Monday, February 18, 2013

2012 Movies Manifesto


Expectations for 2012 were high. It was a Quentin Tarantino year and a Daniel Day-Lewis year, with several mammoth franchises (Bond, LOTR, Batman, Marvel Comics) coming out with new chapters, so you knew it had to be a pretty good 12 months. Out of the past five years, Man with Beard thinks 2012 takes third place, behind 2010 (The Social Network, Black Swan, The King’s Speech, Winter’s Bone, Inception, Toy Story 3) and 2008 (Milk, Gran Torino, WALL-E, The Dark Knight, Slumdog Millionaire, In Bruges).

But 2012’s expectations were still higher than the results. Not that this is a big calamity, though. What’s to blame is the increasingly ramped up artistry of the trailers. They can be so addicting and misleading at the same time that they can skewer the viewing experience.

Among some of the most anticipated releases, we had repeat offenses of sloppiness. Some movies posited brilliant themes but were undermined by stupid plot points or characters (Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises) and some didn’t end when they should have (Lincoln, Django Unchained).

But some really did come through, despite being under the microscope before even hitting theatres (The Hobbit, The Avengers, Skyfall and to a lesser degree, The Master).

Filmmakers like Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty), Ben Affleck (Argo) and Joss Whedon (The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods) confirmed they can consistently deliver pièce de résistance after pièce de résistance. They deserve appointment viewing.

Other directors took a dip – like Judd Apatow (This is 40) and Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths), who couldn’t match the high water mark of past projects like Knocked Up/The 40-Year-Old Virgin and In Bruges, respectively.

Now let’s dig in to the nitty gritty of it all:


10. Flight – Robert Zemeckis matches the mastery of the plane crash scene with an engrossing character study of a raging alcoholic, played by the great Denzel Washington.

9. Silver Linings Playbook – From afar, it looks rife with clichés, but David O. Russell deftly dodges most of them and surprises you with a hilarious love story, replete with great acting and some dark humor as well.

8. Beasts of the Southern Wild – It’s partly fantastical; you’ll wonder what universe you’re in and you’ll wonder how such a young girl could stomp around and be so enterprising. But the score and the filmmaking will win you over and you won’t know what to do other than smile by the end.

7. The Master – Its message is completely inscrutable with only one viewing. But what’s easily recognizable is a fascinating narrative about a charlatan and a damaged war veteran. The acting is scary good and its cinematography is oh-so pretty.

6. Amour – It’s tender and sad. Then it’ll pull your eyelids back. And before the credits roll, it’s back to being tender and sad. Director Michael Haneke skillfully and caringly forces love and death to confront one another, and it’ll shake you up some.

5. Argo – Ben Affleck is officially one of the top American directors out there. Each of his pictures are better than the last. You get it all with Argo. It’s filled with scenes where everything could go horribly wrong any moment and it can transition to hilarious dark humor without making you pause.

4. Django Unchained – In many ways a companion piece to Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino continues to push boundaries like no other mainstream American director with explicit tales of indulgent vengeance set in one of the worst tragedies in human history. Delicious writing and tip-top acting make for a lively three hours.

3. Zero Dark Thirty – Feature films should, in general, never be branded as a work of “journalism.” But as a piece of art, this is a superb example of storytelling that carefully evades political messaging. And it beats the living crap out of Kathryn Bigelow’s Best Picture-winner, The Hurt Locker.

2. Lincoln – You already know about that Daniel Day-Lewis performance. Lincoln is a masterful movie on politics and is perhaps the best scripted film of the year. Steven Spielberg’s 31st theatrical release is one of his best.

1. MOONRISE KINGDOM – All the standard Wes Anderson adjectives apply here – “whimsical,” “quirky,” “charming,” “dry,” etc. The production design is gorgeous and it’s among the funniest of Anderson’s pictures. Most of all though, it contains a fantastic and unique love story, which spares the mushy and goes heavy on the awkward. And that’s a good thing.

Top-10 Worthy: Skyfall, The Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Worth a go: The Grey, Looper, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, Life of Pi


Do More of That Award: Robert de Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
It’s good to know de Niro still has the capacity to select a solid project as an actor. Playbook is arguably his first good movie since Meet the Parents (2000). But boy, did he nail the role of a half-nutty Philadelphia Eagles fan and father, too.
That’s Not a Smart Thing to Do Award: Prometheus
Ridley Scott’s space opera is packed with thought-provoking ideas (creation, sacrifice, first causes), but a bunch of brainless crap also elbowed its way in there, which completely undermined the brilliant mythology at work. Things to remember: 1) If a doughnut-shaped spacecraft is crashing down on you, always remember to avoid running in a straight line. 2) Before agreeing to join an ultra-dangerous inter-galactic mission, seek briefing of the mission before coming aboard. 3) Don’t remove your helmet when coming across an unfamiliar worm-like alien creature on a foreign planet.

Best Villain Award: Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie, Django Unchained 
Due to his unmatched charm, ruthlessness and showmanship, Candie stands out in a rogue’s gallery that includes the likes of Bane, Loki, Raoul Silva and Azog the Pale Orc. Candie and Heath Ledger’s Joker are the two best villains the silver screen has seen in some time. Leo was criminally robbed of an Oscar nom. Candie’s slave, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), isn’t too far behind, either.

Best Buddies Award: End of Watch
Jake Gyllenhal and Michael Pena will make you turn to your bro and say, “How come you never did that for me?”

