Tag: 2012

Best Movies of 2012: Part 3

Sorry I’ve taken so long here. Hectic week and I’ve seen two more movies from the year so this installment is going to start at 21 instead of 20 where I left off. Silly, I know, but I’ll go back and fix everything so it looks less dumb. Anyways, time to start with the really good stuff. Remember, asteriskes

21. Django Unchained. A-. *

Our mutual friend has a flair for the dramatic.

Django really only suffers in comparison to the masterpiece that is Inglourious Basterds. Where that movie had a lot of things going on underneath the surface this one feels more like a straight up slavery western, as straight up as those can be. There are some amazing scenes and performances (DiCaprio in particular) and Tarantino does his thing. I only hope that he continues to try to say things rather than make less interesting stuff.

20. Anna Karenina. A-. *

I am not ashamed of who I am or what I’ve done. Are you ashamed for me?

Joe Wright is maybe the best stylist director we have working today. His movies always look and feel amazing, and this is no different with certain key scenes taking place on a stage with the participants sometimes acting as the audience and the backstage stuff indicating the lower class areas of the story. It’s a fascinating device that highlights the performative nature of the ruling class in a society that has a rough relationship with the rich. Keira Knightley and Jude Law are fantastic, it’s just too bad the third part of the love triangle at the core of the film, Aaron Taylor-Johnson doesn’t do anything with the role. It makes it hard to believe Anna’s choices. I wish she stayed with Jude Law.

19. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. A-.

I know who you are, Sam. I know I’m quiet… and, and I should speak more. But if you knew the things that were in my head most of the time, you’d know what I really meant. How, how much we’re alike and, and how we’ve been through things… and you’re not small. You’re beautiful.

Adapted for the screen by the writer of the popular book, I was really surprised at how much I liked this. It’s a highschool movie which could spell disaster yet through a great script and wonderful acting from the three main kids the movie turns into something grand. It totally weirded me out, actually. Made me feel all these weird feelings about my time in high school (which was neither as good nor as bad as the events depicted here) and my current friend relationships. It’s all so effectively emotional and even artistically inspiring. Don’t look past this one.

18. Les Misérables. A-. *

I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living!

I guess there’s a reason why this story has been adapted and remade over and over again since 1862. It’s so damn emotional and it’s hard to not get caught up in the swell of things. Led by a strong Hugh Jackman turn and an amazing supporting performance by Anne Hathaway, the movie only hurts in a bad way when Russell Crowe is asked to sing. At all other times it hurts so good. I even liked all those horrible close ups.

17. Life of Pi. A-. *

I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.

I’m a fan of the first 90% of the book on which this film is based and luckily Ang Lee improves that percentage to about 95%. I still really hate the ideas the film has about God and “reality”. I can get past all of that for the majority of the film, though, because it’s so well made. I got to see it in 3D and it was truly a wonder to behold. I love the magical realism and Irrfan Khan saves a lot of what could be horrible voice over stuff. He even made me tear up during a speech at the end that I fundamentally disagreed with. That’s pretty powerful stuff.

16. The Master. A-. *

Man is not an animal. We are not a part of the animal kingdom. We sit far above that crown, perched as spirits, not beasts. I have unlocked and discovered a secret to living in these bodies that we hold.

I’m probably going to be tried for treason or something for putting this movie so low on my list. Well, hopefully the people with that kind of authority just stop reading this list now before they see what I put above it, then I’ll really get excommunicated. The unfortunate part is that I really really like this movie. It’s probably the best crafted movie on this list, everything is impeccable and works perfectly towards the goal of the film. It’s just that I didn’t have as much invested in this movie as I did with some of the others on this list and certainly with PTA’s previous films. It feels the most distant to me. I can’t really explain it, which, I guess, is apropos considering the film at hand.

15. Seven Psychopaths. A-. *

You didn’t think I was what? Serious? You think I’m not serious just because I carry a rabbit?

