LISTFUL THINKING: 2012 Superlatives

1 01 2013

New Year’s Day always marks a very interesting balancing act, reflecting on the old while also ringing in the new.  So while people are still thinking about 2012, let me offer up the first annual Superlatives post for the films of 2012.  I’ve already weighed in with the best and worst 10 of 2012, but what about the other 80 movies of the year?  What about the performances?  What about all sorts of other things?  This is the post where I get all sorts of stuff floating in my mind out there.

For the sake of review, I’ll go ahead and re-list my 10 best and worst of 2012.

Top 10 of 2012

10 Best of 2012: “21 Jump Street,” “Argo,” “Hitchcock,” “Killing Them Softly,” “Looper,” “Bernie,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Misérables,” “The Master,” “The Queen of Versailles

Prometheus

Honorable Mentions: “Rust and Bone,” “Prometheus,” “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “End of Watch,” “Holy Motors

Worst 10 of 2012

10 Worst of 2012: “The Grey,” “The Bourne Legacy,” “John Carter,” “Gone,” “The Vow,” “Killer Joe,” “The Paperboy,” “The Deep Blue Sea,” “The Watch,” “Casa De Mi Padre

pitchperfect2

Honorable Mentions: “Pitch Perfect,” “Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “First Position,” “Keep the Lights On,” “Being Flynn

10 More 2012 Releases I Still Need to See: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” “The Impossible,” “Promised Land,” “The Intouchables,” “Seven Psychopaths,” “Hyde Park on Hudson,” “Not Fade Away,” “Smashed,” “The House I Live In,” “Searching for Sugar Man”

Vanellope

5 Most Surprising Movies of 2012: “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Bernie,” “End of Watch,” “Hitchcock,” “21 Jump Street

Denzel Washington in Flight

5 Most Disappointing Movies of 2012: “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Django Unchained,” “Lincoln,” “Flight,” “The Bourne Legacy

Bachelorette

10 Most Forgettable Movies of 2012 (in alphabetical order): “Bachelorette,” “Hysteria,” “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” “Lola Versus,” “Man on a Ledge,” “Men in Black III,” “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen,” “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,” “Take This Waltz,” “Trouble with the Curve

Silver Linings Playbook

5 Most Rewatchable Movies of 2012: “21 Jump Street,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” “Argo,” “Ted

Lincoln

5 Movies of 2012 I’m Glad I Saw But Will Never Watch Again: “Lincoln,” “Amour,” “The Invisible War,” “Compliance,” “ReGeneration

Killing Them Softly

5 Most Underrated Movies of 2012: “Killing Them Softly,” “Les Misérables,” “Prometheus,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “End of Watch

The Avengers

5 Most Overrated Movies of 2012: “The Sessions,” “Lincoln,” “Django Unchained,” “Life of Pi,” “The Avengers

PSH

5 Movies That Got Better with Distance and Time: “Killing Them Softly,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Master,” “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Prometheus

Brave

5 Movies That Got Worse with Distance and Time: “Brave,” “Lincoln,” “Flight,” “The Sessions,” “The Dark Knight Rises

Argo

5 Movies That Felt Shorter Than Their Runtime: “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Les Misérables,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Argo,” “Django Unchained

Keira Knightley in "Anna Karenina"

5 Movies That Felt Longer Than Their Runtime: “Lincoln,” “Anna Karenina,” “This Is 40,” “Damsels in Distress,” The Five-Year Engagement

BOTSW

Breakout Performances: Quvenzhané Wallis in “Beasts of the Southern Wild,”  Eddie Redmayne in “Les Misérables,” Ezra Miller in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” Garrett Hedlund in “On the Road,” Scoot McNairy in “Argo

Silver Linings Playbook

Breakthrough Performances: Bradley Cooper in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Michael Pena in “End of Watch,” Jack Black in “Bernie,” Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street,” Elizabeth Banks in “People Like Us

Best Exotic

Breakdown Performances: Anna Kendrick in “Pitch Perfect,” Salma Hayek in “Savages,” Tom Cruise in “Rock of Ages,” Emile Hirsch in “Killer Joe,” Dev Patel in “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

frame 01021605R

Best Body of Work in 2012: (tie) Anne Hathaway in “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Les Misérables,” Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games” and “Silver Linings Playbook

The Deep Blue Sea

Worst Body of Work in 2012: (tie) Rachel Weisz in “The Bourne Legacy” and “The Deep Blue Sea,” Taylor Kitsch in “John Carter” and “Savages

Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

Best Heroes: Jessica Chastain as Maya in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk in “The Avengers,” Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean in “Les Misérables

John Carter

Worst Heroes: Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man in “The Amazing Spider-Man,” Taylor Kitsch as John Carter in “John Carter,” Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross in “The Bourne Legacy

Catwoman

Best Villains: Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Russell Crowe as Javert in “Les Misérables,” Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie in “Django Unchained

Skyfall

Worst Villains: Tom Hardy as Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” Javier Bardem as Silva in “Skyfall,” Rhys Ifans as Lizard in “The Amazing Spider-Man

Joaquin

Best Possessed Performance: Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master

The Paperboy

Worst Possessed Performance: Nicole Kidman in “The Paperboy

Bernie

Best Comedic Performance: (tie) Jack Black in “Bernie,” Channing Tatum in “21 Jump Street

The Watch

Worst Comedic Performance: The cast of “The Watch

Uggie

Best Cameo: Uggie in “The Campaign

Ryan Reynolds

Worst Cameo: Ryan Reynolds in “Ted

Eddie Redmayne

Best Singing: Eddie Redmayne in “Les Misérables

Alec

Worst Singing: Alec Baldwin in “Rock of Ages

That’s about all I can come up with for now … may add to this later!  Happy 2013, everyone!

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Not Your Average Top 10: The Best of 2012

30 12 2012

It gets harder to believe every year when this point of the year rolls around, but it never ceases to amaze me when it comes time to make end-of-year lists.  Although if I’m being honest with you all, I’m making the list all year long in my head.  But to know there’s a point of finality is always a little scary.

This is always the most opportune time to muse on trends in the year of film and perhaps even unify the most exemplary movies under a common theme.  To be honest, I thought 2012 was a bad year for the movies.  As of the publication of this post, I saw one hundred movies released in the calendar year – the majority of which could be described as cliched, stale, average, mediocre, unspectacular, color-by-numbers, tired, banal, so-so, or middling.  Or to put all that into one word: unambitious.

2012 was a year where filmmakers and financiers played it safe, resorting to the comfort and ease of the stock and formula.  That can be okay at times, but the upper limit on those types of films is being good – not great.  And when we expect greatness, what we are left with when the credits roll is a lingering sense of disappointment.

So when I sat down and decided to officially declare what I thought the ten crowning achievements of cinema in 2012 were, it was not particularly hard.  But I think that was facilitated not by how good my top ten films were, but rather by how bad the majority of my bottom 90 were.  Save my top two films of the year, I don’t think 2012 gave us any masterpieces (and even those are a stretch).

Yet these ten movies did give me a flickering feeling of hope that there are people in the industry who still have a little bit of that iconoclastic spirit left in them.  These filmmakers made bold works, ones that stood markedly above the otherwise average year … and were not your average version of whatever framework they were working inside.

21 Jump Street

#10
21 Jump Street
Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Written by Michael Bacall and Jonah Hill
Starring Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, and Ice Cube

Not Your Average High School Movie

I normally reserve a slot for a comedy in my top 10 – just because I think there are plenty of great contributions to cinema that don’t come in the form of serious, brooding drama.  This slot, however, produced a top 10 berth for “Get Him to the Greek” in 2010, a pick I now regret.  But something tells me I won’t regret including “21 Jump Street.”  It’s a movie that sets out to be an entirely different kind of high school movie, one not perched in the cliches of old.  By redefining who the popular kids can be, it provides fantastic humor and imagination to a subgenre dwelling in obsolescence.  Maybe subsequent films inspired by its greatness will do it best, but “21 Jump Street” most definitely did it first.  And darned well by 2012 standards.

Argo

#9
Argo
Directed by Ben Affleck
Written by Chris Terrio
Starring Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman

Not Your Average Escape Film

If “Toy Story 3” was any indication, no one wants to watch a serious escape movie anymore; they just want to see a tongue-in-cheek parody.  But Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” set against the background Middle East chaos in the 1970s, recalls the brilliant and classic filmmaking of that same era.  It’s a thrilling ride that takes us through three different worlds: the hilariously superficial Hollywood, the dimly-lit and smoky corridors of Washington bureaucracy, and ultimately the precarious and hostile Iran with anti-Western sentiment always palpable in the air.  With every scene, Affleck finds the perfect tone and straps us in for a thrilling ride.

