Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The 2012 Dorkies- The Best and Worst of Cinema (Matt's Picks)

"The Year of Disappointment"

    This was a rough year.  After several early disappointments, and a couple huge mid year ones, things were getting pretty desperate.  Even the better movies were only pretty good.  And after finally seeing a bunch of good female roles in the last year or two, this year’s near void was just annoying.  Yet it wasn’t a total loss, and the Fall brought with it some better selections.  And even before the Autumn season, there were a couple surprises like The Avengers, for which I’d had no particular excitement.

    Like last year, when I wasn’t able to see Hugo until just after the close of the Dorkies, I didn’t see Beasts of the Southern Wilds until just a couple days too late.  Like Hugo, it would probably get a place on my top ten, so do yourself a favor and check it out (and Hugo if you haven’t seen it yet).

    Speaking of last year, you may notice a bit less excitement in my discussion this year.  That is, in large part because last year was one of the best years in movies I’ve experienced, and this year has been…well, less than thrilling.  Take a look at my Dorkies from last year to see me blubber over a bunch of awesome.

Best Movies:

10) Coriolanus- Shakespeare’s play about a loyal Roman soldier betrayed the very people he served is updated to the modern world (it looks like Eastern Europe).  The cast is excellent and it’s beautifully shot.  Ralph Fiennes stars and directs, and he makes himself into a vicious beast, a monster unleashed, who eventually turns his gnashing teeth back upon his masters.  It’s awesome and nasty, and it’s nice to see Fiennes play a badass.

9)  Dredd- The comic finally gets a serious take (and he never takes his helmet off!) in this grim, violent, nasty bit of dystopian action.  There’s not much in the way of plot, but there’s plenty of action.

8)  Looper- A pretty good time travel story, with style and panache to spare.  The trailers didn’t really let you in on major elements of the story (which is good), and I won’t either.  Interesting characters, plenty of twists, a couple really nasty turns, and good performances.

7)  The Grey- Jack London would be proud of this tale of survival in the cold wastes.  A man on the edge ends up at the end of the Earth.  But when his plane goes down, he and a few survivors must battle the elements, wolves, and each other to make it out alive.  Nothing really new here, but it’s very well done, and very tense.

6)  Skyfall- This third outing for Craig as Bond is pretty awesome.  Great villain, excellent supporting cast, fantastic action.  Very good stuff.

5)  Cloud Atlas- A grand science fiction tale of a type rarely done in film these days.  It takes place over multiple times in multiple places.  The cast is mixed and matched, with strange make-up, gender and ethnic changes, heroics and villainy.  It doesn’t always work, but when it does, it’s something special.

4)  Django Unchained- An old school western, filtered through the eye of Tarantino, with all his 70s exploitation love.  There’s a touch of sleazy stuff like Mandingo and Drum, the Spaghetti flavored west of Leone and Corbucci, but more than a dash of 50s and 60s epic Westerns.  Violent, funny, disturbing, and oddly uplifting.

3)  Expendables 2- When I was feeling especially blue about 2012’s lackluster offerings, Expendables 2 came along and put a gigantic smile on my face.  It was just as big, dumb, violent, funny, and crazy as I wanted, with all the winks and nudges and chest poundings I was hungry for.  The fact that the PG-13 rating had been long rumored, made its very, very R levels of nasty a welcome surprise.  Oh, sure, much of it is CG, but less crappy CG than you often get.

2)  Robot & Frank- An old man has been living on his own for too long, and he’s slipping, probably into the depths of Alzheimer’s or something like it.  His white collar son and his vacuous do-gooder daughter can’t be bothered to come back and care for him.  But his son does buy him a robot.  The story of Frank and his robot, and Frank’s re-awakening is heartwarming and charming.  And Langella is the bee’s knees.

