These are the some of the first words Guy (Frank Whaley) hears from his new boss Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey in one of his finest roles). An ominous beginning to the first day of a new job, right? Buddy is the Senior Executive Vice President of Production for Keystone Pictures and Guy is his new personal assistant, a job that has an incredible legacy sending those who have held it to executive level production positions at movie studios like Paramount and Sony and into producing roles for projects like all of the Macauley Culkin action pictures – obviously a much bigger deal in 1994 when this film was released. Here’s an example of how “loving” Buddy can be:
Swimming with Sharks follows Guy’s trials and tribulations as he navigates these difficult waters, trying to stay in Buddy’s good graces all while trying to carve out a place where he can fit himself into the film world that he loves so much. When asked why he’s working in the movies by producer Dawn Lockard (Michelle Forbes), he answers: “All of my favorite memories have been of movies.” Something tells me that after his experience with Buddy, that may well not be the case anymore. And when Buddy states, “This job is very big on payback,” I’m not sure he saw what was coming next. Let’s say this film takes quite an unexpected turn (although it’s set up in the post-opening credits sequence) when Buddy comes between Guy and Dawn, who have become an item.
Got an envelope?
This is one of the most acerbic dark comedies about Hollywood out there. While it doesn’t quite rank with the likes of Robert Altman’s The Player or Vincente Minnelli‘s The Bad and the Beautiful, it certainly plays in the same sandbox. Writer-director George Huang beautifully employs a non-linear structure flush with flashbacks to conceal the twist ending with a deft touch. Frank Whaley is very well cast playing the awww-shucks small-town fish out of water. Spacey did this film right before winning an Oscar for his role in The Usual Suspects and definitely at the apex of his career. It isn’t hard to imagine Buddy as based on any number of real-life studio execs (Jack Warner or Harvey Weinstein, anyone?). This film doesn’t hold back on Hollywood politics and what it takes to succeed in the business, none of which should come to anyone’s surprise. Huang creates an atmosphere that makes this film seem like a play since there are so few people involved in the story. Just a few ancillary characters buzz in and out of Guy, Buddy and Dawn’s world and I think this film is all the better for it.
I feel disillusioned, dismayed, disposable….
This film is streaming on Netflix, Amazon (free with your Prime membership), and iTunes.
Here’s the trailer:
It’s funny to see how the original trailer positioned this film as sort of a happy, bubbly movie. It definitely isn’t.
So the 85th Academy Awards have come and gone. We’ve had a few days to reflect on what transpired on Sunday. The question most people ask every year is, “Did the Academy finally get it right?” Well, I can say they got some things correct, but mostly it was same old, same old with good ol’ Oscar. Which is to say, their choices didn’t align with mine. At all. Ever.
The show itself was as lame as ever. Seth McFarlane has taken a lot of heat for his performance as the host. While it was nice to see someone new charged with the hosting duties, I have to agree with his critics – AWFUL. Why anyone is surprised or upset about the misogynistic bend to his musical numbers and jokes is beyond me. It should have been expected. After all, Hollywood is an over-glorified Old Boys Club where women have taken a back seat since its inception. Precedent is there. It ain’t changin’ anytime soon, folks.
The 50 Years of James Bond was equally weak, with Shirley Bassey belting out her signature song from Goldfinger. Was Sheena Easton or Duran Duran too busy to contribute to this piece? I know Bassey is 76 and all, but damn – was a standing ovation really necessary? Hollywood hands those out as much as hugs are passed around at a youth gymnastics meet (reference Jennifer Lawrence getting one for falling).
Seeing this once back in 2003 was enough, damn it. Keep it in the vault.
And that tribute to musicals – was there a need to highlight musicals…of the last 10 years? Jennifer Hudson can sing. I can get with that. Trotting out the Chicago bit – why the fuck? Is this some bone being thrown to Catherine Zeta-Jones since her career has been in the shitter since the movie? Vomit. Fair play to the Les Miserables folks although it cements the reason I won’t ever watch it. This whole portion of the telecast seemed needless and really added nothing to the show. Had Les Miserables been the clear frontrunner in many of the categories, I might have understood it. But it wasn’t. So future Oscars directors and producers, heed this suggestion – cut the shit. The show is long enough as it is.
Now I have something in common with Three 6 Mafia!
Adele‘s speech was pretty awesome. I love how cheeky she’s been at the film awards shows. I can’t say as I’m a fan of the song for which she won, but it was worth it to see her accept the Oscar. 146 Grammys and now an Oscar – not a bad run for the 24-year old.
Lastly, in terms of the show itself, the camerawork was flat out awful. How many long shots of doors to the side of the stage did we get? Don Mischer, the director, should never be allowed near another Oscar ceremony. Just a mess from the beginning.
Now on to the awards…
Argo winning was no surprise. It swept every major award for Best Picture. Good on it. Had Lincoln won, I would have blown a gasket. I still think this film is average fare for the most part. I enjoyed it, but I still don’t think it was anywhere near the top five films of the year let alone the best. The Master still holds that title. Grant Heslov‘s sexiest producers comment was quite amusing during the acceptance speech. I wish Hollywood had some balls and actually saw and voted for films that will have a lasting impact on the medium. I don’t think Argo is one of those. Good for Ben Affleck, though. He has made some enjoyable films as of late and he did get fucked in the Best Director category not even getting a nomination.
Ang Lee after he crouching tigered Steven Spielberg for the Best Director win.
Undoubtedly the most satisfying moment of the evening for me came when Ang Lee won the Best Director award over Spielberg for Lincoln. When the nominations came out and Kathryn Bigelow and Ben Affleck were passed over, I thought this category was a one-way ticket to Three-Time Oscarville for Spielberg. Maybe if Lincoln wasn’t a glorified Lifetime film, he might have won. So the Academy got this one correct, even though I’ve yet to see Life of Pi. Lee‘s prior work has mostly been of the tremendous variety, so I applaud this choice. I hold to my guns that Paul Thomas Anderson was the most deserving here.
Christoph Waltz after winning perhaps the tightest race for an Oscar in quite some time.
I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised that Christoph Waltz won for Best Supporting Actor in Django Unchained. In a category where everyone had already won an Oscar, it was truly anyone’s award to win. I thought Robert De Niro was going to pull it out. Alan Arkin while good in Argo, gave a stock performance (at least that’s how it felt to me), one that was so similar to Little MissSunshine (for which he won his Oscar) or Grosse Pointe Blank, that I didn’t see what was so special about it. Same with Tommy LeeJones‘ performance in Lincoln. I think the content of the character in which he played fueled his rise in the odds to win more than the performance itself (this, I suppose, can also be said of Waltz). Once again, it wasn’t bad, but it was nothing exceptional either. Philip Seymour Hoffman was amazing in The Master and his performance was another to hang his hat on, vastly different than his signature performances in Capote, Magnolia or Charlie Wilson’s War. It seems clear that Waltz needs to continue working with Quentin Tarantino. He’s 2-for-2 in Oscar competition in Tarantino roles.
At least she didn’t sing her acceptance speech.
