Thursday, January 17, 2013

Top 10 Movies of 2012

Looks Like I've Made It

'Best Movies of 2012'

      It is important to maintain a semblance of tradition despite the jarring reality that my blog has exhibited reclusive tendencies more severe than Henry David Thoreau during his Walden Pond stint. While receding quietly into the distance, a compulsion to maintain some blogging consistency, even if remote, propels me forward. And what represents forward at the present moment is my annual edition of the "Best Films of the Past Year;" substitute 2012 for past year.
       My interrogation of the year in film indicates that there is a fissure among the legions of critics who champion their work online. Some bemoan the year that was, denouncing the sterility of Hollywood while simultaneously proclaiming a regression in the routinely-flourishing labors of World Cinema. The other critical faction of which I proudly reside, considers 2012 a terrific year. Certainly any year represents a mixed bag, generally classified by middling fare in the first-quarter, exciting blockbuster spectacles during the summer, and Award's contenders in the latter half of the year. 2012 reinforced this convenient rubric. But not convincingly as many exceptions awakened us to the pleasures of year-round cinematic cheer. 
      The early months ushered in the releases of Haywire, The Grey, Chronicle, 21 Jump Street, and The Cabin in the Woods, all terrific films that signaled 2012 was ahead of the curve. Moonrise Kingdom, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild and other festival favorites whetted our appetites for more artistic flare. The summer season kicked off in rousing fashion with the titanic emergence of Joss Whedon's The Avengers, which single-handedly prevented the Dark Knight from Rising and Spider-Man from being Amazing. And other enjoyable flicks sprinkled in the mix during the long summer months kept us cinematically sane; Looper springs to mind. But the second-half of 2012 resoundingly upped the ante. The Master, Argo, Holy Motors, and myriad other celebrated works confirmed the excellence of 2012. And Award's season carried the momentum forward as stalwart veterans like Tarantino, Bigelow, and Spielberg guided us to the glorious finish line.
      So here we are, ready to jump aboard the moving train to witness first-hand another stellar year of movie magic. I can't wait. But in the meantime, allow me to unveil my "Top 10 Films of 2012" as well as a smattering of other lists to bookend a fantastic year in film. 

10). Beasts of the Southern Wild
      A rare case it is when a young filmmaker arrives without fanfare and unburdened by heedless expectation. But in his feature-film debut Benh Zeitlin emblazons an original mark on the staid formalities of feature-filmmaking, obliterating the notion that talent comes solely from pedigree. What Mr. Zeitlin adroitly dispenses is a wellspring of imagination and creative power precariously absent in mainstream films, an endangered Hollywood species so to speak. That a child's perception of the world informs this neo-realist landscape, befallen by tragedy and deprivation, is all the more remarkable. Astounding, too, is the lucidity with which Zeitlin wields the mysticism of his magical impulses, transforming psychic remnants of anguish and despair into ebullient revelations. Optimism overtakes tragedy and what a sight it is to behold. More success stories forged by pictures like Beasts of the Southern Wild and the allure of bold and artistic filmmaking can surely become commercially viable.  

9). Nameless Gangster
      Think Goodfellas of the Far East. Well, that isn't even remotely true, but it does reveal a certain cachet, does it not? Let's face it, few films are capable of conjuring up comparisons to an unblemished masterpiece, and while Nameless Gangster exudes bravado, it falls short of such venerable esteem. Matching the potency of Scorsese's unflinching assault on the gangster picture is predictably impossible. Successfully attempting to match its ambition; however, is a significant feat. Because Yoon Jong-bin reaches for such prodigious heights, I am compelled to bestow my highest praise. Also, South Korea has a virtual monopoly on modern crime films and this is among the best I've seen. I would also recommend The Man From Nowhere, The Dirty Carnival, Memories of Murder, The Chaser, and Kim Ki-duk's Pieta, which contended for a Best Foreign Film nomination (it failed to make the short list). The pleasures I experience from watching a truly remarkable crime film, which still ranks as my favorite genre, are unassailable. If you're bitten by the same corruptible bug—i.e. an attraction to cinematic displays of objectionable moral behavior, Nameless Gangster is a terrific antidote to relieve that attraction. 

