I have enjoyed writing about my favorite films of the year in 2010 and 2011. In 2012 there were fewer movies that made the top of my list, but those that did were truly original. I begin with a movie I saw on an airplane.
Magic Mike, directed by Steven Soderbergh, was a bit of light summer entertainment. Or was it? Even though the subject matter was far from previous subjects of Soderbergh’s movies, like drug trafficking in “Traffic” and environmental pollution in “Erin Brockovich”, Magic Mike deals with the seedy side of the American dream. Namely, everyone wants to be famous, but at what price? Is it your soul? Channing Tatum’s Mike takes the young Adam under his wing but watches as the young man loses his soul as he gets rich not only stripping, but dealing drugs. We see the familiar Soderbergh color palette- bright sunshine during the day and cold darks in nightclubs and darkly lit strip clubs. This is the best I’ve ever seen Matthe McConaughey act- the role seems tailor made for him- and the cast is stunning to look at, notably True Blood hunk Joe Manganiello.
I was in Spain for a week this fall, where I had the good fortune to see the new release Blancanieves, by Director Pablo Berger. When I first heard that it was a black and white silent film, I expected it to be a derivative of “The Artist”. Despite my reservations, the movie turned out to be thrillingly original, and thoroughly Spanish. This retelling of the Snow White tale makes the young Snow White the daughter of a champion bullfighter and a flamenco singer, and the seven dwarves are seven miniature bullfighters (see the image above). The movie’s pace is slow as the relationship between the young Snow White and her father and stepmother develops (played with wicked relish by veteran Spanish actress Maribel Verdú), and it builds to a thrilling climax. It is Spain’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. I hope it has a chance.
I am a big fan of thrillers- be they spy, political, psychological, you name it. Argo is the former, a spy thriller that tells the amazing true story of the rescue of 6 employees of the American Embassy in Tehran during the Iranian hostage crisis of late 70′s. Ben Affleck has turned into a master director of taut action films- Gone Baby Gone and The Town were all well-paced and well-acted, and Argo is no exception. Argo is an ensemble film, and so this movie is not a showcase for any one actor to show their chops. It is a remarkable story that is expertly told- and the airport sequence had me slinking lower and lower in my seat until I was nearly on the floor. If I have one criticism of the movie, I would have liked to have seen the real-life character of Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck as Tony Everyman from Anytown U.S.A., portrayed as a Hispanic man, which is who he was. I’ll let Moctezuma Esparza take it from here.
I was ready to like Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln when I heard it was in pre-production. So I was geared to like it. But the movie went above and beyond my expectations. I have compared it to a good college lecture as a way of letting some moviegoers know that it is not for everyone- there’s no explosions, and the action is mostly driven by dialogue. But what dialogue it is. While Spielberg justly gets credit for his expert direction and Daniel Day-Lewis for once again inhabiting the flesh and bone of his character, Tony Kushner deserves praise for adapting Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals” into a riveting political thriller, while breathing life into key figures from American history such as Mary Todd Lincoln, William Seward and Robert Todd Lincoln. The acting is superb, and the story- well, it shows that sometimes politicians have to get a little dirty to achieve great things.
L’homme qui voulait vivre sa vie has been translated into English as The Big Picture, but the right translation of the French title would be The Man who wanted to live his life. A much better title. I just saw this film a week ago, and have been unable to get it out of my head. It stars Romain Duris as a bourgeois professional living in an unhappy marriage. The chance to escape his humdrum life presents itself, and he takes it. I will admit that part of the pleasure of this movie was not knowing a thing about it before I saw it- I just felt like seeing a French movie. But I was spellbound by the thriller- how one accident leads a man to completely change his life, which at first leads to him realizing his dreams as a photographer but then leads him to live a life of constant fear of being found out. The man wanted to live his life- but what kind of a life is he destined to live?
And sadly I have to leave a dishonorable mention for “The Dark Knight Rises”. You can file it under, “Movies that millions of fans of The Dark Knight looked forward to and then were crushed by awful characters, improbably plot lines, and a perplexing ending”. At least the folks at Honest Trailers did it justice.