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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.

#120.  Beasts of the Southern Wild

Ladies and gentlemen, the worst 2012 movie I watched.  And an Oscar nominee to boot.  I often take notes on movies after I watch them, to help me remember what I want to say for this end of year write up.  The entirety of my notes on this one reads: “Just terrible.”  In my humble opinion, it was poorly written, poorly directed, and poorly acted.  Obviously, many people disagree with me on this one, though I wonder if they realize how wrong they are.  At any rate, the primary thing I look for in movies, generally speaking, is an interesting, coherent, engaging story.  Those words do not describe this movie’s plot.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film was snubbed for the one Oscar for which the film should have been nominated, Best Score.

#119.  Les Miserables

And my two least favorite films were both Best Picture nominees.  Look at me being all contrarian.  I was a pretty big fan of Tom Hooper’s prior two films (The King’s Speech and The Damned United), but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a director so directly sink a film so badly.  His tight shots got Anne Hathaway the Oscar (along with, obviously, her incredible talent).  But they made the rest of the movie nearly unwatchable.  The story isn’t the greatest thing in the world, but it is so epic in scope, I can’t fathom the rationale behind the decision to make it so claustrophobic.  Also on Hooper’s watch, all of the actors felt like they were in different movies.  And the comic relief of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter never seemed to fit into the film at all.  Maybe the best example is that I came out of the film thinking the music was terrible.  And most of the songs probably are no great shakes.  But there are a handful in there I ended up listening to a bunch (“I Dreamed a Dream”, “On My Own”, “One Day More).  The film was such a misfire that it completely distracted from the quality parts that should have stood on their own.  A special shout out to Samantha Barks, who was a rather pleasant surprise and one of the few tolerable things about the film.

#118.  The Master

Another Oscar nominee, though fortunately not for Best Picture, thank goodness.  Paul Thomas Anderson and I clearly have very different cinematic sensibilities.  His is terrible, is the problem.  Actually, I respect the heck out of his ambition and the top notch actors he draws to his casts.  But to me, his movies feel obtuse and, well, arty, just for the sake of being obtuse and arty.  Which is a shame, because the story of a charismatic, enigmatic cultlike leader, especially portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman has tons of potential.  I like Joaquin Phoenix in his role, but didn’t really think Amy Adams was given enough to work with, certainly not enough to merit an Oscar nomination.

#117.  The Paperboy

The big story on this one was that Nicole Kidman pees on Zac Efron.  Which does happen, though to be fair, there’s some relatively reasonable context.  The problem is more that there’s no reason for the scene to be in the film.  Or any scene, really.  I do have to give credit to director Lee Daniels and the production design team for creating an omnipresent sense of a hot, sticky, mess.  Coupled with the bonkers events of the film, I felt like I needed to take a shower while watching the film.  And another one afterward.  But holy cow does this film miss.  It inhabits that sweet spot between camp and over the top goodness where the film is terrible without being watchable for its terribleness.

#116.  Amour

And a third Best Picture nominee finds its way into my bottom ten.  The film is an uncompromising look at an elderly couple as the wife slowly succumbs to a debilitating disease.  It is incredibly harrowing to think about suffering a stroke in general, what it must be like to have that happen near the end of one’s life, and the impact on a devoted life partner.  The film absolutely did a great job raising and portraying those questions.  But here’s the thing I don’t get.  A writer surpassing my meager talents, even in the least, could do the same in about three sentences.  For me, the film didn’t add anything beyond saying how terrible the situation must be, much less be actually interesting to watch.

#115.  Rust and Bone

I already wrote this up a little (in horribly awkward fashion).  The film is frustratingly ADD, potentially interesting threads are picked up and put down without any thought for cohesion.  To the film’s credit, though, if I told you there was an Oscar nominated movie about a women who lost her legs in an accident and I asked you how the accident happened, it would probably take you quite a few guesses to get to “training killer whales”.  Marion Cotillard is quite good, though she wouldn’t have made my Oscar shortlist.  And Mattihas Schoenarts is interesting enough.  But there’s no good reason to watch this movie.

