Montag, 28. Januar 2013


Despite some identifiable weaknesses- the usually reliable but here sorely miscast Don Cheadle, the rather ineffective music, an ending that errs just on the side of sentimentality- Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" is an utterly gripping piece of filmmaking with a fantastic original script by John Gatins, which takes one single incident to weave together an addiction drama/character study/morality tale/legal thriller that's intense, human, tremendously satisfying.

Registering every note of the complicated emotions of a deeply flawed character, letting temptation, pride, indignity, guilt, self-hatred all flash through his eyes without vanity or pretension, Denzel Washington hit an absolute home-run with this layered, engaging, powerful lead performance that's worthy of a 3rd Oscar (yes, in my opinion it's even better than DDL's turn as Lincoln).

Samstag, 26. Januar 2013


For audience members unfamiliar with American Civil War history, there will probably be dry patches in Steven Spielberg's elegant, understated, deliberately-paced "Lincoln". In general, the 150-min epic could have gone down better without some of the familial subplots.

With the scene of the passing of the 13th Amendment, however, Spielberg proves he's still the master of populist cinema, here perfectly orchestrating the words of Tony Kushner's meticulous script on a mini-cosmos of politics and media, schemes and deals, morals and convictions, the handsome cinematography by Janusz Kamiński lending every frame a gentle light and emotional angle, and the notes of John Williams' poignant, soothing score to recreate a rousing moment of dramatic tension and monumental gravity that's manipulative but nonetheless inarguably goosebumps-worthy.

Not sure if this amounts to one of Daniel Day-Lewis' best work, but he does manage to disappear thoroughly into one of the best known historical figures of all time and gives an incredibly charismatic performance. Tommy Lee Jones as the outspoken and idealistic congressman Thaddeus Stevens is, for my money, the true scene-stealer.

Dienstag, 22. Januar 2013

Take This Waltz

In the last 20 minutes of "Take This Waltz", the movie changes course quite drastically and diminishes the magnificent, bittersweet swoon left by the 90 minutes that came before considerably.

That said, with the help of the infinitely talented and adorable Michelle Williams and her two brilliantly cast on-screen partners, a splendid visual palette exploding with kaleidoscopic colors, a pop-flavored soundtrack swaying in cheers, sorrows and brittle expectations, and above all the funny, perceptive, honest words penned by writer/director Sarah Polley, we get to see how the most natural attraction between two people develops ever so subtly, innocently, unstoppably, how the flirting, pining, dreaming, despairing blend into a hopeless dance, how love goes about casting its spells and doing its damage all within an hour and a half- and it's a beautiful, heartbreaking thing to see.

Montag, 21. Januar 2013

The Paperboy

It's messy, it's silly, it's outrageously over-the-top and at times eroticized with such abandon you can hardly tell if it's supposed to be repulsive or hilarious. Lee Daniels"The Paperboy" is one of those rare cinematic creatures that really GO there, testing, dancing, flaunting right on the edge of the acceptable, shocking you with a wink of mischief.

While it's definitely not made for everyone, this wild and fabulous concoction of a movie throws fearless performances by Nicole Kidman, Matthew McConaughey, John Cusack, an ample dose of Zac Efron nakedness, lurid photography and a sultry soundtrack dripping with sweat and burning with careless desire all into the mix, coming up with a Southern noir headier than booze and thicker than tar. One could roundly dismiss it as campy farce, but it'd be crazy not to recognize a vision behind all that swampy insanity.

Dienstag, 8. Januar 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

"Zero Dark Thirty" chronicles the CIA's fascinating, decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden and how far a country/ a young woman is willing to go in order to kill one man.

Sculpted by Kathryn Bigelow's muscular direction, Mark Boal's sharp screenwriting and an all-around excellent tech team including some truly tremendous editing work, there's not an ounce of fat on this 157-min beast of a film (well, maybe the raid scene in the last half hour could have been a little tighter but still); Jessica Chastain as Maya is strength, resolve, intelligence, rage all in one, her portrayal of someone spiraling down into desperation and animalistic obsession is blunt, sobering, utterly compelling.

