I have no idea how this happened. I thought December was very movie-intense at 30 new films seen. Well, in January, I saw 42. Plenty of good stuff was at hand, including two terrific Best Picture Oscar nominees that stuck in my head for days and required multiple trips to the cinema. I did quite a bit of last minute catching up on documentaries and foreign language films of 2012 for award nominating purposes, too. Gotta love Netflix. February will have more work on its plate for me, so I expect there to be less time for movies. Then again, you never know…
13 Assassins (Takashi Miike, 2010)
Fitting choice to open 2013 with, don’t you think? This is a more accessible and to me far more enjoyable film than what Miike tends to put forth. The first half is decent enough talky set-up; it’s nothing mind-blowing, but it does what it’s supposed to. The second half is the real gem here though, featuring some of the most badass samurai action I’ve ever seen. Just tremendous stuff, and a great way to kick off movie year 2013.
All Good Things (Andrew Jarecki, 2010)
I’m not sure why this film has to exist, or why anyone should have to see it. It’s not bad or anything; in fact, there are scenes that are quite impressive, especially the ones focusing on the central characters’ relationships towards each other, which are more complex than what one first suspects. The actors all put in solid efforts, too. It’s just that the story as a whole, despite being based on true events, doesn’t really feel like it’s anything special. There is some awkwardness to the way it jumps around in its timeline. It’s a watchable movie, but by no means a must-see.
The Adventures of Tintin (Steven Spielberg, 2011)
Oh, this was a joy to watch. I grew up with the Tintin comics, so this had a lot of nostalgia value for me. It’s way more than just that, though. It’s a hilarious movie, with Captain Haddock providing the lion’s share of laughs, but pretty much all the humor is right on the mark. The animation is teriffic and offers such beauty that it made me wish I had seen it in theater. The action is cool and imaginative, with the astounding “long take” chase scene being just the crown jewel of a big old pile of gold. What I found most impressive was how well Spielberg utilizes the animation format, smartly employing angles, shots and effects in cool ways that would have been tricky to pull off in live action. All in all, this is a teriffic film. The 2015 sequel can’t get here soon enough.
Ink (Jamin Winans, 2009)
Cool little fantasy film with a distinctive visual style that makes it stand out to an extent. The story is solid, and offers a little mystery here and there. The acting is barely there though, and that’s what’s keeping the film from getting any higher on my rating scale. Your criteria might vary, of course.
Life of Pi (Ang Lee, 2012)
Gorgeous to look at, and the story is powerful. Its way of dealing with religion is one rarely seen on film. Suraj Sharma is great, and this should in a fair world be a star-making performance from him. The framing story struck me as a bit clunky and unwelcome at first watch, but a second viewing made it click into place in an interesting way. Yeah, I went back to see it a second time, which I rarely do. I couldn’t get the film out of my head. I still can’t.
Chopper (Andrew Dominik, 2000)
Eric Bana has long been one of those actors who has never really stuck to me. I’ve seen him in a lot of things and always liked him just fine, but never has he distinguished himself enough in any stand-out role to make him something special in the actor files section of my brain. Until now, that is. Here he plays Chopper Read, a criminal who can swing wildly from jokey kindness to explosive violence, often seemingly without knowing what he’s doing. Or maybe he does. Maybe it’s all a charade. It’s a character and a performance that deserves a stronger film. This one is entertaining, and particularly the opening act works wonders in holding my attention. The story gets a tad repetitive towards the middle, and the muted color schemes get old as well, so the whole thing kind of runs out of gas before reaching the finish line. Still, as a showcase for Bana, this is pretty damn effective.
How to Survive a Plague (David France, 2012)
Valuable and important documentary about the AIDS epidemic in USA and the efforts of groups like ACT UP and TAG to make sure treatment was made available. The majority of the film is comprised of archival footage from the 80s and early 90s, and the amount of work that must have gone into putting it all together is impressive. There are talking heads here, but not often. It makes for a powerful document that’s both informative and moving.
Ip Man (Wilson Yip, 2008)
Cool martial arts flick that, like many genre brethren, sports great fight scenes and an unspectacular story. Fortunately, both action and plot rise a notch above genre standards, which helps to make this one of the better martial arts films I’ve seen recently.
