K.H.: Wes Anderson’s movies have always been about lost children, but this time the children are actual kids—a Khaki Scout and his townie girlfriend on a New England island in 1965—instead of Owen Wilson in India with a mysteriously bandaged head. Anderson is great with serious kids and the feckless grown-ups who let them down, though in this case you can’t help feeling a little bad for the adults, living under such youthful tyranny. Is there anyone more rigid than a 12-year-old in love? As in every Anderson flick, the rooms people live in, the clothes they wear, and the totems they cart around with them are fabulous and precious—a cinematic language all their own—and everyone is either manic, or world-weary, or both. I hate to fault a director for continuing to make his particular kind of movie (that’s what directors do), but I guess I’d like to see a little more tonal innovation from Wes. Even with Bruce Willis and Tilda Swinton giving their all, the charm of objects and music and deadpan wears thin.
M.K.: Ever since Tenenbaums, at least, I think the hierarchy goes like this:
Wes Anderson Adults < Wes Anderson Children < Wes Anderson Animated Foxes.
K.H.: It’s too bad Mark Duplass had to be the man in this Pacific Northwest love triangle, because Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt are so damn good as the pushy little sister and the cynical older sister who love each other very much. If I can only learn to tilt my head and narrow my eyes like the exemplary DeWitt, I will have a weapon more powerful than any mansplainer could possibly imagine.
K.H.: Martin McDonagh must’ve known he had a good thing going the first time Colin Farrell said “psychopath” on set—twitchy and breathless and oh-so-very Irish. Then, when Christopher Walken showed up, he had to know it was in the bag. I would’ve liked more Farrell, as Hollywood screenwriter Marty, whose fictional project turns simultaneously real and meta, but Walken really is superb as one of the seven, whether he’s grieving for a lost wife, unfastening his cravat or narrating a possible account of a Buddhist psychopath for Marty’s script. Not as rich as McDonagh’s great In Bruges, but still chock-full of morality, criminal hilarity, and wit.
17. 21 Jump Street
M.K.: The funniest movie of 2012. There's no better way to pay tribute to this film, and Channing Tatum's glorious, lumbering, doomed struggle to return to high school, than to revisit the crystalline brilliance of this scene, which marks the precise moment the Year of Tatum really began:
K.H.: I guess it’s about time I just admitted I love Kirsten Dunst. Or her movies at least. The Virgin Suicides, Eternal Sunshine, Melancholia…the list goes on. Once again, she’s perfect here as the viciously bossy queen bee coordinating the wedding of her fat, nice friend (Rebel Wilson) and letting lose the night before. (“Listen buddy, I got a scholarship to Princeton,” she tells a bouncer at a strip club.) Lizzy Caplan and Isla Fisher round out the old high school gang as the cynic who sleeps with too many strangers and does a lot of coke and the ditz who sleeps with too many strangers and does a lot of coke. If you missed it, the Rated R trailer really captures the flavor:
M.K.: It should be noted James Marsden repeats his victory as official Iron List Douche of the Year, with his Bachelorette character possibly even outstripping the chotch in Straw Dogs who wore a 'Harvard Lacrosse' T-shirt at every opportunity.
M.K.: A warm, slender picture about loss and condolence, about the agonies and the succors of education. The students of a Montreal primary school have just lost their teacher to a classroom suicide: in steps the charming, mysterious, slightly out of touch Algerian, Monsieur Bashir Lazhar, reeling from griefs of his own. It's not the kind of movie where the new teacher makes the kids read Balzac, and they learn to love him for it; in fact, they make fun of him, and he assigns something easier next time. It's sentimental but not maudlin or contrived. And Monsier Lazhar himself (Mohamed Saïd Fellag) with his tender, beaming, suffering face, justifies that sentiment in spades. Perhaps not the year's meatiest or most memorable film, but one of its sweetest and wisest.
K.H.: Is there anyone more ripe for disillusionment than a Western backbacker abroad? Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) are in love and engaged to be married, but first they’re traipsing about former Soviet Republics with Dato, a local Georgian guide (Bidzina Gujabidze). Dialogue is scant and oblique throughout, as Dato performs gruff magic tricks and tersely quizzes Nica on the countries she's visited: "Cuba?" "Yes." "Nepal?" "Yes." "Albania?" "No." Haunting folk music guides our way, and the planet really is a wonder to behold.
Then slowly, masterfully, Julia Loktev wends us into meatier territory, as halting English interactions with Dato highlight the gaps of experience between the tourists and their guide. Suddenly, there is a single, harrowing incident. Language completely fails, as it always does when we travel abroad, and Alex and Nica may never be the same again.
The incident is one to argue over—and Matt and I couldn’t help putting ourselves in the couple’s shoes. Would you have done that? Would you have reacted that way? This is all to the film’s great credit (and to the credit of the Tom Bissell short story). But I think Loktev left a little too much space for speculation. I know not everyone talks as much as we do, but surely Alex and Nica would’ve at least tried to talk about this? Right?
Movies have the luxury of keeping characters silent because they can tell stories in so many other ways. (I keep returning to Nica’s shocking red hair against the lush green of the Caucasus Mountains, which as a visual metaphor actually carries pretty far.) But, like all Western luxuries, filmic silence has gotten cheap. Having just returned from a wonderfully wordy night at the theater (side note: The Glass Menagerie at the ART in Cambridge is mesmerizing), I think I still prefer a storyteller who puts people in a difficult situation and then dares them to talk their way out.
