Tanner Smith’s End of the Year Movie Extravaganza

January 1, 2013

Our correspondent filmmaker Tanner Smith forwards his end -of-the-year film musings. I’ve been trying to get a column full of these in the newspaper for the past couple of weeks, maybe we’ll make it this week. If not, they’ll be goling up here too. Soon.

By Tanner Smith for blood, dirt & angels

TOP 20 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2012

Life of Pi—The book that was said to be “unfilmable” has been adapted into my personal favorite film of the year! The makers of the film were able to take a story about a man and a tiger trapped on the same lifeboat in the middle of an ocean, and like the original source material, it was turned into a lot more than that. “Life of Pi” is an unbelievably great achievement in special effects and narrative storytelling. (NOTE: This film also looks fantastic in regular 3D. I can just imagine the experience in IMAX.)

Flight—A pilot who, as his plane is taking a nosedive, acts on instinct and finds an unusual way to land it. Flight opens our eyes with one of the most terrifyingly realistic flying scenes ever filmed, and then keeps our attention with a gripping, effectively cruel tale about addiction. It’s the distressing personal journey of the pilot, played by Denzel Washington (in one of his best performances), as he tries to stop drinking (he’s accused of flying drunk, and causing the plane to nearly crash). Can he? Will he? All I can say is, the riveting final act of Flight left me with so many emotions that when I had a choice to see another movie the same night I saw this one…I couldn’t. It wouldn’t have been fair, anyway.

Argo — This must have been based on a true story (and it was based on a true story), because I’m not even sure Hollywood writers could get this creative. Either way, Argo is a wonderful film—greatly executed, well-acted, suspenseful, funny, and just all-around fantastic. Ben Affleck is a solid actor, but he’s also a damn good director, and the pacing and feel of the film is just right.

Lincoln — Yes, this is masterful Spielberg filmmaking, the atmosphere is absorbing, the tension is there with the historical drama, etc. But it really comes down to in terms of cinema are three word: Daniel. Day. Lewis. To say Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Abraham Lincoln is “powerful” or “convincing” is simply not enough. I’m going to make a prediction right now and say the guy’s going to win another Oscar. I’m usually not for Oscar predictions as it seems kind of pointless, but it’s going to be very hard to find a performance as equally…”Day-Lewis” (if you will) as this one. (Wow, typing that kinda makes me feel like a jerk. Let’s move on.)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower — This comedy-drama about a shy high school freshman falling in with a new group of friends is warm, weird, sad, funny, and nostalgic (not in that order)…just like high school.

Ruby Sparks — An unusual, unconventional romantic comedy with an appealing premise: a novelist falls in love with his latest character (the “perfect woman”), who magically appears into his life as a real person. But when she becomes independent, does he have the right to transform her personality so he can always have what he wants in a relationship? With a winning screenplay, good acting, and something special to say about love and relationships, Ruby Sparks is a treasure of a movie.

Skyfall —This 23rd James Bond pic is my favorite action film in a year of many good ones. It’s thrilling, exciting, well-executed, even more complex than most Bond pictures, to my surprise! It’s like director Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition) did for James Bond what Christopher Nolan did for Batman. And speaking of which…

The Dark Knight Rises—The third, concluding chapter in Christopher Nolan’s updated “Batman trilogy” is a satisfying, extraordinary conclusion to one of the great trilogies in film history.

The Secret World of Arrietty — Now, I’m kind of cheating on this one, seeing as how different voiceover-dubbed versions (including a UK dub with Saoirse Ronan and Mark Strong) of this Japanese animated film were originally released last year, but I decided to count it because the US dub (with comic actors Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, among Disney Channel students), which is the version I’ve seen, was released earlier this year (February 17). Either way, I admire the creativity and impressive visuals in this winning-animated fantasy.

Chronicle — Mixing the superhero origin story with a teenage coming-of-age drama, this is a well-executed, wonderfully inventive film. Regular kids gain superpowers, but their challenge isn’t to use their abilities to defend themselves and others from a great threat; it’s mainly to learn how to cope with the change. That’s a very refreshing move. As Uncle Ben Parker once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” And speaking of which…

The Amazing Spider-Man — I still don’t know why Columbia Pictures didn’t try and bring themselves back after Spider-Man 3 (I mean, come on—Paramount’s Star Trek movies have gotten out of tougher scrapes than that); but this “reboot” is still a well-executed retelling of the Spider-Man origin story — darker, more complex, entertaining, and quite funny when it needs to be.

