Everyone loves lists, right? RIGHT? Well, here’s yet ANOTHER list compiled from someone with zero professional writing credits…YET I am nothing if not a lady who loves to attend movies, so here they are, in alphabetical order:
Ben Affleck really comes into his own as a director in this yarn about a CIA operative (Affleck), who leads the rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. The film is taut, suspenseful, hilarious and features many convincing late ‘70s mustaches, ginormous glasses frames, polyblend fabrics and an unforgettable Alan Arkin as a potty-mouthed film producer. Also: wonderful turns by John Goodman (who is apparently in every movie this year) and Bryan Cranston (who was in every movie last year).
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
What can I say about this fantastical, bleak, moving portrayal of squalor, love and survival in the Louisiana bayou that hasn’t already been said? That it’s completely weird and original? That it features prehistoric Aurochs and melting ice-caps? That leads with names like Hushpuppy and Wink are not based on comic strip characters from 1932? Go see it for six year-old Quvenzhané Wallis’s mad skills as an unbelievably convincing little girl living in poverty while trying to survive a shitload of misfortune and drama with grace, grit and the best scream EVER. I want her to win an Oscar, not just so she’d be the youngest Best Actress of all time (and completely deserves it), but also because I selfishly want to hear that scream again.
This gem sort of flew under the radar and I didn’t get to catch it in the theaters. Luckily, it was released on DVD, like, two days after its last theater showing. Directed by Richard Linklater, this is a kind of docu-dramedy about the murder of a horrid octogenarian millionaire by her gentle, much-younger male companion, Bernie Tiede. Now, I have never been a real champion of Jack Black — I pretty much agree with my Mom in her assessment that he looks like an “evil grimacing kitty” — but he really threw me for a loop here as the gentle, generous, loving, closeted Bernie, a devoted pillar of his small Texas community. Black has never portrayed a character so real and nuanced and essentially good, and he totally breaks your heart when the deed is finally done. Shirley MacLaine is at her witchy, grumpy, stingy best as the victim, but you can’t help but root for poor Bernie in the end.
I know a few folks thought this story of a brilliant yet extremely alcoholic pilot meandered in the middle with all the love-story business, but Denzel Washington’s performance easily makes this one of my faves of the year. The opening of the movie, featuring an astounding sequence where pilot William ‘Whip’ Whitaker (Washington) makes the insane decision to roll his plane into an inverted position and then maneuver it right-side up before landing, is worth the price of admission all by itself. What immerses you for the rest of the story is Washington’s phenomenal portrayal of a man struggling with his vices while knowing full-well that the one thing he excels in could be snatched away from him at any moment. Flight also features John Goodman as Whip’s drug-dealer/friend Harling Mays, who adds a much needed jolt to the third act.
Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln! Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln! Steven Spielberg as director! Tony Kushner as screenwriter! Tommy Lee Jones in a terrifying wig! Okay, okay, you got me, I’ll sit on my ass for three hours. But what really wowed me was the film’s cavalcade of A-List character-actors like David Strathairn, Hal Holbrook, James Spader, John Hawkes and Jackie Earle-Haley — the prospect of watching them bluster on about 19th century amendments, bribes and negotiations while adorned in velvet waistcoats, turnover collars and cravats was all this gal needed! Oh, and there was something in there about the Emancipation Proclamation, too, and the end of the Civil War.
6. The Master
I am biased when it comes to Paul Thomas Anderson. There Will Be Blood is probably my favorite movie of the last decade, but this film was also pretty absorbing. Joaquin Phoenix transforms himself into a grimacing, humping, giggling rage gnome as Freddie Quell, a WWII veteran trying desperately to conform to postwar society (and not doing a very good job of it, what with the constant drunkenness and assaulting of random pudgy dudes in department stores). Eventually, he becomes indoctrinated by Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd, the leader of a cult movement in genesis known as “The Cause” that may or may not be based on Scientology. The film has a wonderfully hypnotic score by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and the cinematography, like all of P.T. Anderson’s films, is breathtaking. Shot on 65 mm film, it really should be viewed on the big screen: there are some gorgeous shots of the ocean rolling, and insanely intimate character close-ups. But the most compelling aspect of The Master is the constant reversal of power between Freddie and Dodd in a relationship that’s paternalistic, then combative, then almost romantic. Their strange nexus is what really drives this movie. Also, Amy Adams plays against type as Dodd’s frightening badass spouse, who really wears the pants in the relationship.