1)  Moonrise Kingdom- A fanciful look back at lost youth.  Wes Anderson brings his unique brand of super-stylized oddness to the world of summer camps, young love, and youthful adventure.  With a cast of cracked folks and some strange circumstances, he gets at the heart of the dreams we had as children.  I never went to summer camp.  I did not meet my first love when I was 10 or 12 years old.  And I’ve never been struck by lightening.  But this movie felt very much like it was about me at that age.

Best Actress:  Helen Mirren (Hitchcock)  I’m gonna have to admit here, Mirren is kind of getting this by default.  Look, she’s a fine actress, and I’ve nearly given her Best Actress and Actor of the Year awards more than once in the past.  But this year, she pretty much had the only lead female role that was worth a toss in 2012.  At least in the films I saw.  She’s excellent in Hitchcock, playing the grounding center of Hitch’s world, and a worthy foil and partner.  I just wish she’d had more competition.

Best Actor:  Frank Langella (Robot & Frank)  Not only does Langella play old and somewhat senile well, but he spends much of his time playing to a robot, which he in turn helps breaths life into.  Langella, who can, and frequently does, play things over the top and theatrical, tones it down for a very heartfelt performance.

Best Supporting Actress:  Charlize Theron (Snow White and the Huntsman)  The movie was OK, but Theron’s totally whacked out evil queen/sorceress performance deserves some note.  Had the movie shifted focus to her, I think it would have dramatically improved.

Best Supporting Actor:  Jim Broadbent (Cloud Atlas)  A fine actor who has consistently turned in memorable performances for years, he’s the master of sinister joviality.  Cloud Atlas gives him the chance to play several characters, but he’s so much fun as the literary agent betrayed by everyone and stuck in a horrible old folks home.

Best Director:  Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom)  Anderson’s ultra-stylized technique is perfect for this look back on the nostalgic wonder of being a kid.  When you watch an Anderson movie, you’re in a different universe with its own set of rules.  But they’re rules that make a sort of sense.

The Bottom 5 Films of the Year:

5) Underworld: Awakening:  How can you make looking at a woman’s amazing ass boring?  See this movie and find out.  The first couple movies in this series were OK.  This one is not.

4) The Raven:  I think this could maybe have been good.  But it’s not.  Bad script, bad acting, bad movie.  It is powerfully dull.

3) Mirror, Mirror:  Just because a movie is made for kids doesn’t mean you can be lazy.  Dreadful.  The script would be laughable if it wasn’t so painful.  Everyone involved in this should know better.

2) The Hunger Games:  Remember the Running Man?  Yeah, this is the same movie, only crappy and boring.  The future is full of ugly young people (who don’t look hungry at all) and drag queens.

1) Life of Pi:  This movie pretty much says, straight-up, that god and religion are what people make up to deal with life’s difficulties.  I agree.  However, where I think that’s a bad thing, this film says that’s great.   In fact, believing whatever makes you feel better is WAY better than facing reality.  Wishy-washy, condescending, cloying, boring, and just bloody awful.  If you feel like listening to a bunch of new age mumbo-jumbo, this is the movie for you.  Ang Lee, man.  What happened?

Worst Actor of the Year:  Kate Beckensale - From her drab buttock bouncing role in the fourth Underworld movie to her absolute cringe inducing ‘performance’ in Total Recall, Beckensale stepped up to the plate and hit homerun after homerun of crap.  Like Jessica Alba, the further she gets away from just standing there looking pretty, the more profound her lack of acting ability seems to become.

Biggest Disappointments

5) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance:  The first Ghost Rider was a world class turd.  And I, like the rest of the world, had little interest in ever seeing any kind of follow-up.  But then I found out the Crank boys got their hands on the franchise, and they were going to do it up in all the R-rated glory it deserved.  Then it got cut to PG-13, and the whole thing felt like they had the Crank boys on an extremely short leash.  Sure, there are a bunch of great moments and the Rider looks fantastic.  But the movie is lifeless and pulls back every time it needs to go the distance.

