There’s an odd connection between actual aspiring writers and movies centered on writers that’s tough to pinpoint. Ruby Sparks is like a vision coming into physical reality for writers, with a character transforming into something anyone else can see, touch and feel. The initial promise of such a premise is taken in the directions you’d expect, before taking some surprisingly dark turns. But fellow fictional writers will know that sometimes to truly understand your characters, you’ll have to put them through the worst possible hell. It is, to borrow from another certain 2012 release, “a necessary evil.” Ruby Sparks is, at the very least, compelling and leaves a relatively strong impression. Things do end up a little to conveniently resolved, but given the road taken, such an ending can feel all the more rewarding.
The Expendables 2
Times at the cinema would be so much better if films like The Expendables 2 were easier to pick out. Like its predecessor, this is a perfect break and escape from reality. No, the film isn’t fantastical, but it’s a hell of a great time, suspending you amidst ridiculous action and one-linters. While other cheap, campy B-grade action movies do little but bore, The Expendables 2 entertains and entertains and entertains. There’s little serious merit here, but the fact you have so fun watching it the first time around makes everything else irrelevant.
Lawless didn’t fear showing a generally grisly side to Prohibition-era America, which is showcased in a scene that makes me queasy upon the slightest recollection. There are a number of ways to generically label Lawless, ranging from Tom Hardy’s Post-Bane Role to Wait, Shia LaBeouf Has Acting Capabilities? Being one of the few non-haters of the latter actor, even I think he’s outclassed and generally unfit for such a role. Thankfully, he’s not misplaced to the point of say, Josh Hutcherson in The Hunger Games, while every other performance from Tom Hardy to Jessica Chastain and Guy Pearce is spot-on. It’s just a shame we only get two scenes with Gary Oldman, who completely owns both and shows us a side to Jim Gordon we might’ve forgotten after The Dark Knight Rises.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
It’s not every day–or even every year–I can call a film truly resonant with how I generally feel, but The Perks of Being a Wallflower managed to be such a film. Shame it was a bit of a sleeper, though. This is a film equally earnest and honest, working better than it probably should thanks to how relatable and irresistible the characters are. Even Paul Rudd, amounting to a simply sympathetic teacher, manages to bring us into the film more because his scenes with Logan Lerman work so well. Sometimes comedic, other times seriously dramatic, but always enthralling, The Perks of Being a Wallflower more than earns a personal favorite mark from yours truly.
Looper was definitely one of the more highly touted films of 2012. Many people seemed to think it would be the next “it” thing for science fiction action thrillers, with big comparisons being made to Inception. The film met with almost universal acclaim but seems to have become little more than a dud on the windshield. While this is a bit of a shame, the film does have, at its core, some very potential shortcomings. To be fair, like Philip K. Dick’s works, most of these issues stem from the film’s deliberate approach to pose ideas without completely fleshing them out. It becomes a bit of a backdrop to the story, rather than a consistently integral part. Some say this works to the film’s strength, I say this is a story that belongs in novel form rather than on the big screen. Don’t get me wrong, Looper is a very solid film in its own regards, it’s just many of the paths taken are unexpected in a way that necessarily fit. For much of the second half I forgot we were in the future, or even an alternate reality. This isn’t a movie you watch for spectacle or visions of another world, it’s a movie you watch for its surprisingly down-to-earth story with alternating thrills and drama.
In my original review of Argo, I mentioned that while a good piece of filmmaking, it’s not one I’d have honored with several Oscar nominations. It seems the Academy felt surprisingly similar notions, except they got a couple things mixed up. Give Ben Affleck the Best Director nom and possibly retract its Best Picture nomination, along with Alan Arkin, despite being one of the best parts of the film. But I digress. Argo had a lot to live up to in my books since I’m a huge fan of The Town. Ben Affleck has a thing about surprising many of us, which is very welcoming. For a film with so many characters and a rather forgiving runtime, Argo feels surprisingly whole and complete. Outside of Victor Garber, I think everyone was sufficiently developed. The plot is expansive in some ways, but the actual story at-hand is very focused. Not to mention we get possibly the more intense final act of any film from 2012 in Argo, which isn’t in, how do you say, a bang-bang boom-boom kind of way. Far from my top pick of the year, but definitely one of the most well made releases.
I can already hear the boos coming on this one: I’m not a James Bond fan. The whole spy movie genre is a bit elusive to me, but I can set things aside to enjoy them if I so desire. Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007 in Casino Royale does hold up as what you could call a good movie that just happened to be associated with James Bond. Quantum of Solace, on the other hand, was about as solid as the T-1000 at the end of Terminator 2. Thankfully, Skyfall brought integrity back and offered a few eye-catching surprises along the way. This is still very much a Bond film with some hard-boiled action/thriller elements pushing their way in for the final act. Skyfall doesn’t transcend or turn its back on its faith, which means fans of the series will still get the most out of it.
I’m trying to remember if Denzel Washington has ever given a subpar performance, much less been in a bad film. He’s able to easily outclass the best actors Hollywood has to offer and, go figure, his only Academy Award isn’t for one of his top-notch performances. We can now add Flight to his almost intimidating resume, in which his character goes through so much in its accurate portrayal that it could be labeled synonymous with gripping tragedy. Without giving anything away, the ending is a bit of a buzzkill and makes what comes off as a long, hard journey abruptly hit some sort of a roundabout. Still, even for such a good year, you’re not going find many films with a lead performances that commands and demands as much Denzel does here.
