A year ago I had one film in particular on my watch list: MOONRISE KINGDOM by Wes Anderson. And I’m afraid it’s his first movie that didn’t work for me. There’s plenty of great moments and scenes as usual, but this time it didn’t fit together as a movie for me. But it’s still my favorite trailer of the year I guess. Ok, maybe not fair, because the trailer was from 2011. Ok, then I praise the great teaser and trailer of another Anderson instead: THE MASTER by P.T. Anderson – after the images and performance bits from Joaquin Phoenix I wanted to see this one sooo badly. A teaser that didn’t try to tell you something, which just gave a taste of something, something big. Which turned out to be more boring than big. At least to me. But hands down for the fantastic trailer.
So if none of those mentioned above made it to the top movies of 2012, which did?
Instead of a clear winner, I found myself almost in the identical situation like last year: two very different movies competing in my head. One is Ang Lee’s LIFE OF PI, the other TAKE SHELTER by Jeff Nichols. But in the end it’s the smaller film, which does so much with so little, and it still seems so effortless! My favorite film of the year is beyond a doubt TAKE SHELTER:
Everything about it is close to perfection: the writing, the whole cast and how they are directed, the rhythm and tempo, the composition, the editing, the music. Even for a sick fuck like myself the editing was close to perfection, with minor flaws nobody (except me and some other lunatics or know-it-alls) even notices. But wait! It’s even getting better than that. Because TAKE SHELTER is a film, that stays with you, which you can’t put away in a drawer and forget. At least I couldn’t, that’s one reason for which I love this film so much. Don’t mistake it a film which only deals with the end of the world. It’s more about love and family, than that. The way their marriage is shown, is just stunning. The devil is in the details, the looks, the small lies, the real listening to each other, the concern, the caring, the openness and harshness that sometimes shows, when you really live close with someone, just being yourself, not pretending to be better than you are. This is so touching, that it almost breaks my heart. The icing of the cake is the question, how a prophet in our days (or at any given time) would have felt. Of course poor Curtis, played by the too often type-cast Michael Shannon, has a special family-background, which makes it more difficult for him, to deal with the situation he’s in. A truly great film, perfectly executed. Rent it, buy it, see it, feel the tension, sit on the edge of your seat and enjoy the ride. Which brings me to another ride, free sea-sickness included:
Say hello to… Richard Parker
Much of the above can be said as well about LIFE OF PI, my follow up movie of the year to TAKE SHELTER. From the moment on the story was on the water (half an hour into the movie), with the ship sinking, I was emotionally engaged. Before I had my troubles, which are probably based on the nature of it being based on a book. To long of an exposition for every non-book reader. It has nice moments, but the 3D was of no use there. Wouldn’t it be brave to allow filmmakers to use 3D only at some point in their movies, where it really ads something to the story? Of course this makes it more difficult to argue for higher ticket pricing, but this is the only way to safe 3D from disappearing to the special interest world (games, sport, animation, concerts, nature, porn) again – for what, the fifth time already? So be it. LIFE OF PI is a great example for where it makes sense to use it: on a closed setting, like a boat on the ocean and the space close to it (GRAVITY will probably have the same advantages, being in space – by the way: it will be released in October? Really?? Really nervous studio executives, who thought they paid for more 3D space than is shown, I guess…) Less is more. And all the 3D animation in this film is absolutely at the top of their game. Not „just“ the animals, the water, waves, clouds as well.
Another truly great film that doesn’t need 3D at all, is from Germany (yes indeed, I am mentioning one, and even more weird: in a positive manner) and another favorite of mine: BARBARA by Christian Petzold. Beyond a doubt my favorite film of his (of course still with driving shots – if there’s a prop without he can’t work, it’s definitely a car) and a true masterpiece. It captures the time (east Germany in the early 80s) without making a big deal out of it. A rather closed setting, a fantastic Nina Hoss (as usual) and images, that will stay with you.
But in 2012 another German institution surprised me completely: TV. I always thought, that German TV is „the last dirt“, and apparently I am right: This was even the original title for the greatest achievement in a TV series worth to be exported – It’s called TATORTREINIGER. It’s about a cleaner, who deals with the… well, last remains of somebody on a crime scene. The blood and bones… and sometimes the neighbors, and other visitors he encounters, keeping him from doing his job. That’s the plot, and a great actor plays the lead, Bjarne Mädel. Truly funny, and a great watch.