#114.  Rock of Ages

One of the last 2012 movies I watched, I was actually looking forward to the film.  I haven’t seen the musical on the stage, but I grew up on classic rock and found the cast pretty intriguing.  Maybe this mess works on Broadway, but watching the movie, I felt insulted.  It is so relentlessly stupid.  So much emphasis was placed on cramming as many songs into the thing as possible that it seemed like no one stopped to think about whether the movie was actually fun to watch.  The film randomly shuttles between subplots.  Well, let’s go with “subplots”.  Because while the movie does a decent job establishing the outlines of the characters, nothing really happens except maybe occasionally in the broadest of strokes.  Which, granted, is supposed to happen in a musical.  Except in a musical, the music generally, you know, is related to the story.  Tom Cruise was a lot of fun as a rock god, Paul Giamatti is always worth watching, and I’ll probably never have anything bad to say about Malin Akerman, even though her subplot was exceedingly dumb.  Everyone else, though, yeesh.  Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand were just painful, campy in all the wrong ways.  Bryan Cranston must have needed the paycheck, I guess?  Catherine Zeta-Jones couldn’t manage to rise above the script, and I’m still not entirely certain why Mary J. Blige’s character exists.  And I felt pretty badly for the ostensible leads, Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough, who were mistakenly asked to carry this trainwreck.  Boneta sure felt like a pretty boy cipher who I’d expect to see on Nashville next season.  I do believe Hough is talented, but to leap off the screen in this movie required a raw magnetism which probably can’t be taught and is possessed by only a very few actresses.  So instead she’s left to miserably flop around, and it ain’t pretty.  I think I share director Adam Shankman’s sensibilities, and he does a lot of things well, particularly capturing the kinetic energy of crowds, but I think he let the material down here.

#113.  Moonrise Kingdom

Also wrote up this one.  Wes Anderson, in my humble opinion, is insufferable.  He’s maybe got something interesting things to say about the relationship between kids and adults, and growing up, though I’m not sure if there’s anything he hasn’t already said.  But good lord.  Watching a Wes Anderson movie  is like having Wes Anderson sitting next to you, staring at you the whole time and poking you every minute, saying “I made this.  I made this.  I made this.”  Only because he’s not actually there, you can’t turn around and punch him.

#112.  The Three Stooges

I think I watched this one on a plane…maybe to/from Vegas?  Anyway, the first fifteen minutes actually weren’t too bad.  The rest of the film?  Good lord.  Just nonsense.  I mean, I get that the Stooges are hard to do in a modern setting.  But it would have been nice if it felt like the filmmakers actually put some effort into the story and script.  I’ve been thinking about how to do the Stooges, and I keep coming back to Dumb and Dumber.  The problem, of course, is that film was lucky enough to have Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels.

#111.  Premium Rush

Saw this one in LA while on a baseball road trip.  We partook of the wonder that is the Cinerama Dome.  Which is just a fantastic place to see a film.  And not just because it is a dome.  The assigned seating was a feature new to me at the time, though probably not necessary for the dozen or so people who saw the film with us.  The movie, unfortunately, was pretty dreadful.  I had mild hopes because Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon are awesome and I couldn’t fathom how they ended up in a bike messenger movie.  It turns out watching bike messenging is exactly as boring as it sounds like it would be.  Who could have guessed?  The plot is paper thin and involves some sort of Asian mafia and gambling.  So, basically it has the plot of every third action movie made in the 80s.  The difference being, of course, that where action movies have, you know, action, this movie has people riding around on bikes.  I guess you could put a little blame on David Koepp, director, but I think it is more on David Koepp, screenwriter.

Hey, maybe I’ll be able to get these all in before nominations are announced.

VIRTUAL LOCK

  • Ben Affleck, Argo
  • Steven Spielberg, Lincoln
  • Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty

Yup, that’d be Ben Affleck adding a directing nomination to his resume.  Which reminds me, you should really read Boston Magazine’s oral history of Good Will Hunting.  Sure, Spielberg missed a BAFTA nom, but there’s no way he’s missing an Oscar nomination.  Apparently the government redacted screenings of Zero Dark Thirty, because it isn’t playing here yet.  Part of me hopes this movie tells the story of the part in Point Break where Keanu Reeves says he spent like a year tracking Patrick Swayze down.

GOOD BET

  • Ang Lee, Life of Pi

Turns out that Life of Pi is a movie people just plain like, and since it isn’t the script or the acting, it probably had a lot to do with Mr. Lee.

