Movie reviews of movies released theatrically in 2012.
1. The Act of Killing, directed by Joshua Openheimer, Anonymous, Christine Cynn (10/10)
Western religion, philosophy and even early psychology tell us that the world is made up of good and bad people, and their goodness and badness is based on some a priori concept of good and bad. Of course, this flies in the face of our daily experiences: people we label “bad” do good things (which we usually will not accept as “good”) and people we think of as “good” let us down, or otherwise do things we might think of as “bad,” with numerous variations between these two extremes. But we are taught differently in part because, even in this day and age, the vast majority of human knowledge on the subject says that there are two types of people, good and bad.
2. The Cabin in the Woods, directed by Drew Goddard (10/10)
SPOILER ALERT: Allow me to explain. If you have not seen this film but you are a horror fan you must learn nothing about it before watching it. Don’t even read the back of the DVD. (People still watch DVDs?) Your enjoyment of the film – and your surprise at what happens – will be somewhat lessened by knowledge of the plot. If you haven’t seen it but intend to, please do not read below. If you are not a horror fan, just don’t watch it.
3. Tabu, directed by Miguel Gomes (9/10)
What I said at the time: Tabu is a Portuguese “re-imagining” or “response” to FW Murnau‘s 1931 Tabu: a Tale of the South Seas (as opposed to a remake, as it’s definitely not that). Though I am a huge Murnau fan (just ask me, I probably won’t shut up about him) I have actually never seen the original, Murnau’s last film. So I cannot comment on whether or not this new film improves on the original (and frankly I’m not sure that’s important given the piece of work that Gomes produced).
This version flips around the story’s two parts so they are shown in reverse sequence, and it moves the location of “Paradise” from Bora Bora to one of Portugal’s African colonies. It starts with a brief and semi-silent (no dialogue, but narration and sound) story which, for the first half of the film, feels totally out of place. The first major part concerns a retired woman and her aging neighbour who appears to be suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Slowly, we learn that this is not the case, and that she has a story to tell, but she is unable to confide in anyone. Someone from her past shows up to the tell the story, which is the second major part. That second part is stylistically audacious: like the opening tale, it is semi-silent. There is no dialogue, only narration and an extraordinary use of sounds: there are very strong musical and non-musical motifs. This part is like listening to an older person telling a story, only this time the story is fleshed out with images. It is well-shot, gorgeous to look at and, as I said, the sound is pretty incredible. The story itself is heart-wrenching and moving (and free of the kind of hysterical-woman nonsense that we find in so many of these movies). Yet at the same time the movie manages to be quite funny (though more so in its opening and first parts than in the second half), a balance between humour and solemnity which is all the more remarkable given the story being told and type of acting. In short, it is an absolutely beautiful film and the only thing that keeps me from giving it full marks is one little scene that makes absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.
Additional Thoughts: A lot of people didn’t like Tabu; I heard something about how it “says nothing”. Sometimes I think it is erroneous to look for morals in art. There may be one or more here but I couldn’t care about that. For me I see a film that works on multiple levels: it is a comment on the nature of film storytelling and how it has evolved since Murnau; it is a great story; finally, it is, in its adoption of some aspects of early 20th century cinema, actually radical as film. For these reasons it is great. Oh yeah, and a Now critic says movie inadvertently calls “bullshit” on The Artist. I suspect it does.
4. Stories We Tell, directed by Sarah Polley (9/10)
SPOILER ALERT: See this movie, but if you haven’t yet, learn nothing about it beforehand. Nothing. That includes not reading the below review. CBC (and, likely, other media outlets) already ruined the big surprise for most people though. Good job, CBC.
What I said at the time: Polley’s documentary is a fascinating and provocative examination of her family and the nature of personal narratives. It is one of the best documentaries I have seen in recent years. But something about it bugs me and I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. I am always sceptical when someone makes a documentary about or heavily involving his or herself, or their family, even when that documentary was very good (See Stevie). Certainly there is a definite presumption on the part of the filmmaker that “my life is more interesting” than another subject. And the filmmaker leaves herself open to charges of self-indulgence, among other things. This film seems to rise above such claims as it’s clearly honest, serious, resonant with others, and meta only because of the subject matter itself – the nature of personal truths. But yet I still feel like I would welcome this even more had it been another filmmaker telling Polley’s story, or Polley telling someone else’s deep dark family secret. Perhaps it’s because of my desire for more objectivity (or remove) that I quibble with the re-shoots; mostly the ones with Polley herself, which feel phony, and not the re-shoots with the actors, who are all very, very convincing. I also quibble with how heavy handed the message becomes: both fathers outright state the theme of the movie at times, and as a director I certainly would have been tempted to cut such direct explanations of (one of) the theme of the movie. All this is mere nitpicking, as the film is absolutely excellent, and a little gut-wrenching.
Additional Thoughts: I feel that my 9/10 rating may have been overly critical; this is really a great movie. Maybe it was the best movie I saw at TIFF this year. In retrospect, it certainly has more to say than Tabu, but I feel like I can question Polley’s artistic motives perhaps a little too much; whereas I cannot question Gomes’. I’m stuck wondering whether the film could have been made more “honestly” without the re-shoots or if someone with less obvious a connection to the story could have made an even more penetrating film. I don’t know.
5. Barbara, directed by Christian Petzold (8/10)
This is one of those note-perfect dramas that unfold slowly, choosing to reveal their mystery like a good novel. It doesn’t hammer us with context or plot, and let’s the characters – particularly star Nina Hoss, in a bravura performance – interact. The film subtly and patiently builds to its climax and doesn’t beat us over the head with anything. I love movies like this: they tell a good story and they treat the viewer as smart.
So why not a higher grade? Well, this movie doesn’t have too many moments that stand out as exceptional. Rather, everything is just very well done. It’s a good movie. It’s not a great movie. And that’s fine.
6. Arbitrage, directed by Nicholas Jarecki (8/10)
This is a biting attack on the power of Wall St. – and the corruption of money – disguised as a legal thriller. It’s full of excellent performances and it is structured in such a way that we are mostly never beaten over the head with the obvious critique. (I.e. at no point is there any speechifying, beyond a few lines from Roth, but since Roth’s character is also corrupt…)
I have but one nit picky issue with this otherwise excellent movie. What jurisdiction does Tim Roth’s character work for exactly? Honestly, a little more knowledge of the bureaucratic wrangle that is policing, and I might have given this an even higher grade.
Good and well worth watching.
7. Room 237, directed by Rodney Ascher (8/10)
This is a fascinating and alternatively infuriating and hilarious film (depending on your mood, I would think) that exposes the problems with the “Close Reading” of texts (books, film, other forms of art) without directly telling you that it’s problematic (which is, in my mind, one of its virtues). The film presents five wildly different interpretations of The Shining (which I fortunately just re-watched a couple weeks ago), none of which interpret the film as what it appears (though one take almost does).
8. Blancanieves, directed by Pablog Berger (8/10)
This Spanish, silent (i.e. no dialogue) version of “Snow White” ingeniously moves the story to 1920s Spain and the bullfighters of the era. It’s both a pretty great tribute to silent cinema – and I would assume Spanish silent cinema, though I have seen none of it – and a great reworking of an over-told story. It’s pretty to look at and it’s it’s not so tied to tradition that it looks old. For anyone who is scared by the lack of dialogue, it’s paced well enough that you won’t be bored.
It’s worth your time.
9. Argo, directed by Ben Affleck (8/10)
I have generally had an issue with Affleck as a director, at least with his first movie. I felt like he almost hindered the strong material. But I don’t feel that way here. Though this is a by-the-numbers spy procedural, and Affleck doesn’t bring anything new to the style, he executes it near-perfectly.
10. Moonrise Kingdom, directed by Wes Anderson (8/10)
This is a wonderful little adventure, the kind of which I’m sure we all wish we had as tweens. It’s like a more precious, more realistic – relatively speaking – more affected version of Goonies but with romance – such as it is between tweens – at the core rather than friendship.
There are moments that are among Anderson’s best – particularly the opening scenes – and there are moments where Anderson’s tweeness reaches heights that almost make you want to vomit on yourself. Fortunately, the latter are few and far between and, on the whole, this is an affecting and charming little story that manages to stray further afield than most of Anderson’s previous films.
It’s still undoubtedly a Wes Anderson movie, but it doesn’t feel quite so hermetic as his earlier films. All Anderson films feel like alternate histories, but this one has the slightest tinge of believability to undercut the whimsy.
11. Indie Game: the Movie, directed by Lisanne Pajot, James Swirsky (8/10)
I honestly thought this was going to be about Angry Birds or something like that. So I was wrong. It does, however, tell the story of independent game creators at a time of a revival of I guess what we would call “traditional” games in the face of the huge games that are coming out from the major studios.
I don’t think you actually have to care about video games very much to find this movie compelling, because of the human beings involved. The film gives us interviews with four very interesting independent developers, and these interviews are very, very honest. And it is these interviews that make the film. Regardless of your interest in gaming, the struggles of these people for success – and for kind of impact on others’ lives – is a universal one. We may like or dislike these people, but they certainly are relatable. (As a side note, this movie also made me feel like I had really missed out on a lot of fun by not knowing anything about these games.)
So really I have to recommend this more as a study or artists – or the creative impulse – rather than of video game programmers. It is really interesting and, at times, moving.
12. Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino (8/10)
As Inglorious Basterds was a somewhat delirious revenge fantasy about Nazism, Django is a somewhat delirious revenge fantasy about slavery. Read the full review.
13. The Invisible War, directed by Kirby Dick (8/10)
What I said at the time: Invisible War details the pervasive sexual abuse, sexual assault and rape that has existed in the US military at least since women were allowed into the US Armed Forces. Though it acknowledges that the rape of men is far more commonplace than that of women – simply because there are more men in the armed forces – it is primarily focused on the alarming number of male-on-female rapes in the military and also the lack of interest the military has in prosecuting most of the rapists, who of course are, by definition, serial offenders. The film is well made and highly affecting. I think it is one of those must-see documentaries. But there is a “but”, and it’s a fairly big one.
I understand that to effect actual change one needs to be moderate. This is a political truth, not an artistic one. The filmmakers, hoping to affect policy makers in some way, therefore took a somewhat moderate tone – despite the rampant evidence that tells me that I would never, ever, ever want my son or daughter to have anything to do with the US military – but then I felt that way already – to the artistic detriment of the film. The film seeks to condemn the lack of prosecutions but at the same time honour the armed forces. They have to take this tone in order to give the film even a remote chance of being successful enough to get noticed on, say, the level of Bully, which is the level of notice it would need to actually find enough of an audience to effect change.
Unfortunately because of that decision the film does not condemn the military itself, which is the real problem. A systematized military – as opposed to say, a militia – especially a systematized military involved in more than just the protection of the state – as we know the US military is involved in wars of aggression, though many of us would like to deny this – has to, as a matter of course, dehumanize the “other”. In order to create successful professional soldiers, the military must convince people to believe their opponents are not human; otherwise they would not be able to live with themselves – and of course it doesn’t exactly work, given the frequency of PTSD, the disorder where soldiers feel bad for doing things to people they now recognize as people. Is it such a stretch to believe that a) in such a system some people are likely to misinterpret this dehumanization and project this “other” on to people within their own organization? and b) that such an organization would attract those who want to dominate other people (whether in sexual or other ways)? Of course it isn’t. But nobody in the film makes this point. If an interviewee did, the filmmakers chose to leave it out (for the reasons stated above). And though I understand this decision on a practical level, it hurts the actual film, which should go to its logical inclusion in morally condemning this system that perpetuates dehumanization of “the other” and, therefore, rape. Because we know that rape is wrong. And it doesn’t matter how culturally ingrained the military may be in the US, rape is still wrong. And so is covering it up.
Additional Thoughts: I agree with myself. The film withheld its most important implicit criticism in the hopes of changing policy. A tentative step forward has been made.
14. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: the Tomi Ungerer Story (8/10)
What I said at the time: This film feels like it is heavily influenced by Tales of the Rat Fink and other attempts to put cartoonists on screen. At first that style really bugged me; I figure that it is appropriate very rarely and really only of interest as a novelty. However, Tomi Ungerer is such a great subject that before long you don’t care about the CGI’ing of his cartoons. And though the style initially rubbed me the wrong way, the rest of the film didn’t. For example, it is rare for a portrait of an artist to avoid his personal life after childhood, and this film does, mostly, to the film’s success. I didn’t know I knew Ungerer but now I know that I read at least two of his books as a child. (In Canada we were a little nicer to him than the Americans, I think, as those books were banned in the US at the time.) Ungerer is a fascinating man who is as close to a good portrait of the artist as I can imagine. I am better off for being made aware of his existence.
Additional Thoughts: It’s rare that I watch a documentary and get a strong urge to meet someone. Though I am hardly a “kill your idols” type, I do believe that idolatry is unhealthy and I have forsaken all my childhood heroes as a result. But I would love to meet Ungerer. I might not enjoy every minute, but I feel my life would be richer for the meeting. I will never meet him, so this film acts as a substitute.
15. The Master, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (8/10)
This is a fascinating film about personality cults – both the people who are lead them and the people who are drawn to them. Read the rest of the review.
16. The Gatekeepers, directed by Dror Moreh (8/10)
What I said at the time: This is an incredible documentary which is unfortunately marred by some pretty poor production design. Moreh interviews the last six heads of Israel’s Shin Bet (the defense equivalent of the Mossad) about their lives and they have all come to the same conclusion: the two state solution is the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The documentary seems to get near-complete candour from these people and while that candour is sometimes maddening or frustrating for someone like me who has attempted to renounce violence, it’s also illuminating and educational. The people most responsible for Israel’s security think that the only way it can be achieved is by recognizing Palestine. And they all feel (pretty much) the same way. It’s a powerful message. Unfortunately the movie features an absolute ton of second- and third-rate CGI – and accompanying cliche sound effects – that really distract from the message and the interviews themselves – which would be compelling even if all interviewees didn’t all come to the same conclusion.
Additional Thoughts: Moreh took a great approach: ‘instead of believing what I believe about this issue destroying my country, I will ask the experts’. The experts shockingly confirmed his and each other’s beliefs about the possible solutions. This is an important film that should be seen by everyone – especially anyone with an opinion about or an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is a shame that it is so poorly made.
17. Call Me Kuchu, directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright, Malika Zouhali-Worrall (8/10)
Devastating. Read the review of Call Me Kuchu.
18. Brooklyn Castle, directed by Katie Dellamaggiore (8/10)
A documentary about tween chess stars doubles as an indictment of US public school funding, or the lack thereof. Read the review.
19. Killing Them Softly, directed by Andrew Dominik (8/10)
Like a serious Other Guys.
This is an artsy-fartsy gangster film, but unlike so many of its ilk, it’s actually executed well. It’s a little heavy handed in its theme and tying it to the country’s economic woes, but the point is well taken.
The cast is excellent, as is the direction (mostly). This is a revisionist gangster film where people are actual people – flawed, regular people.
That speech at the end is a little preachy.
20. The Queen of Versailles, directed by Lauren Greenfield (8/10)
This is a near-perfect analogy for what happened to the US (and world) economy in 2008: David Siegel had lots of money. However, he wanted more. So he mortgaged what he had to expand his business. Then the housing crisis hit and he lost a lot; not everything, but a lot.
21. Money, Power and Wall Street, directed by Brent E. Huffman, Katerina Monemvassitis (8/10)
This is about as thorough an explanation of what happened to the world economy in 2008 as you will find. It is a little repetitive at times and it sometimes fails to draw the biggest implications from the behaviour of the banks prior to, during and after the crisis, but on the whole it is fair and exhaustive. It is well worth finding the DVD and watching it.
22. Searching for Sugar Man, directed by Malik Bendjelloul (8/10)
What I said at the time: Unfortunately the best parts of this film are given away by the trailer: basically if you know the story – and the trailer tells you the story – the whole film will work less well, because the film is designed for people who don’t know the story – advertisers ruin a movie again! So, first off I want to say: if you like ’70s folk music – not the folk pop shit that got on the radio, I’m not talking about Cat Stevens but rather Nick Drake – and you like human interest stories, you should see this movie, but you should do your very best not to watch the trailer, or read about it, before you see it. Read the spoilerific review.
Additional Thoughts: Definitely would of the better music documentaries released recently, more for the story itself than the film-making. But still well worth seeing.
23. The Central Park Five, directed by Ken Burns and Sarah Burns (8/10)
What I said at the time: This is yet another in the long line of wrongfully-convicted documentaries that are unfortunately necessary because people love to be outraged and outraged people love nothing better than a good witch hunt. I was surprised to learn that Ken Burns made this movie. I saw The Civil War when I was too young too know whether or not it was a good “movie”. And the same is somewhat true with Baseball – and I never have seen the follow-up movies. But I have seen The War as an adult and thought highly of it. But this new film of his doesn’t feel like an experienced documentarian such as himself made it. And again I am left with a film where the material is strong enough to overcome some very strange film-making decisions. In this case, the most ridiculous one is to highlight, and even put up on the screen, text that doesn’t need to be highlighted, or even printed in the case of the opening. Is the audience dumb? Can we not parse the important information from the not so important information? The opening also feels like it was made by somewhat amateur filmmakers, with a collision of found and new footage, and way, way too much music. But that being said, the story is a powerful one, as is the case with these films. And the interviews are good enough to forgive the amateurish style. I would like to take a moment to speak to the moral: the moral is, as always, that outrage and witch hunts don’t get to the truth, they only obscure it. I don’t believe I know anyone who belongs to the morally-outraged who lead or follow witch hunts, so in that sense I cannot speak to those who are outraged about everything, especially crime. But if I could speak to them I think I would make a list of movies they should watch as a course to educate them in the complete and utter uselessness of moral outrage, no matter what it is directed at, and this film would be on it.
Additional Thoughts: Poorly made but essential. A lot of docs like that this year it seems. It’s a pity and it’s especially odd given Burns’ pedigree.
24. The House I Live In, directed by Eugene Jarecki (8/10)
This documentary has a number of major problems but I think I can put them aside given not only the emotional pull of the content but also specifically because this film made me think about the “Drug War” – a policy I have viewed as a failure my whole adult life – in a new way, and that is a valuable thing to me, so valuable that I am willing to overlook some of the flaws in the film.