Employee of the Month (Mitch Rouse, 2004)
This one’s somewhat close to train wreck territory. It starts out by hooking us on the plot in the present, and then flashes back to 36 hours ago to presumably show us how we get there. But the story isn’t in direct focus, instead getting tossed aside to show the main characters discuss philosophies and crack jokes and stuff. This would be fine, except the characters are the type to belong to a smart humorous crime film, which the dialogue – or indeed anything in this movie – can’t match. It’s funny at times, but it’s of the desperate “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” variety. And then there’s the ending, which just adds further layers to the mess. The film is not a disaster, as it at least has ambition, but I can’t really recommend it to anyone.
Rope (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948)
The “problem” with delving further into the filmography of a great director like Hitchcock is that you start to compare his films to one another. Rope, for instance, is a fine movie; it’s tense, it has some dark humor, and the actors are certainly fine. But when put next to Rear Window or Vertigo, there’s not all that much to it. It’s a simple premise, the run time is short, the character building is limited, and so is the story progression. From a technical standpoint, the long takes illusion is fascinating and becomes the main draw. All in all, it’s a good movie, but it’s the weakest Hitchcock I’ve seen so far.
Miss Sweden (Tova Magnusson-Norling, 2004)
Solid Swedish drama about a 19-year-old girl (Alexandra Dahlström of Show Me Love fame) and her struggling to fit in with either the mainstream or the alternative crowd. Or maybe both. A bit heavy-handed at times, but Dahlström in the lead does a strong enough job that it’s hard not to get invested in her character. The supporting characters could have used some fleshing out; as it is, they seem too much like caricatures at times. Nonetheless, I had a good time with this film.
The Invisible War (Kirby Dick, 2012)
More than with most other types of films, it’s hard to separate subject from execution when evaluating documentaries. As an example, we have The Invisible War, a doc about rape and sexual assault in the US military. I can point out some things that I feel the film could have done better: examining the root causes more, try to show a view from the other side of the fence – hard as that might be – and so forth. But despite any such minor – for they are minor – misgivings I might have with this movie, there’s no denying that the subject matter hits like a wrecking ball. It’s heart-breaking stuff, and it’s something that needs to be brought to attention, discussed and dealt with. Take my score of 4/5 as some sort of “objective” rating, but know that this is definitely a must-see. It’s certainly not always an easy watch, but that should not matter.
V/H/S (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Chad Villella, Ti West & Adam Wingard, 2012)
One thing I liked about this found footage horror anthology is its mysterious nature. Apart from the framing story, there’s nothing that links the various segments together in any way, and even within themselves, there are questions that are left unanswered. While too much mystery can be annoying in certain films, here it adds to the sense of home-made amateur recording-ness that comprises this movie. The segments are of uneven quality; some are quite clever and fresh, like the one with the spy glasses and the webcam one, while others could have been left on the cutting room floor – here’s looking at you, hiking part. I didn’t find any of the episodes particularly scary, though. Horror films don’t necessarily have to be frightening, but when the stories are in shorter bursts like these where little weight is present, amping up the scare factor might have been a good idea. Oh well. This is still an entertaining piece of fluff horror.
Jeff, Who Lives at Home (Jay & Mark Duplass, 2011)
Between this and Cyrus, I’m beginning to grow really fond of the Duplass brothers. Here’s humor of the rare kind that feels drawn from real life, yet is nothing quite like anything I’ve myself experienced. Both Jason Segel and Ed Helms show character depth I haven’t seen from either before, and it’s a really cool thing to see. A very nice movie.
Stuck Between Stations (Brady Kiernan, 2011)
It really wants to be Before Sunrise, but it doesn’t pull it off. The characters aren’t as interesting, the chemistry isn’t quite there, the mood is lacking… It’s all these things that come together to make this romantic drama a bit boring. Still, there are scenes that show promise here. It’s the directorial debut of Brady Kiernan, and it’s quite possible he has a great film in him somewhere. I hope he makes more. I’m willing to give him another chance.