8). The Raid: Redemption
      Kinetic filmmaking taken to an anabolic extreme is the best encapsulation of Gareth Evans' most effective work. If it were possible to transpose artistically onto the screen the visual poetry of tennis' greatest pro, Roger Federer doing Roger Federer things, I'm convinced The Raid: Redemption would be the image assaulting our senses. A great tennis match showcases balletic movement, aggression, and impossible skill. This film accomplishes much the same albeit with relentless violence. 
      The bible of all action films, Die Hard, succeeds in no small consequence because of its exceptional pacing. Well, Evans heeds McTiernan's message (and thankfully not his legal counsel) because The Raid benefits from very much the same measure of astute pacing. One gripping action sequence follows another and the familiarity is neither tedious nor tiresome. While The Raid does not transcend the genre, say in the way Kurosawa's Seven Samurai transformed action adventures, nor does it contextualize violence in dramatic, new ways ala Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch, what The Raid does is elevate the appeal of martial arts-centered action flicks (which have suffered a grim fate of late, though Johnnie To's Throw Down is an exception). In a very Tarantino, Reservoir Dogs fashion, The Raid: Redemption challenges the conventional aesthetic commonly found in these types of films by adhering to a more ultra-violent, lyrical, hyper-aggressive framework. The choreography is sublime, the action breakneck, and the violence raw and unhinged. In the final tally, I suspect not one soul could watch this film without exulting at least once because the visual energy is that sensational. And by the way, Iko Uwais has now inherited the crown of the "Most Badass Motha-----" on screen.

7). Searching For Sugar Man
      2012 has been a fantastic year for documentaries and of all those I've seen, Searching For Sugar Man is the one earning my most ardent recommendation. Capturing the rhythm of real life is complicated business. Any filmmaker worth their salt seeks, in some circuitous or fragmented way, a modicum of truth. At the very least directors pursue an agenda, which invariably reflects their personal experience; experience itself that mirrors life. Documentaries have always been fertile ground for this kind of purposeful cinema. And Malik Bendjelloul's exploration of one man's extraordinary life aligns favorably with this appeal for enlightenment. While I would never concede that there is a right or wrong way to advance cinema, there certainly exists an inspired way. And what Bendjelloul so fluently demonstrates in what I consider the year's best documentary is the peripheral reverberation of that very inspiration.

6). Django Unchained
      Simply put: The most fun I've had at the theater all year! Tarantino's brilliance as a filmmaker reveals not so much an acumen for visual flourish, though he has matured a great deal, so much as an undeniable grasp of narrative fulfillment. He knows precisely what makes movies work and what makes them fun. A master of ceremonies disguised as a director should follow any announcement of his name. 
      Characteristic of any Tarantino picture are a litany of trademarks. His dialogue is a weapon of pop-provocation. The performances he shepherds are minutely textured to facilitate nuance, which he mines for comic or dramatic effect. The characters themselves are stretched to such daring comedic and emotional heights that the tightrope between genres has to be massaged ever so delicately. 
      It is easy to dismiss his work as mindless pastiche meant purely for shock value; the image as a weapon of mass defilement if you will. But an accusation of this class ignores one crucial detail. Tarantino is conscious of those who have influenced him. He neither hides nor embellishes them. Instead, he masterminds inventive ways to transform these spheres of influence into a new light, under a suffocating glare, employing a more microscopic lens. The end result of this very deliberate dissection is an amalgam tethered infinitely to the power of film. The vitality and passion that breathes from his work cannot be faked. 

