Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011: The Year We Make Sequels

This was one funky year for movies. Not in the George Clinton sense, but in the "I'm in a funk" sense—it seemed like I was writing half-hearted reviews for mediocre films most of the year, and trying to eke some lame justification out of so many movies I considered merely "Matinees" at best.  The worst of it was this Summer, when it seemed like the movies were struck in the doldrums waiting for the merest whiff of a breeze for inspiration.  It was so dire that it made pulp films like X-Men: First Class and Rise of the Planet of the Apes seem relatively high-minded that they sought to play with the material—which is what movies should do in the first place.

Personally, it was an odd year.  Events in my life seemed to percolate into the writing so much that I contemplated sub-titling LNTAM "a personal journey through cinema."  Perhaps I was feeling things more this year and just needed to express them or maybe I was influenced by the writings of others (I'm looking at you, Andrew of Encore's Entertainment!), but I seemed to be taking to heart Roger Ebert's mantra (borrowed from Robert Warshow) “A man goes to the movies. The critic must be honest enough to admit that he is that man.”  I had to admit that what I was going through was impacting how I looked at films and the life-lessons that answered back.  Simultaneously, more people started visiting and reading, and just as things started to become consistent in the give-and-take, I started a "regular job" that took up so much time-space that I had to cut back in other areas, specifically the chunks of chronology spent in the dark, watching and the subsequent contemplation of what I absorbed.  Movies began becoming more of a duty than an escape and it became harder to set aside available lifetime to do justice to interpretation.  So, I cut back.  I had to put aside the expectations of others and due dates and just say, "it'll happen when it happens and 'they'll' just have to put up with it."  This led to the inevitable contemplation of whether LNTAM was a viable entity to be continued ("Whither LNTAM") and the answer to the riddle being "But, I like Swiss cheese!"  

Me, too.  So, we're still here, making it through another year and a summation of what's been seen (with no kicking myself for what wasn't).  They'll happen when they happen.  

I also noticed that one film-post had overtaken last year's most-looked-at article.  You'll never guess which one.  No, really, you won't, because not many of you saw it, but enough of you did (but probably caught it on video) that it quickly outdistanced the next most-read by a more than two to one margin.

The film and post: Conviction.  Probably because that film ("based on true events"), with Hilary Swank, the always-interesting Sam Rockwell, Minnie Driver, Melissa Leo and the amazing Juliette Lewis, touches on everyday concerns about having your life taken away from you and taking control of your life.  Maybe it's because director Tony Goldwyn and writer Pamela Gray took Orson Welles' maxim ("If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story") to the extreme.  Maybe it's because folks just wanted to know what the Waters family really looked like. In any case, the one review dominated people's searches this year.

I'm the worst judge of my own work—I always think my best review will be my next one—but, posts that I thought I did a decent job of putting together this year were My Favorite: Hitchcock (Um...this was supposed to be a series...) and Justify Your Shitty Taste: Don't Hate Hate Hate Me Because I like Crash.

So...let's summarize.  And because I hate (hate, hate) Ten Best Lists,* here's the collection of the Best, Semi-Best and Worst of the films I saw this year—the Gold, the Silver, and the Craptastic.

Full-Price Tickets

The King's Speech
The Fighter
The Way Back
The Illusionist (2010)
The Conspirator
Win Win 
The Tree Of Life
Crazy Stupid Love
Project NIM
Margin Call
The Descendants
The Muppets
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
My Week with Marilyn
War Horse
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy


I Love You, Philip Morris
No Strings Attached
Rabbit Hole
The Adjustment Bureau
Source Code
Water for Elephants
The Beaver
Everything Must Go
Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
X-Men: First Class
Midnight in Paris
Meek's Cutoff
Super 8
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2
Captain America: The First Avenger
Cowboys & Aliens
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Another Earth
Higher Ground
The Help
J. Edgar
Take Shelter
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Second guessing myself (and third and fourth), I would promote Meek's Cutoff To Full-Price, and drop The King's Speech (maybe), The Way Back (kinda), and The Conspirator (...still...it was really good and pertinent) to Matinee Status.  Of the Matinees, I would drop The Adjustment Bureau, Cowboys & Aliens, and Hanna to Rentals—I enjoyed them while they were unspooling, but time has revealed them to be somewhat empty exercises (although I still like the settler/alien parallels in C&A).  Time is cruel that way.

