Sunday, July 29, 2012

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First Half of 2012: The Favorites

It's probably about time we get to finishing the Halfway Point Review...since it's almost August and all. When last we met, I went over twenty-four films that I hated, forgot, or just liked all right. The majority of films, of course, fall into the middle ground, a fact that seems lost in the insta-judgments you find on the Internet. But there are always films that stand up above the rest. They may not be better than the others, but they connected with me more, and I feel a desire to see them again (The Devil Inside almost made it here).

So, the sixteen 2012 films released between January and June that I will make a point to re-watch are:

Just Made It

Mirror, Mirror
Much as I liked Snow White and the Huntsman, Tarsem's earlier-released, family-friendly fantasy was more tonally consistent, more solid in its storytelling, with a more game ensemble. Armie Hammer's the stand-out, but this is not to give short shrift to adorable Lily Collins and the dwarf ensemble, each one distinct and charming.

Guilty Pleasures
This Means War
Chemistry between the actors, confident direction, tight editing. Fun time.

What to Expect When You're Expecting
I'm a little surprised that this one made it this far, but the heart wants what it wants. While not the most brilliantly-written or beautifully-acted ensemble film (actually, some parts are just plain terrible), there's no denying its effectiveness when it works. Elizabeth Banks, Rodrigo Santoro and Anna Kendrick are all delivering, performance-wise, but one should also credit the writers for the sudden quality in crafting these more complex characters.

Great Stuff

The Avengers
Marvel's multi-million dollar gamble paid off, with a great bit of that due to Joss Whedon's expert handling of an ensemble. You don't have to travel far on the Internet to find tracts praising Whedon and his actors; suffice it to say that, with one or two exceptions, I agree wholeheartedly. Alan Silvestri's invigorating score, too, is worthy of honors.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
I've written about this film before, so let me just briefly reiterate that it's a slight but delightful charmer anchored by solid turns from Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson. And those costumes!

The Cabin in the Woods
Clever, funny, and more than a bit gory: just the way I like it! A fun deconstruction of the horror genre, it thrills without ever being really scary. And that's not a bad thing. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford seem to be having a ball.

John Carter
Remember my review? Great visuals, moving score, Lynn Collins.

Men in Black III
I'm actually a fan of the second one, yet I was still surprised that this turned out as well as it did. Josh Brolin's dead-on embodiment of the younger Tommy Lee Jones was uncanny, almost scarily so. But perhaps the greatest shocker was the emotional resonance of the script, as it dealt with the father-son relationship between J and K while also exploring regret, responsibility, maturity, and free will. I teared up more than once.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits
Trust Aardman: they always deliver on the briskly-executed, cleverly-written stop-motion comedies. I would also rank it as the best Hugh Grant performance I've ever been seen. Or heard, rather. And I trust there won't be many times where I can say Charles Darwin made me laugh out loud.

Certainly, much of the script is complete nonsense. But give credit where it's due: I never thought about it while watching the movie. The direction, the acting, the cinematography, the visual effects, the score, THE SCORE, the editing....all distracted from inconsistent characters and slipshod plotting. There's a reverent feel throughout the film, and it's hard not be awestruck by the visuals. And again, the real standout is the score, composed by Marc Streitenfeld, evoking the sense of wonder we see in Noomi Rapace's face as she explores the origins of man.

It finally happened! I enjoyed Jennifer Aniston in a movie! But no, that's not the only reason it shows up here. First of all, it's an apt satire of both materialism and the romanticizing of the commune lifestyle. Secondly, director/co-writer David Wain and his fellow The State alums consistently -- miraculously, really -- balance their absurd, over-the-top sense of humor with characters that feel genuine. This is especially impressive in the cases of nudist vintner Joe Lo Truglio and lush housewife Michaela Watkins, both of whom could have been one-joke caricatures, and instead wind up being sympathetic and relatable, in some weird way.

The Sublime
21 Jump Street
Hilarious and surprisingly moving, one of the few films I saw twice in the theater (in as many days, I think). Proved Channing Tatum's mettle as a comic leading man, and guaranteed my falling in love with Brie Larson.

Although it is, perhaps, the least ambitious of Pixar's output so far, for me this ranks alongside Finding Nemo and the Toy Story films. The film effortlessly flits between comedy and drama, with the impeccable voicework by Kelly Macdonald and Emma Thompson anchoring the film's emotional arcs. Rousing score, lovely songs, breathtaking visuals....need I go on?

Damsels in Distress
Dry yet over the top, Whit Stillman's deadpan take on college, self-discovery, and reinvention had me chuckling more than laughing, but I definitely wanted to revisit when it was all over. Great as Greta Gerwig usually is, this was the first time I felt her peculiar acting quirks were properly utilized. Analeigh Tipton continues to impress, but it was Megalyn Echinkunwoke who stole the film out from under everyone else. And there are dance numbers!

Moonrise Kingdom
Lit with the bright haze of a summer memory, this surely must be the most gorgeous film Wes Anderson's offered us. It's woozily nostalgic with a bittersweet flavor, as we recognize the naive passions and awkward realities of young love. As young runaway Sam, Jared Gilman fits comfortably into Anderson's world, dances with an a-rhythmic fearlessness, and has the best line of the film ("I love you, but you have no idea what you're talking about"). As the sad, somewhat dim, lonely Chief of Police, Bruce Willis gets the meatiest role he's had in years, and of course gives a touching performance as a melancholy yet hopeful man. When I recommend this to people, I use the word BEAUTIFUL. And it is.

The Raid: Redemption
There's about one scene of exposition before everything goes nuts in Welsh director Gareth Evans' Indonesia-set actioner about a SWAT team trapped in a high rise ruled by a ruthless drug kingpin. Some of the best technical work of the first half, with the score, editing, cinematography and sound working together to amp up the tension for a breathless 100 minutes. It's a relief when you can finally exhale.


Andrew K. said...

But is BRAVE really the least ambitious of the Pixar oeuvre? I hesitate to call it my favourite especially since I'm not an especially big fan of them generally, but the film offers so many more interesting and thought provoking facets than I usually find with them generally and it works in a way that makes me really like it.

Also, Kelly MacDonald.

Unknown said...

Yay, I love getting focus in the long list of movies I haven't seen. I really loved Brave. During the first quarter I thought to myself: "They're pouring on modern girl values, but if she still winds up married at the end of this, I am going to puke." But what it really turned out to be was a story about a mother/daughter relationship. I can't recall an instance where Disney's done that before. It was delightful.