Hitchcock

#8
Hitchcock
Directed by Sacha Gervasi
Written by John McLaughlin
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, and Scarlett Johansson

Not Your Average Biopic

I’m getting really tired of hagiographic biopics that act as if all people worthy of having their lives documented on film follow the same clean narrative pattern.  Sacha Gervasi’s slice-of-biography “Hitchcock,” focusing on the struggle to get the now-classic “Psycho” made, resists falling into the typical trappings.  It’s got a killer sense of humor and an even better sense of history and the shortcomings of the past.  Gervasi’s biopic is both entertaining and informative, but more importantly, it’s fair because it discards the usual illusions.

Killing Them Softly

#7
Killing Them Softly
Written for the screen and directed by Andrew Dominik
Starring Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, and James Gandolfini

Not Your Average Gangster Film

Though I had my reservations upon seeing the premiere in Cannes, “Killing Them Softly” has grown on me in a way that no other film has in 2012.  The daring style Andrew Dominik injects into his film provides such a kick that I’ve been feeling its reverberations all year long.  It’s a movie that uses the framework of a gangster film to make a statement on violence and criminality, but Dominik doesn’t blare out what that statement is.  How he figures out a way to be restrained while kicking out our teeth with his killer finale.

Looper

#6
Looper
Written and directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt

Not Your Average Sci-Fi Flick

There’s nothing strong characterization can’t fix, and Rian Johnson employs it to superb effect in “Looper.”  He finds that by taking the time to develop and invest in his characters, particularly Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis’ Joe (at different ages), every aspect of science-fiction gets better.  It results in more investment and far greater payoff.  If this is the new direction of the genre, I am totally on board.

Bernie

#5
Bernie
Directed by Richard Linklater
Written by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollingsworth
Starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine, and Matthew McConaughey

Not Your Average True Story

My love of “Bernie” may be partially inflated due to the story’s setting of Carthage, Texas being close to home in Houston.  But after several viewings to let the novelty wear off, and I’m still a huge fan.  Linklater’s film is a finely tuned tale of a man, Jack Black’s brilliantly played Bernie Tiede, and the spell he cast on a community.  Yet Linklater cleverly recognizes the limits of fiction and captures Carthage with a semi-documentarian angle.  As a result, the magnetism of Black’s character feels all the more authentic when placed in a real-life context.

Zero Dark Thirty

#4
Zero Dark Thirty
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal
Starring Jessica Chastain, Kyle Chandler, and Jason Clarke

Not Your Average Procedural

Not unlike “Looper,” Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s “Zero Dark Thirty” finds transcendence in a strong character.  Jessica Chastain’s Maya, the hero of the year on screen, is so fiercely committed to finding Osama Bin Laden that we can’t help but get all worked up alongside her.  We normally watch events unfold from a cool distance in procedurals, but that’s not the case here thanks to Bigelow’s unbelievable ability to create tension and Chastain’s tour de force.

Les Miserables

#3
Les Misérables
Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by William Nicholson
Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, and Anne Hathaway

Not Your Average Musical

I feel like my 1400 word review said just about all I could say about the brilliance and boldness of “Les Misérables.”  Tom Hooper has literally redefined what the movie musical can be with his movie.  By trying out an entirely different visual feel, he has now opened the floodgate for less literal and more cinematic adaptations of musical theatre.  It’s made even more impressive by the fact that this technical marvel also provides the most emotionally powerful movie experience of the year.

The Master (6)

#2
The Master
Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams

Not Your Average Paul Thomas Anderson Film

In 2012, I feel like I paid a lot of attention to auteurs, directors with their own personal stamp on their movies.  And this year, so many of them flopped, failing to show signs of growth or simply stalling in familiar grounds to disappointing effect.  Not Paul Thomas Anderson.  With “The Master,” he has truly come into his own as a filmmaker.  Gone are the vestiges of Scorsese and Altman, two directors he imitated successfully for a decade.  He’s now in the realm of Kubrick, not necessarily in terms of feel or style but definitely in terms of impact and originality.  Anderson dared to push the boundaries of cinema in ways we will not likely realize fully for years.  And I just can’t wait to see what revelations his meticulously crafted “The Master” holds in store in the future.

Queen of Versailles

#1
The Queen of Versailles
Directed by Lauren Greenfield
Featuring Jackie and David Siegel

Not Your Average Documentary

The dichotomy between my top two movies of the year is quite interesting.  “The Master” is a marvel of planning and method.  “The Queen of Versailles,” on the other hand, is a happy accident.  When Lauren Greenfield first fixed her lens on the Siegel family, they were on top of the world, building the biggest house in America and throwing caution to the wind.  Then the recession happened, and things got really interesting.  By having her camera in the right place at the right time, Greenfield epitomizes the ability of cinema to capture, reveal, and discover.  With fine tuning and a sharp sociological imagination, her final film is the most inquisitive and incisive work to date about what it means to be an American in the Great Recession.  It entertains us not unlike a Bravo special, yet it also asks us tough questions about the American Dream as well as our notions of success and happiness.  Greenfield captures reality like a documentary but suggests layers of depth normally only found in fiction.  It’s an important work that will undoubtedly serve as a cultural signpost while also continuing to probe our collective psyche.





