There has been a lot of good press concerning Benh Zeitland’s 2012 film Beasts of the Southern Wild. In fact it won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. I must admit that there were some spectacular visual scenes throughout the film, but this blend of regional (i.e. southern) realism mixed with fantasy is not to my liking. There is not denying that Zeitland has an original vision, however, it is not one that I find particularly interesting or compelling.
I am probably one of a minority that thought that the previous Christopher Nolan installment in the Dark Knight Series, The Dark Knight (2008), was overrated. So I suspect that I went into The Dark Knight Rises (2012) with lower expectations, which led me to enjoy it more than I thought I would. That being said I see it as a high quality action film and there are several visually compelling scenes throughout the film.
The Island President is an interesting 2011 documentary film about the efforts of then-Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed to slow climate change. The beginning of the film was the most fascinating as it chronicles how Nasheed became the first democratically elected president of the Maldives in 2008, taking over the 1,200-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean after agitating for political reform for more than 20 years. This includes imprisonment and exile. I would like to have seen or about how it became the island resort of the rich and famous, but I suppose that is another story. The diplomatic sequences slow the film down a bit, but the point is that he got all countries to agree to reduce carbon emissions at the climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009. The postscript to film says that he was forced to resign during a military coup, again another story, but one I would like to see.
Certified Copy (2010) is a critically acclaimed film by Iranian writer and director Abbas Kiarostami that I have been meaning to see for quite some time. It is a film set in Tuscany featuring Juliet Binochet and William Shimmel as a couple who have an ambiguous relationship and who spend a day discussing the vicissitudes of life. It is challenge in the sense that most films that are essentially dialogues are trying for the average viewer. There isn’t a lot of action, but Kiarostami has an original story to tell and does it with artistry in beautiful set locations in Tuscany. Binochet won the Best Actress Award for the Cannes film festival for her role in the film.
I shouldn’t be surprised that I enjoyed Steven Soderbergh’s 2012 action thriller Haywire as much as I did, given that he is one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers. I suppose it had something to do with knowing that the star Gina Carano was a first time actress chosen to do the film for her skills as a Muay Thai fighter and American Gladiator. I thought Carano was adequate in her role as a CIA contract agent. Some other strong points in the film are the exotic locales in Europe, the compact storyline, and the stellar supporting cast with Ewan MacGregor, Michael Fassibinder, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglass.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie that was well over two hours long and didn’t look at the time or feel bored at any point in the film, until now, Quentin Tarantino makes film the old school way. Django Unchained (2012) feels like an old school, 70s, mass-market film from the golden age of American films. It draws from spaghetti westerns, blaxsploitation, and revenge dramas. I realize that Tarantino’s films aren’t for everyone, but they are very much for me. I love the way he sets up the story and strings together great set pieces while casting compelling actors in major roles: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo Di Caprio, Christopher Waltz, Samuel Jackson, Walton Groggins, etc.
Kill! (1968) is an entertaining samurai film (chanbura, Japanese sword play film) from director Kihachi Okamoto starring legendary actor Tatsuya Nakadai. It shares the same source material, Shugo Yamamoto’s Peaceful Days, as Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro (1962). Nakdai stars as a former samurai who has become disillusioned with the samurai life and has become a yakuza, and seen as a vagrant by others, who meets a farmer, played by Etsushi Takahashi, who longs to become a samurai. The two meet when chasing after the same chicken in a town and get involved in the inter-politics of the clan of that town. They side with the rebels of corrupt clan leader. Of course there are many elements from classic chanbara films, but there are also elements from spaghetti westerns, in particular a Morricone-like film score.
William Friedkin (The French Connection and The Exorcist) was responsible for bringing the play, Killer Joe written by Terry Letts, to the screen in 2011. It is an intense, dark, and funny film. I think it showcases Matthew McCanughey as the steely Killer Joe. There are fine performances from the rest of the supporting cast that of the seedy, down and out, morally suspect family: Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon, and Thomas Hayden Church.
I suppose Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (2012) will win many awards this year and deceivingly so. I must admit that I was somewhat suspect, sicne Spielberg films can be saccharine sweet and wince inducing, but I thought Daniel Day Lewis' performance was extraordinary as were the make-up, costumes, and set decorations. I also thought there were many excellent supporting roles by actors such as John Hawkes, James Spader, Tim Blake Nelson, David Straithhairn, etc.
Contemporary comedy romances are among my least favorite types of films, but I have to say that David O. Russell has created a modern masterpiece with his latest film, Silver Linings Playbook (2012). It is the story of a bipolar man (Bradley Cooper) whose marriage is all but over that is trying to reintegrate into society and win back his wife. At a dinner party he meets an equally unstable woman (Jennifer Lawrence) whose husband has recently died. Even though it is working in the conventions of the romantic comedy it provides several surprises and is very funny at many points throughout the film.