Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Best & Worst Movies of 2012

Time once again for me to offer opinions that nobody cares about. In no particular order, here are the Best and Worst movies of last year.


The Avengers
It’s the best comic book movie ever made. ‘Nuff said.

The Central Park Five
Ken Burns’ documentary is one of the most powerful movies I’ve ever seen. And it made me damn mad, too. What the State of New York did to those five kids in 1989 is truly horrifying. And the fact that the detectives, reporters and attorneys who perpetrated the outrage continue to stick by their stories is despicable. Shame on them all.

Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel is exactly what good science fiction should be: thoughtful, slick, exciting and well-acted. Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace are fantastic (though Noomi always is: check out The Monitor if you haven’t already). Scott’s direction, as it was on his 1979 classic, is calm and avoids most genre clichés. Prometheus doesn’t have quite the claustrophobic menace as the original, but then it’s a movie with a different scope.

The Master
This is, hands down, the best movie I saw this year, and is Paul Thomas Anderson’s best work to date. As a meditation on male psychology, and the psychology of a cult and its followers, it resists easy categorization, which is probably why it received so little in the way of advertising, and underperformed at the box office. Philip Seymour Hoffman proves once again that he is one of our finest actors. And Mihai Malaimare’s cinematography is gorgeous.

Zero Dark Thirty
Osama bin-Laden was a very bad guy, but this is not, as some critics have labeled it, a rah-rah, kill-the-bad-guy movie. It’s about as far from that as you can get. Jessica Chastain gives her best performance so far as a CIA operative looking into the abyss. Kathryn Bigelow’s direction is tight. The moral ambiguity of the thing leaves your mind spinning, even as you want to take a long shower.

On the surface, this is a movie about a lie, and a young woman’s attempt to atone for that lie. But it is also a thoughtful, smart examination of a young woman fending for herself in a world she isn’t experienced enough to grapple with. Kenneth Lonergan’s script is intelligent, emotionally complex, and genuine. I wasn’t sure Anna Paquin could pull off a high-school aged character, but she does it with honesty and élan. Mark Ruffalo shines in a small role, and Jeannie Berlin (daughter of Elaine May) is absolutely terrific.

Safety Not Guaranteed
A quirky hermit places an ad in the paper for someone to join him for a trip back in time. A journalistic intern is sent out to cover the story by posing as a candidate to join the expedition. Of course there is a love story involved, a very fun love story, that takes on true emotional resonance when it becomes clear why the man wishes to go back in time. Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza as the hermit and the intern are a joy to watch.

The Beasts of the Southern Wild
Some critics has called it a fantasy set in the real world, but I think it’s more a vision of the real world channeled through the mind of a child. There is something almost other-worldly about Quvenzhané Wallis’ performance as Hushpuppy. She was only five when the movie was filmed, so watching her isn’t like watching an actor, but something more present than that. She’s a thirty-pound force of nature and you can’t take your eyes off of her, or off this fine, fine movie.

This is easily Spielberg’s best work since Saving Private Ryan. His direction is so gentle and so confident. Daniel Day-Lewis gives his usual remarkable performance, but he is aided by marvelous work from Sally Field and James Spader (of all people), both of whom should get some Academy attention. The real star of the movie, though, is Tony Kushner’s screenplay. It’s a marvel of language.

The Cabin in the Woods
I have a weird love for horror movies that are laced with humor, as apparently does writer Joss Whedon, and his team of Sitterson and Hadley, as played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, bring out the demented laughs with gusto. Wonderful, twisted fun, that turns the slasher genre on its head, then makes it breakdance.

Honorable Mention

Moonrise Kingdom
You heard it here first. Wes Anderson managed to rid himself, for one movie at least, of his usual middle-class pretensions. A cute, clever little movie.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
A low-key love story where the kids actually feel like kids. Emma Watson knocks it out of the park.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
I love movies that aren’t afraid of big romantic gestures, and nobody does them better than Lasse Hallström.


Dark Shadows
OK, Tim Burton is officially becoming an embarrassment. To himself and perhaps even to the entire history of film.

Rock of Ages
Is it possible to actually be oppressed by a movie, to be held down and incessantly beaten about the face and throat with awfulness? Yes. It is.

This movie is so bad it actually caused the capillaries in my eyeballs to voluntarily burst in an effort to save themselves, and my brain, from seeing any more of it.

The Hunger Games
Go rent Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale instead. The books and the movie are rip-offs of that much better movie and the much better book by Koushun Takami.

Straw Dogs
Sam Peckinpah was one of our best directors, and this tepid, badly acted remake of his classic should’ve been put out of its misery before it ever hit the screen. You simply cannot replace Dustin Hoffman with James Marsden and think that anything good will come of it.

This Means War
I like Chris Pine. I really like Tom Hardy. And I really, really like Reese Witherspoon. But this movie really, really, really sucked. Not funny. Not exciting. Not sexy. Not much of anything, really. Really.

