Friday, December 28, 2012

Reverend's Reviews: The Best & Worst of 2012 - Homos, Heroes and a Hushpuppy

Not only was a gay-themed movie the best of this past year, in my humble but educated opinion 2012 was a great year for GLBT and mainstream films on the whole.  I counted more movies rating A- or higher in my log than I’ve seen in several years, which made coming up with my top ten very easy.  I’ve actually “cheated” and linked together a few films of equal critical assessment and related themes, so you will find more than ten movies on my list below.  I also must confess there were a few much-ballyhooed holiday releases (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Zero Dark Thirty and Django Unchained) that I haven't been able to screen yet.

1.    Keep the Lights On (Music Box Films):  Writer-director Ira Sachs’ semi-autobiographical exploration of love and addiction between two gay men, played with admirable honesty by Thure Lindhardt and Zachary Booth, is the one perfect movie I saw all year.  While it has been criminally neglected for year’s-end awards by the Golden Globes and mainstream critics’ groups thus far, it is up for several Independent Spirit awards and won the Berlin International Film Festival’s Teddy Award for best GLBT film.  There is plenty to appreciate — and learn from — here whether one is homosexual, heterosexual or otherwise.

2.    Amour (Sony Pictures Classics):  Similarly, Michael Haneke’s powerful depiction of the cost of romantic commitment between an elderly man and his wife (the stunning Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) has universal applications.  A couple of horror movie-ish moments are the film’s only missteps, even though it ends up being something of a ghost story.

3.    Beasts of the Southern Wild (Fox Searchlight):  This instantly lovable, amazingly accomplished low-budget feature film debut by director Benh Zeitlin boasts fantastic performances by non-professionals Quvenzhane Wallis (as its 6-year old heroine Hushpuppy) and Dwight Henry.  It is also a timely affirmation of family and community as the greatest strengths against threatening forces.  The film has racked up numerous awards, including the Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival.

4.    Moonrise Kingdom (Focus Features):  It isn’t often that a movie comes along that is best and most immediately described as charming, but Wes Anderson’s latest is just that.  This saga of pre-teen lovers on the lam from an all-star adult cast including Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and — best of all— Tilda Swinton as the nameless, villainous “Social Services” is a beautifully designed, totally enjoyable hoot for kids and adults alike.

5.    Robot & Frank (Samuel Goldwyn Films):  Frank Langella gives a lovely performance as a cantankerous, elderly ex-thief in the not too distant future whose children arrange for him to have an artificially-intelligent caretaker (voiced by gay fave Peter Sarsgaard of Kinsey and Green Lantern fame).  An unlikely and ultimately touching friendship develops between the two.  Oscar winner Susan Sarandon and another gay fave, James Marsden (Hairspray), also star in this gem, which won the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Prize at Sundance.

6.    Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros.):  A lengthy, heady and visually spectacular adaptation of David Mitchell’s time-traveling novel that was an undeserved flop at the US box office.  Tom Hanks heads the big-name cast in multiple roles, and a gay romance is a key component of its puzzle-box plot.  The film was helmed by the trio of trans director Lana Wachowski and her brother Andy (of The Matrix fame) and Tom Tykwer, whose last movie was the bisexuality-themed Three.

7.    The Avengers (Marvel/Disney) and The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony Pictures):  Just when I was feeling worn out by the recent glut of increasingly-indistinguishable superhero movies, along came these two smart, thrilling epics by offbeat filmmakers (Joss Whedon and Marc Webb, respectively).  The long-awaited teaming of Marvel Comics’ greatest do-gooders as well as a seemingly-needless “reboot” of the web-slinger’s origins both struck gold dramatically and at the box office, with British actor Andrew Garfield proving to be a particularly inspired casting choice as Peter Parker/Spider-Man.

8.    Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (Sundance Selects) and Somewhere Between (Long Shot Factory/Ladylike Films):  The two best documentaries I saw all year found their origins in China, though both are made by American filmmakers.  The former is a no-holds-barred biography of the famed artist and blogger, who has consistently defied government censorship in calling for greater freedom of speech in the People’s Republic.  Somewhere Between, meanwhile, provides an intimate, insightful look into the challenges facing children adopted from China by US parents.  Both films reveal it’s not such a small world after all.

9.    Bully (The Weinstein Company):  A timely, potentially life-changing documentary focusing on several young people bullied by their peers for one ridiculous reason or another.  It shows, shockingly but also somewhat predictably, that the juvenile perpetrators may not be so much to blame as their ignorant parents and impotent teachers, who repeatedly turn a blind eye to the abuse.  The movie sparked a silly ratings controversy but was ultimately released in a PG-13 version that ought to be required viewing in high schools nationwide.

10.    Skyfall (Sony Pictures) and Everything or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007 (Epix):  It is certainly fitting, though initially hardly guaranteed, that the 50th anniversary of James Bond’s cinematic exploits in 2012 would result in one of the very best and most financially-successful films to date featuring the superspy, as well as in an exceptional documentary tracing the often-tortured history of the Bond films.  Bond-age is obviously alive and well.  Oh, James!   

Honorable Mentions (movies that rated a B+ in my critic’s log but in no particular order): The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, The Sessions, Return, The Grey, The Invisible War, Sassy Pants, Brave, Love Free or Die, How to Survive a Plague, Argo, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Flight and The Cabin in the Woods.

And my considered picks for the five worst movies of 2012 are:
1.    Magic Mike (Warner Bros.):  Along with many of my fellow gays, I was suckered into seeing this male-stripper epic with a gaggle of my pals during its largely sold-out opening weekend.  The stripteases are coyly shot, the characters are way too hetero given the setting (with the possible exception of the club’s impresario, played to the hilt by Matthew McConaughey), and the central love story dull.  Give me Christopher Atkins in 1982’s One Night in Heaven any day over this!

2.    The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (Adopt Films):  I’m not sure which irritated me more: the obnoxious trans musician/performance artists at the center of this documentary or the in-your-face style employed by filmmaker Marie Losier.  At any rate, I’m sorry to say this is one GLBT-interest tale best left unseen by our community.

3.    Prometheus (20th Century Fox): This much-hyped prequel/sequel/reboot of the classic 1979 shocker Alien turned out to be baffling bordering on the incoherent.  Though stylishly made in 3D by the original’s director, Ridley Scott, and featuring memorable turns by Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender, it ultimately commits the sin of being more pretentious than terrifying.

4.    One for the Money (Lionsgate):  The bounty-hunting Stephanie Plum character created by novelist Janet Evanovich is definitely deserving of big-screen treatment.  Alas, this halfhearted effort wasn’t it.  Katherine Heigl gives the role her best but she seems stifled, as do her gay-friendly supporting cast members Debbie Reynolds, John Leguizamo, Debra Monk and Daniel Sunjata.

5.    The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 (Summit):  Calling this closing chapter of the teeny-bopper vampire quintology the best in the series is fairly faint praise, since its predecessors are arguably the most artistically-deficient blockbusters ever made.  Credit gay director Bill Condon for the finale’s more adventurous spirit. 

By Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Rage Monthly Magazine.

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