As an aside, because these crafts of the motion picture assembly process personally fascinate me:

Best sound-design of the year: The Tree of Life (Erik Aadahl, Craig Berkey, Will Files)

Best movie-score of the year: Hugo (Howard Shore)

Waste of Time

The Green Hornet
Sucker Punch
Your Highness
Atlas Shrugged, Part 1
30 Minutes or Less
Apollo 18

I left the theater from each of these films feeling like I needed to set my life-clock back two hours.  They're failures for various reasons.  Some are artistic failures (Zack Snyder put a lot of time and attention...and money...into Sucker Punch, trying to say something about women fighting their oppressors—while simultaneously objectifying and pigeon-holing them), some are just bad ideas (Seth Rogen as The Green Hornet?  Danny McBride...as anything—and that's not entirely fair, as he was fine in Up in the Air) and Atlas Shrugged (Part 1 and the only part—the producer said he wasn't going to make a subsequent one because of the nearly unanimous bad reviews, as if critics had any real economic impact on movie-making) was merely inept. Someone will make a great film of that book one day—the industry suppression of revolutionary ideas is a viable film subject, as Tucker: the Man and His Dreams, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Hudsucker Proxy and David Mamet's The Water Engine have shown), but the team who put together that travesty failed in every department.

It's funny—I thought there were only a couple films I thought were wastes of time, and was amazed that I'd forgotten so many of these. It's amazing how the mind heals.

Pieces of Time

Just as the first resurrected words out of Astronaut Taylor's mouth in the original Planet of the Apes are those of frustration and rage, so, too, is the simian Caesar's in Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  One of the most jarring surprises in that film, even though we should have seen it coming.

Alex, hearing of her mother's condition in the King's swimming pool, goes the only direction she can to "deal" and hide: down, and the tears are effectively hidden.  The Descendants.

A moment so intimate it's almost tangible in The Tree of Life that you might think you can feel the body-heat and smell of the moment—holding a baby in extreme close-up.

Joey's one moment alone in War Horse: trapped by a tank, there's only one way to go and it begins a pell-mell run through the trenches that is only stopped, tragically, and appropriately enough, in "No-Man's Land."

Brent (Jonah Hill) reacts to his first baseball deal.  Moneyball

The Help: The reveal of "the meeting." Woh, watch out.

Becca (Nicole Kidman) bitterly reacts to one of the harmless, but also useless, platitudes at the grief counseling class: "If God wanted another angel, why didn't he just make one...?"  Rabbit Hole

The barely perceptiple way George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) throat tightens when he turns around one of Control's (John Hurt) suspect chess-pieces and sees his own picture taped to it:Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

King Edward (Colin Firth) speaks, while Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) conducts to Beethoven's 7th Symphony, Second Movement  The King's Speech

A singular moment and passing thought in The Tree of Life, out of time and in context: a helpless dinosaur is left at river's edge when a velociraptor stalks and prepares to stomp...hesitates...and moves on. An origin of a species.

Marilyn in Wonderland:  Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) is given a tour of Windsor Castle by Colin's godfather Sir Owen Marseby (Derek Jacobi), where both tourist and tour-guide are equally charmed and charming.  My Week with Marilyn.

You notice lots of little things in Hugo: dust in the air?

The Muppet Movie:  It's not the first time they skewer movie-making illusion, nor will it be the last, but what happens when Jason Segel and Amy Adams leave the frame and somebody shouts "Okay, everybody, they've left!"

Buck Brannaman tersely does the best he can, and then, with nary a word, leaves in evident...and mute...disgust.  Buck

Hermione and Ron kiss, a rare moment of actual passion in the series: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2.

Probably the most awkward parent-teacher conference in history: Crazy Stupid Love.

Rabbit Hole again.  'Becca again.  Contemplating the multiple-universe theory (in a self-absorbed way): "Somewhere out there I'm having a good time."

Steven Spielberg unleashed by CGI: Tintin and co. chase the bad guys in a downhill switchback in one party-shredding, vehicle splintering, gravity-defying shot.  Bet the next CGI movie he does won't have a single edit in it.

If looks could kill—Charlize Theron in Young Adult.

Sometimes the Magic works, sometimes it doesn't: Corinne (Vera Farmiga): "I want that!" she says watching her friend speak in tongues, then, subsequently, in the bathroom, can't seem to summon it ("C'mon, Jesus...").  Bless her.