Timer (Jac Schaeffer, 2009)
A rom-com, but one with a neat gimmick. It’s sci-fi, but in our world and time. The only difference is that someone has invented a timer that you implant in your arm. It then counts down the days until you first meet your soul mate, I.E. your one true love. Oh, but it only starts counting once they get a timer too. You can probably come up with quite a few ideas for how this might play out. This film does too, and goes beyond that into angles I wasn’t at all considering. It works really well, and is thought-provoking in a way that rises way beyond the characters themselves. Think In Time, only way better. Okay, so maybe the actual execution could have been sharper; the acting isn’t top-notch, and the humor is kind of lame and forced at times. But this is still a damn cool movie.
Catacombs (Tomm Coker & David Elliot, 2007)
When you’re an aspiring Shannyn Sossamon completionist like me, you have to watch some films that you know are going to be terrible. Catacombs is one such film. It’s not awful all the time, to be honest; when it’s just Sossamon running around the catacombs under Paris, trying to find a way out while being chased by a monster, it’s sort of almost watchable. However, whenever there are other characters involved – such as in the painful set-up phase – it’s just a mess of bad writing and overdone directing. And my god, fuck that ending! The bad in this film is bad enough to drag everything else down with it.
All That Jazz (Bob Fosse, 1979)
It must have taken some real balls by Mr. Fosse to make such a brutal film about a thinly veiled version of himself. The dance numbers are spectacular, there’s plenty of clever theme overlaying going on, and Roy Scheider is rock-solid in the lead. The ending does drag, and if there’s one place in a movie where you don’t want that to happen, it’s at the end. Even so, this is about as nifty and original a biopic as you could hope for.
Goon (Michael Dowse, 2011)
There’s a lot to like about this hockey comedy. A big plus right off the bat is that it’s actually funny. I was really impressed by Seann William Scott, who here plays against type; his character is a polite, kind, none-too-bright bruiser, and he plays it with a certain sincere gentleness that I didn’t think he had in him. Good stuff. I also like how the romance subplot with Alison Pill isn’t overly magnified, because knowing these characters, it really shouldn’t be. I do have a big problem with the way the film tackles (heh) violence. The fights are gruesome, often shot in glorifying slow-motion, and with the kind of sound work where you really feel the impact of the blows. I was waiting for some kind of condemnation of it all, or something showing the aftermath and the injuries and whatnot, but no such thing came. I find this very bothersome, though I’m not sure why. I’ve seen and loved many other films with violent content glorified. Why is Goon different? Maybe it’s because the violence is so pointless. They’re playing hockey, for God’s sake. It’s a game. Often they just seem to fight for the hell of it. Weird. Is it obvious I don’t watch hockey very often?
Troll 2 (Claudio Fragasso, 1990)
This will probably echo many people’s opinion of this film, but nonetheless: it’s obviously shit, but it’s certainly quite entertaining when watched with a bunch of friends late at night. I could put any numerical rating here and make a valid arguement for it, so let’s go for the middle ground on average.
Fail-Safe (Sidney Lumet, 1964)
It’s weird how this one was released some 9 months after Dr. Strangelove, because Stanley Kubrick‘s film seems like a direct spoof on this one. I like this serious take better, though. An edge of the seat thriller, wonderfully acted, and never letting the human element get drowned out by the political side of things. Great stuff.
Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik, 2012)
The beginning is decent enough, focusing on two small-time crooks who are clearly in way over their heads when they rob a poker party. But then the film slows down to ridiculous degrees, nearly grinding to a halt whenever James Gandolfini‘s character starts in on his long monologues. Brad Pitt has rarely been less interesting than he is here. I could see there being an audience for this kind of film, but I’m not part of it.
John Dies at the End (Don Coscarelli, 2012)
An adaptation that does the mistake of sticking too close to its source material. The novel is a fascinating blend of existential horror and crude comedy, with a weird story structure that pulled me right in when I read it this summer. Said structure unfortunately doesn’t translate well to film. There is just no flow to anything here. The whole thing comes off as a series of strange set pieces, and at the end, I was left with a lot of things unanaswered. And then I realized I didn’t care much.
