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.
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.
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