2012 – Best of the Best, Worst of the Worst, Grand Totals

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Well, folks…this has been an interesting year for movies.  It’s hard to believe I started this blog a year ago tomorrow…time sure does fly.  I’ve learned a lot in this past year and can see how my review style has evolved over the past twelve months.  I’ve appreciated your feedback, your company, and just your presence in my blog because I’ve used it all to help it get better.  Even if you read this everyday but never commented…I can still tell you’ve been here and that means a lot.  My readership has increased every month and it’s thanks to your word of mouth that has helped me get this blog up and running.  Some interesting developments are on the horizon that should make 2013 even more fun for you and me – thank you again for your patronage and keep spreading the news about The MN Movie Man. 

Best Wishes to you and yours for a most Happy New Year!

~Joe (The MN Movie Man)

And now…the Best/Worst/Special Mentions of 2012.  Keep reading all the way to the bottom for a grand total that made me equal parts embarassed and proud.

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5. Moonrise Kingdom – Wes Anderson has been hit or miss for me for his entire career.  For each film I’ve liked there have been two that followed I could barely sit through.  Thankfully, Moonrise Kingdom is one of his best – a richly rewarding work that was as colorfully offbeat as you can be without making a Pee-Wee Herman movie.  Anderson gathered his usual troupe of players, many of whom play against type to wonderful results.  It’s not for everyone but those that like this kind of storytelling will be quite entertained.

4. Silver Linings Playbook – A most unexpected delight from director David O. Russell and an impressive line-up of actors, Silver Linings Playbook was not only one of the best films of the year but also one of the more unpredictable.  It kept changing its course ever so slightly so that you were never quite sure where you were headed.  In a year filled with great performances, the work of Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Bradley Cooper should be dully recognized at Oscar time.

3. End of Watch – You missed this in theaters, didn’t you?  Shame on you!  Though well reviewed, End of Watch has come and gone into your local movie theaters TWICE since it was released in September.  The second release was aimed to give some extra oomph for Oscar voters but it may be all for naught as other higher-profile films drew the audiences that should have made this a priority.  Jake Gyllenhaal gives what may be his best performance along with underrated character actor Michael Pena as they play cops in Los Angeles that get on the very wrong side of a vicious drug ring.  The camera work and direction were excellent but it’s Gyllenhaal and Pena who make the dark drama fire on all cylinders.

2. Skyfall – Sorry Sean Connery but the mantle of “Best James Bond” has officially been passed to Daniel Craig.  The long-awaited return to the screen of 007 was an absolute winner from start to finish.  With a new director on board who was willing to push everyone involved to give their best, most timely work – a different kind of spy adventure emerged.  Add top shelf performances from Craig, Judi Dench, and SAG Award nominee Javier Bardem along with Adele’s (hopefully Oscar nominated) classy/classic theme song and you have all the makings for a film that set the Bond bar quite high.

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild – Though I saw this in mid-July, I’ve been unable to shake some of the passages and performances in Benh Zeitlin’s unique film.  Following a father and daughter in a bayou community as they live with the aftermath of Hurricaine Katrina, the film is pure magic thanks to Zeitlin’s creative script and the one-two punch of actors Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry.  If there is any justice, Wallis will become the youngest Best Actress Oscar nominee in history for her absolutely unforgettable performance.  You may have missed this one in the theaters, but it is available now for home viewing through the usual channels.

Honorable Mentions: The Cabin in the Woods, The Avengers, Les Misérables, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, Looper, Django Unchained

Worst

5. One for the Money – Katherine Heigl blew her chances at a franchise with the total disaster that was One for the Money.  The first of the Stephanie Plum mysteries, this could have been a real game changer for her career but sadly Heigl is not a good enough actress to carry the film anywhere.  Though it may have worked better as a television series, there is still no good reason why Heigl was given the opportunity to bring Plum to life.  Heigl just isn’t a leading lady as her last five films have proven.  She needs to take a long, hard look at what type she is…I’d vote for the bitchy girlfriend supporting role.

4. Mirror Mirror – The first (and worst) of two disappointing Snow White films this year, Mirror Mirror earns its spot on the list by featuring some of the best looking sets/costumes paired with an absolutely abysmal plot and performances.  Though Julia Roberts may have relished playing someone wicked, she doesn’t have the follow through to make it work.  She looks like she’s having a great time…at our expense.  The truly awful one here is Lily Collins as Snow White, hampered by an unfortunate set of bushy eyebrows and a bad habit of letting her mouth hang open whenever she’s not speaking…she makes the fabled heroine seem like an absolute mouth breathing idiot.

