This makes three posts in a row about movies. What can I say? I’ve been watching a lot of movies lately.
2012 was a great year for movies. I saw quite a few excellent movies in the past year. I told you a bit about what I thought of some of them in my Oscar post, but here’s a more in-depth look.
Wow, I did not expect to like this movie as much as I did. But I was shocked to find myself in tears at the end of the movie, which is based on a true story. John Hawkes plays Mark O’Brien, a writer who survives in an iron lung after being paralyzed as a child by polio. Since his physical condition makes sex extremely difficult, he hires Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt), a married mother who works as a sex surrogate. Ty Burr’s review in the Boston Globe points out, rightly, that there are a million ways it could have gone wrong and that the premise sounds like a bad joke. What makes the movie work is the great work of John Hawkes (I am shocked that he didn’t get an Oscar nomination) and the compassion the script has for Mark.
One really refreshing thing is the treatment of religion. Mark is a devout Catholic who consults with his priest (William H. Macy) before hiring Cheryl. While the priest mulls over the morality of it, he ultimately concludes that God will give him a pass on the sex-outside-of-marriage part. It’s really unusual in the movies to see a clergy member, particularly a Catholic priest, demonstrating empathy instead of judgment, and I greatly appreciated it.
My one big issue with the film? Helen Hunt’s terrible Boston accent. (It takes place in California, but Cheryl is originally from Salem.) Her performance is great other than that, but it’s an especially noticeable problem since she keeps talking to a guy named Mark.
Silver Linings Playbook
Awesome, awesome, awesome. I loved this movie.
Bradley Cooper’s had such a weird career path. I didn’t watch Alias much, but I remember him as Sydney’s sweet-but-dorky friend Will. Ten years later, he’d reinvented himself as a studly leading man, and now with this movie, he’s made himself into a serious actor who, I hope, will be given more challenging parts in the future. He plays Pat, a man with bipolar disorder and anger management problems who’s just gotten out of a mental institution. He landed there after beating up the man his wife Nikki was cheating on him with. Now he’s lost his teaching job, is living with his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jackie Weaver), and is obsessed with getting back together with Nikki, who has filed a restraining order against him. When he meets his friend’s widowed sister-in-law, Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who has a lot of issues of her own, he lets her into his life, reluctantly at first. He agrees to be her partner in a dance competition if she’ll deliver a letter he wrote to Nikki. But as they spend more time together, we see Pat’s priorities changing and both Pat and Tiffany’s issues improving. Meanwhile, Pat’s obsessive-compulsive father is trying to make money by betting on Philadelphia Eagles games.
One thing I really appreciated is how it portrays mental illness and psychiatric drugs—realistically, Pat, who isn’t taking his meds at the beginning of the movie, does see an improvement in his symptoms but not an end to all his issues once he starts taking them regularly and seeing a therapist. Also, the acting is superb all around. Bradley Cooper captures Pat’s insanity so well that you don’t even think about how hot he is. And not to get all hipster about it, but I loved Jennifer Lawrence before The Hunger Games—specifically, since Winter’s Bone—and she does not disappoint. I want to be Jennifer Lawrence when I grow up…even though she’s younger than me.
Speaking of which, that’s actually my one issue with the movie—J. Law looks waaaaay too young to be playing Tiffany. She says at one point that she was married for three years, and although I don’t think they said how long her husband had been dead, I think it was at least a year—was she, like, sixteen when she got married? Bradley Cooper even said recently, while denying rumors that the two of them are dating in real life, something like, “I could be her dad!” But Lawrence is such a good actress that it’s not too bothersome.
I can’t think about this movie without shaking my head in disgust over Ben Affleck not being nominated for Best Director. This is based on the true story of the Canadian Caper, where the CIA freed six Americans in the Iranian hostage crisis who’d escaped to the Canadian ambassador’s house by disguising them as a film crew, although there are some liberties taken for dramatic effect. It says a lot about how well-done it is that even though history tells us how the movie will end, I was still nervous watching it!
Beasts of the Southern Wild
This is a weird movie. Not bad, but weird. It takes place in a bayou community called The Bathtub cut off by a levee from the rest of the world. A little girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) lives in a little wooden house by herself, while her ailing, sometimes harsh father lives in another one next door. A storm is moving in and threatening to destroy everything. Oh, and there are these creatures called Aurochs that come out of the melting polar icecaps running around.
Yeah, I told you it was weird. I’m still not quite sure what to make of it. But I can tell you for certain that Wallis is adorable and very talented, and hopefully she’ll be in a lot more movies in the future.
Life of Pi
Another movie I liked more than I thought I would. All I knew about it before I saw it was kid-on-boat-with-tiger, but there’s a lot more to it than that. There’s what we see of the kid, nicknamed Pi, and his life with his family in India before he is shipwrecked with the tiger. There’s the framing device, the adult Pi telling his story to a writer. There are parallels drawn to religion, which I always find interesting, and there’s the possibility that the tiger is metaphorical. But aside from the writing, this movie is just gorgeous visually, even though most of it was created by CGI.
I did like this movie, but it did not, by any means, knock my socks off or blow me away or have me jumping out of my chair or any other idiomatic phrase conveying supreme enjoyment. It is very well-acted—Daniel Day-Lewis does a great job bringing a historical figure we’re all familiar with to life. But while it’s about a major event, the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery, the road to that passage was paved with a lot of partisan bickering, not unlike Congress today. At times, it seems like the movie is just a succession of long, poignant speeches. And while I can certainly admire the direction and acting in this movie, it didn’t move me, and a movie about something as big as the abolition of slavery really should.