Fail Safe (Stephen Frears, 2000)
Much like the 1964 original, this is a powerful war story that’s handled about as well as could be expected – although it doesn’t outdo the first film in any way. It would be easy to dismiss this one as a good-but-unnecessary remake, but it does have one interesting thing going for it: it was performed and aired live on TV. You can kind of tell at times from the camera work. It doesn’t make the film better in any way, but it’s a neat idea. Viewed as just a movie, this is a good one indeed, but my recommendation would still be to first watch the original and treat this one as a subsequent curiosity.
City Island (Raymond De Felitta, 2009)
A film that slides very neatly into the Dysfunctional Family Dramedy file. There are similarities in both tone and content to films like Little Miss Sunshine, Smart People, and others. It’s a subgenre I generally like, and I sure liked this one. Liked. Not loved. City Island plays things a too safe and formulaic to be great. Its running theme of the effects of secrets kept from loved ones is shallowly explored, although it does find some nice moments of real humor in it. The real stand-out quality about the movie is Andy Garcia‘s convincing lead performance, a role that among other things calls for him to pretend to be a really great amateur actor. He aces it, and he does so by deliberately channelling Robert De Niro, and he effing is De Niro. It’s quite spectacular. Julianna Margulies and Emily Mortimer provide strong supporting turns as well. It all makes for a very solid, if not extremely memorable, experience.
Match Point (Woody Allen, 2005)
The acting and the dialogue are certainly there, as they tend to be in Allen’s films. It’s a drama with interesting themes of morality, greed, and lust. The problem is that the hee-hawing middle portion is a bit of a drag, and the conclusion is handled too swiftly. Despite these issues, this is another solid outing from the director.
Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier, 2011)
Not merely a film about addiction, but one about isolation and the dark futility of life – or at least that’s how our main character here sees it. Anders Danielsen Lie offers a great portrayal of a recovering drug addict, flawlessly showing how impossible it feels for him to just “pull himself together.” He drifts around Norway’s capital, goes to a job interview, meets old friends, and tries to take stock of his life. A stark and grim view of the world through the eyes of a broken soul is what’s on tap here, and it’s harrowing stuff.
5 Broken Cameras (Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi, 2011)
Palestinian journalist Emad Burnat documents his village’s non-violent resistance against encroaching Israeli settlers. The title of the film reveals five things to come out of it. Having this story told from the inside, along with footage of the villagers normal life, lends this one an unshakeable authenticity. It’s a long struggle, spanning 5 years, and every Friday the people protest. Their resolve is admirable, and makes for a powerful film.
Les Misérables (Tom Hooper, 2012)
Wonderfully visualized musical, with strong acting. Hugh Jackman has never been better, and Samantha Barks and Eddie Redmayne make for pleasant new acquaintances for me. The hype is true, though; Anne Hathaway easily steals the show here, and is worthy of all the praise she has gotten and more. Her “I Dreamed a Dream” is easily among the very best scenes of 2012. Goosebumps all the way. I’ve been going back and forth on what score to give this, but somewhere around my 4th time seeing it in 9 days to figure it out, I realized that I was seeing it for the 4th time in 9 days. Yeah, this one gets the top score. Read more about my obsession with Les Mis here.
Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)
Religion is a fascinating subject to me, especially that fuzzy region where some discover it and others lose it. This one deals with the latter scenario, with a priest (Gunnar Björnstrand) wrestling with doubts. Not as visually striking as some other Bergman films I’ve seen, but the story and its themes makes up for it nicely.
It’s All Gone Pete Tong (Michael Dowse, 2004)
Sometimes, it’s the seemingly superficial details that make a story work. A fairly standard-ish plot here: a guy who’s on top of the world, is a self-destructive prick, hits upon hard times, and has to readjust. In this film, it’s a famous Ibiza DJ (Paul Kaye) who, inconveniently, goes deaf. The setting certainly helps to make the film feel a little different, and there is some neat ways in which his loss of hearing is presented. The humor often hits the mark too. A solid fun effort.
