Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Pete's Five Faves for 2012

By Pete Roche

Ah, yes.  It’s that time of year again when I apologize for not seeing a larger sample of films from which to draw for a year-end “Best Of” list.  Chances are you’ve seen a great many more worthwhile flicks in 2012 than I have; my every other trip to the cinema is for kiddy fare (some of which was quite good, actually).  But when it comes down to the titles being considered for Golden Globes and Oscars…I’m a little short.  ARGO?  No go.  HOBBIT?  Haven’t.  CLOUD ATLAS?  Passed me by.  LIFE OF PI?  Uh-uh.  So what follows is my humble list of favorites from 2012 (I'll catch those others later).  I’m not making any arguments to the Academy on behalf of these pics, but darned if I didn’t enjoy watching them.  And that's what it's all about.

THE GREY. Liam Neeson wins Man of the Year in my book. He returned as ex-CIA dad Brian Mills in TAKEN 2, popped up in a DARK KNIGHT RISES flashback, and reprised his role as Zeus in WRATH OF THE TITANS. Then there was this existential zinger, which feels like it came out ages ago but was actually released in January 2012. Neeson is John Ottway, a sharpshooter working for some major oil concern in Nowheresville, Alaska—and whose emotional problems run deeper than director Joe Carnahan lets on at first. A plane crash dumps Ottway and a gaggle of other “felons and assholes” in the cold, unforgiving wild without any means of communication. When a resident wolf pack threatens the interlopers, Ottway and company must hoof it through the elements or die. If the plane crash didn’t kill you, the wolves still might. Then there’s hypoxia, hypothermia, starvation, and drowning. Fun, spiritually gripping stuff. Very Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Albert Camus. Any movie that starts with the hero contemplating suicide and ends with him taping knives and broken bottles to his fists so he can fight an Alpha male timber wolf for the very life he was determined to extinguish is gonna receive high marks on my scorecard.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.  We couldn’t have asked for a more solid conclusion to Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which reinvented the pointy-eared DC Comics character for today’s cynical / mature crowd. Christian Bale returns as Bruce Wayne, who’s been in hiding for most of the eight years following the events of THE DARK KNIGHT. But the arrival of mercenary Bane nudges Bruce out of retirement and back into the cowl for a battle he may not survive. Nolan (and brother Jonathan) pace this thing just right. Plot holes? Maybe a couple if you hunt for ‘em, but all in all it looks—and feels—great onscreen. One gets a sense of the “greater good” after watching this film. You know, that whole Spock-Zen spiel about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. Great turns from everyone involved: Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, even Anne Hathaway.

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.  I’ll admit this one’s almost too cute for its own good. But I really enjoyed Mark Duplass’ little indie rom-com with a time travel twist. Aubrey Plaza is terrific as Darius, a sad sack intern who accompanies jaded magazine reporter Jake Johnson on a trip to investigate the mystery man behind a fascinating classified ad. It’s no surprise when Darius hooks up with kooky Kenneth, but just about everything after is.  Duplass and Plaza apparently hail from popular television shows—but I don’t watch much TV and never heard of either of them until this.  Heck, just this week I learned Jason Segel was a regular on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER before he jumped over to movies.  
MOONRISE KINGDOM (Review by Bob Ignizio).  Not my favorite Wes Anderson movie. But for me Wes Anderson movies are like pizzas:  They’re never bad; they’re just varying degrees of good. Instead of focusing on another band of adult misfits (ROYAL TENENBAUMS, DARJEELING LIMITED) or animals (FANTASTIC MR. FOX), the reigning King of Quirk sets his sights on outcast kids. The story follows the parallel—and intersecting—paths of a geeky boy scout and a brooding girl on an island in New England circa 1965. Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, and Bruce Willis are the adults / parents with credible “big people” problems. And hey, the narrator is Bob Balaban—the guy who helped program HAL-9000 in 2010 and booked Roy Neery’s flight on a spaceship in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND!

SKYFALL.  The twenty-third James Bond film is a flawed gem—but we’re talking really small flaws. Director Sam Mendes does so many good things during the first act—from “killing” 007 and setting up his “resurrection” to subjecting Dame Judy Dench to the terrorism of Javier Bardem’s phantom menace—that it’s easy to forgive the slow midsection. He also wraps things up nicely, bringing gadget-man (okay, quartermaster) Q and secretary Moneypenny back to MI6 in the emotionally satisfying epilogue. But that second hour is sluggish and derivative, and the ending anticlimactic; Daniel Craig’s super-agent lets himself be tracked to his Scottish estate, where he plays HOME ALONE with Bardem’s baddies. There’s a lot of callbacks (and firsts) here for the 007 canon. Moneypenny is an African-American hottie who makes a go at field work before jockeying a desk, and the new Q is a young hipster computer genius. Bardem’s villain is as gruesome as he is gay—but he’s underused (Can you even remember his name?) His entrance is grand, but doesn’t occur until the seventy-minute mark.

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