3. Magic Mike – I know I’m in the minority on this, but I found Magic Mike to be a piece of crap.  Even with the pedigree of a good (but inconsistent) director and a buzz-worthy cast, the movie went nowhere slowly.  The most interesting thing about the film was in its origins as a loose adaptation of star Channing Tatum’s pre-Hollywood life as a stripper.  Filled with ugly cinematography, a terrible soundtrack of awful music, and more than a few head-scratching developments that didn’t jive, no amount of bared flesh could ultimately save this film from pole dancing onto my Worst of 2012 list.

2. This Is 40 – A late addition to this list but well deserving of the high placement, This Is 40 was the worst comedy I saw in 2012.  Most frustrating was that it featured two very likable stars in a film I described in my review as “a miserable cinematic mallet to the head.”  That the film could feature such funny people and be virtually laugh free is a gigantic achievement.  Director/writer Judd Apatow has once again forgotten that the first step in making an interesting film is to make it, well, interesting.  It’s a dull, sloppy, crude movie that’s 134 minutes of fights about the same thing and observations on married life/aging/raising kids that were funnier on episodes of Home Improvement.

1. The Apparition – Without question, The Apparition is the worst worst Worst of the Worst in 2012.  Seemingly edited by a rotating group of morons that never saw what the other was doing, the film makes no sense and has terrible acting on top of it all!  Twilight star Ashley Greene should be thankful she made some cash on that franchise because her movie career is over.  It’s a film that should never be heard from again…along with everyone that made it.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: American Reunion, The Vow, The Raven, The Three Stooges, Won’t Back Down

Special

Most Misunderstood

John Carter – I still don’t  get why people attacked this film quite the way they did.  I found it to be an enjoyable sci-fi flick that blended some nice elements from adventure serials of the past.  With parts reminding me of the Indiana Jones films and nice performances from Taylor Kitsch (who struggled through Battleship but did good work in Savages in 2012) and Lynn Collins, the film was a critical and financial disaster.  I just don’t get why it was SO bad…I for sure saw worse big budgeted films this year.

Honorable Mention: Jack Reacher

Worth the Wait

Prometheus – A huge Alien fan, I had been looking forward to the semi-prequel Prometheus ever since it was announced nearly two years ago.  Though it left many with questions that didn’t get answered, I found Ridley Scott’s return to the genre he helped redefine (twice, once with Alien and again with Blade Runner) to be an entertaining ride.  Heck, I saw it three times in the theater and would have seen it again had I had the time.

Honorable Mention: The Bourne Legacy, The Dark Knight Rises

Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen But Should:

Cracks

Julia’s Eyes (Los ojos de Julia)

Kill List

Paradise

Taking Chance

The Intouchables (potential Oscar bait!)

Wolfen

GrandClick HERE for a full listing of films

Total Movies Seen in the Theater: 138

Total Movies Seen at Home: 242

Grand Total for 2012 (not couting films seen multiple times): 370

Where I Saw the Most MoviesShowplace ICON (43 in 2012)

Movie Review ~ Django Unchained

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The Facts:

Synopsis: With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Gerald McRaney, Dennis Christopher, Laura Cayouette, M.C. Gainey, Don Johnson, Kerry Washington,

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Rated: R

Running Length: 161 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  If you’re headed into a Tarantino film chances are you are expecting certain mainstays: coarse language, outrageous violence, non-linear storytelling, an eclectic soundtrack, and Samuel L. Jackson.  This holiday season, right in time for Christmas, Tarantino is releasing his latest epic yarn that thankfully gives his audiences/fans exactly what they’ve come for – amped up a few notches.  Django Unchained is one of Tarantino’s most enjoyable films, one that takes the standard spaghetti western and gives it a nice bristle brush scrubbing thanks to an assured bravado most filmmakers today wouldn’t dare to employ.

Beginning in 1858, Tarantino opens his film with slave Django (Foxx) trudging along in chains through a desolate landscape after being sold at auction.  A superlative theme song and the director’s trademark bold titles establish that the movie is operating in a slightly altered reality, though it is set in the heart of a country on the brink of civil war.  This was the age of slavery and the film pulls no punches in how black men and women were treated, painting a fairly revolting picture on the way. 