4) The Woman in Black:  I was so glad to hear that Hammer was back in business, but their first few new films were both not very Hammer and not very good (well, Let Me In was pretty good).  So, when I saw the trailer for this movie, which has the look and feel of classic Hammer Horror, I was super excited.  Oh, sure, it looked like just another ghost story, but it could be cool, right?  Alas, it was pretty blah.  It looks good and all, but at the end of the day, it really is just another ghost story.  Nothing new at all.  Same jumps and starts.  Same creaky doors and weird reflections.  Blah.

3) Brave:  This is a hard one.  Brave is a good movie.  But for Pixar, it’s a letdown at best.  It has little to none of the wow factor previous efforts from the studio have had. It feels restrained when it should be letting go.  It could have been so, so much more.  They’ve finally got a really compelling female lead…so they shift the focus away from her for much of the film.  It’s no Rango, no Tintin, no How to Raise a Dragon, and certainly no Wall-E.  Recent years have produced much better animated features.  Pixar has frequently raised the bar on animated features, this time they fell sadly short of their own high standards.  Maybe Brave did well enough and there will be a sequel that can actually focus on the lead girl, and she might become the strong role model she seems to have been conceived as.

2) John Carter:  Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter novels are among the most influential of the 20th Century, inspiring countless classic films and franchises (ever hear of Star Wars or Superman?).  So, when the director of Wall-E got a huge budget and a fairly free hand to craft a cinematic adaptation, I was darned jazzed.  But then, Disney spent a year back-peddling as much as they could.  With one of the worst advertising campaigns ever, they did whatever they could to make people not want to see the movie.  But beyond that, the whole film felt like an apology for even bothering.  Instead of embracing the madness of the tales, the filmmakers tried really hard to gloss them over.  What we’re left with is a giant, expensive disaster that isn’t good enough or interesting enough to become a cult classic.  It’s not a bad movie.  Sadly, that might have been less painful.  Instead, it’s nowhere near as good as it could or should have been, but good enough to let you know they could have done it right and didn’t.  And though I think it eventually turned a profit, it was (like Ang Lee’s Hulk) perceived as a flop and pretty much killed any hope of more to come, sequels where they might have tried getting it right.

1) Prometheus:  I think Hellboy II may have been the only other movie to be such a sure thing yet somehow fail.  Alien is one of my favorite movies.  Ridley Scott is behind a couple of my favorite science fiction movies.  Several of the cast members are among today’s top actors.  And did you see that trailer?!  Come on!  This movie was gonna be AWESOME.  But, somewhere along the way, Scott forgot to get a script.  The only interesting character in the whole danged movie is the robot, and he’s hardly in it.  All the production design in the world can’t make up for a bad story.  Just a shame.  And the whole third act?  What the deuce?  Awful.  Just awful.

Video Discoveries:

10) The Val Lewton Horror Collection:  I’d seen a couple of these movies before, but watching them all, you really see such a ground breaking and influential creative force.  Lewton helped launch several careers, created screen language still used today, and left an enduring legacy in his all too brief life.

9) Black Narcissus:  A tale of nuns under pressure.  When one cracks, it is the soul of dramatic film.  Crazy, man.

8) Five Elements Ninjas:  One of the most enjoyable classic martial arts films I’ve seen to date.  Great visuals, great fights, awesome bad dubbing.  This is what it’s all about.

7) Frisco Jenny:  The life and times of a tough lady who won’t let the world take her down.  It’s rough, it’s nasty, it’s kind of awesome.  And Ruth Chatterton is fantastic.

6) The Flesh Eaters:  This is the kind of movie that MST3K dreams are made of.  It’s wacky, weird, schlocky, and silly.  But it’s also kind of amazing.  Enjoy with friends.  You won’t regret it.

5) Razorback:  A crazy, spiritual quest to slay giant monster boars.  Welcome to Australia, mate.

4) Wings:  Amazing flying footage, some cool performances, and a good story make this silent film one of the best WWI films I’ve seen.  And a brief appearance helped launch Gary Cooper’s career.

