Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Films of 2012

1. Moonrise Kingdom

It is difficult to be impartial in regards to Wes Anderson’s films, being a huge fan of his work.  Several critics think that everything Wes Anderson has ever done has been leading to this film. It's the most precise, mannered and art-directed movie that's come along in quite some time, the camera work is amazing and it has become his personal signature, this will make your head explode. Sure, this deliciously quirky film had a good profile as Wes Anderson continued to entice every star in Hollywood into making his quirky, not-so-little films. The characters are sort gooey, syrupy delight from the first frame until the last.  I felt I have met some of these kids before. “Moonrise Kingdom” proves that you can be playful and fantastic while expressing deep sentiment at the same time.  The film is timeless and ironic without ever being post-modern.

“Moonrise Kingdom” covers the usual ground of a Wes Anderson film, repressed angst and/or dysfunctional families, but combines those elements with the youthful playfulness of “Fantastic Mr. Fox”. Aside from being visually gorgeous in terms of photography and cinematography, the film has a Mise-en-scéne that is at once stunningly sophisticated and hilariously funny. Almost all of the shots contain some kind of visual gag, symbolism or iconography. Strip away the sharp dialogue and hauntingly beautiful soundtrack, and you’d still be left with a film that tells a funny and interesting story through visuals alone.

2. The Master

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. This film is troubling and enigmatic, with great acting jobs.  The film is inspired by the early career of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. It tells the story of a damaged man played Joaquin Phoenix, who seeks healing from a charismatic fraud and finds what he is looking for.
The work of Paul Thomas Anderson’s has a fantastic trajectory and has touched upon several topics. “There Will Be Blood” was about entrepreneurial capitalism; “The Master” was about entrepreneurial religion, gimmicky philosophy. Dodd played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman is giving America a new vernacular belief, or rather self-belief, with a little of this and a little of that. Bits and pieces are taken from religion and pop science and science fiction, Quell, intoxicated by the Master's rhetoric, shows his own parallel genius for being the life and soul of the party by brewing up booze. Almost by magic, he can create fiendishly addictive hooch from fruit, bread, medicine drugs, anything. Dodd and Quell have a match made in sociopath heaven, and there is a kind of covert, erotic excitement in their association.
It is a difficult, challenging and, at times, opaque movie, which does not have the narrative of a conventional Hollywood product. Unconvinced audiences have praised the performances but complained about the lack of "story". It's an understandable reservation, but I think Anderson is offering something closer to a colossally ambitious portrait, or dual portrait which is difficult to achieve, a master cineaste like P.T. Anderson, in every film he is embarking on new territories in storytelling. We need to recognize Phoenix's painfully intense performance makes this in my criteria one on this year’s best.

3. Amour

Directed by Michael Haneke. If you are a fan of 60’s French films, this is the opportunity to see some of those film stars. This is a tender, wrenching, impeccably directed story of love and death, the French-language film stars Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant as a Parisian couple in their 80’s, Georges and Anne, struggling with an increasingly debilitating illness and the specter of what comes next. One day over breakfast she suffers a frightening episode that leaves her briefly locked in a mute, seemingly unaware blankness. She’s there, but not, and then just as suddenly she returns. The plot works around a hospital stay followed along with an operation, a grim prognosis, a slide into helplessness, the expected accumulation of humiliations, natural and not, and swells of emotion.
Amazing French screen legends Jean-Louis Trintignant from films like “A Man and a Woman”, “The Conformist” and Emmanuelle Riva the mysterious and beautiful woman from “Hiroshima, Mon Amour”, both now in their 80s, play an elderly Parisian couple of the haute-bourgeois cultural elite. Plus Best French actress the magnificent Isabelle Huppert. It has some shocking and confrontational moments, as well as unexplained twists and areas of controlled narrative ambiguity. This is perhaps, gathering from Haneke’s discussions about the film, a loving tribute to the passing away of a certain European class and generation. Both actors give performances of massive power and humanity.

4. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan's , it is a thriller as challenging as Antonioni's Blow-Up. I have read about the film and I really wanted to see it. As soon as the film started I realized it was truly a magnificent work.
Turkish film-maker Nuri Bilge Ceylan initially trained as an electrical engineer and worked as a commercial photographer until becoming a full-time director. Most critics think he is one of the most significant moviemakers to have emerged this century, an original figure in his own right and a major force in reviving a belief in the kind of serious, ambitious, European art-house cinema that was taken to new heights by Bergman, Tarkovsky, and Antonioni in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Ceylan used pared-down narratives with long takes and sparse dialogue to explore the ethical dilemmas of middle-class Turks, including the social and geographical contexts of their personal lives and the larger world that is shaping them. There is always, however, a mystery about his characters. This derives in part because Ceylan refuses to provide intrusive exposition. More significantly, it arises from his generous invitation to audiences to make up their own minds about what they are seeing.
As the title suggests, it's a sort of fable with a very specific location of his native land. It's also an exercise in popular genre cinema, in this case the crime scene investigation picture. The themes are universal and it could be reworked without much difficulty anywhere where people get casually killed and other people come together to tidy up the mess.
His finest work to date, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a carefully controlled masterpiece.

5. Damsels in Distress

Directed by Whit Stillman. I have been a fan of his films like “Metropolitan” 1990, “Barcelona” 1994, “The Last Days of Disco” 1998, So, I was waiting for this new film. I find entertaining that his characters revolve around this type of self-centered, East Coast, old-school yuppy types.    

The film creates a strange “chaste” college atmosphere. A surrealist romp through coeducational college where the men are complete idiots and the women are all suicidal. It's intensely silly, but once you get on its wavelength the language becomes music and you can't help but dance. I love Stillman’s screen world, it is a based on the comic, on the absurd and that is what makes it so appealing.

It is a comedy about a student, Violet (Greta Gerwig), who tries to revolutionize her college life. She and her faithful friends Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and Heather (Carrie MacLemore), welcome to the group an exchange student, Lily (Analeigh Tipton),  that appears as a nice person. It takes no time to flirt with Charlie (Adam Brody) and the "good guy" Xavier (Hugo Becker). But romantic complications occured with Violet in risk of losing.

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Directed by Benh Zeitlin. I was drawn to this film after I saw an interview with the director and the leading actor, Quvenzhané Wallis, I found the story of how this film got be as well as how it was casted fascinating. It is definitely a difficult film to explain. In his feature debut, director Benh Zeitlin has stirred up a magic pot of poetry, touching upon subjects like neo-realism, surrealism, pre-historic creatures, the ice age, childhood and lost cultures. The film is a symphony of curiosity that builds toward a glorious crescendo. It’s set on an island known as “The Bathtub,” located outside the Louisiana levees. It’s a forbidden land, off-limits according to the government, but misfits still inhabit it, living in makeshift shelters and using vehicles that would be at home in a post-apocalyptic world. If Zeitlin’s sheer ambition weren’t enough, the film’s young star and narrator, Quvenzhané Wallis, was born with a magnetic screen presence. Six-year-old Wallis injects Beasts with youthful verve. The story is told through her character’s curious eyes, and she emits so much lovable hope that it’s impossible not to follow her.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" appeared to be a smaller film. It was made as such. But this perfect first feature that tells the tale of Hushpuppy and her magical world proved to be everything Where the Wild Things Are should have been, and by the time Oprah was singing its praises, more than a few people had discovered the extraordinary gem.

7. Oslo

Directed by Joachim Trier. I am always drawn to Northern European film; in recent years I have developed a fascination for Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian cinema. It is a pure and beautiful film experience, it captures one troubled young man’s journey through the Norwegian capital on the last day of summer, toward an ambiguous final destination. After making the 2006 hipster-bromance “Reprise,” Trier took his time on this follow-up, which seems to follow the character played by doctor-turned-actor Anders Danielsen Lie in the earlier film toward a worst-case conclusion. This time around, Lie plays an intelligent young guy from a middle-class background who has spun out into heroin addiction and depression, and is taking a one-day vacation from rehab for a look at his options.

He appears to have made progress and has just been permitted an evening outside the unit followed by a whole day on his own in the city. But the film begins with a grim revelation about Anders's state of mind: is this the first day of the rest of his life? Or are these his final 24 hours; is he a dead man walking? Danielsen Lie gives an excellent performance; resentful, self-questioning, hopeful, vulnerable and angry. It is a vibrant, energetic and profoundly tragic, without a single wasted second.

8. Lincoln

Directed by Steven Spielberg. I went to see the film a bit skeptical. Spielberg has a tendency to create films that are unbearably sentimental. In this film, he exercised great restraint, the movie is surprisingly accurate and tells the story of a much different Lincoln from the flawless hero that we came to admire in our youth. It is a great, Hollywood movie about a great, flawed president of a great, flawed nation. You can argue about the flaws, but allow yourself to be moved by the grandeur of Tony Kushner’s great script and Daniel Day-Lewis’s in what seems effortless performance.

