2nd Quarter Movie Wrap-Up
Honorable mention to Richard Linklater’s Bernie and Hiremosa Yonebayashi’s The Secret World of Arrietty. Very quietly, 2012 is beginning to assert itself as a decent movie year.
1. Moonrise Kingdom- Wes Anderson
Although he made one of my ten favorite films ever, Wes Anderson was in my doghouse for a while. I felt as if his chamber pieces were interchangeable parts of the same whole, distant and contrived and obvious. It took Moonrise Kingdom’s earnestness to win me over again. In Anderson’s least successful films, all of the characters seem to occupy the same staged, deadpan surreality, which means none of them are really surreal. In Moonrise Kingdom, however, the establishment sets itself against our doomed lovers for seemingly arbitrary reasons—it’s Anderson’s most resoundingly French film in that way—and that’s what draws us to them. What’s more, if the problem before was a lack of conflict, this movie gets soaked in inevitable dread from the beginning. We still get the offbeat diction of the dialogue, the meticulous art direction, and the extraordinary use of catalog music, but they’re wedded to actual stakes and lovable characters.
2. The Cabin in the Woods- Drew Goddard
Every time you think you know what Cabin in the Woods is, it subverts that expectation. It starts as a well-worn genre piece, then it keeps slipping through your fingers until it becomes a much more ambitous deconstruction—it’s less a horror movie exploiting scares and more a movie about what makes us scared in the first place. I don’t know how long the moratorium on spoilers is going to last for this—I really don’t want to ruin it for anyone—but The Cabin in the Woods ends up being an ultimate expression of its slasher medium, made with equal parts love and malignity.
3. Jiro Dreams of Sushi- David Gelb
More than anything else, this documentary is about greatness. Its subject is acknowledged by most experts as the best sushi chef in the world, but, even at eighty-five years old, he beats himself up and is never satisfied with his food. As the film unfolds, you start to ask if this perfectionism is what made him great, or if perfectionism is the only reasonable response to innate greatness. When Jiro’s tuna supplier seems to have some of the same intense devotion that Jiro does, you begin to ask if Jiro’s perfectionism rubs off on those in his circle, or if part of his greatness is being able to judge other people for that quality. Plus, you get a compelling father-son story and bombastic food talk (“Every morning he composes his symphony.”) on top of that.
4. The Raid: Redemption- Gareth Huw Evans
Remember Kung Fu for NES? Indonesia’s The Raid: Redemption, about a SWAT team that has to fight its way to the top of a drug kingpin’s housing project, is the most elaborate, cinematic version of that possible. It doesn’t traffic in any kind of pretension or waste any time with dialogue. It is about little but brutal, visceral, gorgeously-staged violence, and I fell in love with that simplicity.
5. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World- Lorene Scafaria
This movie is bombing in dramatic fashion—probably because June is the least likely time for people to contemplate the end of the world. Sure, we’ve had summer movies such as Transformers and Armageddon in which cities have been destroyed and humanity has hung in the balance. The difference is that those movies are about heroes, and this movie is about schmucks. Since Aristophanes, comedy has come from incongruity: Something is funny because characters are acting in an exaggerated way toward something normal, or something is funny because characters are acting in a normal way toward something exaggerated. In Seeking a Friend, everyone is acting in a reasonable way to something that seems completely realistic. The comedy comes from the inversion of something like a heroin party seeming reasonable. I think that’s pretty novel, but most critics have just been like, “Blah blah manic-pixie dream girl [fart noise].” Maybe this is my Crazy, Stupid Love of this year. Maybe I just like Steve Carell.
6. The Kid with the Bike- Lean-Luc and Pierre Dardenne
In The Kid with the Bike, a disturbed boy with abandonment issues is taken in by an understanding hairdresser. It’s stark and concentrated, shot with the Dardennes’ characteristic naturalism, but the emotional realism is the reason to see it. I’ve worked with similarly damaged children, and the psychology of the protagonist here, so guarded yet so full of misplaced devotion and inarticulate rage, is frighteningly accurate. Everything in the film is secondary to that emotional truth, and I mean that as a generous compliment.