5). Holy Motors
      My favorite sequence present in any film this year occurs at what I suppose is the intermission of Holy Motors, when lead character, played calculatingly chameleonic by Denis Lavant, shuttles windingly through an old cathedral accompanied by a motley band of feverish accordion players. The strange and exhilarating sequence is emblematic of Leos Carax's entire film, which eschews the normative comforts of linearity and logic. Narrative incoherence is Carax's intention, and the meandering, raucous energy supplied by that engrossing tracking shot through the cathedral affirms his aims completely. The experience of watching this film is liberating not simply because it strives to be different, but because Carax infuses every frame with an unadulterated passion for cinema. The bewildering narrative may be challenging or disconcerting for some viewers, but I found it absolutely invigorating. Carax's bold artistic picture should be applauded because it dares to be distinct. 

4). Oslo, August 31st
      Joachim Trier reminds me so much of Nicolas Winding Refn. Those who frequent my blog know Mr. Refn is one of my favorite directors working today. Trier's Norwegian ancestry and Danish roots ought to explain the similarities. But beyond a regional recollection of Refn, Mr. Trier illustrates sophisticated command of the language of cinema. So much of Oslo's appeal is conveyed entirely through image. Dialogue is sparse. Action is used sparingly and only to advance the dramatic flow. None of Trier's visual flourishes are turgid or exploited for artistic sake. They cohere to the tonal rhythms of his story, which is almost completely reflected in the acting of Anders Danielsen Lie, evincing powerful emotional dichotomies. A character whose compulsion is drugs certainly presents a dramatic latticework, and it is Anders quietly turbulent, affecting recall of these delinquent realities that harnesses the picture's real charm. Trier presents a confidence that is seldom seen and to think that this is only his second feature is astounding. He is unmistakably an original voice, and I am ecstatic to see what trajectory his career takes as he has gained a lifelong fan.  

3). Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
      Nuri Bilge Ceylan has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary filmmakers. Distant and Climates are in my estimation two masterpieces of the past decade, and I consider it a crime that it took as long as it did for me to discover his work. Ceylan is a curator of vivid compositions and knows precisely what to emphasize. Like his chief cinematic influences, which deducing from his work are luminaries like Tarkovsky and Angelopoulos, Mr. Ceylan values the primacy of the image. Compositions that reflect consummate, studious attention to detail are the norm, in which it is clear objects placed before the camera (i.e. mise-en-scene) have undergone advanced considerations. When Ceylan's camera moves, it is not accidental or impulsive, or symptomatic of Hollywood showmanship, but calibrated to underscore some pertinence in the image. Dialogue is not remotely as important as gesture. I even somewhat recognize glimpses of Ozu in his work, though he does not cohere as steadfastly as some other modern mavericks like Hou Hsiao-Hsien or the late Edward Yang. 
      Burrowing deep into the psychology of a country, into the cavities of desperation, the wide-open expanses of exploration, and the interior complexities of human nature, Ceylan constructs deeply introspective character portraits. The conventions of police procedurals or Hollywood thrillers are eschewed in favor of a meditation about memory, romantic trauma, the fragile impermanence of memory, and the spectral rhythms of night. Anatolia, as Ceylan envisions it, is a small, simple, country-like town punctuated by incandescent flashes of isolated phenomena; people and places. The barren, foreboding hillsides emphasize this pathology. It is an inscrutable, elusive picture that contextualizes the psychology of characters who are both physically and emotionally distant. Integrating mood and environment is indispensable, and the poetic ambiance Ceylan enforces drives viewers headfirst into an examination of the core faculties of human nature. 
      Ceylan once famously said he likes to bore his viewers because, in a very Brechtian fashion, it frees them from the safeguards of escapism. What this daring approach ultimately accomplishes is miraculous. It nourishes the retrospective synapse deep in our minds, allowing us to think critically and become active participants. Deep reflection is sought. Mr. Ceylan hopes revelation follows. Well, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is a magnificent revelation. 

