5th Annual Southland Tales Award For A Film I Like For No Damn Reason: The Man With The Iron Fists: This is a bit of a cheat. After all I know damn well why I love The Man With The Iron Fists. But given its sense of relentless abandon, in its gleeful, borderline deranged pursuit of fetishism, given its eagerness to shred the limits of style and good taste as though they were tissue paper (At one point Russell Crowe pulls out a string of anal beads with his teeth) given the crazed fever dream love of it all. I would say that The Man With The Iron Fists more than its place.
Worst: Savages: I don’t know which makes me madder, the toothless, cliched, flaccid film that Oliver Stone and company made out of Don Winslow’s jet black, darkly hilarious, lunatic farce of Bad meeting Evil, or how many intelligent critics gave the film a mystifying pass.
By absolving the characters of all the consequences and responsibility for their actions, Stone might have found a story might have made the story palatable to a mass audience, but he sure didn’t make anything worthwhile. And the voiceover. Jesus Wept. If this and The Life And Death Of Bobby Z is the best that Hollywood can do with Winslow’s work than I pray that no one ever options Power Of The Dog. Hell at this point I’m pretty sure they’d fuck up The Dawn Patrol.
Underrated: John Carter: I can see why Andrew Stanton’s idiosyncratic pulp epic failed to connect to everyone. What leaves me down right mystified is the vitriol with which audiences and critcs turned on the film. It’s a shockingly faithful rendition of one of the weirdest pulp minds of the last century, and aside from an image that can only be described as “Flying Magical Space Emperor McNulty” that admittedly left me somewhat nonplussed, it does the job beautifully.
Overhated: The Dark Knight Rises: I maintain the films only real sin is the fact that it was the sequel to Batman Begins, rather than the sequel to The Dark Knight. Well you know what? I still like Batman Begins an awful lot. And I liked this one too. Overlong? Perhaps. A few plot holes? Sure. But they’re more than outweighed by the films pleasures. From the James Bond by way of Mephistopheles opening, to Anne Hathaways calculating Selina Kyle, Tom Hardy’s preening monster, to Nolan’s eerie vision of a society ripping itself apart, The Dark Knight Rises is nothing less than a glossy deeply felt nightmare. In short a perfect venue for the character, and one of the best endings to a trilogy on record.
Overrated: Lawless: In all fairness it’s not as though I’ve exactly read any raves of this film. But I haven’t read anything that comes close to touching the disappointment that it left me with either. Sure there were worse films released this year, but there are few things as dispiriting as watching a bunch of talented filmmakers get together with a bunch of actors I enjoy get together and produce nothing but a waste of time. Hopelessly muddled Peckinpah lite.
Most Disappointing: Prometheus: I don’t have the knee jerk hate for this film that some do. At the very least I quite admire Noomi Rapace’s performance, isolated set pieces (The self performed C section is a doozy), HR Giger’s set design, the bleak tone, and Scott’s commitment to his story. But at the end of the day as the inconsitancies, sloppy character writing, and lurching borderline nonsensical plot take hold the reaction cannot help but echo this:
Most Pleasant Surprise: Paranorman: I walked in expecting nothing but a cute film with some clever references. Instead I ended up seeing what I can say without hyperbole is one of the most breathtakingly beautifully animated films I’ve ever seen. The craft, detail and ambition (The Fountain inspired ending threatens to cause my head to explode each time I see it) are such that I would confidently put this film up against the best that Ghibli and Pixar had to offer. The fact that its propelled by a lively script that gets surprisingly dark, and bends horror conventions in a way that is nearly as clever as Cabin In The Woods is just gravy. This missed being in the top ten by a hair.
10. The Raid: But I couldn’t very well leave this off the list could I? I’m with my compadres on The Action Cast. This should have just been released as The Rad. Gareth Evans is a director of almost insidious innovation (and if the word coming out of Sundance is any indication versatility) and The Raid is the most brutal, propulsive down right nasty slice of action filmmaking to come down the pike for quite some time. It’s the type of film where a “slow moment” involves the hero dodging a machete as its thrust through a false wall. The Raid showcases the inimitable pleasure of watching real people do things that your brain insists they cannot do.
9. Cloud Atlas: Inspeaking of seeing things that your brain insists can’t be happening. The Wackowski’s and Tom Tywker’s beautiful, imperfect adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel is one of the most exhilarating dizzyingly ambitious films I’ve ever seen. As an adaptation it may simplify and to a certain extent muddle the narrative, but as an act of filmmaking it is impeccable. The fact that it has been shunned by so many is depressing but hardly surprising. But people will be coming back to this one long after its timid competitors have been forgotten. And that’s the true true.
8. Django Unchained: Tarantino is such a consistant voice he is an easy one to take for granted, and yes Django Unchained does confirm that when his career is considered as a whole there will most likely be a notable divide between the first two decades of his career and post Sally Menke work. But if Django is an imperfect film (or to be more accurate if it is less perfect than the films he has provided for the last decade) then it is still a film that showcases his eye for the beautiful and the grotesque, his ear for the delights and intricacies of speech, the bold fearlessness of his language and his bed rock core belief in the cathartic thrill of genre cinema. With Django he pulls off the neat trick of creating a film that simultaneously seems to have no greater purpose than the pleasure of its own inimitable style and which tackles one of the darkest chapters of American History. One that does both with equal fervor.
7. Looper: Its this simple, Rian Johnson makes movies the way I like movies to be made. Its virtually impossible to overstate how important Looper was for Johnson. While Brick has a cult following The Brothers Bloom lingers in unfortunate obscurity (It was my pick for best film of 2008). Looper proved that Johson’s voice, deeply romantic and humanistic, merciless, and puckishly innovative, could connect with a larger audience. Which is why the most exciting thing about Looper, beyond its innovative future, beyond the film literate set pieces (including an unexpected callback to The Fury so perfect I giggled in the theater the first time I saw it) beyond the usual depth of Johnson’s characters, and weighty morality of their plight, beyond the most scrotum clenchingly awful piece of violence I saw in a theater this year, is the fact that it promises that for Johnson things are only going to be going up from here. I can’t wait to see where that leads.
6. Killer Joe: Imagine if John Waters directed The Killer Inside Me (Sudden flash of inspiration William Friedkin and Matthew McCounaughey’s Pop 1280 make it happen universe). William Friedkin’s grotesque portrait of the idiotically venal struggling to sink as low as they can has an intensity, and a warped fascination to it that I can only partially express. Centered around McCounaughey’s stunning performance as a dark absence of a man Climaxing in one of the most grotesque, and yes funny, final scenes I can recall (the final line and the look on McCounaughey’s face as he delivers it is a hoot) Killer Joe is kind of like watching home movies from hell. And its no less compelling for it. Unless there is something profoundly wrong with you Killer Joe will leave you wanting a shower. It’s like staring into the abyss and seeing the abyss grin back at you.
5. The Grey: A good ole fashioned, “They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.” Joe Carnahan proves once again that he’s one of the best pulp filmmakers working today (now for fucks sake let him make White Jazz). The Grey is a film the likes of which John Sturges or Samuel Fuller would be proud to call their own. A relentless endurance test of a film with a poetic soul that is gripping all the way from its elliptical opening to the bleak perfection of its final image. Stripped down and primal, The Grey is simply put the kind of film that reminds me why I love film.
4. Cabin In The Woods: It would be impossible to name another film that entertained me half as much as Cabin In The Woods this year. Which is odd considering I hope I never see another film like it. Make no mistake Cabin In The Woods is full of genre pleasures, Whedon’s dialouge and plot twist, a climax that can only be described as the greatest Joe Dante movie never made, and a game cast led by Richard Jenkins, making him the unexpected owner of my two favorite horror performances of two separate decades. But the most exhilarating thing about Cabin is the way that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard burn this village to save it. Delivering a horror film not to end all horror films, but to begin them. Make no mistake the hand that crashes down at the end of the film is nothing less then a thrown glove. Here’s hoping that other horror filmmakers pick up the challenge.
3. Holy Motors: Perhaps the single most unquantifiable movie ever made, Few films have left me so wonderfully baffled as Holy Motors, a valentine to a vanishing world. More so than any other artform film is almost perpetually on the cusp of sea change. Now perhaps more than ever. Holy Motors embodies this feel, simultaneously an elegy for a school of filmmaking that is swiftly vanishing over the horizon, and an example of the bold new directions that are offered by the brave new world. Simply put Holy Motors is one of the most exhilarating films I’ve ever seen.
2. The Master: It is fitting that The Master is a film that deals both directly and obliquely with questions of religion. Because it is one of the most convincing portraits of hell I have ever seen. Make no mistake, that’s where the film takes place, inside a mind that is undergoing an agonizingly prolonged core meltdown. Anderson makes you sit there and share that agony for all 144 minutes of its runtime of some of the most abrasive virtuosic filmmaking I’ve ever seen.
1. Moonrise Kingdom: I don’t know if Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s best film, but its certainly his most beautiful, and perhaps his most Wes Andersony as well. Those who complain that Anderson is inhabiting his own pocket universe miss the point. It’s not simply that Anderson has a valid artistic voice and there’s no real reason that he should change it. It’s that the films he make are delicate enough that they only can survive within said universe (and the inclusion of some very non Wes Andersony actors like Bruce Willis and Harvey Keitel only speak to just how powerful that voice is).
Awash in gorgeous melancholy, Anderson’s fable of innocence surviving experience has the audacity to suggest that despite all evidence to the contrary both people and fate can find it within themselves to be kind. And the simple invocation of that complicated idea made for the most moving experience I had in a theater this year.