We’re Talking about Kevin

I don’t know how I left this one off my Best & Worst of 2012 list, because We Need to Talk About Kevin (Tilda Swinton, John C. Reilly) is a rather unforgettable movie.

It is the only time on film that I have seen depicted a son who, from birth, loathes his mother.  The contempt the son has for his mother is at the heart of this picture, and it makes for a compelling, even riveting story.

Kevin would have been rated higher, as this is a fascinating original work whose scenes are consummately executed.  But there are two big flaws that bring it down.  First, though believable enough while watching the movie, a little thought afterward renders the consistently hateful behavior of the son toward his mother as less than credible.  It’s a little hard to believe that her son would act this way in the first place, and then that his mother, a responsible professional writer, would tolerate it to the extent she does.  This flaw is huge in that it forms one of the two tent-poles of the movie; the two basic premises of the movie.

We Need to Talk About Kevin (IMDb Still)

We Need to Talk About Kevin (IMDb Still)

The other flaw lies with the depiction of the mother’s life without her son.  When not spending time with the unfortunate family, the movie jumps forward to a time when the lone mother, rather mysteriously, is living on her own as a pariah of the community.  The mystery is not fully explained until the final climactic scene of the movie, and it is an explanation that does not congeal at all.  I cannot discuss further without giving away the end, so I will refrain for now.  But this explanation serves as the second major premise of the movie and greatly weakens the whole, yielding a dissatisfaction as I walked out of the theater.

Nonetheless, this movie is not boring.  Where it works it works well, so I’m giving a qualified recommendation to We Need to Talk About Kevin: 6/10, which puts it between Barbara and Arbitrage on my 2012 list.  It is broken, yet delivers a particularly nasty and novel form of sheer evil which is a sight to behold.  Make sure to watch the trailer first (link here; scroll down and click on trailer) to get a sense of whether or not it’s your cup of tea.  It’s gotten a lot of praise elsewhere, so you may just love it.  And it will definitely stick with you for a while.

Film Brief: Under Still Waters

You will certainly not seek out Under Still Waters (2008, Lake Bell), but if you do come across it take a pass.  It starts out as an overly contrived, highly played out story of the couple-on-vacation meet a broken-down biker on the side of a road, offer to help, then all hell breaks loose (à la The Hitcher (Rutger Hauer, 1986) and Breakdown (1997, Kurt Russell and J.T. Walsh)).  But soon enough we learn there is more to it than that; maybe the biker is not such a stranger after all.  Unfortunately its attempts to create a unique story fail to provide anything worthwhile, but Lake Bell and her two cohorts are interesting enough to warrant a 3/10.  For much better movies in this vein, see Last House on the Left, Straw Dogs or Eden Lake [“Riveting Rentals”], or, for the psychological thriller angle, Secret Window [prior post].

Quvenzhané Wallis on Rock Center

220px-Beats-of-the-southern-wild-movie-posterQuvenzhané Wallis, the youngest actress ever nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, and costar Dwight Henry from Beasts of the Southern Wild, to which I have warmed a bit since first seeing it [prior post], are interviewed on last night’s Rock Center with Brian Williams.  I highly recommend watching the entire program; also included are very interesting segments on Ron Popeil and phone-powered smart medical technology.

The Best of 2012

First the worst:

Savages – 1/10 [prior post]Savages earns the distinction of “Clearly the Worst” Movie of the Year.  My version of a Razzie if you will.

Now that we have that out of the way, an explanation: 2012 was a breakout movie-watching year for me.  I am listing here all movies that I can recall seeing in a theater during the 2012 calendar year.  There may be a movie or two here that were actually released in 2011, but that I saw in 2012.  I am also including a couple movies that I saw this year but which were 2012 releases.  And I saw one or two 2012 releases via Apple TV this year, but I am not including them in this list.  Notably then, off this list are Salmon Fishing in the Yemen [prior post] and Take This Waltz [prior post], though maybe I should include those as well.  I doubt that seeing either of those in the theater would have boosted my opinion of them.

Hope that makes sense to everybody.  This is not just a “Best of 2012” list but a listing of everything I’ve seen for 2012.  If I watch any more 2012 movies in a theater, I’ll amend this list.

So, continuing on with the bad ones and getting progressively better:

The Grey – 1/10.  This one deserves special mention on two counts.  First off, as runner up to worst of the year.  Secondly, as to why it is I am writing this blog.  This movie was heralded by nationally known critic A.O. Scott as a “NYT Critics’ Pick”, stating “It’s a fine, tough little movie, technically assured and brutally efficient, with a simple story that ventures into some profound existential territory without making a big fuss about it.”

No it doesn’t.  It’s a big stinky trash-heap of a movie.  Awful.  Like Jaws 3-D but with wolves.  Except not even in 3-D.  If it hadn’t taken itself so seriously it might have made a good B-movie farce.  Moving onward:

Battleship – 2/10.  Gets a little credit for some cool special effects.

Looper – 2/10.  Good preview though

The Hunger Games – 3/10

Prometheus – 3/10

Silver Linings Playbook – 3/10 [prior post]

Lincoln – 3/10 [prior post]

Skyfall – 4/10 [prior post]

The Dark Knight Rises and its twin The Avengers – both 4/10

Melancholia – 5/10.  Saw this in Tucson a year ago.  A disappointing retreat by Lars von Trier, though with extraordinary elements.

