2012 was a mixed bag of popcorn when it came to movies. There were certainly some fine films that were eventually nominated for Oscars. But it felt like some of the smaller films, the quieter ones, snuck into my psyche and stuck around long afterward.
I’m not entirely sure why the Academy has been nominating nine films for Best Picture in recent years. 2012’s crop definitely didn’t deserve that type of recognition (yes, I finally saw Amour and no, it just didn’t rank for me).
So, like I did several years ago, I am happy to offer up this year’s batch of missed hits. These are movies that didn’t generate any studio buzz and graciously — if unjustly — ushered themselves out of the theatre and into Netflix immortality. If completely lousy films like The Master can generate three nominations, then where the heck are this year’s classics like Ruby Sparks or The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel? Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore Amy Adams and respect the heck out of Philip Seymour Hoffman (notice how I left out Joaquin Phoenix?). But that movie was the biggest Emperor’s New Clothes moment of the year.
First, though, here are my favorites of the Oscar nominated bunch:
Daniel Day-Lewis starred as our 16th president in Steven Spielberg’s tremendous film, Lincoln.Lincoln made me proud to be an American, well, a Northerner at least. I’ve already written about how amazing Daniel Day-Lincoln was. Sally Field absorbed her role as Mary Todd and Tommy Lee Jones played an incredible, crusty, codger who had to be convinced to follow new ways of thinking (It’s almost as if his exact Men In Black character was transported back to the 1860s. In one, he goes up against aliens, in the other, he’s up against slavery). I’ve always been a history buff and I think President Lincoln was one of our greatest statesmen. Steven Spielberg made another perfect film here.
Ben Affleck directed and starred in the historical drama, ArgoI’m sure you’ve all heard about and seen Argo by now. I’m not sure I can add anything new to the discussion, although the historical accuracy wasn’t as precise as in Lincoln (the Iranians really didn’t chase the plane down the tarmac at the end). The movie is a fun, dramatic thriller. I remember living through the hostage crisis back in the late 70s wondering what anybody was doing. This declassified, behind-the-scenes look was just great. It was more fascinating than Zero Dark Thirty. As an aside, isn’t it interesting that a third of the nominated films this year were based on actual historical events. I feel a little too Rah-Rah America with these first two movies; nothing wrong with that, though. Argo is justifiably an odds-on contender to win the bald, golden eunuch on Sunday night.
In Silver Linings Playbook, Bradley Cooper lives back home with his father, Robert De Niro, and his OCD football rituals. There need to be more films like Silver Linings Playbook. It felt, for all the world, like a small, independently produced movie. But the rom-com-dram attracted big stars and was released by The Weinstein Company. Mental health issues, or more importantly, people who live just on the delicate fringe between “normalcy” and institutionalization need to be portrayed honestly and with compassion. This movie gets at that fine line.
I’m not sure how long it’s been since a movie was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and all four best acting categories. That’s an astounding accomplishment. Bradley Cooper is surprising and really shows his acting chops, but will definitely lose the Oscar to Daniel Day-Lewis. What more can be said about Jennifer Lawrence’s incredible abilities? Well, hopefully a few more things can be said, because Hunger Games is on my list of favorites this year too.
Okay, we got those “blockbusters” out of the way, if you can call them that. Next we have my favorite non-nominated pictures. Pop up some popcorn (do it fresh, with real butter, skip the microwave), slump down in your couch and enjoy these wonderful movies.
Paul Dano stars in the movie his real-life girlfriend wrote and stars in as well. “Real-life” is the operant word here.I’m guessing you haven’t seen or maybe even heard of Ruby Sparks yet. I’m told it showed up here in town for maybe about a minute, then quickly exited. According to Wikipedia, the film only made 6.5 million. I am aghast, ashamed, agape, alarmed (and I haven’t even gotten past the As at thesaurus.com). It’s a fun, warm, brilliant movie directed by the people that brought us Little Miss Sunshine. It was written by and stars Zoe Kazan, along with her real-life boyfriend Paul Dano. The premise is simple, a struggling novelist writes a character who comes to life and starts dating him.
