Other Films of Note from 2012

January 20th, 2013  |  Published in January 2013

Other Films of Note from 2012

–David Schloss

There were many films I saw in Cincinnati last year that I thought deserving of honorable mentions. My best of 2012 list from last month was based on the same pool as the Golden Globes and Oscars Best Picture nominees, with a few exceptions: Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty had not opened here as of that time; Amour still hasn’t opened in Cincinnati yet, and Les Miserables, a film which, for various reasons of taste, I never expect to see.

The Oscar Best Picture finalists are: Argo, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wilds, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, The Life of Pi, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Zero Dark Thirty. The Golden Globes Dramatic Best Picture nominees were Argo, Django, Pi, Silver Linings, Zero, and for Best Comedy or Musical, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Les Miserables, Moonrise Kingdom, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Silver Linings Playbook. I’ve seen all that I haven’t already specified, so most of my omissions are quite deliberate. However, I did miss a few: e.g., Flight and Skyfall, and also some documentaries.… I did see The Loneliest Planet by Julia Loktev, shot in Caucasian Georgia, with Gael Garcia Bernal and Hana Furstenberg, on cable; it was one of the best of the year but never opened here, among some other standouts.

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty might have been on my Best of 2012 list, though I think her Hurt Locker was better. The Jessica Chastain character is the typically driven monomaniacal protagonist of all of her films, sometimes female (e.g., Blue Steel) and beyond her obvious competence in action directing (the bin Laden killing sequence is truly remarkable), her films bear relation to Howard Hawks’ galleries of driven characters committed to their work (Only Angels Have Wings, Red River, etc.). Incidentally, I don’t think the torture is validated by the filmmakers, simply illustrated, without agenda or implied commentary. I think she is a significant director, less flashy, but more meaningful than the more celebrated Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, her ex-, James Cameron, Steven Speilberg, the Coen Brothers, etc., and many more pretentious practitioners. She’s like David Cronenberg in her clear concise intelligent professionalism.

2012 was actually a pretty good year, minus some predictable dry spells. So, to continue with my list of Cincinnati openings from 2012 that are worthy of mention, in chronological order of my seeing them:

My Week With Marilyn, dir Simon Carter, Eddie Redmayne winningly ogles MM (Michele Williams in a game effort at impersonation that misses some of the original’s charisma and leaves her sad pathos as her main effect. Surprisingly serious confrontation with fluffy material.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Dir Thomas Alfredson, (of the masterful Let The Right One In, the best vampire film since Nosferatu and Vampyr, perhaps) delivers an intelligent, beautifully visualized, yet oddly inert dour rendition of the Le Carre material, despite the excellent subtle performances. I admired it but couldn’t love it.

Shame, dir. Steve McQueen, Michael Fassbender, (reviewed in Aeqai).

Bullhead, dir. Michael. A Rohsam. With Matthaes Scheonnerts. Memorably creepy delineation of a huge gang enforcer whose manhood was destroyed in his youth by a rich, protected psychopath—the consequences are doomed tragedy in an ugly landscape of nauseous visuals.

Ramparts, dir. Owen Moverman. Woody Harrelson, Robin Wright, Ned Beatty, Ice Cube. Genre material transformed by very good director (The Messenger) and strong performances, yet ultimately delimited thematically.

In Darkness, dir. Agnieska Holland. A surviving the holocaust film about Jews protected by a Polish man for money—one who eventually transforms under the circumstances into a better human being.
The spiritual themes of transformation are typical of much of Holland’s excellent filmography.

In the Family. Dir. by and starring Patrick Wang. A striking family problem film about control of a dead gay man’s son by his surviving male partner (Wang) or his other relatives, made with clear eyed emotional control throughout. Fine debut.

The Sleeping Beauty, dir Catherine Breillat. A feminist revision of this fairy tale, quite surreal, but its often-striking strangeness doesn’t quite add up. Breillet’s best (Romance, The Last Mistress) are in more “realistic” modes taken over the top, not originating in fantasy, I think.

Bellamy, dir. Claude Chabrol An impressive last film from a master filmmaker, at 80, with Gerard Depardieu as the genial eponymous detective in an almost metaphysical case. A fine portrait in passing of a long term marriage amidst the usual charming Chabrolian perversities.

Footnote, dir. Joseph Cedar. An astute examination of academe and academics, as well as family jealousy through the lens of a father and son grappling for an academic honor. Some gruesomely funny confrontations.

The Hunter, dir. David Neithen. Remarkable in its use of Tasmania as an arena for moral conflict of man and nature. Willem Dafoe, Sam Neill in a vividly visualized allegory of the morality of hunting the last Tasmanian “tiger” for profit. Intensely engaging

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Ridiculous set up is validated by the commitment of the performers to a world that one comes to accept and enter with increasing pleasure. Ewen MacGregor, Emily Blunt.