REVIEW: Killing Them Softly

1 06 2012

Cannes Film Festival

A year after “Drive” took the Croisette by storm with what I saw to be an empty promise of genre revitalization, Andrew Dominik arrives with “Killing Them Softly,” a movie is the real deal for action fans. A whip-smart heist flick, Dominik seems to be channeling Stanley Kubrick with his aestheticized violence, hauntingly ironic music usage, and an emotional detachment. His film politicizes and stylizes the mob and the heist film, delivering a deliriously gory kick in the head.

The more I think about the film, the more I realize how it shouldn’t work. The character development, save James Gandolfini as a sleazy aging and boozing hitman, is minimal. The plot is familiar. The plot unfolds with relative predictability. Come on, it’s a mob movie – if you don’t know that almost everyone is gong to wind up dead, then you have some serious Scorsese to watch before you are allowed to come anywhere near “Killing Them Softly.”

But perhaps Nanni Moretti, president of the Cannes jury this year, holds the key to understanding why the movie transcends so many of its obvious shortcomings. He made an off-the-cuff observation that among the competition directors this year, many “seemed more in love with their style than their character[s].” While this could have applied to any number of directors I saw at Cannes (Wes Anderson, Carlos Reygadas, David Cronenberg), it seems particularly directed at Andrew Dominik. But while Moretti meant his remark to be construed as a negative, the style of “Killing Them Softly” is so abundant that it becomes a character in and of itself, taking the place of traditional “substance.”

Read the rest of this entry »





Marshall Takes Cannes: Day 7

23 05 2012

It’s probably good to look back and remember day 7, such a positive and incredible experience, after the disappointment that was day 8. The crushing blow of today will be recounted later, but I want to hit the high points.

Day 7 – Tuesday, May 22

I was able to get an hour to see a panel comprised of the filmmakers who made “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” the Sundance winner that has taken Cannes by storm as well. Co-writer and director Benh Zeitlin was in attendance, as was co-writer Lucy Alibar, cinematographer Ben Richardson, and producers Dan Janvey and Josh Penn. The whole conversation about the film’s origins, which are hardly discernable from the highly eccentric and distinct project, fascinated me; Zeitlin described the movie as one about “people losing the thing that made them” at their core.

He also shared how he and Alibar worked to wrap the script around the performers, not try to fit them into a pre-packaged good. “Beasts” used all non-professional actors, a fact which only serves to underscore the wow factor of watching the film. They also stated that they auditioned an astonishing four thousand children for the leading role of Hushpuppy, a young girl who has to carry this weighty movie almost entirely on her own back.

Then, after that, it was a quick change into my tuxedo for the red carpet premiere of “Killing them Softly,” the new Brad Pitt film. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the new happily engaged couple, although someone quickly informed me that the former World’s Sexiest Man would be flying solo. But that was hardly going to deter me from standing in line.

I got in the rush line (the line for people without official tickets) beginning at 4:45 P.M. The film started at 7:30 P.M. So that was nearly three hours on my feet waiting. It got pretty brutal at the beginning when there was nothing particularly exciting to look at, but that all changed when the red carpet opened around 6:30 P.M. At 7:00 P.M., the big names began to arrive: Chris Tucker, P. Diddy, Alec Baldwin … and Brad Pitt.

Let me just say, it’s not that I hated or didn’t admire Brad Pitt before the premiere. However, I emerged with a whole lot more respect for him. As soon as he got out of his police escorted car, the first thing he did was greet his adoring fans that had lined up along the Croisette. Pitt easily spent ten minutes signing autographs and shaking hands of the average laypeople before he got anywhere near the red carpet, and that was pretty darned cool. I got a picture of him from afar, but I also did manage to see him from a fairly close proximity. His hair moved as one unit.

I ultimately also managed to get to see the movie, but I did not get to see it in the massive Lumiere with Brad Pitt and the rest of the cast; I had to see a simultaneous screening in the Bazin, a 300-seater across the hall in the Palais. But hey, I saw the star and I saw the film – both were stylish and fun to say I saw in France!