Monday, February 11, 2013

Top 10 of 2012

Excerpts are taken from my original responses.

10. Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh)
What does really get me at the end is the nicely framed, nicely edited, and nicely scored scene where Marty listens to a recording that Hans left him. Walken absolutely does an incredible job with the dialogue (hell, probably the best "Walken is actually acting" scene in a long time) where he talks about violence, a topic that the film is continuously commenting on. Beginning and endings, literal or otherwise, are certainly a part of this movie and how cyclical violence can be, much like life. It's an interesting companion piece to a film like Looper, but this is surprisingly much more sentimental. The best part is, the film sells the moment. It's a wild, harsh, and no-holds-barred movie and then there is an almost uplifting and affirming sense of closure at the end. It puts as nice of a bow on this kind of movie as one could, which is certainly saying a lot (and yes, a final cliche to close on).

9. Flight (Robert Zemeckis)

Immediately after, I thought that Flight was first and foremost just a performance film. A movie where most of the draw comes from an enigmatic character. I then think of the other talented involved in back of the camera. Director Robert Zemeckis knows exactly where to put the camera and direct actors as to move the stry along. It's extremely impressive how he and his usual collaborators draw parrallels between a literal crash landing and a man hitting rock bottom in his life. Certainly,Washington does a lot of work, but I almost feel like I'm understating the decisions made by the artists behind what the audience can see. The rest of the cast is great as well, especially Kelly Reilly as a drug addict whose story mirrors Whip's descent.

Flight is a painfully honest movie that is somewhat quiet after the first fifteen minutes, but even without a plane crash taking place, the movie feels as nailbiting as a fantastic character-driven piece.

8. Argo (Ben Affleck)
Chris Terrio's script raises the stakes, blending suspense with stranger-than-fiction aspects for a film that manages to proceed in a relatively realistic fashion. The film knows when to enjoy itself and have the audience laugh, but also when to have you concerned that its heroes might fail. Affleck has assembled a talented cast, but it's his continuing growth as a director that is most notable here. He understands how to control what could've been a difficult movie for others. Examples include the scenes where the turmoil of the hostages is intercut with a table read of the script or how when Joe Stafford has to explain to the Iranaian official at the airport about the elements of the film that Stafford himself had trouble memorizing and remaining convinced.

7. Life of Pi (Ang Lee)
An aspect I did find incredibly compelling was the dynamic between Pi and Richard. Richard will eat Pi in a second, but Pi quickly realizes that he must learn to co-exist with the animal. Pi has to survive and push the limits of what he must've thought he could be capable of. Yet the tiger has much stricter limits its as its brain is quite simple and functions on survival inherently above all else. So while trying to tame the limited animal, Pi finds himself thinking about religion, a concept with unlimited potential just in discussion alone. This search for purpose to guide him is what carries the story alongside some incredibly beautiful visuals. Lee and his crew make use of the 3D, knowing best when to use it and when best to not. Like recent famous directors to have used 3D such as Martin Scorsese (Hugo), Wim Wenders (Pina), and Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams), Lee's art comes first to give the imagery a heart before he 'wows the audience'.

6. Les Miserables (Tom Hooper)
At first glance I questioned Hooper's decisions in the art direction, cinematography, editing, sound, etc. etc. etc. I wasn't sure if I was noticing too much or too little of artistic flourishes. Then again, isn't it best that I not notice them at all? For a script that is told in song where your average transition is over-emoted for a personal effect, should I have to notice what is intended by a close-up here or a tracking there? The trick of the movie and perhaps the biggest credit one can give to the filmmakers is that all-in-all (or perhaps I was in the best sort of mood) was that I walked away with more feeling than thought, more sadness than observation, or even thinking of consequence more than nostalgia.

The play is rightfully hailed as masterful. The movie seemed to understand why (I'll be damned/overwhelmed to try and break that down) and in turn the result is incredibly empowering.

5. Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)
The film's characters are completely enlightened by their portrayers. De Niro reminds us of how engaging he can be when given such great parts and his crazy football-fan of a father is a welcome return to the thoughtful and sometimes intense performances of us his earlier days. Cooper conveys so much as he moves from confidence to doubt and his acting is incredibly in-tune with Lawrence's explosive, beautiful, and heartbreaking work. In all, it's a damn good movie full of unfiltered wackiness and a 'heart wants what the heart wants' type of romance that I hope others can recognize for its compassionate, loving, and timeless nature.

4. Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer & Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski)
A costume drama. A love story. A conspiracy mystery. A comedy. A science-fiction adventure. A post-apocalyptic tale. Six genres and six stories with a through line that includes themes of love, kindness, and freedom. To me, the movie is about finding oneself, but realizing that those around us who we care for are just as important. Similar to The Matrix and Run Lola Run, Cloud Atlas functions as almost a wake-up call to let us know that both the individual matters within the scheme of society. Not only is Cloud Atlas freeing in how its narrative is artistically approached, but it is perhaps most freeing in what I perceived its message to be to its audience.

3. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)
Instead, to now talk about the film as just that, a film, director Kathryn Bigelow and writer/journalist Mark Boal (both previously worked together on The Hurt Locker) have once again delivered a phenomenally well crafted work. I'm a great fan of Bigelow's style because despite some flourishes one can notice, she is very adept at adapting to different material. The cinema verite-inspired camera work matched with the best sound design and editing I've seen this year help to propel and propel and propel this story ever forward, keeping your interest and like Affleck did with Argo, being sure to keep morals, ethics, and politics lingering on the outskirts but never uspurping the central material. Even the art direction is subtle, at not point did I feel like I was looking at a set.

2. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
A dream is perhaps the best way to explain how The Master just washes over you. The standalone moments will be remembered the most such as the questioning and experiments or Hoffman's speeches and musical numbers. Then the thoughts about the experience and what the film is saying to you personally will begin to settle in. Is the film about a father and a son? A student and a teacher? Is it really focused on societal truths about America that are still relevant today? All of the above? Whatever you find in the movie is up to you and with Magnolia being the shining example, I feel that PTA is the master (no pun intended) of ambiguity. He'll show you a lot, but leave any further communication up to the individual of which The Master is so inquisitively focused on.

1. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
In case my overabudance of praise hasn't been noted, in any ranking I've come up with for the movies I've seen in 2012, Lincoln sits at the top as my favorite. It's almost fascinatingly aware of the importance of the events it is depicting (as I'm sure the actual Lincoln was) and yet at no point is there a sense of false pretense, that the film is trying to be preachy even though it functions as a fantastic history lesson on passing an amendment/bill. It's a historical dramatization, but it's far from dry. The film is truly a character piece about a man who looked so outward to others, but struggled and then suceeded in looking inward to himself- something a common man, which Abe started out as, can aspire to.

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