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« Curio: Alexa's Favorite Film Moments of 2012 | Main | Screenplays of '12. Pg 12. "Lincoln" »
Monday
Jan072013

Best of 2012: Nathaniel's Honorable Mentions

We're reached the End of Watch. No, not the movie of that title though we'll soon get to it. But the invisible line I have to draw on my movie calendar between Now and Then. I've squeezed more screenings in this past month than I probably should have for a clear head but I must finally cut myself off. Now is the time to take stock and share favorites. The Film Bitch Awards have begun with my choices for Best Screenplays now posted. "But, wait, where's the top ten?" you ask. We're getting there. But first we start right here...

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You? (In No Particular Order)
No movie seemed more in my personal wheelhouse this year that Joe Wright's sumptuous ANNA KARENINA but in truth it divided me. lots more movie-lovin' after the jump...

I loved the production design and the transforming sets but I often couldn't find a reason for the style as substance form or, more accurately, understand the rules which governed Joe Wright's Rube Goldberg contraption so that I could then understand why and when he decided to break them in key scenes. And it so clearly wanted to be a musical... but wasn't. Still, I can't deny that ⅔ of it thrilled me and though some took issue with the plot and pacing I thought that in the sprint-like travelogue through the complex terrain of characters, society and politics one could see much more clearly in the novel, the decision neatly mirrored Anna's heedless groin-first rush into Count Vronsky's arms. Speaking of acceleration...DECLARATION OF WAR, France's Oscar submission from 2011, really hit the pedal as it juggled tones and New Wave referencing for a bizarrely lively take on the true story of a couple who nearly lose their child to a rare illness.

No movies made me laugh harder this year than 21 JUMP STREET and TED. I'm not what you might call their target audience and that's how I know they're special. Both belong to subgenres of movies and styles of comedy that I don't particularly care for but neither is lazy about the one-off jokes it launches nor the remarkable punchlines it manages to sustain. Even better: both movies aren't stingy about the comedy, either, working so many variations on seemingly one-joke concepts that your head spins. 

On the tinier Off Hollywood end of the movie spectrum both OSLO AUGUST 31st and STARLET are major "wows" though neither would ever shout about their own merits. If you're longing for slice of life human sized stories of superb craftsmanship in the sea of fakery that is the CG/3D addled Hollywood movie, those immediately qualify as "must sees"... though my secret wish with Oslo is that it will lead people back to an even better film named Reprise by the same director (Joachim Trier) that circles the same subject. Both movies are exquisite but for his third film hopefully he won't feel the need to get suicidal again. Starlet might be the tiniest movie I'm mentioning anywere. It hasn't even grossed $100,000 in the theaters but it's really one of a kind.

BEST CHEMISTRY OF THE YEAR

No movie surprised me more this year than END OF WATCH. It seemed so utterly disposable on paper. You can't turn on the tv without accidentally seeing cop dramas or the shakycam "reality" of several forms of entertainment. So here's to fine execution of B material and here's to the magic of perfect chemistry - movie duos just don't come much more connected and lived-in charismatic than Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena (often the best thing in whatever movie he shows up in). I'd wish for a sequel but... *sniffle*.

Not Released or I Would Have Honored Them!
I've already had to start my 2013 screening lists due to foreign films competing for Oscar nominations that did not get proper releases in the past 12 months. Had Chile's NO (reviewed) which is still in the hunt for an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film or the Pinoy treasure BWAKAW (reviewed)  which is not, been released they would probably have both landed on my top ten list. Don't miss them if they ever open near you. If No is nominated we'll have more time to talk about it (cross your fingers) and it might end up at a theater near you. Bwakaw, which will be harder to find, tracks the messy eruption of a wide range of rusty emotions in a grumpy gay man whose routine is upended when his dog becomes ill. Lovely nuanced touches walk side by side with broadly comic and dramatic beats and the sum total is a miniature gem. 

Runners Up
The next three pictures all had eyes on the top ten list but the year-end frenzy of Hollywood releasing done them in. Still, in their best moments, they make a strong case for inclusion.

SKYFALL (Sam Mendes)
MGM/Columbia. November 9th 
It's strange that a movie that begins with a such a funereal conceit (subject: ghostly Bond, repeatedly shot through the heart; setting: a watery cemetery; soundtrack: Adele wailing mournfully about everything crumbling around us) and ends with a different kind of mourning should still feel so alive. Franchises are supposed to die really ignominious deaths as they age but refuse to shuffle off this mortal coil. But Bond isn't just bragging when he claims resurrection as a hobby. The 007 franchise couldn't have wished for a more potent rebirth than it received with Casino Royale (2006) and it couldn't have wished for a better film than Skyfall (2012) by which to mark its big anniversary. We should all look so good at our 50th birthday party! 