ParaNorman — This bizarre animated flick involving a young boy and the macabre is fresh and inventive with extraordinary visuals, top-notch animation, and a clever blend of comedy, horror, and even drama.

The Hunger Games — An effective futuristic parable based on the popular novel by Suzanne Collins; a great mix of action-violence and social commentary, all the more powerful in that the heroes are young people forced by “new world order” to kill one another

The Avengers — Hey! Wanna see Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Incredible Hulk stop a supervillain together? I did too! And this movie was awesome! (Sorry, I can’t help myself.)

Safety Not Guaranteed — Sardonic on the outside, pleasant on the inside; this starts out as a cynical indie flick and transforms into a delightful story.

Moonrise Kingdom — You never can tell what’s really going on in Wes Anderson’s head, but I don’t care, as long as he keeps making films that dare to be consistently quirky, which of course is the case of this one.

Bernie — Richard Linklater’s wonderfully droll comedy, which also features Jack Black’s most accomplished work as an actor.

The Grey — Man vs. wild at its most merciless.

Looper — Original, interesting time-travel story told in a powerful, energetic way.

Prometheus — OK, so this “prequel to Alien was a letdown in terms of buildup, and it’s so obviously setting up for a sequel (one of my pet peeves). But as pure sci-fi, I think it’s a damn good film.

Enjoyed These as Well (in alphabetical order): The Cabin in the Woods, End of Watch, Frankenweenie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Premium Rush, Sinister, Wreck-It Ralph

Might as Well Mention These Too (in alphabetical order): 21 Jump Street, Brave, Dredd 3D, The Five-Year Engagement, The Hole, Ted, Tomorrow When the War Began

SPECIAL CATEGORIES
I liked it, you didn’t: Project X, Red Dawn

You liked it, I didn’t: Lawless

Not so bad: Journey 2 The Mysterious Island (it’s a B-movie through and through, and it knows it)

Most Disappointing Sequel: Men in Black III

Most Satisfying Sequels: Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises

Most Underrated Action Film of the Year: Dredd 3D

Best Movie Theme Song of the Year: “Skyfall” by Adele, for Skyfall

Worst Movie Theme Song of the Year: “Back in Time” by Pitbull, for Men in Black III

Funniest Fight Scene: Mark Wahlberg vs. a teddy bear (Ted) in a hotel room

The “Holy-*bleep*-Where-Did-This-Come-From” Award: The Cabin in the Woods

What Should Get an Oscar Nomination but Probably Won’t: the sound editing for The Grey; Mark Duplass’ performance in Safety Not Guaranteed; Ted’s visual effects; Zoe Kazan’s screenplay for Ruby Sparks; Jack Black’s leading performance in Bernie (though I’m glad the Golden Globes recognized his work); Chronicle

Terrific Films I Missed Last Year, But Caught Up With This Year (Hey, give me a break—limited-release films come late, if at all, to Jonesboro Malco): Another Earth, The Artist, Attack the Block, The Descendants, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Moneyball (OK, I admit—I waited on that one for DVD), The Tree of Life, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Films I Missed This Year That I’d Love to See: Beasts of the Southern Wild (Don’t worry—I’m going to rent it soon), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Celeste and Jesse Forever, Django Unchained, The Impossible, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Les Miserables, The Master, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, The Sessions, Seven Psychopaths, Silver Linings Playbook, Zero Dark Thirty

Films I Have No Desire to See: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, The Guilt Trip, Hit and Run, Playing for Keeps, Rock of Ages, That’s My Boy, A Thousand Words, Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2, The Watch

TOP FIVE SHORT FILMS

48-Hour Film Project: La Petite Mort — Good Lord, what can I say about this short horror film that is not like anything I’ve ever seen? This deranged, unusual, disturbing…and yet well-shot, memorable, inventive, and even strangely intriguing award-winning short film (made in just two days, remember!) is one of the best examples of black comedy—nightclub act meets Hostel, if you will. It’s a great setup, a great punchline…bizarre choices of the assigned characterization for the contest it was made for (singers “Tommy” and/or “Tammy Shuttles”). And the title song… OK, I’m gonna stop right now. NEXT!!

Disney’s Paperman — I know a lot of people are crazy about the Disney feature “Wreck-It Ralph,” but meanwhile I’m thinking, “Hey, any of you remember that great short film that came before it?” It was a black-and-white animated short that combined computer imagery with traditional hand-drawn animation, and it told a heartwarming tale about a “meet-cute” with the help of (get this) paper airplanes. Whimsical, visually-impressive, and always beautiful, “Paperman” represents my idea of a perfect short film.

