Best of 2012

Looks like I picked a good year to start a movie blog! 2012 took people by surprised, a slow burn of a year where it seemed like the quality of film as a whole was bumped up a notch, so it’s tricky to pick just five films I enjoyed the most this year, but I’ll do my best.

1) Beasts of the Southern Wild –While it may get edged out come award season by higher profile films, Hushpuppy (played with a compelling blend of sweetness and rage by newcomer Quvenzhane Wallis) and her home The Bathtub will stay with me for years to come.
2) Moonrise Kingdom- It’s fitting that Wes Anderson’s most mature film would be about two twelve year olds in love. Anderson has found a perfect balance of quirk that makes one excited for what the future has in store for this established auteur.
3) Lincoln- One of our country’s most beloved heroes is given passion and humor with Daniel Day-Lewis delivering the performance to beat this awards season. While focusing only on the last few months of Lincoln’s life, you leave the film feeling like you spent two hours in the president’s presence. While the passing of an amendment seems like a snooze, the script provides a surprising amount of laughs.
4) Sleepwalk with Me- Rising comedy star Mike Birbiglia brings his strength as a storyteller to his first leading role. This very autobiographical story of a struggling comedian trying to balance his relationship and his growing career while battling a severe sleepwalking disorder, is a terrific blend of humor and sadness.
5) Safety Not Guaranteed- The year’s most surprising comedy takes an unexpected take on time travel and boasts a strong cast.
Other strong contenders include Zoe Kazan’s screenwriting debut Ruby Sparks and blockbuster juggernauts like The Avengers and Hunger Games. Keep in mind I haven’t seen Django Unchained, Argo, or Les Miserables, all films I have been greatly looking forward to all year.

Advertisements

A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story is a perfect piece of nostalgia about a boy growing up in the Midwest in 1939/40 who dreams of getting an “official Red Ryder 200 shot carbine-action range-model air rifle” for Christmas despite all the adults in his life insuring him he will shoot his eye out. The film kind of plays more like a television show, with many scenes depicting milestone moments in a child’s life, particularly a child growing up in the Midwest during this time period. The film has become a Christmas staple and I believe this is because it is very relatable, as everyone remembers being in the same predicaments as young Ralphie.
The film was a surprise hit in theaters when released but it has become a Christmas juggernaut mostly due to TBS’ 24-hour airing of the film. You can catch the film 12 different times as it is broadcast around the clock, most likely the network’s way of padding a low ratings day, as most families are probably too busy with holiday festivities to watch much tv. While I used to eagerly look forward to catching it on tv, 24 hours of anything is overkill. I think it has hurt the film’s legacy more than helped it. Part of what makes the film so magical when you first watch it, is that it’s such a surprise and I think having it aired 24 hours straight kills a lot of the spark.
This film is really about growing up, as Ralphie experiences many milestones over the Christmas season. The movie is an adaptation of Jean Shepherd’s short story collection In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash (oddly enough, many of the stories were first published in Playboy) where he recalls his Midwest childhood. Stories that originally took place years apart from each other in the book, happen over the course of a few weeks in the film. Ralphie encounters a lot of hard truths as he straddles childhood and adulthood, the biggest being that his parents were right all along about the air rifle, it is a dangerous toy. I know someone who said Ralphie hurting himself also immediately with the rifle ruined the movie for him. It proved the parents right and that was inexcusable. I see his point, but I have other issues with that twist in the film. Ralphie’s goal is to get the rifle, so the fact that he gets it and then the film keeps going is problematic structurally. While there are still good moments after the receives the rifle (particularly Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant), it all feels a little unnecessary. His goal was achieved, the movie’s over right?
While I will agree this is an important Christmas movie, I this the excessive TBS showings hurts its legacy more than helps it. The film kicked off a nostalgia trend that led to the popular television series The Wonder Years which also used a narrator to dramatize growing up in a simpiler time and crossing over into adulthood. If somehow you’ve managed missing this film after all this time, check it out but I would advise watching it on DVD instead of the televised airings.