2). Zero Dark Thirty
      This film is the only reason Argo is not among my ten favorites even though I consider Affleck's harrowing thriller to be an exceptionally well-made, poignant love letter to classical cinema. This begs the important question: What pedigree of film presents credentials that justifies snubbing Mr. Affleck, much in the same shameless way the Academy demonstrated last week? Well, the prodigiously talented Kathryn Bigelow, far removed from the mediocrity of the fallow, "adolescent period of her career" (Point Break being the true exception) unleashes the same verve and dynamism that garnered her last film, The Hurt Locker, a Best Picture and Director win. 
      Bigelow is one of the few modern gurus of action, a title that Michael Bay dismally aspires to. She choreographs intense, elaborate set-pieces with gusto and extraordinary flair. She does so without resorting to cheap payoffs, without bludgeoning our sensory receptors and without degrading the stars on screen. She is in one sense a successor to Hitchcock, evidenced by her masterful command of viewer suspense, and on the other hand, a modern progenitor, employing the socio-political ambiguities of a new danger—that being terrorism and guerrilla warfare. 
      Beyond Bigelow's inspired direction, what also elevates Zero Dark Thirty to spectacular heights is the incredible, emotionally complex performance of Jessica Chastain, who always reminds me what great acting entails. In a role that any other director would have turned into another derivative masculine ideal, Bigelow and Chastain transform into a heroic, unsentimental bastion of femininity that espouses a woman is every bit a man's equal—if not their superior. 
      There is no question: Zero Dark Thirty is the definitive post-9/11 film. The climate of fear and hysteria propagating modern times is shrewdly mined by Bigelow to forge exhilarating, provocative cinema. One final caveat: I find it inconsolable that the paltry temperature of today's media could allow this magnificent film to be brazenly reduced to, "Oh, that torture movie." It's despicable. Please: Do not let the pitiable vicissitudes of media conglomerates dictate your viewing habits. See this move. Your capacity to be astounded will increase, and you'll thank me later. If not, subject me to torture because one controversy begets another. 

1). The Master
      Succinctly conveyed are five words that underline every motive to see this film: Paul Thomas Anderson made it. All of Mr. Anderson's films are euphoric odysseys into the human condition. From his luminous debut Hard Eight and declaration of Kubrickian genius Boogie Nights, to his sprawling, emotionally grandiose Magnolia, to his intimate, singularly obsessive Punch Drunk Love, and magnum opus There Will Be Blood, Anderson's filmography is a rare artifice of sublime creation. The Master continues his meteoric trajectory. Caught amid the propulsion of a NASA space shuttle, PTA has evolved through the annals of auteurism, demonstrating uncanny spurts of creative versatility and a superlative grasp of all the numerous tools at a filmmaker's disposal. 
      As Kurosawa's famous maxim dictates, it begins with the screenplay. Anderson is a consummate writer-director who obsesses over the relationships between his characters, as opposed to following some formulaic, three-act structure that drains the story of real, emotional power. In the vein of Max Ophuls and other peerless visual stylists, Anderson relies on the spatial psychology of his camera, in a kind of voyeuristic dynamism, to insinuate feeling, emotion, and purpose. His perfectionist approach to mise-en-scene harmonizes beautifully with this kind of contemplative camerawork (note his famous tracking shot in Boogie Nights). But that which separates Anderson from other adept practitioners of robust cinematography is his immaculate work with actors. He has that Elia Kazan, Sidney Lumet rapport that inspires the most luminous of performances. Combine all these facets with his meticulous approach to sound, music, and editing, and what materializes is a fascinating tour de force of inimitable visual splendor. 
      Like Stanley Kubrick, PTA appreciates the multivalence that ambiguity prescribes. It enlivens the work, supplying vast interpretive meanings. Some find this "artistic" method challenging, pretentious, or incomplete. I deeply admire it. The profundities of meaning that flow from a well-crafted film, always the case when stewarded by Mr. Anderson, supplant the generic, color-by-number exercises provided by far too many Hollywood productions. While  I reserve respect for someone who disapproves of Anderson's abstract approach, I exult emphatically in the discovery of an Anderson disciple. And I know the latter comprises a greater majority of the dueling factions. 
      On a final, dour note, Anderson was crudely snubbed by the Academy, suffering the same ignoble fate as Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow, though I was pleased to learn the performances in The Master were celebrated with requisite adoration. And I suspect, many of you readers will, too. 