25. Beware of Mr. Baker, directed by Jay Bulger (8/10)
This movie starts off on the wrong foot. I hate when filmmakers involve themselves in their subjects when they themselves are not who we are interested in. But once Bulger gets to Baker’s house, he gets out of the way almost entirely. Baker is such a character – and his story and his family’s story is so compelling – that you quickly forget about how Bulger involved himself in the early parts of the film.
The animation is pointless in my mind but otherwise the film is structured chronologically which is so refreshing given the desire of so many documentaries and docudramas to move beyond that. It’s affecting and amusing. It also makes me want to revisit what I think of Baker as a drummer
Despite the opening, which kind of sucks, this is a pretty great portrait of a extremely talented but flawed man and his affect on music. And it’s engaging even if you are not interested in rock drumming.
26. Looper, directed by Rian Johnson (7/10)
Additional Thoughts: I feel like I was too hard on this. I loved Inception but I’m pretty sure that if I watch it again I will see the holes and get annoyed about them. For some reason, I was in a more nit-picky mood when I watched Looper. I was less forgiving. I don’t really know why. I enjoyed it, but just not as much as I might have, had I been in a different frame of mind.
27. Beyond the Hills aka Dupa dealuri, directed by Cristian Mungiu (7/10)
This is an unrelentingly bleak film about a convent struggling and failing to deal with the psychological (and possibly physiological) problems that befall a young girl when she comes to visit her former friend. The two characters grew up in an orphanage and probably has a relationship. Since then, one of them has lived in poverty in Germany while the other has become a nun.
There’s 2 1/2 hours of this. So if you’re not prepared for that…well, I would believe if people walked out of screenings if they were expecting something else.
What is onscreen is a portrait of the kind of ignorance and confusion that befell many people – be they homosexual or epileptic or different in any other way – when the veil of religion was lowered over everyone’s eyes.
However, I’m not 100% sure the critique is really as effective as the filmmakers think, though all I know about the Romanian Orthodox Church I learned at the one wedding I attended. Such unrelenting human failure is rather exhausting and my sympathies were almost as much with the flailing nuns as with the two young women whose friendship and/or romance was destroyed by them.
28. Can’t Stand Losing You, directed by Andy Grieve, Lauren Lazin (7/10)
I really liked this a lot. Read the review of Can’t Stand Losing You.
29. Byzantium, directed by Neil Jordan (7/10)
I appreciate the revisionism. Read the review of Byzantium.
30. BB King: The Life or Riley, directed by Jon Brewer (7/10)
This is an in-depth but rather fawning documentary about B.B. King, a man who has a decent claim as the greatest living blues musician, or at least among them. It’s more of a celebration than a documentary or proper biography – though there is lots of information about his upbringing, it does feel like a well-rehearsed story – and you’re not going to learn too much about the man’s personal life (beyond a few tidbits).
But if you like the blues, or if you like music history, there’s lots here to enjoy; both about his influences and his influence on so many others. This is a film that is just crammed with interviews with famous (and not so famous) blues, rock and other musicians. And those interviews, in and of themselves, are pretty much worth the price of admission. (I mean, look at this “cast.”) And the film acts as a good primer on his career – I’m certainly less familiar with him than I am with some of the earlier blues musicians, or with the British blues musicians – and on his importance, particularly his style of guitar playing.
Anyway, even if it’s a bit fawning, the film is compelling and of interest to anyone who likes this kind of music, or who just likes learning about music history.
31. Beauty is Embarrassing, directed by Neil Berkeley (7/10)
This is an engaging, entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking documentary about the animator, puppeteer and pop artist Wayne White, in part inspired by his one-man show (much like Swimming to Cambodia). I was not familiar with White’s work beyond his contributions to Pee Wee’s Playhouse and some music videos. Aand, of course, I didn’t know who he was).
Like most biographical “documentaries,” this one aims to celebrate the subject, not necessarily tell the proper sorry. That isn’t an issue, necessarily – especially with someone underknown like White – but it keeps the film from being a true classic.
But it’s enjoyable for sure. And White’s attitude is wonderful.
32. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, directed by Drew DeNicola, Olivia Mori (7/10)
This is a thorough and engaging documentary about the seminal power pop band Big Star. It’s definitely on the fawning side, but it’s idiosyncrasies as a film, and the willingness for the interviewees to discuss the negative aspects of the idols’ personalities, make for a more engaging film than you might suspect. It also works as a bit of a selective history of the Memphis music scene, so it’s of interest even if you’re not necessarily a Big Star fan.
33. At Any Price, directed by Rahim Bahrani (7/10)
We’ve seen this story, or variations on it, many, many times. Man has a business/career, kid wants nothing of it. It’s the “I don’t want your life” movie. (And it’s type I often struggle with because my parents are wonderful and never forced me to do anything.)
But we’ve never seen this story with an industrial farming backdrop (to my knowledge), where the drama is exemplified by the social problems created by GMO seeds. And this film is also aided by what is, perhaps, the best performance of Dennis Quaid’s career. (Seriously. He is fantastic.)
On the other hand, Dickens’ character is hard to relate to and I feel like Ephron could have been replaced by any other actor and I wouldn’t have noticed. The supporting cast is better but, for example, Ross’ character feels like he’s there to advance the plot. And I guess it’s little things like the latter that keep from giving this higher marks.
34. Spinning Plates, directed by Joseph Levy (7/10)
This is an interesting an affecting portrait of three sets of restauranteurs in very different stages: one restaurant has been open for 150 years, one for about 6 but has been judged the best in the country, and one is newly opened.
The film manages to find connections between the vastly different situations in Chicago, rural Iowa and Tucson, and we see that “success” isn’t really a solution to ambition or to medical problems or accidents.
The reason I dock it some marks is because, as the film progresses, one of the restaurants gets considerably less attention. There’s a reason for this, but the filmmakers don’t want us to know, and so the film loses balance.
Otherwise, if you are interested in the restaurant industry, in food, or in learning about how people deal with success and failure, this is a worthwhile watch.
35. Seven Psychopaths, directed by Martin McDonagh (7/10)
McDonagh’s second feature is considerably different from his first, though it is, for the most part, equally violent and equally funny.
This time McDonagh gets extraordinarily meta, and this is both a detriment and a plus. At times, the film is a very enjoyable parody of action films but at other times it’s a little too much “we’re making a film about me trying to write a film!” The latter has been done many times, perhaps two too many at this point.
And though the whole film is very enjoyable and funny, it’s also a little too obvious with its conceit by the end, and this type of self-indulgence has to be done really, really well to be great.
36. Frances Ha, directed by Noah Baumbach (7/10)
What I said at the time: I feel like this goes with the grain of Baumbach’s latest movies. Kicking and Screaming and The Squid and the Wale felt to me like significant moments in the movie world – the Graduate of the ’90s and the best divorce movie I’ve seen, respectively – whereas Margot at the Wedding was great, but felt…less significant. Frances Ha feels like it’s less significant to me as well. That’s not to say I didn’t like it: it was very funny, touching at times, and really nice to look at. It was hard to tell whether he was celebrating or mocking these people – always a good thing in my mind. But at the end of the day it is a black and white dramedy about hipsters – well one particular hipster – and it feels like I don’t necessarily need to remember it in, say, ten years. I mean, will people get it then? The film is quite influenced by the French New Wave, as Baumbach acknowledged in the Q and A, and as such I think we can forgive the lack of narrative direction – if that is a problem for you. I for one was bothered by the lack of a “big moment of change” for some time after the film finished. But then I realized that the whole point of such New Wave films was to dispense with artificial signifiers like that. But even if we do accept the dramatic life reversal at the end without its usual conventions, I still think we don’t get something that meaningful beyond the humour. So I have to say this is my least favourite of his films, even though I did enjoy it a lot.
Additional Thoughts: Having now seen Greenberg, I have to say Frances Ha is my second least favourite Baumbach movie. But I stand by what I said: I don’t think we will care about this movie in a decade the way I still – and will continue to – care about Kicking and Screaming and The Squid and the Whale.
37. Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow (7/10)
Much like Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, this is a film that, at least in part, seems to aim to tell the “human” story – or the “ground truth” – of a particular conflict the US is involved in. In this case though, it’s obviously something of a little more import.
38. Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, directed by Alison Klayman (7/10)
I had no idea who Ai Weiwei was until I saw his show at the AGO maybe two years ago. I can’t say I’m up on contemporary art but I was really impressed at both the ballsiness and the variety of his work. This film is more about his role as a political dissident in China, though it is also about his career as a celebrity artist.
The documentary is pretty biased, but that’s not a big deal given what he is up to. Basically, even if you don’t like his art, if you think he is some kind of charlatan or artistic fraud, you can’t ignore what he’s doing to bring attention to what is happening in China or how he has turned twitter into a tool for social protest and awareness to a greater extent than most people.
This documentary is flawed – it uses the stupid “camera shutter click” noise way too much for example – but the subject is compelling enough, and the documentary is chronological enough that it doesn’t feel as directionless as its style and form at first suggest.
Certainly of interest if you are interested in Ai, if you are interested in China, or if you are interested in the intersection of art and politics.
39. The Attack, directed by Ziad Doueiri (7/10)
This is an affecting and thought-provoking film that is sabotaged a little by the contrived plot.
