis. A great film from Nicholas Jarecki with a career-best performance by Richard Gere. This movie basically sums up my feelings about Wall Street-centered capitalism.
2. BERNIE-Jack Black stars as a small town funeral director in Richard Linklater's tricky-to-summarize-without-giving-away-the-big-twist comedy/drama. I love this movie because a) it brilliantly captures the Texas I know b) it's laugh out loud hilarious, and c) it has profound empathy for a deeply flawed main character. Let me say, I've never been a Jack Black fan, but he is a revelation here--funny, charming, and, in the end, strangely moving.
3. DAMSELS IN DISTRESS-Whit Stillman's oddball comedy stars Greta Gerwig as the leader of a group of college students trying to elevate the culture of their campus. DAMSELS is a movie with an incredibly specific tone--dry and fanciful in equal measure--and I have every reason to think that it's strictly an either you get it or you don't kind of proposition. After deadpan jokes about suicide, the damn thing even closes with a song and dance number just for the hell of it. I have a deep affection for a movie that creates a world I've never seen before and then infuses it with so much wit and joy.
4. KILLING THEM SOFTLY-Well, if you want to keep your self-respect you need to love at least one movie per year that everyone else hated. For me it was this one. Andrew Dominik directed Brad Pitt in a bleak adaptation of George V. Higgins's novel COGAN'S TRADE. A lotta folks found it slow-moving, unfocused, overly violent, and/or nihilistic. I thought it was pretty damn great with wonderful performances from an impressive cast (with standout work by Pitt and James Gandolfini) and a beautifully realized script.
5. SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD-Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley create my favorite couple of the year in this wonderful film from writer/director Lorene Scafaria. The movie was a flop at the box office, but I thought it was just gorgeous. Two lonely people meet a couple of days before an asteroid destroys the earth. I understand that the previous sentence does not sound like a set-up to a sweet and funny romance, but, trust me, it is. It finds a deep core of truth in the realization that all love is doomed. The asteroid is coming for all of us. This doesn't render love meaningless. It is the very thing that gives love meaning.
1. MOONRISE KINGDOM-I don't know. I just didn't care about this movie. Two minutes after it started, I had this sinking feeling that we were in for the Wes Anderson of DARJEELING LIMITED rather than the Wes Anderson of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS and that's pretty much how it turned out. It was a big hit for him, though, so good for him. I just...didn't care about it.
2. TO ROME WITH LOVE-One of those Bad Woody Allen movies where you can see all the usual parts moving but feel none of the intended effects. In that way, it reminded me of MOONRISE KINGDOM. Both were made by filmmakers I value, doing that thing they do that has worked so incredibly well for me in the past, bereft that final magic.
3. DJANGO UNCHAINED-QT's blaxploitation spaghetti western is a fascinating failure. Despite an excellent cast and several entertaining sequences, the film is the first movie Tarantino has made that lacks his trademark as a director--a pure joy of moviemaking. The reason for this, I would venture, is that at its core the film has an irresolvable tension between the let's-keep-the-party-going cinemaphile instinct of its director and the heavy subject matter of the story. In INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, QT avoided the Holocaust. He gave us one brief sequence at the beginning (devoid of extended visions of sadism) and then cut right to the crowd pleasing. In DJANGO, he and his story get buried under the weight of slavery and its enduring injustices. The extended scenes of sadism in the film are the first scenes of the director's career that serve a pedagogical purpose rather than a story purpose. The film seems split between its desire to show the terrors of slavery and its instinct to offer up a Saturday night thrill ride. (This might account, possibly, for why the film wastes Kerry Washington--the rare instance of Tarantino failing to utilize a talented and charismatic performer.) DJANGO is a flawed movie, no doubt, but it is one to ponder.
4. THE MASTER-I need to see this movie again to see why I’m having trouble formulating a response to it. It seemed to disappoint a lot of people, while others felt it was a masterpiece. I admired it, but I didn’t have a strong reaction to it one way or another. It’s probably a good sign that I want to see it again, though.
I saw SKYFALL, THE AVENGERS and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. All three were good and were more or less what I expected. I don't have much to say beyond that point.
Except to note that Anne Hathaway was the best thing about both THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and LES MISERABLES. She brought spark and humor to the former and real passion and heart to the second. (On a side note: I really enjoyed LES MIS, but Hugh Jackman's voice seemed miscast.)
Oddest Movie I Saw This Year: KILLER JOE. I don't know if I loved or hated this movie. Both?
Movies That Came Out This Year That I Missed In The Theater But Caught At Home:
RAMPART and THE SAMARITAN were a couple of neo-noirs that are well worth finding. The first stars Woody Harrelson as a corrupt cop and was written by James Elroy, and the second stars Samuel L. Jackson as an ex-con pulled into a complicated con job. MAGIC MIKE was perfectly enjoyable, and featured one of three(!) really good Matthew McConaughey performances I saw this year. I always said he could act. TAKE THIS WALTZ was further proof that Michelle Williams is probably the best actress we have working right now. She was good in MY WEEKEND WITH MARIYLN, but she's simply excellent here as young woman contemplating cheating on her husband.
That should about wrap it up. There a number of interesting movies that I could talk about (END OF WATCH, CLOUD ATLAS), but I think I'll stop it there. It's getting late, and the new year has already begun.