I can remember seeing the trailers for Wreck-It Ralph and thinking “whatever, just get Pixar out of their slump already!” Then the film’s style brought comparisons to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and I suddenly grew intrigued. Said film is among my favorites and one that I enjoy even more with subsequent viewings. I can’t see Wreck-It Ralph achieving the same effect, but it was surprisingly fun, enjoyable and one I’d be all for seeing again and again.
We had quite a few Oscar bait films this year and Lincoln shamelessly abides the criteria. If there’s any surprise we’re thrown it’s the amount of comedy, usually courtesy of Tommy Lee Jones. Obviously an actor like Daniel Day Lewis brings the iconic personality we think of when we imagine Lincoln, though it can definitely become overbearing. I must reiterate that this performance is literally 50% elaborate storytelling. No, this is hardly a deal-breaker and, in the hands of Steven Spielberg, we have a nicely handled and borderline immaculate film. The only downside is it isn’t the year’s most compelling release since it takes about as much chances as I do with the ladies.
Silving Linings Playbook
This is the movie that actually drove me to travel nearly an hour away just to see what the hype was about. I’m a bit of a sucker for rom-com/dramedies since, when handled well, they strike me like few others. Two hours of watching and cumulative driving later and I can easily say that it was a wait and trip well spent. Silver Linings Playbook hits the dysfunctional character note like so few movies and the results are pure bliss. Comedy and drama run equally high and effectively with no weak links. Silver Linings Playbook is tough to describe and justify, but if I had to sum it up, I’d say go see the movie and experience it yourself. Even if it doesn’t crack your top movies of the year, it’s guaranteed to be among the most entertaining and rewarding.
Life of Pi
A scene from Life of Pi showed before a screening of Prometheus and my reaction was, to quote my friend, “so confused.” That scene was literally all I caught of the film before deciding to eventually see a 3D screening. I always feel uneasy when thinking Ang Lee since I just can’t separate that name from 2003’s Hulk, a film that continues to leave a repugnant taste in my mouth. But rest assured, Life of Pi is no Hulk. Life of Pi is one of the most beautiful, fascinating, well directed and edited films of 2012, bringing an odd story to light that keeps us riveted, regardless of whatever crazy direction it might take. One pleasant surprise is the ending, which avoids the happy Hollywood archetype but doesn’t take the slummy road either. Simply put, Life of Pi is a wondrous piece of work and a movie I can’t wait to experience again from the moment it comes out on Blu-ray.
Killing Them Softly
I had my eye on Killing Them Softly for a few months, though shortly after I saw the summertime trailer it drifted off and became but a distant memory. It’s fitting then, that the film itself will likely suffer the same fate as its previews. Killing Them Softly certainly isn’t a bad film, it’s just a bit of a drag and feels too incomplete for its own good. This is really a film that I thought was good for killing time, it’s just I wish it had been done with a better, more investible and worthwhile piece.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The whole idea of splitting film adaptations into multiple releases is just weird. Monetary reasons aside, it kind of defeats the point of having an adaptation in the first place. Typically a film adaptation is used to give us the short, sweet and entertaining version of a story. If we’re lucky, we’ll occasionally get some good twists, but it’s often just the motion picture equivalent to spark notes. So the fact we’re getting nearly 10 hours for a book that’s less than 400 pages is really just overkill. Now, taken in its own regards, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a conflicted and inconsistent film. It’s tough for me to tell whether the film wants to be a comedy or fantasy drama. Even during its most serious moments, I kept thinking “is anyone on our side going do die?” Granted, that’s probably the way the book is, but it cut back on the sense of urgency that The Lord of the Rings had. That, I think, is a key reason this semi-adaptation of The Hobbit falters, in spite of retaining some laughs, entertainment and occasional majesty.
Tarantino is a very inconsistent director with me. I liked but didn’t care much for Reservoir Dogs; Pulp Fiction is, as we all know, a classic; Inglourious Basterds did what I thought no Tarantino movie would do in boring me; and Kill Bill just never appealed to me, hence why I haven’t bothered with them. While I figured I’d enjoy Django Unchained based on the trailers, I was completely unprepared for the unrivaled level of entertainment I got out of it. If Django Unchained is simply entertaining, then Silver Linings Playbook is a snorefest. Now, if we break the film apart there are points that can be criticized, but there’s so much fun and enjoyment to be had that any shortcomings quickly become irrelevant. A true crowd pleaser, Django Unchained can definitely earn more than a couple wholesome theatrical viewings.
And finally we have 2012’s last impression according to release date (and alphabetical order): Les Miserables. I’ve gone on to call Les Miserables the most frustrating film of 2012 because of how much I wanted to enjoy and be soaked into its story, only to be let down at almost every corner. Detachment, spontaneity and weariness are how I’d describe the adaptation we’re afforded, which only accomplishes the visual class of Hooper’s previous effort, The King’s Speech. I’d want to give the film another chance down the line, but one sitting was laborious enough.