The Master – 5/10.  Worth seeing for Joaquin Phoenix’s acting, probably the best male acting performance of the year.  A lot to recommend this one, but it didn’t come together as a complete picture. [prior post]

Barbara – 5/10 [prior post]

Arbitrage – 6/10

== ==== Now on to the good stuff! ==== ==

Beasts of the Southern Wild – 6/10.  As time has gone by I have thought better and better of this movie.  You’ll definitely see some things you never have before and never will again.  [prior post]

Flight – 7/10 [prior post]

The Campaign – 7/10.  Funny with lots of good-natured bad language.

Neighboring Sounds – 7/10 [prior post]

Safety Not Guaranteed – 8/10.  Fun, intriguing, interesting little movie.

Moonrise Kingdom – 8/10.  Wes Anderson returns to form.

Bernie – 8/10.  Jack Black is excellent in this true story.  An extraordinary tale, even more worthwhile if you are not familiar with what really happened, as unfortunately I was due to an NPR interview which gave away too much.  Really one of the best of the year.

Rock of Ages and Les Misérables – this is a tie; both 8/10 [prior post].  Who would have thought that two musicals released in 2012 would be so good?

Argo – 8/10.  Lincoln could learn a thing or two from this one on how to present a historical movie that works. [prior post]

The Cabin in the Woods – 8/10 [prior post].  A very effective sci-fi thriller that comes in at No. 3

Sound of My Voice – 9/10.  I’ll be posting on this one and the related and also excellent Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) at some point in the future.  Released in April, for most of 2012 I thought it the best of the year and was developing a theory on 2012 in movies around the concept of an inverse relation of budget to quality, as this is about as low budget as a still professionally made film can get.  It was knocked to No. 2 when I saw:

Django Unchained – 9/10 and Clearly the Best Movie of the Year.  [prior post]

And that’s it.  If I’ve left anything off I’ll update later.  Your comments are welcome as always.

Sound of My Voice

Sound of My Voice

Film Brief: Take This Waltz

Michelle Williams is perhaps the best actress in her age group (she is 32) working today.  She has made two serious real-life romance/relationship movies, Blue Valentine and Take This Waltz, playing in each a wife who has some degree of dissatisfaction with her marriage.  In Take This Waltz, she is eminently watchable and pretty much mesmerizing for the entire movie, seemingly ever on the cusp of flight.  Williams is supported by other excellent cast members at the top of their game.  When the Oscar nominations were announced, there were film critics who felt that Williams deserved a Best Actress nomination.  Her performance is that good, and certainly much more deserving than the odds-on favorite, Jennifer Lawrence in the quite lame Silver Linings Playbook [prior post].

But I wanted more from this movie.  It lacked the type of climactic payoff that makes a movie memorable.  On the other hand, I was not bored at any point, so a mild recommendation: 6/10.  If you like Michelle Williams, go for it, but put the considerably better Blue Valentine ahead if you have not seen it.  It pairs Williams with Ryan Gosling, probably the best actor in that same young age group working today.  At some point I’ll post on his string of great and diverse performances.

Arc de Triomphe

Les Misérables is a sumptuous, gorgeous, beautifully produced period musical.  It is unabashedly musical: almost the entire film is sung.  If you are not interested in a movie which is sung, stay away.  You will know within 5 minutes of the beginning whether or not you’ll like the movie.  I was quickly enrapt by the engaging choral performances and unexpectedly good story development, and felt like I was watching something special.  The film creates an immersive experience by way of its fully fleshed out and elaborate sets, its costumes and art direction, and the ever-present soundtrack.  Story is present here, too.  The classic conflict between officer Javert (Russell Crowe) and ex-convict Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) forms a great foundation on which to lay the ensuing action.

And then Anne Hathaway as Fantine performs the film’s signature piece “I Dreamed a Dream” and I was pretty much blown away.  This in my mind is one of the great solo performances ever presented on film.   I felt like applauding right there in the theater, but the silence at the end of the song cued me to bind the applause within my heart.  If the remainder of the film were a flop, which it is not, Hathaway’s performance alone would be worth the price of admission.

Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables

Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables

Now, although the musical performances as a whole I found delightful and entertaining, the cast here are more so professional actors than musicians.  As such, do not expect singing on the highest level of musicianship as you would find in, say, an opera, or a great solo pop song.  But then again the lyrics do not work that way in the first place.  The actors’ performances here are well suited to the format of Les Misérables.  In fact, the stature of these great actors only helps to add weight to the collective experience.

A down note: at around two-thirds through the movie, it becomes disjointed and disconnected from its earlier stages.  The resulting fragments cause harm.  There is a love story and a latter-day French revolution story that do not work nearly as well as the story elements that ran earlier.  And the grand finale did not quite live up to my expectations.

Nonetheless, Les Misérables is the success that Sweeney Todd never was, and I am not just saying that because Helena Bonham Carter is in both.  It will restore your faith in the period musical that might have been lost in that earlier Broadway-brought-to-film production.  Sacha Baron Cohen also impressed me here.  I had thought that he would find it difficult to follow up Borat, but with his role here and his turn in Hugo a year ago, he is proving to be quite the good theatrical character actor.

Another small negative: what is with movies these days never showing any beginning credits or titles?  I mean, at least give me the title of the movie.  Think of how titles can embellish a film’s start: the original Superman, 2001, Star Wars and Star TrekThe Doors.  In the beginning moments of this movie, there were a couple opportunities to show the resplendent title screen it deserves, and a certain richness is lost by omitting it.

Overall, though, Les Misérables is a rich and grand production, a triumphant arc that delivers more than can be expected from big Hollywood these days.  8/10, but take it as it is and forgive its trespasses.  And make sure to see it in a theater with good sound.

Now a question: What was the better 2012 musical?  This or Rock of Ages?  Good question.