Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Best in Film (Ann and Stan)

This is Ann's "2012 Best in Film (Ann and Stan)" and Stan's  "2012 Best in Film (Ann and Stan)."

Ann and Stan here to take a look at the best in film this year that you could stream or rent.  Though two summer films were huge hits, both "Avengers" and "Dark Knight Rises (and Falls)" were as hollow and weak as anything coming out of 4Kids Entertainment.  The future that awaits the fans of these films is the same one that awaited the big box office hit "Titanic" -- we're not talking about James Cameron's masterpiece, we mean the 1952 film that was a big hit with audiences at its time and an embarrassment within ten years of release.

The year's big trend appeared to be hopping on a moral soapbox for an easy stand.  World Can't Wait, Glenn Greenwald and countless others you've never heard of (for good reason) came out against "Zero Dark Thirty."   Why?  Because it's directed by a woman.  They're 'offended' by this film.  We're African-American and we're offended by Stephen Spielberg's "Lincoln."  Winning easy praise -- in part because of its Socialist screenwriter -- the film supposedly tells us about the country.  And, indeed, if telegraph operators sound more important to you than slaves or freed-Blacks who have to live in a world where people who look just like them are enslaved, then Spielberg's made just the film for you.  If, to you, a 'great' film on slavery is one that reduces the accomplishments of Black people, then embrace "Lincoln."  But it's a deeply racist and offensive film.  We also notice that although Spike Lee's called out "Django Unchained" (Quentin Tarantion's latest film), World Can't Wait is organizing no protests against it and 'film critic' and part-time American Glenn Greenwald has yet to write several vicious columns attacking the film.  (We haven't seen the film, so unlike Glenn and World Can't Wait's Debra Sweet, we won't condemn it.  We will applaud Spike Lee for calling out turning slavery into a video game.)  Here's a thought for Spielberg and Tarantino, as White men who so love to take bows for 'helping' the African-American race, do you think next time you do a film 'about' Black people, you might actually get an African-American writer involved, someone at the table who can explain to you how offensive your portrayals are. But don't worry, Steve and Quentin, you're men.  So no one will protest you.  Glenn Greenwald will organize no attacks on you.  You can continue putting racism on the screen and know that the only ones who'll call you out are African-Americans and, as the Guardian (home of Glenn Greenwald and others) and World Can't Wait demonstrate, African-Americans don't really matter.  Attacking women, that matters to them.  Thanks for the clarification in 2012, Glenn and Debra.

Once upon a time, a film year would provide a wealth of choices.  Not just the popcorn movies of summer (which have been boiled down to super hero costumes today), but films that explored relationships, explored ethics, explored family.  Today, we get the popcorn movies year round and we also get bloated and lifeless films like "Lincoln" which are supposed to be seen as the successors to "Reds," "Shampoo," "Klute," "On Golden Pond," "The Conversation,"  and other film explorations which actually had weight and life to them.  This year wasn't without promise . . .

take this waltz

1) "Take This Waltz."  In a large part ("The Sweet Hereafter") or a small role ("eXistenZ"), Sarah Polley is always worth watching watching but her follow up to her directorial debut (2006's Away From Her) is so great that we're almost ready to say, "Sure, stop acting.  Just give us more films like this."  "Take This Waltz" is a drama and a comedy and a romance and there's nothing 'high concept' about it.  It's the most moving film of the year.  The film stars Michelle Williams and Luke Kirby as two people who fall in love despite her husband (Seth Rogen).  Sarah Silverman provides the kind of comic support as the best friend that hasn't been seen since Rosie O'Donnell's performance in "Sleepless In Seattle."  This film hits no wrong notes.

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2) "21 Jump Street."  We are not fans of TV shows turned into films -- we already suffering night terrors just picturing "Kojak: The Movie" -- but this film was hilarious and the funniest comedy of the year.  Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have the kind of comedy chemistry not seen since Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.  Channing's a dick in high school and Jonah's a nerd but, needing each other to pass the police academy, they finally bond.  Their skills leave something to be desired and they're transferred to the undercover unit at, yes, 21 Jump Street.  The place where Tom, Judy and Doug (Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson Peete and Peter DeLouise -- all do a cameo turn in the film) used to get their assignments as they went undercover at various high schools.  Like the ones who came before, Channing and Jonah get an assignment, unlike their predecessors, they screw everything up.

