Mini-Review: Holy Motors

This year, as I did both last year and in 2012, I am engaging in something I like to call the Year-End Dash. Basically, its the scramble to get as many eligible titles viewed as possible before the end of the year for the forthcoming BAM Awards.

The extemporaneous reactions to late viewing will be short, but they will be logged. So I thought it would also be a good idea to re-post in standalone form some of the more memorable films I’ve seen in the first few jaunts.

Holy Motors

While Holy Motors, like Alps deals with an unusual “business,” and like Alphaville deals with much larger implications than production value might otherwise indicate (not that they’re low), you can’t really compare it to anything. It’s the kind of film that as you think about it you find it’s absolutely saying something at given points, it may not be a wholly underlying ideal, but there are several within the context of one most unique tale. It’s the kind of film that’s just enjoyable to watch even if you’re not sure why at first. It’s the kind of film that exemplifies Bergman‘s assertion about an audiences understanding the emotional meaning of a film rather than the literal meaning.

It features a mesmerizing lead performance by Denis Lavant, brilliant prosthetics work, and a catchy original song performed by Kylie Minogue, amongst many other things.

It’s almost impossible to give a rating to the film at this juncture, especially as it seems to be ascendant at this moment. However, let’s say the placeholder is:

9/10

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My Ballot: LIONs for LAMBs and The OMIEs

As I indicated earlier, when there are public or open to membership voting that I qualify for, I will write a post here to discuss my picks and to publicize the poll. I have included two polls here.

They are both run by the LAMB, the Large Association of Movie Blogs, of which I am a part, or a member thereof. The first is Lions for the Lambs, which seeks ranked submissions in various categories. Since that closely reflects my BAM Award selections, I also included my Omie choices where I more closely considered “Oscar-viability” in my decision-making process.

LIONS for the LAMBs

Best Film

1. Django Unchained
2. The Turin Horse
3. Anna Karenina
4. The Dark Knight Rises
5. North Sea Texas
6. The Cabin in the Woods
7. Les Misérables
8. The Dynamiter
9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
10. Kauwboy

Best Director

1. Bela Tarr The Turin Horse
2. Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained
3. Bavo Derfune North Sea Texas
4. Joe Wright Anna Karenina
5. Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight Rises

Leading Male Performances

1. Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln
2. Hugh Jackman Les Miserables
3. Denis Lavant Holy Motors
4. Matthew McConaughey Killer Joe
5. Logan Lerman The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Leading Female Performances

1. Keira Knightley Anna Karenina
2. Tilda Swinton We Need to Talk About Kevin
3. Magaly Solier Amador
4. Noomi Rapace The Monitor
5. Erika Bók The Turin Horse

Supporting Male Performances

1. Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained
2. Samuel L. Jackson Django Unchained
3. Eddie Redmayne Les Misérables
4. Mikkel Boe Foesgaard A Royal Affair
5. Matthew McConaughey Bernie

Supporting Female Performances

1. Anne Hathaway Les Misérables
2. Samantha Barks Les Misérables
3. Gina Gershon Killer Joe
4. Sally Field Lincoln
5. Anna Gunn Sassy Pants

Best Screenplays

1. Patrick Wang In the Family
2. Bavo Defurne and Andre Sollie North Sea Texas
3. Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained
4. Laszlo Krasznahorki and Bela Tarr The Turin Horse
5. Tom Stoppard Leo Tolstoy Anna Karenina

Best Foreign Film

1. The Turin Horse
2. North Sea Texas
3. Kauwboy
4. Holy Motors
5. The Raid: Redemption

As for the Ormies, as intimated above, it’s more of a snubbed award so here are my choices based on Oscar expectations. A few are admittedly wished-for surprises. These are open to anyone. Submit your choices here via email.

Best Picture

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Best Director

Tom Hooper Les Misérables

Best Actress

Keira Knightley Anna Karenina

Best Actor

Matthew McConaughey Killer Joe

Best Supporting Actor

Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained

Best Supporting Actress

Samantha Barks Les Misérables

Best Original Screenplay

The Cabin in the Woods

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Foreign Language Film

Kauwboy

Animated Film

Rise of the Guardians

Documentary

Bully

Original Song

“The Big Machine” Safety Not Guaranteed

BAM Award Winners: Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Here is another post siphoned-off from the catch-all Young Actors post, which was getting a bit cumbersome to read. The diversification of the categories started in 2010 when Lead and Supporting categories were split. They were unisex for that year then divided by gender in 2011.

2018 Isabella Sermon Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

2017 Chiara Aurelia Gerald’s Game

2016 Alexa Nisenson Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

img_3326-1

2015 Isabelle Fuhrman All the Wilderness

All the Wilderness (2014, Screen Media Films)

2014 Emma Verlinden Labyrinthus

Labyrinthus (2014, Attraction Media)

2013 Mariam Bokeria In Bloom

In Bloom (2013, Big World Pictures)

2012 Jeanne Disson Holy Motors

Holy Motors (2012, Indomina)

2011 Elle Fanning We Bought a Zoo

Best Performance by a Child Actor in a Supporting Role

2010 Janina Fautz The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon (2009, Sony Pictures Classics)

2012 BAM Award Winners

Another year has come and gone so it’s time to announce the 2012 BAM Award winners. These awards are based solely on my opinion and what I was able to watch during the past year.

To see what qualified you can check any of these three posts for film, actor and behind-the-scenes categories.