THE LONELIEST PLANET (Julia Loktev)
IFC Films. August 24th
I don't remember many scenes from this evocative earthy drama which begins with wanderlust and then, after one bewildering "incident", the unintentional wandering when you're lost. The Loneliest Planet's best quality is its utter tactility. All these months later I can still imagine the taste and smell of Gael García Bernal and the touch of Hani Furstenberg's fingertips or luscious red locks against my skin, not to mention the stones working their way into the soles of my hiking boots. If only more movies thought about our senses beyond sight and hearing.  

LOOPER (Rian Johnson)
Tri Star Pictures. September 28th
Is it a pandering violent noir? A masturbatory time travel yarn? Another messy amalgam of sci-fi and genre classics past? Whatever it is... and it's probably all of those things... it's also awfully damn stylish and involving. Johnson's inventive story about a "looper" and his older self, is refreshingly unpredictable as it shape-shifts from its first noisy act in the city to its second quiet act on the farm. The final showdown has only three characters (four if you're counting actors) and a cornfield and it feels so much richer and more expansive than any of the more expensive and infinitely more crowded action films surrounding it in the multiplex. It'd be a stretch to call this film minimalist but it sure does a lot with what little it's got.

Now on to...
Nathaniel's Official Top Ten List 

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Reader Comments (22)

Hmmm - Not sure if I agree with Ted, found it to be grating and overly in-your-face. However, 21 Jump Street was the funniest thing I've seen all year, along with Pitch Perfect! I was told that Ted was great, didn't like it, heard nothing about 21 Jump Street and loved it - Interesting expectations. V pleased to see Skyfall make the cut - wasn't sure if it would :D

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermorganisaqt

All alone in my disdain for LOOPER. People will be laughing at this movie.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I absolutely LOVED Anna Karenina. Skyfall and Ted also were choice, so glad to see they made your long list.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Anna Karenina is so under-appreciated!

I adored the idea of having it be all theatrical and having it set on a stage. I thought using a stage as an extended metaphor how these people's lives are lived out in public for all to see and derive entertainment from was inspired (if not a tad gimmicky). Plus, it was even better how all of Levin's scenes were set apart from all the theatrical stuff because that was exactly the nature of Levin's character.

The dancing, the fluid movements, the transitions, i thought it was just a masterclass in creativity. Might have been over-stylized but it fits the grand melodrama/soap opera genre of the story. I kept thinking that it was totally something Baz Luhrmann would do if he wasn't the directing equivalent of a turtle on an acid trip.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck

"...or, more accurately, understand the rules which governed Joe Wright's Rube Goldberg contraption so that I could then understand why and when he decided to break them in key scenes." If this helps, I think Wright said in an interview that the scenes that take place away from the stage device mirror a character's decision to live an "authentic" life free of the theatrical social games and stifling pretensions of high society. So that occurs usually when a character decamps to the countryside , like Anna and Vronsky on one of their excursions, or Levin when he chooses it over city life.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

When I watched Anna Karenina, I interpreted the stage setting as an acknowledgement that the story is so famous, so classic, that it's hard to watch the story of these characters' lives without knowing that you are watching an interpretation of those lives. Or, if that doesn't make sense, I could say that I thought of that scene in the DeLillo novel, White Noise, where the characters visit the most photographed barn in America, and when they get there, they can't see the barn; they can only see people looking at the barn. To me, the stage setting acknowledges that we are watching a photograph of the "barn," (in this case, the lives of the characters) but the leaps off the stage remind us that the story can't be contained, that these fictional lives become real within the story. Or something like that. Anyway, yeah, I loved the movie. And I like this list a lot. I look forward to the top ten.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertimothy

So happy to see one of my personal favorites, The Loneliest Planet, on your list. And as always, you give me more to think about. I hadn't made the connection between all the allusions to the senses of taste, smell, and touch. You're absolutely right.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

I was thinking about Anna Karenina and The Great Gatsby today, thinking I had absolutely no interest in the romance between Daisy and Gatsby. And in Anna Karenina, I don't think we interpret it as a swoony doomed romance between Anna and Vronsky, but disastrous human error leading to unhappy consequences.

That's one reason I think Tom Stoppard's script is so brilliant, with the other two romantic relationships that contrast with the Anna/Vronsky one. Maybe at this time, we connect more with the other characters than a couple in a doomed romance.

The most heartfelt and fated romance that I could believe in, that I've seen so far this year is Moonrise Kingdom.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteradri

Yay! Love the mentions of so many of my favorites this year. I also have a couple more things to check out now.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

I absolutely adored Anna Karenina, and I did not expect to. Not a big Joe Wright fan, but I am now. I loved every second of it. And Keira SO deserves an Oscar nomination.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

@ 3rtful: You're not alone - I wouldn't say I have disdain for the film, but I certainly thought it was silly rather than majestic. I didn't even find the tech credentials particularly impressive - JGL's make-up kills his expressive face and the cityscape felt very basic. The kid was eerie and I liked Emily Blunt's performance somewhat, but it's definitely a film I don't agree on the love for. Although at least I can understand why someone would be passionately for it, as it's certainly distinctive.

