Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Top 25 Films of 2012

It startled my wife when I uttered the words "this really has been a pretty good year for films". But the truth is something unexpected happened in 2012. Could it be that cinema decided to push back against television's stranglehold on quality adult content? Could it be folks in the industry wanted to feel what it was like to be proud of their product? Who knows. Whatever the reason, 2012 ended up ironically signaling rebirth and not apocalypse.

It's hard for me not to see things like the firing of longtime Fox honcho Tom Rothman (famous for his "screw-awards-we-want-hits" approach) as the sign of some kind of sea change. Maybe a few people have finally begun to accept that movies have to be more than product if they are to take hold of the public's imagination. For once, the end of a year has me optimistic.

1. Holy Motors - France - Leos Carax
2. Amour - Austria/France/Germany - Michael Haneke
3. Moonrise Kingdom - USA - Wes Anderson
4. Looper - USA/China - Rian Johnson
5. Magic Mike - USA - Steven Soderbergh
6. Bernie - USA - Richard Linklater
7. Cosmopolis - Canada - David Cronenberg
8. Damsels In Distress - USA - Whit Stillman
9. Wuthering Heights - UK - Andrea Arnold
10. The Invisible War - USA - Kirby Dick
11. The Central Park Five - USA - Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
12. Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present - USA - Matthew Akers, Jeff Dupre
13. Jiro Dreams of Sushi - USA - David Gelb
14. Skyfall - USA/UK - Sam Mendes
15. Killer Joe - USA - William Friedkin
16. The Grey - USA - Joe Carnahan
17. Once Upon A Time in Anatolia - Turkey - Nuri Bilge Ceylan
18. Oslo, August 31st - Norway - Joachim Trier
19. Killing Them Softly - USA - Andrew Dominik
20. Middle of Nowhere - USA - Ava DuVernay
21. The Deep Blue Sea - UK - Terence Davies
22. Zero Dark Thirty - USA - Kathryn Bigelow
23. Post Tenebras Lux - Mexico - Carlos Reygadas
24. 2 Days in New York - USA - Julie Delpy
25. Take This Waltz - Canada - Sarah Polley

The High Watermark Special Award of Merit: The Avengers - USA - Joss Whedon
This film represents the beginning of a new epoch in the comic book film. This is the first film to equal the large scope that is a hallmark of the comic book medium and the characters weren't lost in the shuffle. I'm not sure the comic book film can top this, and attempting to do so may be its downfall.

Comeback of the Year: the Academy ratio
As 16x9 frames come to dominate our lives via tablets, HD TVs and smartphones, an intrepid band of filmmakers (including Andrea Arnold, Kelly Reichardt, Carlos Reygadas) have reclaimed the discarded squarish frame to tell their stories in such a way that the 1.37:1 aspect ratio has almost become synonymous with quality filmmaking.

Revival of the Year: Wake in Fright - 1971 - Australia - Ted Kotcheff
I haven't quite shaken this film since I saw it. Essentially it's a male answer to the "gyno-psycho-horror" sub-genre (e.g, Repulsion, Persona, 3 Women, Images). I'll never quite look at Australia the same way. Bravo to Cinefamily for extending the film's Los Angeles run.

The David O. Selznick Producing Award: Megan Ellison
Only time will tell if this daughter of privilege's gambit (1. find good filmmakers, 2. give them money, 3. let them make the movie they want their way) will break or expand her fortune. But I'm not her accountant so I don't care. In one year she's bankrolled some of 2012's most interesting and lauded films.

The Howard Hawks Directing Award: Steven Soderbergh
As he winds down his farewell tour to filmmaking, Soderbergh offered up two films that no one will nominate him for. And yet, the fight scenes in Haywire and the dance scenes in Magic Mike really sum up the kinds of challenges that separate good directors from bad. This kind of unsung craftsmanship and versatility strikes me as uniquely Hawksian, and in a way, classically American.

The Nestor Almendros Color Cinematography Award: Roger Deakins, B.S.C., A.S.C.
Skyfall was the best looking major release in recent memory. And because awards are often an opportunity for the mediocre to take revenge on their betters, Deakins has yet to win a statue from the Academy. This is shameful.