I recently announced shortlists, and barring a few last minute entries, these nominations will come from those films.

If you want more insight into the history and development of the awards I have re-posted most of my old lists starting with 1996

The winners will be pictured and BOLD.

I will be live-blogging these winners from the bottom of the list up.

Best Picture

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

It may seem hard to believe, but I compartmentalize such that nomination totals surprise me, at times winners have surprised me to because I thought I’d do one thing, but then as I thought and wrote it was clear my thoughts were different than intially assumed. However, I was not surprised that the highest nomination totals weren’t terribly high and that the win totals have been fairly split throughout. Again, compartmentalizing.

So what was the most fun I had at the movies this year? The most gobsmacked by its construction? The most delighted intellectually? Oh, yeah, it made me laugh too. The answers to all these questions are Django Unchained What it does is that it takes what Tarantino did in Inglorious Basterds brings it to the US, shines a harsh light on our uncomfortable subject, then flagellates it, makes us laugh about it, think about, condemn it and root for good to triumph (as we know it will), and what’s best makes the point of making it an antebellum tale. It was hair-splitting that kept Django from getting other awards throughout the day, but this one was in the bag from when I was done watching it.

Anna Karenina
The Cabin in the Woods
The Dark Knight Rises
Django Unchained
The Dynamiter
Kauwboy
Les Misérables
North Sea Texas
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
The Turin Horse

Best Foreign Film

The Turin Horse (2011, Cinema Guild).

The Best Picture field has quite a few foreign films in it too, but here was another year where a foreign film set the standard early, held it for a long time and got nicked at the end of the year. I suggest you look into all these films to see which interest you as they are very different, and my winner is not likely to have the greatest mass appeal. The winner is The Turin Horse

Found Memories
Holy Motors
Kauwboy
Magic Silver
Monsieur Lazhar
North Sea Texas
The Raid: Redemption
La Rafle
Simon and the Oaks
The Turin Horse

Most Underrated Picture

Kauwboy (2012, Waterland Film)

Last year, started a real shift in how I treat this award. Basically, it stopped being about the IMDb and what critics and others said about the film and more about what smaller film, deserving of a wider audience do I think needs championing – thus next year this category may have a slightly different name.

This kind of ties into why I skipped on Worst Picture and Most Overrated. I could still tell you some for the past year, but I spent many of the wee hours nominating last week and all day today posting these winners, I want it to be all about positive things. Aside from philopsophical topics that’s what it boils down to.

So what film here deserves championing the most? Kauwboy. I am lucky and grateful to have seen it, but while it may have had festival and Academy screenings here to the best of my knowledge it does not have US distribution and is in my top 10 of the year.

The Aggression Scale
The Dynamiter
In the Family
Intruders
Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life
Kauwboy
Magic Silver
Meeting Evil
On the Ice
Simon and the Oaks

Best Director

Bela Tarr

All the men in this category had singular visions and are very deserving. However, only one can get this honor. In the past I delayed the creation of a lifetime achievement award because the director was still quite vital. I won’t exclude someone for getting that honor now that it exists, however. When there’s a director-picture split there should be a justification. Here there will be a quasi-split (you’ll see what I mean) and I think Béla Tarr earned it for having a more precise, exacting vision that’s greater not only than the sum of his ouevre but also of his aesthetic.

Bavo Defurne North Sea Texas
Christopher Nolan The Dark Knight Rises
Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained
Béla Tarr The Turin Horse
Joe Wright Anna Karenina

Best Actress

Anna Karenina (2012, Focus Features)

They might not all be in films that bring the biggest fanfare with them but these ladies all did spectacular jobs in varied ways. Ultimately, what this boiled down to was two ladies who did two very different things: one didn’t have as many cuts to work with and had to convey many emotions quickly and clearly, another due to the mind’s eye approach of the narrative had to quickly and visually communicate. However, the task assigned to Keira Knightley not only felt bigger to me but she steered the journey so magnificently; it’s literally breathtaking.


Erika Bók The Turin Horse

Keira Knightley Anna Karenina

Magaly Solier Amador

Tilda Swinton We Need to Talk About Kevin

Noomi Rapace The Monitor

Best Actor

Lincoln (2012, DreamWorks)

As likely as Daniel Day-Lewis is to continue to win Best Actor trophies this was by no means a blowout. Denis Lavant plays a plethora of characters, McConaughey is better than ever in Killer Joe; in The Perks of Being a Wallflower Logan Lerman reminds us all what he’s capable of and then Dane Dehaan broke through big time in Chronicle. However, there’s impersonating a figure, doing an impression of them and then theres inhabiting them, which seems to be what Daniel Day-Lewis does. It’s astonishing.


Dane DeHaan Chronicle
Logan Lerman The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Daniel Day-Lewis Lincoln

Denis Lavant Holy Motors

Matthew McConaughey Killer Joe
Hugh Jackman Les Misérables

Best Supporting Actress

Les Misérables (2012, Universal)

Samantha Barks Les Misérables
Sally Field Lincoln
Gina Gershon Killer Joe
Anna Gunn Sassy Pants
Anne Hathaway Les Misérables

First thing that needs mentioning is that Sassy Pants is on netflix now, so stream it. It’s hilarious. Also, if you’re in for a weird time go for Killer Joe. Samantha Barks is unforgettable singing my favorite Les Mis song, however, here is one place where I will not be any different from any other award show between now and the Oscars, the winner is Anne Hathaway who more than deserves it. What an astoundingly great performance.