It’s a Wonderful Life


George Bailey (James Stewart) has always put the needs of his neighbors’ and town before his own. He dreams of traveling the world, but has always had to put those dreams aside in order to run the town’s building and loan company that his father founded. Without that resource, the town would be taken over by Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), a wealthy businessman who thinks nothing kicking the poor out of their homes. When George’s uncle misplaces a large sum of money, Mr. Potter finally has the leverage to take over the town of Bedford Falls. George is at a loss of what to do, and feels that he is better off to his family and friends dead than alive, because his life insurance policy could make up for some of the lost money. He is then shown how much he has changed the lives of his family and friends, by an angel in need of his wings.
It’s a Wonderful Life was not a holiday staple of my childhood and I didn’t see it until I was in my teens. I knew the general premise because every show on television has done a parody episode. However, I was not expecting George Bailey’s life to suck so much. The guy never got a freaking break! Every milestone was marred by some sort of tragedy. He watches all his friends move on to bigger, better things while he’s trapped in a job he never wanted. It’s like the residents of Bedford Falls got together to systematically kill every one of George’s dreams. No wonder he’s on edge! Until the happy ending, his frustration is a good example of why you can’t live your life for other people.
A lot of people make a big deal about how in the alternative Bedford Falls (aka Pottersville), one of the most horrifying things George encounters is his wife Mary (Donna Reed), who has become a bookish spinster in his absence. Many complain that it’s sexist to suggest that never getting married is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a woman. However, I always had a different take on it. While I am a firm believer that being single is better than being in a bad relationship, I it would be very sad to imagine a world where someone you care about never knew love. Although that doesn’t completely explain what happened to her eyesight.
The element of the movie that always made me the most frustrated was Uncle Billy complete uselessness. I wonder what Clarence would have showed Uncle Billy if he was the one contemplating jumping off the bridge. He not only was the one who lost the money that George needed, he couldn’t even remember how he could have possibly misplaced it. Really, if someone had made the executive decision to ease Uncle Billy out of the business early on, a lot of trouble could have been avoided. The idea that he was allowed to be handling large sums of money is mindboggling. I sadly am left wondering if anything is truly fixed. Will George’s frustrations bubble over again one day? Will Uncle Billy’s bumbling lead to another disaster for the Building & Loan?
While there are many reasons this film is a classic, there’s also many reasons this movie would never be made today. It’s very much a film of its time and I think that’s why it remains a holiday staple. I think when we think of Christmas, we mentally all go back to a town like Bedford Falls, where friendship is worth more than gold.

Elf

Every year there is a flood of new Christmas movies (mostly on cable but one or two will be theatrical releases) but a new classic will only emerge every five or ten years and, in my opinion, Elf is one of those new classics. Ferrell changes up his screen image as the lovable and innocent Buddy, and filmmaker Jon Favreau does an excellent job of keeping the comedy kid friendly, yet clever enough for adults.
Buddy (Will Ferrell) was raised by elves, after sneaking into Santa’s sack as a baby. Despite his obvious difference in appearance, Buddy never questions his status as one of Santa’s elves, until he overhears dome elves discussing it. He learns his real father lives in New York City and isn’t the greatest of guys. Buddy sets off to the Big Apple and quickly finds his dad, Walter (James Caan), who never knew Buddy ever existed and is skeptical of his story at first. Buddy does not give up or let his spirits damper, but he does get a job working in the toy department of a local department store where he meets the cynical but beautiful Jovie (Zooey Deschanel).
Ferrell was a break-out star when he was a Saturday Night Live cast member but, true confession, he was never one of my favorites. I found many of his characters a little too weird or manic. His transition to the big screen wasn’t the smoothest but Elf was his first starring role and was radically different than anything we had seen him in. One thing Ferrell is known for is his angry outbursts. His fellow SNL castmates always said it was always great to see the mildmannered Ferrell erupt in rage. However, I find this side of him uncomfortable. I much prefer when he plays the man-child. As Buddy, he sees the world in absolute wonder and is completely charming. While Buddy is childlike, he isn’t the buffoon Adam Sandler specializes in. While there is only so many scenarios this type of character can find himself in, this will always be my preferred role for him.
This film also marks most people’s first look at Zooey Deschanel who has since become everyone’s favorite manic pixy dream girl. This also was the first showcase for her singing voice and she has now recorded albums as part of the group She & Him. It’s hard to tell what path her career would have taken had she not done this film.
Some say the film has a strong beginning and middle but falters in the last act. I wouldn’t completely disagree. Buddy having to come to Santa’s rescue against the naughty Central Park police horses doesn’t seem to fit the tone of the rest of the movie. Also, everyone singing to save Christmas is a little tv movie. I think the issue does lie in the first two acts. There’s not a lot of action. It’s very much a fish out of water story, with Buddy finding himself in a variety of foreign situations, that doesn’t allow for a very dramatic climax. However, the wonder of the first two acts and Ferrell performance is enough to make you look past the somewhat weak ending. A great pick to share with the family.

