Friday, January 4, 2013

2012 in Film (According to Jordan)

So in my last blog post I made a list of the best TV shows of the year, and it was pretty good if I do say so myself (check out this list here). I consider myself to be such a TV savant I could speak with some authority with regard to the year's "best" shows (though this will always be a bit of an arbitrary enterprise given the subjective nature of art, which TV, at its best, is). When it comes to movies, on the other hand, I am not so confident. Don't get me wrong, I love movies, I just don't think I'm a great critic, so this list is more of my favorites than the objective best, though I tried to incorporate both factors. All that said, I've seen a lot of movies in the last year, so as we approach the Oscars I have some insights to share about them.

For the purposes of this list, I've included two different factors in my "grading" criteria: (1) how much I enjoyed watching a particular film, and (2) how "objectively" good I figured it was based on my limited movie knowledge. Enjoyment and quality, my twofold formula for judging movies (though when I put it that way it sounds like absolute garbage). I'll rank the movies I've seen, list those I've yet to see, and update both lists as I see more. I will also list some of my favorites in the acting and directing categories, because... why not? SO FUN, RIGHT?


First, here's my little key for the reading of this list:

Number Rank. Title (How Much I Enjoyed the Movie/10, How "Good" I Thought It Was/10; Average Grade/10 [Letter Grade])

2012 Movies:

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Enjoyment: 10, Quality: 10; 10 [A+])
Every once in a while a movie catches you off guard with its profound assessment of the human condition. This year it was The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which may well go down as one of my all-time favorites. Having read the book, I went into Perks expecting to see an insightful portrayal of being an introvert in high school, and what I got was a movie so emotionally captivating, so deeply personal and intensely thoughtful it had me in tears just about from beginning to end. Through the eyes of the eponymous "wallflower" Charlie we see a world of genuine, raw teenage pain. We feel, intimately, his character's love for his fellow inhabitants of the "island of misfit toys" on which he has found himself. Charlie is the Ponyboy for this generation in a movie that showcases with dignity and finesse how harrowing it can be to be a teen, as normal human travail is amplified by the melodrama of youth. The fact that author Steven Chbosky wrote and directed Perks helps it stay true to its source material, and the cherry on top is its powerhouse performances, as I will discuss below.

2. The Avengers (Enjoyment: 10, Quality: 10; 10 [A+])
Any other year The Avengers would have topped my list, no question. Here we have a Marvel movie, perhaps the prototypical Marvel movie at this point, created by someone who clearly has love for the genre. Joss Whedon's biting dialogue blesses the film with more laughs than you can typically expect even from a full-on comedy, and he balances the gaggle of superheroes masterfully, in spite of their clearly disparate levels of power and appeal. He plays to the strengths of each, honoring them in ways longtime fans and newcomers alike can appreciate. To top it all off, only Whedon could take a character like the Hulk, who has been a cinematic drag up until this point, and use him to steal the show, scene after scene. In a year of strong superhero films, The Avengers rises to the top just as it deserves to.

3. Lincoln (Enjoyment: 9, Quality: 10; 9.5 [A])
My friends and I agreed after seeing Lincoln that we had not just seen a movie, we had witnessed an event. As I watched this film, I couldn't help but imagine future generations enjoying it, and that, I believe, is the primary sign of cinematic greatness. Given that Lincoln is filled to the brim with powerhouse performances (particularly the incomparable Day-Lewis as Honest Abe himself), and possesses some of the most delicate film-making technique and one of the most engaging narratives of the year, it is no surprise at all it stole the show come Oscar-nomination time. Also, this film could not have been more timely, as it portrays one of our past heroes whose memory unites us as a country even today.

4. Les Miserables (Enjoyment: 10, Quality: 9; 9.5 [A])
Arguably my most anticipated film of the year, Les Miserables lived up to my expectations with its raw, vulnerable performances, sweeping pace and beautiful renditions of its seminal tunes. Tom Hooper's direction adds an air of gritty realism to the already-heartbreaking story, and its live-singing approach evokes in its audience the feeling of watching an actual Broadway show. Oh, and Anne Hathaway. Her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream" is the film's emotional centerpiece, showcasing all the benefits of Hooper's courageous directorial choices. Finally, the film's allegorical representation of living by the law versus living by grace is deeply profound and elegantly portrayed.

