Thursday, November 15, 2012

My 8 Favorite Films of the Past 6 Months -- Plus Bonus Material

I've been a bad blogger lately -- there continues to be a little too much crazy in my life. :-) I'll confess this is my cheap way of publishing something new by lifting stuff from old posts. 

We've been blogging at this site for almost 6 months, plus -- of course -- we moved over lots of reviews from our old blogs. This seemed like a good time to post my favorites among the movies I've watched, for the first time, in the past 6 months.

Is one's identity a fixed thing? Or can we evolve into someone entirely new?

8. Boy A (2007)

This adaptation of Jonathan Trigell's novel tells the story of "Jack" a young man who, as a young boy, committed a despicable crime. Now, seeming too young and innocent for his age, he's making a tentative re-entry into society.  This film looks at personal identity, the struggle for redemption, and the damaging effects of trial-by-media.

Andrew Garfield nails it in the role of Jack. Katie Lyons is terrific as his passionate, kind-hearted girlfriend. And Peter Mullen is unforgettable as Terry, the dedicated, caring, and flawed rehabilitation worker, seeking validation for himself -- and perhaps redemption for his damaged relationship with his own son -- through his work. I'll admit there was a moment when I felt manipulated by the movie. Nevertheless, I found it heart-wrenching, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about the story and characters.

By the way, the novel is even better.

The film that, had I seen it 20 years earlier, might've put me off having kids.

7. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2012)

Eva Khatchadourian (Tilda Swinton) is unforgettable as the mother of Kevin, a high school student who, at age 15, took the lives of some of his classmates. Treated as a pariah by the community and in greatly reduced financial circumstances, Eva accepts a job with a small travel agency. As she goes through her quotidian routines, she is treated with rage or contempt everywhere she goes. Even a simple trip to the grocery store becomes a humiliating ordeal.

The story we see on screen is almost a stream of consciousness, shifting back and forth in time. We see her in the present, going through the motions of living and enduring silent visits with Kevin in the juvenile detention facility. We catch glimpses of happier times, before she and her husband had children, snippets of the incident at the high school which crushed so many lives, and a jumble of memories of her life with Kevin, from conception through adolescence. 

One of the things that impressed me the most was how this film told a story through Eva's eyes -- a story that seems crystal-clear and, at the same time, dangerously skewed. Her baby, who is not meeting developmental milestones, looks at her with cold defiance and malice. Without a word needing to be spoken, we come to question Eva's reliability as a narrator and her mental status. Yet where is the line between what's true and what's delusional? We never know for sure.

Early recovery is often more agonizing than addiction.

6. Oslo, August 31 (2011)

This film gives us a glimpse into one day in the life of Anders, a drug addict venturing out into the world, for the first time, since being in a residential treatment program. There is a wonderful dialogue, early in the movie, in which he's confiding his regret, rage, and sense of futility to a friend. However, this is a film in which as much -- if not more -- is conveyed in moments of silence.

There is a magnificent scene, about halfway through the movie, in which Anders is sitting alone in a coffee shop. He is keenly aware of the people around him, absorbing snippets of conversation. He is surrounded by strangers chatting about their relationships and random details of quotidian life -- one young woman shares a list of hopes and plans for her future. In the midst of all this, Anders is silent and alone, imaginatively getting glimpses of other people's lives. His facial expressions and body language are fairly subtle, yet -- aided by the brilliant cinematography in this scene -- they speak volumes. His isolation and sense of hopelessness are harrowing.

In a cast full of wonderful actors, she stole the show.

5. Pariah (2011)

Alike is an exceptionally bright and creative teen and a closeted lesbian . She is somewhat shy and reserved but has a smile that could light up a room. Our first glimpse of her is memorable. Instead of a camera zooming in on her, we see a tight shot of her back and face. This sets the tone for the movie. It's very intimate and real. I found myself feeling as if I were in Alike's skin, and when she was hurting, I had knots in my stomach.

The character development is exceptionally nuanced. This film also speaks volumes about adolescence. The urgent search for sexual expression coming up against naivety and fear. The desire for uniqueness and rebellion versus the need to hide or conform. The continually shifting relationships with parents and peers, the search for love, and the constant yearning.