Biggest laugh (but mostly male) in a theater this year: Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) to third assistant director Colin (Eddie Redmayne): "Remember, boy, when it comes to women, you're never too old for humiliation."  My Week with Marilyn

Magneto's (Michael Fassbender) excruciatingly slow revenge against Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon): X-Men: First Class

Most profound lines from The Tree of Life: "The nuns taught us there were two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow. 

Grace doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. 

Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things."

Curtis (Michael Shannon) finally lets loose at the Elks dinner:  "There is a storm a' comin' and not ONE of you are prepared for it!"  Take Shelter

Can we acknowledge, please, the viability of motion-capture acting with Andy Serkis' deeply-felt performance in Rise of the Planet of the Apes?

Two scenes of subtle similarity: (Jessica Chastain, what a year for her) plants another rose-bush: The Help.  We glimpse crosses in the opening shots of Martha Marcy May Marlene, and later Marcy May (Elizabeth Olsen) will say: "He only has boys."

She (Elle Fanning) really IS good in that scene: Super 8

We never see Karla, the Russian spy-master (or do we?), but George Smiley re-enacts his meeting with him in 1955: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

The way Ryan Gosling's hand hangs in the air, in effete mock-horror) when he sees Steve Carell's velcro wallet: Crazy Stupid Love

It is a nice idea: "You made a 'period' mix-CD!"  ("Even Flow," "Red, Red Wine," "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" and ("It's the kicker") Frank Sinatra: "I've Got the World on a String") No Strings Attached.

The randomness of thought put to film: the palpable sense, of The Tree of Life that you're watching a stream of consciousness, a journey of memory and reverie that will explode with personal recognition with every subsequent viewing.  Terrence Malick has moved cinema from recreation of world-experience into the simulation of contemplation.

Yes, the song, anachronistically, didn't come out until years after the events of the film, but they couldn't have picked a better song for the final scene in Moneyball than "Just Enjoy the Show."

And...Lest We Forget.

* Oh, I read them, sure, but I don't enjoy the cut-and-paste brevity of the opinions, with little regard for relative merit and context, and I especially hate writing them, squeezing out good films for numerical consistency...plus, it gives me a chance to look at my output and critique myself...("Hmmm, not so bad, but dropped the ball on that one).  Also, Ten Best Lists give critics a chance to be puffed-up judges with an innate sense of "My opinion is important and these are the great films for this year" (even if you only saw them a week ago—that's some perspective there, buddy, give me a break).  Ten Best Lists?  Let's see what it looks like in five years.


Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

First off, thanks a bunch for the shoutout. I'm very humbled by it, and sort of bashful especially since I don't know what to do with compliments.

Secondly, I get you on top tens but I'm way to pragmatic (and pretentious) to do away with ranking things even though I was thinking today how I need to write about how ranking things makes the "things" being ranked lose a great deal of their goodness.

Thirdly, I SO get you on the funk. So many of my reviews felt like they took blood, sweat and tears and it's gotten to the point where I question my enjoyment. All the points you make about the movie year are sage.

Fourthly, and most importantly, I LOVE the citations of Rabbit Hole - my favourite 2010 film and possibly one I liked more than any in 2011.

Mike Lippert said...

Your paragraph about how bad movies made ones like Apes seem like something worthwhile is about how I felt about Drive, something apperently everyone else loved to death.

As for writing less, I feel ya, but my theatre is quality over quantity, which seems to be your approach as well.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Andrew, it's always a pleasure to see you here and read your thoughts, whether you agree with me or not. I appreciate the feedback from you, always.

Mike: Oh, no, Drive for me was the in-bred love-child of Flashdance and Taxi Driver. Yep, it's pretty. It even has some good ideas in its empty little head (and Albert Brooks is terrific in it...), but, criminy, what a silly, romantic view of psychothapy. Gee-yaw...At least Scorsese's film had a CONSCIENCE (but, then, again, this one's set in Californioa...).

Mike Lippert said...

Yojimbo - Do you think Drive would have been better had it been directed by an American? I wonder this sometimes but then also realize that it also feels like a filmmaker making up for a lack of interesting script so I'm not sure that would have been the case after all.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Actually, an American director (and that's a broad brush) would have denied it the elements of style that a "stranger-in-a-strange-land" director brought to the L.A. locations. And "style" is the one thing that set it apart.