If living in Kalamazoo has taught me anything, it’s that you better be prepared to take a few trips to the relatively nearby cities of Grand Rapids, Detroit and Chicago if you’re planning on seeing more than just a handful of interesting films every year. Sure, there are a few local groups who make it their mission to bring films that would otherwise go unseen by Kalamazoo audiences to the area, but if you’re like me, once (sometimes twice) a month just isn’t enough to get your fix of photodrama. However, driving to those nearby cities takes time, a lot of time—and money. What should be an experience that only takes around three hours and fifteen dollars ends up taking close to eight hours and costing nearly half of my meager bi-weekly salary. And, let us not forget about how valuable time is to a college student: giving up eight hours of my week means that some of my course work just isn’t going to get done. So, needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway), I don’t take that trip very often during the school year, and the following list will likely reflect that. Nevertheless, in an attempt to satisfy myself—and hopefully some readers too—I’ve included a the worst film that I saw this year, as well as a few that I have yet to see but am looking forward to. Without further ado, I present to you a list of the 6 best, 1 worst, and 3 most anticipated films of 2012.
1. The Master
I always get excited to see a Paul Thomas Anderson film. I was looking forward to seeing this for quite a while, and luckily, it was showing at Rave for a few weeks this fall so I didn’t have to make the trip out of town to catch a screening. I was, however, a bit disappointed when I wasn’t able to see one of the 70mm print showings but, hey, what can you do? The images were still rather breathtaking—even when coming out of a digital projector. The cinematography, while certainly one of the film’s stronger points, was not all that the film had to offer. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix both deliver outstanding performances, and it’s nice to see Phoenix return to the screen after alienating himself from Hollywood with his poor-life-choice of a film, I’m Still Here. There’s a lot going on in this movie and if you haven’t already seen it, I’d put it at the top of your “to check out” list.
Whenever the children are the sane ones, you know there’s something to be pulled from the story, something that we can apply to our own lives. This something would surely be missed if it were two adults representing it, but when we see kids standing up for their beliefs, allowing themselves to fall in love with the wrong person, and being brave beyond most of our own capacities, it’s hard not to be inspired; I certainly was. The children in Wes Anderson films are so damn quirky and lovable that I almost forget how horrible it was to be a pre-teen.
I was reminded of Godard’s Pierrot le Fou throughout the film, especially during the scenes the child-couple spends on the beach. They listen to music, dance, kiss and forget about the world they’re trying to escape. It’s a nice thought, and I’m sure that most of us have had similar fantasies. Perhaps we’ve even lived them briefly, but then, just like in the film, the world catches up to us and we’re forced to figure out a way to go on living. Moonrise Kingdom shows us that, sometimes, what seems like the most illogical and absurd course of action can turn out to be the right one: we just have to remember that we’re also living in the real world.
Having fun at the movies is why I started watching them in the first place, so when a film franchise comes along that’s both substantive and wickedly entertaining I can’t be happier. And what’s better than a film that’s really all about the bad guys?
The villains in all three of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are outstanding. It’s hard for me to choose just one as a favorite, but I can’t help trying. I think the first of them to go would be Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul, and I know that you’re thinking, “But he’s the catalyst for the entire series.” Of course, you’re right, but he didn’t have nearly the same amount of edge as the other two leading villains.. Sorry. Now, we’re left with choosing between the Joker and Bane. Which, I’m sure you’d agree, is nearly impossible. The Joker was absolutely nuts and Heath Ledger’s spot-on performance is rumored to have played a role in the actor’s untimely passing. But what’s not to love about Bane—the monster with the misguided heart of gold? I mean, he was absolutely ruthless, definitely the biggest challenge to Batman over the course of the three films. But the Joker was a witty, high-energy, lunatic that just wanted to see Gotham burn; and he was so much fun to watch on the big screen. This debate will continue for decades, I’m sure. One thing is certain though, Nolan’s trilogy has a place alongside Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and Star Wars as one of the greatest franchises in American cinematic history.