5. Argo (Enjoyment: 9, Quality: 10; 10 [A])
I may be a little late to the party, but I am finally starting to see Ben Affleck as a serious filmmaker and actor. I haven't seen The Town, but I DID see Daredevil, so... Anyway, allow me to express for the record that I am sold. I was so impressed by Argo, by its clever dialogue, by its command of suspense as a storytelling technique, by its solid characterizations and universally strong performances. Affleck anchors the project with his stern but relatable protagonist, a CIA operative who leads a covert operation to extract Americans from a hostile Iran by pretending to be a film crew (making a science-fiction movie called, you guessed it, Argo). You also have some stand-out performances by the supporting cast: the always-welcome John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston. In a year of historical dramas, Argo is in a tight race with Lincoln for the Oscar win, and may well deserve it. 

6. End of Watch (Enjoyment: 9, Quality: 10; 9.5 [A])

Let me get something straight: I loved this movie. The only reason I docked a point for enjoyment is that it is at times appropriately tough to watch. It is as gritty and intense as a found-footage cop film ought to be if its honoring the genre and the profession. End of Watch does precisely that as it follows the story of two believably-written and superbly-acted L.A. police officers who showcase the oft-noble intentions of those who pursue careers in law enforcement. Besides being a cop drama, though, End of Watch is at the core a story about friendship, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña own these roles, with as natural chemistry as I've seen in any movie friendship. End of Watch hinges on their performances and they pull it off heroically.

7. Cabin in the Woods (Enjoyment: 10, Quality: 9; 9.5 [A])
Cabin in the Woods certainly felt like a Whedon project, even with Cloverfield director Goddard at the helm. The dialogue is sharp, the performances are competent, and the film is so much more clever and self-aware than it needs to be. Cabin, like Scream before it, functions simultaneously as an on-point, hilarious satire AND a fully-realized horror movie in its own right. It is a treat for anyone with a somewhat-refined sense of irony, and a worthy addition to the Whedon pantheon.

8. Silver Linings Playbook (Enjoyment: 9.5, Quality: 9.5; 9.5 [A])
 
As I watch more of the Oscar contenders for the year, the front end of my list is getting awful heavy. Any other year any of the top fifteen films on this list might have been my favorite, but this year they all seem relegated to numerical spots that do not do justice to how much I enjoyed them. Silver Linings Playbook is one of the biggest films at the Oscars this year, having earned nominations for best picture, director, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress and adapted screenplay, and it deserved every last one of them. Light yet deep, funny yet insightful, positive yet realistic, Silver Linings Playbook balances its lofty themes and tonal shifts admirably, handling everything from romance to mental illness with a delightful blend of reverence and irreverence.

9. Skyfall (Enjoyment: 9.5, Quality: 9.5; 9.5 [A])
As much as it pains me to say I am a recent convert to the world of Bond. Having grown up in a home surrounded by women I was utterly under-exposed to classic action (read man) movies like Gladiator, Mission Impossible and James Bond and if any of them are as stunning as Skyfall (or for that matter the other Bond movie I've seen, Casino Royale) then I have some harsh words for my mother. Longtime fan of director Sam Mendes (who helmed personal favorites Away We Go and American Beauty), I was giddy to see what he might do with an action film, and goodness he did not disappoint. This movie was exactly what I look for in an action flick: grounded characters, fantastical set-pieces and scant violence utilized only to further story (rather than gratuitous violence for its own sake, which was my biggest problem with otherwise-exceptional Django Unchained). As impressive as Skyfall's exploding helicopters and runaway trains may have been, all the more impressive were its electric supporting performances (particularly Javier Bardem as its chilling villain) which elevate Skyfall and honor the now-fifty-year-old franchise.

10. Life of Pi (Enjoyment: 10, Quality: 9; 9.5 [A])

I went into Life of Pi knowing nothing about the story but the boy, the boat and the tiger, and that Barack Obama called the book of the same title an "elegant proof of God." That's a weirdly high bar for a movie to reach, but Life of Pi cleared it and them some. A few of my friends were frustrated by the almagamous presentation of religion in its main character, Pi, assuming the movie was promoting a syncretistic take on faith (as Pi is a Hindu, a Muslim and a Christian). Granted, if you go in expecting LOP to prove Christianity true to the exclusion of other faiths, you may well be disappointed, but if you go in expecting the film to demonstrate that the presence of religious faith is preferable to its absence, you may well experience something rich and enlightening in witnessing Pi's adventures. This film might not prove God persay, but it does show that just because a story is more realistic does not necessarily mean it is more true, which is a fundamental notion to my own faith.