An Arab doctor is at the peak of his career in Israel when another terrorist attack brings yet more victims to his hospital. First contrivance: eventually we learn it was the doctor’s wife who blew herself up. The doctor (and the audience) is forced to do a lot of soul searching as he tries to find out how his wife could have become a terrorist and the film forces us to ask ourselves lots of tough questions about right and wrong, violence and so forth. First the doctor refuses to admit she did it, but then he wants to believe she was brainwashed. When neither proves true, the doctor has to reevaluate his priorities. Most of this is all well and good. But in the film’s biggest contrivance the doctor actually sees (on vhs!) the last moment he let down his wife.
The film uses these contrivances to create a nuanced experience of an intractable, awful situation. But the contrivances are hard to forgive. I mean, there’s a tape of her final phone call to him? Seriously?
40. Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes (7/10)
This is, on the whole, a decent Bond film in line with the other Craig-entries, which are all at least slightly more realistic than the Moore and Brosnan versions. It does get a little carried way with the “technology” angle, where computers – and especially computer code – are made to look like things they are not.
The other odd aspect of the film is how referential it is; is this the most referential Bond movie ever? I’m not sure that’s a drawback in this film, because it’s secondary, but it’s a little odd nonetheless.
The climax is, for the most part, refreshingly different from many other Bond movies.
41. John Dies at the End, directed by Don Coscarelli (7/10)
What I said at the time: I wanted to love this movie. And for most of its run-time, I did. It’s hilarious and clever and was shaping up to be the second best horror comedy of the year. It still is the second best horror comedy of the year, but it’s got some problems and I can’t consider it in any kind of “Best” horror-comedy sense. The biggest – or at least most glaring – problem is the quality of the effects, which are never A-grade, but which seem to get worse as the movie rushes towards its conclusion. I guess what really happens is that there is more in the way of effects, and more opportunities for us to notice the rather low quality of those effects as the film reaches its climax. But more importantly, the film seems rushed: maybe the director was trying to keep it under 100 minutes but the somewhat leisurely pace of the first part of the movie (which seems appropriate) changes drastically and the finale rushes by, with much less of the humour from the early stages of the movie, worse effects – as I mentioned – and a feel of “we gotta get this done before they stop paying attention”. It’s a shame, because for its first 3/4s it is awesome and, had the pacing been better handled and the budget a little larger, I probably would have ranked it the third best movie I saw during TIFF ’12. Certainly it was the most entertaining.
Additional Thoughts: So almost-amazing it hurts. Honestly, why can’t studios give movies like this huge budgets and spend less on the crap? A movie like this deserves a better budget. I actually want to read the novel.
42. Park Avenue: Money, Power and the American Dream, directed by Alex Gibney (7/10)
This is an interesting documentary about the increase in the gap between ultra-rich and everyone else in the US. It is marred a little by the fact that there are numerous documentaries out about this subject, by the fact that it is preaching to the choir. (When are we going to get a documentary about this topic that actually gears itself towards the people who need to watch it?) And, most importantly, that it fails to fully make use of its main theme, that of two different Park Avenues, side by side.
But it’s still worth seeing – that is, if you aren’t yet sick of this message – and it contains a fantastic quote by, I believe, Jeffrey Sachs: “Taxes are the price you pay for civilization. Without taxes, there is no civilization” (quoted by memory). Why aren’t people taught this fact in school? [Turns out this is a paraphrase of an Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. quote. Regardless, it’s right.]
Additional Thoughts: I believe I saw an edited version of this film and so it might be that the theatrical release is a little more coherent. I do think the film was sidetracked by its attack on Ayn Rand -not saying she shouldn’t be attacked, just saying it felt somewhat unnecessary and beside the point – and could have stuck to its theme a little better.
43. Deceptive Practice, directed by Molly Bernstein (7/10)
This is an interesting portrait of an entertainer which manages to double as a personal history of 20th century magic.
I’m not really into magic – though I was briefly as a child – but Jay has always intrigued me and he makes for a fascinating subject. As with so many of these portrait-style documentaries, the structure is sort of hard to understand and the tone shifts a little too much.
But it’s still interesting and actually quite funny. It makes me want to see Jay live, if that’s ever possible. And it’s probably even more interesting to anyone who is actually into magic.
44. Cloud Atlas, directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski (7/10)
Some novels are just plain unfilmable, and sometimes you wonder why people try. But watching this, and not knowing the novel, I’m not sure this one is such an unfilmable novel. (Maybe I’m wrong.)
45. No Place on Earth, directed by Janet Tobias (7/10)
What I said at the time: This film tells a very compelling story about a number of families of Jews in Ukraine who survived the holocaust by living in a previously undiscovered cave for a record-setting amount of time – 511 days underground in total, and over 300 days straight, setting a new world record for human life underground. Unfortunately, the film feels like it was made for the History Channel about 10 years ago – i.e. before they started focusing on pawn shops ice-road trucking to the exclusion of all other things. Not coincidentally, it is distributed by History Films, their film distribution and production offshoot. The film features excessive reenactments – of the quality you might find on the History Channel circa 2003 and not of the quality you might find in a feature documentary – which are scored so heavily as to be distracting – and the scoring is as cliche as you can get. Certainly this story deserves a feature film, or a more artfully-made documentary, rather than a TV-quality doc. It’s unfortunate, because it’s an incredible story.
Additional Thoughts: Apparently someone is making a feature film. Hopefully they get a budget not that they need it as much as JDATE did, but still…I want some budgets for my stories! I look forward to it provided competent people are involved. In the interim, I don’t know how I feel about recommending this movie except as a solution to a “Well I was missing the old History Television…” whim. It really felt like a TV movie.
46. Wreck-it Ralph, directed by Rich Moore (7/10)
This appears to be one of those kids’ films that is highly geared towards adults enjoying it, which is perhaps why I found it so entertaining. This doesn’t bother me like it does so many film critics, I guess because I do not have children and I am only evaluating kids’ films as films – rather unfairly. I don’t care what balance they strike between watchability for adults and kids, so I have no idea if kids like this. But as an adult, this is surprisingly entertaining despite its relatively paint-by-numbers plot. The entertainment value has a lot to do with spending time in an arcade in the ’80s – or even just playing super old, like Commodore 64 old, video games – so I suspect that if those references are lost on you, it’s less enjoyable.
47. Woody Allen: a Documentary, directed by Robert B. Wiede (7/10)
Putting aside the possible moral objection some may have to Woody Allen, this is a decent summary of his career as a filmmaker – and, before that, as a comedian. It’s a little odd in its approach, given that the first “half” – I watched it on Netflix – is fairly chronological, but the second part is less so.
It’s not particularly critical – everyone who is interviewed is an admirer – but given his oeuvre and his importance in the history of American cinema, I think we could normally excuse that.
But for me, the reason this is not the film it should have been is that it barely addresses the elephant in the room. Much like Kazan and his testimony, how Allen met his current wife is something that disturbs many people. And it’s barely discussed. That’s a problem, to me. Not because I necessarily think Allen should be shunned because of his personal life – I don’t think that Kazan’s films should be dismissed because of what he did – but because I think a film about Woody Allen is rather incomplete if it dodges the question, as this documentary does.
Please note: When I wrote this review, I was only aware of the issues with Allen’s marriage and not with the sexual assault accusation from his step-daughter.
48. The American Scream, directed by Michael Stephenson (7/10)
This is a fascinating movie about three families (really three men) who convert their houses into Haunted Houses every Halloween in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.
I don’t know if there are places in Toronto, but I have never seen anything like in person, outside of professional Haunted Houses. I also had no idea that this was such a thing in the US, or that there were conventions – did you know there’s a convention??? – and now I kind of want to look for one here.
The film isn’t a great movie, but it’s fascinating and I had no idea about any of this. Though it’s ostensibly about Haunted Houses, it’s more about people, the things that drive them and give them satisfaction.
That in itself makes the movie worthwhile viewing. It’s surprisingly affecting and I really had no idea the passion that goes into this. (One reason why it might affect me so is that I always dreamed of doing this as a kid, but never had the balls/ambition/drive.)
49. Brave, directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell (7/10)
A well-made children’s film for children. Read the review.
50. The Dark Knight Rises, directed by Christopher Nolan (6/10)
Please note that if you are one of the few who haven’t seen this movie this review contains some mild SPOILERS.
51. Broken, directed by Rufus Norris (6/10)
This film starts out as a Nashville/Short Cuts type film narrowed down to a cul de sac and with a more liberal view of narrative structure. For much of its runtime, it’s very good.
There are two problems, one of which is kind of annoying, the other of which is kind of fatal to the success of the film.
First, there is a love triangle. That feels really out of place in this film. Maybe it worked in the novel, but in this style of film, it feels unnecessary and contrived.
But I would have generally forgiven it, except that the ending is just so false. First, the dream that has been just a minor echo becomes basically literal and a huge plot point – the second climax of the film. I hate that kind of stuff – human beings thinking they have a choice between life and death is so false. But the lead up to the stupid choice between life and death is equally problematic, and its too contrived and cute.
I really wanted to like this a lot more, and would have save the ending.
52. The Place Beyond the Pines, directed by Derek Cianfrance (6/10)
This is the kind of idea that really used to intrigue me when I was younger. It’s the kind of thing that might have blown me away in my mid twenties.