One of the funniest movies I’ve seen in a long time. How has there never been a movie about college a cappella until this one? I do have to say that I was a little underwhelmed by most of the music, but it’s funny and unpredictable enough (well, as unpredictable as a comedy can be) to make up for that…and for the fact that everyone looks way older than 18-22. Weren’t Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson just playing older characters in Up in the Air and Bridesmaids, respectively?
The Hunger Games
I’ve heard very little criticism of the adoption of this book to the screen, and given what a big following the book series has, that’s a huge compliment. Jennifer Lawrence is perfect as Katniss (actually, I probably could have ended at “Jennifer Lawrence is perfect”), the movie is very well-cast in general, and it mostly stays faithful to the book. I liked the first book in this series but wasn’t as crazy about the second two, but I am interested to see how the movie adaptations of Catching Fire and Mockingjay go.
I had never seen anything by Wes Anderson before this, but I LOVED this movie. It takes place on a fictional island in New England in 1965, where Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman), two misunderstood twelve-year-olds who have been pen pals for a year, decide to run away together. While much about it is surreal—a gigantic treehouse at Sam’s scouting camp teeters precariously in a very narrow tree, Sam gets struck by lightning but springs back up unharmed almost immediately—it’s also very sweet in its depiction of young love. That they care about each other in an innocent, pre-teen way doesn’t diminish their relationship. And aside from being very funny, it’s also appealing in the way that it captures the feel of spending summer on the New England coast.
The Dark Knight Rises
I am not a superhero-movie person, so it says something that I like these movies enough to see them in the theater without anyone making me. The last installment in this series was, frankly, a bit too long, but not bad. The Dark Knight actually made me think with the questions it raised at the movie’s end, but when this one ended, I kind of shrugged and said, “Huh. Not bad,” and then went home to walk Juno.
Ehh…this was a decent movie, but I kind of doubt that anyone who saw it loved it. It takes place in 1950, and Joaquin Phoenix plays an alcoholic veteran with PTSD who falls in with a cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman), whose religion is a thinly-veiled version of Scientology. It’s definitely interesting, but feels unfinished—like the writer decided to make a movie about L. Ron Hubbard but couldn’t think of a good enough plot, or at least a good enough ending.
Interesting character study of a movie. Denzel Washington plays an alcoholic pilot who, despite discreetly consuming vodka orange juice in flight, manages to land a malfunctioning plane with the loss of only six lives. Initially hailed as a hero, he becomes desperate to preserve his reputation as his intoxication comes to light. Washington is great as a morally ambiguous man whose actions keep us guessing up until the end, and Kelly Reilly adds a lot as a heroin addict he meets and bonds with in the hospital.
Zero Dark Thirty
Intense and very well-done. Jessica Chastain is excellent as a CIA agent named Maya (reportedly based on a real person) who dedicates her whole career to finding Osama Bin Laden. It’s nine years of false leads, missed tips, bad information, and tragedy (Maya survives the bombing of the Islamabad Marriott and loses friends in the Camp Chapman attack) before she finally tracks down Bin Laden’s compound. While the movie doesn’t hit us over the head of this, it’s clear that she also faces struggles being heard as a woman working with a lot of men. Even with her assertion that she’s 100 percent certain that Bin Laden is in the compound, it takes a long time for any action to be taken. For over four months, Maya writes the number of days it’s been since they found the compound in dry erase marker on her boss’s office window. In one awesome scene, she’s told to step back as the CIA chief briefs everyone on the compound. When he asks her who she is, she’s quick with the response: “I’m the motherfucker who found this place!” We don’t get much background on Maya—she’s single and a workaholic, but the movie doesn’t focus on it—but Maya’s dazed reaction upon seeing Bin Laden’s corpse, and then her silent tears upon leaving Pakistan in a private plane, speak volumes.
Quiet, elegant, devastating. And very effective. It’s about Anne and Georges, an elderly married couple in Paris, dealing with Anne’s stroke and subsequent decline in health. While the inciting incident—Anne suddenly going silent during breakfast one morning—is shown, and very well-done, a lot of the big moments happen off-screen. Unlike so many movies nominated for Oscars, it’s not about anything big like fighting terrorism or ending slavery, but about something that people around the world go through every day, and about the small ways that love shows itself.
I’m not a big Tarantino fan, so I wasn’t excited to see this movie, but I liked it much more than I expected to. However, while it was mostly enjoyable, it was also a lot longer than necessary and not something I thought about once it was over. Jamie Foxx is Django, a former slave traveling with German bounty hunter King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) helping him kill people and trying to find his wife Broomhilda. It’s entertaining, and kind of amazing that Tarantino can still think of new ways to show blood spatter, but one thing that really bugged me was how little personality Broomhilda had. Especially since Django’s want to reunite with her is what propels most of the plot.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
I adore this book—in fact, when I first read it at age 19, I went on and on about it in my journal. I was really excited to hear that the book’s author, Stephen Chbosky, was writing and directing the movie as well. I was very pleased with it. Logan Lerman as Charlie, Emma Watson as Sam, and Ezra Miller as Patrick were all great—although I definitely never would have imagined that the same actress would play both Sam and Hermione Granger! The book is so much about Charlie’s inner life that I did feel like some of it was lost in translation to the screen, and there’s a lot less about his family in the movie. But those are minor quibbles—this was a great movie.