11. The Dark Knight Rises (Enjoyment: 9, Quality: 9; 9 [A-])
     Any needless comparisons to its predecessor might weigh it down, but I firmly believe DKR wrapped up its phenomenal trilogy in a way that honors Batman and Nolan. It hits all the right notes, from Tom Hardy's legitimately intimidating and unsettling Bane to the emotional resonance of Bruce and Alfred's relationship, to exemplary secondary performances on the part of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway as a hypnotizing Catwoman.

12. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Enjoyment: 9, Quality: 10; 9.5 [A])
     I was absolutely mesmerized by this movie. Set in the deep south, in a delta region of Louisiana called the "Bath Tub," Beasts tells the story (in some bizarre fantasy-drama-type way) of a little girl named Hushpuppy who, well... ok I'm not sure how much I want to give away about this plot. I went in knowing virtually nothing (not unlike Life of Pi) and was better off for it. I suppose I can make a few comparisons that might be helpful, though. Some have compared it to Pan's Labyrinth, and aptly-so. I also see some similarities to Life of Pi in its mysterious blending of myth and "fact." Finally, I noted some connections with certain aspects of James and the Giant Peach if that's your sort of thing. In any case, it's a thinker but it's full of heart and worth watching for nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis' performance alone.

13.  Zero Dark Thirty (Enjoyment: 8, Quality: 10; 9 [A-])
     Far and away one of the best films of the year, Zero Dark Thirty was still pretty tough to sit through. I was legitimately worried going in that the film would take some pointed political stance in favor of torture since I have long opposed torture on moral grounds, and experienced a mixture of relief and discomfort to see that it matter-of-factly depicts any scenes involving torture (rather in reveling in them). To the characters' credit, after the political atmosphere of the war on terror shifted and torturous methodology (like waterboarding) was no longer the status quo, the CIA operatives at the film's center adjusted their methods and were still successful in capturing and terminating Osama Bin Laden. I was also worried the film might be exploitative in its depiction of the terrorist's death, but Zero Dark Thirty proved to be fairly unembellished in its handling of such events. This is a film about the driven and stalwart members of our government who conduct sensitive and dangerous work for the sake of our country, and might be worth watching for perspective's sake alone. Its performances are also across-the-board impressive, especially the ever-brilliant Jessica Chastain.

14. The Amazing Spider-Man (Enjoyment: 9, Quality: 9; 9 [A-])
     A perfect blend of lighthearted antics and genuine, raw, emotional depth, this film dives deep into the psyche of the man behind the mask and shows off what superhero movies like it can, and should, be: character studies. Just like Avengers is the ensemble superhero movie in top form, this Spider-Man is the solo hero film of solo hero films (at least as far as Marvel goes), and all of this hinges on a pitch-perfect performance on the part of Andrew Garfield, who brings dimension and heart to his Peter Parker.

15. The Hunger Games (Enjoyment: 9, Quality: 9; 9 [A-])
     The Hunger Games is an honest, effective adaptation, true to the spirit, and in fact the story of its source material. Add to this Jennifer Lawrence's sleek, heartfelt portrayal of Katniss Everdeen, as well as the masterful performances of underrated actors like Woody Harrelson and screen gems like Stanley Tucci, and you have a recipe for a summer blockbuster that's better than it has any right to be.

16. Blue Like Jazz (Enjoyment: 10, Quality: 8; 9 [A-])
     Blue Like Jazz is a delightfully fresh take on "Christian film" in that it is more concerned with telling a story than pandering to an audience. It is a sincere journey of faith lost and found, and the testimony of a young man Christ-haunted. As a Christian, it is nice to feel represented so authentically and elegantly.

17. Looper (Enjoyment: 8.5, Quality: 9.5; 9 [A-])
     I don't know if there was a cooler or more clever film this year than Looper, which deftly avoided just about every sci-fi cliche or pitfall in weaving its time-travel tale. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is an intensely-compelling action star, as well as a bizarrely-convincing young Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt is doing her best work yet as a single mother reigning in her gifted child. A lesser film would have bludgeoned its audience with action but Looper bravely spends the bulk of its back half on a farm developing characters. What a movie.