The Gianni Di Venanzo Black & White Cinematography Award: Fred Keleman
The Turin Horse (directed by Bela Tarr, he claims it is his final film) is ravishing. Not in the Bertolucci-Storaro school of beautiful cinematography by any means, Keleman's gorgeous camerawork lend a stark beauty to desolate space that is breathtaking. Since Tarr has denied us a narrative in any conventional sense, Keleman's imagery is truly the star of the film.

The Alan Robbe-Grillet Screenwriting Award: David Cronenberg
The WGA would sooner renounce three act structure than give Cosmopolis (based on the novel by Don DeLillo)a heady film of ideas, a nod. So I will. We tend to think of him as either an auteur or a director, but Cronenberg has always been one of the best screenwriters on the planet in my view. His wit and sense of language is literary in the best sense of the word, he eschews cliche and gets that screenwriting is a visual endeavor as much as any other discipline in the moviemaking process.

Best Performances (in no particular order)
1. Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Bernie)
2. Jack Black (Bernie)
3. Robert DeNiro (Silver Linings Playbook)
4. Denzel Washington (Flight)
5. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
6. Omari Hardwick (Middle of Nowhere)
7. Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained)
8. Javier Bardem (Skyfall)
9. Denis Lavant (Holy Motors)
10. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

1. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
2. Shirley MacLaine (Bernie)
3. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
4. Emayatzy Corinealdi (Middle of Nowhere)
5. Lorraine Toussaint (Middle of Nowhere)
6. Sally Field (Lincoln)
7. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
8. Michelle Williams (Take This Waltz)
9. Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea)
10. Amy Adams (The Master)

Acting Purple Hearts (for great performances that outstrip the films they're in):
Clarke Peters (Red Hook Summer)
Carmen Ejogo (Sparkle)

Snubs (i.e, I saw them, I just didn't like them):
The Dark Knight Rises, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Master, Django Unchained, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ten Women Filmmakers You Need To Know Better

The following was tweeted on 3/31/2012, between 6:45 & 7:15 PDT.

As Women's History Month draws to a close, I thought I'd tweet a list of 10 female filmmakers you should know about.

This list will not include the great filmmakers you probably already know of.

Not on this list but superb directors: Agnes Varda, Jane Campion, Kathryn Bigelow, Chantal Akerman.

Not on this list but directors I have mixed feelings about (tho ultimately admire): Sally Potter, Julie Taymor, Catherine Breillat.

Not on this list because I can't abide them: Miranda July, Sofia Coppola, Lena Dunham. If I were Macbeth, they'd be the 3 Weird Sisters.

10. Dee Rees: Pariah wasn't perfect but a promising debut and an interesting new voice.

9. Maryam Keshavarz: Like Pariah, Circumstance makes some rookie mistakes but I'm very excited to see what she does next.

8. Kelly Reichardt: an old hand in the indie world, she carries the neglected torch for low key American Indies proudly.

7. Sarah Polley: Away From Her was an impressive debut. Looking forward to her follow up.

6. Ava DuVernay: a veritable one woman movement. Her arrival gives one hope Black Cinema will soon mean something again.

5. Tanya Hamilton: I pray to the God of Cinema that she gets to follow up Night Catches Us very soon.

4. Andrea Arnold: Red Road took days to shake, and Fish Tank is one of the best films in recent years.

3. Nicole Holofcener: Every inch the auteur and an excellent TV director as well. Very rare.

2. Lynne Ramsay: I would never have forgiven Peter Jackson if his hijacking of The Lovely Bones had driven her to retire.

1. Claire Denis: Arguably the best woman in film today. That French Cinema is finally dealing w/ non-whites is hugely her doing.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Top 25 Films of 2011

It was a year in which real life (Gabby Giffords, Egypt, bin Laden, Qadhafi, Occupy Wall Street) threatened to make the cinema look boring. The medium continues to change radically. We now see the end of 35mm film as we know it on the horizon. The box office foundered but sequels ruled the day. Conventional exhibition continues to contract as new modes of consuming media continue to expand.

