2012 – The Year In Review

January 23, 2013 at 10:25 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment
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Well, with “Amour,” I have wrapped up my reviews of the films of 2012 and, I must say, it was a better than average year (a really good year, actually).  I saw 71 of the 2012 films (as opposed to 72 in 2011) and there were only 18 that I really should have skipped.  For those who are interested, I have ranked my Top 10 below:

1- Amour – Really, I cannot say how touching and remarkable I thought this film was.

2- Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson at his best.

3- Lincoln – Almost entirely for the force of D. Day Lewis’s performance.

4- Beasts of the Southern Wild – Visually evocative, wildly phantasmagorical, and beautifully acted.

5- The Sessions – An amazing performance by Helen Hunt.

6- Compliance – This film may stick with me more than any other this year.

7- The Imposter – Like “Compliance” it really made me think about why we humans do what we do.

8- The Life of Pi – I loved the book and this was a beautiful take on it.

9 – Zero Dark Thirty – For as controversial as this film is, I think Kathryn Bigelow is going to be a hugely influential director.

10 – The Impossible – I know, I know.  I’m almost embarrassed to include this film but, as manipulative as it was, it made me cry like a baby and I loved it.  So there.

Honorable Mentions: I would be remiss if I didn’t encourage folks to see two largely ignored documentaries that I absolutely loved.  “Marwencol” and “Waiting for Sugerman” are must sees.  I don’t think you’ll regret renting them.

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Amour

January 23, 2013 at 9:55 am | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment
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When you think of a love story on film, what comes to mind?  “When Harry Met Sally?”  “Pretty Woman?”  That list can go on and on but no film on that list tells us anything real about love.  This is what makes “Amour” a minor miracle.  For everything else you might hear about this movie, it is a love story, and as true a one as I have seen on the screen.  Controversial German film maker Michael Haneke (“The White Ribbon,” “Funny Games,” “Caché”) has made a beautiful, painful film about the last few months in the life of a French couple.  With the minimalist style he is famous for, Haneke shows us the steady deterioration of Anne’s health after she suffers a series of strokes and the way in which her devoted husband, George, soldiers on in the face of grim reality.  This is not an easy film to watch; the story matter is difficult but it is made more difficult, and ultimately much more touching, because it is played wholly without sentiment.  There is no score in the entire film.  There are no grand gestures or epiphanies and no final catharsis.  This is life as it is lived, and as it ends, for one modest couple.  The film takes place almost entirely in their small but beautiful Paris apartment, which is so fully realized, right down to the clutter, as to feel absolutely real.   While Isabelle Huppert is wonderful as their distressed daughter, the movie rests entirely on the two leads.  Much has been said, quite rightly, about the almost 90 year old Emmanuelle Riva in her role as Anne (she should win the Oscar, though Jessica Chastain or Jennifer Lawrence will).  Her skill at showing Anne’s deterioration is remarkable, particularly once she can no longer speak and has to convey everything on her face.  There is a scene where George is singing to her and she tries to sing along and the emotions that play across her face in that moment are remarkable to watch; that may be the most profound scene I have seen in film this year.  For all of the praise Riva has gotten, however, I was even more taken by Jean-Louis Trintignant as her husband.  He played that character perfectly.  Never once did I doubt the truth of what his character did and said.  Through everything deeply sad that we must watch in this story, he anchors us to why we are watching it.  We should all do so well to be so loved in the end.

Zero Dark Thirty

January 13, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Posted in 2012 | Leave a comment
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I find it hard to know how to interpret a movie this embedded in recent history.  I use that word “embedded” deliberately because, for much of the film, it feels like the audience is a journalist tagging along on this very real journey.  Director Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) is not John Woo; there are no scenes of people falling in slow motion while firing with both hands.  Nothing feels larger than life in her films.  Her great talent as a film maker has been to remove the Hollywood from a Hollywood film and leave behind the essential story.  In this film, that essence is Jessica Chastain’s character, “Maya,” who is on a one-woman mission to get UBL (that’s code for Osama Bin Laden.  Why U and not O?  They never say).  If the film is to be believed, neither Bush and his administration nor Obama and his can take responsibility for getting Bin Laden; it is all the doing of one very determined redhead.  In fact, the superhero trope is so present here, it does make me question the overall accuracy of the film.  Much has been made of the alleged use of classified materials and, in particular, the use of torture to garner information.  I would be curious what the average viewer thinks of “enhanced interrogation” after leaving the theater but I suspect that most people would find it justified, at least in this context.  I don’t think that is the film makers’ agenda and I do think one could have a lively debate about ends justifying the means after watching this movie.  Chastain will almost certainly win the Oscar in a field that seems almost set up for her to win.  Not that she doesn’t do well; she’s a brilliant actress who was one of the stars of my favorite film of 2011 (“Take Shelter”) and she is the centerpiece of this entire movie.  Circling all around her is a solid cast made up of James Gandolfini and a bunch of people you will vaguely remember as having been on TV at some point (“wait, isn’t that the dude from ‘Boston Legal’?”).  Some might complain that, at 2 hours 37 minutes, the film runs too long but I was never bored.  I found the inter-workings of our intelligence agencies (however accurate) to be fascinating to watch.  Though the action scenes are few, they are where Bigelow’s skill really shows through; she keeps the scenes taut and minimalist in a way that gives them so much more impact for seeming so real.  The final scenes really are brilliantly done.  But, for all that, I will say that there is also something cold about this movie.  I am never drawn in or feel connected to the characters.  Bigelow’s characters, both in this and “Hurt Locker” are fully realized but they are not warm; I don’t feel for them the way I do other characters in other films.  I was fascinated by this film and I respect the skill of it immensely but I was never moved by it.

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