Sitting through the first half hour of "Lincoln," with its dry, marginally uninteresting depiction of 19th-century American politics, I nearly believed that the film would be filed under my dislikes, especially with Steven Spielberg directing. And then I was proven wrong. Some people came out of the film saying it was the best movie they have ever seen, I was definitely not in that group but it was a great experience that for an hour restored my faith in politicians.

Daniel Day-Lewis, from the opening scene to the film's poignant conclusion, does a brilliant job channeling the nation's 16th president. His depiction of Lincoln is accurate, with very little embellishments. Lincoln speaks with a weak, wispy voice, using language that sometimes reveals his humble, upbringing. As it ends up, Lincoln himself was not above dirty political tactics. He conceals information from Congress and hires lobbyists to win over the support of some racist Democrats, but I guess those are the unavoidable political games. The film is for sure a winner.

9. Holy Motors

Directed by Leos Carax’s.  It is crazy, weird story of an illogical limo-ride through Paris. Films are always getting described as surreal, whether they are or not. But this year we saw a genuinely surrealist movie. Holy Motors is unaffected by logic and common sense; it takes off in all directions, inspired by Cocteau, Lynch, Buñuel, Muybridge, Kafka, and many more.
It's a kind of road movie. Monsieur Oscar is an enigmatic businessman, played by Denis Lavnt being carried around Paris in the back of a white limousine, driven by Céline, played by Edith Scob. He has a number of mysterious appointments, for each of which he has to apply a new and elaborate disguise. But what on earth are these appointments?
In the course of each, he seems to enter a different or parallel universe in which his persona is unquestioningly accepted. He is an angry father, a homeless bag lady, an assassin and even a motion-capture studio model whose acrobatics create a weird and wonderful erotic animation which we are permitted to see and which doesn't seem any more or less real than everything that comes before or after. Some other actors in the film are Eva Mendes and a cameo by Kylie Monogue. And what is the point of this film? Its point is to dunk us in a delicious bath of unreason, to create pleasure. And having achieved that, its purpose is to meditate – capriciously, playfully – on the role-play we all have to master on our limo-ride through life.

10. The Hunt

Directed by Danish film-maker Thomas Vinterberg who made his name in 1998 with Festen  (The Celebration). But in his outstanding new film, The Hunt, Vinterberg has chosen to revisit Festen. Back in 1999, a Danish child psychologist visited him with a proposal for a movie taking a radically different approach to the problems at the centre of the film. But Vinterberg was apparently attempting to escape the oppressive corner he'd driven himself into and set aside the material his visitor had given him. A decade later a depressed Vinterberg had cause to consult this same psychologist and before doing so took a look at the file he'd left. So impressed was he that he decided to make this his next project.

Like Festen, The Hunt was scripted by Vinterberg and Tobias Lindholm. It is set in idyllic rural Denmark, in a small tight-knit, lower middle-class community, rather than a haut-bourgeois family, but child abuse and the effect of its revelation is still the key issue. But in this case the alleged perpetrator is shown from the start to be innocent. This creates suspense by inviting observers to examine the evidence drawn on by the defenders of the accuser and the accused. Vinterberg eschews such ambiguity. His embattled hero, Lucas, Mads Mikkelsen, he is perhaps my favorite international actor and certainly Denmark’s best. Lucas is a victim both of something awry in complacent Danish society (in this it resembles and echoes Michael Haneke's “The White Ribbon” and the dangerous little lies told by an innocent child.

Lucas, the decent man marginalized by judgmental burocratic society, is transformed into an object, a threat to the community, someone to be ganged up against, a dangerous figure who helps those around him discover a new sense of angry unity. Meanwhile, the child who has caused it all stands uncomprehendingly by, passing on to other things and other stories. Eventually the movie comes to a climax during a Christmas Eve service in the local church, where the whole community is confronted by Lucas and they are forced to confront themselves. The result is immensely powerful in its invocation of the true meaning of Christian charity and its symbolism.
Mads Mikkelsen in recent years he's played the most frightening of Bond's enemies (Le Chiffre, the villain with bleeding eyes in Casino Royale); Stravinsky in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky; a reckless Resistance leader in Nazi-occupied Denmark in Flame and Citron; a petty Copenhagen criminal in the first two parts of the Pusher trilogy; a charismatic 18th-century physician in A Royal Affair; a medieval prisoner of Norse warriors in Valhalla Rising.