The Top Films of 2012 (Take 3)

The Night of the Living Oscars is almost upon us, which means it’s time for film buffs everywhere to make lists and make desperate attempts to compare apples to oranges in order to decide which one goes where. My attempts are as follows:

The Top 10 Films of 2012:

10. The Raid: Redemption
This is the Tony Jaa film with no Tony Jaa, and I wish that Ong Bak 2 & 3 had been anywhere near as good as The Raid. With a similar setup to Dredd, involving a multi-storied building on lockdown while hordes of tenants fight our protagonists, The Raid has excellent fight choreography that is creative, rapid-paced, and as is essential for a martial-arts action film, in plentiful supply. The Raid doesn’t bog itself down trying to make the story any more than it needs to be; it doesn’t feel tacked on but it doesn’t overburden the rest of the film and take away from the action either. A solid piece of adrenaline-laced action filmmaking.

9. The Grey
A sobering story about a man who has nothing to live for fighting to survive in the harsh Alaskan wilderness, The Grey isn’t just a film about the struggle against the natural world, but a personal look at a man’s conviction in the face of death, despite the pain and sadness in his past. Liam Neeson shows some real acting chops here, and seems to really delve into the role instead of going through the motions. What could have been a by-the-numbers survival story digs a little deeper and the result is powerful.

8. God Bless America
Perhaps it’s the cynical asshole in me, but throughout almost all of God Bless America I had a smile plastered across my face. With his death looming over his day-to-day suffering, Frank (Joel Murray) decides to cleanse the world of modern society’s shortcomings. Watching Joel Murray do what we have thought about once or twice in our darker moments is almost cathartic, and the entire film has a biting wit to go with the carnage that it portrays. Dark comedies, such as the work of Todd Solondz, never seem to get much exposure; perhaps because they sometimes strike a little too close to home. God Bless America fits the genre perfectly by making you want to laugh and despair at the same time.

7. Cloud Atlas
The Wachowski’s & Tom Tykwer’s brazenly ambitious Cloud Atlas is a film I kept thinking about for days. At first it was almost difficult to keep up with the many stories running concurrently, but the film quickly settles into a rhythm, and it’s an impressive sight to behold. Each arc goes through the build up and climax of their story simultaneously, with actors playing multiple characters at different points in time, all the while different key elements of one story will have an effect on another that takes place later in time. Some elements aren’t even central to the plot, but when you notice that the buttons stolen by one character are now a necklace worn by his descendant in the far-flung future, it’s a nice touch. Cloud Atlas is a multilayered epic that deserves multiple viewings.

6. Prometheus
As a long-time fan of the Alien franchise, this was easily my most-anticipated film of 2012. The original director my personal favorite, Alien (1979), returning to create a prequel that delves into the origins of the Xenomorphs? Yes, please and thank you. Prometheus, however, is quite the tease. While we get fantastic special effects, some great sci-fi storytelling and a healthy dose of horror and action, we also get plenty of questions that don’t get answered. While some may feel this detracts from the film, with a Prometheus 2 allegedly in the works, those questions may yet be resolved, and really, Prometheus stands just fine without having everything explained. Didn’t the original Alien? With that in mind, there’s plenty to love here, and Fassbender’s excellent performance as David deserves a little more attention. For Wes’s review of Prometheus, go here.

5. Frankenweenie
Frankenweenie, Tim Burton’s love letter to the films of his youth, proves that Burton still has that charm that makes his older films so enthralling. It’s a shame that this and ParaNorman did somewhat poorly at the box-office, especially since stop-motion is one of my favorite methods of filmmaking; we may be seeing some of the last big-budget stop-motion films for quite some time. For a more in-depth look at Frankenweenie, check out my original review here.

4. Life of Pi
Not having read the book, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. From the trailers I had no doubt the film would be a visual feast (and it is), but all the visuals in the world mean nothing if there isn’t a solid core story. Fortunately, Life of Pi is a colorful and vibrant story about a young man who survives a shipwreck told in flashback, and somewhat like 2003’s Big Fish shows that the perception of a story may in fact be more honest than the basic truth. Simply put, Life of Pi is a fantastical tale that blurs the line between fantasy and reality.

3. Cabin in the Woods
As much as I love horror films, I’ll be the first to admit that the bulk of the genre is plagued by almost anything that can be bad in a film. Perhaps one of the worst is the overuse of clichéd plots that we’ve all seen a billion times over. And surprisingly, that is what makes Cabin in the Woods such a stellar film. I had expected a decent movie, I wasn’t expecting a film that poked fun at tired horror conventions while using them to construct an enthralling look at the horror movie itself. Even those who aren’t horror fans should give Cabin in the Woods a look, if only to see the jaw-dropping turns the story takes. For David’s review of Cabin in the Woods, go here.

2. Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson continually impresses with his work, Moonrise Kingdom is likely one of his best efforts. Between the amazing cast all turning in excellent performances, the camerawork so good each shot could be a piece of art, and a compelling story that captures youthful love and rebellion, it’s hard to find anything that hasn’t been carefully tuned to perfection by Mr. Anderson. This editor hopes that we can look forward to more of the same. For David’s review of Moonrise Kingdom, go here.

1. Django Unchained
While Quentin Tarantino had used elements of the Western genre in nearly every one of his films, he’d never simply made a Western. Django Unchained is that Western, and it succeeds admirably. A revenge/rescue story set in the pre-Civil War south, the oftentimes cartoonishly violent and racially charged plot sees Django (Jamie Foxx) becoming a bounty hunter as he attempts to rescue his wife. Where Tarantino’s films really shine is with character performances, enhanced with great dialogue for those performances, and Django Unchained does so through superb performances by the always-impressive Christoph Waltz and a knockout performance by DiCaprio as the villainous Calvin Candy. With yet another of Tarantino’s carefully picked soundtracks backing it, Django Unchained is a fine addition to the director’s lexicon.

Honorable Mentions:
Stuff that didn’t make the cut, but is still worth talking about.

7 Psychopaths – Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges (2008) was easily one of my favorite films of that year, and his latest offering is nothing to sneeze at either. With some excellent performances (Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits are all great) and repeated “I didn’t expect that at all” moments, 7 Psycopaths was just shy of making the list.

Argo – Ben Affleck’s film about the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis is a competent film, and while I’m not sure that I’m as impressed as some are by it, there’s certainly nothing overtly wrong with it, and it’s a solid, engaging piece of work.

