November 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Posted in Decade One | Leave a comment

This year, I saw 57 films.  Overall, how do I compare this year to other ones?  Though most of the movies I really enjoyed, came in the final months (final weeks even) of the year, I think this year stacks up well with other strong movie years.  None of these films was a Mysterious Skin, Lost in Translation, Memento, Shortbus, or Waltz With Bashir.  However, the total list of films I loved this year is stronger than most years top movies overall (with the exception of banner years like 2005).

The Movies I Really Loved:

NOTE: Honestly, all of the top 5 films on my list could arguably be in my #1 spot and I think they all were at some point in the forming of this list, so I’m not going to rank them as in previous years.  They are very similar films, in that they show fragile people trying to find some way to belong and succeed in the world.  They also all featured amazing performances.  You decide which one was best.

Rabbit Hole (54) – Once again, a John Cameron Mitchell films tops my list.  While I don’t love this movie like I did “Shortbus” or “Hedwig,” I was really moved by it.  Mitchell is sort of the anti-Todd Solondz and I really love the way he can take films that would normally be nihilistic or cynical and finds a way to express optimism and dignity underneath all the human frailty.  A warning though, for those of you with kids: as touching and hopeful as I felt this film was, it is about parents dealing with the sudden death of their 7 year old boy.  It is heart-wrenching in parts.

Blue Valentine (52) – This film shines because of the masterful, naturalistic acting of both Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.  Apparently, they were given a basic concept about where each scene was supposed to go and then allowed to improvise their way there.  The results are incredibly raw, fraught with desperation and devastating.  This film is not about the story (which is one we have seen a hundred times before), it’s about watching those two actors build and tear down a relationship together.

The Kids Are Alright (23) – I strongly recommend this movie just for Annette Bening’s performance.  I loved her relationship with Julian Moore and their children.  The movie was far from perfect and I found some parts contrived or too cutesy.   But, in the end, I found the family really endearing and believable.

The Fighter (50) – Again, some amazing performances.  In particular, I loved Melissa Leo as the boys’ mother (she was also amazing in “FrozenRiver” a couple of years ago).  It is true that you know exactly where this story is going, especially because it is a true story (who makes a movie of the guy who couldn’t make a comeback?), however, that made it no less interesting.  And the fight scenes were very well done; I really got a sense of the craft and strategies involved in boxing.

Winter’s Bone (20) – Bleak.  Do not see this movie as a pick-me-up.  It’s not “The Road” bleak but sure ain’t “Little Miss Sunshine.”  We’ve seen a lot of films about various disenfranchised groups in this country (poor African Americans, Gays & Lesbians, etc) but this is the first film I remember seeing that attempts to show how the rural, white poor live in this country (Seriously, don’t even say “Deliverance”).  I have no idea if this is an accurate portrayal of what life is like for large portions of our country, but I know people were shocked by “Precious” and I see versions of that every day.  If this movie even rings close to true, then I’m glad to have peered into a world I have no idea about.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (29) – And now for something completely different… This movie is very much the opposite of the last five: odd, silly, tongue-in-cheek, impossibly self-involved and referential, loud, brash and unbelievably funny.  This is the movie for the generation after mine (Generation Y, I believe).  Many of the films of my generation were very much an inside joke for those of us who grew up glued to our 70s & 80s televisions.  This film is an inside joke for those who grew up glued to their Nintendos and Gameboys.  It’s pace, editing and overall aesthetic owe more to those games than to the genre of film.  It was fascinating to watch because I think we’ll be seeing more films like this.

The Illusionist (53) – This film was truly, truly beautiful, sweet and melancholy.  Animated beautifully with hand-painted scenes of France, Scotland and England by the makers of “The Triplets of Belleville.”  Every scene is gorgeous, detailed and filled with mood.  The film was made based on a story by Jacques Tati, the French silent film star.  As such, the film has virtually no speaking; there are a few French words and all the people speaking English speak in a garbled nonsense because the lead character cannot speak English and does not understand them. However, you understand everything being communicated through mime and every emotion is so present on each face.  Tati wrote the script shortly before appearing in his 1958 film, “Mon Oncle.”  In tribute to him, a portion of that film is shown during this movie and mirrored in the story line.  The scene is brilliantly done.  Allegedly, the story was written as an apology to his oldest daughter.  The movie is funny, touching and sad.  I really loved everything about it.