Do you ever have a REALLY bad day at work?

4. Traffic (2000)

This film looks at the "war on drugs" from various angles -- we see politicians, drug enforcement officers, dealers, users, and addicts. At times, the message, that drug enforcement isn't the answer, is delivered with all the subtlety of a hammer to the face.
Nevertheless, I fell in love with it. Realistic dialogue, phenomenal acting, and a style of cinematography that often reminded me of news footage or a documentary made virtually every part of this film seem natural and real. Yet at the same time, it was slickly plotted like a thriller. This seems like an unlikely marriage, but these filmmakers deftly pulled it off.

This is partly because of the thriller-like plotting and pacing and partly because of the rich character development. In a movie with only a few "good guys," who are wonderfully flawed, all the main characters -- including those who are morally repugnant -- are multidimensional and fully human.

This is also the movie that made me appreciate Benecio del Toro, Michael Douglas, and Don Cheadle. They REALLY hit it out of the ballpark.

"This is Hell ... right in here."

3. 21 Grams (2003)

A cleverly crafted non-chronological storyline and phenomenal dialogue and acting make this movie difficult to look away from. Paul (Sean Penn) is a desperately ill math teacher. Cristina (Naomi Watts) is a happily married recovering addict. Jack (Benecio de Toro) is an ex-convict turned evangelical Christian. Their lives come together in a bizarre way.

All three leading actors were magnificent, but for me, the stand-out performance was by Benecio del Toro. His new-found faith is passionate but paper-thin. Right from the beginning, even before the plot thickens, we can feel the desperation and rage seeping out from under the surface -- he scares me. At the same time, he has tremendous heart. I don't know how he pulls off developing this intense, contradictory character, but he nails it.

Sometimes, when whacking zombies, what you need is a big-ass bong.

2. The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

The Cabin in the Woods doesn't stop at playing with its genre. Like a predator with its prey, the film toys with the material for a while before ripping it apart. In doing so, it creates something entirely new.

More importantly, it's a unique, imaginative, funny movie featuring intelligent dialogue and magnificent storytelling.  There's also enough gore to satisfy viewers who count slasher flicks among their guilty pleasures.  It's definitely one of the most original, entertaining movies I've seen in recent memory.

The most jarring moment of lost innocence I've ever seen.

1. Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)

This is Louis Malle's autobiographical film about growing up during the German occupation of France in World War II. It's a beautiful movie of war seen through the eyes of a child, coming of age, friendship, innocent betrayal, guilt, and regret. I highly recommend it for the rich, flawless storytelling, the gorgeous cinematography, the history, and the portrayal of human experience, which is so real without being sentimentalized or made overly dramatic.

Least Favorite Movies I've Seen in the Past Six Months:

"Jesus, Frank, you look like fuck pie."

God Bless America (2012)

Divorced, unemployed, estranged from his insanely spoiled young daughter, and possibly terminally ill, Frank has a lot of repressed rage. Unable to shake his depression and lethargy, he spends his time in front of the television. Inundated with abrasive talk show pundits, church members dedicated to a gospel of hate, and atrocious reality T.V., Frank becomes increasingly disgusted with the downward spiral of America.

Having nothing to lose, Frank takes his gun and sets off on a mission to whack the stupidest, cruelest, and most obnoxious members of society. Sixteen-year-old Roxy, another angry loner, becomes his sidekick.

I just didn't feel this film worked, either as a comedy or a drama. It wasn't funny enough to carry its weight as a comedy, but it was too bent to work on a serious level, either. My husband and daughter, on the other hand, loved it. To each his own.

Joseph Levitt-Gordon's character gets his ass kicked. A lot.

Brick (2005)

Many viewers enjoyed this pastiche of thriller, film noir, and high school movie, but it didn't work for me.

To be fair, this is very different in style from the types of movies I typically enjoy, and I am probably much older than the target audience for this film. I stand by my opinion, but your mileage may vary. :-)

In this movie, a high school is a self-contained world. Dirty deals are done in Mom's basement, students hide a body, without contacting police, and the person to whom you deliver criminal evidence is the vice principal. This was further than I was willing or able to suspend disbelief. The movie was shaped in the form of a film noir, and the style seemed to fit that vision. For me, however, it came across as formulaic, predictable, and rather flat, with stilted dialogue. And aside from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emilie de Ravin, I found the acting underwhelming.

