“Zero Dark Thirty” may or may not be the best movie of the year, but one thing’s for sure – Kathryn Bigelow directs the shit out of it. And make no mistake, that Oscar snub is a clear punishment for the movie’s blunt depiction of torture. Everyone from John McCain to that tool, Brett Easton Ellis, seemed to be offended by the film’s supposed murky moral tone and it’s “crazy” suggestion that we tortured people. I suppose it’s possible that the Academy wasn’t trying to penalize Bigelow for this – but, if anything, she directs this movie with even more force and control than she showed in “The Hurt Locker” – and she won the Oscar for that one. So, what? The first woman to win for best director doesn’t deserve the Academy’s attention anymore? Maybe they figured, “Hey, we gave her an Oscar. That proves we’re not sexist, right? Now we can do what we do best – give all the best actress awards to pretty, young starlets!”
Now THAT’s what I call offensive. But everyone seems to be offended these days. We’re offended by the copious use of racial slurs in “Django Unchained”. We’re offended by the treatment of mental illness as a backdrop for a romantic comedy in “Silver Linings Playbook”. Hell, people were even offended by the presumed liberal gloss that Spielberg and Tony Kushner would give to “Lincoln” – and here I thought that old Abe was one thing we could ALL agree on.
So people are offended by “Zero Dark Thirty”? Good. They should be. Torture is fucked up and we should all have our noses shoved in it. But the idea that this movie is “pro-torture” is just silly. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be “pro” anything. Instead, it presents itself as a filmic Rorschach test where the reactions it elicits say more about you than the film itself. There’s nothing murky about Bigelow’s method here. Take the justly celebrated Abbottabad raid sequence – Bigelow sucks all the glamour out of these scenes and depicts this operation with the coldest eye possible. Compare this to the surfer drug-house raid in Bigelow’s “Point Break” – they are mirror sequences : an operation carried out with precision and skill, people are shot and killed, women scream in the background. Except this time, Bigelow removes any whiff of Hollywood glamour. No slow motion. No tanned and naked bodies. No Anthony Keidis shooting himself in the fucking foot. The Abbottabad sequence is an action set piece without any ACTION!!! – and it’s all the more horrifying without it. Or troubling? Or exciting? What should our reaction be? Bigelow refuses to say and that seems to only fuel the negative response. The heated national debate over torture that “Zero Dark Thirty” has sparked is just proof positive that the film has done it’s job. I don’t think a movie about covert CIA operations should allow us to walk away untroubled. You know what CIA movie doesn’t seem to be troubling ANYbody? “Argo” – which is exactly why it will be the one that walks away with best picture this year.
But none of this matters because those of us living in Chicago weren’t allowed to see “Zero Dark Thirty” in 2012. And I HATE that. Originally, I thought it might’ve been politically motivated; it was supposed to come out before the election and some Republicans were screaming that a Hollywood movie about the killing of Osama Bin Laden on Obama’s watch would give the President an unfair advantage (a moot point on many, many counts). But now it just seems to be good old fashioned Award Season marketing and trickery : open it in New York and L.A. for a couple weeks in December to qualify, then open it wide in January after the nominations are announced. It seems to have worked for the film financially, but I find it frustrating to have to gorge on all these movies with so little time to process them. On top of that, great movies from earlier in the year always seem to get lost in the shuffle or just seem like old news. Who’s going to wanna discuss “Amour” and “Zero Dark Thirty” next December when we’ll have a whole new slate of movies I didn’t get to see because I don’t live in New York or L.A.? Maybe I should move my movie year back a month to end on January 31.
Maybe. But not this year. This year we stick with the rules : If I didn’t see it in a theater in 2012 it doesn’t count. This year I saw 109 movies in theaters – down a bit from last year’s count of 155 movies (Hey! I’ve been busy). 2012 may not have produced a movie that moved me to the extent that “Tree Of Life” did in 2011 (I did not quite share in everyone’s unbridled enthusiasm for “Holy Motors”), but it was a pretty great year nonetheless. So let’s get to it with my ten favorite new movies of 2012.
Best of 2012 :
10. Looper – I thought I was all Joseph Gordon-Levitted out – but I guess I’m not. And leave it to Bruce Willis to bounce back every few years (you canNOT count that dude out). Much darker than I thought it would be – “Looper” feels like an instant classic. Right away, it sets up a totally believable future world and never misses a step. This is the second great thing that Rian Johnson directed last year – the first being that awesome train heist episode of “Breaking Bad”. Can I put that on this list?