The Avengers – I doubt there’s anyone who hasn’t seen this film, but I’m including it here simply because when it was being made I thought that I was going to hate it. There was no way that anyone could make a superhero league film that wasn’t all over the place. But Joss Whedon managed to make a decent film that, though not flawless by any means, surprised me. Kudos to you, Mr. Whedon. Wes’s review can be found here.

The Dark Knight Rises – After The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises had some big shoes to fill. Too big, perhaps. While I still maintain that it is a good film, I can’t get past some of the suspension of disbelief that is required. It’s a shame that it doesn’t live up to its predecessor, but there’s still plenty of cinematography, great acting, an impressive score and intense action sequences that make it better than just average.

Dredd – Though Stallone’s Judge Dredd (1995) does the comic book character no justice, 2012’s take on the character was much more in-line with the tone of the comics. A gritty, brutal action movie that was a pleasant surprise, especially given that didn’t expect anything from it.

Looper – While Looper might have some major plot holes, the film is done with such style and conviction that they can be set aside. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a notable performance as a young Bruce Willis, and the subtle make-up only enhances the effect. The psychic-powerhouse bit is cool too. Wes’s review can be found here.

ParaNormanParaNorman is a stop-motion film about a boy who can see the dead and must save his town from a witch’s curse. Like the aforementioned Frankenweenie, ParaNorman is visually impressive, and though the story drags sometimes, it’s worth noting for the amount of craft the Laika team put into it.

The Pirates!: Band of Misfits  – Yet another stop-motion film worth mentioning, from the amazing team at Aardman (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run). It gets a bit too juvenile for my tastes at times, but the entire film is a visual treat, and genuinely funny at times.

Sinister – Though there are issues with Sinister, it still is one of the better horror films to come out in 2012. There are moments that are truly creepy, and moments that are truly disturbing. Something about the home camera aspect makes the entire movie have an unsettling vibe, the atmosphere (aided by some great use of the band Boards of Canada) will stick with you, and that alone makes this film worth mentioning.

Skyfall – A noticeable improvement over Quantum of Solace (2008), the newest Bond film serves up some great sequences and top-notch cinematography, and one of the better Bond songs. Craig continues to impress as a no-nonsense take on the 007 character, and more of these to come is good news.

Wreck-It RalphWreck-It Ralph was a strong contender for my Top 10, but Sarah Silverman’s character too often tread into annoying instead of charming. That aside, it’s a great movie that is considerably improved by the plethora of videogame character cameos. If you consider yourself an avid gamer (not you, CoD players), you’ll get a kick out of simply spotting all the references.

Worst 10 Movies of 2012
Though I wish I had descriptions for each of these films, I’m finding it hard to muster up the desire to expend any more time on them than I already have. They already stole several hours of my life, so this simple list will hopefully represent the last of such theft.

10. Step Up Revolution
9. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
8. The Cold Light of Day
7. Resident Evil: Retribution
6. Mirror Mirror
5. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
4. The Devil Inside
3. That’s My Boy
2. One for the Money
1. 3 Stooges

Disappointments:
The stuff that should have been great, but wasn’t. YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE!

The Man with the Iron Fists
Despite David’s review, I still had this one on my watchlist because the trailer had looked promising. While The Man with the Iron Fists does many things well, such as the multitude of eccentric characters, it just isn’t quite what it could (and should) be. The camerawork leaves something to be desired, the CG blood / special effects look terrible and take you right out of the film, and the ending could have really used some extended fight scenes. Hopefully RZA can fix these kind of grievances and give us the 70’s kung-fu film that will do the genre justice.

Iron Sky
Unlike Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Iron Sky seemed to have tongue planted firmly in cheek from the outset. Nazis on the dark side of the moon is a delightfully ridiculous premise, and the trailer had me excited for something that played up the cheese while being thoroughly creative with that license. While Iron Sky attempts to reach this goal, it bogs itself down by going in the completely wrong direction, and while there are laughs to be had here and there, too much of what we get consists of a boring subplot and wasted potential.

Brave
Now, let’s be clear that I don’t consider Brave a bad film by any means. It’s a visually impressive movie that doesn’t have any major flaws. But Pixar has a fairly impressive track record (barring the Cars films, in this editor’s opinion), so I had very lofty expectations after seeing the first trailers. Brave’s story, however, is simply lacking that special touch that would make it stand with the other Pixar greats. In other words, Brave is a good, not great film. And that is disappointing.

Missed:
Films that weren’t seen in time to make (or not make) this list.

Amour
The Imposter
Lincoln
The Master
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Robot & Frank
The Secret World of Arrietty
Silver Linings Playbook
Shame

-Adam

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The Top Films of 2012 (Take 2)

Here after the beginning of a new year it’s customary to take a look back at the year that was. Since this is a site about everything film, I suppose it would be fitting to have a retrospect regarding the best movies I saw as opposed to a ranking of all the different brands of peanut butter I ate in 2012 (youtube video forthcoming). Since I ceased working in a theater, my viewing of new movies has decreased as the price of admission has gone from free to wtf. Therefore if you see a shocking omission from my list, then I probably just haven’t seen it yet or perhaps you just rank The Oogieloves a bit too highly. I know that everyone has been waiting for my Best of 1901 list (Edison dominates), but until I finish that, here is my Top 10 (or so) of 2012.

Honorable Mention:

The Raid:Redemption – A film nearly identical to Dredd in plot structure. Nearly all of it follows law enforcement trapped in a single high-rise building run by a druglord, only here we are in the present. High on action, low on plot, The Raid is for the adrenaline challenged. The action sequences and martial arts in this film will make your head spin. I haven’t been this impressed with an action film out of southeast Asia since Tony Jaa’s Tom Yum Goong. A tough cut from my Top 10, but I felt the need to mention it, it’s just that good.

10 – PARANORMAN

Paranorman is easily my choice for best animated film of 2012. This supernatural family film created by Laika, the same film studio that brought us the amazing film Coraline, makes the undead accessible in a fun way to the youngest audience possible. Perhaps just me being a dad seeing my daughter enjoy this film so much landed this on my list, or perhaps its the fact that I enjoyed it just as much as she did. Paranorman has a fantastic collection of voice talent relaying a fun, witty script. A story that pleases both kids and adults usually falls into Pixar’s bag of tricks, but they aren’t the only magicians on the stage.