1. Mildred Pierce – USA – Todd Haynes
2. We Need To Talk About Kevin – USA/UK – Lynne Ramsay
3. The Tree of Life – USA – Terrence Malick
4. This Is Not A Film – Iran – Jafar Panahi (and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb)
5. A Separation – Iran – Asghar Farhadi
6. Beats, Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest – USA – Michael Rapaport
7. House of Tolerance – France – Bertrand Bonello
8. Drive – USA – Nicolas Winding Refn
9. Certified Copy – France – Abbas Kiarostami
10. Midnight in Paris – USA/Spain – Woody Allen
11. George Harrison: Living in the Material World – USA – Martin Scorsese
12. Hugo – USA – Martin Scorsese
13. Kinyarwanda – USA/Rwanda – Alrick Brown
14. Cave of Forgotten Dreams – USA/UK/Germany/France/Canada – Werner Herzog
15. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – USA – Rupert Wyatt
16. A Dangerous Method – Canada/UK/Germany – David Cronenberg
17. Young Adult – USA – Jason Reitman
18. Shame – UK – Steve McQueen
19. Meek’s Cutoff – USA – Kelly Reichardt
20. Melancholia – Denmark – Lars Von Trier
21. City of Life and Death – China – Lu Chuan
22. Crazy Stupid Love – USA – Glen Ficarra & John Requa
23. Circumstance – France/USA/Iran – Maryam Keshavarz
24. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – Thailand – Apichatpong Weerasethakul
25. Cinema Verite – USA – Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini

Special Award: this year’s Enter The Void award goes to Sucker Punch. I am convinced that whether he knew it or not, Zack Snyder dissected the id of Fanboy Culture and forced the audience to ponder why such tropes as cute girls with katanas and video game narratives are catnip to much of the ComicCon set. The film paid a price for being more than fan service.

Performances (a few performances that have stayed with me): Kim Wayans & the cast of Pariah, Albert Brooks in Drive, Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love, Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Reza Safai in Circumstance, the entire cast of A Separation, Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia, Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids, Patton Oswalt in Young Adult

Great Comebacks of 2011:
1. 3D- just as everyone had turned their back on the format as a gimmick or an excuse to gouge the customer, several filmmakers (minor figures like Spielberg, Scorsese, Herzog, Wenders) took up the format and proved that (like sound, color, or widescreen) 3D is a tool in the filmmakers kit that can be used very effectively.
2. Lynne Ramsay- after almost abandoning her craft after the heartbreak of having The Lovely Bones hijacked by Peter Jackson, the Scottish director returned, with a vengeance.
3. Iranian Cinema – The Green Revolution finally caught up with the beleaguered filmmaking of Iran. Some were exile films, one was a film about house arrest. But all are galvanized by the movement of the people against their government.

Animation: Bad year for the medium, but Uncle Steven deserves special mention for doing things with MoCap that no one else has (sorry Zemeckis). Somehow Spielberg is the first filmmaker to make his MoCap figures not look like dead-eyed zombies (even though some idiot critics decided it was easier to dismiss them as such).

Big Damn Genius Award: Giorgio Moroder- the Austrian composer didn’t compose a note to any films in 2011, but his sound was inescapable.
Runner up: Kit Nolan didn’t release a single film this year, but the shadow cast by Inception was long and his trailer to 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises has caused a ruckus. He proves that great filmmaking is more important than marketing rainmaking alone.

Best Trailer: David Fincher’s crackling teaser to his ultimately unnecessary remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was far superior to the film itself.

Steel Drum (for the person who should be sealed into a steel drum and dropped into the deepest part of the ocean): Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. What were they thinking? They cornered a market, put out of business much of their competition, then decided to implode. The corporate brand of capitalism is akin to a junkie’s need for drugs. It made Netflix damage their brand and overreach. Just gives us our DVDs and streaming and stop trying to conquer the world.
Films to also be placed in the Steel Drum:
The Artist – vacuous, manipulative dreck, sure to win Harvey another statue.
J. Edgar – facile, middle of the road, amoral nonsense by one of my idols.
Red State – woefully stupid, ideologically incoherent, the work of someone terminally immature.

Best Retrospective: Hands down, it was UCLA Film & Television Archive’s exhaustive look at the L.A. Rebellion. It was an embarrassment of riches that left a mark on me.

In Memoriam: LACMA’s Film Program (thanks Ian), Rocket Video, Laemmle’s Sunset 5.