I can’t say enough about this movie. The few people I’ve talked to that’ve seen the film have fallen in love with it too. Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of the legendary Elia Kazan, is perfect as the heroine, who has do to exactly what Paul Dano writes on his old-fashioned typewriter. Rent, download or buy this movie somehow. Then tell all your friends to do the same thing. Let Hollywood know that sweet, fun, endearing films like this matter.
Dame Judy Dench and Celia Imrie are transported to a faraway land whose comforts are far away from what they expected. Some of my favorite British actors appear in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Fans of Downton Abbey will love seeing Maggie Smith pair up again with Penelope Wilton. The plot centers around a group of English retirees who make the decision — based on the brochure — to spend their golden years in India at a senior’s hotel. As you can probably guess, the brochure might not have been entirely accurate. The individual ways they cope, accept or deny their new lives make for great story lines. If you’re anywhere near retirement yourself, there are a suitcase full of issues and discussions that will feel quite pertinent. If you’re younger, you can see your parent’s lives being played out the screen, even if they live in Indiana instead of India. And in the end, it’s just simply an enjoyable film to experience, rich in color, sounds and possibly even smells if you really let your imagination take over.
Elizabeth Olsen gets close with Josh Radnor in Liberal Arts. You never can go back. Well, maybe you can, but no matter how much things appear to be the same, they really aren’t. Liberal Arts examines that sentiment with a guy going back to his alma mater for a favorite professor’s retirement, only to fall in love with the campus and his youth. Written, directed and starring Josh Radnor (the guy from How I Met Your Mother), the film meanders across campus like the anchor-less lead. A surprising appearance by Zac Efron threatens to steal the show, but Elizabeth Olsen (Mary-Kate and Ashley’s “little” sister) steals it right back. Even though you kinda, sorta hate Allison Janney afterward, it’s a fun examination of the difference between youth and adulthood. Beautifully made. Wikipedia said it only pulled in a little over $300,000 at the box office. That can’t be true. What is wrong with Hollywood?!
Gillian Jacobs and T.J. Miller explain to Keira Knightley and Steve Carell why their TGI Fridays-ish restaurant is still open.I’m a huge Steve Carell fan, even forcing my way through Evan Almighty. Some people may think I’m insane for enjoying Seeking A Friend For The End of the World. The movie got the lowest score, of all my picks, on the estimable Rotten Tomatoes movie review website (a paltry 55% fresh). The funny/sad film depicts the human race on the brink of annihilation and the emotions that run through such an apocalyptic embrace. I liked being off-guard throughout the picture. At times it was a romantic comedy, at others it was a lesson on nothing short of the meaning of life. Keira Knightley again shows she’s wise beyond her years. Everyone’s emotions feel real and even though I try not to, I sometimes find myself wondering what I’d do in their shoes.
The rest of my favorites from the year fall slightly lower in stature than the ones I’ve yapped about so far. Nevertheless, they are solid movies and I’d recommend that you at least give them a second look at your local supermarket Redbox.
This is 40: This isn’t Judd Apatow’s best movie. Still, the writer employs his real-life family to show us real-life issues surrounding the advent of middle age. Funny and smart.
Sleepwalk with Me: Again, with the real-life. Comedian Mike Birbiglia chronicles his very real (and very severe) bouts with sleepwalking and the stresses of life on the road. At one point, he turns to the camera and says, “Remember, you’re on my side.”
Safety Not Guaranteed: Remember seeking a friend for the end …? How about seeking a friend to time travel with? Mark Duplass, one of the stars, seems to be everywhere these days. He’s this year’s Jessica Chastain. This odd, quirky film isn’t for everyone, but those who like silly indie dramatic science fiction comedy thrillers will certainly love this.
Looper: Ha! I just noticed I had two time travel films right next to each other. Looper felt like a big-budget box office bonanza but in the end, just didn’t get much love. The premise? Bounty hunters go back in time to kill “present day threats.” Emily Blunt ruled as an outlier protecting her little patch of (in)sanity.
The Hunger Games: This is a brutal movie with a disturbing message. I’m not honestly sure I would’ve even seen it had I (and millions of others) not flew through the book. Jennifer Lawrence, as always, is fantastic.