53. The Woman in Black, directed by James Watkins (6/10)
This begins as an atmospheric, period horror film which is pretty effective except for the soundtrack, which is full of Scary Horror Movie Noises, and which somewhat weakens the appeal, given that the film would have been very creepy without them. The real problem begins when Radcliffe’s character figures out what the issue is, and tries to solve it. The movie stops being scary for a while, only managing one more creepy moment
I like how they played with this “Ghosts are are a riddle that need to be solved” concept, and I like how they rejected it. Unfortunately, that ending, which seems cool, is ruined by a Happily Ever After that is just so disappointing. Sure, I guess it’s in tune with the beliefs of the day, but it kind of renders the whole thing moot: apparently all these adults should just let themselves be killed so they can go meet their kids.
54. The Broken Circle Breakdown, directed by Felix van Groeningen (6/10)
55. Beasts of the Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin (6/10)
Sometimes even years after the hype has faded, there are still expectations for a movie. Even though I hadn’t read much about this movie, I wonder if the hype had still coloured my appreciation of this. (Or, alternatively, it’s just not as good and original as people have said.)
Yes, Wallis is incredible. And the other actors are all believable. It’s a testament to this particular movie that the naturalistic acting is a success when often in these types of films some of it is great and some of it is awful. But we shouldn’t get too carried away just because this child can act.
The film combines a fantastical vision of a Louisiana gripped by global warming with the quest of a young girl to find her mother. The quest element works better than the fantasy elements, I think. But though the film is certainly fantastic (in the sense of fantasy) and original, I am not sure it succeeds completely either as a story of a girl trying to find out who she is, or an allegory for Katrina-era New Orleans. The elements are there, but I think the execution is lacking. I won’t get into specifics to avoid spoilers.
56. Lawless, directed by John Hillcoat (6/10)
Nick Cave’s second film is a very, very different beast from his first. Instead of tackling a classic genre and trying to give it an (other) Australian spin, this time he tackles the gangster movie (sort of), a genre not so imbued with allegorical significance. Maybe that’s what’s missing this time, maybe it’s something else.
This is ostensibly a true story, but the least believable parts of it really are hard to digest. I thought the first act was pretty strong, but once we get the bootlegger montage things start to go south a little. The ending is particularly over the top.
I think Cave took a too-serious approach to this subject matter and it doesn’t help that Hillcoat just directed the film as we might expect. I figure a different team could have turned this into something really interesting – black comedy about bootlegging or what have you.
Instead the film is fine but really feels like it should have been better than that.
57. El Alcalde, directed by Emiliano Altuna, Diego Enrique Osorno, Carlos Rossini (6/10)
This a challenging but confused film that begs the question, ‘what is more important to you, peace and security or freedom, transparency and accountability?’ This is an especially poignant question in Mexico, which experiences its share of violence.
58. Detropia, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (6/10)
Somewhere in here there is a great documentary. It is well-shot, subtly scored and contains some – I stress the “some” – insights into what has happened in Detroit. It also contains one of the greatest quotes I have ever heard in any documentary, though unfortunately it is escaping me the next morning, and nobody has added it to imdb yet. I am reticent to try to replicate here because I worry I won’t reproduce it well enough. Suffice it to say it has something to do with arsonists masturbating…
The problem with the film is that it doesn’t really connect its disparate pieces. Some of the participants have certainly been chosen rather arbitrarily, and their segments feel combined arbitrarily. The film would be better if there was some kind of connecting theme.
One I thought of while watching it was “Why not follow a few commuters on their trips into work? Wouldn’t that alone expose the issues?” But I’m not a filmmaker, and I’m sure people far more talented than me could have come up with better uniting thematic elements than just “here are a bunch of Detroit residents thrown together seemingly at random to create a painting of their city.”
It could have been so much more.
59. The Angel’s Share, directed by Ken Loach (6/10)
This is a reasonably entertaining comedy about redemption and how we value things.
It suffers a little in terms of not being sure about whether it’s a redemption dramedy or a crime caper, but it’s pleasant enough that you don’t mind.
60. Bettie Page Reveals All, directed by Mark Mori (6/10)
This is an authorized biography, unlike the authorized bio pic that I apparently liked, though I don’t remember it at all. I’m sure it’s very informative if you’re interested in Bettie Page. I don’t really care much, so I found this movie kind of myopic. Though there is some attempt to explain to us all how influential she’s been, there’s less context than I would have liked.
The mystery at the heart of her story isn’t much of a mystery, nor is it told in a particularly captivating way. The rest of the film is a pretty typical biography. There’s nothing that really distinguishes it from other films. And so we’re left with a film that is likely very appealing to fans and kind of meh to anyone else.
61. Bill Cunningham New York, directed by 2010, Richard Press (6/10)
62. Recessionize! For Fun and Profit, directed by Jamie Kastner (6/10)
What I said at the time: This is entertaining and somewhat shocking / appalling. However, he fails to really take on the big picture at all. So I feel it could have been more effective.
63. Hannah Arendt, directed by Margarethe von Trotta (6/10)
What I said at the time: Like Greetings from Tim Buckley (see below), I saw this for the wrong reasons. Hannah Arendt is my favourite philosopher. Why she’s my favourite is another story (if you want to know, comment or send me an email) but it’s safe to say I know a fair amount about her as a result. And so that’s certainly one reason why I might be disappointed by something like this. Fortunately, I could only pinpoint two scenes in the movie that seem to have been completely manufactured, so that’s something.
Like Michael Mann’s Ali, Hannah Arendt is not about the life of the titular hero, but a period of her life. Right off the bat that pisses me off. Why can’t these filmmakers come up with alternate titles if they are only trying to tell a small part of the life story? The name of the person as the title immediately makes a claim to a complete biography.
Because the film is not about her complete life, there are many moments of pretty terrible expository dialogue, where characters who have supposedly known each other for decades are put in conversations that resemble “So tell me about a time in your life when…”. People who know each other don’t talk like this. And the film suffers from it and the attempt to include Hannah Arendt’s popular reputation in the mouths of people she knew personally, which really doesn’t make any sense at all.
On the other hand, the film handles ideas rather well, something that it needed to do for such a person (Arendt’s work is dense) and that is probably due in part to the micro-focus that I criticize. Because they only focus on the creation of “the banality of evil” idea and the subsequent controversy – certainly the 2nd most interesting part of her life to moviegoers who don’t care about philosophy – they are able to explain it – and put it across as a valuable concept – better than I could have hoped. And I think there is real value in it, even if I find much of the dialogue cringe-worthy.
It’s fairly well acted – though there are a few people, including an anchor, a department head, and a student, who are pretty brutal and shouldn’t be acting in movies just yet – and when it focuses on the ideas, rather than the attempt to include her biography in fake conversations, it is an effective portrait of one of the most underrated thinkers of the 20th century. I hope that, like Greetings from Tim Buckley, it brings people to her work in greater numbers. Just don’t start with The Life of the Mind.
Additional Thoughts: Any movie that gets people reading Arendt is good in my book but some of that dialogue was just terrible.
64. The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon (6/10)
I think I just have to say it: I don’t generally like superhero movies.
Additional Thoughts: Yes, a lazy “review”. But it’s true, I don’t like most superhero movies. This was mildly entertaining. I felt like I should have watched Captain America and Iron Man first but I can’t say I wanted to. I get how people get caught up in the mythology. But it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t really care. I can’t bring myself to spend much time thinking about something like this. Batman gives me moral quandaries to think about. The Avengers give me cliches about uniting to save the planet. A guy on Grantland had a good line about this: Joss Whedon was involved in only one great movie of the year, and it involved a merman (I am paraphrasing).
65. That Guy…Who Was in that Thing, directed by Ian Roumain, Michael Schwartz (6/10)
This is a pretty poorly made documentary – there’s no consistency from one part to the next. For example, out of the blue they put a question for the interviewees up on the screen, but they only do it once and there is no obvious reason for it. Nor are there obvious reasons for any of the other changes in style that occur throughout the film.
But this remains a very interesting movie, in spite of the poor direction. I have seen all of these guys in various films – some in numerous films – and I only ever knew one of their names. They all have interesting things to say about their careers, about Hollywood and about acting.
It’s a pity the film isn’t a little better put together and it’s a shame that it took so long for it to get released (some of the footage is from 2008 at the very latest).
Worth watching despite the obvious technical problems.
66. The Color of the Chameleon, directed by Emil Hristow (6/10)
This is an interesting and often entertaining attempt to create a spy comedy about the cold war which is simultaneously something more substantial. However, the film is an absolute mess with plot holes galore, dream sequences that aren’t fully defined, and seemingly no desire to really explain itself or the motivations of its characters. It’s really, really funny at times, which is one reason why I rate it higher than it deserves, and it also has some pretty compelling individual moments. But wow does this movie need an editor. And another go at the script, I think.
Additional Thoughts: This film was a heaping mess. But I laughed more than once and I think I might have also jumped at least once – though I don’t quite remember. I’d rather watch an entertaining mess than a movie that is edited well but fails to connect with me in any way.
