At this point, too much lead up feels like pandering, so let’s just jump right into it.
The Hunger Games
On most levels, the concept of this novel and film series is patently absurd. What makes both work is how seriously the novel’s writer, Suzanne Collins, and the filmmakers behind the adaptations take the premise. Yes, there is an insanity to what’s going on here, an almost “how do these people not see how ridiculous this is” element to the entire concept, but somehow it all comes together.
Part of it is the lead performance of Jennifer Lawrence, in what could certainly be considered her breakout role. Her Katniss understands the tragedy behind what’s going on around her, but also sees an opportunity to undermine the system, if only just a little.
The relatively smallness of the original film is important in that respect. The story isn’t of a girl who wants to revolutionize a government; it’s really about a girl who wants to save her sister’s life by offering hers. The repercussions are the concerns of the rest of the series, but the only way that The Hunger Games as a beginning film to a series works is because of how self-contained it is. It contains Katniss’ life to her district, and then to small spaces like the train that takes her and Peeta to the capital, their shared apartment prior to the Games beginning, the practice spaces, and then the Arena itself, which, while seeming and feeling massive, is just as contained, it just doesn’t look like it.
I’m not sure if this is the best movie of the four in the series, but it feels like the one that understands best what it is. And that works really effectively in this case.
For the life of me, I can’t understand why someone would hate any Wes Anderson movie. Sure, they might not be everyone’s favorite, with his quirky storytelling, hyperrealistic costumes, and sharp dialogue, but at the very least every one of his films is immensely likable. For my money, Moonrise Kingdom is among Anderson’s best.
I think it has a lot to do with the sweet quality of this particular addition to Anderson’s filmography. He’s often a lot more scathing than he’s given credit for, with films like Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums possessing an edge that’s just boiling below the surface, readying to blow. While Moonrise certainly has a lot under its saccharine shell, in a lot of ways it’s very content being a sweet teenage love story.
As is often the case with Anderson films, there’s a lot going on, with multiple groups searching for Sam and Suzy, like her parents (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), his scout troop, led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton), and the local law enforcement Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). As always, the narrative is relatively simple, but it’s more about the performances and overall look at feel of the film, which garnered Anderson and Roman Coppola an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Overall, the film is wildly rewatchable, one of the main tenants of great cinema, and something that isn’t always the case, even for a great director like Anderson. This is one of his best efforts, not only to date in 2012, but still to this date.
The Dark Knight Rises
We all knew this was coming, so I’ll preface everything by saying this: in hindsight, I wanted more from this film on an individual level. At the time of its release, I noted that The Dark Knight Rises was the perfect ending to Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and on some level, I still believe that’s true.
But as a movie itself, it doesn’t matchup to The Dark Knight or even Batman Begins, but a lot of that has to do with the weight it carried coming into the making of the film.
The passing of Heath Ledger was tragic on so many levels, but one of the lesser levels was the choices it led Nolan and the rest of his crew to make regarding the direction of this film. I’m not sure that Ledger’s Joke resurfaces completely in a different version of this trilogy capper, but his death led the filmmakers to pull away from the The Dark Knight more than they might have anticipated, leaving some elements of this third film feeling disconnected.
Even though only four years passed between films, the narrative moves eight years into the future, where Joker is a bit of an afterthought, and Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is all but finished with wearing the cape and cowl after taking the fall for the death of Harvey Dent. What this means is that there’s very little Batman in this supposed Batman film, as Wayne starts out retired, and spends much of the film’s run time rehabilitating his back injury while in a prison built into a pit.
Still what the film offers is a clean ending for Nolan’s trilogy, and for Batman to do what he intended to do after Dent’s death and the encounter with the Joker: save the city and remove himself from his choice entirely.
It’s the entirety of Nolan’s work that is getting recognized then, by way of remembering the film that closed out the series.
We move from the giant ending to a massive film trilogy, to a much smaller, yet still wildly effective film in Ruby Sparks, written by co-star Zoe Kazan and starring her real-life partner Paul Dano.
The film focuses on a writer (Dano) who is struggling to produce the follow-up to his successful first novel. He starts to write about a character named Ruby, and the next day, he actually meets this character he’s created (Kazan). It isn’t long before the two are in a relationship, but then Dano’s Calvin begins to realize that anything he writes for Ruby on his typewriter becomes true of her character.
Part fantasy, part really-messed-up love story, Ruby Sparks is ultimately about the difficulties of genius, the reality of love, and how the two things don’t often coincide. Calvin initially accepts Ruby because she is everything he wants at all times, but finds that even controlling a character of his own creation is difficult.
There’s a sweetness to the film, to be sure, but the underlying darkness of Calvin’s clear mental instability, combined with his inability to accept who he is, adds depth to the narrative. Dano is excellent in a role that suits his best skills as an actor, and Kazan has a lot to do as Calvin alters Ruby’s existence.
The fantasy is never treated in a way that feels farcical, to the film’s great credit, and the film is all the better for it in the end.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
When the film adaptation of Stephen Chbosky’s novel (directed by the novelist himself) came out, I had this to say:
“It could easily have slipped into a high school movie cliche, but it is stronger than that. I’m 28 and I appreciate the value of the friendships shown here. We all need these types of relationships to help us get through life. To help us get the love we actually deserve, rather than just the love we think we do. To help us become infinite.”
Looking back, these lines, which ended my blog on the film, is a little hokey looking; but all these years later, it feels even more important to note how impressively the film handles the idea and value of friendship.
I’m 35 now, and I still believe this to be true, even if the nature of my relationships with people have changed. I’m not able to have friendships like Charlie does with Sam and Patrick, because those types of relationships are a long ago part of reality for me. But the value of long term people in your life who can be counted on for anything, well that never goes away. The people who fill those roles might change, but we as people all need someone like that always.