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (32) – This movie and the next one are parts II and I, respectively, of a very long French film about their famous street thug, media hound and psychopath, Jacques Mesrine.  He went on a spree of bank robberies, killings and unbelievable prison break-outs during the 1970s.  The lead performance by Vincent Cassel (also seen in “Black Swan”) is hypnotic.  The movies are violent but also beautifully directed.  Each has its own slightly different style and I put this one at the top of the list only because I liked its style ever so slightly better.  However, the opening scene of move #1: Killer Instinct, is brilliantly done.

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (31) – See above.

Waiting for Superman (41) – This documentary on our failing public school systems was difficult for me to watch.  Almost too difficult.  It just hit too close to home.  However, this is one of the most important issues we face in this country and we need to think honestly about solutions.  Everyone should see this movie.

Social Network (37) – I don’t know what to say that hasn’t already been said.  Aaron Sorkin is a genius writer.  His command of language and his mastery of the biting quip (so present in “The West Wing”) is in full force here.  The movie is much funnier and much much more entertaining than a movie about nerd billionaires should be (think “Pirates of Silicon Valley”).

Animal Kingdom (28) – If you want to get your creep on, this is the film for you.   It’s about an Australian crime family, one son’s attempt to get out while he is young and alive and every other family member’s attempt to screw it all up.  Jacki Weaver (nominated for a Golden Globe) was brilliant as the more-evil-than-fuck mother of the clan.  And, Ben Mendelsohn (who has gone totally unnoticed) was even better at playing her much-much-more-evil-than-fuck oldest son, Pope.  It had me squirming in my seat, not so much for the violence as for the tension.

Black Swan (44) – Again, a much hyped film that I don’t think I need to say much more about.  Natalie Portman is great in her role as the obsessed and falling apart dancer.  Mila Kunis shocked me (shocked, I tell you!) with her acting talent.   What has she been doing since “That 70s Show?”  I hope we see more of her.  Everyone else has fine performances.  The dancing is beautiful.  I know some disagree, but I liked the blurring of reality/fantasy (contrived as it may have been) because it created a dream like quality for the whole film that allowed the final scene to work.  Also, the most nerve-wracking finger-nail clipping I have ever watched.

Un Prophete (7) – This was the first film of the year that I really enjoyed.  It’s about a Frenchman who goes to prison for a while; he enters naïve and exits a very different person.  I thought the young actor did a great job of creating that transformation.  Most of the strength of the movie lay in seeing that character change in such a believable way.

Mother (10) – Another bad mother; there are a lot of them this year (“Mother,” “Black Swan,” “Animal Kingdom,” “The Fighter,” “Winter’s Bone”).  I think this one takes the cake.  A South Korean film about a mentally handicapped man accused of a crime and his mother’s determination to get him off, guilty or not.  Oh, and she is the queen of the blank faced, vacant stare. Creepy.

Company Men (56) – This film was a pleasant surprise.  I was hesitant to see it; I thought it had too big a cast (Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Costner, Chris Cooper, Craig T Nelson) to be anything but trite, superficial and feel-good.  However, I thought it really looked into the American male psyche and explored how we deal with the loss of status, ego and manhood that we associate with employment.  It was never revelatory (and it did turn out to be a bit feel-good) but it felt honest and touching in parts.

True Grit (47) – Last on my list of movies I loved, this one squeaks in as a tip to the Cohens.  Don’t’ get me wrong, it is a good movie, maybe even a really good one.  It was funnier than I expected, really well acted (especially by Matt Damon and Jeff Bridges), and beautifully shot.  However, it was not “No Country For Old Men,” “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski,”…  Of course, it was also not “Burn Before Reading” or “The Ladykillers.”  It was a thoroughly middle of the road Cohen film.  Am I being too hard on it?


The Movies I Liked A Lot:


The Secret In Their Eyes (13) – A very well done Argentinean noir film.  Atmospheric, well-shot, tense and funny at times.  Oh, and of course, a completely nihilistic view of the world.

Exit Through the Gift Shop (18) – A brilliant documentary by Banksy, the famous graffiti artist.  It is interesting, funny and provocative.  Who is really being filmed here?  And who is Mr Brainwash, exactly?  And who is really getting brainwashed?

The King’s Speech (51) – Better than I thought it could possibly be.  Funnier.  More interesting.  I was more touched than I thought I’d be (though not THAT touched).  All the worst parts were in the commercials.