67. The Suicide Shop, directed by Patrice Leconte (6/10)
What I said at the time: Now this is the kind of kids movie Tomi Ungerer might have made. It’s got (lots of) death; it’s got a suggestion of incest (just a suggestion). Suffice it to say, this is not a North American film. The problem is that though it contains material that most hysterical Canadian and American parents would never let their children see, it is very much geared towards children in its plot and in its humour. I was vaguely amused at first and then generally bored by the end. The songs weren’t anything to write home about either. But against this is the fact that it is an animated film in 3D, and what they do with that is sometimes very cool – but at other times you are left wondering why it is in 3D, like so many other 3D movies. Since I’m not a prude – and I would like to think I would not be a prude as a parent – I can recommend this to open-minded parents and their children, but this is not one of those adult and child pleasing films. It’s too bad the description made us think we were going to see a dark comedy for adults.
Additional Thoughts: My recommendation to parents shouldn’t be taken in jest. Provided you are willing to talk to your child about the film, there’s nothing wrong with a kid seeing something like this, despite what most parents might think. The problem is that it doesn’t work so well for adults. It’s pretty but that’s it.
68. Casting by, directed by Tom Donahue (6/10)
This documentary starts off as a PSA or apologia for casting directors. However, it improves quickly when it narrows its focus to Marion Dougherty and one other director. There are lots of interviews with famous Hollywood stars and it’s interesting to know how some of these people got their first film roles.
The film is very much a TV documentary and feels a little too much like an advocacy film for casting directors, but it’s reasonably informative and interesting and worth your time if you’re into Hollywood.
69. Bestiaire, directed by Denis Cote (6/10)
This is a Frederick Wiseman-style documentary about animal and human interaction – though, if Wiseman made it, it would be 3-4 times as long as this film. It’s ostensibly about animals and humans observing each other, but I thought it was more about animals in captivity – and a bit about taxidermy. The problem (or the great thing) about fly-on-the-wall documentaries is you bring more of yourself to them. So I may think it’s more about captivity, but critics – presumably instructed by a released from the distributor – think it’s about animals looking at people.
Anyway, whatever it’s about, it’s a little too obscure in its meaning.
70. Jack Reacher, directed by Christopher McQuarrie (6/10)
This is one of those ‘the hero is perfect and everyone is against him’ movies. And there’s been a lot of them, and they’re pretty tired. But this is a little better than many of them as it is quite well directed – there are a few slow reveals that are well done – and the production values are excellent. Also, there is a bit of humour – I’m not sure whether it’s intentional or not but if it is, that improves the overall experience, as a character like Jack Reacher is totally ridiculous. Recognizing that at some level makes the whole thing more bearable. (I am giving the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt here.)
But, despite the quality direction and despite the humour, this is still very much of it’s kind: Reacher is an unstoppable force who will both solve the mystery and smite the bad guys – who are, as a rule, not who we think they are at the beginning – and we never doubt for a second that he won’t. (Nor do we doubt for a second that the conspiracy involves key people the hero trusts.)
There appeared to me several missed opportunities to make this film better – including during an otherwise pretty great car chase – through commenting on conventions of the genre by ridiculing them, but allegiance to the source material was obviously more important. (About that source material: People read this stuff, eh? It’s enjoyable? Watching this movie, I feel like I did every time I read a Jack Ryan novel. Eventually I stopped reading them because I got bored of knowing the ending – the result if not the circumstances.)
But I must say I’m surprised by how not terrible this is. It’s certainly competently made and would be enjoyable had I not seen this type of film 25 times already.
By the way: I have no idea why Herzog is in this. Was he trying to raise some money for one of his films?
71. Bill Burr: You People Are All the Same, directed by Jay Karas (6/10)
This is the first of Burr’s specials I’ve seen.
Burr is funny and provocative. He has a pseudo-folksy wisdom that he uses to say things that offend (that even offend me, which is hard). I may not agree with much of what he has to say – I think comparing domestic violence to gold-digging is, um, fucking stupid – but I appreciate his provocativeness, and his willingness to call out hypocrisy. I do think he’s wrong about a lot – like so many men who believe men somehow have it hard nowadays he utterly fails to put himself in the shoes of the other – but comedy isn’t necessarily about nuance.
71. The Bourne Legacy, directed by Tony Gilroy (5/10)
What I said at the time: I’m torn. Read the rest of the review.
Additional Thoughts: If I turn off my mind, I probably enjoy this more than a number of the movies above it on this list, however I can’t really turn off my mind.
72. The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross (5/10)
What I said at the time: So first, my general impressions: the film is pretty well-made, if a little long for its subject matter. I didn’t detect any glaring problems with the editing, direction, etc. The problem is, of course, the source material. As one would expect from a novel aimed at teens or tweens, there’s not much here for adults: it’s very clear-cut who is good and who is bad, and the story arc is telegraphed way too much. Which, of course, begs the question, why is this so popular?
Additional Thoughts: Amen, Riley From the Recent Past.
73. The Iceman, directed by Ariel Vromen (5/10)
This is a very, very loose version of Kuklinski’s own testimony.
As a film, it is reasonably affective if you don’t know the back story. But I suspect the thing that bugs me most about this film is that it isn’t Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. That’s essentially the story as, though the Iceman did indeed kill a few people, he didn’t necessarily kill for the mob and he likely didn’t kill even remotely near half of what he said (anywhere between 100 and 250 people). To me, the far more interesting story is the story of a murderer who may or may not have tried to invent a history as a serial murder. A mafia hitman who hid his life from his family just isn’t that compelling, despite Shannon and Ryder, who are both very good.
Frankly I just don’t know why the filmmakers decided to tell this version of the story when there was a better story about which version was real.
74. Safety Not Guaranteed, directed by Colin Treverrow (5/10)
This is one of those whimsical little indie dramedies about self-discovery that have just been everywhere for the past decade or so. This one adds to the formula with an ensemble cast – usually these films are focused on a central protagonist rather than a group of people, though not always – and, particularly, with a slight science fiction touch. It was actually the science fiction that drew me to the film and I didn’t realize I was really watching something with a lot of of self-discovery and not much science fiction.
Everything about it is generally fine:
- I laughed a few times,
- the score is way less quirky than in other films of this ilk,
- everyone walks a kind of nice little line between unlikeable and likeable.
But it’s pretty inconsequential and, me being me, I have to say I didn’t really like the ending one iota. I feel like a different ending might have elevated this film from average to decent though the ending I would have preferred would have changed the entire message of the film…
75. The Company You Keep, directed by Robert Redford (5/10)
So, the first thing that’s off with this is the ages: Redford is significantly too old to play his character and most of the other (admittedly fine actor) friends of Robert Redford are also slightly too old for their characters. But it’s more his daughter’s age that is ridiculous. Was this the novel? Was this the movie? Regardless, it feels like a cheap emotional hook to try to make us sympathize with Redford’s character before we learn “The Truth.” A better movie would have let the audience decide what they wanted about Redford’s character before the “The Truth” comes out, and wouldn’t use this cheap plot device. But since it’s rather central to the story, I guess a better novel would have done the same…
76. Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children, directed by Patrick Reed (5/10)
The subject of child soldiers in our world deserves a great documentary, unfortunately this film is not that documentary. Read the full review.
77. Grabbers, directed by Jon Wright (5/10)
This is a reasonably entertaining horror comedy, but it’s pretty paint-by-numbers. It hits all the notes and if that’s all you’re looking for, you should find it enjoyable.
However, at this point this genre is sort of being done to death, which is a shame.
78. Beyond Outrage, directed by Takeshi Kitano (5/10)
The sequel is more of the same: tons of people getting shot (and occasionally stabbed) because of some perceived offense. At least there’s a little character development this time, but the parade of creative death scenes feels less creative.
I just don’t really get these films; they’re like typical American revenge movies transported to Japan and the incomprehensible (to me) Yakuza culture, but with barely any attempt at character development. I guess the idea is the Yakuza setting is supposed to give us our character development, but that sure doesn’t work for me.
79. Greetings from Tim Buckley, directed by Daniel Algrant (5/10)
What I said at the time: I saw this movie for the wrong reasons. Normally I see movies at TIFF because of a director I like, a blurb that peaks my interest, or a picture – yes, that seems silly, but otherwise I never would have seen Sauna. I chose to see this movie because I like Tim Buckley. A lot. In actual fact, I think Tim Buckley is one of the great rock singers of all-time. It’s between him and Captain Beefheart for who was the best American rock singer to emerge in the late ’60s. (That’s right Doors fans, I just said that.) I have to use the qualifier “American” because Peters Gabriel and Hammill both started singing professionally in the late ’60s too. Buckley did things with his voice that no rock singer had done before him (Julie Driscoll would do the same thing for women rock singers in England at around the same time) but more importantly he brought jazz into folk (rock). And when I say that, I don’t just mean jazz-style chords, which is often what is meant when someone discusses bringing “jazz” into something. He really did bring jazz into folk rock. A track on Lorca, for example, is pretty much just jazz, having no base in folk rock at all. Buckley’s bands played jazz instruments and they improvised constantly. So yeah, I am a fan.
I can’t say I really know Jeff Buckley. Years ago I gave Grace a chance but apparently didn’t like it – I was even more of a snob then – and so even though this film was ostensibly about Jeff, I saw it because of Tim. Oops.
The problems with this film are certainly in no way the fault of the lead actor. Though I know virtually nothing about Jeff, except how he died, the lead guy seems to embody Jeff Buckley or at least the legend I’ve heard about him. The performance is fantastic. I can’t say the same for the guy who plays Tim. Not only does he not look like him – not so much of a problem really – he doesn’t sing in the right range. That’s a bit of an issue when your actor sings songs that were previously recorded, especially by a great singer.