Home Alone


When I was six years old, I thought Home Alone was the funniest movie ever made. It was the first movie I ever saw multiple times in the theaters and I even wrote about the scene where Kevin burns his face with the aftershave, for a class assignment. We got the VHS as soon as it came out but by the time the sequel came out, my interest had waned. I not only didn’t see Home Alone II in the theater, the VHS was gifted to me by a relative and I didn’t even remove the plastic for a year. I don’t know exactly what happened. I would still watch both Culkin films when I caught them on tv but I didn’t really sit down and watch it again until I was an adult and I was shocked to see how well it held up. Any plotholes I could dream up were covered. Everything is so intricately plotted you can just sit back and enjoy the hilarity.
The McCallisters are preparing for a family Christmas trip to Paris. The family is packed with cousins and other relatives and Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is upset that they aren’t having Christmas at home. The last straw is when the family eats the last of his precious cheese pizza and he is sent to the attic to go to sleep without dinner. As the family sleeps, a tree falls on the power lines, causing them to lose electricity and oversleep. In the rush to catch the plane, the family forgets to wake Kevin and a nosey neighbor boy gets mistaken for Kevin in all the craziness. It isn’t until they are in the air does his mother (Catherine O’Hara) piece together what happened. Kevin, however, does not question his family’s absence and assumes that his wish to not have a family anymore has been granted. He enjoys his time alone as his family frantically tries to get back to him as quickly as possible. However, two thieves have been casing his neighborhood and when they realize it is just Kevin, the plot to rob the house. Kevin gets wind of this and prepares the house for their invasion.
It’s funny that this film is mostly known for such a small portion of its plotline. Everyone remembers how this little boy tortured a dastardly duo (played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), but that really only covers the act three of the close to two hour long movie. While Kevin has to outsmart the bad guys a bit in act two, almost everything people remember of this film happens at the end. So much crafting went into the story so that in the end everything made sense and had happen the way it did.
Rewatching this as an adult gave me new appreciate for the little wonder that was Macaulay Culkin. He really was one of the most perfect child actors of all-time. Everything out of his mouth is incredibly charming, even when he’s being a total brat. Recently found out that his line “Are you giving up, or are you thirsty for more?” was an ad lib. Amazing. Culkin has had his up and downs post-Home Alone but I hope he is able to gives a few more great performances in the future.
If you grew up with this movie and haven’t seen it in awhile, do yourself a favor and pour yourself some egg nog and let the memories flood back to you. There are some really great moments in this Christmas classic.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is probably one of the most told stories of all-time. Most people could probably repeat the tale in their sleep. Ebenezer Scrooge is a greedy, bitter man who hates Christmas until three spirits show him the error of his ways and show him where his current path will lead him. There have been big-screen adaptations and every beloved animated character has had their own spin on the story. While some play it straight (Mickey’s Christmas Carol, the Looney Tune version), others like to add a new twist to it (Scrooge), but, in my opinion, the best adaptation is The Muppet Christmas Carol, which faithfully tells the Dickens tale, while throwing in some modern humor to keep things from getting stale.
Gonzo plays Charles Dickens who narrates the story with the help of Rizzo the Rat who is there basically to give Gonzo someone to crack jokes with. When I was a kid, I thought these two were the funniest comedians on the planet, and they are still pretty amusing to watch. The whole film is great at being family friendly without getting stupid or going blue. More often than not, children’s films are either idiotic to remain inoffensive or they throw in some mature humor in order to keep the parents entertained. While, all your favorite Muppets are cast throughout (Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as his wife, Fozzie is Fozziwig- Scrooge’s first boss), human actors are also featured, particularly Ebenezer himself (a perfectly cast Michael Caine) and his nephew Fred. Caine does great work with the character. I like how he is able to slowly change as he meets the spirits. You see his start to thaw as he’s cracking jokes with the Ghost of Christmas Present, instead of a total turn around once he sees his grave. There was tremendous restraint showed by the writers who didn’t do much to Muppet-up the classic. While there’s a few hints of the familiar characters (Fozziwig owning a rubber chicken factory), it’s very straight adaptation. The personalities are there, but they don’t take over. Also, not having anyone from the main troop of Muppets play the spirits is an interesting move that allows the story and the filmmakers’ creativity to shine.
Growing up with the VHS, I am very familiar with the song “When Love is Gone”, which was not included in the theatrical release. It is sung by Scrooge’s former finance as she ends their relationship (on Christmas Eve) and a heartbroken Caine sings along. This song is a total pace killer, especially for kids, however, when I watched the theatrical version on the DVD, the song’s absence was noticeable, with Rizzo and Scrooge’s tearful reaction to the fiancé’s departure felt unearned. While it’s not my favorite part of the movie, it’s definitely supposed to be there.
If you’ve somehow managed to miss this one, I would definitely recommend watching it this holiday season. It really is a stand out among Christmas Carol adaptation and Muppet movies. It was truly a bright spot for the franchise in the years after Jim Henson’s death. This is a must watch every year in my home.