9 – EXPENDABLES 2

A lot of people laughed at Stallone when he was talking about resurrecting his action movie career while he was pushing 60 by continuing the action movie franchises that made him a household name. After solid Rocky Balboa and Rambo sequels those people weren’t laughing anymore. Stallone proved that for the most part today’s younger action stars are pussified. The old, aging action stars now rule the box office (currently Bruce Willis now reigns with his newest Die Hard installment). Having a who’s who cast of legendary action stars in one film is an easy win. In Expendables 2, Stallone actually improves on the first movie by expanding the roles of Willis and Schwarzenegger (a major gripe from fans in the first movie) and getting an infinitely better villain in Jean-Claude Van Damme. Expendables 2 has a great combination of balls-out action, one-liners and laugh out loud moments. Easily one of the best action movies of the summer.

8 – LOOPER

Continuing with my old man action star theme is Bruce Willis and Joseph-Gordon Levitt starring in Rian Johnson’s sci-fi film, Looper. The film takes a new look at time travel with its real-time consequences. Gone are the days of Marty McFly slowly disappearing as his parents don’t hook up. If a character is injured in the past the scar instantly appears on their future counterpart. Looper’s innovation to time travel logic doesn’t end there. The future counterpart also has immediate memory of the injury. No time travel movie will ever be perfectly plausible or satisfy every physics nerd on the planet, so I give credit to Johnson for coming up with a new twist. For more on Looper check out my review here.

7 – MOONRISE KINGDOM

Wes Anderson has done it again. The man makes the most consistently entertaining films of any filmmaker working today. Anderson has the directing talent and writing ability to attract A-list actors into his quirky dramedies. Moonrise Kingdom is no exception, drawing Bruce Willis and Edward Norton (in a delightfully square performance) in the fold. Even more crucial to this coming-of-age film are the performances of the two young leads, Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward, both of whom are first time actors. It is almost unfathomable to think of these two young stars holding their own with legends like Bill Murray, but they steal the show. If you’re a fan of Anderson’s work, chances are you’ve already seen this. If not, then its time to hit your nearest Redbox.

6 – PROMETHEUS

This was the film I could not wait to see in 2012. Fanboys can cream all over The Avengers all they want, for my money I’ll take Ridley Scott returning to the genre he re-invented over 30 years ago. The Alien universe had been in a relative slump having to most recently duke it out with the Predators franchise. The visual design and attention to detail in Prometheus is remarkable. Prometheus being most likely the first part of an origin story for the xenomorph species, left viewers scratching their heads with more questions than answers. If nothing else Prometheus sparked more debate than any other summer blockbuster in recent memory. To be honest, this film would probably not have made my list if not for re-watching it on blu-ray. I was drawn in all over again. With rumors of linking this series with Blade Runner, it seems that the buzz from Sir Ridley’s work has only begun. More thoughts on Prometheus can be found in my review.

5 – CLOUD ATLAS

Regardless of what they call themselves, the Wachowski Brothers or Wachowski Starship, since The Matrix trilogy ended I was beginning to wonder if they would ever resurface. I just pretend that Speed Racer didn’t happen. Cloud Atlas is as ambitious a project as any in film history with an intertwining plot spanning thousands of years. A feat that was first attempted in 1916 by pioneering filmmaker D.W. Griffith with his epic film Intolerance, and more recently and successfully by Darren Aronofsky with his masterpiece, The Fountain. Cruelly, Cloud Atlas continues the trend of these epic stories falling flat in theaters. With a reported budget of 100 million funded almost entirely by private parties, Cloud Atlas has no chance of making a profit. But this film was an experience, and I am very glad I saw it on the big screen. In my opinion, The Wachowskis come as close as anyone has to achieving a dream-like logic akin to David Lynch while still holding loosely to a three act structure. A film that attempts to portray something bigger than it’s human creators and succeeds deserves recognition. The fact that this film was nearly unrecognized by most major award committees for its score and make-up effects is a travesty.

4 – LIFE OF PI

Life Of Pi was considered to be unfilmable due to the main character’s (Pi) close interaction with a Bengal Tiger (Richard Parker) on a small life boat. The magic of visual effects has the ability to make the impossible possible. Special effects are getting so good I couldn’t even tell the real tiger from the CG one most of the time. The movie is not all about special effects, though there is no shortage in an nail biting shipwreck sequence. Life Of Pi is about storytelling at is core and how each person interprets a story changes its meaning. Even though we are told a story from another person’s point of view, we still project ourselves into it. It is this self projection that determines if we believe the tale or dismiss it as fantasy. This film glides over the line between fantasy and reality better than any I’ve ever seen. Ang Lee deftly handles the complex story, showing us just enough to make our own decisions. I see another Oscar for directing in Lee’s future.

3 – DJANGO UNCHAINED

Well what can I say, 2012 is the year of directors. Tarantino finally gets around to a genre I’m sure he’s been wanting to get to for a long time, the western. His not so subtle stylistic nods to the genre are apparent in nearly all of his films. Westerns are few and far between in theaters nowadays, but if they are all of this quality then I can handle only getting one a year. Tarantino brings his undeniable cinematic style and tweaked humor to a revenge story centered on a bounty hunter (Christophe Waltz) and a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) that he acquires in order to collect a sizable reward. Easily the best onscreen duo for Tarantino since Vincent & Jules. Leonardo DiCaprio steals every scene he’s in as a Calvin Candie, a flamboyant, southern gentleman who happens to own a plantation and Django’s wife (Kerry Washington). Oh, and Sam Jackson is a funny motherfucker. Tarantino throws a lot of racism onscreen, which judging by the media’s reaction to his “overuse” of the N-word they apparently forgot that this film was set around the Civil War-era. Still more outrage over slave “action figures” for the film. Lighten up, people. It’s a movie, and a damn good one at that.

2 – CABIN IN THE WOODS

And the Oscar for Best Bong Prop in a movie goes to…..Cabin In The Woods!! I watch more horror films than anything else it seems. So if one has climbed this far above all the others it’s something special. Cabin In The Woods is unlike every other horror film that’s being churned out into theaters. Cabin takes every cliché in the big book of horror movies and wraps it up into a smirking film that’s smarter than I ever expected. The “horror film” part of CITW with teenagers on a vacation in an isolated cabin essentially takes place in a bubble, while the “corporate” section of the film takes place in an office building of sorts. Mission control, as it were, attempts to contain the action of the horror film. Unfortunately for everyone at mission control, and unbeknownst to them, they are still in the horror movie we, the audience, are watching. It’s only a matter of time before the death and mayhem reaches everyone in the film. CITW doesn’t hold back on any level and is easily the most fun I had watching a movie last year.