All hope seems lost for Django until a bounty hunter by the name of Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) waltzes into his life and changes his path from plantation to salvation.  Schultz needs Django to help identify a trio of wanted men…and in exchange he will give him his freedom and a split of the earnings.  When this initial bounty hunt show promise, the men decide to team up for a winter until Django can return to Mississippi and find his wife (Washington). 

The first half of the picture is really a breezy buddy film as Django and Schultz make a killing (har har) tracking down the men that are wanted dead or alive.  In between scenes of gruesome violence/vengeance there are some solid exchanges that Foxx and Waltz work wonders with.  Waltz still shines from his Oscar winning turn in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and returns in another memorable performance here in a role tailor-made for him.  I often find Foxx to be a little overrated but his work as Django is exciting and commendable – starting off as a man with spirit but without hope, you gradually see the life reentering his body as his friendship with Schultz thickens and a reunion with his wife draws nearer. 

It’s about halfway through the movie that things take a curious, but no less interesting, turn as Schultz and Django set their sights on finding the location of Django’s wife Broomhilda von Shaft (just one of the memorable character names  along with Jinglebells Cody, Tennessee Redfish, Chicken Charlie, and Lara Lee Candie-Fitzwilly).  Information comes to them that Broomhilda or “Hildy” is now the property of one Calvin Candie (DiCaprio)…a silver spoon fed plantation owner Django and Schultz must outsmart if they are to save the girl and make it out alive.

The final act of Django Unchained plays out in Candie Land, and it in and of itself could have been expanded into an entire film thanks to some fascinating dialogue from Tarantino, scenes of violence that are both hysterical and horrifying, and a troupe of actors doing some very brave work when you consider their previous film roles.  It’s touchy subject matter but instead of shying away from it, Tarantino encourages all involved (the audience included) to go with it and stay engaged. 

Some early reviews of the film criticized Django Unchained for being too talky and long but I found it to be easier to get through than Inglourious Basterds (which I also liked).  This is probably because the nearly three hour film is episodic in nature so it just has a natural flow from one adventure to another. 

In typical Tarantino fashion, the violence is surreal, stylish, and in your face.  Nearly everyone comes face to face with a bullet at some point and they do one of two things: go quietly or die in screaming agony as the blood drains from them.  It’s gory and grotesque but there’s something definitively cinematic about it that keeps it from feeling too exploitative. 

Though Tarantino packs his film with more recognizable character actors than I’ve seen in any film recently (including Ted Neely – the Jesus Christ Superstar of stage and screen), the leads carry the film with ease.  In addition to the strong work from Waltz and Foxx, you have Washington playing the physically and emotionally taxing role of Django’s wife with beautiful confidence and Johnson as a Colonel Sanders looking plantation owner resisting the urge to be a cartoon.  Johnson in particular has a riotous passage with would-be Klansmen that wind up fighting over the sacks they wear over their head.  It’s a wonderful scene courtesy of Tarantino that gets the audience laughing at the bigoted bickering.

DiCaprio finally figures out the formula to turning in an award-worthy performance: be a supporting player.  Though many have cried foul that DiCaprio hasn’t received the award recognition he deserves over the years, I’d say that he really hasn’t truly earned it in any picture up until this point.  Here, in a large supporting role, he does his best work in ages as a vicious southern brat that has the tables turned on him in royal fashion.

Though much of the pre-release Oscar buzz has been for DiCaprio, I’d argue that the best performance in the film belongs to Jackson as DiCaprio’s head slave.  As slyly evil a character as I’ve seen Jackson play, he goes all out in the vile department without tipping the scales to farce.  I actually didn’t recognize Jackson the first few frames of the film he’s in, but once it sunk in and the audience saw him…it truly was his picture to steal and that’s exactly what he does.  If DiCaprio is to receive an Oscar nomination (as he probably will) here’s hoping that Jackson gets one as well.

The movie has about four endings and as the third hour was approaching I do admit that I was ready for the film to end.  Tarantino just can’t leave well enough alone (or resist a personal and oddball cameo) and while the ending was satisfying and felt right, I also wouldn’t have minded if it had said its goodbye twenty minutes prior.  That may not have worked for some audiences that demand explanation or a true wrap-up…but it would have made the ending of the film feel as special as the proceeding two and a half hours.

Tarantino has done wonders with this genre…turning the Western picture into what he’s called a Southern.  It’s a fast, funny, ferocious affair and it’s either going to send you out of the theater dazed and amazed or dazed and confused.  I thought it was a splendid film for mature audiences and wouldn’t mind putting it on my end of the year Best of lists.