By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com
2012 = 10 + 23
Forthcoming 2013 releases that will brighten further lists: Something In The Air (Olivier Assayas); Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley); Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig); The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer); Tabu (Miguel Gomes); Barbara (Christian Petzold), Ginger & Rosa (Sally Potter), The Deep (Baltasar Kormákur); and After Lucia (Michel Franc). There’s a lot of catch-up and re-think in this pile-up, versus lists I made earlier for Newcity and the list I submitted to indieWIRE. (A separate documentary list is linked here.) Extra linkage coming shortly, too.
1. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow) “I’m the motherfucker that found this place… sir.” [Review.]
2. Oslo, August 31 (Joachim Trier) Trier’s second feature all but trembles with life, especially in Anders Danielsen Lie’s central performance, rich with splendid, galvanic moment-to-moment awareness. [Review.]
3. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson) “What kind of bird are you?” “I’m a sparrow, she’s a dove, and—” Sam does not look away from Suzy as he interrupts, pointing: “No, I said, ‘What kind of bird are you?'” The other girls all look to Suzy. Pause. “I’m a raven.” [Review.]
4. Rust & Bone (Jacques Audiard) The year’s most tersely effective sequence of music and motion materializes when Stéphanie is alone on her rooftop deck as the sun falls and dusk turns to gold and smudge, and she sits, so alone, in her wheelchair, and she begins to move her arms, to wave her arms, to dance, yes, scored to Katy Perry’s “Firework,” just as an important earlier scene had been—”‘Cause baby you’re a firework / Come on, show ‘em what you’re worth / Make ‘em go, oh / As you shoot across the sky / Baby, you’re a firework / Come on, let your colors burst / Make ‘em go, oh /You’re gonna leave ‘em falling down”—and there’s a more-than-slightly acute framing where Stéphanie’s thin arm is across the frame, her palm and fingers are extended, covering the bottom half of her face, her large, large-lidded eyes bursting above the composition, the gesture, she moves her arm, and she smiles, slightly, only just, just so, and there’s a cut, the film remains in motion. Livid perfection. Cinema. The maudlin and therapeutic mush you’d expect is the farthest thing from hand. Audiard visits a physicality that isn’t necessarily female or male, but of the body, and toward the body, as in Cotillard’s wide, lidded eyes when she watches Schoenaerts punching and thumping and bleeding through illegal bare-fisted takedown fights: yes. Fear. Pride. Envy. Empathy. Desire. Pride.
5. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) Tan grasses undulant in damp wind; the beauty of a face revealed by the glow of an oil lamp. Lightning briefly illumines a face carved onto slate-like stone as one of the characters sneaks away for a leak: a gentle, non-celluloid burst of imagery. Ceylan gently characterizes these men by dress, class indicated by a scarf here, the cut of a topcoat there, and a stopover in a hospitable rustic village deepens the undercurrents. The quest doesn’t end with a body, but with day, and the eddying outward of the stories the men have told each other, peeled away like an onion, where at the center there are only the purest of tears nature can provide. An autopsy is accompanied by children’s cries on a nearby playground: so blunt, it would seem; but so true and startling and right.
6. Looper (Rian Johnson) Looper plays off the suddenness of its protagonist’s actions: all is blotted in abrupt blasts. Looper‘s fury of detail isn’t the compacted syllabus of a young lifetime’s inspirations, as, say, The Matrix, but it’s one of the few recent movies to attempt such a full-blooded world in design and decor. Red is the dominant detail for many good reasons. [Review/interview.]
7. Life Without Principle (Johnnie To) Subdued yet precise, an intricately observed tale of the world financial crisis as experienced in Hong Kong: a subtler variation on the action film from an action master.
9. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr) “In this world there is no other world than this one,” cinematographer Fred Keleman told Robert Koehler in Cinema Scope. “There is no escape. It does not matter where you are, but who you are and how you deal with yourself and others, and the conditions of life of which death is surely an integral part.”