18. Hope Springs (Enjoyment: 9, Quality: 9; 9 [A-])
     I had the pleasure of watching Hope Springs with my best friend Tony after months of wanting to see it together. We are both huge Meryl Streep fans (and Tommy Lee Jones fans as far as I know) as well as big proponents of Hollywood's recent trend of producing pro-marriage movies. This film is such an honest, sincere evaluation of an older couple trying to rediscover their love that is disarmingly heartwarming but also devastating in moments. It runs the gamut on emotional engagement, and might be a tough watch if you're not ready for it, but HS is definitely worth watching for, well, anyone (teenage and up, as it does contain some frank discussion of sexuality, all within the context of a marriage).

19. Wreck-it Ralph (Enjoyment: 8.5, Quality: 9.5; 9 [A-])
      Wreck-it Ralph has just about everything going for it: beautiful, artistically-rendered images, spot-on voice acting, humor and a heartwarming message. My singular complaint is that I suspect I would have enjoyed it a great deal more had I watched it with friends, but my watching a screen-filmed copy online may have detracted from some of the thrills.

20. The Hobbit (Enjoyment: 8.5, Quality: 8.5; 8.5 [B+])
     I agree with many critics that The Hobbit did not need to be made into three movies. It seems like a bit of a cash grab. That said, if Peter Jackson is as clever about the next two as he was about this one, I will not be disappointed, as this installment of the Lord of the Rings franchise was plucky and fun.

21. Chronicle (Enjoyment: 8.5, Quality: 8.5; 8.5 [B+])
     Found footage films draw a lot of criticism from film purists who find them gimmicky. Needless to say, I am not one of these purists, as I have been impressed with this approach many times in the past (Cloverfield, Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity and this year's End of Watch). Utilizing this technique in the making of a superhero film is genius enough, but what Chronicle does instead is lift up the hood of the genre and take a closer look into the psychology behind what makes a supervillain. Entertaining as it is insightful, Chronicle is a crowd-pleaser and a heck of a thinker.

22. Moonrise Kingdom (Enjoyment: 7.5, Quality: 9.5; 8.5 [B+])
     I've never had the pleasure of watching a Wes Anderson movie, but after seeing Moonrise Kingdom I definitely see the appeal. MK was stylish as it was substantive in its perspectives on youth, love and family, all bolstered by its strong performances (the young leads as well as Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Frances McDormand). My only complaint is that it was at-times a bit uncomfortable in its portrayals of young love and blooming sexuality, which did not hamper its quality, only my enjoyment.

23. Django Unchained (Enjoyment: 7.5, Quality: 9.5; 8.5 [B+])
     I loved Django Unchained about as much as I hated it. You can't fault it for quality, particularly as far as its performances go (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Fox and Christoph Waltz all in peak form), but for me at least, there is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to gratuitous violence for its own sake, and Django reached that point about two-thirds in. Also, when a film's hero is so revenge-driven as Django it is difficult to root for him. Still, Quentin Tarantino is utterly effective in all he attempts to do in Django, and for that I applaud him.

24. Safety Not Guaranteed (Enjoyment: 9, Quality: 8; 8.5 [B+])
     Safety Not Guaranteed is a sweet movie, with all the quality of indie-fare and none of the inaccessibility. Aubrey Plaza sparkles and Mark Duplass is so earnest in his portrayal of a man who believes he can travel back in time to be with a past love. Also I don't believe one need search its narrative long to find themes relating to living out one's faith.

25. 21 Jump Street (Enjoyment: 9, Quality: 8; 8.5 [B+])
     Jump Street was one of my favorite comedies this year. It earns its R rating with crude joking, but it is nowhere near as all-out sexually explicit as most comedies like it. Each joke hits its mark in ways, sharp, surprising, and often refreshing. It by no means is a deep film, but it doesn't need to be. If you're going to do something, do it well, and this movie does the buddy-cop-comedy justice in a way that almost transcends the genre.

26. Brave (Enjoyment: 8, Quality: 9; 8.5 [B+])
     Brave found Pixar returning to form (after Cars 2) in its portrayal of a young Scottish princess negotiating facets of youth like parental relationships, independence and love. While many films in this genre would have maligned its parental figures, Brave's parents are well-meaning if misguided and its message is twofold: children need room to grow but parents ought to be appreciated and loved for their contributions to the lives of their children. I may have appreciated this movie more if I were a young girl, as it is a legitimately empowering portrayal of femininity and youth, but I enjoyed it for what it did well, which was much.

27. Pitch Perfect (Enjoyment: 8.5, Quality: 8.5; 8.5 [B+])
     As I watched Pitch Perfect I couldn't help but compare it to other films in the female ensemble comedy genre. While not quite Bridesmaids, Pitch Perfect is better than most other films like it, and is undeniably funny, with a delightful lead (Anna Kendrick) and equally delightful music.