1 – THE GREY

Liam Neeson gives the best performance of his career in The Grey. The range of emotion shown throughout the course of this movie by Neeson is astounding. Whoever decided to dump this movie in January is a moron. Sure it’s weather appropriate but that’s about it. Poor marketing and advertising left this buried under the 2011’s Oscar nominated films. The Grey is an emotionally exhausting film. It actually took a toll on me watching it. It is one of the most incredibly tense films I’ve seen in recent memory. Director Joe Carnahan puts the audience in the snow covered boots of seven survivors of a plane crash in Alaska. A harrowing ordeal in itself, but they are being stalked by a pack of wolves who begin picking them off one by one. One of the great things about The Grey is its portrayal of fear. There are many scenes where the men have campfire going and the wolves begin surround them. The wolves stay at the edge of the darkness with only their eyes being visible, still wary of man despite being the hunter. The men stay by the light of the fire, never daring to venture out to fight an unseen danger. The barrier of darkness between the two packs is fear, and it works both ways. The one who survives is the one who conquers the fear that surrounds them. The Grey was an unforgettable film for me. I am a fan of Carnahan’s work but I think the emotion that Liam Neeson brought to this film put it far beyond my expectations and the result is a film about survival unlike any other.

-Wes Kelly

The Top Films of 2012

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to look at the exercise of compiling a year-end list in a different light. In younger days, I found it to be a monumentally important exercise, a grand opportunity to drop my cinematic knowledge on friends and family; to take up a “movie cause,” that one film that I loved unequivocally (often times casting a blind eye to its faults, no matter how numerous or egregious) and thought others should too, hoping that my prose would sway their opinions or lead them to discovering a movie they normally would have missed. It was a process that I loved and an undertaking that was not handled lightly.

Now, I find them somewhat painful. I agonize over placement, knowing that I will never get it right and that 10 years from now I will look back on it and quite possibly wonder what I was thinking at that particular time. These year-end lists do offer the benefit of allowing me to remember where I was in my life when I created a prior list; so in that way, it provides me with an interesting historical document of how my film tastes have evolved over time. Revisiting them is akin to participating in an archeological dig, but instead of the overwhelming feeling of awesomeness one must get when uncovering a fully preserved Pterodactyl, all I get is that self-conscious feeling associated with thoughts along the lines of: “Wait. I thought A Beautiful Mind was one of the best movies of the year?” Clearly, eating my weight in ham and cheese Hot Pockets and cheesy taco pizza rolls in college had an impact on not only my cholesterol levels but my brain matter as well.

Another problem with making a year-end list at this point in my life is that I don’t get to see the amount of film that I once was able. Working in movie theaters for the better part of the decade gave me the added benefit of seeing everything for free, so I was able to stay caught up on the year in film and provide this list in a timely manner; unlike now, when it comes out several months late with an apology (I’m sorry!) and a list of movies that I have yet to see but could end up making a hypothetical revised list that we both know will never come to pass:

  • Holy Motors
  • End of Watch
  • Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Amour
  • Life of Pi
  • Deep Blue Sea
  • The Loneliest Planet
  • Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai
  • The Sessions
  • The Hobbit

The corresponding “worst of the year” list has fallen by the way side as well since I no longer have the time to waste on that new Anaconda sequel or the new movie staring the grown-up little girl from Panic Room that I thought was a boy until the end credits of Fincher’s film clued me in on my blunder. Now it is limited to a 3 movie disappointments list:

  • The Man with the Iron Fists
  • Killing Them Softly
  • This is 40

You can read my thoughts on Fists and the unfortunate use of “shaky cam” here. I have heard that the director’s cut out on Blu Ray is better, so I plan on revisiting it in the future, hopefully with better results this time. Killing Them Softly could have been an entertaining, nasty little crime movie but got weighed down with social and political commentary as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face, and This is 40 made me wish that Apatow would stop straddling the fence and just go ahead and make a drama already; I would love to see it as long as there wasn’t needless comedic riffing on the size of one’s vagina for 5 minutes. But enough with the grousing, let’s get on with the list.

The Top 15:

15. The Grey

Kicking off the list is Joe Carnahan’s latest film, a good ole’ fashioned kick-ass survivor flick. Despite carrying the dubious distinction of being mismarketed as a Liam Neeson versus a pack of wolves movie, The Grey delivered the goods, featuring the actor’s best and, at times, most painfully personal performance of his career, as he lays bear the grieving process one goes through after they loose their significant other, a topic he knows too much about, unfortunately. The Grey is a brutal, unflinching, gut-punch of a film; anchored by a director working at the top of his game and cast who vividly portray men who know death is knocking at their door, yet continue to find things worth fighting for, making their insurmountable goal of living all the more harrowing.

14. Universal Solider: Day of Reckoning

Do me a favor would you? Don’t see this entry and immediately laugh, thinking I went and lost my damn mind. Instead, take a second and play the red band trailer for the latest installment of the sci-fi action series and finish reading the list once you’re done.

As you can see from the images above, Hyams’ latest franchise installment is of a different breed. By combining the action genre with elements typically found in film noir and European horror, along with loving references to widely divergent cinematic influences including Apocalypse Now and Halloween, he has created a DTV effort that stays a couple of disorienting steps ahead of its audience. As an action buff, I love that Hyams has made a balls out actioneer that veers into the art house realm, turning in an effort that contains a highly subjective look at the issue of identity in a world where cloning exists while also wrestling with the theme of what really animates a person.

13. Compliance

Craig Zobel (The Great World of Sound) continues to show serious directing chops with his sophomore effort, filming a true story so certifiably insane that the viewer can’t help but wonder what ever happened to good old-fashioned common sense. Dramatizing a story of this nature is nothing short of a Herculean endeavor, and the performance he gets out of Ann Dowd as the fast food manager who places trust in others until they prove otherwise is one of the best of the year. It’s truly a shame this longstanding character actress didn’t get more attention in awards season for her work.

12. Bernie

Richard Linklater’s Bernie is a perfect staring role for its leading man, Jack Black. So good in it is Black, one has to wonder if he should act in movies for any other director. Maybe he should just ply his trade in films that have a strong music connection for his character to exploit? Either way, this hilarious fact-based docudrama gives the actor the best role of his career, one that allows him to (for the first time) completely disappear into a role and not rely on his arsenal of ticks and spasms that have long grown tired and stale.