Best Supporting Actor

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

I love to see Leonardo DiCaprio really hooked into a part, when he’s a live wire he’s something special and he’s that here. Him in this form is about all that can sway me away from picking Sam Jackson in this category.

Mikkel Boe Foesgaard A Royal Affair
Leonardo DiCaprio Django Unchained
Samuel L. Jackson Django Unchained
Matthew McConaughey Bernie
Eddie Redmayne Les Misérables

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Monsieur Lazhar (2011, Music Box Films)

All these performaces are very strong as well, especially Ryan Simpkins’, however, if there’s one invocation I cannot disregard it’s that of Anna Chlumsky. That is who Sophie Nélisse reminded me of in a lot of ways and that’s why she takes it, aside from the obvious fact that she’s the conscious of a very tough movie for a young actor to be that intrinsic in.

Ryan Simpkins Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Sophie Nélisse Monsieur Lazhar
Yle Vianello Corpo Celeste

Natasha Calls The Possession

Ane Viola Semb Magic Silver

Rachel Mwanza War Witch

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Kauwboy (2012, Waterland Film)

This is another spectacular class, where quite literally any of them could’ve taken it. Quite honestly, it’s one of the decisions I most lamented having to make because I saw early on it was going to be a very strong category. Each of these actors is perfect for the role they’re assigned, however, the one who not only maximes the role and helps make his movie click above all others is Rick Lens.

Thomas Horn Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

James Rolleston Boy
Émilien Néron Monsieur Lazhar

Jelle Florizoone North Sea Texas
Rick Lens Kauwboy

Thomas Doret The Kid with a Bike

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Holy Motors (2012, Indomina)

Another reason that existed to create these Supporting categories for young actors is that there are times when a young actor is given a very tough assignment in complex film, such is this case of this winner Jeanne Disson in Holy Motors. She only has one scene but there’s a lot of subtext she’s playing and she has to get emotional in it at one point; emotional but restrained. It’s a truly great turn by her.

Isabelle Allen Les Misérables

Marie-Ève Beauregard Monsieur Lazhar
Jeanne Disson Holy Motors

Ashley Gerasimovich We Need to Talk About Kevin
Bailee Madison Parental Guidance

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Boy (2010, Unison Films)

This year really redeemed my decision to create equal categories for young performers. There were enough really good lead and supporting performances such that all but one of these categories expanded to six nominees. Drew Barrymore’s performance in E.T. has often been cited as a standard not just for Young Actors, but also for actors round about her age. This year I was reminded of that standard on a number of occasions.

Here’s a category where truly any one of the picks would have been a very valid choice, which just reinforces my belief that the nominating process is the most important, but citations aside, and upon further reflection, the most impressed I was this year was with Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu. In a film like Boy you expect the lead to be strong and have a lot of dramatic turns and situations foisted upon him, you do not expect that from the younger brother character and for him to rise to the challenge in a manner stoically belying his years.

Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu Boy
Sebastian Banes In the Family
Kyle Breitkopf Parental Guidance
Peter DaCunha The Barrens
Pierce Gagnon Looper
Daniel Huttlestone Les Misérables

Best Youth Ensemble

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

In years past there have been splits between Youth Ensemble and Best Cast. The best way to explain that is to use the sports analogy of comparing a whole team (cast) to a unit of the team (Defense), a team may be the best overall but not the strongest in a given unit.

Where with Best Cast I assessed that the adult players are vital due to the fact that they play key figures, the younger performers carry the film and there are more doing so that it would seem if you were to just read the synopsis. Both main characters Pim and Gino are represented at two ages, the younger age being a short, but vital tone-setter; but then there are also the girls in their lives who are necessary foils in a film of this nature. They too are very good and written better than you usually see.

Again the decision for North Sea Texas to win here is based on depth and prominence. Monsieur Lazhar has very strong stand-out performances by the kids, as is evidenced in the individual nominations, however, they split time and don’t shoulder as much as the cast of North Sea Texas does.

Ane Viola Semb, Johan Tinus Lindgren, etc. Magic Silver
Émilien Néron, Brigitte Poupart, Jules Philip, Seddik Benslimane, Marie-Ève Beauregard, Sophie Sanscartier, Vincent Millard, Louis-David Leblanc, Gabriel Verdier, Marianne Soucy-Lord Monsieur Lazhar
Ben Van den Heuvel, Nathan Naenen, Noor Ben Taouet, Jelle Florizoone, Nina Marie Kortekaas, Mathias Vergels North Sea Texas
Bailee Madison, Joshua Rush, Kyle Breitkopf, Cade Jones, Mavrick Moreno, Madison Lintz, Justin Kennedy, Jade Nicolette Parental Guidance
Nick Romeo Reimann, Fabian Halbig, Leonie Tepie, Manuel Steitz, Javidan Imani, Robin Walter, David Hürten Vorstadtkrokodile 3: Freunde Fur Immer
Jean Texier, Louis Dussol, Harold Werner, Nathan Parent, Clément Godefroy, Théophile Baquet, Ilona Bachelier, Thomas Goldberg, Grégory Gatignol War of the Buttons

Best Cast

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

This was a year blessed with incredibly deep casts. What needed taking into account was how deep did the casts run and how strong was each individual performer in said role. Though a tale of coming of age and sexual awakening, North Sea texas does have a rounded cast with key adult players that needed to be on point to fill in the the world that was being created, and they to a person, more so than any other film, did that.

