Monday, December 31, 2012

The Best Films of 2012

It took me a little longer than usual this year to put together my top 10 list, primarily because many of the year's prestige releases didn't get rolled out until the very end of December.

So, here's my top 10 on Patch. It also includes my 10 runners up and 10 worst of the year. The piece includes my explanations for why I chose each film.

For those who don't have time to sort through it now, here's my top 10 list:

10. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
  9. Argo (Ben Affleck)
  8. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
  7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
  6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)
  5. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)
  4. Amour (Michael Haneke)
  3. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)
  2. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)
  1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Django, Les Miz and Promised Land

In the past week-and-a-half, I saw so many new films that I couldn't fit them all into my weekly wrapup. So, this week's post includes reviews of "Django Unchained," "Les Miserables" and "Promised Land."

It should come as no surprise that I loved "Django." Every single one of Quentin Tarantino's films have landed in my top 10 of the year in which they were released. You could say I have a positive bias toward his pictures or - as I'd argue - the guy just makes some incredible films.

I enjoyed "Les Miserables," but thought it was a bit too long and had one too many musical numbers. Anne Hathaway steals the show and will likely win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. And the set design is pretty incredible. I liked the film, but didn't love it.

Gus Van Sant's "Promised Land" is a solid little "message movie" about hydrofracking. Van Sant is a very talented filmmaker, so he is able to make such a film without allowing the message to overshadow the narrative and characters as other filmmakers might have done. I enjoyed it.

Here are my Patch reviews.

I also caught up with "The Impossible," a powerful film about a family caught up in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. It features some strong work from Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor.

I also saw "Jack Reacher," which was pretty fun even if a bit improbable. And I saw "Tabu," the Portuguese film from Migel Gomes. I liked it, but was not quite as blown away as some other critics. It certainly has an arresting visual style and some of its sequences were pretty impressive.

This coming weekend, I'll see Michael Apted's "56 Up," which I'm eagerly anticipating, as well as the acclaimed German film "Barbara" and, sigh, "Texas Chainsaw 3D."

Monday, December 24, 2012

Reviews: Zero Dark Thirty, Amour, This is 40, Not Fade Away and On the Road

Hey, when you've got this many films to review, it's hard to get clever with the title. Caught up with a lot of films this week, but I've gotta keep it short due to holiday madness.

Two movies - "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Amour" - were among the best I've seen this year. Kathryn Bigelow's hunt for bin Laden film is a superior CIA thriller that bears more in common with David Fincher's "Zodiac" than most war films. And Michael Haneke's Palm d'Or winner is a typically austere affair for the Austrian filmmaker, but is a more humane work than a typical Haneke outing. I don't mean that as a criticism as the filmmaker is one of Europe's best.

I dug "Not Fade Away," though it doesn't completely come together and "This is 40" is funny and charming enough, despite that it's a bit too long. "On the Road" is visually lush, but lacks the punch of Jack Kerouac's classic novel. It's not a bad film, but just an OK one.

I'd hoped to get into it more on all of these films on this blog, but as I said, it's a bit hectic as it's Christmas Eve.

Here are my Patch reviews.

This coming weekend, I'll review Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained," Tom Hooper's "Les Miserables," Gus Van Sant's "Promised Land" and "The Impossible." I also plan to see "Jack Reacher" and the critically acclaimed "Tabu." And, on Dec. 30, keep an eye out for my top 10, second 10 and worst 10 films of the year.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Middling Earth: 'The Hobbit'

OK, I know - "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" was a decent-enough film and didn't deserve that snarky headline, but I just couldn't help myself.

That being said, the film does not compare to Peter Jackson's original "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. While it bears an epic length in common, this latest adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien does not include lingering shots of blue eyes and panoramic sweeping shots of New Zealand landscapes, which took up much of the original trilogy's running time. Rather, it's one action scene after the next after the next after the next.

It's still good enough, at least, on the terms of being a major Hollywood blockbuster. I prefer it to most of last summer's fare, let's say. But it's still just a pretty good movie, rather than a great one.

I also caught Stephen Frears's "Lay the Favorite," which was, perhaps, the weakest entry in the usually solid director's oeuvre. The problem is that picture is mostly tone deaf.

Here are my Patch reviews.

My moviegoing schedule for the rest of the year is:

This Week: Zero Dark Thirty, Amour and This is 40

Next Week: Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Promised Land, The Impossible, Not Fade Away and On the Road. And, of course, my best and worst of the year list.

Sometime Soon: Jack Reacher

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ho Ho Hum: 'Hyde Park on Hudson' and 'Playing for Keeps'

It was a fairly blah week at the movies. Despite the presence of the great Bill Murray and Laura Linney, "Hyde Park on Hudson" was a curiously flat affair.

The picture tells both the story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's alleged affair with his cousin, Daisy, and the weekend visit from the king and queen of England to drum up support for World War II.

Neither story is handled particularly well. It's a shame because the casting is so good. But, unfortunately, the picture fails to really justify its existence.

And then, there's "Playing for Keeps," a completely by-the-book romantic sports comedy with Gerard Butler and a whole gang of women - binders of them, you might say - throwing themselves at the star. It's a tad creepy, especially considering that the film's only other woman (Jessica Biel) comes off as a grump.

Here are my Patch reviews.

This coming weekend, I'll obviously see "The Hobbit" and something else to be decided later.

Monday, December 3, 2012

It's the Economy, Stupid: 'Killing Them Softly'

Andrew Dominik's "Killing Them Softly" is the latest crime film to have rankled the American public, so it would seem. Remember last year when some lady sued the makers of "Drive" because it did not live up to her "Fast and the Furious" expectations?

So, Dominik's film has received an 'F' grade on Cinemascore, which I believe says more about Cinemascore's users than it does the film.

Regardless, while I liked "Killing Them Softly" - quite a bit, actually - I don't think it's as good as Dominik's previous film, "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."

"Killing" is a pretty grim and cynical crime film that doubles as an allegory for the 2008 financial meltdown and the U.S.'s economic system as a whole. While I don't think it's in the same category as "Drive," it's still quite good.

But I can't say the same for Marialy Rivas's randy "Young and Wild," which tells the tale of a young Chilean Evangelical whose hormones run wild, prompting her to start a blog and take up relations, as it were, with a young man and woman simultaneously.

The film has its moments, but it's a case of a filmmaker trying too hard to shock so-called bourgeois values and, in the process, losing control of the narrative. In essence, it's just OK.

Here are my Patch reviews.

This coming weekend, I'll catch Mike Newell's "Hyde Park on Hudson" as well as at least one other of these three: "Lay the Favorite," "Playing the Field" or "Only the Young."