But no, the acting is not the problem. There are actually two rather critical ones; the first is a real no-no. This is ostensibly a docudrama about Jeff Buckley’s first major live performance at a tribute concert for his father. But because this is an American film, the likely compelling story of Jeff coming to terms with Tim’s rather huge musical legacy is pushed aside about 1/3 of the time in favour of a love story. Apparently we cannot get enough drama from the father-son dynamic. We need a love story. This felt phony to me so I looked into it. It appears to have been completely invented for the purposes of the film. Not cool.
Second, the filmmakers can’t decide if they are telling the story of Jeff Buckley coming to terms with his father’s legacy – or falling in love with an invented woman, depending on the scene – if they’re telling the story of his birth – which they do every once and a while: we get to see Tim seeing Mingus, which is cool, but totally irrelevant to the story as far as I can tell – or if they are merely trying to reproduce a concert they thought was awesome, but which nobody filmed to the world’s detriment. The film is torn between these three things – mostly the former and the latter – and as a result is a bit of a mess. But wow, did that guy ever convince me he was Jeff Buckley.
The one thing I can hope for is that this film – and its soundtrack which appears to contain a lot of Tim Buckley songs – is that it gets people to pay more attention to Tim Buckley. In the theatre, when the audience was asked who they were fans of, the cheer was much louder for Jeff than for Tim. And something about that just doesn’t sit right with me. So yeah, here’s hoping if you see this movie it makes you go out and buy (or download) Happy / Sad.
Additional Thoughts: Jeff Buckley put out relatively little music in his lifetime – though most of his live performances appear to have been released now. Whether or not his music is good, I can’t say because I haven’t given him enough of a chance. But his father put out much more music in his own lifetime, and much or most of it is outstanding and will change the way you think about folk music, about jazz, and about the male voice in a rock and / or folk context. I hope that if anyone wastes their time on this movie, it convinces them to seek out Tim Buckley records.
80. Spring Breakers, directed by Harmony Kormine (5/10)
This is the first Korine-directed film I have gotten around to [2nd actually], which is probably the worst way to introduce myself to his oeuvre. I have of course seen Kids, though I was rather young at the time (and rather underwhelmed too). But Korine has a reputation for at least being shocking and I guess that’s my first clue that I should have measured my expectations going into something like this. Because I have seen things like Sweet Movie and Island of Death and what some people consider shocking is, well, probably not that shocking to me. It’s also reasonable to assume since this is sort of “Korine goes mainstream” that a film such as this would be even less shocking than his more infamous early work. (Like I said, I wouldn’t know.)
81. Berberian Sound Studio, directed by Peter Strickland (4/10)
You either like Giallo or you don’t. I don’t.
An engineer who works on nature films is hired by an Italian Giallo director to work on his latest horror film (just don’t call it horror). And things deteriorate from there. Strickland is suggesting the age-old idea that the art can corrupt the man. It’s a new twist on an old concept, with emphasis on sound – and great details on engineering minutiae – and the visuals we never truly see corrupting Jones’s protagonist.
But if you don’t find Giallo creepy – and I don’t – you probably won’t find this creepy. And the problem is that Strickland seems to have decided mood trumps plot – sometimes that’s true, sometimes it’s not – and so, if you don’t dig the mood, well…I guess you won’t dig the film.
It’s all very vague: Jones is clearly unhappy and his job is getting to him and so forth. But…well, to use a tired (and way over-used) cliche that I don’t particularly like: nothing happens.
It’s remarkable that so many people like this movie. But, again, you either like Giallo, or you don’t. I don’t.
82. Bronies: the Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, directed by Laurent Malaquais (4/10)
What could have been an insightful examination of a really strange phenomenon is, instead, mostly a PSA for how Bronies aren’t as gay / creepy as we think they are. The film is executive produced by the creator of the Brony-preferred version of My Little Pony and some its voice talent – who also feature prominently in the interviews and “narrative” – and it’s as if they got together to “save” the image of their fans. So any psychological insights we might get from a more objective film are missing. (The psychologists they hired are clearly there just to rubber stamp how great this all is for these folks.)
The film is really clunky too, as it’s not clear whether it’s more important that the audience learn about bronies in general – introduced through animation sequences inspired by the show, and voiced by the show’s voice talent – or on some of the individuals portrayed. That being said, John de Lancie is clearly used to these sorts of people from his TNG role and is extraordinarily gracious – at least on film, in a movie he executive produced – and that graciousness is really appealing.
And as much as I am a terrible cynic, at least these people are finding each other.
83. Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott (4/10)
A major problem with science fiction prequels made decades after the original is that technology improves and inevitably the prequel looks like it occurred years, decades or centuries after the movie it is supposed to be prequel to. But that’s just a superficial objection.
The main problem with this movie is that it is confused; it doesn’t know what it wants to be – is this about the origin of human beings or the origin of the Alien franchise? – and it doesn’t know what it wants its antagonists to be. We get a lot familiar motifs from the franchise, and most of these feel tired.
Everyone in the film acquits themselves well enough – except perhaps Rapace and her accent at times – but the whole thing feels kind of pointless and also really over the top; too many ulterior motives, too many types of antagonists, too long a run-time, etc.
84. End of Watch, directed by David Ayer (4/10)
This is a found footage film mixed with a cop drama that is regularly ready to abandon its found-footage conceit (a good thing and a bad thing in these types of movies) and which appears to treat serving in the LA PD as serving in the military. (Gyllenhaal appears to be playing a variation of his Jarhead character.)
85. Total Recall, directed by Len Wiseman (4/10)
86. Safe, directed by Boaz Yakin (4/10)
This film exists in a world where the mayor of New York is CONNECTED and the NYPD can afford to hire the two best assassins on the planet. It also exists in a world where 20-30 (more?) people can be killed in one night and it’s just a minor public relations emergency. (Have these action filmmakers ever stopped to think what would happen in a city if this much violence actually did erupt? That would actually be interesting.)
Statham plays the same guy as always only this time he is slightly more (emotionally) vulnerable than normal: he is still the killer with a heart of gold, however.
A few times the movie does try to do a few different things than the average Statham vehicle – particularly with the spy vs. spy final face off – but these are too little too late; the rest of the film is pretty much
87. Safe House, directed by Daniel Espinosa (4/10)
This is a confused spy thriller with a rather ridiculous amount of violence. So I guess what I am trying to say is that it’s not sure whether it’s a spy movie, an action movie or a car chase movie. It tries for all three (and more).
And then, in the denouement, it somehow tries to link itself to WikiLeaks as if it was all part of something nobler.
It’s basically a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, though the performances are all solid enough, I couldn’t give it a 3 for its silly, silly double cross plot.
88. Dredd, directed by Pete Travis (4/10)
I liked this movie the first time I saw it when it was called The Raid. In all seriousness, this is like a mixture of that film and a video game ‘plot.’ Having never read the comics, I can’t say whether they actually stole it from The Raid or not.
This is an improvement on the Stallone version, which isn’t saying much. The whole thing is reasonably entertaining but I can’t help but think I’ve seen it before.
89. Snow White and the Huntsman, directed by Rupert Sanders (4/10)
So I was under the mistaken impression that this was from some graphic novel. Had it been, I might have been a little more certain as to why this existed.
90. John Carter, directed by Andrew Stanton (4/10)
What I said at the time: First off, full disclosure: I like my science fiction hard, so I have trouble with most soft science fiction…and this is definitely soft science fiction. Read the rest of the review.
Additional Thoughts: Far from a disaster as its box-office-results indicated, it is still not very good.
91. How to Make Money Selling Drugs, directed by Matthew Cooke (4/10)
What I said at the time: In my case, this is preaching to the choir. I used to be an advocate of total legalization. I now favour total decriminalization and legalization of the less harmful substances. Really, I am in support of whatever is least harmful for users and society as a whole. So why did I dislike this so much?
This is a giant mess of a movie, there’s no other way to put it – it’s no surprise this is Cooke’s first feature. First, there are two movies here: one is a mock corporate training film about the drug business, the other is an attack against US drug policy. Yes, they are interrelated, but they are two separate approaches. A documentary about US drug policy would have been well-served by a brief, jokey short somewhere in the middle mocking corporate training films. That didn’t work as the hook on which to build the whole film, however. Mostly because he kept forgetting about the concept in the second half – and also because of the effects, see below.
Second, the film features numerous quality interviews – though some don’t belong in this film…Susan Sarandon is an authority on drug policy??? – and according to the guest at the Q and A there were other interviews that were left out that might also have been interesting, but these are mixed with downloaded crap, stuff that looks like it was taped (!!!) off of a TV, and bad graphics which all make it feel like it was assembled by some dude in his basement, with a teeny tiny budget. At least on the big screen, it looks terrible. (The Gatekeepers had second rate CGI, but this CGI makes The Gatekeepers’ CGI look like fucking Avatar.)
