Jim’s 2012 Lists part 5: 5-1

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As we said on our last show, this week was so hectic that we literally could not get together at all to record. So, for I believe the second time in 3 years, there will be no show this week.

That being the case, I offer the end of my Best of the Year lists as a paltry substitute.

5-1

Finally! I’m speaking for myself with that. Honestly, I am so glad to be done with this thing. I enjoyed it, but enough is enough. So, here you go. The home stretch, my top 5 of the year.

5) Moonrise Kingdom

I didn’t see this movie until very recently. Like mid January. I wanted to see it sooner, but just couldn’t get it together. I am so glad I finally did.

Wes Anderson... man, I have a tricky relationship with him. I saw Bottle Rocket in the theater during it’s initial run. At the time I was living in a dorm that had one of the best independent theaters in the state attached to it, so I got to see some really amazing films in incredibly small, empty theaters.

I liked it, but not so much as everyone else. It has amazing characters and dialogue, but the story is really thin, so I just don’t connect with it that much.

Rushmore is... well, it’s Rushmore. He and Owen Wilson set the bar so high with that one that I thought it would be impossible to reach.

But then...

The Royal Tenenbaums cleared it. Easily. That move is just... damn!

Then...

The Life Aquatic was a bit of a let down for me. Not terrible, but just not something I really cared for that much.

Which was followed up by...

The Darjeeling Limited was... I really didn’t like it. Not at all. It took me a week to finish it. It couldn’t hold my attention and I kept falling asleep. Again, good dialogue and characters, but the overall execution was just lacking.

The Fantastic Mr. Fox was a really outstanding return to form. It was funny, quirky, fun, just... everything I love about Wes Anderson’s work.

Moonrise Kingdom looked... well it looked really precious, like Wes had stored up all his excess quirk and threw it all at the wall for this one.

Which he did. And man, did it work.

Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson at his Wes Anderson-ist. It all takes place in a world that we don’t live it. Yeah, it looks kind of the same and the people in it act kind of like people you may have met, but it’s just off enough to be... well, charming.

It’s about an orphaned scout who runs away from his summer camp to be with the girl he met a year earlier at... well it wouldn’t make sense if I explained it.

I’ve had a theory about Wes ever since Life Aquatic. I think that he is one of those writers who needs the right partner. His work with Owen Wilson was superb, but when he started working with other people it started to become a bit spotty. That’s no insult to him or the other writers, but he and Wilson met in college and really developed as writers together. It’s hard to get that chemistry down.

This is the second script he wrote with Bambach was Fantastic Mr. Fox, and this was his second with Roman Coppola and in both cases the maturation of their working relationship was evident.

Moonrise Kingdom is one of the quirkiest movies I’ve ever seen. It very easily could have slipped into obnoxiousness, but it doesn’t. The characters are odd, but believable. The rules of their world are absolutely insane, but they make sense because the world itself is a bit insane. This is one of those rare, touching films that reminds me what I love about movies in the first place.

4) Lincoln

I’v e read some things about this movie recently that have struck me very odd. There are quite a few people who are calling it dull and boring. Which, if I’m being completely honest, is what I was expecting. Going into this I was only expecting one thing- to be utterly blown away by Daniel Day-Lewis and find the rest of it to be very stuffy and costume drama-ey.

More than anything I was, and in many ways still am, blown away at how interesting I found this film. Yes, it is a bit slow, but the subject matter is so absolutely engrossing that I couldn’t help but be completely pulled in by it.

I will confess that I am very interested in history the way this film portrays it. I like knowing the small things, the little moments that make up every day life. The way I put it, were I to meet someone who was on the Titanic, let’s say, I wouldn’t care about the things you normally learn in history class. I would want to know what music they listened to, how family dynamics and friendships worked. How was your actual life different than mine? That’s what fascinates me.

Lincoln gives you that, but in the context of one of the most important days in the history of my country. People forget that the words we live by in our constitution (as Piers Morgan so lovingly refers to it “our little book”) have changed over the years. I mean, “We the People” originally meant, “We the property owning white males...”

This film shows the events of a few days, the dirty politics of a massive system, as it attempts to correct a grievous sin. Above all else, it shows just how dirty a business politics is. Make no mistake, the 13 Amendment was purchased by Lincoln, and this movie shows how.