Howl (35) – Really this is James Franco’s best film this year.  Really.  He completely becomes Ginesburg and it is great fun to watch.  But, be warned, the vast majority of the poem is animated on screen while he is reading it and, if you are unaware, it is graphically sexual.  So, if you don’t like the idea of giant, thrusting, animated penises…

127 Hours (42) – Yeah, he was good in this, too.  I just think it was a bit over-hyped and I wasn’t as pulled in by Franco’s performance here, I’m not sure why.  Which isn’t to say that I did not like the film, I actually liked it quite a bit.  I was impressed by how much energy and motion the film was able to have for spending most of it’s time in such a confined space.

Let Me In (36) – The remake of “Let the Right One In,” the 2008 Swedish vampire film that ranked #11 on my list that year.  Actually, I think both versions have strengths over each other.  Ironically, I think that the more amateurish acting in the Swedish version actually helped and hurt it.  The boy in that film was not nearly as believable or engaging as in this American version.  However, the lack of acting skills in the girl vampire led to her being less emotive and therefore creepier.  The American girl was too warm and engaging.  Both movies created a good, creepy aesthetic (with maybe the Swedish one being slightly better).  The American version did a much better job with the “father” character, including a truly brilliant car scene (one of the best scenes in any movie this year).  But the swimming pool scene was better in the Swedish version (the overall lower production values of that film, as a whole, made the final scene much more shocking).  In the end, why was that film so much higher on my list than this one?  Because I saw it first, so it just had a greater impact.  Btw- don’t read the book.  It is truly, truly, truly too fucking creepy and sick.

Inception (24) – By far, the best of the blockbuster films this year.  Actually, I’d go so far as to say that, for the genre, it is an excellent film.  Probably the best I have seen in years.  It was well shot, fast paced, had compelling special effects, was brilliantly edited, and had an ending that is guaranteed to have folks arguing with their friends.  Is he or isn’t he?

Cairo Time (30) – What a sweet, simple movie.  Two people falling in love in Cairo.  Gorgeous people and really gorgeous scenery.  Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig (from DS9, all you Trek geeks) do a great job of underplaying their romance, making it all the more believable and suitable to this laconic, understated movie.


The Movies I’m Glad I Saw:


Another Year (55) – My least favorite movie by director, Mike Leigh (“Secrets & Lies,” “Vera Drake,” “Happy-Go-Lucky”).  Sweet, well acted but it didn’t really take me anywhere.

Shutter Island (2) – This film had a nice atmosphere and a perfect location.  Great costumes, great sets and DiCaprio did a good job of playing his character (but, of course, this is the character people love him to play- the broken, troubled but inherently decent man).  It was creepy, tense and had good build up.  But the big reveal was just too silly to take seriously.

Nowhere Boy (38) – A nice story about the young John Lennon.  Interesting to the degree that it was true.  A really nice acting job but an up and coming British actor, Aaron Johnson (also seen this year in the dreadful “Kick-Ass”).

Get Low (26) – A reasonably entertaining vehicle for Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray to show off their acting chops.  Lucas Black (remember him?  The “Sling Blade” kid) gets to go along for the ride.

The Town (40) – Ben Affleck is at it again.  He wrote, directed and starred in this movie (sound familiar?) about a Boston townie tryin’ to go straight but who just can’t pull away from his bad news best friend, who (of course) he owes his life to.  Well acted, especially by Jeremy Renner (“Hurt Locker”).  The plot moves along quickly, if painfully obviously.  Affleck has a good eye for the flavor and rhythm of Boston’s neighborhoods and that is probably the best thing about this film.  Everything else is by the book.

Restrepo (57) – The harrowing documentary about the deployment of the Army’s Airborne Brigade’s 2nd platoon of Company B into the deadly Kornegal Valley in Afghanistan.  Within minutes of the movie starting, Medic Juan Restrepo is dead.  The rest of the documentary deals with how his platoon mates handle that, and other losses, and how they manage to erect and try to maintain Outpost Restrepo in their battle against the Taliban.

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows (43) – Another HP movie.  This one was better than most but not as good as the best (#3).  It had a nice aesthetic but the story felt disjointed and like a giant set-up (which it was) for the last one.  That said, it plays that role admirably and raises anticipations for Part II.