Anne Hathaway winning Best Supporting Actress was as much as a given as me drinking at least one Hamm’s each night. I didn’t see Les Mis, nor will I, so I can’t speak to the performance. My wife, whose opinion can be suspect when it comes to films, gave it high marks. I guess her PhD in Theater convinces me that this was okay. I still loved Amy Adams in The Master out of the nominees that I had seen. Can someone get her a damn Oscar already? Since I first saw her in Junebug, she has consistently put out good top notch work, even though she has sprinkled in some crappy pap like Leap Year, Enchanted and The Muppets). She gets a free pass on those, though. We redheads need to stick together. I will say that Jacki Weaver is top notch and I love seeing her get accolades. Her performance in Animal Kingdom is still one of the strongest I’ve ever seen.
Leave it to a Kentucky girl to fall on her way to the stage. Must have been into the bourbon…
I have no issue with Jennifer Lawrence winning for her role in Silver Linings Playbook. She is talented and I admit I find myself interested in her performances each time I watch her, even in the shitty Hunger Games. She killed it in Winter’s Bone. I would have liked to have seen Quvenzhane Wallis pull out the upset, but alas 9-year olds don’t win Best Actress Oscars, do they? Especially in films like Beasts of the Southern Wild. Damn you, Academy. Big ups also go to Jessica Chastain for her performance in Zero Dark Thirty. She is one of the more mesmerizing people working in film today. Her day will come, I have no doubt.
I should have won this bitch for Gangs of New York.
Daniel Day-Lewis winning Best Actor for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln was a foregone conclusion when I saw the first released still from production. After seeing what a dead fucking ringer he was for our 16th president, I knew that his performance would likely be the same – badass. And it was. The only truly good memorable thing about the film, to be honest. Without him in that role, Lincoln fails. He is without a doubt the finest actor working in the business and brings an unparalleled ferocity to each of his roles making each performance as memorable as the next (well, with exception of Nine, perhaps). I can’t speak about Hugh Jackman‘s performance, but none of the others were in the same ballpark as Lewis’. Joaquin Phoenix was very powerful in The Master and gave the second best performance of the year of those nominated. I still believe that Denis Levant‘s performance in Holy Motors was the best of any film this year. It’s a shame that Hollywood is so one-sided in its nomination process. I do firmly believe that DDL should have already had 3 Best Actor Oscars. His performance as Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in Gangs of New York haunted me like few others ever have. That he lost to Adrien Brody that year is one of the all-time Oscar crimes.
As far as the other awards go, none really stood out as too tremendously preposterous. The writing awards did yield a surprise in Django Unchained winning Best Original Screenplay. Zero Dark Thirty seemed to have stranglehold on that award until late in the season. I still think it’s odd that Wes Anderson has only been nominated twice for this award. Rushmore, anyone? HELLL-OOOO? I think plenty of folks were upset to see Roger Deakins not win for Best Cinematography for Skyfall. He is the Peter O’Toole of cinematographers having been nominated 10 times without ever winning. And this is the man who has shot the bulk of the Coen Brothers films. He deserves an Oscar. He was nominated for two gorgeously shot films in 2008 (No Country for Old Men and The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford) only to lose to Robert Elswit for There Will Be Blood. In the Best Documentary Feature category, I love that Searching for Sugar Man won, but I still think that How to Survive a Plague and even The Invisible War deserved it more. I’ve come around on The Invisible War after watching it a second time, which will be my last. That film is too gutting to watch another time. These two films have an importance that go well beyond their life as films. They are culture changers and that’s what I love best about this category.
Not too much to get up in arms about. I addressed my concerns after the nominations came out. I fully anticipate a call from the Academy next year so we can compare notes and I can tell them where they got it wrong. I’ll be sitting by the phone if you need me…
John Hughes would have been 63 today. His death in 2009 shocked me even though he had been out of the public eye for years and hadn’t directed a film since Curly Sue in 1991. Hughes was the absolute MAYOR of the 80s. His youth/teen films raised the bar for the genre and, in my opinion, have yet to be eclipsed. But he was more than just a teen film director. His adult comedies were as pertinent as anything he did in the teen realm, echoing the same themes of acceptance and understanding all while bringing the funny sprinkled with moments of levity.
I knew you’d come around…
Hughes‘ films are important to me. I hold them as dear to my heart as any film(s) that I’ve ever seen. I saw Weird Science at the Rivoli Theater in downtown Muncie, Indiana, when my parents were in court over visitation rights. I couldn’t imagine a better way to have staved off the nervousness I felt that day. I happily recall watching Sixteen Candles with friends, rewinding about a hundred times the scene where Anthony Michael Hall is dancing with Molly Ringwald and farts, laughing equally hard each time. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may or may not have been the inspiration for my own two-week school skipping streak in 7th grade. These films helped me with the rough road through adolescence, showing me that insecurity, dysfunction and all of the other problems of youth were the norm, not the exception. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that and I believe that’s why his films resonated so well then and continue to do so to this day.
You know, there’s going to be sex, drugs, rock-n-roll… chips, dips, chains, whips… You know, your basic high school orgy type of thing. I mean, uh, I’m not talking candlewax on the nipples, or witchcraft or anything like that, no, no, no.
I have been trying to rack my brain and I can’t think of another filmmaker that had a run of success in such a short time as John Hughes did from 1983-1987. As prolific as Rainer Werner Fassbinder was (is this the first time Hughes and Fassbinder have been mentioned together, I wonder?), I don’t think he even put up the resume that Hughes has. Woody Allen has had some good runs in his life, but none quite so strong as Hughes. Let’s take a look at the the films that Hughes either wrote or wrote/directed in this time period:
Mr. Mom (1983) – wrote
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) – wrote
Nate & Hayes (1983) – wrote (I had never heard of this one)
Sixteen Candles (1984) – wrote and directed
The Breakfast Club (1984) – wrote and directed
National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1984) – wrote
Weird Science (1985) – wrote and directed
Pretty in Pink (1986) – wrote
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – wrote and directed
Some Kind of Wonderful (1987)- wrote
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) – wrote and directed
By my count, that’s 11 films, eight of which represent some the most well-known and iconic films of the decade. Hughes only directed three other films past this period – She’s Having a Baby, Uncle Buck and Curly Sue – all fair films, I suppose, but none match the beloved status of the bulk of the list above. While he continued to write mostly family films (Home Alone series, Beethoven series) for years after pulling his best Keyser Söze (And like that, poof. He’s gone), he never quite captured the magic he had from 83-87. That’s a pretty tall order in the grand scheme of things.