11. Silver Linings Playbook

You know what I’m tired of? I’m tired of people always dropping the “Manic Pixie Dreamgirl” argument whenever I discuss Russell’s latest cinematic concoction, and in particular, Jennifer Lawrence’s wonderfully nuanced performance. This isn’t Natalie Portman in Garden State* here people. Lawrence brings nuance to a role a lesser actress couldn’t, transcending the material, which without her, could have turned into just another quirky rom-com. The film itself goes down smooth, and seeing Russell harnessing his considerable talents, pouring them into another fully focused movie, is a treat for any film fanatic.

10. Looper

Let’s all just agree on this up front and get it out of our systems. Time travel movies are nigh impossible to get right and by merely taking on the task, a screenwriter is opening themselves up for all types of criticism focusing on the mechanics of the whole endeavor. For my money, Rian Johnson’s script is dynamite—plot holes and all—and also gives Willis and Gordon-Levitt an amazing character arc to play with in their duel (see what I did there?) role as a Looper going through one heck of an internal struggle/awakening. Bradbury would have been proud.

9. The Master

With the The Master, Anderson has made the most intimate movie of his career without sacrificing the characterization and acting bravura his films have become known for. His latest isn’t so much a commentary on Scientology as a film that wants to explore our need as humans to find meaning in our seemingly meaningless existence. For a more in depth look at the most challenging movie of the year, see my full review here.

8. Frankenweenie

Over the past 10+ years, I’ve given Tim Burton tons of shit. When I was growing up, he was one of my favorite directors and I looked forward to each one of his new releases with a level of excitement that few directors had ever been able to unlock in me. Then he started down the remake chain (Planet of the Apes) and putting new spins on old, classic material (Alice in Wonderland) that was ugly, unneeded, and worst of all, indulgent to the point of self-parody. Frankenweenie is the first Burton film since Sleepy Hollow that I have loved unequivocally; it is a stunningly beautiful film that contains an emotionally satisfying ending as well as being a carefully crafted homage to the movies of his youth, chockfull of loving references to the characters and themes that inspired him to direct, and made him one of the top directors in the ’80s and ’90s.

7. Django Unchained

Part of me has to wonder if Tarantino has finally outgrown the film medium and would be better suited doing miniseries for HBO. He definitely has topics on his mind (rewriting the history books) that he feels deserves epic treatment, and for the most part, I agree with the type of approach he wishes to take with his latest material. The flip side of this is the pacing gets muddled in the last third when Django goes back to Candyland to exact his last measure of vengeance, and secondary characters that had been fleshed out in the script get lost in its translation to the screen (more Walton Goggins on the Blu Ray, please). The elegant editing that graced all of the master’s prior works is missing here, and I chalk most of this up to the absence of his longtime editor, Sally Menke. QT’s latest had me grappling with my thoughts and feelings on a variety of topics, certainly more than any other recent film has, and that is always a good thing. Seeing the film with a sold-out crowd that was racially split at about 50/50 made me wonder to myself if it was OK to laugh at Don Johnson’s wonderfully profane performance as Big Daddy or if I would just be seen as another white male laughing off the seriousness of slavery. And while it didn’t turn me off entirely like some people I’ve discussed the film with, the ending left me wondering if that much violence (which blasts past Corbucci levels of spray) was needed. One thing isn’t up for debate: Quentin has succeeded in making slavery into the disgusting, soul-crushing enterprise it was. After multiple viewings, I still have unresolved issues with the film that I need to iron out, but there is no doubt that Tarantino’s latest is built to stick with you.

6. Queen of Versailles

Lauren Greenfield’s documentary follows the Siegal clan in their quest to build the largest, most expensive single-family home in the United States, a replica of the Palace of Versailles. As you may have gathered, the time-share magnate’s family hubris is in equal turns jaw-dropping and infuriating. When the recession and the corresponding amount of titanic financial woes hit the Siegals, the construction of their dream home grinds to a halt, and the smug, arrogant nature of breadwinner David falls away, only to be replaced with Hughesain levels of isolation, leaving his seemingly vacuous trophy wife alone to hold the family together. While Greenfield’s work here scores some big laughs out of its subjects’ disconnect from reality (the renting of a car at a Hertz airport kiosk is a standout) and unchecked egos, it’s ultimately less interested in making them look like buffoons than making an attempt to understand them. The end result makes their struggles eminently relatable to anyone who has ever had to make do with less than they had imagined possible.

5. Skyfall

Who would have thought Sam Medes had such action chops, and on top of that, would manage to create the best Bond film since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service? The continued evolution of Bond is fleshed out and after 3 films, we now have Daniel Craig’s version of 007 back to a place where audiences know the character best, a cold-blooded killer with a twisted sense of humor, flanked by Money Penny, Q, and, in my opinion, a new M that, if you’ll pardon my Anglophile expression, is “the tits.” All this plus fantastic cinematography from Roger Deakins, a killer Straw Dogs homage, a credit sequence that has some relevance to the events of the film, and the best use of an Animals track (Boom Boom, a cover of a John Lee Hooker song) in film since Scorsese used House of the Rising Sun in Casino. The next installment in the Bond franchise can’t get here quick enough.

4. The Raid: Redemption

If I could equate one film-going experience in 2012 to getting a shot of adrenaline, it would be Garth Evans’ sophomore effort. Gone are the pacing issues of Merentau, only to be replaced by bone-crushing martial arts sequences that take the genre to a whole new level. This is what I wanted out of every Tony Jaa film post Ong-bak and never got, and the fact that it was done by a Welsh-born, white-boy director makes it even more kick-ass. Based on what is on display here, Iko Uwais could easily become the next big action star and Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog) should be cast as a villain in every martial arts/action film from now to the end of time. The show-stopping brawl between those two is the Final Boss fight that dreams are made of.

3. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson makes movies for dreamers. Movies that tell cynicism to screw off. Movies where characters and situations never feel like they are based in reality as some small something is always slightly skewed for the better. If this makes you feel that his movies are too precious, that’s your problem and your loss. I love the residents of New Penzance and will enjoy revisiting their quaint town again and again. For a more in depth look at Anderson’s masterful piece, here is my original review.

2. Cabin in the Woods

Between this and The Avengers, 2012 turned out to be the year of Joss Whedon, and until recently, this was my pick for film of the year, as it is the most original work in the horror genre for quite some time. Most of all, Cabin in the Woods gives me hope that in a genre bogged down by the act of regurgitation and where a lion’s share of the output are relegated to sequels and remakes, that originality will always endure. I hope that it will inspire future generations of horror directors to put their own stamp on a style of film I hold dear, and continue to find the darkest of humor in full-bore nihilism. For a more in-depth look at the brilliance of Cabin and Richard Jenkins, here is my original review.