Patrik, 1.5 (27) – A cute Swedish film about a gay couple who accidentally adopt a homophobic teenage delinquent (age 15) instead of an adorable infant (age 1.5).  Ooops.  Hilarity ensues.  Well, more like a few chuckles and lots of earnest “gay people are just like us” messages.  In the end, it was a sweet movie that was far more tolerable than a movie like that ought to be.

I Love You Phillip Morris (45) – I had waited 2 years for this comedy (based on a true story) about a man who discovers he is gay (Jim Carey), becomes a con man and meets the love of his life (Ewan McGregor) in prison.  Jail brakes and hijinks ensue.  In the end, it was far too much of a wacky Jim Carey vehicle for me to feel any connection to or caring about the characters.  It was the opposite of “Patrik, 1.5,” there was nothing earnest in this film.

Inside Job (39) – Documentary about the financial meltdown.  It is very well organized and puts all the information out there very clearly.  But it told me nothing that I didn’t already know.

Somewhere (49) – Sophia Coppola takes her art seriously and this is art.  “Somewhere” is her painstaking tribute to The Italian New Wave movement.  If you don’t like New Wave films (like “La Dolce Vita”) then do not bother with this one.  Nothing happens.  Nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing happens.  And it doesn’t happen really really slowly.  It is a brave movie for being so clearly inaccessible to a mainstream audience.  I don’t’ regret seeing it but don’t ever want to see it again.  Btw- not to be too picky but it kinda cheats on the whole New Wave thingy.  This film should be totally inert, without any movement in any direction for any character at all.  Yet, Stephen Dorf has a tiny, microscopic amount of momentum at the end of this film.

Toy Story 3 (16) – Yeah, it was cute.  Not as good as the first two but better than most animated movies.

The Stonewall Uprising (22) – Guess what this documentary is about.  Mildly interesting but I’ve seen it all before.


The Movies I Could Have Skipped:


The Ghost Writer (3) – So completely over hyped.  It did have some great tension at the beginning but had such a completely absurd revelation (really? Who the hell hides important secrets like that?!).  It was like an Encyclopedia Brown story.  Though, I will admit that the final scene is a great one.

The Karate Kid (15) – About as good as the first one.  Beautiful scenery.  Rousing.  Sweet.  Cute.  Inspiring.  That god-damned Smith family has it all.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (8) – One was enough for me (both of the books and movies).  That’s about enough bleakness and violence against women to get me through the whole year.

Never Let Me Go (34) – Based on the book that I only sort of liked (by “Remains of the Day” author, Kazuo Ishiguro).  The movie worked even less.  All the characters seemed so remote and detached from the injustice of their lives that it made it hard for me to care.  The story is supposed to be shocking but I felt nothing.  Not a good thing.

Joan Rivers – A Piece of Work (17) – This doc gave me an new appreciation for how needy comedians and how hard they have to work.  Beyond that, the film didn’t do much for me.  Far too little to laugh at.

Eat Pray Love (48) – It is exactly a Julie Roberts movie (I saw it on the plane and I doubt they had to edit a thing).

The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (33) – Animated movie about owls.  It could have been worse (see below).

Shrek Forever After (14) – It is time for this franchise to die.  It was funny once.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader (49) – “In your world, you will have to know me by another name…”  That is just about as much Jesus talk as I can handle from a lion.



The Movies I Really Disliked:

There really isn’t anything that I want to say about most of these movies.  They were dumb.  I shouldn’t have bothered.


Iron Man 2 (12)

Alice In Wonderland (4) – I am sorry to say that I am getting a bit tired of Tim Burton (especially w/ Johnny in tow).  It’s all the same type of flashy wrapping paper covering an empty box.

Salt (46)

I Am Love (25) – What on earth did people see in this movie?  Couldn’t somebody please explain that to me?  And I love Tilda.

The Wolfman (1)

The Clash of the Titans (6)

Air Doll (11) – Japanese sex doll comes to life.  You’d think that’d be interesting, wouldn’t you?

Kick-Ass (9) – Read Roger Ebert’s review.  He is exactly right.  This is a dishonest and deeply cynical movie.

The Last Airbender (21)

Twilight Saga: Eclipse (19) – Please refer to last year’s review.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (5) – The kids didn’t even like this film. It also had the same girl from “Kick-Ass” and “Let Me In.”  School loner, psychopathic foul-mouthed superhero, child-corrupting vampire.  I have to keep my eye on her.


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