K.H.: Sarah Polley’s latest is something of a love letter to hipster Toronto, which, as Katie pointed out earlier, looks like an awesome place to live. Or at least the perfect place to contemplate leaving your chicken chef husband Lou (Seth Rogen) for the dreamy Daniel across the street (Luke Kirby). The “you” here is Michelle Williams as the wishywashy Margot, who’s some kind of writer (of course).
Frame by frame, the film bursts with insupressible color. (Sometimes literally.) And there are many, many great scenes: Margot in a Scrambler car with Daniel; Margot and Lou in a rickshaw pulled by Daniel; Margot and sister-in-law Sarah Silverman in a locker room with a bunch of old women, every one of them naked. There are some lovely subtle touches, too. Is your perfect mate the man who fulfills your 360 degree erotic fantasies or the man who talks to you while you pee? Is creepy baby talk still liberating when it’s the only bedroom talk you ever do?
Take This Waltz is an ambitious film in so many ways, but like many ambitious films, not everything it tries really works. Particularly cloying are the scenes in which Margot tries seriously, but unsuccessfully, to explain her problem (“I’m afraid of connections,” she tells the rickshaw man, like a college freshman, when she first meets him on a plane). For the most part, though, the film’s portrait of desire in all its ambivalence is what lingers after the credits have rolled. I mean that, and the pee in the pool.
M.K.: At The White Tank Top, Kirk Michael nails it on the superiority of this film's Gyllenhaal-Peña bromance to the much stormier, much more critically praised affaire Hoffman-Phoenix. In less than two hours their warm, rich patrol-car chemistry far surpasses Breaking Bad and attains a Bunk-McNulty level of inter-ethnic cop love. Seriously, it's that good. I've been a Gyllenhaal fanboy ever since Donnie Darko, but Peña, who sounds oddly -- and winningly -- like a Latino Mark Ruffalo, matches him at every turn. End of Watch offers us the realest adult love story captured on film in 2012, and it's not the conventional hetero one between Jakey and Anna Kendrick.
Of course, there are plenty of good reasons that now is not the right time for a trigger-happy celebration of the Los Angeles Police Department, especially one in which the mostly white good guys are so achingly good, and the mostly nonwhite bad guys are so cartoonishly (and boringly) bad. But this is a film to savor for its relationships, not its politics or its plot. They're plenty strong enough on their own.
Finally: the year cannot escape without me noting that two movies featured extended cuts of Anna Kendrick singing my two favorite corny-catchy hip hop anthems OF ALL TIME: Camron's "Hey Ma," here, and Nelly's "Just A Dream," in Pitch Perfect. Make of that what you will. But I'm seeing it as a final, late arriving sign of the gods' favor in 2012. I thank you, Holy Emperors of Soundtrack! If Jennifer Lawrence knocks off a few bars of Akon's "Don't Matter" in 2013, I will know that you have heard me.
Each of P.T. Anderson’s frames is itself a work of art. The score, by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, is a movie all its own. And three talented actors bring the charismatic cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman), his stern guiding hand wife (Amy Adams), and his erratic, alcoholic acolyte (Joaquin Phoenix) to life. So why is this film not at the top of our list? After all, it tells a story of new religion in America (i.e. Scientology), of post-war trauma amid prosperity, and of the bromantic possibilities between guru and follower when the follower makes really good booze. “This is something you do for a billion years or not at all,” Adams tells Phoenix’s wayward Freddie Quell. It’s Paul Thomas Anderson, for God’s sake, creator of There Will Be Blood! I’m getting excited all over again.
But for every single thing Anderson does right, a stitch is missing somewhere else. Quell’s defining feature is his erratic behavior, which is, quite naturally, a difficult attribute on which to build a stable character. The film suffers from this, chasing after his unreason, even as it neglects the weird, penetrating reason of The Cause and Hoffman’s silver-tongued, glad-handing Lancaster Dodd.
Still, there are great cases to be made for this undeniably great-looking piece of cinema, and so I give you Geoffrey O’Brien in the NYRB:
When movies have attempted to show the inner life of cults and newfangled religions, they have generally
sought to convey how strange they are. Anderson by contrast shows how strange they are not. America has
after all long since been the great breeding ground of self-help cults and apocalyptic sects and secret
initiations, of homebrewed universal panaceas and fresh-minted pseudoscientific jargon, of occult communal
bondings and shunnings. In the perspective of The Master, these are not denials but extensions and
variations of American life. When Freddie Quell…throws in his lot with The Cause, it is not as if he is fleeing
from normality into an eerie shadow world. Whether inside or outside the movement, the world as he finds it
is equally chaotic and unrelenting.
M.K.: Katherine and Geoff have really summed it up well. This is a movie to admire, not to enjoy, or even to understand. My eye luxuriated in it all but the rest of the chief receptive organs (brain, gut, spine) were pretty quiet. Still, on the score of admiration, we must mention the luminous evocation of wartime and postwar America, from battleship deck to cabbage field to department store. Those first 40 minutes rival anything in There Will Be Blood.