Fellag, Sophie Nelisse, Emilien Neron, Marie-Eve Bearegard, Vincent Millard, Seddik Bensilmane, Louis David Leblanc, Dranielle Proux Brigitte Poupart, Jules Philip Monsieur Lazhar
Ben Van den Heuvel, Eva van der Gucht, Thomas Coumans, Katelijn Damen, Nathan Naenen, Noor Ben Taouet, Jelle Florizoone, Nina Marie Kortekaas, Mathias Vergels, Luk Wyns North Sea Texas
Keira Knightley, Aaron Johnson-Taylor, Jude Law, Kelly MacDonald, Olivia Williams, Emily Watson, Matthew Macfayden, Oskar McNamara, Alicia Vikander, Eros Vlahos Anna Karenina
Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Straithairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Joseph Cross, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gulliver McGrath, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson, Lucas Haas, Dane DeHaan Lincoln
Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Sach Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter Eddie Redmayne, Elizabeth Allen, Daniel Huttlestone Les
Misérables

Best Original Screenplay

In the Family (2011, In the Family)

There are a number of ways to look at Best Original Screenplay. One can parse out the originality and go one way, look at the visual treatment and go another or one can take a very textual approach. One of these films is very quiet in terms of dialogue, two are quite eloquent, but one is intimate, another bombastic. Both the eloquent films treat flashbacks very well, one takes more time in them and is more creative chronologically; while another hums along mostly in the present of the tale. Of all awards this one is splitting hairs more than most others – because both top two also have statements to make. However, when you consider one’s Bergmanesque approach and its dramatic rendering of a perhaps dry deposition setting it has to go to Patrick Wang for In the Family.

Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard The Cabin in the Woods
Quentin Tarantino Django Unchained
Leos Carax Holy Motors
Patrick Wang In the Family
Laszlo Krasznahorki, Bela Tarr The Turin Horse

Best Adapted Sceenplay

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

I often have a little struggle in parsing original from adapted. I believe I vary from most awards in that if characters aren’t original, though the script be not made from source material, then I consider that an adaptation. We all have notions about James bond, Batman and the like. To work with them, no matter how out of the canon you take it, you still start with characters that are established.

I only had real knowledge about one of these sources, ultimately, it comes down to how well a vision is translated on screen, how concise, visual and exact is the script’s treatment of the subject matter. Though all these scripts are deserving the most surehanded approach came from Bavo Defurne’s handling of North Sea Texas.

Tom Stoppard (Leo Tolstoy) Anna Karenina
Bavo Defurne (Andre Sollie) North Sea Texas
Stephe Chbosky (Stephen Chbosky) The Perks of Being a Wallflower
William Nicholson (Claude-Michel Schoenberg, Alain Boubil, Victor Hugo, Herbert Kretzmer, Jean-Marc Natel, James Fenton) Les Misérables
Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, John Logan (Ian Fleming) Skyfall

Best Score

The difficulty in deciding this category was balancing the disparate intentions of each score. Each of these films are in different genres, thus, their scores had different tasks at hand and clearly all of them exceled. What it came down to is trying to quantify which score most exceled for what the intentions of the film were, regardless of musicality. When one thinks of The Turin Horse two sounds come immediately to mind: the wind and the score.

Adriano Cominotto North Sea Texas
Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese The Raid: Redemption
Helge Slikker Kauwboy
Christopher Young Sinister
Mihály Víg The Turin Horse

Best Editing

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011, Oscilloscope Labs)

What this category ended up being about in large part was non-linear communication of the narrative. No film did better with that than We Need to Talk About Kevin, which qualified for this year because I didn’t have a realistic chance to see it in 2011, per the Titus Conundrum.


Joe Bini We Need to Talk About Kevin

John Guerdebeke Keyhole
Mary Joe Markey The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Melanie Oliver Anna Karenina
Els Voorspoels North Sea Texas

Best Sound Editing/Mixing

The Woman in Black (2012, Hammer Films))

There are two films here that truly hinge on their sound design, one is indicated by the title and the other is The Woman in Black. Sinister also used its sound to great effect, but ultimately The Woman in Black was the most consistent, and well thought out design of them all.

Chronicle
Django Unchained
Neighboring Sounds
Sinister
The Woman in Black

Best Cinematography

Skyfall (2012, MGM)

Similar to my thoughts on black and white photography fully exploiting the latitude that gives you in something like The White Ribbon here Deakins exploits color wherever and whenever possible. There’s fire, ice and water, neon in the sky, chinese lanterns and much more; it’s a visual smorgasbord you can make yourself a glutton on.

Roger Deakins Skyfall
Benjamin Kasulke Keyhole
Fred Kelemen The Turin Horse
Seamus McGarvey Anna Karenina
Anton Mertens North Sea Texas

Best Art Direction

Anna Karenina (2012, Fox Searchlight)

If you’re going to commit to a stage-style version of anything you have to have brilliant art direction.

Anna Karenina
Cloud Atlas
Magic Silver
Les Misérables
The Turin Horse
The Woman in Black

Best Costume Design

Cloud Atlas (2012, Warner Bros.)

As has been the trend recently, I reward variety of costuming. There are really two titles here that fit that bill and Cloud Atlas does so in spades.