LIKELY IN

ON THE BUBBLE

  • Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
  • David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Tom Hooper, Les Miserables
  • Michael Haneke, Amour

This last spot caused me no end of grief when putting together my predictions.  It’ll be fascinating to see where the Academy comes down here, especially how it relates to other nominations for these films.  Tarantino gets credit for executing a unique vision and his endless homages.  But will his take down of slavery play as well as killing Nazis?  I’m decidedly not a David O. Russell fan and found his direction distracting.  Plenty of people disagree with me.  We’ve been over Tom Hooper and his atrocious choices in Les Miserables, and I say that as a fan of both The King’s Speech and The Damned United.  Reaction has been sharply divided, but many respect his bold decisions.  Haneke has a devoted fanbase among the Oscar crowd, maybe they’ll lead to enough #1s to push him through.

DARK HORSES

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
  • Wes Anderson, Moonrise Kingdom
  • Robert Zemeckis, Flight
  • Sam Mendes, Skyfall
  • Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild

PTA also has his crew, but when everyone is talking about the dying buzz for your film, you have a problem.  Wes Anderson is another director who brings his specific vision to the screen, but he hasn’t hit the precursors.  Zemeckis hasn’t hit precursors either, but with a name familiar to Oscar in a triumphant return to live action, and that killer crash sequence, you could seem him sneaking in.  I’m personally not predicting a massive haul for Skyfall, but if it resonated wildly for voters, then maybe they are crediting Mendes.  Zeitlin seems like too much of an indie vote for Oscar, especially with the Andersons around to divert votes, but maybe the film’s earlier release date can work in its favor.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight Rises

Oscar nominations are out on the 10th!  I’m taking a look at the state of the race in the eight major categories.  This time: Original Screenplay.

VIRTUAL LOCK

GOOD BET

  • Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola, Moonrise Kingdom
  • Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty

Many are hailing Moonrise Kingdom as Wes Anderson’s finest work, that combined with a pretty decent box office seems to suggest he could get in here, a category in which Oscar has seen fit to recognize quirkier fare.  Zero Dark Thirty isn’t out here yet, so I can’t speak to it, but by most accounts it will be a deserving nominee.

LIKELY IN

  • Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master

Buzz has been waning, but the field here doesn’t have many scripts dominating the conversation.  I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it sounds like a film where the screenplay is memorable.

ON THE BUBBLE

  • John Gatins, Flight
  • Michael Haneke, Amour
  • Rian Johnson, Looper
  • Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained

The WGA nod signals that there’s support for Flight, the question may be how many people remember to credit the script for the mesmerizing crash scene and Denzel’s performance.  Amour isn’t out here yet, but from afar seems like the stereotypical arthouse movie: foreign, not widely screened, boring as all get out.  Here’s hoping that last part isn’t true.  Now isn’t the place to discuss, but a Looper nomination wouldn’t make me very happy.  Still, it got the WGA nom, and Rian Johnson does have a distinctive voice.  It is pretty difficult to predict with any accuracy how many nominations Django Unchained will get, but if the Academy is feeling the love, Tarantino could get in here for a script that’s certainly distinctive.

DARK HORSES

  • Reid Carolin, Magic Mike
  • Ava DuVernay, Middle of Nowhere
  • Martin McDonagh, Seven Psychopaths

Carolin’s script feels pedestrian to me, but he’s got 100 million good reasons to call me an idiot.  If the voters are feeling indie, they could go with DuVernay, whose film many people say deserves a wider exposure.  I heart McDonagh, and his script was unique, but this one missed more than it should have.

SHOULD HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED

  • Max Landis, Chronicle
  • Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin, and Wellesley Wild, Ted
  • David Wain and Ken Marion, Wanderlust

Brian and I closed out our day of movies with Moonrise Kingdom.  But not before cracking open some nice whiskey.  Which I certainly needed, because I really can’t stand Wes Anderson.

Anderson’s distinctive style is omnipresent From the dialogue to the set decoration to the costumes, every single second of the film I was aware I was watching a Wes Anderson film.
Anderson’s distinctive style is omnipresent – From the dialogue to the set decoration to the costumes, every single second of the film I was aware I was watching a friggin’ Wes Anderson film.  Seriously, dude, get over yourself and get out of the way of the story.
Anderson’s distinctive style is omnipresent – I’m not completely uncouth.  Anderson’s tweer-than-thou direction was occasionally effective.  I particularly liked the playful absurdity of the phone calls between Bruce Willis/Ed Norton and both Sam’s adopted father and Social Services.