On the other hand, I thought it was well-crafted, with skillful cinematography. While I didn't particularly like this Joseph Gordon-Levitt role, I did appreciate his acting skill. I can see why many viewers enjoyed this movie.

Most Fucked Up Movie I've Seen in the Past Six Months:

Sometimes an ATM card just won't do.

American Psycho

What makes this novel and film work is the dark, twisted satire. Even if the protagonist weren't a whack job and a serial killer, we'd loathe him because he's just such a shallow, misogynistic, soulless prick. I think it's really a story about the different shades of evil.

The movie is downright tame compared to the book, but it's still wholly fucked up. And if Patrick Bateman doesn't murder and mutilate you with his impressive collection of power tools, he'll bore you to death prattling on about 80s music and hair care products. You almost wonder if a chainsaw would be more painless.


  1. Nice List !! Love Traffic, 21 Grams. It's really depressing but really good. Good to see Oslo and Cabin in the list as well. I still have to see American Psycho though.

    1. Thanks! Traffic and 21 Grams are pretty grim, but I loved them.

      American Psycho is a different kind of movie. :-) Definitely not for everybody. But I ended up liking it, and the novel from which it was adapted, a lot more than I would've expected to.

  2. Predictably, I have watched exactly zero of those :P I love that you blog so much about movies, because for years I tried to look for a good movie blog without success. Now I'm getting all sorts of recommendations from you, and I really appreciate that.

    1. Well, we know we have somewhat similar tastes in films since we both love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. ;-)

      It took me a while to find movie blogs I like as much as the book blogs I've been following off and on for years. When I did, I discovered a treasure trove. I should post a blogroll, shouldn't I? :-)

  3. What a great list! I've seen them all except Oslo, August 31st, God Bless America and Au Revoir Les Enfants. I think Boy A might be Garfield's best performance. I love We Need To Talk About Kevin, Brick, and Pariah as well. Very powerful films.

    1. I seem to be in a small minority in not liking Brick. I can see the appeal, even though it didn't work for me. I absolutely agree about Boy A being Garfield's best performance.

      I hope you will see Oslo and Au Revoir Les Enfants! :-)

  4. Great list! Surprised to see The Cabin in the Woods so high. Though, I think you mentioned that it might be the best 2012 film you've seen, so that makes sense. ;)

    1. Thanks. :-) The Cabin in the Woods may not be on a par with a movie like Au Revoir Les Enfants, but for what it was, I loved it. And I appreciated the fact that it surprised me. Plus I have an unreasonable love of Joss Whedon due to being one of those crazy Firefly/Serenity fans.

  5. Very cool list, though it makes me feel like an uncultured jerk. That's entirely true, but reminding me of it? Not cool. sister swears by Brick. She's 21. I'm not.

    I really want to see We Need to talk about Kevin. I'm not a big Swinton fan, though I loved her Moonrise Kingdom. Goodness, I'm rambling like I'm on my won blog.

    1. You are too funny! Seriously though, what's so "cultured" about this list? I just watch the stuff I like, same as everyone else. ;-) Some of it's kinda "high brow," some not so much.

      We Need to Talk About Kevin seems to be one of those love/hate films -- some people think it's brilliant, others don't see the point. I was very impressed with it, but it's a very grim movie.

      And I lovely rambly comments!

  6. Great round up list, I still have to read We Need to Talk About Kevin and American Psycho too.
    I'll have to check out 21 Grams, I do like Benecio de Toro.
    Enjoy your weekend ;)

    1. I hope you like 21 Grams, Naida. It's grim but beautifully acted and compelling.

  7. nice list...I usually do my list at the end of the year.

    I haven't seen American Psycho yet but many said it's quite good.

    I am putting Cabin In The Wood on my to watch list.

    1. A list at the end of the year makes more sense, but I won't be organized enough -- around that time -- to do that. ;-) I hope you enjoy Cabin in the Woods.

  8. Must see a few of these judging by your taste and choices here. The ones I have seen are excellent. Many more I must check out! Especially Boy A and Oslo, August 31


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