Sunday, December 30, 2012

FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2012

Everyone has their own idea of what the best movies are and I can't pretend to be any wiser than any of you.  Movies mentioned indicate my preferences.  Your thoughts are more than welcome in fact it is my hope to check out some of your ideas.  The movies mentioned are movies that I watched in 2012, many of them were made in previous years and come out of over 130 movies.  Many more are deserving of mention, but this is not intended as a list.

Director commentaries and special features often helped me appreciate something I would not have appreciated on my own.  Others think the movie must stand on its own.  Like everything else movies have a context and if you don't understand the context you will not fully appreciate the movie.

There is still a foreign language bias in my preferences and that means there are more choices than time.  Years ago it was common advice not to invest your money in any one country as it might not be safe.  Watching foreign movies doesn't mean that Hollywood is no good, but rather that there are wonderful ideas out there and you would be foolish not to enjoy them.  Like foreign foods they will add spice to your life.

Let's start off with the English speaking movies.

George Clooney figured in two I enjoyed, "The Descendents" (directed by Alexander Payne who also wrote the screenplay after winning Oscar for Sideways) was a family drama where a father draws his two daughters back into the fold while also deciding on a family heritage.

"Ides of March" was directed by George as well as playing one of the lead characters.  George seems to have a cynical view of politics which I share to some degree.  The movie has a few twists and has excellent acting by George, Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti and Paul Seymour Hoffman.

"J Edgar," (directed by Clint Eastwood) was recommended to me by one of my wife's closest friends, Barb Martin.  It was a fascinating character study of a man who liked to take credit for things he didn't actually do.  Still he was a skillful manipulator with a strong impact on American history.

"The Debt" (directed by John Madden) had two sets of actors to play younger and older versions of the same people.  It is a cover up thriller type of movie very well done.  Helen Mirren plays a key role.

"Water for Elephants," (directed by Francis Lawrence) was a drama played out on a Depression era circus background.  One thing I remember is that Robert Pattinson is more than a teenage idol.  An enjoyable movie.

"People Like Us" ( directedby Alex Kurtzman also writer, with music by a favorite Bollywood composer, A R Rahman).   Apparently the director had gone through a similar experience as the lead male actor and probably that helps give a feeling of authenticity. Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks and Michelle Pfeiffer all give effective performances.

Filmed in 2009 "Agora", an English speaking film directed by a Spaniard, Alejandro Amenabar got my attention.  The movie stars Rachel Weisz in a woman centric role.  The director was very fascinating as he explained in a special feature that he had wanted to do something that involved astronomy and ended up setting his story in ancient Alexandria focusing on a woman scientist.  Based on fact, but not necessarily 100% factual the director demonstrated how some ancients may have deduced that the earth goes around the sun and even that it uses an elliptical orbit.  Alejandro also co-wrote the script and has written the music for several movies.  An earlier movie of his that impressed me was "Abre Los Ojos" re-written by him as "Vanilla Sky".  Someone to watch out for.

One classic I watched (for the first time) was "Unforgiven."   Directed by Clint Eastwood.  It was numbing.  It was crude and brutal, but in a very realistic sobering manner.  Attitudes were stripped to their cores.  Crudity was brought out as part of every day life.  It was well worth viewing, but you need to have a strong stomach and be open minded.

"The Maltese Falcon" was a classic I had seen before, but was able to take a closer look at.  Black and white movies seem too old fashioned, but they perhaps should be judged by how well they used their more limited resources.  I have always felt the key factor in a movie is the story.  Actors enhance it and directors are the key resource managers.  Technology can sometimes take over and distract from the story. I understand this was the first movie that John Huston directed.  This movie helped Humphrey Bogart elevate himself to a higher level of stardom.  An enjoyable movie.  Just before Christmas I watched "The African Queen" again directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogard and Katherine Hepburn with excellent cinematography.  All around very enjoyable..

One of the last movies of the year for me was from a childhood memory, "Captain Blood".  I had first watched it with my father who was an Errol Flynn fan (and I suspect like myself also an Olivia de Havilland fan).   Later I watched it in stages with my young son Michael while waiting for school.  It was one of the first movies with music by Erich Korngold.  It might look a bit dated, but I loved it when I first saw it and it still gave me a thrill during the holidays.

A strange category with just one entry, "The Artist".  It is English, but it is subtitled.  It justifies the fuss.  One line in there was "mugging", implying without words actors tended to over act.  Some truth to that, but watching the movie it was interesting how they captured the mood without spoken words.  The acting was different, but the emotions came through loud and clear with the two French leads excellent.  A wonderful collaborative effort between French and American staff.   The cinematography was also noteworthy, and perhaps not noticed because in black and white.  Michel Hazanavicius directed it.

If you can't be bothered with subtitles the rest of this blog is like a tease.  You will be tempted, but you might get headaches or eyestrain or you will be forced to concentrate more than usual.  If you give in to the temptation you just might feel you have discovered a brand new joy in life.  The next three listed are my favorite three of the year.