At its heart, the film’s love story is rather sweet – Not that the tale of two misfit adolescents in love is anything new, but there’s something charming about the somehow both incredibly adult and childlike way the two main characters go off together.
But let’s not go overboard – Obviously, I prefer my Wes Anderson in as a constrained, small dose as possible (assuming “not at all” isn’t an option).  To me, everything after the pair was found in their tent was gratingly messy.
OK, OK, I see the point That said, thinking about the film as I’m doing this write up has made me realize Anderson’s trademark precocious kids were kinda effective here in making an “Up with kids, down with adults” argument (or, if you prefer, lamenting the increasing complexity of issues one faces as one gets older) as each of the kids seemingly had things figured out, while all of the adults had significant problems they couldn’t work out.

The film had a rather impressive cast – I believe they combine for something like 2 Oscar wins for acting and additional 4 nominations.   Plus, I have respect for whoever convinced Bruce Willis to do the film, because he really does have the chops to do more than be an action star.
Were they any good? – Honestly, the Wes Andersoness of it all was too overwhelming for me to get a sense of whether I liked the actors in any of their roles.
It could only be Jared – The actor who played Sam is Jared Gilman.  As a fellow Jared, I gotta represent.

If the movie were a sandwich, it would be: A cucumber sandwich with pastel-colored bread

I’d say over the course of a year I see most films that come highly recommended. Not all of them fit into the discussions we have on this site. I try to talk about the ones I love in lists or separate posts but not every one lives up to expectations. Instead of giving these films a pass via my silence I have decided to pillory them here. That’ll show ’em.


Star Trek and Whip It
(95 Rotten Tomatoes, 83 Metacritic; 82 RT, 67 MC)
I feel like I covered most of my objections here and here, but is there a plot point or line of dialog in Star Trek that isn’t a cliche? Or a scene or shot in Whip It?

Sunshine Cleaning
(72 RT, 61 MC)
A textbook case of a movie trying too hard. This film has enough themes and subplots for three Sundance films. And unfortunately too few go anywhere and few I cared about. The one where Emily Blunt befriends Mary Lynn Rajskub is just confounding. Alan Arkin’s character is almost a carbon copy of his work in Little Miss Sunshine. I didn’t care for Emily Blunt. One aspect I found quite interesting was the family’s burgeoning relationship with a one-armed cleaning supply shop owner, played by Clifton Collins Jr. He’s a real revelation in a film that doesn’t do enough with him.

Goodbye Solo
(94 RT, 89 MC)
I expected this movie to be right up my alley. I usually find myself drawn to small, slow, slice-of-life character-driven dramas like this. See my outspoken (at least amongst the Grouches) support for 2008’s The Visitor and Frozen River. And I know Ramin Bahrani is a Next Great American Director. But holy shit this was boring. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen or to get fully involved in a character or their world, but no.

Sugar
(93 RT, 82 MC)
On the one hand, it’s a film about baseball. On the other, it comes from the team behind the Grouches-reviled Half Nelson. Could any film tear Jared apart more? Actually I do hope he sees it because I’d be curious about his take on it and what he thinks of the film’s baseball scenes. Sugar follows a Dominican baseball player as he arrives in America to play minor league ball. More than baseball it’s about the modern immigrant story. I was totally on board for about a third of the movie before it began to lose me. I became less interested in Sugar and his travails. The whole thing just never coalesces into anything particularly interesting.

Fantastic Mr. Fox
(92 RT, 83 MC)
Wes Anderson has made no more than 2/3 of a good movie since his brilliant Rushmore / Royal Tenenbaums run. (That good 2/3 was the front end of Darjeeling Limited.) I loved this book as a kid and the stop-motion animation intrigued me, but it just gets bogged down in Anderson’s increasingly tiresome style. He’s so betrothed to his special Wes Anderson trademarked quirks that he forgets to make a movie that’s actually good. Every touch that seems like it should be clever (Mr. Fox’s mid-life crisis, a badger lawyer/side-kick) are just ill-conceived. I think of Jason Schwartzman’s bored, monotone voice acting as Mr. Fox’s son and I’m reminded all over again why this film was a collasal disappointment.

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