Anna Karenina
Cloud Atlas
Django Unchained
Holy Motors
The Turin Horse

Best Makeup

Holy Motors (2012, Indomina)

Not only does this film do a lot of prosthetics work on its lead, but it shows you the artifice and still makes you believe it, which is impressive.

The Devil’s Rock
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Hitchcock
Holy Motors
The Moon Child

Best Visual Effects

Cloud Atlas (2012, Warner Bros.)

I had a pretty tough time with this one, and usually I would go for the creature-work heavy film but Cloud Atlas has many different landscapes it needed to create, and does so very effectively.

The Cabin in the Woods
Cloud Atlas
Beyond the Black Rainbow
John Carter
ParaNorman

Best Song

I had to do my due diligence and re-listen to these songs before deciding on a winner and it may just be the most varied best field ever. There were some awesome covers this year that would normally be eligible, but to not open pandora’s box and have another nomination sweep like The Chorus did in 2005 I eliminated songs that were not, to my knowledge, original; otherwise, Les Misérables would sweep and have an unfair advantange.

After a great and informative Twitter chat with Larry Richman, at some point between last year’s awards and now, I came to a new way of thinking about these nominees. All the nominees occur within the body of the film, meaning there are no end credit songs and all have some intrinsic value to the film. However, when factoring the quality of the song (where two were nearly neck-and-neck) plus how important the song is within the narrative construct of the film. The winner is clearly…


“You Are the One” Ricky Koole Kauwboy

“The Big Machine” Mark Duplass Safety Not Guaranteed
“Giving It All” Troye Sivan Spud
“Skyfall” Adele Skyfall
“The Thunder Buddy Song” Mark Wahlberg and Seth Macfarlane Ted

The Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award

Bela Tarr

The Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year

Samuel L. Jackson

NOMINATION TABLE TO FOLLOW

Year-End Dash

I already lamented in my closing of the last Mini-Review Round-Up that there were movies I saw in November that never got written up. They are included here by necessity, but truth be told, they do form part of the year-end dash as well because this year I started my search for eligible titles earlier than ever. Anything I see from here until 12/31 will have at least some write-up here. It will be quick and this post will update daily. Some titles, if deserving and if I have time may get another more detailed write-up.

Enjoy the dash. Lists and awards to follow. To see what my ratings mean go here.

Late November

The Other Son

The Other Son (2012, Cohen Media Group)

Sometimes themes develop very unexpectedly throughout the year. One that has occurred this year is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This film, which oddly was a co-production but not selected by either nation for the Oscars, uses perhaps the most effective vehicle possible to examine the issue (children switched at birth) and examines it very well.

9/10

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina (2012, Focus Features)

This is one of the few films this year that has something I call the “Atom Bomb” effect, which means that it ‘mushroom clouds’ so to speak, it grows the further away from impact you are. It was a film I felt very strongly on a visceral level as I watched it, but as I reflected upon it I was further ravished by the conscious theatrical presentation, which seemed to me to represent the societal facade through which Anna fights. As she comes closer to embracing her emotions the set seem more filmic, when scenes are dealing with emotional contrivance, they are more theatrical. I haven’t had a chance to revisit the film and test the theory, but regardless of interpretation it works. The moving camera lends much of the feeling, but the lack of cuts in certain sequences forces the actors, especially Knightley, to convey many conflicting emotions all in sequence without the aid of the edit and they do so tremendously. The score is wonderful, there are few if any aspects of the production that are not first rate, making it one of the best films of the year.

10/10

The Road

This is a most unusual film. It’s split into three distinct acts marked by time. They get progressively better, less awkward & stilted than the start such that the last act, climax and denoument save it. 6/10

Elena

This film is an effective drama. It’s sold as a thriller because it fits, but only loosely by what genre-treatment has acclimated us to here in the US. It’s very low-key and interesting but makes some off third act scene choices. 7/10

Heat Wave

A very intriguingly constructed narrative that almost imperceptibly mounts tension and very clearly and accurately builds characters. 8/10

The Day I Saw Your Heart

Has funny and heartfelt moments but its characters are a bit too eccentric and immature in certain portions. Sympathy and empathy are hard to find at times. This inconsistency is remedied as stakes rise but it’s only a mere salvation. It does, however, feature great performances. 6/10

Shun Li and the Poet

Any look at different immigration patterns worldwide will pique my interest to an extent. However, what’s most compelling here isn’t just insight into Chinese émigrés but the characters they play and the performances delivered. This is a warm, moving film that is beautifully photographed. 8/10

On the Ice

This is a slice of neo-neorealist cinema (if you can follow that) set in a native community in Barrow, AK. As opposed to something like Before Tomorrow, which dealt with traditional living in Canada, this film deals with the clash of modern times and tradition in the US. This is a low-key thriller very well executed that features shocking twists and turns. 9/10

A Separation

This film falls into that awkward category for me where it’s one of those films where I fully understand the appeal, I just don’t necessarily agree with it. There’s a compelling narrative, great performances but there are more than a few dubiously handled and conveyed pieces of information that topples the house of cards for me. 5/10

War Witch

War Witch (2012, Tribeca Film)

This is a film that when you pull apart its elements you’d wonder how they managed to combine so many seemingly disparate facets in a very seamless way. It’s a war story, a drama, coming-of-age narrative, with much Magical Realism and cultural specificity. It also features outstanding performances. This film is Canada’s official selection for the Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film, and interestingly cited as Congolese in its Independent Spirit Award nomination as it was set & shot there. 7/10