Day-Lewis is amazing, as expected, but so is everyone else. This film is an collection of best in career performances. Sally Field, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader, John Hawkes, Tim Blake Nelson, hell, I could go on, but they are all amazing.

I could see how some people might find this movie dull, so be forewarned. Personally, though, I found the subject matter fascinating, the performances amazing, the direction solid and well paced... just in general, I loved this thing.

3) The Dark Knight Rises

Another one that some people have problems with. I think this was the absolute perfect end to an amazing series. I make no secret of my love for Christopher Nolan. His films are entertaining, intelligent, and visually striking, writing and narrative style is perhaps the most sophisticated and well developed out there, and his ability to make wildly entertaining movies that you have to pay close attention to in order to understand is second to none.

Nolan had his work cut out for him on this one.

a- How do you follow up a movie that is held up to the impossible standard of “The Dark Knight?”

b- How do you wrap up such a respected and obsessed over film series without letting a lot of people down?

c- How the hell do you have a villain step into Heath Ledgers massive shoes?

Nolan was somehow able to not just follow up TDK, but in many was surpass it because he set out to make a different film. Instead of trying to retread it, he took things in a wildly different direction. Begin with a broken hero and give reason for him to come back. Establish what your film is, and execute it with as much gusto as humanly possible. Create a villain that is as different from the last one as you can make him.

Basically, make it its own film.

Tom Hardy as Bane is... just DAMN!

For as terrifying as Leger’s shotgun of random chaos Joker was, the intense focus and singleminded determination of Hardy’s Bane just amplifies that feeling.

It’s a movie about the cruelty of false hope and the need to embrace your own fallibility and weakness.

Some people may not agree, but I don’t care. The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most original and striking films I’ve seen in years.

2) Zero Dark Thirty

There are few jobs more horrendously misrepresented in film than that of spy. You dress cool, go to cool places, get cool gadgets to play with, everyone you work with is really attractive and all they want to do is have sex with you.

Zero Dark Thirty puts the lie to that and does so in one of the most fascinating, engrossing, and thrilling movies I’ve seen in a while. Everyone knows the broad strokes and this film fills in a lot of the details.

Imagine the impossibility of this undertaking. One man hiding somewhere in the world, most likely in Afghanistan, or maybe Pakistan, or... maybe somewhere else. All we know  is that he, and the very large organization he heads up, would rather he not be found.

It’s stunning that such a small team of people was able to accomplish anything, much less finding and killing the guy.

That’s kind of what pisses me off about the way the media covers things like this. Neither Obama nor Bush “got” Bin Laden. A group of people in the CIA, working for YEARS with little to no information was able to put together enough to track him down. And that’s what this movie shows you. A very small group, grinding it out over many years.

To the “controversy” over the torture scenes. Yes, there are scenes of torture, and yes they are pretty rough, and yes the torture does yield a small amount of information. But the tremendous amount of single minded work that went into finding the man really takes center stage. The movie makes it quite clear that all they got from the torture was one name. Had that name not stuck with one intelligence officer who refused to let it go, nothing would have happened. But one woman wouldn’t let the lead go.

This is a tough movie to categorize. I mean, it’s a spy movie, but a realistic one. It’s also a procedural, but different than you are maybe used to. It has elements of an action movie, but a very grown up action movie. It’s drama for certain, but not manufactured.

I’ve written before about the difficulty of making a movie about actual events. I was writing about “The Devil’s Double,” and how it lacked a satisfying resolution, because in real life that’s how it went. Zero Dark Thirty was lucky in that it is a complete story that ends in success. Personally, I don’t think it would have been anywhere near as compelling if it had been made before Bin Laden was killed. It would have been a lot of built that ended with a question mark. Instead you get real life falling together in a very Hollywood way.

Zero Dark Thirty manages to do something very difficult. It is a smart, adult targeted espionage movie that never drags or gets boring with an ending that feels completely fantastical and totally realistic at the same time.

1) Argo

Another Middle East centric movie based on actual events that has been criticized over nit picky details that have nothing at all to do with the film itself? I am just soooo predictable.

I am going to address the bullshit criticism before I go on about why this movie topped my list.

1) Canada's Involvement

Critics claim that the movie underplays the involvement of the Canadian Government and Ambassador Ken Taylor claiming that not enough credit was given for their risk and role in the planning and execution of the extraction.

