Monday, February 11, 2013

Top 5 Movies I Saw in 2012

Photo from: Digital Sextanton Flickr
I know this post is late.  Y'know what, sue me.  Actually...don't please.  We don't have anything anymore except this book of matches we stole from a Marriot and a pack of sea salt crackers from a McAlister's.

Anyway, remember that these aren't in any particular order, and that I saw a lot of movies last year.  Just because it doesn't appear on this list doesn't mean I didn't like it.  I just didn't want to write a 32 point list.  So, yes, these were my 5 favorite films from 2012.

1) The Woman in Black

Anymore, I'm very picky with my horror movies.  Gore just doesn't do it for my, and if the characters are unlikable ass-hats, I'm very unlikely to take to the movie.  And I can suspend my disbelief for a lot, but there has to be some pay off from the movie, or I get annoyed and frustrated.  It was the reason I ultimately disliked Don't Be Afraid of the Dark so much.  There were no interesting, dynamic characters.  The husband was a douchebag, so I didn't care what happened to him, and the step-mom was a boring mannequin of a person.  And the little girl--c'mon guys, she was a little girl. You have to have a child actress of Dakota Fanning levels of talent before I give too much of a crap beyond that instinctual "don't want the kids to be hurt" thing.
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Which is why The Woman in Black was such a surprise.  Daniel Radcliffe and I are almost the same age.  Despite that, it was kind of weird seeing him in a grown up movie with a kid and stuff.  However, I quickly forgot about that as I was swept into a great, atmospheric movie.  My wife joked that the movie is, like, 90 minutes of Daniel Radcliffe walking around an empty house with a candle looking scared, and there's some truth in that. But here's the thing: this movie is all about establishing atmosphere.  It takes pains to establish the setting, to establish characters, and then to slooooowly ratchet the tension up.  It's creepy.  It's quiet.  It lets the characters breath.  The storyline is not so completely ludicrous that you shake your head with annoyance, which often happens in these types of haunted house movies. Often the plot makes the characters do incredibly stupid things in order to make them stay.  This movie deals with it in a much more clever way.  The house Daniel Radcliffe must keep visiting is isolated because it is surrounded by an area that turns into a swamp.  And that leads to foggy landscapes, empty, creaky houses, and an amazingly claustrophobic feel.  There are a few jump scares--a minor annoyance.  And it plays a few tricks with the resolution that kept it from being predictable.  It was a great supernatural horror flick.  It's exactly what I like in horror movies without relying on excessive amounts of gore to be "shocking," nor a lot of jump scares--which is a lazy way to scare someone.  More like these please.

2) Lincoln

On the one hand, I understand the problematic aspect of the film--African Americans played a strong and significant role in their own liberation, and this movie ignores that.  And while it's easy for me to make the argument that that's not the story that this movie was trying to tell, it seems that no movies are trying to tell that story, hence the issues.  And it paints Lincoln as a sort of Christ-like savior of the African-American race.  All that said...

Image from: Wikipedia
HOLY CHRIST DANIEL DAY LEWIS IS AMAZING.  Lincoln has always been one of my favorite presidents.  He's a complex, interesting man.  A quiet intellectual, a lover of tall tales, and a practical idealist. He had awesome ideals for his time period, but also recognized that progress was often won through small victories.

My love of this movies goes far beyond Daniel Day Lewis's amazing Lincoln portrayal.  It's also Tommy Lee Jones' fiery portrayal as a slavery abolitionist with a particular interest in the game.  It's the fantastic political espionage and subterfuge that is highlighted in the film with great performances from everyone.  It's Lincoln's dealings with both his political career and his family, and how the two were kept separate, and how the two intertwined.  It was Joseph Gordon Levitt's portrayal as a young man wanting to make a mark in his world the only way he knew how, and Lincoln's desire to protect his oldest son.  It's a family stricken by grief from the loss of a child, and the dysfunction and fights and come from being human and not knowing how to deal with those issues.

My god.  This movie was amazing.

3) Seven Psychopaths

There's this thing in movies that's called Tarantino-ing.  You can probably guess where the name comes from.  Tarantino-ing involves starting a movie two characters having a conversation about something that will ultimately have nothing to do with the movie, often as a way to introduce characters or a scenario.  Tarantino is a master of dialog and characterization.  His plots may occasionally be meh, but his characters are always memorable and interesting, and his dialog is quotable and snappy.
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Seven Psychopaths feels like it should have been a Quentin Tarantino movie.  It starts with a classic Tarantino scenario where two guys are waiting for someone.  They're going to kill them. But, as you do, these guys get bored and discuss other things. As the movie's plot evolves, it gets better and better.

It's a movie about identities who people really are. It's also a movie about movies, which occasionally results in it becoming so meta that some people may be annoyed by it. I might have been too, if it weren't for two things: SAM MOTHERFUCKIN' ROCKWELL and CHRISTOPHER SUMBITCHIN' WALKEN!