28. Prometheus (Enjoyment: 7, Quality: 9; 8 [B])
     Prometheus is a beautiful film. Just as Alien was cramped and claustrophobic, Prometheus has sweeping scope and an expansive world, along with some of the most chillingly realistic CGI I've ever seen. Add to that Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace's engaging performances and you have an exemplary film. Problem is, I was a bit sickened by it, not on a moral level but on a... gastronomical level. It was perhaps too effective in its grim science fiction, to such a degree that I left the theater more uncomfortable than impressed.

29. The Five-Year Engagement (Enjoyment: 7.5, Quality: 8.5; 8 [B])
     The Five-Year Engagement was often much funnier than I expected, and certainly one of the better comedies this year. The leads have amazing chemistry and perform competently (particularly the ever-charming Emily Blunt) and the secondary characters from NBC's Thursday night lineup shine with what little they're given. If this film were any less randomly crude, and perhaps a bit shorter it would have definitely been one of my favorite comedies of the last few years.

30. Sinister (Enjoyment: 7.5, Quality: 8.5; 8 [B])
     I'm a sucker for a good horror flick and Sinister was just that, a good horror flick. It was solid, scary, and besides its frustrating "protagonist" its characters behave reasonably and emote believably. Ethan Hawke is a very capable actor but one becomes tired of characters who stick around in the face of clear and present danger. Still, Sinister nails many of its scares and is definitely worth the watch for horror fans.

31. Ted (Enjoyment: 7.5, Quality: 8.5; 8 [B])
     I can't fault Ted for being crude, it's not like it was a surprise. I was hoping in spite of knowing better that it might be more of Seth MacFarlane's sharp wit and less of the shock-vulgarity its commercials promised, but what the film actually produces is both, in spades. Ted is undeniably funny and I would have enjoyed it a heck of a lot more if it contained less sex-and-drug humor. For a movie with virtually no stakes, Ted was enjoyable.

32. Celeste & Jesse Forever (Enjoyment: 8, Quality: 8; 8 [B])
     A romantic comedy with surprising emotional depth, Celeste & Jesse Forever cultivates the effortless chemistry between its ever-likable leads (Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg) but fails to be as funny as some other comedies this year. If a comedy is only successful insofar as it is funny, CAJF is a flop, but if heart, profundity and chemistry count for something it might be worth a watch.

33. Snow White and the Huntsman (Enjoyment: 8.5, Quality: 7.5; 8 [B])
     My modest expectations were met by the superior Snow White of 2012. Charlise Theron clearly relishes her part, a performance teetering on the edge of over-acting in a way somehow appropriate for the over-the-top nature of the Evil Queen. Chris Hemsworth is as likable as ever, and even Kristen Stewart holds her own, making Snow White a character we can root for, even if she is CLEARLY not more "fare" than Theron. Finally, the performances of some of the minor characters (the dwarves) elevate the film, which all in all is a tonally satisfying and enjoyable telling of the fairy tale.

34. The Woman in Black (Enjoyment: 7.5, Quality: 8.5; 8 [B])
     A classy if at-times slow ghost story proves to be a smart vehicle for Radcliffe as he attempts to leave Harry Potter behind.

35.  Katy Perry: Part of Me (Enjoyment: 8.5, Quality: 6.5; 7.5 [C+])
     Part of Me is a surprisingly moving tribute to the pop star, portraying her as human, sensitive, passionate, and more down-to-earth than her larger-than-life public persona might suggest. It focuses more on her life and less on her fans' fanaticism, and as a viewer I appreciate that.

36. The Grey (Enjoyment: 6.5, Quality: 8.5; 7.5 [C+])
     It's not that The Grey is bad, it's just miserable. It is not at all fun to watch. Liam Neeson is burly and impressive as always, and the narrative is fairly engaging, but it is far too brutal for me to ever want to watch again.

37. Chernobyl Diaries (Enjoyment: 8, Quality: 6; 7 [C])
      Fun and competently-crafted, Chernobyl Diaries cultivates an atmosphere of terror effectively but fails to break new ground.

38. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Enjoyment: 7.5, Quality: 6.5; 7 [C])
     Though fans of the book were incensed by Burton's take on the material, I was mildly amused by this axe-wielding president. If he wanted to learn how to kill vampires with gusto and heart, though, he ought to have asked Buffy.