The Barrens

This film did some interesting things in the realm of belief and attacking the protagonists credibility, but that’s not maximized as the doubt cast is undercut. Aside from that ultimately too many of the tropes are clichéd. The performances of the adult leads are wildly inconsistent, typically stronger when playing heightened emotions, Allie MacDonald and Peter DaCunha‘s consistency give the film some balance. 4/10

December 1st

Hitchcock (2012, Fox Searchlight)

Hitchcock

In a manner that is completely contradictory to the very issue that exists with the Psycho remake, the behind-the-scenes recreations and dramatizations are the best moments in Hitchcock: Hitch speaking over the driving scene and the enactment of the shower scene reactions to name two. Anthony Hopkins, Scarlett Johansson and James D’Arcy are the strongest re-enactors in the cast. The issues with the film are many: lack of focus, minimal arc, cutesy-ness, and one very specific and peculiar subplot is allowed far too much play. There are the occasional good insights into a creative mind but not enough.

4/10

December 2nd

Klown (2010, Drafthouse Films)

Klown

This film is unapologetically inappropriate, and most definitely not for the faint of heart as it one-ups many of the recent raunchy American comedies. It also manages to be a good deal funnier than most if not all of them. The film is expertly performed and cast.

10/10

Abel

The narrative seeks character studies and creates them and at times they are compelling, but they’re snapshots of stasis for the most part. Abel develops a new pattern to his illness but nearly everyone seemingly ends about where they started which makes it a rather vapid experience.

3/10

December 3rd

Kauboy (2012, Waterland Film BV)

Deep Blue Sea

What’s great about movie-watching in this day and age is that I heard this had won a New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Actress, and I decided to stream it just afterwards. Rachel Wiesz is great in this film, and I do love how visual it is, and how it takes us into a love affair in medias res. However, in someway it not only eschews certain tropes about how stories begin, but it also does so for how they progress, and to the film’s detriment. It mostly works until the stilted anti-climax.

5/10

Kauwboy

The Netherlands’ entry into the Best Foreign Language Film fray is quite a wonderful one indeed, and for the second year running the Netherlands could have a major player at the BAM Awards. Kauwboy is tale that’s simply told and all the more beautiful for it. It artistically expresses the wonderment of childhood, how a child can keep himself occupied, but also how a child can retreat and hide away from a difficulty. There’s great tension at times, and also laughs. The world is small containing few players, but all of them are well played; including the very expressive debutant Rick Lens. A most excellent film.

10/10

The Devil’s Carnival

This film seems to try to pick-up on the cult success of Repo: The Genetic Opera, which I have yet to see, in terms of being a horror musical, but combine that with a loose anthology structure, but yet a brisk running time. However, the pacing is sluggish, the narrative is overly loose even within segments, and sadly misfires throughout. It’s hard to watch.

3/10

Jesus Henry Christ

This film operates too much on chance, forced quirkiness and inconsistent dialogue. The actors are talented but are far too often put in forced or artificial situations. There are scenes that work, but they are few and far between.

4/10

December 4th

Friends with Kids (2012, Roadside Attractions)

The Bad Intentions

This is Peru’s submission to the Foreign Language Film fray this year. There are interesting themes and subplots examined in this film but few, if any of them, are fully explored or expand at an agreeable rate. Thus, the film suffers pace-wise and the coming to terms seems all the more abrupt for it.

5/10

Friends with Kids

This is a film whose premise is one of a subversive, humorous social experiment brings some anticipated consequences. For as seemingly fresh as the start of this film is, it falls into line thematically, structurally and socially. As uninspired as it may seem, it is funny enough, charming enough and well-told such that it’s enjoyable.

7/10

December 5th

Headhunters (2011, Magnet Releasing)

Oslo, August 31st

This is a film with some very effective use of voiceover, although it tries it doesn’t supersede The Dynamiter in that usage, it takes place over the course of one day, features some very strong performances, shots and transitional elements. However, the film ends up being a little distant from me and an emotional disconnect. On a visceral level it doesn’t reach the heights it does technically.

6/10

Headhunters

When I tweeted about this film I came a little too close to sounding like a pull-quote for my liking; I ran out of characters. What Headhunters is a prime example of is how Nordic nations, through adaptations of successful novels, have breathed new life into the recently lifeless crime thriller genre. I do believe this is a bit more than just change of venue and language. There’s usually been a noir-like gray area with most characters, fantastic twists, reversals of fortune and strong performances. The exoticness of locale is a cherry on top.

8/10

December 7th

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2012, Magnet Releasing)

Parasitic

This is one of those movies that you keep on watching in spite of itself. To mention the few things that are worth noting the prosthesis and effects aren’t terrible and after a herky-jerky start the pace pick up, but overall the film laugh out loud bad, filled with painful dialogue that believes its witty and constant affronts to acting. Not to mention the story is fairly thing and filled with conveniences.

1/10

Beyond the Black Rainbow

This is a film that is quite the mind-bender. Its daring and exacting visuals are matched by precise, pounding, droning score. It seems like a great blend of stylistic elements of quite a few directors, but the story doesn’t match up to all the technical prowess and its conclusion it a bit anticlimactic. Not to mention the stinger.

