Monday, 31 December 2012

Films of 2012

One of the marvels of New York is the remarkable access it provides to great films from all over the world and from the hundreds of independent directors toiling outside the narrow confines of the industry. There are a half dozen film clubs that one can join for $75 or so per year, constant premieres, and frequent colloquies with the directors themselves.

This year I’ve seen Chilean Patricio Guzman present his film on the search for the disappeared, Werner Herzog describe his interviews with death row inmates, and Sara and Ken Burns introduce the Central Park 5 after an emotional screening of their film on that police/media crucifixion. I probably averaged at least one movie a week and often took in more when the banquet table was just too heavily laden. But I also managed to see quite a few of the commercial favs, too, and thus have my own opinions about what were the high- and low-lights of the year, which you, faithful Reader, should you so choose, will now learn.

As this cannot be a complete list given the many offerings I missed, I will merely comment on the year-end ratings compiled by the critics in the periodicals I read, endorsing or contradicting their considered and yet fallible opinions.

A. Stick a fork in it: the overblown, over-hyped and overrated

(1) The Master. This Paul Thomas Anderson film loosely based on the origins of Scientology lumbered heavily into view and was duly praised by the experts for its unusual scope. Some called it the year’s best picture. Yes, it was ambitious in an Icarus sort of way—it soared, then landed with a thud. More a vehicle for stars to show off their chops than a credible portrayal of the cult phenomenon, The Master promised insights that did not materialize and provided only a static relationship between the two main characters that, in the end, made little sense. The 180: Joaquin Phoenix was terrific.

(2) Zero Dark Thirty. Sorry, po-mo aesthetes, it just won’t do to divorce this moral outrage from its impact on our lives. While apparently an excellent piece of filmmaking, ZDT justifies torture and will someday be watched in horror like Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will or her beautiful shots of the Nuremberg rallies. Placing it on the top-ten list without comment shows the depths of our culture’s blindness to its ongoing crimes. (Thought experiment: what if someone had made a great movie about the brilliant attack on the Twin Towers in 2001? Would it be ‘just a film’?)

(3) Lincoln. There were certainly things to enjoy about this fascinating account of the dificulties in getting even a Union-dominated Congress to abolish slavery, and I’m all for history lessons. But the portrayal of Honest Abe had serious holes, and the politics sucked. Slaves had zero agency as mere choristers trotted out to harmonize about the wondrous gift of Emancipation, and abolitionists, as usual, were painted as unreasonable extremists. Day Lewis captured Lincoln’s whimsy, but the attempt to recreate his historic oratory bombed.

(4) Keep the Lights On. A gay partnership struggling through addiction issues—hey, I’m certainly sympathetic. But this shipwreck of insipid dialogue gave off the air of unresolved confessional, the fallacy that because we lived through something, it has to be interesting to others.

B. Yes, these were terrific.

(1) Elena. Russian noir makes other noir look scarcely a pale gray. And this wasn’t even the grimmest from that frozen continent.

(2) The Kid with a Bike. Lovely Belgian tale of average people drawn toward decency.

(3) This is Not a Film. Understated (and courageous) docu-drama of thought control in totalitarian Iran.

C. Missed, but to be Netflixed

A few films keep popping up on the Best lists and seem worthy of a look: Magic Mike, Bernie, The Imposter, Not Fade Away.

D. Documentary excellence

Detropia, The Central Park Five, The Flat, Hitler’s Children, How To Survive a Plague, Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, On Death Row, Nostalgia for the Light

Will be adding to this as memory is refreshed.

No comments: