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I’m counting down all the movies released in 2012.  The ones I’ve seen, at any rate.  In what is unquestionably a timely manner.  Hey, I finished before the end of 2013.  That’s a moral victory, right?

10.  Pitch Perfect

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So, full disclosure, I was three or four beers in when I saw this movie with at least one fellow Grouch in a spur of the moment decision.  The plot services the movie fine, though it isn’t a particular highlight and, for example, the subplot of Anna Kendrick and Skylar Astin’s romance is undercooked.  But holy cow is this movie funny.  The casting is spot on, leading to the breakouts of Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson, but Anna Camp and Brittany Snow are solid in support, plus who doesn’t love Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins on commentary?  I was a little skeptical the world needed another a cappella thing about people trying to make regionals, but much credit to screenwriter Kay Cannon.  The film spawned multiple hit soundtracks and a hit single for Anna Kendrick, because of course.

9.  Lockout

lockout

The film was written and directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger, but it has co-writer and producer Luc Besson’s fingerprints all over it.  Latter-day Besson movies are extremely consistent: a tough, funny leading man, a clear and economical story, action movie one-liners, a few interesting twists, and a happy ending filled with explosives.  This one is no different.  Guy Pearce is a good match for Besson, I think, and Maggie Grace has clearly shown her chops.  The only thing I’ll say about Besson is that he seemed to be successfully hitting a lot of doubles and triples lately, I wouldn’t mind him aiming for another homer.

8.  The Raid: Redemption

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The movie that made me like RoboCop less and lose Adam’s respect forever.  Though I also saw this one in theaters with him and I’m pretty sure he liked it a bunch as well.  The story structure of having all the action take place in one building and having our hero have to essentially clear floors is very compelling for a martial arts movie.  The action is confined in the sense the fighting is limited to rooms or hallways, which is a refreshing change of pace, but there are plenty of floors, so there’s lots of different action.  Writer/director Gareth Evans does a great job illustrating the fighting, I think, and allowing just enough of a story to seep through.  There was one kill, where Iko Uwais jumped backwards and impaled a guy on a doorframe that was just spectacular.

7.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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I had very high expectations for this one going in, to the point where it probably disappointed a little not to fall in my top five.  Which isn’t fair, I know.  And for the first, I don’t know, two-thirds of the film, I couldn’t figure out what people were talking about.  But the last third of the film was absolutely killer.  Ezra Miller is the bold highlight of a strong cast.  It is shameful the highest-profile awards and nominations he pulled down were Chlotrudis, MTV Movie, and Teen Choice (looking squarely at you, Independent Spirits).  Emma Watson was also quite good, adding surprising depth to a character that didn’t have to be so nuanced.  That said, if you’ll excuse a brief foray into objectification, Emma Watson in the Rocky Horror getup as part of the live cast during a screening fulfilled fantasies I didn’t realize I had.  Anyway, there’s a lot to like from Stephen Chbosky’s effort here, it gets surprisingly dark and poignant and touching.  Here’s hoping his next go-round doesn’t take quite so long to get there.

6.  Zero Dark Thirty

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Talked about this movie a bunch in the Oscar posts, obviously.  A very good film and if you wanted to argue it should have won the big one, I wouldn’t put up a fight.  The last chunk of the movie, the raid, was absolutely riveting, with Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal putting on a masterclass in dramatic tension.  The middle part was maybe slightly uneven, a minor quibble that makes the movie very good instead of great.  Also, needed more Kyle Chandler and Chris Pratt.

5.  Flight

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I was pretty thrilled screenwriter John Gatins received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay.  And not just because he also co-wrote Summer Catch (with Kevin Falls!) and wrote Hard Ball.  This film was taut throughout and a fantastic character study.  And of course, much credit to director Robert Zemeckis, especially for the crash scene, and Denzel Washington, who was awesome.  But it is easy to forget that the crash scene was written and Washington’s drunk hero originates from the dialogue and scenes in the script.

4.  Argo

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Wait, does this mean I agree with the Academy?  Madness!  How this movie managed to win the top prize is a well-covered topic.  And you know, I’ll grant the movie isn’t necessarily particularly ambitious or trendsetting, which I imagine is a factor for some when deciding on Oscar.  But Ben Affleck and Chris Terrio did a fantastic job crafting a movie that’s incredibly tense throughout.  They expertly wove in comic relief as a valve to temper the pressure of the tension, which led to some of the funniest moments on screen this year.  The cast was tremendous, but the name actors in nearly every role was maybe a bit off-putting.  And again, needed more Kyle Chandler.  And pretty much everyone else.

3.  Wanderlust

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I realize I’m alone here, but that’s fine, I’ll enjoy my wildly underrated Wain/Marino joints as long as they keep pumping them out.  Saw this one in theaters and felt like I was doubled over with laughter for most of the time.  The writing was hilarious, of course, but David Wain has a way of building fantastic casts comprised of a great combination of regulars (Ken Marino, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux), really funny people (Key and Peele, Kathryn Hahn), and high profile newcomers (Jennifer Aniston, Alan Alda) who all blend together to make me laugh a lot.

2.  21 Jump Street

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Saw this one in theaters and can’t remember ever laughing more.  At first glance, this movie sounds like a terrible idea, right?  A remake of a TV show people vaguely remembered, starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, written by a guy with a credit on Project X, directed by the guys whose only prior big screen credit was an animated film?  But then, you realize that should read “Oscar-nominated Jonah Hill” and that Channing Tatum is crazy talented and that Michael Bacall also co-wrote the excellent Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, and that Phil Lord and Chris Miller directed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which was an adaptation way better than it needed to be.  At any rate, this film was fantastic, with a stellar supporting cast that runs so deep, a relatively clever story, and a deep understanding of the genre.

1.  The Dark Knight Rises

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Yup.  And I’m one of the few people who like this movie more than the last one.  Let’s go through why.  I personally find the philosophical musings of the Nolans’s to be a superficial distraction in their films.  It felt like they got away from the pseudo-intellectual diversions, at least a little.  I’m not necessarily a huge fan of the Bechdel test or complaints about poorly-written women/minority/etc. characters.  I’m sympathetic to the cause, but I think it misses the point a little, to me the characters should be written in service of the story, and yes that often means women should be able to talk to each other about things other than boys.  But not always.  In any case, the women in the first two Batman films were badly-written and generally annoying.  The women in this one were almost decently-written and vaguely interesting, which was a significant step up.  The cast was probably the best of the trilogy, I mean, it is insane that along with all the regulars, this one added Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Matthew Modine, and Juno Temple.  Finally, and maybe most importantly, the fight scenes in the film were darn near a revelation.  The action was so visceral, nearly primal in nature.  They were simply fantastic, and made the film the best of the year.

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The Oscars are quickly approaching. Because we’ve spent the time to see the nominees and because we’re really smart, we’re telling you what should win in all the categories.

The nominees for Best Adapted Screenplay are:

  • Chris Terrio, Argo
  • Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • David Magee, Life of Pi
  • Tony Kushner, Lincoln
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

Jared

I’ll almost never begrudge anyone their enjoyment of a film, and I really do respect the heck out of the little indie that could for all it has accomplished and what it stands for.  But personally, I think the screenplay for Beasts of the Southern Wild is atrocious.  It is nonsensical, meaningless, and it commits the worst movie sin of all: it is boring.  The dialogue is rough and largely unmemorable, the story just kinda meanders along, and I thought the magic realism was jarringly not integrated into the film.

We are at two in a row now where I think people are crazy for showering love onto David O. Russell.  All my problems with Silver Linings Playbook that don’t stem from the direction lie with the script.  I can still remember literally cringing in my seat at West End at the “That’s emotion” line.  Virtually all the supporting characters had major flaws ranging from being pointless (Chris Tucker) to having bizarre and unexplained motivations (the shrink, the random guy who was always around betting with Robert De Niro) to just plain underwritten (the parents).  I did like the main characters, though I wonder just how much of that is attributable to the actors.

Life of Pi’s script certainly beat my expectations.  Maybe unsurprisingly, I found Magee most effective in the earlier, more conventional part of the story (yes, even the start of that framing device most people can’t stand).  Honestly, I wonder if I would have preferred a movie about growing up, young love, and a zoo.  Obviously the section of the story with Richard Parker is the more important bit and way more challenging to script.  Magee held his own, but I think the direction and visuals are more carrying the day.

Tony Kushner’s Lincoln isn’t the Team of Rivals adaptation I would have written, but that’s why he’s one of the best screenwriters on the planet.  He did a masterful job turning a Congressional vote into something riveting to watch.  And somehow managed to service tons and tons of supporting characters while still focusing on the President.  My only real gripe, I guess, is with those supporting characters and how some of them (e.g. all the members of the Lincoln family) seemed to get a little bit lost.  I’ll also count my vote among those who didn’t really think Lincoln’s death was well-incorporated into the film.

Argo gimme the Oscar!

It is interesting that some of the year’s funniest cinematic moments (“Argo f*ck yourself”, the escape plan involving bicycles) occur in perhaps the year’s most taut thriller.  I don’t think it is a coincidence and I do think much of the credit goes to Chris Terrio.  A criticism I’ve heard (or maybe just made up – it has been a long, crazy Oscar season) is that none of the characters are particularly developed.  I can’t really refute that, but to me the film is about people doing their jobs and, in a way related, doing things for other people.  The point isn’t that we are supposed to feel close to the hostages.  The complete opposite, in a way.  The wheels of bureaucracy are turning and crazy escape plans being hatched, all for, let’s face it, a completely anonymous group of people who happen to be U.S. citizens.  The script is gripping and tense and my clear favorite in this batch of nominees.

Should have been nominated: I’m always a bit fuzzy on adapted vs. original, but along with Kushner and Terrio, I would have had Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Michael Bacall, 21 Jump Street, and Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises.  (And Kay Cannon, Pitch Perfect just on the outside.  Which may or may not be the alcohol talking.)

John

I didn’t care for Silver Linings Playbook and a lot of that is due to the script. All I could think when watching that film is, “This is going to end poorly.” Happy ending aside, that relationship is headed towards trainwreck. And that’s not necessarily wrong for a film, but the movie presents this sort of affirmative message about overcoming mental illness via harebrained schemes that left me feeling completely icky.

Silver Linings aside, it’s a lineup of fine films, but several strike me as succeeding on the back of their visual styles more than their script. I won’t deny the immense creative vision needed to make Life of Pi a success but most of that comes its visual style. Commentators seem to frequently mention how the book was regarded as unfilmable. While I appreciate the skill needed to adapt the story to the silver screen, I don’t plan on grading on a curve here. Meanwhile, Beasts of the Southern Wild also relies on non-story elements to really propel it to success: a precocious lead, rousing music, and an interesting visual style. Still, some of its dialogue, particularly some of Hushpuppy’s soliloquies, are really touching and its confused narrative structure informed by its little girl point of view keeps it interesting. I’m not very sympathetic to the argument that it’s too confusing. From Hushpuppy’s point of view, of course it’s confusing! I could have used a bit more to keep the story moving forward, however.

I never quite understood why Ben Affleck kept asking if I liked apples.

I enjoyed Lincoln and its ability to be both entertaining and meaningful. I really wish it had dialed down the schmaltz, however. Argo is my winner, though it does sort of feel like by default here. Rather than schmaltz, its final act is somewhat undermined by an air of unbelievability. Still, the plot is tight, the story is compelling and clever, and it dials up an incredible amount of mostly earned tension: its characters are fleshed out enough that their conflicts feel realistic instead of manufactured plot points.

Should have been here: How about some love for Bernie? Fascinating characters, totally compelling story, and an inventive narrative device to boot!

Oscar nominations are revealed on the 10th.  I’m taking a look at the state of the race for the big eight categories.  This time: Adapted Screenplay.

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Tony Kushner, Lincoln
  • Chris Terrio, Argo

Kushner’s script isn’t my favorite of the bunch, but he does an impressive job cramming in a ton of characters and making a Congressional vote compelling.  It is hard to see how he could miss here.  Similarly, Terrio does a great job creating tension in a story with a lot of moving parts and (like Kushner) in a story where we already know the ending.

GOOD BET

  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook

I wouldn’t.  I thought the script had a number of problems, which I won’t get into here.  Silver Linings Playbook‘s buzz has seemingly waned maybe a little bit recently, but only a fool bets against the Weinsteins.

LIKELY IN

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Ben Lewin, The Sessions
  • William Nicholson, Les Miserables
  • David Magee, Life of Pi
  • Ol Parker, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I’ve got Beast of the Southern Wild at home from Netflix, so I can’t comment on it quite yet.  If you are rooting for it, you have to be worried that it missed on the Spirit Award screenplay nomination.  Chbosky adapted his own work, which seems like a little bit different situation to me.  It has picked up some heat lately by hitting on precursors.  It would be on my ballot, may just come down to how many voters saw it in time.  I wouldn’t put Ben Lewin’s script on mine, and one wonders if the film came out a little too early.  That said, the film did feel fresh and it does have the feeling of a film that could get the fifth spot.  Les Miserables is essentially an opera, and terrible, so it has an uphill battle, but if voters loved it, they could fill out their ballot with nothing but nominees from the film.  Life of Pi has a good shot at a Best Picture slot, but the accolades are generally falling on the direction and the visuals.  I really don’t understand the love for The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but it exists, and plays to the demographics of the Academy.

DARK HORSES

  • John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, Skyfall
  • Tom Stoppard, Anna Karenina

Logan, Purvis, and Wade certainly turned in a different sort of Bond script.  The film appears to be getting some traction, so a nomination wouldn’t be out of the question, especially if there are a lot of frustrated fans of The Dark Knight.  Anna Karenina seems like a good bet for some of the technical categories, which means that people have seen it, and Tom Stoppard does already have an Oscar nomination for Brazil and a win for Shakespeare in Love.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Michael Bacall, 21 Jump Street
  • Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises
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