Perhaps my favorite movie overall of the year was "A Separation."  In North America one gets used to thinking of Iran as a backward nation filled with fanatics.  This movie shows they are civilized and have the same sorts of personal tensions we are familiar with.  The story has mysterious elements, but I would emphasize the personal dynamics are done much better than standard movie fare.  The director set out to give the movie a documentary feel and succeeded.  The movie had to work around censors.  The writer and director (and his daughter played I would say the very significant third lead) was Asghar Farhadi who had to deal with Iranian censors and is not really appreciated by Iranian authorities.

Another top favorite is "The Intouchables" from France.  I assumed it wouldn't be shown at commercial theatres in my area, but it was picked up by the Art Gallery of Hamilton film fest.  Francois Cluzet plays a paraplegic in contrast to a previous role in an action movie, "Tell No One."  Omar Sy plays a cultural contrast.  The two give different pictures of modern Paris, the one very elegant and the other more desperate.  The story, based on real lives is funny in unanticipated details and uplifting.  The two characters at opposite ends of both wealth and health helped each other squeeze more out of life.   Directed and written by the team of Oliver Nakache and Eric Toleando.

From Bollywood, one that totally fooled me was "Kahaani".  It wasn't so much that the killer was a surprise, but the whole setup was in line with "Sixth Sense" or the "Usual Suspects" and for most of you this description will not spoil it.  Watching Vidya Balan, even playing an 8 month pregnant wife is one of life's pleasures.  The movie steadily tightens the suspense, but you are not really prepared for the resolution.  The most moving music is at the very end during the credits with religious overtones sung by Abitabh Bachchan, someone who I respect, but had not realized he sang.  Directed by Sujoy Ghosh.

"Barfi" was confusing to me at first.  The trailer indicates there would be a lot of comedy and there certainly was.  Also there would be some sort of love triangle and there was.  In many reviews at IMDB there seemed a reluctance to give out plot details and I now appreciate why they felt that way.  The movie is really about  relationships and was much deeper and richer than I anticipated.  Music played a strong role as it does in most Bollywood movies, but not in its familiar form.  The presentation is different with high reliance on flashbacks.  Directed by Anurag Basu.

"Don 2," heavy on plot, action and special effects was enjoyable. Filmed in Malaysia and Germany with wonderful cinematography.  The plot was convoluted keeping you on your toes.  Shah Rukh Khan showed he is more than just a romantic hero.  Directed by Farhan Akhtar.

"Stanley Ka Dabba" caught me off guard.  I had the idea it was a children's movie and it proceeded in many ways like I expected.  But towards the end I realized it wasn't a chidren's movie, but deeply concerned with education and a social problem in India.  Checking the special features I learned that it was filmed after a series of special classes initially without a script and very low budget.  The brain behind it was Amole Gupte who was also involved with "Taare par Zameen" another excellent movie that focused on an education issue.

Also watched a Bollywood classic, "Sholay".  I am so used to seeing Amitabh Bachchan as a strong father figure I didn't appreciate he got started as a young macho star.  It was very action packed from beginning to end with a few surprises along the way.  Directed by Romesh Sippy.

Canadian movie, 'Monsieur Lazhar.'  Also up for Oscar with "A Separation".  A very good movie, based on a one person play.  It fooled me into thinking they might have a tidy happy ending, but did have a realistic one.  For 2011 I felt "Incendies" was the best film I got to watch.  After watching "Monsieur Lazhar" I followed up an earlier movie of director/writer Philip  Falardeau, "Congorama" and was very impressed with its subtlety.  This year the best Canadian film and one of the best overall was "Monsieur Lazhar" which just demonstrates the strength of Quebec in international movies.

A Dutch film of 2011, "Bride Flight" was interesting following some Dutch women (and one man) headed to New Zealand after the war.  A soap opera plot, but well done and some wonderful scenery in New Zealand.   Directed by Ben Sombogaart.

"Headhunters" from Norway was one that interested me as I had just discovered the original author, Jo Nesbo.  They did an excellent job of dealing with Hollywood standards on a paltry Norwegian budget.

A recent French classic, "A Very Long Engagement" directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunnot who had done the more famous "Amelie" also with Audrey Tautou.  In this movie which was a lot more complex than I had imagined I was surprised to see Jodie Foster in a French speaking role.  Marion Cottilard who is becoming one of my favorites also had a signficant role.

Other movies worthy of watching came from Sweden, Turkey, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Argentina, and Brazil.
  
"El Mariachi" has become a classic. Originally intended for the Mexican video market with a $7,000 budget it drew attention at the Sundance festival.  It is a reasonably entertaining action film, but more entertaining was the director, Robert Rodiguez's commentary where he explained in almost every scene how he kept the cost down.  Most of the actors were not paid, the scenery was taken as it was found, props were improvised and the film was carefully monitored as they couldn't afford re-takes.

Looking forward to:  Life of Pi, Talaash, Lincoln, Cloud Atlas, Midnight's Children, Rust and Bone that have released in 2012.  I also plan to watch a number of classics, movies that told a meaningful story without all the modern technology.

If I didn't mention one of your favorites tell me and also why you liked it.  For my favourites of 2011 check out http://www.johnfdavidson.com/2012/01/movies-i-enjoyed-in-2011.html

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