HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY! We're taking stock and talking 2012 crop now that the year is half over. If you asked me to nominate for "Best Picture" right now, here are the titles I'd scribble in the air with sparklers... in alpha order. I fully expect 2 or 3 of them to be written in ink at the end of the year in my top ten list.
The Avengers (review)
Let's not overstate. Popcorn entertainment occassionally does come better than this but The Avengers is still pretty damn fun and clever as it hurdles the complicated 'how on earth do you combine all these franchises into one?' question with confidence and humor. It's easy to forget how wrong this could have gone. Well done Joss Whedon. Extra bonus points for redeeming the two most previously disappointing characters (The Black Widow and The Hulk) by making them the unexpected key pieces of this jigsaw puzzle.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (capsule)
Benh Zeitlin's evocative utopia/dystopia journey is like nothing you've ever seen. So get to seeing it the first chance you get. We'll obviously be talking about it more as the year wears on and top ten lists and awards begin looming.
Michael R. Roskam's brooding tragedy-laced crime drama about a lonely cattle farmer and illegal growth hormones was nominated for Best Foreign Film last year. It finally hit US cinemas this year. They always make us wait.
Declaration of War
Valérie Donzelli's restless, experimental retelling of her own traumatic experience as a new parent of a sick child with then boyfriend Jérémie Elkaïm(also playing a version of himself) was a bracing experiene and even an oddly joyful movie. Though it was clearly a longshot for Oscar play (they didn't nominate it for foreign film) I'm glad France submitted it bringing it to our attention here.
Magic Mike (review)
Steven Soderbergh's nuanced observational portrait of a stripper/entrepeneur facing the uncertain future has stylish filmmaking, good solid laughs, and better character portraits than you usually get on the peripheries of the narrative.
Moonrise Kingdom (capsule)
Not since The Royal Tenenbaums have Wes Anderson's form and content enjoyed a marriage this whimsical, aching and bittersweet. It's multifaceted and, better yet, enjoyable on serious and silly levels depending on your mood. Seems likely to reward us on future viewings.
Runners up? Not really. Those six stand head and shoulders, even groins in Mike's case, above the pack. Don't miss any of them. If I had to make a top ten list this early with so few films seen (yikes) 7 through 10 in descending order would go to... no I can't it's too unsatisying... I can't I ca... oh, all right.
JUST 4 OSCARY FUN...
Try to imagine what would happen if the year ended right now. Which films do you think would make Oscar's BP list? It has to be films that are eligible (i.e. released already) so I'm feeling like there's no way it wouldn't be these five: Avengers, Beasts of, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Hunger Games and Moonrise Kingdom... with Hunger Games losing a Best Director opportunity to Steven Soderbergh for Magic Mike. I've got this alternate reality all figured out! Marketable skill.
Those five movies are arguably the only five that'll have enough devotees to cry "it's going to happen!" in five more months... even if it isn't in most of those cases. Do you agree? Or do you think something heartwarming / messagey (like The Intouchables?) or something critically supported but divisive (like Magic Mike) would surprise and knock the not-beloved-but-way-successful Hunger Games out?
Most importantly: What would your ballot look like so far? And do you think anything we've seen yet is going the distance to an Oscar nomination.