With fall starting, we reach what I call the halfway point of the year. Yes, the year is more than half-over, but when adjusted for movies, this is where I stop and think back on everything I’ve seen so far. The studios tend to reserve all their potential awards candidates for the end of the year. This is to make those particular features fresh in the minds of board members, judges, and the general public consciousness when it comes time to pick the nominees.
With all those movies that scream for attention on the way, I like to stop and reflect on what has had an impact on me. What’s the value of doing that? Well, the pretentiousness of the awards season can inhibit the most objective film enthusiast from realizing what movies are destined to become future classics.
I’ll start off on my favorite movie so far this year: Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Like all Anderson’s films, it isn’t about anything particularly important and is mostly style over substance. However, unlike my experience with other Anderson films, I had a smile on my face from beginning to end. Co-written by Roman Coppola and Anderson, this adventure story of runaway children on a New England Island in the nineteen-sixties is nostalgic, funny, and just so damn beautiful looking. It is a reminder of the naïve childhood ambition to become independent of the adult world.
The Hunger Games was so surprisingly engaging as a dystopian science-fiction film, I decided to catch up with everyone else and read the book too. I am very sure, that this is a great adaptation. The film is handled with insightful creativity by director Gary Ross. Jennifer Lawrence led a great cast that makes the nightmarish bizarre future feel intensely real.
Margaret was a film made in 2006, which ran into legal troubles during post-production and wasn’t shown until recently. Early reception was not positive as the first cut made the film feel messy. This year it was released on Blu-ray and included a bonus disc that contained a three-hour cut of the film, which finally gave this drama about the emotional crisis of a New York teenager (Anna Paquin) the right kind of pace. Director and playwright Kenneth Lonnergan (You Can Count On Me) has made a movie that is wonderfully acted and strangely experimental at times. It is one of the most unique dramas I’ve seen in a long time.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry -An excellent in-depth documentary on the daring Chinese artist and activist. The film is directed by Alison Klayman who started the project after producing several PBS and NPR stories from China.
The Avengers –Leave it to Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly) to do a balancing act that gathers characters from multiple movies, putting them together in one, and pulling it off. No nitpicking allowed with this one. I will be surprised if this works a second time.
There were a couple of movies this year that satirized the horror genre better than Scream did, with unusual twists. The first, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, was filled with huge laughs involving two well-meaning hillbillies trying to enjoy a summer in their creepy cabin while inadvertently terrifying the college-age campers across the lake. Fatal horrific accidents ensue inspired by paranoia. It’s dark and hilarious all the way through. Second, is the Joss Whedon-produced The Cabin in the Woods, which lets you know with its pre-title sequence, that you are in for an atypical ride of absurd entertainment. It’s scary, funny, and you won’t believe where this movie goes.
The Grey, directed by Joe Carnahan and starring Liam Neeson, is a no-nonsense survival movie about stranded men in Alaska who are stalked by wolves. It handles the survival theme boldly by having the characters know that they are doomed without a chance but fight for their lives anyway. It’s also a movie that has a very truthful portrayal of manhood and dismisses the all the macho B.S. associated with this subgenre.
Other stand-out films include the seemingly exploitive but straight-forward Magic Mike; Disney’s underrated John Carter; Seth MacFarlane’s mostly-hilarious Ted; the Karina-esque pre-apocalyptic Beasts of the Southern Wild; David Koepp’s urban bicycle-chase thrills in Premium Rush; the shoestring-budgeted psychological thriller, Sound of My Voice; Kill List –a brutal British thriller that goes in very unexpected directions; and the poorly-written but beautiful-looking, Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott.
Aside from a huge list of movies I have yet to catch up with, I am looking forward to Rian Johnson’s Looper, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Ben Affleck’s Argo, the Wachowski’s and Tom Tykwer’s Cloud Atlas, Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, and Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.
There are many more movies that I am curious about as well as independent and foreign releases I probably won’t find a good way to see until 2013. Until then, I will continue to obsess.