Dumbest Ending Award: Life of Pi
 Give me a break.

Please, Just Give Him A Fucking Oscar Already Award: Roger Deakins, cinematographer, Skyfall 
This is the tenth time Deakins has been nominated, and should this be the tenth time he loses, Man with Beard will go bonkers. Deakins' elegant visuals in Skyfall are right up there with some of his best work – The Shawshank Redemption, True Grit, No Country for Old Men, Jarhead, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. But, it seems Life of Pi is the likely winner.

Coolest Cast Award: Django Unchained 
Sure, it was great to see the A-listers do their thing, but part of the movie’s fun came from all the long-time-no-seers appearing on screen, including Don Johnson, he of “Miami Vice” and “Nash Bridges” fame; James Remar, he of shoving that bat and turning you into a popsicle fame in The Warriors; Tom Wopat, he of “The Dukes of Hazzard” and Wisconsin nativity fame; M. C. Gainey, he of LOST fame; Franco Nero, he of Django fame; Dennis Christopher, he of Breaking Away fame; oh, and Quentin Tarantino, that guy who reinterpreted “Like a Virgin” in Reservoir Dogs.

Best Musical: Les Miserables 
Usually there are no contestants in this category. As far as musicals go, this one wasn’t half bad. Hugh Jackman is the best part. Maximus Decimus Meridius is the worst part.

Cheeky Line Award: “What were you expecting, an exploding pen?” Q, Skyfall 
Bond stares at the lackluster repertoire of gadgets, and says, “Not exactly Christmas,” followed by Q hitting him with this award-winning reply. The line reinforces how the franchise is distancing itself from the silly days of go-go gadgets and the tiresome plot of villains taking over the world, going instead for a more realistic, hard-boiled approach.

The Jack London Award: The Grey 
“He was sounding the deeps of his nature and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of time.”

Worst Makeup Award: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper 
Was he supposed to look like Bruce Willis or just some ugly guy with a weird nose?

Best Addition to a Franchise Whose Fans are Protective of the Source Material But Remain Protective Despite the Successful Addition: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 
Nobody was expecting this to reach the cinematic beauty of The Lord of the Rings - the two stories have always had a completely different ‘tude. As such, Peter Jackson nailed the chirpy bounce and adventurousness of Tolkien’s prequel novel and Martin Freeman gave the whole franchise one of its best performances as a younger Bilbo. That said, some of the special effects did look too video-gamey and the runtime easily could have been trimmed down. With two more pictures required before this children’s tale can be told, Man with Beard will look forward to the next adventure like anyone with a Tookish side would. But Man with Beard will also worry if it’ll ever seem like it was all a bit too much.

Best Beards: Lincoln 
There are some truly inspirational works of man-crafting here. Django Unchained is a worthy silver medalist.

Best Director Award: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty 
Ever see a military infiltration scene quite like this one? Ever watch such a lengthy and methodical movie that stays thrilling? And she wasn’t even nominated by the Academy. She’s far more deserving of it this time around than she was for The Hurt Locker – not that she didn’t deserve that, either.

Why Are You Doing That? Award: The Dark Knight Rises 
Does the stock market scene really make sense? Also, Bruce Wayne’s intestines must be made of adamantium to survive a fall of such heights with only a rope around his waist to “save him.” Speaking of which, why didn’t he just climb the rope to the top?


The Cabin in the Woods – When the elevator doors open
This is quite possibly the most entertaining scene of the year, so no details shall be divulged. You will be just as unprepared for this as everyone else.

Flight – The crash
The scene that sets the stage for the rest of the movie is a showpiece of thrills and pacing. It’s incredible how it completely seizes you, and then, unexpectedly, let’s you relax for a bit before the inevitable.

Can you think of any other superhero movie containing a scene of such emotion like this? This is an element that not even The Dark Knight had. Michael Caine is a consistent scene-stealer in this trilogy’s final act.

Django Unchained – Calvin Candie introduces “Ben”
The tide gets turned on the two heroes as Candie charmingly lays out his twisted and disgusting analysis of Django and the African-American brain in general before going completely ballistic. This scene alone should have won DiCaprio a nomination from the Academy.

Prometheus – The cesarean
Makes you wanna kick and flail your limbs all about just to keep it away. This confirms we’re in the same universe as the Alien series. It just wouldn’t be right to leave the theatre without hoping you never get a stomachache again.

The Master - Processing
The father of a new religious movement tests out a psychological exercise on his most intriguing, and damaged, follower. No other scene in 2012 contained acting and editing quite like this, with Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix launching into a high-speed back-and-forth with the latter forbidden from blinking.

You’re expecting a some punishing fisticuffs to take place between these two, but then the Hulk makes Loki look like a real chump.

Amour – Story time
This film’s climax is the most touching and most devastating scene of the year. To see love and death in such a moment after the movie had been so doggedly patient for so long will make your head spin.

Silver Linings Playbook – Fight in the diner spills onto the street
This is the best slice of acting in the careers of both Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, with fantastic editing that really makes you feel anxious when the trigger song for Cooper’s bipolar character begins to play.

Chronicle – Flying for the first time
Even while watching on a miniscule television in your own home, this scene will deliver a rush of excitement, with thrilling point-of-view camerawork and the characters darting to-and-fro about the screen.

Holy MotorsThe accordion scene
Nearly inexplicable like the rest of this kooky French picture, this scene functions well as a music video, even when out of context.

- Elliot Hughes