Honorable Mentions or The Next Best (How 'bout a Top 40!?): 21 Jump Street, Amour, Argo, The Avengers, Bernie, The Cabin in the Woods, Chronicle, Cloud Atlas, Dredd, End of Watch, Flight, Goon, The Grey, Haywire, The Imposter, The Intouchables, Killer Joe, Killing Them Softly, Lincoln, Looper, The Lucky One, Magic Mike, Moonrise Kingdom, Pieta, Safety Not Guaranteed, Seven Psychopaths, Silver Linings Playbook, Skyfall, Sleepwalk With Me, The Queen of Versailles, Ted

Neither Great Nor Terrible, But Perfectly Commendable: Arbitrage, The Expendables 2, Frankenweenie, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Jack Reacher, Jeff Who Lives At Home, John Carter, Lawless, ParaNorman, Wreck-it Ralph
     
Disappointing (some significantly more than others): The Amazing Spider-Man, Brave, Bourne Legacy, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Hunger Games, John Carter, Les Miserables, Men In Black III, Prometheus, Safe House, Savages, This Is 40 

Duds or Plain Irrefutable Garbage: Act of Valor, American Reunion, Battleship, Premium Rush, Project X, Snow White and the Huntsman, Taken 2,  This Means War

Still Unseen But Would Likely Garner "Best of" Consideration: A Royal Affair, The Color Wheel, Footnote, The Gatekeepers, How To Survive A Plague, Life of Pi, Polisse, Rust and Bone, The Sessions, This Is Not A Film, The Turin Horse, Wuthering Heights

16 comments:

  1. Sadly I've only seen two on your list, Django Unchained and The Raid Redemption.
    However I've seen many of the honorable mentions, and definitely place Argo, Lincoln, and Looper at the top of my list.

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    1. Hi Alex,

      The fact that Argo, Lincoln, and Looper did not make my Top 10 is testament to how truly great this past year in film was. It's also the reason why it took an extra two weeks in January to finalize my list.

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  2. Yay for The Raid: Redemption!!! It's currently No. 1 on my list, but I still have to see The Master, Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook.

    I'm sad to see that you were disappointed by The Amazing Spider-Man. I thought it was top-notch entertainment, and actually better than 2 of the 3 Sam Raimi movies.

    Loved Premium Rush too.

    Life of Pi is a must-see, trust me on this one!

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    1. I guess that makes us brothers by Raid! What a terrific action showcase.

      I must say I'm jealous. I wish I could relive my first experience with The Master and Zero Dark Thirty. You're lucky that you've got a lot of great film ahead of you.

      Wasn't a fan of Premium Rush. It was too gimmicky, dull, and just plain predictable. Also, as much as I adore JGL, I loathed his character. I think even Michael Shannon realized the absurdity of the plot and characters. He was the only remotely redeeming thing about the entire production.

      I can't wait to see Life of Pi.

      Thanks!

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  3. Welcome back Matty! Great list and huzzah Honorable Mention for Skyfall!

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    1. Thanks, Craig!

      Being an unabashed Bond loyalist, I bet you honored Skyfall by naming it your top film of the year. It was really terrific, though in the Daniel Craig universe, I still prefer Casino Royale. Maybe a second viewing of Skyfall will reconfigure my assessment.

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  4. To this list I say "Damn you, sir." I'm already so far behind in my movie watching, yet because of your impeccable taste in films, now I have to add many more to my ever- growing list of must-sees. I've only caught 1 of your top 10 so far (Raid) and sadly, hadn't even heard of 4 of them.

    Damn you. And thanks. :)

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    1. Thanks, Nate!

      I always appreciate your enthusiastic candor. And please do not be discouraged by my viewing history. I am an obsessive cinephile and thus an outlier when it comes to gauging watch history. All I can say to guide you along your remarkable cinematic travels is prepare to be astounded. You've got a lot of great cinema yet to devour. Embrace the journey, pal!

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  5. It has been far too long since I have seen a post here. :) Somehow I knew awards season would bring you out for a bit. A very impressive list with lots that I am going to have to eventually check out.