I’m so glad this film exists.
Before Rian Johnson was navigating the stars in a galaxy far, far away, he was making strange but wildly interesting films like Brick and this mind-bending time travel/assassination film, Looper. While not for everyone, it’s difficult to say that Johnson was ripe with original ideas, something that’s even a vital part of his entry into the Star Wars universe.
This one is a tiny bit bonkers. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an assassin in the future, where the name of the game is to go back in time to kill would-be criminals and ne’re-do-wells earlier in their life before they have a chance to break bad, as it were. The catch is that all these so-called loopers will eventually be murdered by their future self, in this case played by Bruce Willis.
What follows is a wild, time-bending tale of a younger man trying to stay alive, and an older version of himself just trying to do his job. To make things even crazier, there’s another job, one that both versions of the character seem unwilling to complete.
The movie is massively entertaining and the plot is well thought out, even in those places where time travel movies often slip. Rian Johnson also cemented himself as a top genre director, and it’s highly likely that this movie paved the way for his massive role as part of the Star Wars universe.
I, for one, think that’s a very good thing.
This is a pretty rare year where the Oscar for Best Picture actually went to a movie I felt deserved the award. While Argo wasn’t my favorite movie of the year (as noted here), among the films that had a real chance at winning Best Picture, I was glad to see it crowned.
That isn’t to say the film is without its flaws, but what director (and star) Ben Affleck made is a gripping, often troubling thriller about a real life story that shook the nation to its core. But the unusual nature of how the rescue operation was undertaken was one of the more compelling elements of the film.
There are lots of good things to rave about, but one of them is Alan Arkin’s Oscar nominated performance as the producer of the fake film being set up by Affleck’s Tony Mendez as a means of extracting the hostages. And Affleck’s direction and depiction of the turbulence of the time period is also top notch.
It’s not often that I’m able to look back at a Best Picture Oscar winner and feel like the Academy made a good choice. 2012 was rare in that way, partly because Argo is such a quality film.
I’ll admit that prior to Daniel Craig taking over as James Bond, I wasn’t all that interesting in the series. Right before Skyfall came out, I started watching the originals in order, got through Sean Connery’s films and half of Roger Moore’s before time got in the way (someday I’ll finish them, only 10 to go!). I had liked Casino Royale, which I’d seen because I was told it was not as silly or campy as the Bond films before it, and found Craig’s take on the character to be one that interested me.
But nothing prepared me for the quality of Skyfall.
Casino Royale is considered one of the better Bond films ever. Skyfall could just be considered one of the better films of 2012, and of the decade, regardless of genre.
The Broccoli family, the family behind the cinematic world of James Bond, have been reticent to give Bond any type of backstory or history, fearing that doing so would make him seem more like a real person than a spy who was able and willing to do anything for his country.
Skyfall not only dives into that history, but the history provides the name of the film, and gives more to the character than simply being good at his job and seducing women (something that the end of Casino complicates, too).
The series would crater a bit with the followup, 2015’s Spectre, but if Skyfall is peak Bond, we’ve certainly got a good one to always remember.
Silver Linings Playbook
Man, what a year for Jennifer Lawrence.
Not only was she the star of one of the most successful films of the year (The Hunger Games), she also won her first Oscar for this movie in a wonderful performance opposite Bradley Cooper (who is also great, but lesser recognized).
Silver Linings Playbook is technically based on a novel of the same name, but having read it, I can say there’s very little taken directly from the book (which appears to have been written for a younger audience) except the basic premise. The film was nominated for 8 Oscars, including in all of the top 5 categories (Picture, Director, Actor/Actress, Supporting Actor/Actress), along with Adapted Screenplay and Film Editing, winning for Lawrence for Best Actress.
It’s a pointed look at mental health and the way that it manifests itself in different people, as each of the characters seems to suffer from something, be it depression, obsession, addiction, or delusions of grandeur. And yet the movie is about finding those slivers of hope, those silver linings in the midst of all the awful things going on, even if it’s something as silly as a local dance contest.
For me, this would have been the film I would have liked to see triumph in Best Picture over Argo, but ultimately it might have been doing too much for most voters, as it is often funny, often cruel, and often heartbreaking, sometimes from moment to moment. That works here, even if it doesn’t always.
Saw, but didn’t make the list (*close): Safe House, Wanderlust, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, Being Flynn, Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Goon, The Cabin in the Woods, The Five-Year Engagement, The Raven, The Avengers*, Dark Shadows, Men in Black 3, Prometheus, Safety Not Guaranteed, Your Sister’s Sister, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seeking a Friend For the End of the World*, Brave*, To Rome With Love, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Ted, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Watch, Total Recall, Celeste and Jesse Forever, The Bourne Legacy, The Campaign, ParaNorman, Cosmopolis, Lawless, Anne Karenina, The Master*, Amour, Trouble With the Curve, Frankenweenie, Pitch Perfect, Taken 2, The Oranges, Here Comes the Boom, Seven Psychopaths, Smashed, Cloud Atlas, Flight, Wreck-It Ralph, Lincoln*, Life of Pi, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Zero Dark Thirty*, This is 40, Not Fade Away, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Promised Land
Didn’t see: Haywire, Red Tails, Underworld: Awakening, The Grey, Man on a Ledge, Chronicle, The Woman in Black, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, This Means War, Dr. Suess’ The Lorax, John Carter, 21 Jump Street, Wrath of the Titans, American Reunion, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Dictator, Battleship, Snow White and the Huntsman, Rock of Ages, That’s My Boy, Magic Mike, The Odd Life of Timothy Green, The Expendables 2, End of Watch, Hotel Transylvania, Sinister, Paranormal Activity 4, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn–Part 2, Red Dawn, Jack Reacher