Saturday, January 21st, 2012

I didn’t watch nearly enough movies this year, and I have a lot of catching up to do. But I did see enough films to make lists about them.

The Top Five:

1) Poetry–This Korean drama snagged the flesh of my heart on a sharp hook at the very beginning and tugged continually throughout the film so that by the end it was torn open and bleeding. Doesn’t sound very pleasant, but the central character, a Korean woman who is charged with caring for her rapist grandson, discovers that she is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and goes about preparing for the worst with such quiet dignity that it’s impossible not to feel a sense of hope even in the face of the horrors in front of her. Beautifully shot, directed, and acted, Poetry is just that. There’s no shortage of excellent cinema coming out of South Korea, but this one was the best movie I saw out of Korea or Hollywood this year.

2) Rise of the Planet of the Apes–As a fan of the original films I was deeply hoping that this prequel wouldn’t suck. Not only did it not suck, but it was awesome beyond any possible expectation. Andy Serkis brings Caesar to life so that the chimp’s emotions are just as affecting (if not more) than a human being’s would be. I’m not sure I buy into the idea of a Best Actor Oscar nomination for him, because it is impossible to know how much of Caesar is Serkis and how much is CGI. But I would be in favor of a new acting category. We could call it Best Digitally Enhanced Performance by an Actor or some such. It would have to be a coed category I think. Bottom line–I think he did a great job of of humanizing Caesar way beyond what would have been possible if he had been a completely CGI character. His performance made that movie work more than any other facet of the film, because I don’t care how great the script is, or how fantastic the direction–if the audience can’t sympathize with and get behind Caesar’s plight, the movie doesn’t work. And Andy Serkis coupled with great digital effects made that happen.

3) Jane Eyre–Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender simmer as the eponymous heroine and the taciturn Rochester. My only gripe with the film is that Hollywood clearly has a skewed vision of what plain, average human beings look like because the two stars of this version are both quite lovely. And the book makes much ado that Jane is plain and Rochester is no looker either. That aside, for two hours Jane Eyre is an accomplished romantic thriller that delights from beginning to end–especially for those who have never read the book and have no idea what lurks in the shadows of Thornfield Hall.

4) Rango–there’s an Oscar category for Best Animated Feature, but so far not a category for Best Animation. If there was, Rango would have to win this year. Never have a group of such hideous creatures been so lovable. I didn’t love this movie at first, because I was expecting a gut-busting comedy going in. But that’s not what it is–it’s an adventure film with some comedic elements. Gore Verbinski took the approach of throwing together a set and letting his voice actors run around and get physical during the shoot, which comes through in the excellent vocal performances by Johnny Depp and Isla Fisher. And even though it’s animated, Rango isn’t strictly for kids…in fact younger kids probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much as their parents. If you missed this one, check it out.

5) Bridesmaids–Oh how I wish I’d booked this film for CinemaSalem. I was lucky enough to see it a month early and I really wanted to bring it in, but with only three screens, it can be really difficult to bring in all the product that you want. I foresee a bright future for Kristen Wiig as both a writer and actor in Hollywood. A lot of people called this movie The Hangover for women, but I think that sells both the film, and women, short by a mile. Guys liked Bridesmaids as much as women did, and women enjoyed The Hangover (although I don’t know who enjoyed Hangover 2) as much as guys did. Why? Both movies steered clear of pandering to gender stereotypes for comedic effect. That shit just isn’t funny anymore, so when you see an incredibly successful comedy, it’s usually a film that doesn’t grasp for laughs by abusing stereotypes. Kudos for Kristen Wiig’s contribution to a brilliant script and to the terrific ensemble cast for bringing together such a solid comedy. Don’t want to ruin it, but for those of you who have seen the movie, Maya Rudolph’s moment in the street has become one of my all time favorite scenes in a comedy.

If you missed any of these, stick them in your Netflix queue or grab them out of a Redbox. They’re all a great way to spend an evening on the sofa!