1. Killer Joe

While making the rounds promoting Django Unchained, Tarantino mentioned that he couldn’t see himself directing into old age, as the films at the tail end of a director’s career often lack the bite of those at the beginning. While this is true for the most part, one has to look no further than William Friedkin—who turned 78 this year—and his latest effort, Killer Joe, for a counterargument. In his second consecutive effort with playwright Tracy Letts, Friedkin offers up a deep-fried, darker than a bull’s tookus on a moonless prairie night comedy that presents itself as the bastard child of Jim Thompson’s and Tennessee William’s literary legacies. Matthew McConaghey finally delivers on all the promise his early career contained as Joe, a corrupt police officer who is hired to do some dirty work for the sickest family to ever grace the silver screen. As the clueless, white trash patriarch, Thomas Haden Church gives the comedic performance of the year, and Gina Gershon proves to be more than game as the slutty, up to no good wife, also managing to get one of the more memorable entrances into a film since John Wayne cocked his rifle in Stagecoach. (Joking, of course. Kind of.) No punches are pulled and the NC-17 rating is earned several times over, which of course put it behind the eight ball, killing its chances of ever reaching a mass audience. Although it’s not for everyone, Killer Joe exhibits a staggering vitality and the urgency of a modern master who still has a lot of skin left in the game.

-David

*And while I’m at it, I would like for people to stop treating Portman’s performance in Garden State as the origin of this character type. The credit clearly belongs to Ruth Gordon for her role as Maude in Hal Ashby’s comedy classic, Harold and Maude.

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

So Moonrise Kingdom finally decided to show up in Raleigh this weekend past. After a decade spent living in the mountains of Western North Carolina, I’ve become used to platform releases over the years; after all, a majority of the films that interest me are rolled out this way to build up word of mouth and generate buzz for awards season. But this wait was ridiculous! Do you hear me American Empirical Pictures?! RIDICULOUS! Wes Anderson’s latest opened up on May 27 on 4 screens, which is not an unusual way of handling things—those bastards in New York and Los Angeles always get first crack at films like this. The weeks preceding its initial release is where it got stupid, going from 4 screens to 16, to 96, to 178, and finally, to 395 screens this weekend when it showed up in most major markets in North Cackalack, and most important, Ruff’ Raleigh, home of Petey Pablo. What kind of world do we live in where a major music star like Petey is denied the right to view the latest effort from one of the strongest and fiercely individualistic auteurs working in the business today? For shame, Scott Rudin Productions. For shame *shakes head*. I had hoped to have this review up closer to the Wes Anderson week we had to celebrate Moonrise Kingdom’s release, but sometimes we don’t get what we want—much like the Christmas when I asked for Tommy Lasorda Baseball for the Sega Genesis but got Hardball instead.

But now the wait is over and I’m pleased to report that it was well worth the time I spent shaking my fists at the sky, cursing my current geographical location. With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson once again creates a world that is unmistakably his, a film that any cineaste could identify as his by merely viewing one scene, in or out of context with the rest of the picture. This, of course, could be a good thing or make you not want to waste your time at all, depending on where your opinions on the director fall. If you find his output to be too precious or calculated, a hypercontrolled, diorama-like universe that is constantly threatening to collapse under the weight of ideals and aesthetics that have come to define him, you will hate this picture. If you love his elegant tracking shots, intricate production design, symmetrical compositions, and the way his films labor in his own, extremely personal space, you could have a new favorite film from the auteur, as Moonrise Kingdom not only embraces all of these characteristics but also ratchets them up to a level that blows past his prior, most meticulous creations, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Anderson’s latest is also his first period piece, even though his prior efforts have always carried with them an obsession with the sounds and look of decades past. The setting is the land of New Penzance, a fictional island off the coast of New England in the year of 1965. Through the use of a narrator (Bob Balaban) the audience is given a tour of this imaginary location, finding out that in 3 days’ time a rather large storm will pass, wrecking the coast and, in general, causing a mess of epic proportions. It is during this time that Sam (Jared Gilman), a disliked Khaki Scout spending his summer at Camp Ivanhoe, and Suzy (Kara Hayward), a young girl who is depressed and isolated from her schoolmates and family, run away together, using provisions and knowledge that Sam has appropriated from his troop, led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton, in a most earnest, hilarious performance). The young lovers met at a church pageant a year prior, Sam dressed to the nines in his scout uniform, Suzy costumed as a raven, locking eyes in the girl’s dressing room, their souls managing to make a deep connection before Sam is forced out, it being improper of him to hang out in the girl’s changing room. The two become pen-pals, overcoming the long distance between the two while Sam is back in his foster home before returning to camp the following summer. It is during this time they decide to run off together, causing panic in the adults charged with their safety. Suzy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand), both lawyers by trade and long fallen out of love with one another, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), a cop who is dedicated to his profession but in over his head nonetheless, possibly due to the fact that his affair with Suzy’s mom has entered its autumn stage, and the aforementioned Scout Master Ward lead the charge, but none are truly up to the task. With the storm fast approaching, this unusual quartet must find a way to locate the missing duo before the island battens its hatches in preparation for inclement weather of epic proportions.

The two young leads tear into their debut roles, both giving performances that are wonderfully gratifying in a noncloying fashion that typically dogs performances of this nature. As I was sitting in the darkened movie theater, it became impossible to not see Suzy and Sam as younger versions of Margo Tenenbaum and Max Fisher. He the overachieving outcast, at least when it comes to extracurricular activities that scouting provides him; she well set in her melancholy ways, even seen as an outcast from her own family (spurned on by the theft of his record player, her younger brother points out that she is a traitor to her family).  In my favorite segment of the film, the duo share secrets, frolic and dance in the sand, and share their first kiss, bringing to the screen one of the more honest portraits of summertime romance and first loves in recent memory all the while sporting a grace that is typically reserved for the understated classics of European cinema. The big name actors melt into their roles, each of which seems perfectly tailored to not only play to their strengths but to play off their previous roles and, by extension, their personas as well. Willis and Norton haven’t been this good in years, and in particular, it’s good to see Willis burrow into a role that brings out the best in him as it seems easy for an audience to forget how great he can be when given the chance to shine. At first glance, Murray seems to only be playing a variation of the depressed midlifer roles that have become a specialty of his—at least when paired with Anderson-penned characters—but, in his performance here, I believe he pushes the boundaries of those prior roles, enthusiastically mining a darker, more desperate mental space that fundamentally acts as a summation of his best roles in this particular period of the actor’s career.