Sabrina


Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) is a shy chauffer’s daughter who has grown up watching the family her father works for from afar and falling in love with David (William Holden) the family’s playboy youngest son. She is encouraged to attend culinary school in Paris, where her father hopes she will get over her unrealistic crush. While Sabrina returns a refined young woman, she is more determined than ever to win over David, even though his wedding is only days away. The family enlists his older brother, the work-driven Linus (Humphrey Bogart), to keep Sabrina away from David, as a broken engagement could spoil an important deal for the family business. Unexpectantly, Sabrina and Linus fall for one another and Sabrina must choose between the two brothers.
Because I am brunette lady who likes old movies, everyone assumes I must love Audrey Hepburn. This has led me being gifted a lot of Audrey Hepburn related stuff, which has led to even more people assuming I love her and therefore giving me more memorabilia. To tell the truth, I think she’s ok. She was very beautiful, but her work and life has never captivated me like Marilyn Monroe or that other Hepburn, the great Miss Kate. I think my issue with her lies in the roles she chose. Her most famous character, Holly Golightly, is a step above a prostitute and she frequently starred opposite male leads who were old enough to be her father. Her turn as the titular Sabrina was also hard for me to get invested in because I couldn’t see what she saw in David in the first place and found her determination to win him over, despite his pending marriage a bit distasteful.
Sabrina also goes into my list of classic films that have surprisingly dark elements to them. We tend to think that films of this era were happier, less cynical, but it’s surprising how often suicide pops up in them. Think about it: Jimmy Stewart is totally going to kill himself in It’s A Wonderful Life. In The Apartment, both Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon have brushes with suicidal tendencies. And in Sabrina Hepburn and Bogart share thwarted attempts to take their lives and love gone wrong. It’s kind of amazing anyone makes it out alive in these movies. There is also the running theme of women being used in business dealings. David’s fiancé seems very sweet but she is nothing more to David than a way to keep the family off his back. His instantaneous infatuation for Sabrina (while he didn’t even recognize her after knowing her, her entire life) makes you question how much time would pass before he strayed from her as well. Also, Linus initial courting is an act of a manipulation to ensure business goes the way he wants, though he does seem to be taken by her. So at best, he uses his place in the family to steal his brother’s new toy away.
While the film is a classic and stars some Hollywood’s biggest powerhouses, I found it a bit too seedy for my liking. And they made Mr. Cool himself, Humphrey Bogart, look like a fool in a college outfit thirty years too young for him. For shame, movie, for shame!