Top ten honorable mentions: Won’t say much here other than to say that it was a good year for indie and foreign flicks. You might notice that quite a few of these never saw a wide theatrical release in the states, but most of them graced the CinemaSalem screening room for a week. But don’t for a moment think that you need to be feeling adventurous to enjoy these–they’re all solid entertainment.

Super–this is the film Kick Ass would have been if it hadn’t become in the second half of the movie exactly what it was making fun of in the first half of the movie. Super is a movie that takes the question of vigilante justice a bit more seriously.

I Saw the Devil–Another offering from South Korea. Instead of glorifying revenge, this film suggests that it might not be such a hot idea. Cannibal dinner party anyone? Not for the squeamish.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil–Genuinely sweet, laugh-out-loud funny, and a love letter to classic horror. Not to be missed by horror fans.

The Adjustment Bureau–A well made and entertaining (if not entirely faithful) Philip K. Dick adaptation. It’s got action, romance, and a thought provoking cosmology governing the events. Also, Emily Blunt and Matt Damon are both awesome (as usual).

The Muppet Movie–A bit quirky, but I can’t lie–the Muppets’ return to the big screen brought a tear to my eye more than once. Jason Segel is another guy who is going to go far in Hollywood–can we get him to team up with Kristen Wiig? Please?

13 Assassins–Takashi Mikke, better known for more disturbing fare (Audition, Ichi the Killer) shows he’s got the chops for drama. Oh…and an hour long edge-of-your seat battle between thirteen samurai and an army of douche bags.

X-Men: First Class–This would have made my top five if it hadn’t been yet another X-Men movie based on Chris Claremont story lines that ignores the fact that the women of the X-Men (along with their villainous counterparts) were complete bad-asses. Emma Frost chipping ice for Sebastian Shaw’s drink? Please. That said, Michael Fassbender and James McEvoy are perfect as a young Magneto and Charles Xavier. Their scenes are the best super hero cannon ever put on film.

Winnie the Pooh–What’s a Backson!!??!! Pooh Bear and the gang are back for another romp in the Hundred Acre Wood, taking on the mythical Backson. Watch out…he’ll steal your stripes!

Source Code–Solid sci-fi and an original script. Nice to see something not based on a book, comic book, or video game. Duncan Jones’ second directorial outing (the first was the excellent Moon) leaves me hungry for his next project.

Black Death–Spent this whole film trying to figure out which characters were the bad guys. Turns out they’re all bad.

Missed the mark: These are six movies that were close to being awesome, but didn’t achieve it. Which is frankly a greater crime than making a bad film in my mind.

Hannah–attempted modern fairy tale and didn’t quite get there. If it had, this would have been in my top five.

Captain America: The First Avenger–The first half was awesome, second half, snore-fest. Really? A montage? Captain America battling Nazis deserves better than a freakin montage. Not awesome. Also, Red Skull looked too cartoony.

We Bought a Zoo–The good characters are too good. The one bad character was too bad. Everyone was a cardboard cutout, even the angsty son who was angsty in such a benign way. Too sweet for my palate.

Outrage–I am a fan of Japanese cinema. And in general, I like Yakuza flicks. This one was a messy sequence of scenes focused around face-punching with a few creative acts of extreme violence thrown in for excitement. The story itself, too confusing to follow.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides–The way this movie was almost good is that it didn’t exist in the past. When it didn’t exist, it was the perfect film. When it came into existence, it became the sleep aid with the biggest budget. Disney. Please stop. Don’t ruin pirates for me.

Films I still need to see: The Adventures of Tintin, Hugo, The Housemaid, The Artist, The Descendants, Super 8, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Mission Impossible 4, The Ides of March, Puss in Boots, Contagion, Moneyball, A Dolphin Tale, 50/50, Midnight in Paris, Crazy, Stupid Love, Point Blank, The Tree of Life, Melancholia. I think I missed more than I saw, but should make for a good winter of catching up on films I missed.