7/10

December 8th

Casa de mi Padre (2012, Pantelion Films)

Playing for Keeps

This is yet another romantic comedy, and about the only thing that can be said to be refreshing is just how silly and ridiculous it can get on the comedic side. One of the things that keeps it enjoyable is how separate those things stay. Of course, the film gets rather predictable and in its own way a bit too much but it’s enjoyable.

6/10

Flying Swords of Dragon’s Gate

This film keeps my attention for about half its running time then it slows up, gets bogged down in additional histories, strategic planning and newfound alliances and really loses your interest as it get progressively more ridiculous than it was prior.

4/10

Casa de mi Padre

I admit I was very skeptical about this film, even being a big Will Ferrell fan. However, this works very well and ends up being very funny indeed. It’s a hilarious send up not only of low-rent Mexican fare, but is also unveiled silly commentary on the war on drugs. Ferell’s better-than-expected Spanish combined with his playing yet another dolt, and the supporting cast, really make it work.

8/10

December 9th

Neighboring Sounds (2012, Cinema Guild)

A Trip

I will confess there are some good dramatic building blocks in the latter-half of Slovenia’s official entry for Best Foreign Language Film, but the first have is a drudgery of slow-paced scenes; insufficient and simple character building and comedic misfires that make many of the better second half moments moot. There are other issues with the film, but even if they weren’t it’s a nearly insurmountable deficit.

3/10

Neighboring Sounds

This is a film which has the intentional modern malaise combined with a Grand Hotel style structure taking place in modern day Recife, Brazil. It quietly without too much overt discussion illustrates many urbane urban concerns. With a deft sound design that often goes from a drone to blare-out scene ending it demonstrates the discreet maddening of the bourgeoisie, and working class as the case may be. This is yet another strong entry from Brazil this year.

8/10

Red Dawn

Welcome to the most facile occupation of a nation in the history of the world, filled with clumsy dialogue, an annoying anti-hero, some odd casting choices and some production design misfire, along with some poorly played American football; have fun!

4/10

Help for the Holidays

Help for the Holidays (2012, Hallmark)

For my take on this film please go here.

December 10th

Get the Gringo (2012, Icon)

Get the Gringo

This is an interesting spin on the antihero crime film, which also takes place in an unconventional Mexican prison. The fish-out-of-water element allows us to enter the world and accept it fairly easily. There are minor plot points that come together at the very end. When you add humor, a ticking-clock element, another good turn by Gibson and a very impressive one by Kevin Hernandez (The Sitter), it’s a very enjoyable film.

8/10

Rites of Spring

This is a film where a tweet isn’t enough to convey the disappointment a film metes out. More and more you’ll find hybridization. Since there’s not really “new” idea, combine old tropes creatively. That’s the key to the success of something like American Horror Story. However, the balance, the execution, the acting, the lack of any sort of twist, barring the initial title card; make this a wasted experience.

3/10

Alps

This is Giorgos Lanthimos’s follow up to Dogtooth, and I like that film a great deal and was pleased to find that this film too focuses on a fairly unique microcosm. What is lacking in this film is that it’s not as thorough, not as polished an exploration. While it does explore character’s psyches with subtlety it doesn’t take the plunge early and often enough and end ups feeling the slightest bit hollow.

6/10

Holy Motors

Holy Motors (2012, Indomina)

While Holy Motors, like Alps deals with an unusual “business,” and like Alphaville deals with much larger implications than production value might otherwise indicate (not that they’re low), you can’t really compare it to anything. It’s the kind of film that as you think about it you find it’s absolutely saying something at given points, it may not be a wholly underlying ideal, but there are several within the context of one most unique tale. It’s the kind of film that’s just enjoyable to watch even if you’re not sure why at first. It’s the kind of film that exemplifies Bergman‘s assertion about an audiences understanding the emotional meaning of a film rather than the literal meaning.

It features a mesmerizing lead performance by Denis Lavant, brilliant prosthetics work, and a catchy original song performed by Kylie Minogue, amongst many other things.

It’s almost impossible to give a rating to the film at this juncture, especially as it seems to be ascendant at this moment. However, let’s say the placeholder is:

9/10

As I may revisit it soon.

December 11th

The Aggression Scale (2012, Achor Bay)

Small, Beautifully Moving Parts

This a fairly brisk, pretty funny, character study that due to its insights and use of symbolism overcomes the occasional awkward line and down moment. It presents the interesting conundrum of a woman unsure of her motherly intuition and desires when faced with a past that presents the same issues.

6/10

The House of Tomorrow

This film has a few unenviable hurdles for a doc: one being a wide scope and the other being needing to give requisite history lessons. However, the film succeeds because its fulcrum is TEDx HolyLand that brought together Isreali and Palestinian women to discuss ideas, business, social goals, and to open dialogue. That provides great sound bites and allows the additional required information to be placed strategically. The ideas put forth, and the importance of the meeting, aside from factual reminders, make this well worth watching, regardless of any structural or technical issues faced.

7/10

The Aggression Scale

My tweet on this film gives no more away than the synopsis of this film I feel: This is like the Home Alone as a horror film trailer taken seriously, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s awesome. This film has an effective open that directly ties to later events, features great bloodwork, some very solid performances including Ray Wise, Dana Ashbrook and the chillingly astute, silent turn of Ryan Hartwig. It raises the stakes, chaos, violence, and in some cases, ingenuity of the aforementioned film while also making those things a function of character more so than the element of surprise.