39. Mirror, Mirror (Enjoyment: 7, Quality: 6; 6.5 [D+])
     I didn't expect much going into this take on the Snow White, and much was not delivered. It just seemed an odd choice to do a Snow White so soaked in levity it loses much of the story's original grit. Roberts was fine, but could not save a movie which watches more like a series of mildly amusing vignettes than a coherent narrative.

40. The Campaign (Enjoyment: 6, Quality: 7; 6.5 [D+])
     I'm a Will Ferrell fan, and for that matter a Zach Galifianakis fan, which made The Campaign all the more disappointing. While I appreciate that it was not overtly preachy in its politics, it was too... uncomfortable for me. It's not that it was too crass (though it was), it's that I didn't care much for the characters as they darted about in situations that shocked more than tickled me. Perhaps a bit more goof and heart could have saved it.

41. The Vow (Enjoyment: 6, Quality: 7; 6.5 [D+])
     Allow me to qualify this with the assurance that I am in fact a longtime Rachel McAdams fan, as well as a recent Channing Tatum convert. I have seen both these actors do fine work in the past, which left me wondering why they would sign on for a movie with such a pitiful script as this. The story might actually be sweet were it not so bumbling. Tatum's performance is even quite likable but every sincere gesture he offers bounces off the surprisingly-awkward McAdams. Finally, what might bug me the most is how the real-life couple who inspired the film stayed together because of their faith in a restoring God, an element utterly absent from The Vow.

42. Friends with Kids (Enjoyment: 5, Quality: 7; 6 [D])
     By far the biggest disappointment of the year, Friends with Kids squanders a brilliant cast with its smug and unoriginal story. The film's general conceit is that having kids will ruin any marriage, and that being married dampens the joy of having kids. No traditional family can ever find happiness. Fun romantic comedy, huh?

43. Struck By Lightning (Enjoyment: 6, Quality: 5; 5.5 [F])
     Struck By Lightning (which only saw wide release this last weekend) was one of my bigger disappointments of the year, given its absolutely stellar cast (Rebel Wilson, Christina Hendricks, Allison Janney, Dermot Mulroney, Chris Colfer), all of whom (except perhaps Colfer, who did this to himself) deserve better than its self-important, awkward script, which reads like an act of vengeance against those who never supported Colfer's dreams when he was younger. His main character (whom he cast as himself) never misses an opportunity to talk down to the slack-jawed, broadly-drawn inhabitants of his home town. It might have been tolerable, though, were the writing not so haphazard, so unnatural. Even an impressive performance on the part of Allison Janney (as Colfer's alcoholic mother) does not save the film. As a matter of fact, most of these actors do their best given the awful material. It is supposed to be tragic that the film begins and ends with the protagonist's death (struck by lightning) but I couldn't help but feel like it was some form of poetic justice.

44. Rock of Ages (Enjoyment: 5, Quality: 4; 4.5 [F])
     Competent renditions of some of the last century's most epic pop songs do not compensate for Rock of Ages' wooden leads and lack of compelling drama. While some of the secondary performances are inspired (Cruise), the film is largely too awkward and crude to be worth one's time. It's not that ROA is offensive, it is merely bad. It is a bad movie. It didn't have to be Les Mis, but it could have at least been Hairspray. For shame Shankman.

Movies I Still REALLY Need to See:


Cloud Atlas
Smashed
Flight
The Impossible
Amour
Seven Psychopaths
Frankenweenie
Premium Rush
Hitchcock
Jeff Who Lives at Home
Rust and Bone
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

Best Actor:


Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) - Perks would have been a very different, rather unremarkable movie without Logan Lerman playing Charlie. For a young man to portray a character with such hidden anguish, such instability, such raw affection is a tall order bordering on the impossible, but Lerman pulls it off, not with flair but with quiet resolution. He is Charlie. He is a wallflower. And he will break your heart.
Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) - Few actors embody their characters like Daniel Day-Lewis. He transforms in every sense of the word, and Lincoln seems to be the part he was created to play, precisely at this point in his life. Not only does Day-Lewis bare a striking resemblance to the Great Emancipator, he seems to have grown six inches for this role. That's how good an actor he is.
Hugh Jackman (Les Miserables) - As the opening scene of Les Mis pans across hundreds of French slaves pulling in a massive ship by rope, you might miss the emaciated Hugh Jackman among them. He went to extreme physical lengths to portray Jean Valjean, but the most impressive aspect of his performance is definitely the emotional depths he is able to portray through song. 
Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook) - Who knew, right? This Hangover-alum has chops! Portrayals of mental illness are always tricky, but Bradley Cooper manages to make his character likable, funny, and tragically sad all at the same time. It is such an honest portrayal I am utterly amazed it came from Bradley Cooper, whom I have only ever previously seen play the barely-likable jerk-protagonist. Bravo Brad!
Jake Gyllenhaal (End of Watch) - I've been a Jake Gyllenhaal fan for some time without so much reason to be. I never saw Brokeback Mountain, I've never seen Zodiac (though I desperately want to), but even in mediocre movies Jake Gyllenhaal is a treat as he is humor, charm and accessibility. I was desperate to see him in a role that really suited him, and End of Watch is a film any actor ought to be proud of. He and Michael Peña are a dream team, and Gyllenhaal really gets to show off his range, playing his jokes hilariously and his dramatic moments with appropriate heart-wrenching weight.

Best Actress:


Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) - I don't know of another actress who could play a character this obtuse with as much heart. In a movie of universally strong performances, Jennifer Lawrence stands out for her depth and emotional resonance in her portrayal of a young, socially-inept widow trying to figure out how new love fits into the grieving process. Any amount of shmaltz one might expect from a "romantic comedy" is chased away by Lawrence's quick, sharp delivery and raw vulnerability. It amazes me she was so young when Silver Linings filmed (21, MY AGE), but she was definitely the girl for the job. My pick for the Oscar win.
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) - In a year of strong actresses in even stronger roles Jessica Chastain stands out as a CIA operative who (almost) single-handedly orchestrated the pursuit and assassination of Osama Bin Laden. She commands her cohorts in ways that reads as wholly authentic, and it wouldn't break my heart if she took home the gold.
Noomi Rapace (Prometheus) - While Prometheus largely left me cold, its performances are undeniably inspired, and Swedish "girl with the dragon tattoo" Noomi Rapace leads the charge. Her Doctor Elizabeth Shaw is richly personal, embodying effortlessly the inherently human paradox of abiding in faith while reaching out in the name of scientific discovery. Inquisitive, gentle yet also capable of self-delivering an ALIEN FETUS, this character is dynamic and deep, all thanks to Rapace's master-class performance.
Meryl Streep (Hope Springs) - Surprise, surprise, Meryl Streep was good in something. Really, though, she never fails to impress. Even in a patently underwhelming movie like Mamma Mia Streep absolutely embodies her character (for better or for worse), and given pretty exceptional material in Hope Springs she shines as a woman fighting for her marriage. She is adorable and vulnerable and innocent and lovely and plays so well off Tommy Lee Jones you wonder at the fact that they're not actually married in real life. Another check on the list of "reasons Meryl Streep is the best actor who ever lived."
Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) - Nine years old. NINE YEARS OLD. This little girl carried a complex indie fantasy drama on her back with a heartbreakingly vulnerable performance at NINE EFFING YEARS OLD. Some might say she didn't have to do much work, that she was essentially playing herself, but I challenge anyone to watch this movie without being profoundly moved by Wallis' performance. It makes one wonder if acting comes easier to children, if their knack for pretending and ability to access the mysterious world of imagination allows them to step into the stories of others with little to no effort. And with Wallis it seems effortless.

Best Supporting Actor:


Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) - Relegated mostly to minor roles for the last few years, Tommy Lee Jones took center stage again this year in Hope Springs with Meryl Streep, but it was in Lincoln, amidst dozens of the best actors alive, that he stole the show. His portrayal of abolitionist Republican Thaddeus Stevens was fun, inspiring, satisfying, in short, epic. I will not be a bit sore if he wins the Oscar. As a matter of fact I will be sore if he doesn't.
Ezra Miller (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) - While Lerman was my favorite performance in Perks, Ezra Miller's Patrick is a character who lights up the screen. He embodies the outcast role without alienating the audience in a part that is funny, enigmatic and quirky, which is all the more impressive given his portrayal of a young man who shot up a school in last year's We Need to Talk About Kevin
Michael Fassbender (Prometheus) - It's not that I enjoyed Michael Fassbender's portrayal of a sentient robot in Prometheus: I was hypnotized by it. He is so authentically cold and detached from human emotion. So layered, so complex is this character that it is a miracle anyone could play it, and Ridley Scott may well have found the only man on earth who could.
Michael Peña (End of Watch) - I expected to love End of Watch, and I expected to love Jake Gyllenhaal in it, but what caught me off guard was Michael Peña playing Gyllenhaal's partner. I'm not all that familiar with Peña but I was blown away by his matter-of-factly realistic (and hilarious) portrayal of police officer Mike Zavala. The two have phenomenal chemistry, and each are equally responsible for the film's success.
Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained) - How refreshing to see Christoph Waltz play a "good guy" (or as good as anyone is in Django Unchained). He brings the same sparkle, the same quit wit and magnetic presence to this part as every other, and it's ok to root for him this time. It takes a great performer to reconcile the paradox of being a bounty hunter and a slave-rescuer, and Christoph Waltz is just the man for the job.