Dienstag, 1. Januar 2013

My Top 10 Movies of 2012

Honorable Mentions (cinematic highlights from movies that did NOT make it to the top of my list):

The cinematography of "Lore" / "白鹿原 (White Deer Plain)" / "Wuthering Heights"
The action sequence "Tsunami" from "The Impossible" / "Manila chase" from "The Bourne Legacy"
The screenplay of "Dans la maison" / "Electrick Children" / "Margaret"

The production design of "Prometheus"
The costume design of "Anna Karenina"
The film music of "Chico & Rita"
The opening sequence of "Holy Motors"

The performance by Ann Dowd as "Sandra" in "Compliance" / Rebel Wilson as "Fat Amy" in "Pitch Perfect" / Charlize Theron as "Mavis" in "Young Adult"
The musical number "Tap Dancing to the Top"  from "The Artist" / "The Sambola! International Dance Craze" from "Damsels in Distress" 
The onscreen couple 楊千樺 & 余文樂 in "春嬌與志明 (Love in the Buff)" / Marion Cotillard & Matthias Schoenaerts in "De rouille et d'os" / Uhm Tae-woong & Han Ga-in; Lee Je-hoon & Bae Suzy in "건축학개론 (Architecture 101)" 

Runners-up (all-around solid movies just missing my top 10), in alphabetical order:

1. "Alps"
2. "Barbara"
3. "觀音山 (Buddha Mountain)"
4. "The Dark Knight Rises"
5. "Hugo"

6. "Looper"
7. "On the Road"
8. "ParaNorman" 
9. "Silver Linings Playbook" 
10. "Skyfall"

And finally, the cream of the crop- out of the 202 movies I saw in 2012 (a personal record!), these are my favorite 10, in alphabetical order:

1. "Amour" (dir. Michael Haneke)

With his trademark austerity and frightening repose, writer/director Michael Haneke created this chamber piece about love and death that's serene, pristine, ruthlessly unsentimental and wrenchingly human. Despite its spacial confines, structural simplicity and thematic universality, this movie is a towering achievement in filmmaking that engrosses, provokes and challenges with quiet authoirty throughout. Emmanuelle Riva's portrayal of a dying pianist traces the cracks spreading across a placid surface and taking over a failing mind with utmost precision and dignity; the pairing of her and fellow acting legend Jean-Louis Trintignant is the stuff film classics are made of. 

2. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (dir. Benh Zeitlin)

Seen through the eyes of a tough and wise 6-year-old, the dangerous, menacing wetland of the American deep south could look so teeming with life and wonder. Played with dazzling fierceness by Quvenzhané Wallis and captured with endless tenderness by debut director Benh Zeitlin, Hushpuppy is cinema's unlikeliest heroine this year, in a movie that is a giant burst of energy and imagination that celebrates home, nature and our bond to the world with such abandon it wants you to hear, smell, feel everything- and it did just that. Sensational in every sense of the word. 

3. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (dir. John Madden)

With John Madden's muted direction and a dutifully by-the-numbers screenplay, this could have been a run-of-the-mill, harmlessly sweet, fish-out-of-water comedy for the elderly. With an ensemble cast from heaven including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Penelope Wilton, however, it was turned into cinematic gold. Watching such a superb group of actors at the top of their game act, react and interact with one another, by turns playfully and gracefully, expressing every nuance on the spectrum of human emotions in the process, is to witness a masterclass in performance and the experience is undeniably moving and inexplicably purging.         

4. "The Cabin in the Woods" (dir. Drew Goddard)

Unabashedly genre and outrageously fun, director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon used their wicked bloodlust and grisly humor to cook up a story that pays hommage to its horror roots and yet yanks up those roots with a twist that's clever, original and just so delicious. While the production value and the acting may not be top-notch, this movie follows its evil masterplan like a well-oiled, slightly crazed machine with deadly efficiency and a cheeky grin. When the tides turn in the third act, literally all hell breaks loose and the ensuing mayhem is a spectacle that's hard to forget. 