3) Guns, Girls and G-Strings Collection:  This epic of artificial boobs, hair spray, and weird vehicles is kind of amazing.  I mean, it’s terrible.  But it’s wonderful.

2) The Virgin Spring:  This stark medieval film about religion, family, tragedy, and vengeance is beautiful and haunting.  No surprise it’s a classic and its director considered one of the greats.

1) Viva Las Vegas:  Elvis is awesome and Ann-Margret is crazy.  Together they make movie musical magic.

Best Video Re-Discovery:  The Terror of Mechagodzilla- I’ve been a fan of Godzilla films since I was a wee lad.  I rediscovered this love in the early 90s thanks to a friend and his VHS collection, but I drifted away from watching them for some time, because they’re really best viewed with friends, and I didn’t have any that were into them.  However, flipping through bargain bins, I found some DVDs and figured, why not?  I also grabbed Criterion’s version of Godzilla during a recent sale.  And, I’ve been reading a great Godzilla comic, The Half Century War.  But it was watching The Terror of Mechagodzilla, the last of the original run of films, that my love was reawakened.  The model work, the suits, the crazy story.  It’s fantastic.  My opinion of the Japanese film industry is very, very low.  But this venerable franchise is one of the few bright spots.

    This was also the year I discovered that I am a Jean Rollin fan.  Having been working through his filmography for a couple years now (at first without realizing it), I’ve come to really relish his dream-like fantasy world of low budget 70s Euro-eroticism.  Movies like Fascination, Dracula’s Fiancé, and Night of the Hunted give you a taste of whatever strange magic he had.  Are his movies what one might call ‘good’?  Probably not.  But there’s an essential something that makes them stand out, that makes them worth seeking out.  He’s everything Jess Franco isn’t.  And even when it’s clear the money and equipment wasn’t there, the heart was.  And that counts for a lot with this viewer.

“Hey!  It’s better than Avatar” (movies that might not be amazing, but they’re way more entertaining than Avatar):

5) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

4) Snow Wight and the Huntsmen

3) Wrath of the Titans

2) Solomon Kane (yes, this movie was made years ago, but it just became available [sort of] in the States)

1) The Man With the Iron Fists

Best Documentary:  Corman’s World - A loving look at the master of low budget cinema.  Corman helped launch countless careers, created some memorable works, and kept it all going on a shoestring and a pack of gum.  He made it rich by making it poor.  Great interviews and great clips from movies.  And Jack Nicholson getting choked up (especially with how cocky he seems throughout) is actually a bit touching, and more than a bit disturbing.

Mulder’s Beard (the one good thing in an otherwise unwatchable movie):  Kate Beckensale’s Ass in Underworld: Awakening.  It’s perfect.  She and the film are crap.

The Year’s Worst Trailer: Haywire - The trailer made this passable action movie look like amateur hour at the crap factory.  Every moment, every line of dialog looked like fermented garbage.  But, when I forced myself to watch it (if you know me, you know why I had to), it turned out to be a pretty good movie.  “You better run.”…really?

Sound of the Year:  Tom Hardy’s ‘Mnyeaah’ from Lawless (it makes a brief appearance in The Dark Knight Rises, too)

Best Score:  Looper (honorable mention: Beyond the Black Rainbow and Cloud Atlas)

Best God Fight:  The Wrath of the Titans Zeus/Hades team-up against Chronos

Best Cameo: Ralph Macchio in Hitchcock

Best Rock:  Journey 2 The Mysterious Island

Best Mustache:  James Spader’s amazing ’stache from Lincoln

The “Holy Crap It’s Finally Out!” award:  Solomon Kane was made years ago.  If I remember right, filming was done on this before pre-production on the crappy Conan movie from a couple years ago had even begun.  This was in theaters in Europe like two years ago.  Well, it never hit theaters here, and you still can’t get a DVD.  But, it’s on some streaming sites and I saw it.  And it was…OK.  Pretty good, even.  Not great.  But pretty good.