Snow White and the Huntsman
Bad acting, tedious direction, and an absurd plot. Kristen Stewart’s performance consists of a painful series of facial tics, intended, apparently, to convey emotion, but instead cause her to look like she has some kind of neurological malady.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2
Sweet shit. Are they done with this series yet? And if not, is there a vaccination available?

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Tolkien’s book is shitty, and Peter Jackson somehow managed to make it shittier. The movie is a bloated CGI-fest, and commits the one unforgivable sin for an adventure movie: it’s boring.

Morgan Spurlock’s documentaries have all been tiresome exercises in promoting Morgan Spurlock, but this awful thing about male grooming habits hits a new low. He provides no interesting information. He makes no discernible point.

And that’s all she wrote, folks.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Letting Go of Texas

So, I was traveling through Texas, doing my job, when, at about six in the evening I found myself loading up on coffee at a truck stop. This was about a week ago, in the scenic hamlet of Midlothian. I was splashing a little milk in my jitter juice when I saw this woman approaching the condiment counter. She was of average height, but probably weighed four bills. I mean, I’m no spindleshanks, but this lady…damn. She was huge. She was Trucker the Hutt. And she was carrying six little snack-sized bags of Cheetos. As I looked on, she systematically opened the bags and filled each about half-way with liquid nacho cheese from the machine. Then she rolled the tops shut and trundled over to the checkout line.

Standing in line behind her, I thought about several things, first among them being to wonder how she planned on eating her vile nosh. Or, more specifically, how she planned on eating her vile nosh while simultaneously piloting a tractor-trailer. And then I thought about how fast she might be going when all that cheese affixed itself around her heart like bath-tub grout and she went screaming across eight lanes of traffic.

In the end, I decided not to waste any more thought on the subject, and headed out to my car. Sometime between when I entered the truck stop and when I exited, the space next to mine had been filled with the obnoxious bulk of a shiny-black Hummer H3. I hadn’t seen one in a while. I mean, I’d been operating under the assumption that penis implants had largely done away with the need to purchase one, but there it was. As I backed out, I was able to get a look at its rear end, where a pair of bumper stickers offered the world the following information:




I’d been keeping up with my reading on the nascent secessionist movement in this country, but these two stickers really drove it home for me: the close to 900,000 Americans (some 115,000 from Texas alone) who have signed secessionist petitions are among the most ignorant—of history and economics, to name but two of the more vital departments of the project—people who have ever slouched about in the spotlight of the American stage. It might sound appealing to take your ball and go home, but the adult world is, oh, a tad more complicated than that.

I wanted to pull back in, wait for the Hummer Head to come out, and engage him in a little furious debate, but resisted the temptation. My only weapons would have been facts, and I suspected (without reason, I know) that presenting facts to someone who believed what this doofus apparently believed would be a little bit like presenting an iPad to an infant—the kid might look at it for a minute, especially if there’s something sparkly on the screen, but will inevitably go back to sucking its toes. So I drove away, but my brain continued to roil, sort of cataloging the array of potentialities the secessionists haven’t assimilated into their sulky political posturing.

Take, for example, the billions of Federal dollars they get fed every year—after Louisiana, Texas gets the second-highest pile of government cheese in the country. All that dough would vanish instantaneously. Or how about the immediate closure of all military bases in the state? There are 15 major bases in Texas, and all those troops (along with their money-spending families) would be reassigned to New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico to guard against any funny business from the Lone Star Nation. And where would they find trading partners? The EU? They have troubles of their own. China? Right. How about Cuba? Texas would be screwed from the get-go and would be left to watch with slack-jawed impotence as their economy collapsed like flour down a chute.

But then… But then, yes, something occurred to me which might make it possible for the citizens of the new nation to keep their heads above the ever-deepening lake of shit they created through their own machinations.

See, while lots of Texans claim a belief in the Christian god, the true religion of the place is football.

Secession would be fucking perfect for football people, and their favorite saint, Jerry Jones. Jerry could own the whole TFL. He could name every team after himself. You’d have the Dallas Jerries, the Houston Jerries, the San Antonio Jerries, and right on down the line. Jerry would also be the general manager and starting quarterback for every team. And he would get quite a workout every February when he played for both teams in the Jerry Bowl.

I know, I know. Pretty Stupid.

And so is the idea of seceding from the Union.

The two people I encountered that night in Midlothian, if you wadded them up together, would coagulate into the perfect secessionist brain: an unhealthy mass of air-inflated, deep-fried, lard blisters swimming in an inorganic orange slurry, and powered by an admixture of delirious paranoia and self-satisfied stupidity.

But if the Texans really want to go, I say this. Let ‘em.

Then in a few years, just for a goof, we can invade and steal their oil.