Daniel Craig is back for the 23rd installment of the franchise and it’s everything a Bond movie should be, with an unforgettable villain, his gorgeous female associate, incredible action sequences, exotic locales and the unfailing wisdom of M, played effortlessly by Dame Judy Dench. This is the first time I have seen a Bond film with Daniel Craig, and although he doesn’t really have the wit of Roger Moore or the charm of Sean Connery, his 007 brings a menacing charisma that’s undeniable. The best scenes are where he goes toe-to-toe with Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva, a bitter, tragic, towheaded creep with questionable sexuality. I could watch those two play off each other for hours, and the opening credits featuring the buttery vocals of Adele gave me goosebumps I hadn’t felt since The Spy Who Loved Me.
8. Shut Up and Play the Hits
A documentary following LCD Soundsystem frontman, James Murphy over a 48 hour period from the day of their final gig at Madison Square Garden to the morning after the show. You don’t necessarily have to be a fan of the band to enjoy the film, as Murphy’s appealing shaggy-dog humor and neurosis draw you into what is evidently an emotionally raw point in his life…but it wouldn’t hurt! I’m one of the many fans of the band who never got to see them perform live, since they were only around for a handful of years. The concert footage is spectacular, highly energetic and features cameos both onstage and off from comedian/singer Reggie Watts, members of Arcade Fire and Aziz Ansari. The most emotionally satisfying moment is the final number, “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”. Throughout the film, the camera keeps panning back to a young man who is clearly heartbroken over the finality of it all, with tears streaming down his face, looking completely bereft. If you are new to this band and see what they were capable of, especially in this last number, you might find a little something in your eye at the conclusion, too.
9. Your Sister’s Sister
This is a small, intimate character piece featuring humor, anxiety, sadness, sex, miscommunication and great dialogue written by director Lynn Shelton for stars Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and Mark Duplass. I recently watched an interview with Duplass, and his pompous ass was really irritating — in fact, 2012, besides being the Year of John Goodman, was pretty much jam-packed with this Indie Darling — but he was actually likeable in this one. The story is fairly simple, Iris (Blunt), invites her friend Jack (Duplass) to stay at her family’s cabin after the death of his brother, not realizing that her sister Hannah (DeWitt) is also crashing there. Once Jack and Hannah interact, the film whirls into a series of miscommunications, secrets, lies and confessions that are unpredictable, funny and poignant. Shelton also really captures the tenuous nature of close sibling relationships. Nothing explodes, it’s not a lazy sequel, it doesn’t feature a smut-mouthed stuffed bear and there is absolutely no one wearing Lycra, yet it’s still pretty damned entertaining.
Honorable Mention/Haven’t Seen:
It’s foreign! It’s a love story! It features a lovely, sensitive lady who suffers a debilitating stroke. I want to roll into a ball thinking about it and know I Should See It Because It Is Beautiful and Important But I Am Still Dealing With the Death of my Cat and when is Mad Men coming back on anyways?
Silver Linings Playbook
Supposed to be good but I just can’t with the Bradley Cooper and I wish Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver were the leads. Also, the title gives me the agita.
Frenchies dying/fomenting/singing/suffering in early 19th c. Victor Hugo world. Saw it the other night. Mayhaps it should be my number 10? But I doubt it because of…
Zero Dark Thirty
I love The Hurt Locker and Kathryn Bigelow and from what I’ve read everywhere, this controversial action-thriller looks unbeatable. Plus Jessica Chastain’s jawline and copper mane? C’mon.