John Wayne’s Bed Trailer from Sarah Jay on Vimeo.

John Wayne’s BedJohn Wayne’s Bed treats its subject material, as well as its audience, with enough respect that it doesn’t have to succumb to heavy dramatic clichés just to make us care. It just effectively tells the story. The acting is great, the cinematography is nice, the dramatic elements are well-handled, and it’s over in just 20 minutes.” That’s what I stated in my original review of Sarah Jones’ UCA graduate thesis film, and I stand by it. But here’s an addition — I’ve only seen this film once (so far) six months ago at the Little Rock Film Festival, and yet I still remember it fondly.

“The Man in the Moon” Teaser Trailer from Kim Risi on Vimeo.

The Man in the Moon — The same can be said about Kim Risi’s sci-fi tale The Man in the Moon; I saw this film just the night before I saw John Wayne’s Bed (and on top of that, it was the first of twelve short films I saw that very night), and it still stays fresh in my memory. I just admire the creativity of the settings and the story; taking place on the moon, the intriguing secrets that lie within—it’s not an easy film to forget anytime soon. Maybe in my original review, I shouldn’t have bothered with certain questions of logic. It’s science-fiction; deal with it.

Still Life — Like John Wayne’s Bed, Still Life was another short film that painted an effective portrait of people looking for ways to get by in life. This tale about a man seeking guidance and assistance, in a small community in the Arkansas Delta, is told convincingly with good writing and directing by Allison Bristol, as well as good acting by the impressive ensemble cast.

HONORABLE MENTION: Gerry Bruno’s The Bloodstone Diaries: The Thief of All Things, Leon Tidwell’s Cold Tracker

What also deserves mention is the work of Andrew “AndrewMFilms” McMurry, as he rose to Internet popularity with such special-effects-filled short films as Psycho Siri, Real Life Nazi Zombies, and Real Life Roller-Coaster Tycoon, to name a few. These videos may be gimmicky (actually, “experimental” would be a better word, since McMurry tends to try different things with Adobe After Effects as he progresses), but they show terrific quality and style, with a real passion put into them by a young, impressive filmmaker. His work can be found at www.youtube.com/user/andrewmfilms (Don’t forget the “M” —people have made that mistake many times before). Check ‘em out!

And now, my picks for my least favorite films of the year. And while I haven’t really seen a bad/terrible film this year (keep in mind—I don’t see as many films as the average critic), there were a few films this year that just seemed underwhelming to me. Nothing as bad as Your Highness or The Change-Up from last year; just mainly disappointments:

Lawless — This is one that a lot of people really seem to enjoy, and I can kind of see why—I like the performances by Tom Hardy, Shia Labeouf, and Jessica Chastain, among others; and the cinematography is great. But while watching “Lawless,” I kept feeling that something was missing, that the filmmakers were trying way too hard to make a more mainstream film about violent and ignorant people during Prohibition. What I got was a predictable mess, melodrama that doesn’t amount to much, and the usually-reliable Guy Pearce as a cartoonish bad guy (I’m surprised this guy wasn’t shot in the first reel). (And also, don’t tell me you weren’t able to immediately guess the fate of the character Cricket.)

Men in Black III — I like the first entry in this sci-fi/comedy franchise, I admit I haven’t seen the much-maligned second one, but this third movie isn’t bad; it’s just kind of dull. The usually-awesome Will Smith plays Agent J as an arrogant jerk, Tommy Lee Jones, as Agent K, looks like he’d rather be somewhere else, and the confusing story involving time-travel is all over the map. The only fun parts of the movie are Josh Brolin as young Agent J, and Michael Stuhlbarg as a nervous psychic alien.

Silent House — This is a funny thing; I loved this movie (about a young woman trapped in a dark house) for the first 45 minutes. Like the best thrillers, it had a sense of creepy atmosphere, a legitimate fear aspect, some good scares and unnerving moments, a protagonist to root for, and a large amount of tension. But unfortunately, the second half of Silent House undermined just about everything it had going for it, and also ended on a scene that is not only anticlimactic, but also unbelievably dumb. And it brought the movie down with it.

This is 40 — Hey, remember that funny bickering couple, played by Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, in Knocked Up? Well, they got their own movie, called This is 40! And let me just say that the two characters are better as side characters. Leslie Mann’s Debbie is a bitch; Paul Rudd’s Pete is… Paul Rudd; they’re both in midlife crisis; and I should’ve seen this coming. A few good laughs, but far too many uncomfortable moments. Also, to Judd Apatow: I love your work, but please stop trying to be James L. Brooks.

Whew! I love this time of year.


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