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 They even take drugs -- necessitating the finger-bang they give each other in the men's room as they attempt to puke up the drugs.  Their inability to do so leads to a very funny scene where they trip in front of the school's coach.  Brie Larson, Ice Cube and Dave Franco give great supporting turns.  And Jake Johnson and Nick Offerman are wonderful in their brief scenes. If you're not laughing non-stop during this movie, you're just not someone who likes comedies.


3) "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding." Director Bruce Beresford may have been one of the few directors interested in exploring the family in 2012.  Catherine Keener is an attorney who thinks things are okay when her husband leaves her.  She takes her two children (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff) go to Woodstock to visit her mother Jane Fonda.  Along the way Keener finds out she's not so right and also that she's not so wrong and, collectively, acceptance is the key to family.  A strong script, tight direction and excellent performances (the scenes with Keener and Fonda crackle with energy), the kind of films that Hollywood no longer makes unless the characters are in spandex and tights and soar through the skies.

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4) "Ted." What the hell is a stuffed teddy bear doing spanking Mark Wahlberg?  Proving that Seth MacFarlane can transfer to the big screens.  The guy responsible for "The Family Guy" and "American Dad" hasn't had much luck with live action TV shows but "Ted" demonstrates real strength.  MacFarlane directs, co-writes the screenplay (with Alec Sulkin and Wellesly Wild) and voices Ted the teddy bear.  The film's biggest weakness is the voice over.  And MacFarlane might have been smarter to have gone with a woman (say Joanne Woodward doing something similar to what she did for Scorsce's "Age Of Innocence").  Instead of offering excitement and promise, something magical, Patrick Stewart's voice over just sort of lays there.  If he made a mistake there (and he did), MacFarlane wisely used 'the voice of Meg' for the second lead.  Mila Kunis can act (see "Black Swan") but, in many of her roles, what stands out most is the actress is a good sport.  (Think of Jackie on "That 70s Show.")  That quality is sorely needed in this film.  If the actress playing Mark Walhberg's girlfriend gets too angry (and a woman would have every reason to) over Mark's relationship with his talking and walking (and pot smoking) teddy bear, the film falls apart.  And Walhberg?  He continues to be the most important film actor in America under the age of 60.

magic mike

5)  "Magic Mike."  A male stripper film worth watching?  Yes, when it's directed by Steven Soderbergh (who swears he's almost done with directing).  Soderbergh's crafted a seventies film in many ways, the layers of Lumet, the tensions of Pakula.  "Magic Mike" is not just a good film, it's his best film since "Sex, Lies and Videotape."  In a supporting cast that includes great turns by Alex Pettyfer, Olivia Munn, Joe Manganiello and Cody Horn, Matthew McConaughey gives an Academy Award worthy supporting performance.  Holding the film together onscreen is Channing Tatum who makes it look so effortless he's probably not getting the credit he deserves for this performance.

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6)  "Perfect Sense." When the world is no longer just falling apart, when it may be ending, is love still worth it?  David Mackenzie explores that question from Kim Fupz Aakenson's script with the help of Eva Green and Ewan McGregor.

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7) "A Cat In Paris."Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli direct this animated film about Zoe and her cat, her mother Jeanne the police superintendent, Nico the burglar, mobster Victor Costa among others.  Rare for an animated film, "A Cat In Paris" doesn't attempt to be cute or to play down to children while playing up to their parents.  This is a straight-forward film that happens to be animated, an animated film worthy of the term "film."


8) "Bernie"  Like Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey placed two films on our top ten list.  This one is a dark comedy starring Jack Black as the mortician who makes nice with various family members in mourning and then sets his site on a non-mourning Shirley MacLaine who's not only the town's wealthiest citizen but also its most caustic, to put it mildly.  The town is amazed that Bernie can put up with the woman whose own family avoids her.  And then comes foul play.  McConaughey may be the only person in town who wants Black to pay for what he did.  This is director Richard Linklater's best film since "Dazed and Confused," and Black, MacLaine and McConaughy all hit acting high notes on this sleeper gem.  Our link for the film, by the way, goes to Netflix where you can stream it currently.

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9) "Moonrise Kingdom."  In the Wes Anderson canon, this film is way behind "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" but somewhat ahead of "Rushmore."  Bruce Willis is a poor fit for the Anderson canvas and it seems truly monochrome without Anjelica Huston.  As a film about children that doesn't talk down to them, the film succeeds and the visuals make up for some of the gaps in energy.  It's a flawed Anderson film but one worth noting in spite of those flaws.


10) "Detachment." Adrien Brody's steady performance steers Tony Kaye's ensemble film Detachment but James Caan, Lucy Liu and especially Marcia Gay Harden deliver in supporting roles.