For the first twenty minutes or so of this movie had me worried. What happened to all of the wonderful character stuff and clever dialogue from In BrugesMartin McDonagh‘s previous film? It all disappeared for some mildly interesting things about writing a script. Have no fear, though, all of that stuff returns soon and the movie never stops getting better. It’s a rare happening, an increasingly good movie. Bolstered by standout work from Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken, the movie’s meta-ness threatens to get out of control but always stays on that brink without going over. It’s a movie about movies about stories and I kind of love that stuff.

14. Prometheus. A-. **

A king has his reign, and then he dies. It’s inevitable. That is natural order of things.

I probably have this higher than most other people. That’s fine. Everybody else just can’t handle the greatness. Does it have script problems? Certainly. Do they detract from the quality of the film? A little, that’s why this has a minus next to that A. Do I care? No. It’s such an interesting movie to me, filled with little idea pods and hints of larger things that all those issues fall to the wayside. A well acted, intense, sci-fi movie with greater things on it’s mind is something to be praised, not torn to shreds by plot-hole-spotters.

13. Holy Motors. A-.

I am so old I’m afraid I’ll never die.

This is by far the strangest movie on this list. It’s almost a sister movie to Cosmopolis, only good. Leos Carax drops us into this weird world where a man has a job which entails going to 11 different locations and acting out a scene or two from wildly different genres of film/life. It’s totally nuts. There’s a motion capture sex scene and an odd (to put it mildly) leprechaun-y troll character and a family drama and a bank robbery gone wrong, to name a few of the crazy things on display here. Denis Lavant is the actor and his physicality changes so much with each character he transforms into it seems like they are being played by different people. It’s a breathtaking achievement that isn’t scared to do whatever the hell it wants at any given moment.

12. Coriolanus. A-.

He that will give good words to thee will flatter beneath abhorring. What would you have, you curs that like nor peace nor war? The one affrights you, the other makes you proud. He that trusts to you where he should find you lions, finds you hares; where foxes, geese. Who deserves greatness, deserves your hate.

Shakespeare adaptations are always tricky and this lesser known play is harder still, with a bunch of politics of a country that doesn’t actually exist mucking up the process. Luckily, first time director Ralph Fiennes does a great job of focusing us on the relationship between the two men at the heart of this conflict and the people around them trying to turn them towards their own goals. It’s a classic story, really, and the cast pulls off the tough Shakespearean dialogue with aplomb.

11. Looper. A. *

Then I saw it, I saw a mom who would die for her son, a man who would kill for his wife, a boy, angry & alone, laid out in front of him the bad path. I saw it & the path was a circle, round & round. So I changed it.

Looper is the third film by writer/director Rian Johnson and continues his streak of amazing films. I’ve loved all of them, even though this is the least of the three. It’s a time travel movie that has very little time travel, and an action movie which slows to a crawl in its second half to develop characters. Weird, right? Well, it’s those elements along with Johnson’s fine eye that make it such a great film. Everything about this movie works.

10. Girl Walk//All Day. A.

If there’s a movie you haven’t heard of on this list it’s probably this one. That’s because it’s actually a 75-ish minute full-album video featuring the entirety of mashup whiz Girl Talk’s All Day record. And there’s no talking, only dancing. There is a modicum of a story, yet another love triangle between The Girl, The Gentleman, and The Creep, but all of that takes second billing to the wonderfully joyous dancing and fluid camerawork on display. It’s just too damn fun not to be in the top ten for the year. And the best part is you can watch the entire thing for free here. Please do.

9. The Deep Blue Sea. A.

Lust isn’t the whole of life, but Freddie is, you see, for me. The whole of life. And death. So, put a label on that, if you can.

I watched my first and second Terence Davies movies this year, the other being The Long Day Closes, which ended up really high on my top 100 list. This one won’t make that list but it is good enough to place in the top ten for the year. It is, shockingly, another love triangle and where Girl Walk plays with the trope a little bit, this film embraces all of the dramatic potential of that situation. Thanks to astounding acting by Rachel WeiszTom Hiddleston, and Simon Russell Beale, every emotion is amped up to 11 while Davies masterfully orchestrates the drama with his soft focus and long takes. Scenes of note include a long tracking shot in a flashback to Weisz and Beale hiding in an Underground station during WWII and the first encounter between Weisz and Hiddleston which emphasizes the physical nature of their transgression. It’s fantastic stuff.