    I am hugely disappointed Miss Kathryn did not get an Oscar nom. I can't help, but wonder if it is the Boys Club at work once more. Then again, I don't get Bradley Cooper's nom. He's a continuing disappointment to me, flailing about in Silver Linings like a freshman at a senior dance. He's clearly out classed in every scene, even by Chris Tucker, and was a huge reason why I did not like this movie more.

    My list was much more pop culture friendly as I stuck to films I wanted to see in the theater because of action, etc. Haywire, the Woman in Black, Moonrise Kingdom, Avengers, Dark Knight Rises and Resident Evil: Retribution. I know I caught a lot of flack for that last one. I think I'm the only one who saw the sheer brilliance in it. Color me weird. ;)

    I also loved Killer Joe and thought Matthew and Gina should have gotten something for that chicken bone scene. Seriously that whole cast was brilliant. Some of my worst were Anna Karenina, The Grey, What To Expect and Chronicle.

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    1. Aha, Melissa, you know me too well. My futile attempts to maintain consistency are not lost on ya! And thanks for appreciating the little content I do generate :)

      Bigelow's snub really infuriates me not because I do not think the voters neglected to understand the film's merits, but I suspect they took into account the controversy that has surrounded her picture. And if that is indeed the case (we'll never know for sure), how can you not be peeved? Glad you're with me on this one.

      SLP was a nice, charming film, but it failed to deliver the kind of gritty, emotional power that Russell's last Academy darling, The Fighter, effortlessly seemed to channel. Cooper does not ware on me the same as he clearly does on you. I actually find him to be a rather statuesque and steady leading man with obvious chops. But beauty, in this case talent, is in the eye of the beholder. And I also enjoyed Tucker's frantic energy. He was overlooked, though he did not have a great deal of screen time (not that the same measuring stick seemed to affect the much deserved Hathaway in Les Miserables).

      I saw your list a while back. I should have commented. I appreciate your tastes. That does not however mean I agree with your inclusion of Resident Evil, but what are idiosyncrasies if not an embrace of marginalized, much-maligned affairs?

      Killer Joe was friggen' terrific. I really considered putting that in my Top 10, but its been so long since I first saw it. I bet I'll be just as viscerally engaged with a second viewing. McConaughey's sinister charm—at times outward sadism, is really a sight for sore eyes. The guy can flat out act, no matter the role, and I'm happy critics are remembering how outstanding he can be. Now it seems he's more interested in interesting work and not just cashing a hefty paycheck from another derivative and dreadful rom-com.

      Why were The Grey and Chronicle among your worst? I loved each of them for different reasons, and was more relieved that some compelling cinema actually arrived so early in the calendar year (including Haywire!).

      Thanks always for your thoughtful feedback :)

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    2. This is why I love discussing movies with you and why I miss you terribly when you are not posting. Bigelow's snub for the supposed torture controversy would not be an issue if this had been done by a man. I know I'm hopping on that femi-Nazi soapbox so I'll check myself, but seriously, if Spielberg or Scorsese, Coppola or hell, even right out of teh box first timer Zeitlin, had tackled this story, the controversy would only heighten the awards appeal. Bottom line, women are not supposed to tackle stories like this. I know that is a tired argument, but I see it all the time.

      Okay, why The Grey and Chronicle were among my worst... to me they were so stereotypically male and completely one-dimensional. The Grey was Jaws with wolves only with much less character. The wolves were laughable and unfortunately made me think of the Twilight werewolves. This was the worst performance I have ever seen from Liam. I just did not understand his character's motivations one iota and he completely failed to deliver for me. The survival theme has been done oh so many times and there was nothing different here. I prefer Alive, The Edge, Flight of the Phoenix (1965) and the horror survival film, The Descent.

      Chronicle fell into the same category with the added flaw of being found footage. This medium creates an immediate disconnect, how can I be immersed in a movie if I'm watching something I could see on a 7-11 security camera or on someone's smartphone? And again why am I watching stereotypical teen boys (The Nerd, Nerd Brother/Cousin and Popular Boy) and super powers? I've seen that a million times already. Like with The Grey, it showed me nothing original.