10. Miss Bala (Gerard Naranjo) Here’s the hombre to direct some J. G. Ballard. Naranjo, working with Hungarian cinematographer Mátyás Erdély composes action in fluent widescreen extended takes, choreographing the convulsiveness of violence, but action occurring in both in time and space, rather than being assembled from splinters in an editing room. The result draws from the mobile camera of Erdély’s countrymen like Béla Tarr and Miklos Jansco, but the macho-anti-macho lyricism of a director like Michael Mann as well. [Review.]
Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin). “Once there was a Hushpuppy…” A nowhere much like the outskirts of post-Katrina New Orleans, in an overlooked south Louisiana bayou, in a time much like pre-apocalypse Earth, where animal die-offs accelerate, floods are the norm, glaciers are melting and the seas are ever rising. It’s a world of despair and sustenance, a city on the sea, a place of floating fallen wonders, Waterworld writ small, beyond Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. And who is the savior to lead us from the sea to land, to tame the beasts loosed from arctic ice? A six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy who “lives with her daddy at the edge of the world.” She is tiny and she is mighty. Beasts can be read as an ecologically minded parable; a shout-out for self-sustaining community or, sure, it could instead be the fevered dreams and lyrical logorrhea of a poetically minded child. All this junk and blood comes off the screen as a fierce onslaught on images and music, structured less as drama than theme and repetition. There’s music and fireworks, and then there’s FIREWORKS and MUSIC: it’s a sound-and-image-drunk procession of entropic, cloacal beauty, an ambush on the senses, a bright and sodden cornucopia that draws barefaced influence from the collected work of Emir Kusturica.
Bullhead (Michael R. Roskam). Roiling shoulders. Sable shadow.
Cloud Atlas (Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski) “What is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”
The Color Wheel (Alex Ross Perry) “Have you ever sat in a pool and looked at the ocean?” A single line spoken by a compulsively verbal character seems at first affectedly literary, or maybe what would be a decent Steven Wright line, but in the end turns out to encapsulate the entire movie, lyrically, accurately, just so.
Compliance (Craig Zobel) Pat Healy is a magnificent creep and Ann Dowd is a model of beatdown latter-day complacency.
Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg) “The more visionary the idea, the more people it leaves behind. This is what the protest is all about. Visions of technology and wealth. The force of cyber-capital that will send people into the gutter to retch and die. What is the flaw of human rationality? It pretends not to see the horror and death at the end of the schemes it builds. This is a protest against the future. They want to hold off the future. They want to normalize it, keep it from overwhelming the present.”
Detention (Joseph Kahn) Joseph Kahn’s megameta nihilisploitation genre maelstrom gets an A+ if only for its endearing ADDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD. Suspended from the armature of high school movie memes, horror and otherwise, Kahn flaunts the entrails of movies from Back to the Future to The Breakfast Club, from Prom Night to Donnie Darko, nurturing an intense kinship to Heathers, and lifting from Freaky Friday, all careering giddily at tender velocity. “Eyes. Glazing,” his heroine, Riley (the starkly physical Shanley Caswell, playing a self-described “loser” who could only become a splendid adult) says. (She’s also handy with early-Winona-styled intonations.) Shameless, relentless and exceptionally pleased with itself, Detention is kind enough to be cruel beyond measure, yet also to be generous with its multimedia mayhem. There’s a raft of video-style gimcracks in the onrushing slipstream, but the snap-crackle-and-skinpop is subcutaneous in its speedy efficacy.
Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino) Django‘s meta-ending: there’s a button after the credits, where one of three convicts in a rolling cage look toward the man who’s exited their frame, out of their story, and asks: “Who was that [man]?” And the answer comes, reflexively, from a couple of people issuing from this advance screening: “Shaft. John Shaft.” At which point both stop, stand taller than an exclamation point. In 1858, the husband of Broomhilda von Shaft… Ah. Ha.
Footnote (Joseph Cedar). The sins of the son. The nitpicking of history, canonical and intimate. Philology as biting comedy.
