Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Top 10 Best Films of 2012

1) DJANGO UNCHAINED – Quentin Tarantino could have easily just rested on his laurels after 2009’s incomparably incredible Inglourious Basterds. However, proving once again why he’s the most exciting working director, the former video clerk wunderkind delivered a bloody, furious love letter to Spaghetti Westerns that also serves as a fiery, pissed off middle finger to America’s horrific slavery past. Featuring stellar iconic performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained gleefully tramples down taboos, cliches and genre conventions, fearlessly blazing an uproarious, surprising and gripping trail straight into the heart of movie geek heaven.

2) THE FLAT – One of 2012’s most emotionally profound movie experiences, Arnon Goldfinger’s haunting documentary The Flat sees the Israeli filmmaker unraveling a truly shocking connection between his Zionist grandparents and a high-ranking Nazi officer circa WWII. As he interviews key players throughout Germany, and uncovers startling new revelations, we’re given a deeper understanding of the country’s generational divide in dealing with the appalling impact of the Holocaust. Moving and passionate, The Flat poses huge provocative questions that linger with the viewer long after the credits roll.

3) SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK – The best ode to the works of Billy Wilder in a long time, David O’Russell’s side-splitting, winningly romantic comic exploration of bipolar disorder and dysfunctional family dynamics was a rapturously joyful time at the movies. Populated by an awe-inspiring cast – with particular attention owed to the radiant and unfathomably talented Jennifer Lawrence – this is a feast of delicious dialogue, served up with bite, love and razor-sharp wit. Silver Linings Playbook doesn’t merely make you smile. It leaves you uncontrollably beaming ear-to-ear.

4) THE AVENGERS – This really shouldn’t have worked out this well. Yet, glory of glories, Joss Whedon’s Marvel franchise team-up spectacular was that oh-so-rare popcorn blockbuster that had smarts, pulse-quickening action and plenty of cool to spare. Admirably character-driven in plot, humour and epic battle sequences, The Avengers is everything one could ever hope for in such a grand creative venture, with enough fist-pumping “Awesome!” moments to fuel a dozen typical Hollywood tentpoles. If you wanted to have spellbinding fun at the movies in summer 2012, Whedon and his mighty team were the only heroes worth championing.

5) THE GREY  – A primal existential howl, Joe Carnahan’s wilderness survival tale is a red-blooded portrait of lost souls, led by alpha male Liam Neeson, navigating an icy, wolf-infested purgatory on their exhausted way to relief and, possibly, redemption. As poignant as it is thrilling, The Grey is a victorious culmination of the previously uneven director’s testosterone-fuelled obsessions. It doesn’t just entertain mightily; it cuts to the bone as harshly as a chilling blast from an oppressive Alaskan winter windstorm.

6) THE MASTER – Paul Thomas Anderson’s bizarre meditation on religion and man’s animalistic nature was the most intriguing cinematic conundrum of 2012. Buoyed by masterclass turns by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master is almost gleefully audience-unfriendly. Leisurely-paced and aloof, it takes us on a discombobulating odyssey of discovery that ultimately leaves us unsettled and scratching our heads, left to draw our own conclusions. That said, the impressive power of The Master isn’t its ability to worm its way into your head, so much as how it irresistibly lingers there long after the initial journey is over.

7) THE RAID: REDEMPTION – This propulsive blast of hyperkinetic madness should have been called “Hey Hollywood, You’re Doing it Wrong!” Gareth Evan’s Indonesian beat’em up orgy is the epitome of B-movie action brilliance; a taut, eye-poppingly violent 100 minutes of expertly directed chaos, frenetic martial arts madness and bone-crunching brutality. Is it high art? Hell no! But who cares when the results are this go-for-broke exhilarating?!

8) THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – And so, the Bat at last soared into the triumphant sunset in Christopher Nolan’s ambitious, challenging and, yes, occasionally unwieldy, The Dark Knight Rises. Staggering in scope and bursting at the seams with ideas and torn-from-the-headlines parallels, this was the Feel Bad blockbuster to end all Feel Bad blockbusters; a gloomy, dread-soaked and utterly mesmerizing march through the vicious, crumbling canyons of beloved ol’ Gotham City. Although it didn’t match the near-perfection of 2008’s The Dark Knight, Rises was an engrossing and inventive trilogy capper, wonderfully told.

9) THE IMPOSSIBLE – Unfortunately overshadowed by its odd white-washed casting decisions, Juan Antonio Bayona’s wrenching real-life disaster story is an achievement of devastating atmosphere and soaring, soul-tugging emotion. Starring an impressively raw Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, The Impossible sickeningly recreates the 2004 Thai tsunami and its tragic aftermath, chronicling the powerful story of one family’s unimaginable endurance and torturous path to reunion. Admirably naturalistic, this is a devastating work of virtuoso filmmaking that speaks to the unconquerable power of the human spirit.

10) KILLER JOE – Few actors had a better year than Matthew McConaughey. While Magic Mike may have gotten him the most attention, it’s his work in William Friedkin’s blackly hilarious hillbilly noir that truly stuns. Playing a corrupt lawman with an appetite for underage girls, McConaughey is a sweaty, swaggering illustration of reptilian sleaze; an untouchable creep living it up in a trailer trash paradise of immorality and perversity. Killer Joe is a minor miracle of absurdist ugly cinema, with a climactic dinner scene that may forever turn you off of KFC. Seriously.


*Originally printed in BeatRoute Magazine.

Film Review - JACK REACHER

“I’m not a hero. I’m a drifter with nothing to lose!”

That amazing line, spouted by a surly Tom Cruise, is merely an appetizer for Jack Reacher, a veritable smorgasbord of stony-faced, hard-boiled dialogue imbued with the gravitas of a Shakespearean actor savoring Hamlet. It’s a study in absurd tough guy poetry, lacking the self-awareness of Tarantino or Mamet, but delivered with so much oomph that you can’t help smiling. Especially when Werner Herzog shows up and starts icily reminiscing about chewing off his frostbitten fingers…

Based on the novel One Shot by Lee Child – the ninth entry in the so-far 17-volume Reacher series – the picture is a delightfully analog ode to the old school crime thriller; an energetic exercise in reliable noir tropes gussied up with high wattage charisma and low key cool. Not a whole lot makes sense, but who cares? You don’t take in a film like this for logic, so much as to revel in Hollywood grit, violence and badass attitude. And on that front, Reacher delivers with style.

Written and directed by The Usual Suspects scribe Christopher McQuarrie – who previously helmed 2000’s underrated rough-edged gem The Way of the Gun – Jack Reacher casts Cruise as a no-nonsense former military investigator who lives like a modern day wandering samurai, off the grid and free of human attachments. Drawn into the case of a mass-murdering Pittsburgh sniper, he quickly draws the attention of both the gunman’s public defender (Rosamund Pike – dressed like a teenage boy’s erotic fantasy of a female professional) and the local criminal element, personified by a dead-eyed, and invaluable, Herzog. Of course, it isn’t long before punches are being hurled and classic cars are squealing at high speeds across the asphalt. Did I mention not all is as it seems, either?

There’s very little you haven’t seen before here, yet, thanks largely to the intense dedication of its magnetic lead, the film fires along at an admirably strong clip. The Cruise Show may not be as potent a draw as it once was, though there’s no denying it’s a show that still works. And, because McQuarrie surrounds him with a stellar supporting cast – including Richard Jenkins and Robert Duvall – and has a terrific instinct for macho atmosphere and action, this star vehicle hums like a well-oiled engine, muscular and brimming with confidence.
Jack Reacher won’t set the multiplex ablaze with originality or bold innovation. However, it’s a solid and engaging red-blooded B-picture that exceeds expectations, offering a few surprises and thrills in the process. And, you know something? Sometimes that’s more than enough.

3.5 out of 5

*Originally printed in BeatRoute Magazine.