9. Silver Linings Playbook – The backlash is bullshit.
8. Killer Joe – Most directors mellow with age. That’s true of most anything, of course – but we don’t really seem to like it in our directors. It dulls their edge. But there’s nothing dull about William Friedkin’s aging edge. Between this and “Bug” (his other bat-shit crazy Tracy Letts adaptation), Freidkin seems to be getting meaner and more disreputable in his advancing years (not that the man who gave us “The Exorcist” and “Cruising” was ever all that reputable in the first place). Throw in an unhinged performance by a born-again-hard Matthew McConaughey, and you’ve got one amped up flick on your hands. And did I mention it does for fried chicken what “Last Tango In Paris” did for butter? A nasty little movie – and it doesn’t give a fuck who knows it.
7. The Master – Film is dead. And 70mm film is REALLY dead. But Paul Thomas Anderson can do whatever he wants – and with “The Master”, he does. In addition to shooting in that extremely rare format, he throws most of his own rules about storytelling and structure right out the window. This is a film that refuses to explain itself – and that only adds to it’s power. It’s a shame that so few people will get the chance to see it in it’s proper format – a fact that couldn’t have been lost on Anderson – but I love that he went ahead and did it anyway.
6. Bernie – Let’s hear it for Richard Linklater. He has quietly become, quite possibly, the best director of his generation. His films have such warmth and generosity that I could cry just thinking about them. “Bernie” is no exception. Linklater’s not here to laugh at a bunch of hicks – when it comes to Texas, he’s no elitist – he gets these people in a way that most directors wouldn’t even bother to. What’s on target here is the need for every one of us to feel superior over somebody else. Invoking our current obsession with hillbilly reality shows, Linklater employs a faux-documentary palette but doesn’t stick to it – he uses his non-actors just enough to imbue the film with the proper local flavor. That’s good news for us because he’s teamed up with Jack Black again (after “School Of Rock”) to make the ultimate Jack Black movie. Every Black trick in the book is on full display – he sings, he’s funny, he’s heartbreaking – it’s a part he was born to play. Just check out his walk in that final shot and then try to gauge exactly what your feeling. Brilliant. Yeah – we know Daniel Day Lewis is great (speaking of final film walks) – but can we at least get a fucking ‘amen’ for Jack Black? He and Linklater are a great team. (oh, and Matthew McConaughey, too)
5. Django Unchained – When people talk about “Blazing Saddles”, it’s always brought up that there’s no way that movie could be made today. Maybe somebody said that to Tarantino. And maybe that somebody didn’t realize that’s not the kind of thing you say to that fucking nut. However it happened, I’m glad for it. In “Kill Bill”, revenge was a dish best served cold – and maybe by this point, revenge is a dish that’s been twice warmed over. And sure, it’s true that on paper this looks like a carbon (sorry) of “Inglorious Basterds” – but this works for me in a way that “Basterds” never did. The canvas is bolder – and, frankly, it’s just that much more entertaining. To label this as a spaghetti-western-patch-quilt is missing the point – this is BIG Hollywood western film making that rings far truer than the Coen’s “True Grit” ever did. Tarantino’s not slumming and he’s going far past the grind house aspirations that he’s so often saddled (sorry, again!) with. I saw echoes of everything from “Jeremiah Johnson” to “Barry Lyndon” (yes, really). And quibbles that the second half isn’t as good as the first are are a little ridiculous – philistines have been saying the same thing about “Full Metal Jacket” for years (come to think of it – there’s some “Full Metal” stuff in the “Django” mix, as well). If nothing else it proves that the “N” word is still more divisive than the “J” word.
4. Killing Them Softly – You ever get the feeling that Brad Pitt just doesn’t give a fuck? Not in that “take the paycheck because I’m never gonna watch this piece of shit movie anyway” way that Johnny Depp doesn’t give a fuck – but in that “I’m Brad Pitt, dude – and I’ll be goddamned if I don’t use that fact to get some good movies made” kind of way. He doesn’t have to make great movies (again – see Johnny Depp), and sometimes I think that the box office is the furthest thing from his mind. By all accounts this movie was a flop – so, um, well done, Brad. Maybe people were expecting “The Sopranos” or “Goodfellas” – you know, what the trailer promised – but this is essentially a gabfest with one great monologue after another (in between all that violent retribution, of course). Kind of like a mobbed up “Glengarry Glen Ross”. Every critic complained that the movie’s politics were a little too on the nose, but I thought it was just fine and completely appropriate. You could say the same thing about “Shampoo” – but I wouldn’t. Besides, take away the politics and you might not have that awesome closing monologue.
3. A Separation – On the other hand, nobody complained about the politics in “A Separation”. But I don’t see how anyone could find ANYthing to complain about in this movie. It won for best foreign film at last year’s Oscars, and it couldn’t be more deserving. A perfectly observed drama that plays out like a suspense film. Quiet, thoughtful, and never boring.
2. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower – Why is it still a shock to see a movie that takes teenagers seriously and doesn’t treat them like dipshits? Young Adult fiction is big business these days (why don’t adults read books for adults?) – but this is different. There’s something timeless going on here. You could say that it’s occasionally clunky and awkward – and I would say what teenager isn’t? And there’s no doubting the depth of feeling on display. Stephen Chbosky directs and protects his novel – and what he lacks in style, he more than makes up for in sincerity and a true belief in his characters. Besides, style in high school movies is overrated. What really matters is that ability to take you back and make you feel fucked up and beautiful and ,well, infinite. You know – young. Jesus – I never thought anything would make me feel nostalgic for “Rocky Horror”. “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower” belongs up there with “The Breakfast Club” – mainly because it’s better.
1. The Grey – Don’t laugh. I’m dead serious – and so is “The Grey”. You could be forgiven for thinking that a re-teaming of the star and director of “The A Team” movie would yield nothing but wretched fruit, but you’d be wrong. The plot is Howard Hawks simple – rough and tumble guys in a plane crash battle the elements and wolves for survival – and the execution is Howard Hawks tough. But it’s shot through with a moral seriousness that’s reminiscent of Konchanaklovsy and a willingness to deconstruct and destroy the cinema of bad-ass that Liam Neeson has been making his bread and butter for the last few years. And on top of that, it’s the flip side of “Life Of Pi”. Monochromatic snow instead of technicolor 3-D seas. Arctic cold vs. tropical hot. Hardened men in place of a young boy. We’re never asked to identify with the wolves the way we’re asked to identify with the tiger – in spite of “Life Of Pi”‘s insistence that Richard Parker is really an animal of deadly cunning, it’s the ghostly wolves in “The Grey” that exude heartless, primal menace. And “The Grey” never tells us that it’s story will make us believe in God – unlike “Life Of Pi”‘s groan inducing framing story, when the possibility of God is brought up in “The Grey”, Neeson searches the empty, overcast skies for an agonizing moment before grumbling, "Fuck it. I’ll do it myself". Sermon over. “The Grey” is genre film-making at it’s best – no need to condescend, no need to beg for awards. (and this is weird : Look at the end of my 2011 wrap up. Apparently, I’m psychic.)
And ten more :
11. The Kid With A Bike
12. Magic Mike
14. The Queen Of Versailles
15. Kill List
17. How To Survive A Plague
18. The Raid : Redemption
20. This Is 40
Worst of 2012 (other than “Les Miserables”) :
5. Savages – I wasn’t expecting the world. Just some good ol’ Ollie Stone trash. I knew I was in trouble from the very first line of the opening monologue.
4. The Twilight Saga : Breaking Dawn Pt. 2 – I’m aware that this wasn’t made for me – it’s still no excuse.
3. We Need To Talk About Kevin – I’ve loved this title since I saw the book in a London airport. This movie is not worthy of it. So over the top that I was expecting Kevin to sprout horns – and strangely, that’s not a compliment.
2. Silent House – A great trailer and the memory of Elizabeth Olsen’s work on “Martha Marcy May Marlene” was still very strong in my mind. I was rooting for her, but not for long. Pretty abysmal stuff.
1. Friend’s With Kids – This is the kind of movie that inspires real ire in me. Total gut-quaking, murderous rage. Fuck this movie.
3 Movies I Barely Even Remember Watching :
1. The Avengers
2. The Dark Knight Rises
3. Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Best Movie That I Didn’t See In A Theater :
Possession (1981) – Yes, film is dead and digital is here to stay. Out of the 10 films in my best of list, I saw only 3 of them on film. Next year, I expect that number to be zero. So I said ‘screw it’ and bought my own projector and screen. It’s still not a theater, but it’s pretty great. The most amazing movie that I saw in my bedroom cinema last year might be the most amazing movie I saw all year – Andre Zulawski’s “Possession”. It was such a shocking and refreshing film experience, I could scarcely believe that it hadn’t already been my favorite movie for years – never mind a movie that I’d never even heard of. How could I not know about THIS?!? It doesn’t take long to figure out that this marital drama is not exactly playing by the rules – there’s a sequence in a boardroom that’s shot like a very skilled lunatic on roller skates got a hold of the camera and you’re thinking, ‘Hang on, now". An hour later and Isabelle Adjani is fucking a tentacled monster and oozing blood out of every orifice and you’re GOING WITH IT!!! There is nothing like this movie. Seriously. The only thing that could come close is Cronenberg – but a Cronenberg that’s traded his cool reserve for an operatic crazy that’s been maxed up to 20. Absolute genius. “Don’t open! Don’t open!”