9/10

Goats

This film hits an emotional flat line about midway through, and that’s really where the pace begins to lag. It doesn’t distance itself from similar films thematically. Whereas I lauded Boy for being about acceptance of family the struggle in this film is overly-internalized and not omnipresent. There’s minimal character-building to start, just establishment of quirks. Then some things that seem like changes are status quo. The struggle is small and the overcoming thereof smaller.

3/10

December 12th

Uninhabited (2010, Viva Films)

Uninhabited

This is a film that has a slow, consistent burn that does eventually lead to a very interesting myth. It’s just a shame that the myth is buried so late and that the build-up isn’t as intriguing as the finale.

5/10

December 13th

Area 407 (2012, IFC Films)

Area 407

There is nearly nothing that this film does right. There are inexplicable character decisions, lapses in logic, unforgivably bad found footage camera work, too much yelling and overlapping dialogue and trudging plot filled with performances that are, nearly without exception, not up to snuff.

1/10

December 14th

Sound of My Voice

Sound of My Voice (2011, Fox Searchlight )

This is a film that has very interesting construction, some great nuances, lots of visual information to parse and an open ending. However, aside from being an anticlimactic one rather than a gutting one, it’s also a very clumsily-handled one that undermines much of the good work the film had dome to that point.

5/10

The Fields

This is a film that looks great and tells a very visual tale of true story and/or urban legend. However, much of the dialogue that appears sparsely is bad, some of the staging is poor motivations awkward and set-ups tritely showy. There is also, after a certain point a lack of escalation.

3/10

December 15th

Howling (2012, CJ E&M Pictures)

Howling

It’s a shame that this film over-extends some late montages and milks them for schmaltz because this is a surprisingly complex and intriguing procedural mystery up to that point, which would be better if tightened up.

7/10

December 17th

Goodbye First Love (2011, Sundance Selects)

Goodbye First Love

This film deals with time passing, emotional shifts & visual communication quite easily. It quickly establishes these things visually and moves on subtly without lingering too long. It’s a very sure-handed film that does well to represent the internal conflicts the characters are dealing with.

8/10

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

This is a film that has much more going on underneath the surface than above it. However, it doesn’t quite click for me. As the occasional tale is told and revisited, it becomes clear what the intents are it’s just perhaps not the most compelling way to make the points that are being discussed.

5/10

December 18th

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Warner Bros.)

The Salt of Life

As pleasant a surprise as Mid-August Lunch was, this follow-up is equally disappointing. Thinly plotted, only the slightest chuckles, recycled jokes and tropes; virtually no real cause for this remakes exist. The only positive is, if you weren’t aware of the fact already, you now know it happens overseas too.

4/10

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Based on all the banter I had heard about this film before I got to see it, I fully expected to despise this film. I didn’t. I do acknowledge that for those who have read the book that divorcing oneself from the source material may prove difficult here as it is a sprawling, elaborated version of the tale. I, personally, came in unencumbered by expectations from another medium.

I hope that as a series this bucks the precedent of the original trilogy where the second installment plays like a feature-length second act as opposed to an individual installment. Getting back to this film once it gets really going, which does take a bit longer than desired, it works. I also saw this film in 48 fps. It’s not quite ready for primetime it would seem. In the beginning when the lighting is flatter, it’s like you’re watching the world’s largest HDTV. There are issues handling both movement of the camera and character movement throughout. Movement isn’t always smooth, it’s at times jittery. As for helping the 3D, I’m not the best judge there, but the depth seemed consistent later on. I usually defer to CinemaBlend and agree with their final assessment.

Aside from all the extras, including the fact that I was also watching this in a new local theater, I think it is enjoyable, and perhaps having the original three as a background buoys it, but I think it’s a better start to the proceedings.

8/10

December 20th

Silent Night (2012, Anchor Bay)

Take This Waltz

I try not to fall into the likability trap, and I think some may confuse liking the character with being interested in them or wanting to watch them. However, having characters I dislike and am disinterested in, is just one of the failings of this film. There’s also the handling of the love-hate aspect, the cuckolding, the framing of the narrative and the circular shot montage, which in a “lesser” film would’ve been the subject of ridicule, amongst other things that fail this film. The dialogue is at times forced, in one unfortunate sequence fails the Gay Dilemma litmus test, there are depths to plumb that are worth a look, but after a while it seems pointless. The ending isn’t as unsatisfactory as the rest, but certainly could’ve been better. Likely to rank as one of the year’s worst.

1/10

The Devil’s Rock

This is a film that takes a very interesting angle on dealing with Nazis and the occult, especially with regards to the setting of the tale. The set-up is very effective and it could more fully exploit its trappings, but it does hold interest and contain some surprises.

7/10

Silent Night

I have not seen the film upon which this is based, but knowing that it spawned a low-budget franchise of its own makes it a candidate for examination next time 61 Days of Halloween rolls around. There aren’t nearly enough evil Santa tales, while this one doesn’t go to a “real Santa” like Santa’s Slay, this is definitely my favorite so far: good twists and mistaken identity, great turns from Malcolm McDowell with hilarious “movie cop” dialogue, and Donal Logue and excellent kills.

8/10

December 21-31

The following films were also viewed, factored into awards and lists, but didn’t get extemporaneous write-ups.

Django Unchained (2012, The Weinstein Company)

Magic Mike

Killer Joe

McConaughey is also nominated for this film as Best Actor.

Django Unchained

Les Misérables

A Royal Affair