As is the norm, here are my 5 (cheated, really 6) favorite works to which John Hughes contributed and why they still rock:
5) Mr. Mom (tie)
The Wall Street Journal just declared the caricature of inept stay-at-home dads depicted in Mr. Mom dead just a couple of weeks ago. However, the appeal of this movie still endures. Michael Keaton‘s portrayal of Jack Butler, the former GM engineer who lost his job and now stays home with the kids, is incredibly funny and I believe was probably pretty spot on for the time. I was raised by my father and I can certainly say that he was far more able to raise three kids than poor Jack, but this would seem more the exception rather than the rule. I think that’s why this is so enjoyable for me as it gives me an insight to what my childhood could have been like with a more maladroit father. Keaton is loveable despite his cringe worthy displays. For example:
All this aside, this film was pretty groundbreaking. Showing a woman, Caroline (played magnificently by Terri Garr), who is out in the workforce while the children are at home, succeeding and moving up the corporate ladder? I can’t recall a single film like it at the time. And as is typical, Hughes gives his characters some really great, memorable lines:
How’d you like a little trim on that moustache, Ron?
If Mr. Moms are indeed dead, then I’m glad we will always have this record to remind us of their haplessness. For that, John Hughes, I say thank you.
Here’s the trailer:
5) National Lampoon’s Vacation (tie)
The first in the Vacation series by National Lampoon, and undoubtedly the best, Hughes adapted a short story he wrote while working for advertising/public relations firm Leo Burnett (you can read it here) to start the journey of the Griswolds on-screen. Hughes seems to be especially hard on fathers in his films, and this one is no exception. Released in the same year (1983) as Mr. Mom, they seem to be perfect companion pieces to one another.
We watch his program… We buy his toys, we go to his movies… he owes us. Doesn’t he owe us, huh? He owes the Griswolds, right? Fucking-A right he owes us!
As most everyone knows, this movie follows the Griswold family – Clark (Chevy Chase), Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo), Rusty (Anthony Michael Hall) and Audrey (Dana Barron) – as they traverse the country from Chicago to California on their way to Wally World, America’s Favorite Family Fun Park. Convinced that driving is the only way to travel, the Griswolds stop at roadside attractions as well as seeing some family. Randy Quaid makes his first appearance as white trash Cousin Eddie and is in fine form. After a series of car breakdowns, getting lost in the ‘hood of St. Louis, nearly getting arrested for animal cruelty, a dead aunt, and a near adulterous encounter, Clark glides the finally happy family into the parking lot of Wally World…only to find out that it’s closed for two weeks. The final punctuation on a road trip where not much else could have gone wrong. So, he takes matters into his own hands…
An homage to all shitty family road trips, National Lampoon’s Vacation hits the proverbial nail on the head. Even as stupid as Clark seems, he still has a the biggest heart and wants nothing but the best for his family. Unfortunately, he fucks it up every time, a motif that plays itself out over the course of the three other films in this series – European Vacation (without a doubt the absolute worst of the bunch – that Hughes had anything to do with this one makes me sad), Christmas Vacation and the awful Vegas Vacation, whose only saving grace is the appearance by Wayne Newton.
Far and away the best part of this movie, I still laugh hysterically each time I see it:
The edited version for TV is nearly as funny: What I look like – Christopher Columbo?
So if you’re preparing to take the kiddos to Disney (as I am in May – God help me) or any other long road trip, give this one a watch and learn what not to do.
Here is the trailer:
4) The Breakfast Club
The quintessential 80s angst film, The Breakfast Club has comedic moments, but this one hits a closer to the bone than the rest of his films. Set in Saturday detention, five seemingly different high school students – a nerd (Anthony Michael Hall), a freak (Ally Sheedy), a popular rich girl (Molly Ringwald), a popular wrestling star (Emilio Estevez) and a hood (Judd Nelson) – are charged with writing an essay telling the tyrannical Assistant Principal Mr. Vernon (Paul Gleeson) who they think they are. As the day progresses, the group of teens go back and forth, attacking one another, reconciling, telling each other their tales of why they are there. The more time they spend together, the more they realize they are alike.
Obscene finger gestures from such a pristine girl…
This was one of the two films (St. Elmo’s Fire being the other) that spawned the term The Brat Pack and solidified Molly Ringwald‘s short-lived status as Hollywood’s “it-girl.” This of all of Hughes‘ films still seems to resonate the most, ring as the most timeless. These characters still exist in today’s high schools (watch Nanette Burstein‘s documentary American Teen for easy examples), so it’s no wonder why Hughes is/was the teenager’s poet laureate. Its anti-authoritarian message certainly helps.
The ending sequence is pretty unforgettable (pun intended), as Vernon reads the essay that the five left behind, Anthony Michael Hall narrating. That Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” plays over it (flush with a Truffaut-like freeze frame) really is the perfect accompaniment, an anthem that all high schoolers echo just wanting to be noticed.
I always adored this moment. Even though I was only in fifth grade when this came out, it struck a chord. While I couldn’t know the rough waters I’d have to tread when in high school, this was a nice primer and one of the many reasons I cherish Hughes‘ oeuvre. I think it was this film that Hughes found his full voice as a writer. You could see traces his craft coming together in his previous films, but this is a fully realized work that melds the comedic and serious perfectly.
Here is the trailer:
3) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
It doesn’t get much more iconic than Ferris Bueller. This movie drips cool, well…with the exception of Cameron’s (Alan Ruck) stupid ass Detroit Red Wings jersey. That sucks. Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick‘s signature role) is the guy everyone wants to know in high school – friend to all, big and small, cool or not.
When Ferris decides to fake being sick (who can be expected to go to school on a day like this?), an elaborate process that dupes his clueless parents, but not Vice Principal Edward R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones), Rooney decides to catch Ferris and make him an example, in order to show other students that the path Ferris has chosen is wrong. Thus unfolds an epic game of cat and mouse between Rooney, Ferris and Ferris’ girlfriend Sloane (Mia Sara),best friend Cameron and his sister Jeanie/sometimes Shawna (Jennifer Grey).
When Cameron was in Egypt’s land…let my Cameron go.
Cameron is actually sick, but Ferris cons him into driving Ferris around for the day. Cameron is also a tight ass (if you stick a lump of coal up his ass, in two weeks you get a diamond) who needs to have some fun. So they embark on a journey for the ages, taking in the sites of Chicago and breaking through some barriers for each of the characters.
If you didn’t want to be Ferris Bueller in 1986, then I don’t know what to say about you. Who didn’t want to sing Wayne Newton and The Beatles on a float in a German parade through the streets of Chicago?
Incidentally, I lost a bet to my mother on whether the person singing “Danke Schoen” was a man or a woman watching this movie the first time.
This is one of the most fun movies I’ve ever seen and may well be Hughes‘ finest creation. I think it, along with The Breakfast Club, is probably the most enduring as its themes are also universal. As Polonius said to Laertes in Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” I think Ferris followed this advice better than anyone. He never misrepresents himself to anyone he’s with, even to Rooney, and I think that’s why he’s such a relatable character. This was Hughes‘ biggest strength as a writer. It is evident in every film discussed here and why we are still talking about these films.
I hope The rebelliousness of Ferris is alive and well among the youth of today. If not, you must be a bunch of boring bastards…
Here is the trailer:
2) Sixteen Candles
I’m not sure how I originally stumbled upon Sixteen Candles when I was a kid. I can’t remember if we just happened to pick it up at the video store (yes, kids, there used to be actual stores where you could go rent videos, not DVDs) or if we had seen some preview for it. I wasn’t exactly following certain directors’ work back when I was 9. Or was I? Nonetheless, this movie floored me with its humor, its depiction of family as insanely fucked up, and the hope that things you wish for may actually come true.