Best Quote:  “Jellybeans!” -FDR: American Badass

Best David Cronenberg Film: Beyond the Black Rainbow - Though made a couple years ago, it only became available in the States this year.  And while the real Cronenberg has been busy making a couple kind of dull movies, someone made this mad gem.

The ‘Why the Heck Did They Make This Dumbass Movie?” award:  The Amazing Spiderman - Seriously, it’s only been a couple years since Spiderman 3.  How can you re-launch the series this soon?  I mean, forgetting that the movie is bloody awful (which it is), it’s simply too soon.  Way too soon.

Top Three Abraham Lincolns:

3.  Benjamin Walker in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

2.  Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln

1.  Kevin Sorbo in FDR: American Badass

Actor of the Year:  Bruce McGill  Each year, I pick an actor who I think had a great year.  Not that they were the best actor, or even that they were in the best films.  But they did something, or impressed me in some way.  This year, that award goes to Bruce McGill.  McGill has been around forever.  He shows up, plays a cop, or a military guy, or a politician, or whatever.  He does a good job, and he moves on.  He works all the time, and he doesn’t seem to be above anything, which I respect.  I saw him first this year in FDR: American Badass, where his Jellybean love was rivaled only by his polio-causing Nazi werewolf hate.  Next I saw him in Lincoln, where he wasn’t too happy to hear another of the President’s sagely stories.  And finally, I saw him as a president himself (Coolidge this time) in the Catholic propaganda film For Greater Glory.  In each, he gives it his all, not phoning it in.  I tip my hat to you, sir.

    So, looking to the upcoming year, I must say that my hopes are high.  First, after the extremely lackluster year 2012, I need something better.  I need a better year.  But also, there are a lot of potentially cool releases coming up.  My hope, and this may simply be a pipe dream, is that science fiction will finally have its day.  There are a bunch of big budget, big idea science fiction films coming out this year.  Not just Looper/Terminator/Gataca type things that are mostly just walking around the modern world with a few tweaks, but wild, space ships and aliens and crazy technology movies.  The kind of thing Avatar would have been had someone creative been behind the project, instead of James Cameron.  Oblivion, After Earth, Elysium, the new Star Trek, among others are coming soon.  Honestly, at this point, I don’t even need any one of those to be good.  I just need them to be successful.  Because if we can get some big idea, very science fiction looking movies to make some bank at the box office, then we won’t just get one of them every five or six years.  We might get two or three a year, and then the odds of getting good ones will increase.  Maybe we’ll finally get some Foundation movies, or maybe Ringworld, or whatever.  Maybe Disney will do what George Lucas refused to do for so long, and make good Star Wars movies (By the way Disney, I don’t give a toss about Luke and Leah, or any of the rest of the original cast.  You can just tell a new story using the setting we all know and love.).  So, sad as it makes me to say it, I just want this year’s offering of science fiction films to be financially successful, more than good movies.  That make me feel dirty, but there it is.  As far as my most anticipated movie of the year goes…It’s probably Wrong…Or maybe Oblivion.  No, it’s almost certainly Wrong.  And I don’t know if that even has distribution or plays anywhere.

Top 20 Films (At least I was finally able to list 20 good ones, and even had to make a few choices.  Though two thirds of the movies I even kinda liked are on this list, and that’s not a good fraction)

20. Lawless
19. The Raid: Redemption
18. Killing Them Softly
17. The Hunter
16. Beyond the Black Rainbow
15. FDR: American Badass
14. Lincoln
13. The Avengers
12. The Dark Knight Rises
11. The Hobbit
10. Coriolanus
9.  Dredd
8.  Looper
7.  The Grey
6.  Skyfall
5.  Cloud Atlas
4.  Django Unchained
3.  Expendables 2
2.  Robot & Frank
1.  Moonrise Kingdom


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