The total lack of organization and poor editing, which stem from the problem of having two competing concepts, combined with the bad graphics and numerous interviews and video taken from other people – including wholly unnecessary clips from The Wire and Boardwalk Empire – make this whole thing a gigantic stinking piece of shit. But many of the interviews are interesting enough that, for brief periods of time, you forget that this guy couldn’t direct his way out of a paper bag. And it’s not like he is wrong. His point of view is indeed correct: US drug policy is an unmitigated disaster. It’s a shame for critics of that policy that he couldn’t make an actual, feature-quality film
Additional Thoughts: A horrible movie redeemed slightly by the subject matter. Fortunately, a real filmmaker has made a documentary about the same subject (see above for my review).
92. American Reunion, directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (4/10)
What I said at the time: 4/10 seems awfully charitable but, despite the fact that it was virtually laughless, it was professionally made and not obviously incompetent.
Additional Thoughts: I seemed to dislike it a lot. I don’t remember it at all which says it was rather innocuous.
93. Savages, directed by Oliver Stone (3/10)
This is one of those movies you hear so much about that you get so prepared it is going to be terrible that when it isn’t quite, you’re willing to give it a little more credit. Read the rest of the review.
94. The Factory, directed by Morgan O’Neill (3/10)
This is one of those “inspired by true events” movies where you know the screenwriters found out about a case with the “factory” of the title and then wrote their ‘idiot plot’ (to steal a phrase from Ebert) all around it. So we have the typical tired, spent cop pursuing a case that nobody else wants – A Case That Nobody Else Believes In – and stupid shit starts happening.
95. Stolen, directed by Simon West (3/10)
This is a very stupid movie that tries to mash two genres together – the bank heist movie and the kidnapped child movie. The writer spent very little time worrying about whether or not the plot made much sense and the director doesn’t make the script any more convincing. (I would expect nothing less from Mr. West.)
96. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, directed by Timur Bekmambetov (3/10)
Based on the title and on some moderately positive reviews I read at the time of its theatrical release, I was actually kind of looking forward to this despite – perhaps because of – its poor box office performance. But I don’t really know where to begin.
97. Lockout, directed by James Mather and Stephen St. Leger (3/10)
So we’ve seen this story before once or twice. The new angle is that it occurs in space.
The whole thing isn’t assembled really well – there’s no real attempt at making this remotely realistic in any way – but there is some level of entertainment value at times: I laughed a few times for example.
The problem is that as the movie goes on it gets worse and worse and the denouement is just a giant disaster.
Given that I laughed out loud multiple times I’d like to give it higher marks, but I just can’t.
98. Taken 2, directed by Olivier Megaton (3/10)
I haven’t seen the first movie. (So why did I watch this? Why do I watch anything on Netflix?) Hopefully it is better than this one.
It’s hard to understand why a movie like this gets made – aside from ‘because the first made money’ – as this whole thing is a mess on so many levels:
- It’s extremely short given everything that is supposedly happening to this family.
- I don’t really buy Neeson’s character, Janssen’s is one-note at best, the daughter is a caricature, there appears to be an army of Albanian villagers in Istanbul, but only one is actually a character in the movie and only one seems to really care that Neeson killed his son / brother / father what have you.
- The music feels like it has been stolen from numerous better movies and is, at times, horribly inappropriate (the fight in the bath).
- There were a number of other things, but I really don’t care enough.
On the plus side, part of this movie was shot in the hotel I stayed at in Istanbul, and it’s Istanbul, so that at least makes the film nice to look at.
99. The Baytown Outlaws, directed by Barry Battles (3/10)
This is a really dumb movie, one of those that wishes it was a comic book – it even has a flashback segment told as a moving comic book! – and which thinks it’s funny. It’s very obviously trying to be a Rodriguez-style action comedy, but it’s got nothing on him. Braugher is horribly miscast – as is the ATF agent opposite him (their accents are reversed, for one) – Billy Bob is playing the same villain he’s played in numerous “Keep gettin dem cheques” roles he’s taken on over the years, Longoria is operating in a different film altogether, and why is Rappaport even in this? The leads are better suited to the movie, but lack the timing to make the comedy work (or it could be the direction…) as I chuckled once or twice.
100. American Mary, directed by Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska (3/10)
Two telltale signs of the budget of this film:
- Casting: A British actor who cannot do an American accent is cast as an American detective;
- Gore: For a movie about body modification there is (thankfully) not a lot of gore.
This movie seems to exist for one reason and one reason alone: to cater to the Body Modification Community. Without them, I can’t imagine why this would have been made. Presumably some of these people who appear in this in cameos are famous within the community, which would explain why they have actual modifications and also aren’t very good actors.
I am really surprised this movie was made by women. It seems completely the product of an anti-social boy in his mother’s basement, particularly given some of Mary’s impractical clothing choices.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about this movie is that it is boring.
101. Werewolf: the Beast Among Us, directed by Louis Morneau (3/10)
I missed a huge chunk of this movie, so what follows is totally unfair: Read the review.
102. Piranha DD, directed by James Gulager (3/10)
I meant to watch this on the big screen. I’m sure I would have enjoyed it much more. On the small screen it is basically a pale imitation of the first movie (that’s saying something) with some similar jokes. There are a few new jokes, but most of them aren’t particularly great. The movie is ridiculously short and feels as if it was tossed off to make money (imagine that) rather than a serious attempt to make something stupid.
Rhames’ legs are pretty amazing, though.
103. The Expendables 2, directed by Simon West (2/10)
I didn’t like the first one, so I probably shouldn’t have watched the second. (This is the problem with Netflix: I watch too much crap.)
This is worse. The jokes are worse – and far more referential / po-mo than before.
When there is CGI it is terrible, like C-movie terrible. I thought the whole point of this series was to celebrate the good ol’ fashioned American ’80s action movie, yet the opening sequence is drowning in brutal CGI that looks like a college student drew it.
And there are just endless stupid cameos, even more than in the first film.
The funniest part of the film is Willis and Arnold in a tiny little car in the airport. That’s the best part. I didn’t even laugh, but it’s the best part.
104. Red Dawn, directed by Dan Bradley (2/10)
So, first off, this is a remake of a bad film. So obviously we couldn’t hope for much. Though I guess there’s not all that much that’s worse in this one.
The most obvious and glaring problem is that the North Koreans are equipped with American arms and the Americans appear to be using old Russian weapons. Perhaps that’s nitpicky of me, but honestly it’s annoying. That, added to the original nonsense plot – made worse by the fact we’re talking about North fucking Korea here and not the USSR, which was at least reasonably assumed to have the ability to invade North American – is really hard to take.
The film is edited about as sloppily as one might expect – the constant attempts to focus on the B conflict within the family all feel forced and arbitrary – and the whole thing is just silly. (For example: Americans were “the Good Guys” in Eye-Raq, but now they’re “the Bad Guys.” Give me a fucking break.)
105. Freelancers, directed by Jessy Terrero (1/10)
This may be the worst cop movie ever made. Read the full review.
106. Rise of the Zombies, directed by Nick Lyon (1/10)
So this movie starts off in the middle of a zombie plague which is confusing. Apparently this is somewhat of a non-sequel to the totally awesome Zombie Apocalypse. We didn’t know this. But it doesn’t matter.
- This film has a ton of famous people in it, some of whom do a terrible job and some of whom are way better than the material.
- The CGI is, of course, totally awful.
- The movie really doesn’t try very hard to explain how the zombies are everywhere, including places they shouldn’t be, or how things that should clearly prevent zombie intrusion fail.
- And the whole thing is just all-around incompetent.
107. Battleship, directed by Peter Berg (1/10)
I briefly decided to live blog this one on twitter, the first time I ever tried, but frankly I just got tired. It’s hard to know what to do with this film, produced by a toy company, “based” on a board game, and full of every single Navy movie cliche in history.
108. Underworld: Awakening, directed by Mans Marlind, Bjorn Stein (1/10)
This is one of those series where the filmmakers just don’t give a shit; they know their audience will watch the movie no matter what so they don’t even try when it comes to the little things. Two examples should suffice:
- a cop fires a revolver as if it was a semi-automatic;
- someone looks at a video monitor in the middle of a bank of video monitors and it says “Cam 1.”
They just don’t care.
Though they do care enough to hire some – and I mean some – decent actors, who have no business being in shit like this. But one of the stars didn’t show up for this episode so they appear to have written the plot around that issue alone and there attempts to pretend he’s in it are laughable.
And add to all of this the normal Underworld nonsense – doesn’t that suit start to chafe at some point? – and we get the worst film in the series yet. Which is saying something as I’m pretty sure only Resident Evil tops this series in suckage for theatrically-released movie franchises of the last decade or so.
109. Nazis at the Center of the Earth, directed by Joseph J. Lawson (1/10)
What I said at the time: Read the review.
Additional Thoughts: It’s an all-timer.
“The Boxing Girls of Kabul,” directed by Ariel Nasr (7/10)
This TV episode-length documentary concerns a group of girls in Afghanistan who are boxing, and competing internationally.
Like any film that focuses on people doing something their community thinks they shouldn’t, this is illuminating. Afghanistan, as a society, obviously doesn’t approve of women boxing – and, at one point, sports in general – and yet these women train, and these men train them. And though these women are not good enough to compete internationally, they do anyway. And their perseverance is a model for us all.
And we also get a portrait of the attitudes of those that believe women shouldn’t box, through one of the boxer’s brothers. And this is also illuminating as to how people justify their own beliefs.
But the film could give us a little more detail. Since it has been made, a better film about a similar thing has been made (Speed Sisters), and that is more worthwhile.