Hysteria: At no point in this movie about the 19th century invention of the vibrator in Victorian England is the word “vibrator” ever used. Everyone feels so uptight and prudish until — in the name of curing women’s hysteria — an idly rich fellow comes up with an electrical gadget that cures these women of all sorts of perceived ailments.
The Hobbit: Yeah, I know you thought Peter Jackson delved too deeply into other parts of Tolkien lore. Yes, I realize you think making one book into three movies is just ridiculous. But I saw the movie in the new HFR (High Frame Rate) format with 3D glasses and it was a grand adventure.
Your Sister’s Sister: Again with Mark Duplass. This time he stars as a guy getting over his brother’s death and goes off to a Pacific Northwest cabin with that woman from early Mad Men days (Rosemarie DeWitt) and that woman from a few reviews ago, Emily Blunt.
Jeff, Who Lives At Home: Can’t get enough of Mark Duplass? Fear not. He’s appearing these days in The Mindy Project and again, here in my favorite films of 2012. This time he co-wrote and co-directed the Jason Segel, Ed Helms film about, well, Jeff, who lives at home. It’s poignant, funny, very low key and wholly real.
And now here are my third or fourth tier favorites (depending on how you’re keeping score at home). I’d say these films are worth considering for a slow Friday or Saturday night. At least look into them and see if they gel with you. I’m not about to push them on you, as much as suggest you maybe look ‘em up and see what you think.
Friends with Kids: Jennifer Westfeldt wrote, directed and starred in this picture like she’s done in several other films. She’s Jon Hamm’s long-term girlfriend and I first heard of her with 2001’s Kissing Jessica Stein.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen: Hey, guess what? It’s Emily Blunt again. This time starring with Ewan McGregor in a story about the impossible task of stocking a desert river with salmon.
Seven Psychopaths: Nope, if you don’t like violent movies (and I generally don’t) then avoid this, sure as shootin.’ But I like the skewed psychology, Sam Rockwell’s performance and watching Christopher Walken as, I swear, he’s trying to act like Christopher Walken.
Cloud Atlas: I’m looking forward to reading the book that this was based on. I was lost so many times during this movie I felt as though maybe I was just a dummy. I heard that same sentiment a lot though (the lost part, not the dummy part). And where The Master was totally incomprehensible, I was happy to go along with this mind tumbling movie. If for nothing more than to watch Tom Hanks in various epochs and getups.
Chronicle: This won’t suit everyone’s tastes. A group of high schoolers gain super powers and use them for their own purposes. Filmed in pseudo first person with hand-held digicams, it felt like The Blair Witch Project meets, I don’t know, Spiderman?
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: Just like Seven Psychopaths, this is a terribly violent movie. But I found it filled in a lot of gaps that Spielberg’s Lincoln just didn’t have the guts to address. Most notably, what if our favorite 19th century prez was, in his secret life, really a vampire killer.
Movies I should have liked but just didn’t, for one reason or another.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower just didn’t live up to its previews. That scene at the football game where Ezra Miller cheers, “Be Aggressive, Pa-ssive Aggressive?” Yeah, it never happened in the actual movie.
In Moonrise Kingdom I felt throughout that director Wes Anderson was just trying too darned hard to be cute and quirky with his characters. I really wanted to like this, but I kept thinking to myself, “what weird, quirky thing is gonna happen next?”
Some people just loved Jack Black in Bernie. I admit I thought he did a fine job, but the story — even though it was based on real events — didn’t seem real to me. And that’s a tough thing to overcome.
Les Miserables was just too long for my tastes. I was sure something was different and then my wife informed me that they added yet another song. Look, I’ve seen the play several times and enjoyed it on stage. And in truth, Anne Hathaway singing I Dreamed a Dream was heart rendering. Yeah, I know I suck; call me a Philistine, but it just didn’t storm my barricades.
You know, speaking of being too long for my tastes, this darn movie blog is far too enormous as well. Looking back on this massive thing, I’m starting to think I should maybe cut it in half and leave out the dumb jokes like, I was expecting at least some apple cobbler in Life of Pi or I needed more from Amour. Then I realized I hadn’t even mentioned the Oscar nominated short films, which I actually saw this year. But like award ceremonies of the past, this presentation has dragged on way too long and your popcorn bowl has long since just supplied you with dead kernels. So, as they say in the movies …