Well if it isn’t Sammy Baker Davis Jr!
The story centers around Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald in her first real starring role) who turns 16. However, her birthday happens to fall on the day before her older sister Ginny (Blanche Baker) is getting married. Since her family is up to their eyes in wedding details, they forget that it’s Sam’s birthday. An obvious nightmare for anyone, let alone a girl on her sweet sixteen. The scene when she realizes this is perfection, truly setting up each of the family member’s characters in a short 45-second scene. Watch:
Sam has one more big issue in this film as well, and that’s Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling). She has a crush on him, but he is the most popular guy in school, very rich and is dating the hottest girl in school, Caroline Mulford (Haviland Morris). When she passes a note that falls to Jake accidentally, he finds out about this. As she tries to make things happen with Jake, she is followed around by a geek and self-professed “king of the dipshits” named Ted (Anthony Michael Hall), who incessantly tries to pick her up. Couple all of this with being saddled with taking her grandparents foreign exchange student, Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe), to the school dance where Jake will be, and she’s got a lot on her plate.
No more yanky my wanky…the Donger needfood!
One of the biggest successes of this film is that it is also Anthony Michael Hall‘s coming out party. He really established himself as a quality comedic actor in this film. He had obviously worked with Hughes material in National Lampoon’s Vacation before, so perhaps that was to his advantage. His character is so slimy, yet so endearing that you feel sorry for him. Also, he is the chief architect of a few of the film’s funniest scenes, e.g. when he and his friends (one being a young John Cusack) meet Long Duk Dong for the first time at Jake’s party, the aforementioned dance sequence, and when he takes a drunken/passed out Caroline to meet his friends in the middle of the night.
But ultimately, this is Samantha’s journey. We ride the roller coaster with her, and at times, it is difficult. The talk she has with her father (Paul Dooley) after he realizes they forgot her birthday was very real and quite spot-on. Or I imagine it is as I’ve never had this talk with a teenage girl or been a teenage girl, but Hughes situated it where I could empathize. Not an easy task. While this film has its share of juvenile humor (it is a film about high school after all), it has a heart and certain characters end up showing this even when you think that they aren’t able.
This is for you ladies:
Here’s the trailer:
1) Weird Science
So this is number one. With a bullet. This may be one of the three funniest movies I’ve ever seen. A absolute riot from start to finish, this was kind of a surprise from Hughes who with Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club had added more drama to each film leading up to Weird Science. It’s juvenile, filled with raunchy humor and is a departure from the prior formula he employed. And it works. WELL. At least in my opinion. It is far and away the Hughes film that I watch most and that it why it grabbed spot #1 on this list.
The basic premise is two losers, Gary (Anthony Michael Hall in his finest role) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith), can’t fit in. Picked on, abused by cooler kids, and ignored by all girls, they decide to build their own woman using Wyatt’s souped up computer while his parents are away for the weekend. They cull the most beautiful images from Playboy magazines, give her genius intelligence and finish the job by harnessing the electricity from a thunderstorm to give her life a la Dr. Frankenstein all while wearing bras on their heads (ceremonial). And BOOM! They have Lisa (Kelly LeBrock).
What would you little maniacs like to do first?
So it becomes Lisa’s mission to help make the guys transition from being nerds to cool. Not an easy process considering what she has to work with. She starts off with them in a night on the town, which quickly goes from bad to worse. But then, Gary hits his stride amid the funniest scene in the entire film. Watch:
Fats, man…let me tell you my story, man. Were funnier opening words to a story ever uttered? Methinks not.
And let’s credit Hughes for maybe the best part of this film – the creation of Chet (Bill Paxton), Wyatt’s older brother and caretaker while his parents are away. Abusive and gross in every sense of the word, Chet represents what these two are up against every day of their lives. And Wyatt, chicken shit that he is, takes everything Chet has to give, served in a dirty ash tray. Chet extorts him and abuses him verbally and physically. But when Lisa enters the story, things start to change even with Chet. All that aside, I would argue that Chet is the second best movie character next to Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman) in Slap Shot. And Paxton‘s performance pretty much rules. Who else can say, “But first, I’d like to butter your muffin…” any slimier than he does? I dare you to find someone. DARE YOU.
That is a severe behavioral disorder!
The guys have their eyes on two girls, Deb (Suzanne Snyder) and Hilly (Judie Aronson) at school, but they happen to be dating Gary and Wyatt’s arch nemeses, Ian (a very young Robert Downey, Jr.) and Max (Robert Ruslan). Lisa decides to help the guys out and throw a BIIIIG party at Wyatt’s house and invite everyone. When the guys stay in bathroom, Lisa does what she can to coax them out and prove their meddle so Deb and Hilly will see them for who they are. This of course yields two of the funnier parts of the film, but it’s here they make their final transition from nerds to being not necessarily cool, but noticeable, shall we say.
You’re dropping wolf bait, and there’s chicks outside! Light a match, light a fire. I don’t know.
While it doesn’t have quite the same touching ending that both Sixteen Candles or The Breakfast Club have, Weird Science earns its ending. While Hughes moved on to more adult and family friendly fare after this (with exception of maybe Uncle Buck which treads some of the same water here), I’m so glad he squeezed this one in.
Here’s the trailer:
So as I said before, Hughes left a mark on my childhood – his films helped me navigate the unsteady times of adolescence. These films are signposts that me and many of my friends can point to as we continue to try and make our way through this world. Hughes‘ passing in 2009 was tragic because he gave voice to my generation. While he hadn’t spoken for it in quite some time, he still held that title when he died and I believe he continues to do so. There are rumors that one of his unproduced scripts in moving into production. PLEASE DON’T. Let the man rest. There is a reason that project went unproduced.
I will start this by saying that Girl Modelis one of the more disturbing documentaries I’ve seen in some time. I don’t think it takes a mental titan to realize that the modeling business is fucked up, predatory and generally unsafe for the young girls who ply that trade. How many stories do you hear about bulimia, anorexia, overwork, abuse, and prostitution with regards to this industry? Do a Google search. I doubt you’ll be surprised. Girl Model reaffirms any and all misgivings you might have.
The opening shot of the film basically tells us our tale – a tracking shot through a herd of bathing-suit clad 13- and 14-year old girls crowd a room in Siberia (the coldest fuck place on earth) where model agency scouts measure them, assess their “desirability” for foreign markets and are told frankly that they are or are not, as is the case about 99% of the time, suited for modeling. Too “fat”, and let’s consider fat a relative term here as no one in their right mind would consider these girls fat, not fresh enough of face, hips too big, not young enough – these are the criticisms that dash these young girls hopes as they search for a way out of their small rural towns and poverty.
Nadya Vall with her mother after winning her modeling contract.