These two amazing charismatic actors are the most fun you'll ever have watching a movie. They are amazing at what they do. They chew the scenery like Hungry-Hungry Hippos, and you'll love every moment. Seriously. This is my wife's favorite movie of the year--possibly of all time.  It's just so damn good.  Sam Rockwell hasn't been this good since he was Zaphod Beeblebrox in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  And Christopher Walken is at his most not-giving-a-fuck-iest.  Honorable mention goes to Woody Harrelson for playing a hilariously bipolar, self-aware villain. He will spin between ridiculously macho, to furious, to weepy within minutes, and have you laughing every second.

Also, a huge chunk of this movie involves a kidnapped Shih-Tzu.  To see all of this gun-blazing shit unfold over such a prissy, sissy little dog is awe-inspiring.

4) Paranorman

The misunderstood loner trope has been done to death.  And movies about those misunderstood loners being able to see the dead has also been done to death (no pun intended).  Paranorman makes all of these things feel fresh and new.

I'm of the mind that children's movies are a little too twee anymore.  When Kung-Fu Panda is being rated PG for...what exactly? leaves you frustrated.  Children's movies are becoming dumber and dumber and dumber.  The last bastion of hope for good kids movies has been, until recently, Pixar, but they've had a rough go of it lately, between Cars 2 being...well...Cars 2, and Brave being a bit of a flop, and that god-awful Planes becoming a legitimate thing...let's just say they need to do some soul-searching.
Image from: Wikipedia

Paranorman is an exercise in unique. It's a unique concept for a kids movie to feature ghosts and zombies.  It's unique that it's animated in stop-motion in a time when that's almost never done.  And it's unique in that it plays with your expectations of tropes and plots.  It takes things you expect, and twists them, either violating your expectations, or figuring out new ways to make the same tropes play out.  It's characterization is great.  Of course, it may be a little bit on the nose with its message, but when a children's movie is referencing 1950's horror movies...that's just awesome.

Go see this movie if you want to see how a movie can achieve the highest levels of characterization without laziness.  The dumb jock is refreshingly not a douchebag and legitimately cares for his brother.  The villain has a complicated and surprisingly dark back story with excellent motivations, and the confrontation with said villain is amazingly dark and gorgeously animated.

I love this movie to death.  If you watched Frankenweenie and left disappointed, or even if you enjoyed it, you should watch this movie to see what Frankenweenie should have been.  If this movie doesn't win the Oscar for best animated film, I'll be convinced that there was some serious ass kissing being done by the judges, and this is the clear winner.

5) Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

This move may be one of the most bizarre and endlessly fascinating movies to me.  There are some that criticize it for not knowing what it wants to do.  One minute it seems to want to be a screwball comedy; the next minute it's very dramatic and poignant.  I can totally understand the people that the movie drags people through tonal shifts so quick, you're liable to get whiplash.  On the other hand, it's one of the reasons I kind of love this movie.

For the uninitiated, Seeking is a movie about people learning that it's the end of the world.  One guy, Dodge, decides to go on a road trip to find The One That Got Away.  Along for the ride is reckless free spirit Penny.  The set up is a tired one, but that added layer--that the world will be ending in [x] amount of days, really adds something to the scenarios.
Image from: Wikipedia

I've always liked road trip stories.  The idea that you find yourself on the open road while encountering all of these strange places, people, and experiences you wouldn't normally have is already a solid concept that has been done before (see: An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns for examples), but adding the end of the world aspect makes the scenarios much more interesting.  Now, when they go to a restaurant, you can see the remnants of what was, while seeing how each type of person deals with the disaster in their own way.  In many of the comedic situations, the comedy can almost feel laced with sadness because the manic behavior that many engage in is clearly desperate.  And that's the brilliant part!  People would totally indulge in chaotic, reckless behaviors.  Some would party until the world burned, some would hole up in a shack and pray.  The bitter-sweet tone of the movie is brilliant.

Also, this movie shows massive amounts of guts in going to places that very few movies about this type of subject go.  I LOVED the finale.  Some found it disappointing.  Not me.  I found it heart-breaking, funny, sad, and a thousand different things. You know how on the internet it's common to say "I had the feels," but really you just mean that the ending of Titanic or The Notebook made you cry?  Not with this movie.  I seriously had "the feels" because I couldn't sort out all of my thoughts, and I still can't.  Every time I think about the finale, it's like my brain suffers from over-stimulation and shuts down.  I can't put it into words--especially not without spoiling it.

I don't want to build this movie up too much.  It is a flawed movie.  It has moments where the tone snaps back and forth, where the plot is somewhat cliched and predictable, blah blah blah.  But I admire this movie for having guts.  For taking the story to unexpected places at time, and for daring to try to put an interesting spin on the road trip-type movie.  And Keira Knightly and Steve Carell were well cast to keep my interest all the way through.

My wife hated this movie, by the way.  I loved it.