Monday, February 18, 2013

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Top Ten: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

This year for the Hollmann Awards, we're counting down my Top Ten of the Year -- one entry per day, coupled with two categories -- leading up the naming of Best Picture of the Year.

#6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
dir: Stephen Chbosky
wr: Stephen Chbosky, from his novel
cin: Andrew Dunn  

The surprise of the year for me was The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I didn't think much of the trailer, which had some good music looked like it was selling every high school movie I could think of ("we accept the love we think we deserve"? who says that?!). But I went to see it because my best friend recommended it and because I see everything. And I swear to you those tears started coming when titular wallflower Charlie got off that wall and joined in a dance to "Come On, Eileen". This movie got me, and we were only fifteen minutes in. Maybe less, I don't know.

One thing I love about the movie is its universality. If 21 Jump Street is a brilliant satire about the cliques in separate extremes, Perks of Being a Wallflower is about the rest of us, the kids in the middle who weren't the most popular or most hated or most nerdy, but just getting through those four years alive. And to them, they are the cool kids, because every group of friends knows that theirs is the best group to be a part of, where everyone really gets it. It took me back to when the whole world was the weekends I could spend with my friends, and reminded me of those crucial firsts in every teen's experience. We've all that first time with Rocky Horror, right?

And yet despite being applicable to all, the characters are not ciphers or stand-ins. The general events are universal, but the experience is specific, and I was grateful that there was no need to hold the audience's hand. I love that although the consistent subplot is Charlie's crush on Sam, the movie wasn't about unrequited, or even requited, love, dedicating time to closeted gay teens, charitable dating, abusive relationships, and repressed trauma. It never felt condescending or self-important, but another aspect of someone's life, like getting to know one of your friends better.

Few films so perfectly execute both, but Perks is that rare gem. It sees things, and it understands. And also? "We accept the love we think we deserve" is genius in context.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower just lost Cinematography to Skyfall, but it's also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor. And yes, we're doing both right now.


5. Rust and Bone
screenplay Jacques Audiard/Thomas Bidegain
based on the short story collection by Craig Davidson
I have a thing for single narratives made of an assemblage of short stories, but this is an especially superb one. Everything fits together so perfectly that it seems ridiculous to think it's culled together from two different plot threads, much less that the animal trainer is originally a man. The desperation, frankness and surprising humor are organically integrated.

4. 21 Jump Street
screenplay by Michael Bacall
story by Michael Bacall/Jonah Hill
based on the television series
Funny and touching. Offers great lines and sets up beautiful moments, whether they be awesome (the car chase), awesomely hilarious (the HFS moments), hilariously touching (asking each other to prom) or just plain touching (the whole Brie Larson plot). Pays off everything sublimely.

3. Cloud Atlas 
screenplay by Tom Tykwer/Andy Wachowski/Lana Wachowski
based on the novel by David Mitchell
Finds and invents the right threads to connect the stories together, telling a fully coherent story that depicts the great human experience, both real and imagined. Accomplishing the adaptation of an experimental, 500-page opus whose narrative conceits are so closely tied to the act of writing is no easy feat, but they've found a way to do so cinematically.

2. Lincoln
screenplay by Tony Kushner
based on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Mature, intelligent dialogue that sounds genuine in its thoughtful composition and snappy temperaments. Traverses muddied waters diplomatically while still holding up with heroic praise those on the right side of history. We can't be honest all the time.

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
screenplay by Stephen Chbosky
based on his novel
Warm, specific, universal, empathetic. See this whole entry for context.


5. Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz
Django Unchained 
Perfection as the German bounty hunter who takes his goodness for granted, then realizing that only getting involved when it's convenient is not the same as being on the side of the angels. A subtle arc that plays out in his increasingly sickened, concerned expression, even as he purrs over his own mastery of the English language.

4. Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln

Shows the warmth, humility and humor of the man, while also developing the stubborn,  at times deceitful, maritally distant weirdo. A president that you can easily see people not "getting" or disliking, but also the president we've always dreamed of. Such tired understanding in his eyes, too! 

3. Jamie Foxx as Django
Django Unchained 
If just for his first scene as a freeman bounty hunter, striking at his former overseers with a cathrtic vengeance. Or for the scene where he sees his wife taken out of the hot box, barely controlling his rage and tears, even after he allowed a slave to be ripped apart by dogs. Actually, for that scene, too, and every scene where Foxx revealed what he can do with his eyes.  The self-confident finale is icing on the cake.

2. Logan Lerman as Charlie
The Perks of Being a Wallflower 
For taking this shy, anxious high school freshman and making him bold but not outlandish, affectionate but not smothering, hopeful but not optimistic, lost but not helpless, wordlessly embracing everything even as he uses them as an escape. Sans judgment, avec empathy.

1. Matthias Schoenaerts as Alain van Versch
Rust and Bone
A jaw-dropping performance of raw humanity. He can be surprisingly generous and kind, but he can also be selfish and short-sighted, ignorant of others' feelings. His frank "services" are offered with genuine care -- not love (not yet), or sympathy, but the way one reaches out to a friend. The rare instances in which he becomes an animal, lashing out brutally, are shocking both because of the warmth we generally see, and the shame on his face as he watches himself get out of control.

Tough choice in the Adapted category, but Perks is the only film who screenplay I felt necessary to obtain and keep. So, you know. Anyway, that's three nominations and one win. It's worth noting that it took me two days to decide if it was #6 or #5. And I'm still not sure if I made the right choice.  I do love it, though.

Previously: #7. 21 Jump Street
#8. Moonrise Kingdom
#9. Skyfall
#10. Beasts of the Southern Wild

1 comment:

Andrew K. said...

Semi-squealing delightfully at your choice for #1.

Also, lovely thoughts on PERKS. Whitman is perhaps by MVP with Lerman and Miller behind but the entire cast is impressive, such deft bit turns from smaller players like the third girl of the group who has a non-specific arc but seems so real.