Goodbye, First Love (Mia Hansen-Løve) Three features in, Hansen-Løve is one of the major French filmmakers. Non, just a major filmmaker.
The Grey (Joe Carnahan). The wisp of smoke that gently coils from dream, from the ceiling of the chill, sleeping passenger compartment. Electric fire or wraith? Does it have to be one or the other? A mystical moment before the march of bruised macho to the wolf-feinting end of the earth.
Holy Motors (Leos Carax). Mr. Oscar emerging from de Chirico-composed-and-lit catacombs followed by his accordion squadron through a cathedral performing “Let my Baby Ride” by RL Burnside as covered by one Doctor L. “Un, douze, merde!” indeed. In competition for best musical interval in a movie in 2012, alongside the second iteration of Katy Perry’s “Firework” in Rust & Bone for unlikely, emphatic majesty.
Keep the Lights On (Ira Sachs). Thimios Bakatakis’ intimate cinematography warms the chamber drama of Sachs’ compacted memory piece, as well as a haunting sense of location matched to action (or inaction).
Killer Joe (William Friedkin) Rockin’ the Alexa with Caleb Deschanel.
Life Of Pi (Ang Lee). Pi‘s delirious, deliquescent prettiness is akin to the color-mad fantastication of The Conformist by Bernardo Bertolucci, Vittorio Storaro and Fernando Scarfiotti, or Tarsem’s The Fall. “Why would a lotus flower hide in the forest?” a character justly asks, a touch of likely unintentional self-reference.
Lincoln (Steven Spielberg). The Tradition of Quality is a good thing.
The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev). The sound and look of a new place. A new life after a sudden fraction.
Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh) It took under a second to want to love Magic Mike, and a fragment of a second that’s missing at the very very very very last shot of the movie seals it with a kiss. Opening with the 1970s Warner Bros. studio rollout—a wide screen filled with red with a white-on-black studio logo in its center—and the words, “Let’s fucking get it on tonight,” Mike immediately jabs. (Haywire‘s got its kicks, too.)
The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson). Let us turn to today’s reading from Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow.” “Pavlov believed that the ideal, the end we all struggle toward in science, is the true mechanical explanation. He was realistic enough not to expect it in his lifetime. Or in several lifetimes more. But his hope was for a long chain of better and better approximations. His faith ultimately lay in a pure physiological basis for the life of the psyche. No effect without cause, and a clear train of linkages.”
Skyfall (Sam Mendes) You want moody superheroes showing their human side? Bring Roger Deakins along for the flight.
Starlet (Sean Baker): The insistent halation of the images make Jane seem whiter-than-white, near-translucent, but streets and parks also hum, promising the San Fernando Valley as an illusion of tranquility, torpor, a giddy blindedness. It matches Jane’s guileless character, Hemingway’s blissed-innocent performance.
Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley) “What’s the matter with you, generally. You seem restless, in a kind of permanent way.” As a screenwriter, Polley is as pointillist as a short-story writer and as bold as a signboard painter: big and little gestures mix in winning measure. Her summer-steeped Toronto is ripe and boldly colored, and Luc Montpelier’s cinematography is as lucid (and lucent) as Polley’s generosity to her characters. And costume designer Lea Carlson provides Margot with a succession of audacious yet telling summer garb, from one particular white-pinspot-on-red summer dress to a range of warmly colored tees, skirts, short-shorts and espadrilles and sandals.
Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold) Arnold finds surfaces and glances that reveal inner states, as if a conjuror of emotional weather. Her bold, raw, pungent, insistently animal adaptation of Wuthering Heights takes her weather to literal extremes, shooting during inclement torrents in fall across the North Yorkshire moors. There’s glum splendor to spare in Robbie Ryan’s begrimed but luminous photography, and Arnold’s casting of Cathy and Heathcliff at two different ages is fine: faces stay still as a world around them swirls. Rain and fog obscure a sufficient number of scenes to suggest the film, like glass itself, is somehow faultily annealed, one with the building craft of the era. The sound design takes the place of a score, and it’s heart-swirling, too.