The film follows two people’s trajectories – Nadya, the 13-year old who is chosen for a modeling contract to work in Japan and the former model scout who signed her, Ashley Arbaugh. After winning the contract, Nadya is shipped off to Japan where she fits the look that is in there – read: pedophiles like looking at 13-year old girls and that’s what she is. Oh yeah – child labor laws be damned. Armed with a contract that “guarantees” her at least US$8000 and two jobs while there, she lands with no one to pick her up, lost in a country where the language barrier couldn’t be higher. As one might expect, things did not turn out how they were promised or planned. Nadya returns home without the $8000 she was promised and that she and her family needed and instead is saddled with $2000+ in debt, money neither she nor her family can afford.
Ashley Arbaugh, pontificating about the horrors of being a model all while perpetuating them working as a model agency talent scout.
Ashley Arbaugh is the talent scout who discovered and signed Nadya. She works for NOAH Models, owned by TigranKhachatrian. He named his model agency after the biblical Noah and views his mission as saving his models “one by one” like Noah saved the animals “two by two.” This guy is a slime, basically pimping out young girls all over the world, making money off of them, keeping them saddled with debt so they have to keep working in a sort of de facto indentured servitude. And Ashley is key in making this happen. The most interesting part about her is that she was once a model who did exactly as the girls she scouts for Tigran and hated it, felt exploited and abused. How do we know this? She provided the filmmakers (David Redmon & Ashley Sabin) with the self-indulgent video diaries she made while modeling in which she complains of many of the things Nadya (and her roommate Madlen) complain of. Ashley quit modeling because of these things…but now? She puts other girls in the same situation and makes unreal money doing so. The American dream at its finest. The scenes with her talking about her two baby dolls and the third one she dissected and about her cyst with blonde hair (fresh with picture of said cyst) are pretty fucked up. That Ashley openly admits that these girls for whom she is responsible for sending to other countries often fall into prostitution as the line that delineates selling one’s body for photographs/art/fashion and selling one’s body for sex is extremely thin and malleable. She was the creepiest part of this film without a doubt. This says a lot. Later, even after we’ve seen Nadya‘s plight, Ashley tells a Russian TV interviewer at a casting call, that Japan is “a very safe market. Unlike other markets, the girls never go into debt.” Really, Ashley? The welfare of their models is clearly not in the interest of Ashley or Tigran. They are merely pawns in a complex money game.
Like I said at the outset, what is detailed in this film isn’t really news. It just solidifies how nonsensical this business really is, the superficiality of it absurd. That people can profit on what basically amounts to legal human trafficking is amazing to me. Groups such as The Model Alliance are starting to surface to ensure better practices for these girls, but there will always be a way around any measures put into place. With girls crossing borders into any number of countries, how can they ever be covered no matter where they go? It appears that Nadya still models even after all of this. That makes me sad.
Since the idea of this documentary came from batshit crazy Ashley Arbaugh, the directors seem to tiptoe around any wrong doing on her part, although they let her own words and videos do some fairly loud talking on her behalf. I feel like they were on the cusp of delving into more of the darker side of the business but never pushed far enough.
No, not thatThe General from the Irish-American named Keaton. The one about Martin Cahill, arguably Ireland’s most notorious criminal, directed by John Boorman. You know, the guy who directed Excalibur, Deliverance and Lee Marvin kicking lots of asses in Point Blank?
Nominated for the Palme d’Or and winner for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998, this film follows not necessarily the rise (some, but not all of it), but certainly the fall of Cahill highlighting his greatest criminal achievements and his single biggest mistake. In a country well-known for its many characters, Cahill ranks up there. A Robin Hood of sorts, Cahill was notorious for many reasons – he fought the Dublin Corporation for tearing down his home in the slum Hollyfield section of Dublin and won giving his family a better place to live than where he was to be relocated, he engineered the largest heist in Irish history at the time, he and his crew robbed Russborough House of its most prized paintings including those by Rubens, Goya and Vermeer‘s Lady writing a Letter with her Maid. He took care of his own and didn’t give a damn about anyone else. And when someone like this exists they make enemies in many arenas and usually meet an untimely end. After making a deal to sell the above mentioned paintings to the pro-England paramilitary the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) who in turn sold the paintings to buy guns to fight the Irish Republican Army (IRA), his death sentence was put into motion and on August 18, 1994, an IRA gunman shot and killed him.
The real General – Martin Cahill
And that’s the scene that opens the film. Shot in exquisite black and white (or you can watch in desaturated color on the DVD) by Seamus Deasy, the film captures the bleakness of Cahill’s story punctuated by the opening scene. The slums of Hollyfield are all the more desolate, the violent acts perpetrated by Cahill and his crew and against them are surprisingly more visceral, and the unconventionality of Cahill’s family situation – he was married to Frances (played by the gorgeous Maria Doyle Kennedy) but also carried on an amorous relationship with her sister Tina (Angeline Ball) – all the more crisp.
Brendan Gleeson as The General – your man’s a fuckin’ dead ringer, no?
Boorman does such a wonderful a job of painting a full portrait of Cahill, detailing his entry into crime from an early age as well as his love for his future wife Frances. By showing us his evolution as criminal, his fight against authority and his struggle to protect and provide for his family and those loyal to him, we as viewers become quite attached to Cahill, going so far as to root for him to survive and succeed. However, Boorman has to remind us that Cahill, despite his likeability, is a ruthless criminal and will do what it takes to protect himself at all costs. Take into account the scene in which he disciplines Jimmy (Eanna MacLiam) for supposedly skimming from the pool of stolen gold he was driving to a fence in England. Shortly after handing out groceries and other necessities to local people in need, Robin Hood-esque Cahill literally puts the hammer down on Jimmy as he nails his hand to a billiards table, a brutal reminder that even though Martin takes care of his own, he also holds nothing back should they cross him.
Martin with the loves of his life – Frances (Maria Doyle Kennedy, left) and Tina (Angeline Ball, right)
Martin’s relationship with the police plays a large role in the film, particularly with Inspector Ned Kenny (played by Jon Voight, who starred in Boorman‘s Deliverance). A composite of several gardaí members who surveilled and pursued Cahill, Kenny is constantly moved to cover the areas where Cahill lives and plies his trade. It is an interesting game of cat and mouse between the two, Cahill usually getting the better of Kenny. Despite their roles, you can see that Kenny has genuine respect for Martin, whom he wishes would turn straight to avoid ending up in prison for life or worse yet falling to a bullet. Kenny warns Martin after he hears of his possible involvement with the UVF that he has signed his own death warrant, but of course Martin won’t hear of it, convinced he can outsmart the IRA.
Listen to me Martin…you’re in a deep, deep hole. Ned Kenny (Jon Voight) tries to talk sense into Cahill.
As his crew succumb to drugs, the overwhelming pressure that the media spotlight on Martin brings them because of their association with him or other personal missteps, the walls close in on Martin. Sick with diabetes and his family the only thing to insulate him from the dangers of his world, Martin is vulnerable for the first time since he was a boy. And it cost him his life. With accusations of collaboration with gardaí, the IRA got to Martin and took his life, ending his reign as The General.