Andrew Dominik’s excessively allegorical new film has rubbed quite a few people the wrong way. A lot of critics are saying that the film is too blunt, that Dominik—with his incessant need to shove it down our throats that the film isn’t actually about an underground criminal enterprise and that it’s really a shrouded examination of the United States’ economic crisis—doesn’t respect his audience enough to allow them to figure it out for themselves. I guess I can see their point, but I was fortunate enough to not know all that much about the economic crisis in the first place. All of the Obama billboards and campaign speech sound bites found within the film were a welcome addition for me. After leaving the theater, I knew the film was an allegory, knew it had something to do with the United States and money, but that’s as far as my knowledge went, and I was frankly okay with that.
Fortunately, you don’t have to care about politics, economics, or any other mind-numbingly boring topic in order to appreciate this extremely well crafted film. The film’s greatest pleasures come from the scenes that seem to have no purpose or place in the film at all. The performances during these moments are profound. We’re encouraged to empathize with some pretty despicable human beings, and because of the outstanding performances by Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins, we really start to feel for these guys. They’re no longer just criminal thugs; they’re real people with real problems that we can all relate to—they just made the choice to go into the murder/robbery business instead of film criticism. Can we really blame them?
For whatever reason, I wasn’t all that excited to see this picture. The trailers made it look good enough, and I was aware of all the positive reviews it was getting, but the spark just never hit me hard enough to prioritize a viewing. Somehow, (obviously) I ended up making the decision to see the film and I was quite surprised with how much I enjoyed it. Ben Affleck effortlessly maintains a balance of humor and tension throughout the film, while also making sure not to portray the Iranians as monsters—something I was concerned about prior to seeing the film. They were shown as people, who had families, people who were able to laugh, and ultimately, as people who were just doing their jobs. I hope to see this film take home a few Oscars this year.
Honorable Mention: Sleepwalk With Me
The fact that I went into this film coming off of one of the worst days I’ve had in recent memory may have factored into my liking it so much. I was in need of an attitude adjustment, and watching as Mike Birbiglia persevered through a failing relationship, an often-humiliating new career in comedy, and a reccurring case of extreme sleepwalking, I couldn’t help but see my own situation in a different light. I don’t want to make the claim here that this is actually one of the best films of the year (it’s probably not), but if you’re looking to have a good time at the movies, and see how a stand-up comic is born, this is a film that’s certainly worth checking out.
1. The Sessions
I reviewed The Sessions a couple of weeks ago and if you’re interested in reading about how much I hated this film, you can find the article here. I would like to mention one thing about the film again though: The Sessions is about a man, Mark O’Brien, who suffers from polio and must spend nearly all of his time in an iron lung. The film is based on an essay that the real life O’Brien wrote about losing his virginity to a sex surrogate, but film strays from the essay rather drastically when it forces an emotional connection to develop between O’Brien and his surrogate. This manipulative creative license is my biggest problem with the film. It’s as if the filmmakers thought we would see O’Brien as pathetic if his feelings went unreciprocated. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and the last thing O’Brien needed from his real life acquaintances or an audience watching a fictionalized account of his life was more pity.
1. Holy Motors
Leos Carax’s Les amants du Pont-Neuf was one of the first films I saw that piqued my interest in the cinema as something more than solely entertainment. Holy Motors stars Denis Lavant, who is such an amazing performer that it borders on the tragic that he remains so unknown to American audiences. Watch the trailer for Holy Motors, go rent Les amants du Pont-Neuf , and watch Leos Carax’s part in the film Tokyo! and I think you’ll be just as excited for this film as I am.
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Just watch the trailer for this film and you’ll see what I mean.
3. Silver Linings Playbook
I normally don’t go for formulaic movies, which is what Silver Linings Playbook appears to be. I haven’t read anything about this film yet, but from what I gather from the trailer, it’s about a couple of outcasts who are struggling with mental illness and the loss of their significant others. I might not be too excited about the film, but I’ve been a fan of David O. Russell since Flirting with Disaster and I’m trusting that he’s included some substance and humor.