      I tried to like these, but as they progressed, I just found myself increasingly bored and irritated. I know what I like and these were not it. I can usually appreciate what a director is trying to do, but I could not even do that with either one of these.

      I await your feedback. :)

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    3. Melissa,

      It takes two to tango. I suppose we do have a knack for brokering epic film discussions.

      Your fierce defense of feminism is refreshing because it's an element within film criticism that is either malnourished or misguided. I've read terribly deficient, ill-equipped defenses of female representation (I'm looking at you, Bechdel test). I've also seen the feminine card played in instances where it is conspicuously unwarranted. Your contention I consider to be quite poignant, and I think those in the media need to approach it with eyes as clear and inquisitive as yours. Thanks for being you :)

      I'm actually quite impressed by your complete undressing of The Grey and Chronicle. I can see how you could take umbrage with Liam's performance and the lycanthrope aesthetic i.e. the questionable CG. But instead of tangentially recalling allusions to Jaws, I simply drank the film's dour, meditative, metaphoric kool-aid. It was an emotional and powerful film about the will to live, about suffering, loss, perseverance and strength. It was terrifying, beautifully shot, wonderfully scored, and well-acted. That final scene underscored everything perfectly.

      But film is subjective and almost invariably polarizing, which is why I could see how someone loathes the inconclusive nature of the ending and the contemplative nature of the film itself.

      LOL @ your "7-11 security camera" critique of Chronicle. Of course, I contend that this criticism grotesquely distorts the film's aesthetic, reducing its visceral power to a clumsily palatable level that does not even remotely begin to summarize my take. As a breakthrough effort from both writer and director (Landis and Trank), I believe it harnesses the arresting power of found footage quite proficiently, cleverly capturing the atmosphere and psychology of that post-adolescent period. I think the referential nature of "found footage" also enhanced this psychic power. The telekinetic sequences were superbly choreographed. The acting was competent, but the story was ultimately what excited me most. Yes, at a surface glance, it is rather derivative and unoriginal. But the approach Landis and Trank took, the methodical way they fleshed out the narrative, the way they underlined the character's unique motivations, and the volatile nature of the action sequences most impressed me. Then again, in the spirit of diplomacy, I could understand how you find it cheaply thrilling and uninspired. In terms of art, Paranormal Activity has really tarnished what little actual appeal is fostered from found footage.

      I appreciate your feedback, and I think your opinions are perfectly curated. We're both in rare form, as we tend to unilaterally agree on pretty much everything. Here's to amicably disagreeing :)

      And thanks again for your awesome insights!

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    4. Anytime! I honestly appreciate you always letting me speak my mind here. I swear if we ever had a movie discussion in person we would close down whatever pub we happened to be in LOL. We usually are so in sync, but even our great minds don't always trod the same path. :)

      Perhaps I too readily dismissed Chronicle and yes, even The Grey to a degree, but I just get so tired of seeing men and boys have superpowers/adventures/saving the kingdom, etc. We women get... Twilight or the one time we did get our own superpower adventure, it was The Craft and surprise, surprise, we weren't heroes or hero wannabes, we were witches. Really? And did those witches even fight for the common good? Why no, they turned on the kids who made fun of them, then on each other. Where are the films which pit women against impossible foes, fighting with every ounce of strength they have to save country/kingdom/family, etc.?

      I proposed to a male friend that The Grey would have been more interesting with women. Say with Sigourney Weaver, Michelle Rodriguez, Milla Jovovich and Sienna Miller. He said it would not be believable because women don't have it in them to survive such extreme circumstances. And that it would never make money because no one wants to see women doing those kinds of things. He said "Men and boys like to think of their moms, sisters, wives and girlfriends as soft creatures who need their protection. They don't want to know that their loved one is capable of killing someone, or taking down a wolf because then that would mean that deep down, they were no longer needed." Hearing that got me to thinking that perhaps that is why women warriors are always depicted in sexy clothing. It makes them still safe in a way because men can see them as sex objects even as they are chopping someone's head off. It also got me to thinking that women like the status quo of protection, of being girly so they don't want to see women doing these kinds of things. I don't know, I'm just throwing that out there. It would certainly explain why characters like Alice and Ellen Ripley, while successful, don't reach the money heights of the Bella led Twilight series.