Dog Soldiers (Neil Marshall, 2002)
I’m not 100% positive, but this might be the first horror film I see that’s set in Scotland. A bunch of British soldiers embark on a field exercise, only to stumble upon werewolves. Violence ensues. The monsters here don’t feel quite as menacing as they should, but the interactions between the squad members offer both some laughs and a sense of camaraderie. Even so, much like in Marshall’s next film The Descent – which is better than this one – I would have liked a bit more distinguishing features between the various protagonists. Despite this, Dog Soldiers retains a unique atmosphere throughout, which can be quite rare in the horror genre. So that’s a plus.
A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg, 2011)
Michael Fassbender and Viggo Mortensen act well, believably transforming themselves into their characters, and Keira Knightley… well, she certainly tries hard. None of this matters much, because it doesn’t lead to anything satisfactory plot-wise, and it’s too intangible for me to appreciate on a thematic level.
Silent Hill: Revelation 3D (Michael J. Bassett, 2012)
I quite liked the first Silent Hill movie. It wasn’t a horror classic or anything, but it had a cool look to it and walked the line between sticking too close to and straying too far from its source material. To this day, I’d easily call it my favorite movie based on a video game. This sequel, however, is terrible. It does feature some nice set designs, admittedly, but this matters not when the script is as wrecthedly bad as this one. No frights, no atmosphere, no coolness, no nothing. Worst 2012 film I’ve seen so far.
21 Jump Street (Phil Lord & Chris Miller, 2012)
Funny shit. One hell of an end credits sequence, too.
Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2011)
Between this one and Bug, I’m really digging this recent phase in Friedkin’s career. Killer Joe is like a Fargo by way of Grindhouse Tarantino, only more twisted and bloody. Great work by the entire cast, with Matthew McConaughey as the obvious standout. A thriller not quite like any other.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb, 2011)
I’ve never eaten sushi. This documentary made me want to, badly. Food porn supreme. The film isn’t all that informative or enlightening in any way, but it’s a pleasant enough watch, and the titular Jiro is moderately interesting in his intense dedication to his craft.
Sleepwalk with Me (Mike Birbiglia & Seth Barrish, 2012)
Fairly funny film about an aspiring stand-up comedian (Birbiglia) who starts sleepwalking, all the while navigating his long-term romantic relationship. There are times where you can almost sense a Woody Allen-esque feel to the whole thing. It’s an uneven ride, though, and the story doesn’t really go anywhere or have anything to say.
Adam’s Apples (Anders Thomas Jensen, 2005)
Sometimes I wonder why the Danish are so much funnier than us Swedes are. Maybe it’s because they’re far happier to push the envelope further than what one might expect. This black comedy from Denmark, about a Nazi who is released from prison into the custody of a church, is a good example of this. It does have a sentimental edge to it, but it’s just as likely to subvert this at a moment’s notice. The result is a film that offers plenty of explosive laughters, and has a pleasantly mellow vibe throughout. You might want to check this one out.
Grabbers (Jon Wright, 2012)
What to do when the monster movie genre is starting to seem a bit stale? Make your film Irish and have the monsters being allergic to alcohol, thus prompting all the characters to be drunk for most of the film. This set-up leads to some pretty funny stuff, and the pace is high enough that you’re not likely to be bored once it kicks into gear.
Fido (Andrew Currie, 2006)
Why would you cast the hilarious Billy Connolly as a grunting zombie? Fido has an interesting idea of setting its film in an alternate universe version of the 1950s, where wholesome family values meets zombie infestation. At the end of the day, it doesn’t add up to anything, sadly enough. There’s little entertainment in this black comedy, and if it’s trying to be allegorical about something, it comes off as way too unfocused.
Wet Hot American Summer (David Wain, 2001)
Affectionate spoof of a certain breed of comedies from the 70s and 80s, set on the last day of summer camp and focusing on the counselors. There is an impressive array of star power gathered here, even if most of them weren’t stars yet: Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Banks and more join up with names of earlier heydays like Molly Shannon and David Hyde Pierce. The tone is uneven, going from familiar parody territory to bizarre WTF-ness, but its a credit to the material that there are at least not any long stretches without a laugh or two.