Best Supporting Actress:


Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) - When Hathaway concludes her last refrain of "I Dreamed a Dream" there is nothing to say that has not been said, there is nothing to feel which she has not felt for us. I've never used the word "bravura" before but it certainly applies to Ms. Hathaway's performance in this revolutionary movie musical. I haven't seen all the big movies yet but it will legitimately surprise me if I see anything that changes my mind about the best supporting performance of the year.
Sally Field (Lincoln) - How nice to see Sally Field doing meaty roles again after her years on ABC nighttime soaps. She is one of the greats of our time, and movies like Lincoln do justice to her legacy. It must have been quite a tall order to portray Mary Todd Lincoln, a figure often relegated to parody for her mental instabilities, but in Lincoln Sally Field plays her as a strong, supportive wife and brilliant woman in her own right. She might win the Oscar, and any other year she would deserve it.
Emma Watson (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) - While I'm confident Watson won't get any major awards attention for her portrayal of Sam in Perks, it is a crime she won't, because this performance is so emotionally complex, so believable, so utterly raw it is essential to the success of this film. What a brilliant choice on her part to show she is not Hermione Granger.
Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man) - Emma Stone is proving to be one of the rising stars of her generation, one filled with talented young actresses. What Stone may possess over all her peers is wisdom in selecting high-profile, impressive roles, from last year's The Help to this year's Spider-Man. She owns the character of Gwen Stacy, making her vibrant, intelligent, heroic and delightfully charming.
Emily Blunt (Looper) - It has been a phenomenal year for this young Brit as she has played as diverse roles as the romantic lead in The Five-Year Engagement and a single mother protecting her son in a dystopian future scenario in Looper. The latter performance is particularly real, especially heart-wrenching, and finds her solidly on a list of amazing actresses in this category.

Best Director:


Ang Lee (Life of Pi) - This is a tough category because I'm not entirely sure what all entails being a film's director. I know they have some part in casting and a great deal to do with how a film flows and looks. That said, my choice for the year is Ang Lee for Life of Pi, which is by far one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. It is ably-acted with a coherent and intriguing narrative, and will no doubt be remembered for its stunning visuals and depth of philosophical insight, all masterfully conducted by Ang Lee.
Steven Spielberg (Lincoln) - Spielberg might deserve the Oscar simply for turning Daniel Day-Lewis into Lincoln (though I'm not sure how much credit he deserves for it). In any case, this most-famous of all directors assembled a score of living legends for Lincoln and told the president's story in a way that served to, in some small way, unite the country during such a politically divisive time. Way to go Spielberg.
Sam Mendes (Skyfall) - Many feared prior to Skyfall's release as to whether dramatic director Sam Mendes could pull off an action film. As it turns out, the elements that make for good drama also enrich films in other genres, as Mendes' character-driven, deeply-personal approach served this film tremendously, making it one of the best Bond installments in years (I assume).
Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) - It is often a cinematic death sentence for a film be directed by the author of the book on which it is based. Many authors simply do not have the eye for cinematic detail. As it turns out, though, Stephen Chbosky is an even more proficient director than author. Apparently he always imagined Perks as a film, and this long-term dedication to the material and its characters is evident.
Joss Whedon (The Avengers) - I don't know of any director who could have pulled off The Avengers like Joss Whedon. Longtime comic fan and brilliant television and film writer, Whedon is the perfect storm of talent, affection for the material and willingness to take risks, and in this film he achieved the near-impossible task of incorporating each character of the ensemble into a legitimately engaging story.

2 comments:

  1. Me thinketh that Cabin in the Woods is too high, and Brave too low. But to each his own. Horror movies (no matter the twists) never hold their value over time.

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  2. I didn't agree with everything, but for the most part we continue to enjoy the same cinema, and this was a great read!

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