Favorite Revival Screenings of 2012 :
1. Wake In Fright (1971) – “Deliverance” in the Australian outback. Beer, kangaroo killing, and man-rape. I had no idea where this movie would go
-- okay, I had an IDEA, but it’s an idea that’s pretty hard to prepare for. (at the Gene Siskel Film Center)
2. Margaret (2011) – The cause-du-jour of cinephiliacs circa 2011/2012, “Margaret” was strangled in the crib by it’s studio because, apparently, they thought it was a mess and hated Kenneth Lonergan. I remember it playing in Chicago for, like, a week – and by the time I realized what it was – it was gone. Fine – it’s a mess. But it’s not a failure. (at the Cinefamily in L.A.)
3. The Room (2003) – Finally got around to seeing a midnight screening of “The Room” at the Music Box and……….um, I really wasn’t disappointed in the slightest. Make no mistake, this movie is AWful! But it’s an awfulness that is really special. This knocked around in my head for days after seeing it. And I’d actually see this piece of shit again. In fact, I can’t wait.
4. The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp (1943)/ A Matter Of Life And Death (1946) – Excellent Powell and Pressburger double feature at the Music Box with a particularly excellent new print of “Colonel Blimp”. What these guys did with Technicolor is still a wonder to behold (the black and white in “Matter Of Life And Death” ain’t too shabby, either).
5. Frankenstein (1931)- Halloween screenings were everywhere last year, and this was on a double bill with “Bride Of Frankenstein”. "Bride"’s reputation has been growing for many years now, while it feels to me like the original’s has been shrinking. What struck me about this screening was how unfair that would be. “Frankenstein” doesn’t contain an ounce of camp (except for maybe the end) and it’s still pretty frightening. The creation scene is totally disturbing. (at Webster Place 11)
6. The Window (1949) – Part of Music Box’s Noir City festival. I love movies about kids who see murders.
7. Celine And Julie Go Boating (1974) – A chance to see a Jaques Rivette screening at the Siskel Center should never be wasted. Sit back, get comfy. You’re in for something very looong and VERY rewarding. A few years ago, I saw “Belle Nicoise” – a 4 hour movie of his about a nude painting and it totally changed my life.
8. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) – I go see this at the Music Box every Christmas, but for some reason, it really hit home this year. That, and it looked absolutely stunning. I’m convinced that secret screening of “The Master” forced Music Box to really up it’s projection game – everything I see there anymore just looks fantastic.
9. Jaws (1975) – Big Hollywood movie. Big Gene Siskel screen. Plus it was that increasingly rare major studio restoration that was actually shown on film and not a 4k digital presentation.
10. All That Heaven Allows / Written On The Wind – Rock Hudson might be the most masculine presence on film ever. Who can touch him? He’s like a fucking tree with a shirt and a pompadour. It’s amazing – and I’m getting a little sick of all the “Celluloid Closet” snickering that goes on at these screenings. Yes – we all know he was gay. Get over it. He was awesome. Go ahead – pick any movie tough guy you want – put him next to Rock and your tough guy will look like Jerry Seinfeld. His films with Douglas Sirk are, yes, sublime and – for me, anyway – impervious to camp (plus the opening to “Written On The Wind” might be the best opening ever). (part of the “American Cinema of the 1950s” series at the Siskel Center)
The Worst Revival Screening At The Worst Theater of 2012 :
The Exorcist (1973) at The Logan – This is what happens when you screen movies from DVD, kiddies! The 1:85 aspect ratio was all wrong – it had been anamorphed and stretched out to fit a 2:35 screen. The ominous setting sun in the prologue was oval. Ellen Burstyn was FAT! Why? Any idiot would know this is wrong. So why do it? You’re so proud of your screen that you don’t wanna leave any empty space? You forgot to outfit your theater with black curtains (they totally did)? It’s not just the old movies they’re doing this to – I went to see a matinee of “The Master” and this time they had lopped off the top and bottom of the image to fit their screen. So, basically – one way or another – every movie showing at the Logan is gonna be widescreen 2:35. If you don’t care about this stuff – then the Logan is your place. Have at it. But I find this Procrustes bed approach to film (video?) exhibition totally unacceptable. Why would they renovate everything else and not spend a little more effort on the actual presentation of the movie – you know? The thing we came to see?!? (ooooh – nice seats. Cup holders!!!) Okay. I’ve accepted that we’ll be watching movies via video from now on – but now you’re telling me they’re gonna look like shit, too – because, I mean like – who really cares?!? Aw, hell no. I’m sticking to the Film Center and the Music Box, where they take a little pride in how the MOVIE looks – not just the concession stand.
Alright that’s it – enough bitching. Below is a full list of every movie I saw last year. “Enjoy” the Oscars tonight – or you can actually enjoy them. Up to you. Bring on 2013.