You got a taste for Germany now, don’t you? Well in case you’re very „christian“, you’ll hate the third German production I recommend, because it’s about Renate and Inge, better known as, well, god. No god is not a woman, it is two women! Very German women. The show is called GÖTTER WIE WIR, and it’s bravery can’t be praised enough.
So let me continue with TV series. My favorite show in 2012 was again not GAME OF THRONES, but o boy, I bet it will with season 3 (and yes, I am aware of the upcoming BREAKING BAD finale). How I know that? Because the first season was so brilliant after all, that I read all the books Mr. Martin has finished until now, which I mentioned separately in another article last year. So I had read the second book before I watched the second season, and it all felt a bit rushed. But it was still far out one of the best watching experiences I had in 2012, as was TREME by the way, but they are not taking the crown home either. This year it’s a tie between the well known MAD MEN and the mentally ill mayor of BOSS.
If you ever asked yourself how politics work (and haven’t yet seen THE WEST WING – if you have, than probably even more so) watch this. Power eats itself. I can’t understand how people can live like this, power must be some kind of drug, and this show portrays every aspect of it. It kind of felt like a readers digest version of THE WIRE. But it has it’s own take, and after the first three, four episodes you’re hooked – or not. I loved it, and hope for a TV-movie to finish the story, because this is another great show that’s been canceled way too soon, just when I finally convinced myself, that the actor who looks a bit like Martin Donovan, actually is Martin Donovan. Damn, did he get old – what happened? Maybe it’s the glasses… but he absolutely owns his part. A great watch, and Kelsey Grammer absolutely rules the show and got away with our RUSHMORE crush, Connie Nielsen.
Why I didn’t mention HOMELAND so far? Because it bores me. That show is definitely not for me. The idea itself is promising, taking the paranoia to the US itself, on the inside, but first it deals with stereotypes, than breaks them, than turn around, then… and all that twisting and turning doesn’t engage me emotionally. It’s too plot driven for me. Of course it keeps you on the edge of your seat, but would you want to watch it a second time? I doubt that. I prefer the unpredictable outcomes of GAME OF THRONES, because it doesn’t stop killing our darlings, if the story demands it. That’s closer to life, even in the fantasy world of Westeros.
My special mention of the year must be the Flash Gordon scene in TED. I don’t know if anything else made me laugh out loud as much as this. The music of Queen, the slow motion, the hair… a nerds dream.
My favorite animated film was… LIFE OF PI. Yes, there’s so much animation involved, that it’s fair. And I haven’t seen one of the stop-motion contenders yet, like PARANORMAN or FRANKENWEENIE. I have seen BRAVE, but story-wise there’s too much Disney in it. And the hair alone doesn’t do the trick. So I repeat: LIFE OF PI wins. Unfair? Ok, than I nominate the animated short I had the honor of editing, RISING HOPE. and I still haven’t seen the stereo 3D version of it. Here’s the trailer and the website.
Talking about stereo 3D. THE HOBBIT is a big disappointment. Probably in 3D as well, but I went into the old-school 2D version first, and after I’ve seen it, I lost interest to check out the HFR variant. I ask myself what went wrong. The grading is horrible, and this must be partly connected with shooting on the RED epic. Quite early on in the film, when Gandalf talks to Bilbo in front of his home, his face is so noisy under his hat, that I felt embarrassed. And after that I spotted strange contrasty daylight pictures all over the edit, which had the video vibe to them. Bad. Really bad. When it’s dark, like where Bilbo meets Gollum, the film looks amazing. And the scene is probably the highlight (no pun intended) of the movie. Which brings me to the story itself. I’ve read the Hobbit, so I knew what’s coming. Well, sort off. Some things didn’t work while staying true to the page. When the dwarves arrive they limited themselves with the knock-knock, which worked perfectly. But they talk (and sing) way too much. And then there is too much trap-escape oscillation, which gets boring after the third last minute rescue. I mean, what this film lacks the most, is a Boromir moment, that somebody of the fellowship dies. There will be deaths at the end, but why didn’t they shift just one of them here? Hardly any viewer would have noticed one dwarf missing, and the benefit for the story would have been widely appreciated. And the HFR? Would some of the eye-strain disappear? To be true, I don’t care. My eyes are trained, because I work regularly with 3D footage. No problem there. But I noticed, whenever there was a pan or tilt from a fixed camera position, it looked horribly wrong in 2D. Camera movement was fine. But especially in the beginning minutes of the movie there was no reason for the majority of camera flights, other than as a 3D showcase. Which pulls you out of the story. and for 3D it was to often edited to fast, which I doubt that HFR would have saved. A huge disappointment. What I would like to hear is Douglas Trumbull’s commentary on it, technically speaking.
Most memorable performance by an actress was Marion Cotillard in RUST AND BONE by the outstanding Jacques Audiard. And yet again his film was overshadowed by Michael Haneke with his strong film AMOUR. But I prefer the first one, as much as I did prefer UN PROPHET over THE WHITE RIBBON. I feel more attracted to the warmth for human beings, the way Audiard looks at people over the cold, distant, almost surgical look of Haneke. I like both, but in my world the Palmes D’or went twice to the French director.
Best performance by a male actor was Mads Mikkelsen in THE HUNT. It hurts to see him suffer in this masterpiece of a film. The pace of it is such a relief, it doesn’t cut as hysterical as so many films these days, the performances are rock solid, the script is smart and focuses on the really painful moments. Have a look at it’s trailer.
Best child performance was by Pierce „I make you pee your pants!“ Gagnon in LOOPER. This kid owned each scene.
One moment I’ll never forget was the poor deer being run over by a car in HAYWIRE. I didn’t see that coming. And yes, I liked it. Steven Soderbergh did another genre-film that works, with great directed and shot action scenes. It’s really sad that he’s going to throw in the towel as a director, but never say never. Maybe he’ll turn to TV instead, which is something that could really suit him.
Ok, I don’t know where to stop, so I switch now into the fast forward mode: I enjoyed as well GIRLS, MOONE BOY, DOWNTON ABBEY, LOUIE, THE WALKING DEAD, PROMETHEUS (after reading what the LOST writer changed from the orifinal script…) WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, THE DICTATOR and the above mentioned TED.
Two films I have to mention are older. The older one is ARMY OF SHADOWS from Jean-Pierre Melville. Beautifully shot, with the best day for night shots maybe ever done – fantastic lighting and camera work, dark and realistic, and we are talking 1969 here! Just compare it to the make-up department, and you’ll understands how far ahead of it’s time the DoP work is. And it’s nice to see something like this again after so many years. When I saw it first I expected something like another GREAT ESCAPE, but it isn’t. The understatement of it is great. And the speechlessness of Lino Ventura, after Simone Signoret just saved his life, is one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen this year. He wants to thank her, but doesn’t know how, and she knows as well. And you see all of this, there’s no off-commentary explaining it, it is just there. I miss that kind of cinema, which doesn’t take it’s audience for fools.
Another discovery was HUMAN NATURE from Michel Gondry after a Charlie Kaufmann script. And it’s absolutely brilliant. Rhys Ifans plays heartbreakingly good, and I absolutely loved it. What I didn’t know was, that there is a Peter Dinklage appearance in it, as well. And he has a great line there, too. Which reminds me, that I also saw him in STATION AGENT this year, a typical indie-film, nice to watch, and a great performance. Watch it, it’s not going to disappoint you.
Talking about disappointments: 2012 had way too many superheroes hanging around in cinemas. Enough of it already! I’m sick of them! Can we please move on to other subjects and return to them „supers“ in a decade plus or so?
What else… oh: ARGO is in my opinion the first inconsistent directing job of Ben Afleck to date. He should focus to 100% on his job behind the camera. I love John Goodman and Alan Arkin in that movie, they steal each of their rare scenes and deliver great one-liners, but this undermines the drama the film wants to be. Great actors but the wrong casting choice for the movie Afleck intended to do. Sorry to see that happening. The movie does so well as a drama, that those scenes feel like leftovers from CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR – which I mean as a compliment. But that movie wanted to be a farce and works differently. ARGO wants to be a drama. Which it delivers, but… well, I was kicked out of it several times. Also because of the big glasses and false mustaches, which are true to the real life hostages – but come on, they look fake and over the edge to a 21st century audience. It’s like Austin Powers walks thru the picture! Anyway he’s on his way to another Oscar, so my little advise will go unnoticed… at least I got it out of my system, and that’s what this article is all about. And last but not least: COSMOPOLIS by Cronenberg left me as bored as THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, HOLY MOTORS (except the graveyard scene and accordion intermission) and CABIN IN THE WOODS. But enough of it already.
If someone wants more details about why I liked (or disliked) something last year, or what I missed, feel free to comment. I’ll answer, but every article needs an end, and this one is too long already. So:
There’s only one thing left to say: „Death to Miiiiing!!!“
– – – 2013 – – –
And of course the BREAKING BAD series finale, and the about to split fans in half season 3 of GAME OF THRONES – you’ve been warned.