Technically speaking, every set-up in Moonrise Kingdom is brilliant. Robert D. Yeoman’s camerawork is elegant and graceful, with his equipment placed just so in every scene, the actors positioned in front of it in an exact way, maximizing impact of every frame and the well-timed sight gags that pepper the film’s runtime. Props and sets are meticulously designed to fit seamlessly into Anderson’s storybook world, operating with a logic and reality bent to conform to his endlessly brilliant imagination. The covers and titles of the children’s books that Suzy holds so dear serve as standouts, recalling the artwork of the Newberry Award winners of my youth. The lessons and techniques the director absorbed during the time he time he spent in the universe of stop animation shines through in his follow-up effort, so much so that several scenes feel like they could have been cut from the runtime of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, making this fan hope that the director will revisit that medium of expression sooner rather than later.

All of these qualities help to make Moonrise Kingdom an unforgettable experience, a film that captures—with a stunning accuracy that few films prior have been able to deliver—that thrilling flush of a first love (or crush if you’re a cynic) while still remembering the agony that accompanied pre-teen solitude. The feeling that you have no place in the world to call your own, and that no one—even (or especially) your family—will ever understand you. And then for some out there in the world, the film is astute enough to note, this is a feeling that will never go away.

-David

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)

It seems crazy that its been 2 ½ years since Wes Anderson’s last film, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Feels like it was not that long ago that I was putting the print together myself. I was shocked that in the 22 screen theater that I worked in, we were only getting one print of it. Surely the combination of a great director like Wes Anderson with a devout fan base and the appeal of a family film completely suitable for children opening right before Thanksgiving break would translate to a very good turn out. How wrong I was. The film struck out at the box office, but was a home run with critics and anyone else with half decent taste in movies.

I admit that I am completely unfamiliar with the source material for the movie. However, I am not unfamiliar with the author, Roald Dahl, who wrote some of my favorite books that I remember reading during my childhood like James & The Giant Peach, Danny: Champion Of The World, Charlie & The Chocolate Factory along with his autobiography centered on his childhood entitled Boy. Fantastic Mr. Fox seems to be held up along with his most popular works, so I have no doubt that it is of the same caliber. Turning a beloved childhood story into a feature film is a daunting task for any director. Usually there is about 20 minutes worth of actual story in most fairy tales and kids books, so turning 20 minutes into roughly 90 minutes is going to take some creativity. With a talented screenwriter and director you will get amazing results like Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox or Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are. However, in the train wreck department we have the vile, terribly misguided Cat In The Hat adaptation, which may soon be gracing the Cinematic Putrescence section of this blog. So the film itself is not an easy task to assemble. Add in the fact that Fantastic Mr. Fox is a stop motion animated film akin to Wallace & Gromit and I really believe that this is Wes Anderson’s most accomplished work as a filmmaker.

Mr. Fox (George Clooney) is a typical fox in many ways. Mostly in the fact that he loves stealing chickens. Upon being caught in the act one night and with a baby one the way, Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep) asks him to give up his criminal career and fly the straight and narrow, so he can be a proper family man. Two years later, that’s 12 fox years, the two have a son named Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and Mr. Fox works as a newspaper columnist. They purchase a new home, which happens to be next to three very successful farms. The temptation is too much and Mr. Fox embarks on one last heist. The voice cast is grade A. Most of the actors in this had appeared in Anderson’s other films as well, Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe & Michael Gambon to name a few. This makes for a familiar sensation. Also, Anderson has certain signature cinematic shots that he has brought to the animation world. His tendency for having a set appear bisected, for example, seeing every room in a house or compartments in a ship. The actors walking through the set like it was a living, breathing diorama. His main characters are always young men and/or their father figures. Both of which are having a difficult time finding acceptance or purpose within the world or with the other. This is his signature style and storytelling coming through, and the fact that this is undeniably a Wes Anderson film despite being animated is an amazing feat. I’ve never seen another filmmaker make that leap before.

I mentioned that I believe this is his most accomplished work. This might not be your favorite film that he’s done, it certainly isn’t mine, but as a filmmaker he is going to have to try very hard to top this when you look at the entire process of making this film. Stop motion animation is a labor of love, even more than film making is already. It has to be if its going to be done right. Nick Park, has spent the last 20+ years animating Wallace & Gromit. He’s put out 4 short films and 1 feature film in that span. It is incredibly time consuming and minutely detailed. I believe it took Anderson and his crew about 2 years to film Fantastic Mr Fox, which is very impressive. The screenplay that Anderson and Noah Baumbach put together is a ton of fun, and the cast just runs with it.

I can’t recommend strongly enough watching any of the films reviewed here at Filmsokay this past week, if you haven’t already seen them. Even if you have, they are more than worth another look. I’d like to close out with a preview of Wes Anderson’s next film Moonrise Kingdom. Enjoy.

-Wes Kelly

Rushmore (1998)

While I loved my time in Boone and Appalachian State, going to school in a small, Western North Carolina town wasn’t without its drawbacks. The more time you spent in the area, the more these caveats seemed to decrease in severity—except for two, at least, in my experience. The first was the cold. Specifically the wind and its chill which cut through my skinny ass like Machete’s blade cut though racism. The second and more egregious fault I had with the town was its lack of movie theater options, which made it next to impossible to bring any art house or limited release films to Boone. For a movie buff like me, this was the kiss of death. Later on in my college career, regular trips to the Queen City or Asheville would help alleviate this dire circumstance that I found myself in, but those first couple of years got to be brutal.

Luckily, I had a good support system of likeminded movie fanatics and we would obsess over the films that we would never get a chance to see theatrically. Ben Bailey was the first cinephile I met during my freshman year of college, and luckily for me, he lived right next door to me in the dorms. Despite living only one door down from Ben, I didn’t actual meet him until Halloween and I don’t remember the circumstances that caused us to talk about movies until the wee hours of the morning, but that doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that Ben had, at the time, the largest DVD collection I had ever seen (this was 1998 and he had somewhere between 50–100 flicks on a medium that had only been out a short while), a kick-ass sound system and TV to view them on, a love for movie trailers, and an encyclopedic knowledge and love of film that lead to a discussion of Kevin Dunn’s acting prowess. This would lead us to watching a ton of movies—both terrible and amazing—oftentimes in double or triple feature mode, fostering a rather enormous preoccupation with movies that had yet to be released, scouring the Internet for early reviews, random casting news, and trailers that would hopefully give as a good look at what all the hype was about.