Perhaps the biggest triumph of this film is the casting of Brendan Gleeson in the lead role as Cahill. He is on the top of his game and you can see him totally inhabit this character. And damn if he doesn’t look just like the real Cahill. It’s a shame that he is more well known for his role as Mad Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films than for his roles in this or In Bruges(in which is he is unbelievably good as well). This film is nowhere near as successful without him playing Cahill.
This is my favorite film of 1998, beating out Malick‘s The Thin Red Line by a nose and is far superior to the bulk of the films that were feted that year, among them the awful Shakespeare in Love and Saving Private Ryan (which is about 30 minutes of good and 140 minutes of terrible). It spectacularly covers the antics for which Cahill was so well-known even if it, like most biopics, takes some license. If you want to see a short interview with Cahill to get an idea of what he was like, here it is:
This film is streamable on Netflix should you have access to it, although it is some color-enhanced abomination, not the original black and white film.
Another in a series of incredibly suspenseful films about people trying to leave East Germany during the Cold War, Christian Petzold‘s Barbara is right up there the likes of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives Of Otherswith one of the most incredible, nuanced performances I’ve seen in recent times by NinaHoss in the title role. Had I seen this performance earlier, it most certainly would have made my top five list of 2012. Silent much of the film, she conveys plenty with her facial expressions and gestures, careful what to give away and what to hide.
Nina Hoss as Barbara, the tortured doctor who aches to leave the GDR.
And what could easily end up being cliched like films made about World War II, these films about life in East Germany (Hans-Christian Schmid‘s Lichter [or Distant Lights]is another amazing film in this ilk) are varied in their scope and character and each feel fresh even though the same impending doom permeates them – that of being caught by an informant, someone in the party, Stasi or other governmental organization and the extreme punishment handed out after.
Kindred spirit André (Ronald Zehrfeld) and tormenter Schutz (Rainer Bock).
Barbara follows the titular character, who is a doctor, as she adjusts to being shipped out to the provinces away from Berlin due to being incarcerated for some untold crime. Distant, she immediately draws the ire of her colleagues with exception of fellow physician André (played by Ronald Zehrfeld, also a powerful performance). Harassed by a group of secret agents led by Klaus Schütz (Rainer Bock) presumably in the Stasi, her apartment repeatedly tossed and searched, she subjected to a number of full body cavity searches for contraband, it’s no wonder Barbara appears disillusioned.
Precisely how I felt after watching this one – completely wiped.
Barbara’s eye never strays far from the prize of leaving East Germany and from the outset, despite the constant surveillance and harassment, she is always moving toward that goal. Of course she encounters some obstacles, some difficult decisions – there wouldn’t be a movie without them. But in these instances, I could never question her motives, even perhaps when I could have.
It’s powerful ending [no spoiler] which gives us plenty to think and talk about after we leave the film, and that is to the credit of writer-director Petzold and his script collaborator Harun Farocki. This film is a testament that much drama can be played out even in the slightest of circumstances. Films such as these are fewer and far between these days and it’s always a pleasure to encounter them.
A big thanks to the IU Cinema for bringing this one to Bloomington. Another top-notch cinematic experience.
“What if I took classic film noir tropes and dialogue as well as the detective story and transferred them to present-day high school?” This must have been what writer-director Rian Johnson mused when creating the kick ass Brick. Like most films noir, Brick has twists and turns, information is given (but is it correct?), information is received (again, is it correct?) and danger awaits our protagonist. Will he outwit those aligning against him or will he succumb This film begs you to ask – who should we trust? And who shouldn’t we trust? It is a film that constantly keeps you guessing as to who is doing what and where everything fits. In short, it rules the school. Pun intended.
You think you can get the straight, maybe break some deserving teeth?
As if ripped from the pages of a contemporary Dashiell Hammett novel, Brick follows Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt at his absolute finest) as he tries to find out who murdered his ex-girlfriend Em (Emilie de Ravin) after she gets involved with the wrong crowd. Was it Dode (Noah Segan), Emily’s tweaked-out new beau? Or the hot rich girl, Laura (the minxy Nora Zehetner)? Was it The Pin (Lukas Haas), the local coke dealer? Or Was it the diva, Kara (the gorgeous Meagan Good)? We must repeatedly ask ourselves, how do all of these people, as ancillary as they seem, fit into Em’s murder.
Look, I can’t trust you. You ought to be smart enough to know that. I didn’t shake the party up to get your attention, and I’m not heeling you to hook you.
Noir writer-extraordinaire Jim Thompson once said, “There are thirty-two ways to write a story, and I’ve used every one, but there is only one plot – things are not as they seem.” Johnson takes this to heart and as we traverse this complex landscape of characters replete with 50s-style dialogue (one of its finest attributes), we have to watch Brendan and listen carefully. We never receive any information that he doesn’t, so in order to figure it out, the little details mean all the more. This is precisely why you should watch this one more than one time.
Maybe I’ll just sit here and bleed at you.
One of the best first features in the last 25 years, Brick gets better each time you watch it. Its release signaled the coming of a great cinematic talent and Johnson hasn’t disappointed us since with his vastly underrated The Brothers Bloom and this year’s top-notch sci-fi neo-noir Looper. He even directed three episodes of AMC’s Breaking Bad. I can’t speak highly enough of this film and would recommend it to anyone. From its eerie score to JLG‘s performance, this film has it all.
It is available for streaming through Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, and Youtube.
We are three weeks (well, 20 days) away from the thing that each year, no matter what I do, I can’t take my attention away from – The Academy Awards. Each year in early January (used to be February), I hoot and howl about how the Academy has gotten it wrong with who they’ve chosen for the nominees for the best film has to offer for the previous year. “How can this happen year-in and and year-out?”, I ask myself. Well, I sometimes need a gentle reminder that Hollywood is a self-perpetuating machine whose vanity knows no bounds and that the studios need to raise the profile of their films in order to make even more money so the whole their whole operations stays afloat to offset the 987,368 teenagers, college students and tech savvy webheads who just illegally pirated versions of all of the Oscar fare as I wrote this. Also, what would all of those MBAs with no idea what creativity and art are do without being responsible for and ruining some of the major pieces of our culture, right? Puh-leese.
I am routinely reamed by those in my circle of friends and family for passing judgement on movies I haven’t seen or books I haven’t read. However, I don’t think it takes Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the Twilight series of books are pure shit and that the film adaptations are just a condensed, distilled version of the same shit. So convict me in the highest court of that crime. That many of the Academy voters have expressed themselves that they rarely see most of the movies nominated for the awards each year, how are we to take what their votes say as anything other than biased or even bought (Harvey Weinstein, what say you?). I recall watching the Oscars in 2001 when Lynn Redgrave was interviewed going into the ceremony and she said that the only film she had seen of those nominated for that year was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the fabulous Ang Lee martial-arts epic, so she voted for it. Great taste, as it was undoubtedly my favorite film of the year next to Jonathan Glazer’s insane Sexy Beast; however, it pretty much sums up the Academy Awards in a nutshell. They are mostly a vanity project and by no means an accurate representation of what is the best in filmmaking. If that were the case, Dances with Wolves would never have beaten Goodfellas for anything at the 1991 Awards.
