As awards season draws near, I thought it appropriate to look back on the highs and lows of my cinema experiences of the last year.
1. The Road. Sparse, brutal and terrifying – everything a post-apocalyptic movie should be. I was gripped from start to finish by this small, emotional drama about enduring hope in the face of overwhelming despair. Viggo Mortensen usurps Daniel Day-Lewis as my greatest living actor; his post-LOTR performances consistently compelling and devastating.
2. Star Trek. I was blown away by the joie de vivre of this film; the swagger of Kirk catching me completely off-guard. I have always found Star Trek pretentious, preachy and ponderous – admittedly my experience being limited to bad episodes of Next Generation and a freshman roommate straight out of Trekkies.
3. District 9. What a year for sci-fi! Who would have thought it possible to combine political commentary and gratuitous, crowd-pleasing, video game violence in an unlikely film about aliens in Johannesburg? Wikus is a fantastically likeable hero, and I will be very angry if Sharlto Copley doesn’t get nominated for Best Actor – which looks likely.
4. Avatar. So the story line was a little Fern Gully meets Dune. So what! Captivating. Admittedly it was mainly the technical wizardry that kept me enthralled, but isn’t that a good enough reason to like something? It reminded me of Jurassic Park: not so great, but still filled me with a sense of wonder, and isn’t that the main reason we go to the movies?
5. Up. The ballsyness of the creative team at Pixar is inspiring. What madman green lit a $100 million film about an old man and a half-Asian kid flying to South America in a balloon house? Yet it worked. They decided the audience isn’t made up entirely of idiot 14-year-old boys, and their faith was rewarded. The best first act in animated history didn’t hurt either, even if the film petered out into dogs flying planes.
Honorable Mention: 2012. I went to see a film with bizarre, inappropriate tonal shifts and massive destruction and I wasn’t disappointed. Yes, the third act is boring and loses focus on why we all went, but Roland Emmerich is a gem, an unintentional comic genius – or maybe I’m not giving him enough credit (but I have seen Day After Tomorrow, so I doubt it).
Sad admission: I have not seen Hurt Locker yet…
1. Up in the Air. For the life of me, I cannot understand the hype around this picture. Boring and pretentious with confused and under-developed themes, mixed messages, and enough hot air to relaunch the Hindenburg. In a time when so many people have real problems, I found it difficult to care whether George racked up 10 million frequent flyer miles – a goal inserted into the script only because they realized, hey, he has no goal! He spends his spare time telling us to empty our back-packs, but talks up the importance of meaningful human interaction in the firing process. He then rejects his own confused philosophy in favor of embracing humanity, which turns out to be the sham he suspected all along, and then makes a meaningless sacrifice by giving up some frequent flyer miles only after attaining the 10 million needed to secure his life of luxury. And all the cool kids are sucking it all up, basking in how meaningful it all is. Get a life, you non-contributing zero!
2. Invictus. Again, why the hype? Morgan Freeman gives a wooden performance, capturing some of the motions but missing the magnetism of Mandela. Clint Eastwood slops his way through one embarrassing directing moment after another. He succeeds in making rugby seem unsensational, incomprehensible and populated by uncoordinated oafs, rather than supreme athletes. As a South African and rugby fan who lived through the moment, I was decidedly underwhelmed. My main question is this: if choosing to make a Mandela film, why choose this one?
3. Public Enemies. I know the poor sound and picture were intentional, but why? Michael Mann is my favorite director. His sustained mood and atmosphere make his films immersive and exciting – even a dog like Miami Vice. Yet he chose to alienate us in this one, and it just didn’t work. I got bored and frustrated, and that’s the worst crime a filmmaker of his stature can commit.
4. Nine. Boo! Boo! If I never hear the name Guido again, it will be too soon. Take a good film, do a crappy job remaking it, and add some whores shuffling around a single set in some shoddy attempt at a dance number. Hang your head in shame everyone involved in this turd of a film, and watch a couple Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire films while you’re at it, then go bury yourselves for a while until the stink blows away.
5. Angels and Demons. Wow! What a piece of crap. I don’t think I really have to say anything more than that. Maybe that it’s derivative and uninspired, and moreover, incredibly cynical of Ron Howard to think he can so clearly just go through the motions and expect his paint-by-numbers film to be embraced by the public; though these are the same people who lapped up Da Vinci Code junior in the first place. Tom Hanks reached a whole new low – Ewan McGregor almost hit his nadir too, but then I remember Attack of the Clones, and maybe this isn’t so bad.