Friday, December 21, 2012

Reel Thoughts: The 2012 Neelys

EDITOR’S NOTE: The day before his untimely death on December 8, our friend Neil Cohen filed his annual list of the best and worst movies of 2012, which would turn out to be his last article for Echo Magazine, Phoenix's long-running GLBT publication. He called these recaps of the past year in film the "Neely Awards", named after Neely O’Hara, the starlet played by Patty Duke in The Valley of the Dolls. Movie Dearest extends special thanks to Echo Magazine for providing us with the following for posting here.

If judged by this year’s best actor competition, 2012 was a very good year. Daniel Day Lewis, star of Lincoln, is duking it out with Bill Murray’s Franklin Roosevelt from Hyde Park on Hudson. Anthony Hopkins in Hitchcock is up against Ben Affleck’s faux 1979 filmmaker Tony Mendez from Argo. And Richard Gere’s 2008-era Robert Miller from Arbitrage is ready to join the fray against 1980s-era John Hawkes from The Sessions. For the most part, the best films of the year all seemed to be living in the past, including a trip back in time to Middle Earth in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and a blast from the past in the 1990s-set The Perks of Being a Wallflower.


Les Misérables: The decades long wait is over, and while Les Misérables isn’t a perfect film, it features enough perfect elements to make it the best film of the year. Anne Hathaway’s heartbreaking performance as Fantine and Hugh Jackman’s tour de force Jean Valjean are reason enough to see the film, and director Tom Hooper keeps most of the show’s power and emotion intact.
Why it rocks: That music! The emotions! “I Dreamed A Dream” will bring tears to your eyes.

Hitchcock: Sure, Anthony Hopkins doesn’t look just like the Master of Suspense, but he creates an Alfred Hitchcock who garners our sympathy and respect. Helen Mirren as his long-suffering wife Alma is just as good.
Why it rocks: The delicious behind-the-scenes look at the making of Psycho is irresistible, with fantastic performances from Scarlett Johansson, James D’Arcy, Toni Collette and Jessica Biel.

Argo: Director Ben Affleck proves his talents with this story ripped from the history vaults of the best worst plan to rescue a group of Americans from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis by faking a cheesy sci-fi movie. Affleck is great on screen as well, and his cast disappears into their ’70s personas perfectly.
Why it rocks: As with Hitchcock, the behind-the-scenes stuff in Hollywood and Washington DC is funny and entertaining, while the Iranian scenes have more nail-biting suspense than you’d expect, especially knowing the outcome. Plus, all those ’70’s trappings — the hair, the clothes, the old-fashioned technology — are priceless.

ParaNorman: The best animated film of the year featured a boy who is bullied because he’s different — he sees dead people. Norman’s fight to save his touristy, witch-obsessed town from its evil mascot is a lot of fun, but its anti-bullying message comes through loud and clear.
Why it rocks: With its message of tolerance, ParaNorman is the most gay-positive animated film yet. Plus it features a knock-out funny “outing” you’ll never see coming.

Magic Mike: If you’re going to make a sexy male stripper movie, you might as well cast some of the hottest men in Hollywood and get auteur Steven Soderbergh to direct it and give it some class. Drool-worthy Channing Tatum is funny and likable in the title role, which was inspired by his own life of taking-it-off in Florida. The story is straight off the Saturday Night Fever template of a sexy stud finding his way out of a dead-end life, but the on-stage scenery is way better.
Why it rocks: Let me count the ways. Hot and out Matt Bomer, ripped and rough Joe Manganiello, chiseled and dangerous Matthew McConaughey and even dull Alex Pettyfer make this the best-looking cast of the year. Sharp writing helps, too.

Bully: Lee Hirsch’s heartbreaking documentary shed much-needed light on the epidemic of bullying in our schools and created a dialogue from the moment the ratings board tried to slap it with an R rating. Particularly moving are the story of Kelby, a lesbian in Tuttle, Oklahoma who was openly mocked by teachers, and the story of Tyler Long’s suicide and his courageous parents’ quest to prevent the same kind of bullying.
Why it rocks: Documentaries can right a huge number of wrongs. Bully is an incredibly powerful weapon to effect change.