      In spite of that, I still want to know where the films are about women like Jerri Nielson, who performed her own breast cancer surgery in Antarctica because she'd been trapped there by the weather. Or Ines Ramirez, who had to perform her own c-section because no medical help was available to her in rural Mexico. These stories are certainly worthy of Hollywood treatment like Aron Ralston's in 127 Hours.

      All right, forgive me for taking up all of your blog space here. I just meant to say a few more comments on The Grey and Chronicle, then be done, but I went off on something else entirely. I should probably do something on my blog rather than take up yours LOL. My apologies, my friend. :)

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    5. I'm a proponent of closing pubs down by virtue of heavy alcohol consumption and stimulating conversation. Keeping the topic on movies would surely eradicate the pub's liquor supply.

      While I cannot feel your pain, as I am not a woman, I can certainly empathize. The struggles faced by women in Hollywood, by the dearth of strong female roles, are endemic to our cultural pathology, in particular, the perceptions rooted in our embittered gender histories. Accepting woman as equals took centuries, and yet still aspects of gender relations remain crude and prehistoric. No greater evidence of this than in the treatment of women in Hollywood, which, as your friend alludes to, mirrors the perceptions that we carry daily in our normal lives.

      But Hollywood, for better or worse, is a prisoner of commerce. The calculus is transparent. Profit ensures employment. The proliferation of blockbusters and the like are tantamount to the economic ebbs and flows of a system that relies wholly upon robust box office. If the numbers bear out a proclivity for strong male characters and sexy female counterparts, then that is the model that will persist. Unfortunately, that's been the case for as long as I can remember. Art invariably suffers as a result. (Thank God for independent and world cinema!)

      The Ellen Ripley's of the world certainly demonstrate the beauty and utility of a strong female voice, but to an extent that shifts the paradigm there have been no major breakthroughs. We'll see the economic reverberations of Hunger Games (the closest example to a "strong" female role in an enormously successful blockbuster) in two years. If the roles that follow prove commercially viable, an alteration of the model can be expected. Hollywood only responds to the bottom-line as it is first and foremost a business. There's myriad factors in play that are incalculable at this stage, so let's play the waiting game and see what happens.

      Thanks for the lively discussion!

      P.S. If you haven't yet, I encourage you to watch Bresson's Mouchette and the Dardenne Brothers' Rosetta. Make no mistake. These are heart-wrenching dramas. But the central roles are female. And more importantly, they are powerful, evocative, and representative of great art.

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    6. It all boils down to economics. I, for one, was really happy that Hunger Games won out over Twilight this year. I get so impatient for big, sweeping changes because I was fortunate to grow up under Roe v Wade, Title 9 and the 19th Amendment. I see the dazzling possibilities and lose sight of remembering to put one foot in front of the other first. We didn't get here over night and we won't get there overnight, either, no matter how much I wish it were so. Perhaps Hunger Games is a sign of bigger change. There is still so much to be dealt with, it boggles the mind. I can only hope. I try to steer the young girls of my acquaintance away from films and books like Twilight and urge them to check out stronger material. I remember being a kid and could only imagine a woman directing a film like Zero Dark Thirty. Let alone winning a Best Director Oscar.

      Thanks for the movie titles, I will check them out as soon as I can. I'm always up for an excellent story whether on screen or in pages. :)

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    7. Well-said, Melissa.

      Let me just say those girls are fortunate to have you as their chaperon into an appropriate femininity that is reflective of good and strong values; not some kind of idealized Twilight facsimile that, far from empowering women, actually serves as a social poison, reducing their aspirations to the lowest common denominator where sexism, misogyny, and objectification are the common multiples.

      I really enjoyed this discussion. Thanks for being a most worthy partner :)

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