Unless otherwise noted, these are very brief reviews of many of the movies sent to me as a member of NY Film Critics Online or seen at a press screening, all in conjunction with our awards meeting held in December. Many of these are going to be nominated in one category or another in tonight’s Academy Awards ceremonies, an event I liken to other trash TV spectacles such as the American Idol finals or the last episode of some beloved situation comedy burdened by idiotic plots and a laugh track. I group the films by recommended, not recommended, and unwatchable—the last category defined by my inability to stomach more than 15 minutes or so. I make no pretensions to reviewing for a general public but offer my opinions for that narrow segment of the population with a taste for low-budget neorealist narrative films with nonprofessional casts and bold documentaries directed against one capitalist injustice or another.
Many of the recommended films are now available from Netflix and should be seen by those who know what is good for you.
5 Broken Cameras: terrific documentary about Palestinian’s effort to tell about his people’s struggle. The director was hassled at the LA airport. http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/5-broken-cameras-un-me/
AiWeiwei: Never Sorry: documentary on the Chinese conceptual artist and pro-democracy activist. Will be reviewing it very soon in conjunction with Gerhard Richter Painting, a documentary on a highly acclaimed German abstract artist.
Amour: Michael Haneke’s story of an aging husband and wife, both music teachers. After wife suffers a stroke, husband takes care of her as her condition worsens. Very moving and very fine performances.
Arbitrage: One of my choices for best movie of the year. Better than Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” sequel.
Burn: Documentary on Detroit firefighters. http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/5-broken-cameras-un-me/
Central Park Five: My choice for best documentary of the year. http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/11/23/the-central-park-five-the-loving-story/
Flight: Denzel Washington is brilliant as an airline pilot who makes an emergency landing on a par with Sullenberger’s in the Hudson River but who was drunk at the time. Another pick of mine for best movie of the year.
The Grey: Mindless entertainment about Liam Neeson leading airplane crash survivors in a fight against wolves in the far north. I rooted for the wolves.
Headhunters: Marvelous Norwegian film about corporate recruiter who moonlights as a cat burglar.
The Hunter: Willem Dafoe as a professional hunter trying to kill the last Tasmanian tiger. Interesting in a Hemingwayesque fashion but with a repugnant message. I rooted for the Tasmanian tiger. http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/444-last-day-on-earth-the-hunter/
Hyde Park on Hudson: My third choice for movie of the year. Bill Murray as a sleazy FDR bad enough to embarrass Bill Clinton. Who can ask for more, especially in the same year as the hagiographic “Lincoln”? http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/hyde-park-on-the-hudson/
The Innkeepers: Nifty horror movie.
The Intouchables: About the bonding between a bourgeois quadriplegic and his Senegalese caregiver from the Paris banlieues. As the caregiver, Omar Sy is brilliant.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi: Documentary about the art of making sushi. Intriguing but ultimately just an upscale version of something you can see on the Food Network.
Les Miserables: For some reason, this was universally despised. I rather enjoyed it, especially with all the red flags and fighting the army on the barricades. I also loved the Victor Hugo novel. So there.
Marley: Bob Marley documentary. Enough said.
Oslo, Aug. 31: 24 hours in the life of a heroin addict released from a rehab center that leaves you with the feeling that his choice to go back on smack is unavoidable given the emptiness of Norwegian middle-class existence.
Perks of Being a Wallflower: Not exactly my cup of tea but I enjoyed it. Coming of age story about a neurotic boy taken under the wings of a couple of other outsiders. Strong performances.
Queen of Versailles: Documentary about the trials and tribulations of the wife of America’s leading time-share mogul, an arch-reactionary Zionist. Somewhat toothless but amusing.
The Revisionaries: Documentary about Texas school board’s attempt to foist reactionary agenda on curricula.
Samsara: Dazzling travelogue (for lack of a better word) sans narration with a great film score that takes you from Buddhist temples in Thailand to volcanoes in Hawaii. Best seen in a theater that does justice to its 70 mm cinematography but can be enjoyed on just about any medium including a smart phone.
Sleepwalk With Me: Quirky “indie” film based on the real life career of Mike Birbiglia, a self-deprecating, mildly amusing standup comedian who is a sleepwalker. Unless he stays in a sleeping bag, there is a chance that he might walk out a second story window as he once did.
This is Not a Film: Brilliant film by Iran’s greatest director under house arrest. http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/03/11/three-films-of-note-3/
The Well Digger’s Daughter: Very old-fashioned French movie about the class distinctions between a young couple in love. The star of the movie is the French countryside.
The Impossible: Well-to-do Spanish family devastated by 2004 tsunami while on vacation in Thailand. Utterly boring despite ambitious CGI.
Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis deserves award for impeccable Walter Brennan impersonation.
Promised Land: Don’t expect agitprop like “China Syndrome”. This is about a fracking salesman played by Matt Damon saving his soul. Narcissism of the sort that Hollywood excels in.
BAILED OUT AFTER A FEW MINUTES:
Anna Karenina: Idiotic postmodernist exercise. The Tolstoy estate should sue these bastards.
Argo: I was ready to put up with the shitty anti-Iranian propaganda but it was the wink-wink aren’t we Hollywood people so cool to take part in a high-stakes gamble to save some hostages that made me hit the eject button. Plus, I can’t stand Alan Arkin, especially after “Little Miss Sunshine”.
Beasts of the Southern Wild: Down with magical realism. http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/death-to-magical-realism/
Cloud Atlas: Even the mainstream critics thought this was crap. The money spent on this garbage could probably relieve hunger in three African countries combined for the next decade.
The Dark Knight Rises: I was curious to see if this film really put forward a fascist message but it was so incomprehensible that I lost the patience to see if this was true or not. For my money, Christopher Nolan is the worst director on the scene today—pretentious to a fault.
Moonrise Kingdom: God I hate Wes Anderson. Precious, self-regarding “art” movies done by a typical film school graduate. I hated this 30 seconds into the movie. The credits made my hair hurt.
On the Road: The 1960s TV show “Route 66” was more faithful to Kerouac than this mess.
Quartet: Something about retired musicians in a nursing home. God knows what Dustin Hoffman saw in this script.
Silver Linings Playbook: Inspirational movie about the mentally ill falling in love. I’ll stick with “David and Lisa”.