Safety Not Guaranteed: A trio of newspaper reporters goes in search of a man who posted an ad looking for “someone to travel back in time with me. Safety not guaranteed… I have only done this once.” Jake Johnson (New Girl), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation) and indie film regular Mark DuPlass enliven this highly unusual comic drama.
Why it rocks: The deadpan Plaza and possibly nuts DuPlass have great chemistry, and the story of investigating a tabloid topic like time travel is a perfect set-up for a film.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Fans of the book are thrilled that the author Stephen Chbosky wrote and directed this film version, but audiences were thrilled by the smart look at high school life and the excellent performances by Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller, who played his gay character with wit and depth that made him come to life.
Why it rocks: Some might say the rock soundtrack, but the ensemble of Watson, Lerman and Miller, as well as the early-’90s setting, is what really makes the film take off.

Silver Linings Playbook: This slice of crazy life in Philadelphia features Bradley Cooper in his best performance yet as a bipolar guy pining for his unfaithful wife. He learns to move on with the help of a fellow outcast played by a luminous Jennifer Lawrence. Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker all give amazing performances.
Why it rocks: It’s the ultimate date night compromise: sports fever meets ballroom dancing! The family dynamics between Cooper and DeNiro really strike a chord, as does the message about letting go of the past and seizing every moment you can. Plus, Lawrence has never been better.

Life of Pi: Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee brings the best-selling novel to the screen with the most breathtaking use of 3-D yet. This castaway story of an Indian boy trapped on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger is a life-affirming story of overcoming obstacles, while it doesn’t shy away from showing the death part of the “Circle of Life” either.
Why it rocks: The CGI tiger (named "Richard Parker") is amazingly expressive and lifelike, while the visuals throughout the film can’t be matched by any other film this year.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: This return to the Middle Earth of the Lord of the Rings trilogy is actually a prequel, just like J.R.R. Tolkien’s book. Hobbit Bilbo Baggins is summoned by Sir Ian McKellen’s wizard Gandalf to assist a band of dwarfs in freeing their homeland from an evil dragon. It is chock full of eye-popping action scenes, made even more so by being filmed at 48 frames per second, twice the normal speed.
Why it rocks: The message of finding courage when tested is a great one for kids, not to mention that Andy Serkis’ Gollum is just as certifiably crazy as ever. Is it worth three films? We’ll see, but it is filled with epic battles against orcs, trolls and goblins that will warm the heart of the geek inside all of us.


A Thousand Words: Eddie Murphy stars in a bomb. That isn’t surprising, but what is shocking is how awful this bomb is, even by Murphy’s low standards. Every time he utters a word, a tree of life in his back yard loses a leaf on its way to dying. The audience feels the same way with every passing minute.
Why it sucks: A concept where Murphy is punished for every word he says would have been more fitting for Pluto Nash, but as it is, it’s the weakest premise yet for one of the actor’s flops.

That’s My Boy: Adam Sandler stars in a rancid comedy. Again, you might ask, “Which one?” Basing a comedy off of the Mary Kay LeTourneau molestation case wasn’t brilliant to begin with, but Sandler’s blind confidence in the charm of his annoying character, a man who was seduced by his teacher as a kid and is now a failure trying to reconnect with his son, is really deluded. Andy Samberg better pick better projects in the future if he wants to move past Saturday Night Live.
Why it sucks: Even compared to his usual characters, Sandler’s Donny is a blot on the history of cinema. Sandler brings out the worst in every actor he uses, but at least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.

October Baby: This story of a girl who sets out to find the mother who tried to abort her is right-wing propaganda supporting the ongoing “war on women.” The bad acting is just the icing on the rotten cake.
Why it sucks: The issue of a woman’s right to choose is far too complicated and important for this kind of ham-fisted propaganda. It’s a cheap shot in the national discussion.

Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure: These things are oogie alright, although I don’t think they’re supposed to inspire nightmares in kids and migraines in adults. If the warning, “From the makers of Teletubbies” doesn’t scare you off, the horrifying cameos by Jaime Pressly, Toni Braxton, Cloris Leachmen and Chazz Palminteri should.
Why it sucks: “We’re the Oogies!” shouted in voices that will peel paint.