I call a bit of BS on this because those who criticize it give me my retort.

“Taylor himself has a major part, and is presented as a sympathetic and brave man who took great personal risks to save the Americans. But his actual role was even larger.”

You know what? There are a lot of people who contributed significantly who didn’t get mentioned at all. It’s a movie, and a movie’s intended purpose is to tell a story as compellingly and as concisely as possible. Is it necessary to go into great detail about everyone and make a 12 hour miniseries just to insure that nobody gets overlooked.

Taylor comes off as a compassionate human being who is willing to risk his life by committing what would be considered an act of war in order to do what is right. I cannot think of any higher praise one could be paid than that. This was not a “he might get in trouble” situation. He witnessed the storming of an embassy, he knew what would happen just by having them there. The level of courage it took to do that demands respect.

Also, the fact that Canada took sole credit for the mission for 25 years and Taylor himself received 112 citations for what he did should be sufficient. It’s a movie, don’t lessen what you did by bickering over it.

You know what you don’t see? Tony Mendez complaining that he was denied credit for one of the most incredible intelligence operations ever conducted for almost 3 decades. Canada, we thanked you then and continue to thank you now. Perhaps let the other people, those who had to keep their participation a secret for 25 years, have a moment in the sun.

2) Not spending sufficient time on the hostages.

More than one article that I’ve read has criticized this film for focusing on the 12 who got out and basically ignoring the 52 who were held for 444 days.

Ok, so your criticism is that the movie isn’t about something else. That’s what your saying. It should not have been about a, it should have been about b.

In other words, you didn’t like the movie. Because that’s what you’re saying. It’s a nit picky bullshit reason to criticize something. That’s like criticizing Zero Dark Thirty for not giving enough screen time to the helicopter pilots. The movie wasn’t about them.

3) The escape didn't happen that dramatically.

This one might have the most validity, but it is still stupid. For starters, it’s not a documentary, it’s a fiction film that is meant to entertain. That’s it. Most movies based on actual, historical events are not 100% faithful to the actual history.

Did you know that Mozart and Salieri were actually quite good friends? So, does that make Amadeus a bad movie?

There are no recorded cases of Russian Roulette being played by Vietnam POW’s, does that make Deer Hunter any less good?

Marcus Aurelius never wanted to restore the Republic. Commodus didn’t kill him. Maximus never existed. So I guess Gladiator is a piece of shit.

Yes, history is important and movies tend to be more popular than books and this can lead to massive misunderstandings in the popular culture. But that isn’t new.

Do you know who Israel Bissell was? No? Strange, because he rode hundreds of miles to warn American colonists that “the Redcoats are coming.” Paul Revere only rode 13 miles, but because Paul Revere rhymes with more things than Israel Bissell, he had a kick ass poem written about him and history followed suit.

Sucks for Bissell, but it doesn’t change the history and those who are willing to learn it will, those who aren’t never will. At least the movie or the poem will give them some sort of knowledge.

Also, do you really want to watch a movie without a climax, because that’s what it would have been had they done it the way it happened.

So, now why is this my movie of the year?

Good question.

I have not seen a movie that has made me twist in my seat the way this one did in a very long time. The urgency of every scene, the palpable sense of dread, the immediacy of it all.

Yes, this is essentially a caper/heist movie. So what? It’s a fantastic caper/heist movie. So far as a that genre goes, it’s pretty much a perfect caper film. It’s an absurd situation that, were it not based on actual events, would be laughed off the screen as completely unbelievable. The thought that the largest intelligence agency, serving the most powerful country in the world was reduced to “the best bad idea we have,” is amazing.

I also love hidden history. Like Lincoln’s political dealings, or the behind the scenes intelligence work necessary to bring down Bin Laden, the actual machinations needed to enter a wildly hostile country alone and walk out with 6 other people, while constantly under the risk of exposure and execution is incredibly fascinating to me.

Argo pretty much hits everything I love in a movie. It’s smart, funny, exciting, well paced, well acted, well written, brilliantly directed, and about something I find absolutely fascinating. It may or may not be one of my fabled “perfect movies,” for that I will need a few more viewings. But I can say after just one screening that it is damned close to perfect.

So, there you have it. A few months late and a few thousand words too long, but damn it, I finished.

Thanks for checking it out.



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