Coriolanus, dir and starring Ralph Fienes, with Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave. Honorable and visceral filmic rendering of the philosophical Shakespeare action play.

The Father of my Children, dir. Mia Hanson-Love, with remarkable naturalistic performances by two young girls—among the best ever—evoked in a film of a family surviving the suicide of a film producer father in Paris.

Boy, dir, and starring Taiha Waikiri, with James Rolleston as the boy. Similar theme to Kid with a Bike, a portrait of a Maori boy yearning for his ne’er do well father in New Zealand. Oddly comic, but very sad. Can’t compete with the Dardenne Bros., but has its own sweet charms.

Sound of My Voice, dir. Brit Marling. Another otherworldly turn by Marling as a leader of a cult who claims to be from the future. Two would be debunkers infiltrate her world. Intelligent analysis of faith and psychology of the characters.

Le Havre, dir. Aki Kaurismaaki. A sweet but rigorously limited fable of communal goodness in the face of failure and poverty.

Magic Mike, dir. Stephen Soderbergh. Channing Tatum, Matthew McConnaghey in a sweet cartoon of male stripping, with themes adeptly and seriously engaged beyond its central triteness. Tatum is an interestingly sincere, sensitive, graceful lout. MM is an over the top narcissist scene-stealer throughout.

Safety Not Guaranteed, dir. Colin Trevarrow, with Michael Duplas and Aubry Plaza. More time travel, this time maybe for “real”—but it becomes the basis of a film about trust and love and commitment.

Beasts of the Southern Wild, dir. Benh Zeitlin. With Quvenzhane Wallis as a little girl surviving in magnificently visually-realized dire circumstances with vehement forcefulness. Limited dramatically, for all that.

Arbitrage, an analysis of a slick money man (Richard Gere) as a creep who gets his comeupance.
With Susan Sarandan, Tim Roth. Very coldly, yet sharply played. Nowhere near last year’s terrific Margin Call about this cutthoat world, however

Argo, dir. and starring Ben Affleck, whose The Town and Gone Baby Gone showed his real (directing) skills. Limited actor, and the film shows little character growth in anyone, but this is more modest though adept attempt at milking its Iranian milieu. An espionage adventure theme, played as exotic (artificial) suspense. With John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin. Interesting comparisons to Zero Dark Thirty, which I think is the better film, though this is funnier.

Elena, dir. Andrei Zvyaginstsev. A chilling analysis of Russian society: grappling for money in a pitiless emotional, social and physical environment The fight for an inheritance pits sides playing the legal and illegal systems for material rewards, even unto murder.

Turn Me On, Dammit Swedish teenage girl in boring small town is ostracized around her search for love. Sounds awful, but its truth in the details is extraordinary, charming and touching on themes of realistic portrayals of young lust.

Hello I Must Be Going, dir Todd Luiso. This comedy of embarrassment and humiliation really goes somewhere in this examination of a depressed woman returned home to suburbia (Melanie Lynskey) who has an affair with a teenage son of her parents’ friends! The stakes are, however, serious.

Wuthering Heights, Andrea Arnold. This take on the book is as odd as the failed Anna Karenina, but here the gritty de-glamorization finally pays off as an amour fou on a totally de-romanticized muddy grey Yorkshire moor by earnest unknown performers, including a black Heathcliff. Arnold is a risk- taking director, Scottish, trained at NYU, whose previous Fishtank was remarkable.

Smashed, dir. James Pensoldt. Elizabeth Ann Winstead and Aaron Paul and a fine realistic script transcend the maudlin alcoholic genre with portraits of recovery in one partner in a damaged marriage.

Hitchcock, dir. Sasha Gervasi. Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Danny Huston. Nowhere near the master filmmaker in its filmmaking or in impersonation in looks, (but his voice work is impressive). Surprisingly witty fun as a comedy of marriage between the famous and perverse.

This Must Be the Place, dir. Paolo Sorrentino. Weird film that really pays off by the end when Sean Penn (in full make up throughout) as burned out glam rocker, interacts with relatives of a Nazi and then confronts the Nazi himself in a nuanced set of culminating scenes that show the strange character really is of the moral kind that Penn gravitates to in his parts. Sorrentino has a very quirky eye and sense of comedic rhythms throughout this oddball material.

Life of Pi, dir. Ang Lee, Wonderful long middle section book-ended by less thrilling discussions of religion and metaphor making. Worth seeing in 3D for the vivid colorful fairy tale effects.

The Welldigger’s Daughter., dir. and with Daniel Antheil. Very sweet old-fashioned remake of Marcel Pagnol’s 1940 film, contrived and yet touching on themes of truthfulness, consequences, forgiveness.

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