Possession: Oooooooo, a spooky demon box at a garage sale possesses a little girl. How will Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick save their daughter? This PG-13 scare fest is light on the scares and heavy on the claustrophobic “we didn’t have a budget for a full cast or a good screenplay” schlock that plagues most of these Insidious rip-offs.
Why it sucks: Morgan seems more and more like a hungover Javier Bardem. Jumanji had more scares than this tired garage sale reject.

Joyful Noise: It pains me to diss a Dolly Parton/Queen Latifah movie, but since it takes place in a church, I have to tell the truth and shame the devil. A Joyful Noise is full of noise and short on joy. Parton can’t give a bad performance, but her squabbles with her rival for church choir director aren’t funny and the story feels like a tired Glee rip-off. A concert featuring Parton and Latifah, along with co-stars Kris Kristofferson, Newsies star Jeremy Jordan and Legally Blonde’s Andy Karl would have been a far better choice.
Why it sucks: Between the forced whimsy and the curdled fighting, you just want to shout “Shut up and sing!” at the screen.

Friends With Kids: With friends like these, who needs enemies? Cut from the “Problems Yuppies Have” cookbook, this bitter-tasting dramedy about two friends who decide to have a kid together is no Bridesmaids, even though it shares some of the same cast. Director Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein) should have hired a better writer and star than Jennifer Westfeldt if she wanted people to warm to her film.
Why it sucks: Westfeldt and Adam Scott’s annoying conversations late at night are meant to be Bridesmaids racy and hilarious, but they’re like something written by an alien who doesn’t quite understand human beings yet.

Damsels in Distress: Whit Stillman, who’s made a career of filming WASPs in their natural habitat, overdoses on quirkiness with this annoying film about a trio of do-gooders at a politically correct Ivy League college. Greta Gerwig plays a clueless queen bee who ineffectively tries to help everyone she meets, oblivious to her and the film’s shortcomings.
Why it sucks: The annoying preciousness of this film will send you to the dentist from grinding your teeth. It’s nice that Stillman makes movies he likes, but does he have to inflict them on us?

2016: Obama’s America: Just what this country needed : another divisive, race-baiting piece of propaganda intended to stir up the crazies in the Right Wing. Disgraced filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza wastes our time fabricating a fictional Barack Obama and fretting about what the US will be like after his presidency.
Why it sucks: Who won that election anyway? Americans are finally taking Nancy Reagan’s advice and just saying “no” to Right Wing conspiracy nuts.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green: Would you believe it’s the second film of the year about a person who dies when all the leaves fall, this time from the title character’s shins? Nothing goes right, from the tone to the acting to the awful framing device. Cutesy and saccharine, Timothy Green is odd alright, just not very good.
Why it sucks: YouTube was on fire with clips of permanently scarred children sobbing from the film’s manipulations.

One for the Money: Katherine Heigl ruins another movie. Not only that, she torpedoed the much-loved Stephanie Plum novels of Janet Evanovich as a potential franchise. Maybe the story of a Jersey girl who becomes a bounty hunter would have worked with an actress that doesn’t send audiences into fits of revulsion. It only took Hollywood 18 years to do this first film version, so don’t hold your breath.
Why it sucks: Two words: Katherine Heigl. And the script by committee didn’t help.

And now for The Chloe Sevigny Award for Worst Actor and Actress of the Year:
Worst Actress: In a year when Kristin Stewart produced multiple performances, she was handily beaten for this honor by the monumentally wooden and unwatchable performance of Cody Horn in the otherwise tasty Magic Mike. Why would anyone cast her? Perhaps because her father is Alan Horn, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios?

Worst Actor: The winner raised his status from annoying to insufferable in just one film, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Dev Patel went from acclaim in Slumdog Millionaire to annoying in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender, but nothing can prepare you for the full-on Indian minstrel show he puts on in Marigold. It is no wonder that audiences can’t wait to get back to the Brits, like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson, while watching the film. They’re amazing, but Patel makes every scene he’s in nearly unbearable.

By Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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