Lovely to see Oslo, August 31st and No (my favourite of '12) get a mention here, Nat. The vibrant mixture of politics and pop culture satire in the latter just impresses me more the more I think back - can't wait to see it again.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Disliked 21 JUMP STREET (so smug and in love with itself - I thought it no better than BEWITCHED in twisting a classic tv series into the modern age), find myself thinking less and less fondly of SKYFALL with each passing mention of it, and if LOOPER had a better (different, anything else) score it might be brilliant. For such a great movie, it really went standard with its music. What a yawner.

I can, however, agree with you on DECLARATION OF WAR and END OF WATCH. Sadly haven't seen OSLO or ANNA or THE LONELIEST PLANET. NO is a treasure, too.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

I loved End Of Watch too - Gyllenhaal and Pena both deserved more awards attention.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrace

I truly loved Anna Karenina and Looper, and just watched Oslo on Instant Watch 2 nights ago! It was pretty great, but I agree that Reprise was much better.

21 Jump Street was way more funny than I thought it was going to be, and I'd put it in my honorable mentions for the year too--but I can't agree with Ted. I finally saw it a couple of weeks ago and I couldn't believe this was the movie everybody was telling me was hilarious. But, then again, I don't like Seth MacFarlane or Family Guy so maybe that's why.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJessica Maria

Right there with you for "Skyfall" "21 Jump Street" and especially "End Of Watch"--the chemistry between the two leads in that last one was sensational, as was Gyllenhall's best performance since "Brokeback Mountain." I don't know if those three would've made my Top 10 List for the year, but all would definitely have been in the Top 20. ("Anna Karenina" wouldn't have made that cut, but I have to give it props as one of the most gorgeous-looking movies of the year, hands-down.)

I'll save my actual list for tomorrow, once yours is posted. (I did a preliminary Top 10 back in October, before sending out my holiday newsletter for friends and family, but I can think of at least five or six films in the past 2 months which would have shaken things up--and I still haven't seen "Django" or "Zero Dark Thirty" yet.)

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDback

3rtful. You are not alone on Looper.

Really liked Oslo and End of Watch, though.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVince Smetana

Looper is also just outside my Top 10, while Anna Karenina is in the lower reaches of it. It's just gorgeous, and Stoppard's script really is a remarkable distillation of the novel. And Keira. She so deserves that Oscar nomination that she'll never get (as does Jude, by the way). I didn't LOVE Looper the way I thought I would, but I so appreciated the blast of fresh air that it was.

Ted was hilarious, but felt utterly TV in all aspects of its production. 21 Jump Street was also hilarious, and would probably be just outside my Top 10 if it starred literally ANYONE ELSE except for Jonah Hill, for whom I have zero tolerance in comedies.

Also just outside my Top 10: Hope Springs, Silver Linings Playbook, Pitch Perfect, and The Queen of Versailles. And The Kid With a Bike, which I loved until the ending, and which I'm not sure whether it's 2011 or 2012. Stupid international release dates!

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I thought Looper was a very solid movie until *spoilers* the kid pulled a Jean Grey*spoilers*

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSad man

I loved "Oslo, August 31st." It will probably top my list. I can't agree with you on "The Loneliest Planet" which just bored me to sleep. I do agree with its sensual nature, but it still felt like I was watching an unedited vacation video--a beautifully shot one for sure.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

@ sad man

Nail on the head.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I think that the status of End of Watch as a nice surprise might have inlfluenced me when I saw it, I was expecting more. I think it's an ok movie, don't get me wrong. I liked it, but I think it's in great part due to the final 30 minutes: the ambush and the emotionally charged ending. But then, some time after watching it, all I could think of was the flaws which are quite a few:

- flat characters. Other than the leading duo, most of the others are one-note, from the suffering wives (it's such a pity to see Kendrick already in a thankless wife role) to the bad guys who're just caricatures.

- unfinished or unremarkable subplots: the cop who's a dick and gets stabbed. The female cops, two underdevoped characters.

- the (cheap) trick at the end, when you're made to believe someone is dead, but actually isn't. And you only get to know it after the heavily emotional moment has passed, and you're supposed to have shed a tear or two. To again, have another sentimental moment (I'm so tired of false endings!!), this time yes, the real ending.

In short (ha!) I think it adds nothing to the genre, quite the opposite, it feeds on the usual clichés of the cop buddy movie. Its only saving grace is the two leads who not only save the movie, but make it better.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

Totally agree with the magic chemistry between Jake and Michael in " End of Watch" too bad they weren't playing lovers not just bromantic buds.

January 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

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