One such movie was Wes Anderson’s Rushmore, a film I wouldn’t be able to lay eyes on until the following summer when it came out on VHS (remember those?) and DVD. Since the movie was released in time for Oscar consideration in 1998 and then went wide in early 1999, this was a wait that seemed like it would never come to an end. On the Tuesday it came out for purchase, I drove out to the local Circuit City (remember those?) and plunked down $30 bucks blindly; that’s how much faith I had in the director’s sophomore effort. I had been a big fan of his first film, 1996’s Bottle Rocket, and I could tell from the preview that Anderson had taken his game to the next level. I got home and for only the second time in my life, I watched the same film twice in a row. The next day I watched Rushmore twice more, each viewing taking place with a friend or family member present that I just HAD to share this newfound film. Yes, it was pure, unadulterated love at 24 frames per second, and it washed over me instantaneously, creating that full-body film buzz that only the great films can supply.

Rushmore follows the exploits of an eccentric teenager named Max Fisher (Jason Schwartzman), a student of a prestigious academy that bares the same handle as the film. Max is best described as a doer rather than a thinker. He’s also a self-proclaimed collector of activities and along with his best friend, Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble, Denis the Menace in the early ’90s film adaptation), act as creators of a plethora of clubs in which the duo appear to be the only members of. Max is a sharp kid but his grades don’t reflect it, and he is running the risk for expulsion from the school he invests so much of his time in. Rather than buckling down and focusing on his grades, Max begins to try to pull strings that he thinks will help him stay in his beloved school, all the while becoming distracted by his infatuation for a teacher, Mrs. Cross, played by Olivia Williams. This new-found obsession replaces his old one and is complicated by the presence of an industrialist millionaire by the name of Herman Blume (Bill Murray), at first a friend and mentor, later a rival in the quest for the affections of Mrs. Cross. A deadly game of one-upmanship breaks out between Blume and Fisher, with increasingly outlandish and near-deadly pranks occurring at a rapid-fire pace, further jeopardizing Max’s standing not only in his beloved Rushmore Academy, but his relationships with Dirk, Blume, and Mrs. Cross as well.

With Rushmore, Anderson was able to fully flush out the motifs and style he began establishing in Bottle Rocket and would carry with him throughout his career. His themes that explore the dynamics of family and community are well established in his second outing and his visual style and general aesthetic choices come into their own. The elaborate set designs (later to be dwarfed by The Life Aquatic and The Royal Tenenbaums, especially), the attention to detail and self-aware nature that helps to foster an informed perspective for whatever or whomever he points his lens at, meticulous framing and camera movement, eloquent, signature slow motion shots, and his ability to explore the melancholy of human nature without sacrificing an inch when it comes to investing his art with humor that forever remains true to characters he unmistakably loves with all of his heart. Yet all of the reasons I love Rushmore and Wes Anderson’s work are precisely the same reasons that his detractors rant and rave against him. Their major argument—and one that I couldn’t disagree with more—is that his style has ossified. Personally, I love that his style is consistent from film to film. I LOVE the fact that I know what I’m going to get when going into his latest effort, and in a way, it’s like catching up with an old friend–all that changes are the stories that he’s relating. Like it or not, his talent always shines through.

At its heart, Rushmore is a coming-of-age story focused on the pursuit of the unattainable, a manifestation of one’s own will in relation to the out of reach, glorified conquest. The film revels in its indie sensibility and even helps to refine and embellish the traits in Bottle Rocket that I was so taken only a couple of years prior. Once again Anderson pairs with his University of Texas classmate, Owen Wilson, for writing duties, and the tone the duo creates still reigns as their clearest balance of the authentic and the uncanny, creating a storybook vibe the best of his films impart to their audiences. In order to achieve these results, they frame the film almost like a play, with seasons replacing acts by way of drawn curtains. They give the gift of juicy dialogue to the wonderful troupe of actors they assembled, who in turn help to relate the feeling of growing up with all its angst, rebellion, snootiness, embarrassment, and yes, even the thirst for revenge.

Originally conceived as a British exchange student, the character of Max Fisher should have been nothing like what we have today (the British Invasion–focused soundtrack is all that’s left to remind us of this original narrative thread). To that I say thank God for allowing the director to take a risk with Jason Schwartzman. In his first film role, the actor manages to drive down deep into the heart of Max and all his quirky personality traits, creating a fully rounded character that’s hard to like at times but always human. It became obvious early on the first time that I watched the film that Schwartzman would be around for a long time, with his humorous line readings and the wealth of chemistry he possesses with the cast (that he holds his own with by the way, no easy feat considering some of the powerhouse thespians that show up in supporting roles). As I mentioned before, one of those supporting cast members is none other than Bill Murray, a legendarily prickly actor who had fallen on hard times prior to the release of Rushmore. The star’s last two headlining efforts—The Man Who Knew too Little and Larger than Life—were less than stellar, and when watching them it became obvious that he was tired of the same old shtick and needed a change of pace. As Herman Blume, Murray found one of his best roles and he knew it, crafting one of his signature performances. Anderson knew Murray would nail the role and requested him outright. Much to his surprise, Murray responded with a yes almost immediately (an ultra rare occurrence as any response at all is a long-shot), creating a long-lasting, fruitful artistic relationship between the director and actor and establishing a second act for Murray’s career: go to indie actor.

While I enjoy and own all of Wes Anderson’s films, Rushmore has managed to remain my favorite—and his best effort, in my opinion—of his oeuvre. Recently several of my friends and I took part in a nerd exercise of the highest order in which we listed our top 100 films of the ’90s. After much hand wringing, I’m pleased to report it clocked in at the number 6 spot. While it’s hard for me to imagine the auteur creating another film that could knock Rushmore off its perch, I know that if any director is capable of it, it’s Wes Anderson. The reviews coming out of Cannes this year for the director’s latest, Moonrise Kingdom, are certainly promising, so yet again it appears it’s time for me to scour the Internet for any tidbits I can find. The trailer has been viewed ad nauseam and anticipation has reached a fever pitch. And I would be willing to hazard a guess that Ben Bailey, the rest of the Film’s Okay (I Guess) editors, and film buffs the world over feel the same way.

-David