As usual, the Academy Awards are poised to make some very wrong decisions this year. So as usual, I am prematurely correcting them by releasing my Top Ten of the year.
That year is 2012, of course — real film critics release such lists at the end of December or beginning of January, but since I have numerous other obligations, you get it in late February, once I’ve had a chance to catch up with nearly all eligible films.
As usual in the midst of awards season, my cinematic viewings lately have been pretty heavy. And now it’s time for something completely different.
Girl Walk // All Day is one of my favorite films I’ve seen lately, except that I’m not sure it’s a film at all. It used to be that movies came in pretty much one format — you went to the theater and watched them all in one go. If it was a super long movie, maybe you’d get an intermission, but that was it.
But times have changed, my friends, and so has cinema. What separates the stuff we watch on YouTube from the stuff we’d watch in a theater? Quality and budget, mostly — but not necessarily. Girl Walk // All Day is feature-length with pretty good production value; it takes place all over New York City and is quite competently shot and edited, which is more than you can say about the majority of stuff currently floating around the internet. And yet, content-wise, it has more in common with the flash mob videos your mom still posts on your Facebook wall than it does with Zero Dark Thirty.
(Originally posted on JustinPlusSix on November 8.) Well, it’s been a hell of a week.
In the time since I wrote my review of Cloud Atlas last week, we’ve had Hurricane Sandy, Halloween, and we re-elected Barack Obama. (I know Sandy was technically more than a week ago, but I wrote my review beforehand.)
I wasn’t in New York for the hurricane this year, but I was there last August for Irene, so I know what the buildup was like, even though the aftermath of Sandy was much more severe. Probably at least half of my friends, in life and on Facebook, are in the New York area, so I was getting a constant stream of information about it the same way I was providing that stream last year. Truthfully, it made me miss New York, because it was emblematic of what makes New York such an amazing place to live in the first place. Anyone who’s spent more than a few weeks in the city knows that it’s not an easy place to live. As Madonna says, it’s not for pussies. Obviously a hurricane is a somewhat extreme event, but New Yorkers deal with extreme all the time. There’s a sense of pride in that city, not just during a hurricane but every day, that we’re all in this together.
Kathryn Bigelow has been directing for a few decades now, but it took a long time for us to really notice her.
That happened with The Hurt Locker, 2009′s Oscar-winner for Best Picture and, historically, for Best Director. There are multiple angles with which to approach her win — one, that she deserved it. And she did. Most would agree that The Hurt Locker was one of the most impressive films of 2009, the year in which it went up against Up In The Air, Precious, Inglourious Basterds, and, most formidably, Avatar. Avatar was, of course, directed by Bigelow’s ex James Cameron, and even though we’ve been led to believe there’s no bad blood between them, it’s impossible to deny that many of us enjoyed the “stick it to your ex” subtext of her victory. Avatar became the highest-grossing film of all time and revolutionized the way we currently watch movies (for better or worse), and if the Oscars were ever going to be all about commercial appeal, 2009 was the year.
Bradley Cooper first became a household name in The Hangover, and ever since, has almost exclusively played jerks. He’s good at that. I’m not even sure the characters are written as jerks, but somehow, Cooper always manages to play them that way.
Cooper first came to my attention, though, as a supporting player on Alias. He didn’t often have much to do on the show, but I always liked him because he was vulnerable and charming and all the things Bradley Cooper isn’t, really, in his movies. I’ve always suspected he had more charisma than the movies he’s in were letting on, and it turns out, I was right.
If there’s any justice in the world (which there often isn’t, when it comes to Oscars), Bradley Cooper will get a Best Actor nod for his role in Silver Linings Playbook. And I even kinda think he should win (if only because Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln is just too predictably astounding).
Movies are a place where anything can and does happen, so it feels like we’ve seen it all. Time travel. Doppelgangers. Dystopias galore.
Is anything in Rian Johnson’s Looper a particular revelation? Not exactly. How could it be? Time travel is a familiar concept to moviegoers, in comedy (Back To The Future) and action (Terminator) and more, and while the specifics may change somewhat, the overall conceit is that what happens in the past can alter the future. Since we’ve usually seen that future, the stakes are high. People can be wiped out, the entire world could be changed by one small act. That’s true in Looper, too.
Yet, while watching it, I had the feeling that I was seeing something new. You can tell Looper wasn’t just cobbled together from pieces of other movies. It’s not following any formula. Rian Johnson clearly put a lot of thought into how looping might actually work, and what our world will be like thirty or so years in the future. And that’s golden. Most movies can be easily categorized by genre, follow a certain prototype, with recurring motifs and iconography. But there’s no part of Looper that’s there just because other time travel movies have it, too, or because the sci-fi genre required it to be. Every piece of Looper is here because it’s a part of this specific story. That’s rare. As someone who sees a hell of a lot of movies, it’s exciting to still be so surprised by one.
If you’re a serious cineaste, it’s trendy to harken back to the greats — the silent era, in particular — as innovative, vital, and untouchable in their greatness. Nostalgia for such films is what helped The Artist win Best Picture this year, and it’s likely the first silent film many people have ever seen (and may remain the only one they ever do).
Continuing my retrospective Top 10 lists. Keep in mind, this list is from awards season 2010… and I don’t necessarily stand behind every one of these choices anymore…
Okay, so this was the year the Oscars got on my nerves for announcing ten Best Picture nominees. (And judging by what was included in those ten, I think we can all agree that I was right to be irked, which is some vindication, at least.)
There are numerous reasons to lament the way cinema is heading — inflated ticket prices, needless 3D, the death of film projection, all leading to all sorts of problems that affect the quality of Hollywood’s output.
But let’s put that aside for now and focus on the positive changes. One of the great advantages of the advent of streaming video is that it makes small, little-seen movies as readily available as blockbusters. There are many films I would likely never have gotten around to if doing so weren’t so simple as clicking a button — The Arbor and Poetry are prime examples. These are the movies that benefit from being available when you’re “in the mood” for a rambling Korean film about an old woman taking poetry classes, or a pseudo-documentary about a foul-mouthed playwright. (Which, admittedly, is not always.) It’s less of an investment to begin a film with the option of turning it off and selecting another if it doesn’t captivate you. (Though I dislike this practice as a rule; many great films aren’t so obviously great within the first five minutes.)