I could go on and on and on about this, so I will spare anyone reading this that diatribe. Now, mind you – I did not see every film released this year and as of yet, I still have not seen three films nominated for Best Picture (Amour, Life of Pi and Les Misérables), so this list will only cover the films that I HAVE seen.So, after careful review, here are what I think the major category nominees should have been this year with whom I perceive should be the winners:
Beasts of the Southern Wild Cosmopolis Holy Motors How to Survive a Plague Looper Moonrise Kingdom Searching for Sugar Man The Master* (winner) We Need to Talk About Kevin Zero Dark Thirty
In all, 2012 had some very interesting films. I think it continued the rise of the documentary, which as a storytelling platform gets stronger in content and creativity each year. Two, How to Survive a Plague and Searching for Sugar Man, even made it into my top ten films of the year and there could have easily been one or two more sneak in. Unfortunately, I have not been able to see Amour. Something tells me it would have made this list as well. Beasts of the Southern Wild was simply amazing. With this as a first effort, I expect to see great things from director Benh Zeitlin in the future. His collaboration with cinematographer Ben Richardson is one I hope continues on for years. Without a doubt this was the best photographed film I saw all year. David Cronenberg‘s adaptation of Don DeLillo‘s novel Cosmopolis was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the year. DeLillo is my favorite novelist and his works seemdifficult to translate to the big screen, so I was very skeptical. Cronenberg‘s script captured the DeLillian dialogue very well and dare I say this, Robert Pattinson was adequate in delivering the cadences of DeLillo’s words. I need a shower after that. Holy Motors is the year’s most insane trip and you can read my synopsis of it here.Director Rian Johnson brought Looper (his first film since 2008’s The Brothers Bloom), a futuristic time-travel noir, to the big screen and didn’t disappoint. Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s prosthetic nose and smirk made him a dead ringer for a younger Bruce Willis. I finally got to see Zero Dark Thirty and was mesmerized. Jessica Chastain is exceedingly good and ZDT proves to be another fabulous Kathryn Bigelow/Mark Boal collaboration. As always, Wes Anderson packs on the quirk in the tale of young love in his Moonrise Kingdom. Never disappointing, Anderson delivers another fun romp with the help of his ensemble cast of Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Jared Gilman, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Kara Heyward. The Master is the film I believe is the best of the year. Its portrayal of the tumultuous (let the cliches roll…) relationship between eternal fuck-up Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) and religious (cult) leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is grand in scale and chronicled exquisitely by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson. Performances from the three major players – Phoenix,Hoffman and Amy Adams – are as good as any you’ll see.
Paul Thomas Anderson – The Master * (winner) Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty Leos Carax – Holy Motors Lynne Ramsey – We Need to Talk About Kevin Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
This category is always difficult for me to say who’s best. One thing I can say for sure is that Steven Spielberg is wholly undeserving of this award and I firmly believe he will take home his third Oscar for Lincoln, one of the most overblown films in recent memory. Anderson gets better with every movie and The Master is no exception. His ability to frame the relationship between the film’s two main characters in such a compelling way earns him this award. He probably deserved the Oscar for There Will Be Blood and he certainly deserved it for Magnolia, which I think was the best film of the first decade of the 2000s. The other four directors in this category are all deserving and created amazing films. Lynne Ramsey has made three of the most dark, original, and incredibly visceral films I’ve ever seen. Morvern Callar may be my favorite of them, but this year’s We Need To Talk AboutKevin is one to be reckoned with, and is especially pertinent since the Newtown shootings this past December and the onging talk of gun control since Columbine.
Denis Levant – Holy Motors* (winner) Daniel Day-Lewis – Lincoln Tom Hardy – Lawless Joaquin Phoenix – The Master Brad Pitt – Killing Them Softly
As much as I love Daniel Day-Lewis and his performance in the uneven at best Lincoln, Denis Lavant‘s virtuosic performance in Holy Motors moved me the most this year. In what covers nine different scenarios in the film, Lavant literally transforms himself from beggar to deviant troll, from a dying man to a motion-capture artist among other roles. Rare is a performance that sticks with me for days after watching it. This one did. I doubt you’ll ever see anything else like it. Tom Hardy continues to amaze me in each new role in which I see him. His performance in Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Bronson is one to study for all you up-and-coming actors. His most notable role of the year as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises was certainly enjoyable as well. Brad Pitt reunited with The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford director Andrew Dominik for a talky hitman pic reminiscent of Stephen Frears‘ The Hit delivering a gritty performace as Jackie Cogan. Phoenix returns to the form of his pre-I’m Still Here days matching Philip Seymour Hoffman scene-for-scene in The Master.
Jessica Chastain – Zero Dark Thirty Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook Tilda Swinton – We Need to Talk About Kevin Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts of the Southern Wild* (winner) Rachel Weisz – The Deep Blue Sea
This may have been the most difficult choice of all of them. Swinton and Weisz both deliver haunting performances in their respective roles. Chastain is amazing as well. I think she is the most watchable actress working today because she can even make her role in something as bad as The Help enjoyable. Jennifer Lawrence has a quality that makes me always want to see more of what she can do. I really liked her in this role. But, for my money, Quvenzhané Wallis was undoubtedly the best of the bunch. Not even 9-years old when Beasts of the Southern Wild was filmed, she explodes on the screen from the outset of the film. Her portrayal of Hushpuppy is nuanced and has a depth one might never imagine an 8-year is capable of displaying. I was completely entranced by her. I sincerely hope that if she continues acting that she is able to maintain the power that she put into this film. If so – watch out, Meryl Streep. Without a doubt, the best performance by a child that I’ve ever seen.
Best Supporting Actor
Garrett Hedlund – On the Road Dwight Henry – Beasts of the Southern Wild Philip Seymour Hoffman – The Master Christoph Waltz – Django Unchained Sam Rockwell – Seven Psychopaths* (winner)
I think this was the strongest category in terms of great performances for the year. Obviously, only two of mine match up with the Academy’s choices, the three excluded – Alan Arkin in Argo, Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln, and Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook – were relatively safe choices for the actors who had similar performances in prior roles that I just don’t think stood out. Garrett Hedlund delivered the most surprising performance as Dean Moriarty in the screen version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. A firecracker, he really captured the energy of Dean from the novel. I was very impressed. Christoph Waltz was great again for Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained. They obviously work well together as Waltz took home the Oscar for their last collaboration in Inglourious Basterds. Dwight Henry was just phenomenal as the sick father to Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild. I’m curious to see if he’ll get any more juicy roles like this one in the future. Hoffman is steady and measured in The Master, the perfect counterpoint to Phoenix‘s forceful mood swings. However, I think Sam Rockwell, one of the most underrated actors working, stole the show in Seven Psychopaths. He’s funny, frustrating, and crazy all while driving the action of the film. Just top-notch. Rockwell‘s been doing it this way ever since 1998’s Safe Men. He might be the most fun actor to watch.
Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams – The Master* (winner) Kara Hayward – Moonrise Kingdom Ann Dowd – Compliance Edith Scob – Holy Motors Juno Temple – Killer Joe
These performances really run the gamut of roles and are no less interesting than many of the lead actress roles. Kara Heyward is so delightfully rebellious in Moonrise Kingdom, making me wish I was as cool as Suzy Bishop at any part of my life. Ann Dowd brings in the most frustrating performance of the year in Compliance as the fast food manager who allowed a female employee to be strip- and body-cavity searched as well as sexually assaulted by her fiancee because of someone prank calling acting a police officer. Edith Scob‘s angelic counterpart to Denis Lavant‘s many incarnations in Holy Motors was a true pleasure to watch. Juno Temple‘s turn as Dottie in the deliciously perverse Killer Joe nearly won me over. I have loved her in everything I’ve seen her in, from Kaboom to Cracks. But, alas, Amy Adams‘ performance as the hard-as-nails wife of Lancaster Dodd in The Master won out. No matter what the role, Ms. Adams brings a fire that is unparalleled. Her exchanges with Freddie throughout the film are extremely tense and delivered flawlessly. You might not think the woman who played the lead in The Muppets and Enchanted would be capable of such ferocity…unless you saw The Fighter.
Best Documentary Feature
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry Chasing Ice How to Survive a Plague* (winner) Jiro Dreams of Sushi Searching for Sugar Man The Imposter
As I said above, documentaries just keep getting better and more interesting. There were so many good ones this year, I couldn’t narrow it to five, and had trouble limiting it to six. Those listed above explore the following subjects: a Chinese dissident artist at odds with the Communist government (see review here), a nature photographer chronicling the effects of climate change/global warming on the glaciers of Greenland, Iceland and the US, the fight for AIDS activists to get access to proper medication to stave off the epidemic that rages so rampant in the 80s and 90s, the tale of Japan’s finest sushi chef, two South Africans’ search for a lost American musician who despite being a star of Elvis proportion in their home country was never known here in the US and the story of a young French man who assumed the identity of a missing Texas 13-year old. Whew! Each of these films have far reaching cultural or social implications, but none of them in their scope, importance or depth measured what David France‘s How to Survive a Plague captured. Chronicling one of the most important chapters in the US’s recent history, France shows us the group of courageous activists who fought for AIDS rights, especially to essential medical care, and saved thousands, perhaps millions, of lives. I can’t speak highly enough of this film.
Best Original Screenplay
Holy Motors –Leos Carax Looper – Rian Johnson The Master – Paul Thomas Anderson* (winner) Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola Zero Dark Thirty– Mark Boal
What’s original? What makes a script good? This is an argument movie execs and filmgoers squabble over all the time. Who’s right? Eye of the beholder, I guess. These five films represent the best of what little that’s original that gets made in Hollywood. As I’ve said, The Master, in my eyes is the best film from top to bottom. I could hardly not say it has the best script and I believe it does. PT Anderson has written the scripts to all of his films and he has gotten better with each one. Subjects and characters vary widely in his films and that’s why I think he’s so successful – he concentrates in no one particular area and he fleshes out beautiful characters (even if their beauty lies in their evil) and places those characters in scenarios that fit them. He is at the top of his form in all disciplines of the game. That’s not to say the other scripts are any less good. I connected well with The Master and it stuck with me ever since. I think Holy Motors is just as challenging of a film as The Master, but it didn’t hit me on the same level. I’m such a fan of Rian Johnson‘s work and Looper is a worthy addition to his oeuvre. Brick remains one of my favorite films. Johnson just brings extra to the table when he writes. He should have a long, interesting career ahead of him.
Best Adapted Screenplay
Argo – Chris Terrio Beasts of the Southern Wild – Lucy Alibar & Benh Zeitlin* (winner) Cosmopolis – David Cronenberg Frankenweenie – John August Silver Linings Playbook – David O. Russell
One thing most people might notice here is that Tony Kushner is absent from this list for his script for Lincoln. Two reasons why that is, even though it is an evocative, colorful script – first, the pontificating speeches made by every character in the film no matter what the situation bored me. Was everything that folks said at that time really worthy of being in the speech Hall of Fame? Secondly, if you write an ending that bad, you are disqualified. If Spielberg or a studio exec are responsible for either, let me know and I will gladly add you to the list. Even though I know the Oscar will go to Kushner or Terrio, I just don’t see how anyone could watch Beasts of the Southern Wild (see my review here) and not shout out in amazement at what they had just seen when compared to any of the other films nominated by Oscar or even by me. The arc of Hushpuppy, her father and the residents of the Bathtub is crisp with pertinent deviations that add layers to the story. It is an amazing film worthy of any award. David O. Russell continues to surprise me as he makes more and more conventional films as he gets older. His last two, The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook are a far cry from his earlier fare like the subversive Spanking the Monkey and the existential I Heart Huckabees.
Caroline Champetier – Holy Motors Mihai Malamaire, Jr. – The Master Jeff Orlowski – Chasing Ice Ben Richardson – Beasts of the Southern Wild* (winner) Gökhan Tiryaki – Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
There were some really gorgeous films this year and each of the above had cinematography that didn’t just capture what was happening on camera, but played a vital role in the story being told. None did so more than Ben Richardson‘s work on Beasts of the Southern Wild, although Gökhan Tiryaki‘s work on Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was mesmerizing and haunting. I was blown away by both. I know documentary films never get a nod in this category, but how can one watch Chasing Ice and not applaud the effort by Jeff Orlowski? What Caroline Champetier was able to achieve in the shifting tones and scenes of Holy Motors was nothing short of Herculean. PT Anderson‘s films are such visual feasts, full of camera moves and interesting angle, Mihai Malamaire‘s efforts on The Master are as commendable as any above. I will say this: never in a million years did I think two of my top ten films of the year would have Bruce Willis in them. That’s why I love film – you never expect what you’re going to get.
As I said before, 2012 was a great year for film, especially if you stepped outside the wide releases each week and poked around for something a little different. It’s out there people. Challenge yourself. You might just enjoy it.
2013 looks to be an amazing year as we have the following new films coming: Errol Morris’ documentary on Donald Rumsfeld, the Coen Brothers’ folk rock film Inside Llewyn Davis, Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster, Chan Wook Park‘s english-language debut Stoker, Ridley Scott‘s The Counselor – a realization of a Cormac McCarthy original script, Jim Jarmusch‘s vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive, the new Ryan Gosling/Nicolas Winding Refn collaboration Only God Forgives and Terrence Malick’sTo the Wonder among many others.
And I thought the A Christmas Story poster was the best fan-made alternate poster I’ve ever seen. Just so damn awesome. This one is absolute perfection and captures the essence of the film so well…at least when the Chiefs aren’t playing Toe Blake/Eddie Shore-style old time hockey.
Here is a great article on why Slap Shot is so damn great. And if you are interested, here is a great book about the making of the film. As I’ve stated before, this is my favorite movie of all-time. Chock full of the most colorful characters cinema has to offer, it still makes me laugh as hard today as the first day I saw it.
Kudos to Paul Slayton who designed this. Truly amazing work, sir!