5. "Cloud Atlas" (dir. Lana & Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer)

A whiff of new-agey pseudo-zen in its tone? Sure. Does not invite a second sit-through with its 3-hour running time? Probably. Still, this fearless adaptation of David Mitchell's novel by the Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer is the most audacious cinematic endeavor of the year, with a whopping scale that commands attention and demands admiration. The technical aspects of the film, from its epochs-and-genres hopping production design, rich sound and sweeping cinematography, to the smart editing that put all those narrative threads in place, are irreproachable, on top of which is the directors trio who mapped centuries of sorrow and longing and told a tale as old and brutal as time.

6. "In Another Country" (dir. Hong Sang-soo)

With comically broad and brazenly simple strokes, writer/director Hong Sang-soo crafted three episodes of cross-cultural semi-romances with few showy moments and little resounding consequence. And yet these whimsical, strangely philosophical tales, in which a physically unvarnished and emotionally unguarded Isabelle Huppert gives splendid performances as three women stranded in a Korean village, spark with such wonderful spontaneity and a palpable joie de vivre they hook you right in and offer you a version of life scattered with symbols, parallels, repetitions and coincidences that's at once mystifying, invigorating and liberating- auteur cinema at its purest.     

7. "Life of Pi" (dir. Ang Lee)

Adapting Yann Martel's novel for the big screen proved to be too daunting for Hollywood until the incomparably chameleonic Ang Lee came on board. Under his direction, which breaks new grounds in the deployment of 3D technology without compromising the essence of this unlikely survival tale rooted deep in the inner workings of the mind, the movie became a magically immersive experience that overwhelms the senses and credibly questions the notions of faith, reason and storytelling. Some of the images lensed by cinematographer Claudio Miranda and enhanced by the FX-team are so otherworldly beautiful they, like the story itself, soar into mythical realms.         

8. "Oh Boy" (dir. Jan Ole Gerster)

The most delightfully chilled, casually melancholic 85 minutes at the cinema this year were to be had with Niko Fischer, a young guy on a 24-hour odyssey through Berlin searching for a purpose and a cup of coffee in writer/director Jan Ole Gerster's feature film debut. Drunken on a jazzy soundtrack and hazy with smoke and light scorched on brilliant b&w images, this movie scoops you up in its swinging steps and whispers in your ear the angst of not finding a place in life, the comical details of the anonymous everyday, the loneliness and occasional comfort offered by the immense city through an incisively observant script and remarkably varied performances from a cast led by Tom Schilling. The Berliner flair, captured here to a T, is to die for.  

9. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" (dir. Stephen Chbosky)

Of my top 10 selection this year, this is probably the least technically accomplished. The editing and cinematography leave something to be desired and let the fact that it's director Stephen Chbosky's first movie felt. However, Chbosky, who also wrote the original story and the script himself, unsurprisingly nailed the highly complex sense of struggle, elation, panic and confusion inherent to the passage from adolescence to adulthood and etched in his poignant words. Aided by Logan Lerman, who gave a heartbreaking performance as Charlie, he delivered numerous scenes that come from such an honest place they feel profound, timeless, true.      

10. "Tabu" (dir. Miguel Gomes)

This movie unfolds through digging up pieces of memory hidden in the heart of a dying woman and buried in the swamps of colonial Africa. What it uncovers is the age-old story of passion, forbidden love, secrets and betrayal, and yet it does that in such an intense, hypnotic cinematic language the exposed desire, pain and loss seem to melt like heated asphalt and burn right off the celluoid. Distinct in his grand, retro, romantic gestures and bold, poetic aesthetics, director Miguel Gomes made a deliberately paced, gorgeously shot and scored (or left silent) film that's full of contrasts, feverish recollections and earnest displays of emotions; watching it is like dreaming with your eyes open- submerged, surreal, sublime.