8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A. **

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That’s because I am afraid and it gives me courage.

Nobody in their right mind thought that stretching The Hobbit out to 3 movies was a good idea, and it still isn’t. This feels too long and bloated with things that don’t matter (Rivendell could have lasted 2 minutes, not 15) and yet I still loved it. It’s always nice to get back to Middle Earth on screen and Jackson still has a great eye for the more fantastical elements of the world. And there are more of those here than in the entirety of the Lord of the Rings films, from the rabbit sled to the fighting mountains and the goblins that live inside them. It’s a way more fun movie than any of the previous three, though not as well made as any of them. I’m super excited for the (even sillier titled) Desolation of Smaug later this year. BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH!

7. Cloud Atlas. A. *

Fear, belief, love. Phenomena that determined the course of our lives. These forces begin long before we are born and continue after we perish.

Cloud Atlas is one of those books that people call unfilmable thanks to the weird structure and confusing timelines and potential psychobabble. Tom TykwerAndy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski co-direct and somehow manage to pull all of this into some kind of cohesive whole. While some hated the idea of having all the actors play different characters in different timelines, I welcomed the bold choice and I think it payed off spectacularly, especially with Hugo Weaving and Hugh Grant in the evil roles. It’s also quite a marvel mechanically as it moves from timeline to timeline across decades and centuries. The pace of the movie is fast and loose, which keeps every ball in the air and never lets us catch our breath. And it looks gorgeous.

6. The Avengers. A. **

I won’t touch Barton. Not until I make him kill you! Slowly, intimately, in every way he knows you fear! And then he’ll wake just long enough to see his good work, and when he screams, I’ll split his skull! This is MY bargain, you mewling quim!

It took four years and five movies to set up the events of this film in the Marvel film universe and with Joss Whedon‘s second directorial effort it all payed off. He took the broken characters that make up this superhero team and bounced them off each other in his typical quick and witty way. Bringing back nearly everybody left alive at the end of all of those individual films and throwing us the man who was always meant to play Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) was a risky choice that payed off big time. Whedon also shows off his visual skills with some wonderful shots of action and dialogue, including the giant tracking shot at the center of the battle for New York City. I’ve seen it three times already and will be happy to see it again and again and again.

5. Lincoln. A. *

I am the president of the United States of America, clothed in immense power! You will procure me those votes!

I was one of those guys that liked War Horse so I think I was a little more excited for Lincoln than those that were burnt out on Spielberg schmaltz. Thankfully, Lincoln is probably one of the ‘berg’s top 5 movies, due in large part to the supreme performance by Daniel Day Lewis and the script by Tony Kushner which gave DDL lots of room to play. This is the most surprisingly funny movie of the year and both of those guys deserve the credit for making Lincoln into a real person and not a mythological figure. It’s a movie marred only by it’s opening and closing scenes and a pretty bad turn by Sally Field who didn’t figure out how to play a crazy person very well.

4. The Cabin in the Woods. A. *

Yes, you had “Zombies.” But this is “Zombie Redneck Torture Family.” Entirely separate thing. It’s like the difference between an elephant and an elephant seal.

Horror movies are great. I love them, even the crappy ones. I get the feeling that the duo behind this film (Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon) share that sentiment with me. The movie pokes fun at all the silly tropes that horror films use in a playful way. It’s not mocking horror movies, it’s embracing them, eating them up, and spitting them back out with a heaping dose of meta-fiction thrown on top. It escalates wonderfully as well, going from what you expect to what you’ve always wanted to happen in a movie like this. The last 30 minutes are spectacular. DING!

3. We Need to Talk About Kevin. A. *

It’s like this: you wake and watch TV, get in your car and listen to the radio you go to your little jobs or little school, but you don’t hear about that on the 6 o’clock news, why? ‘Cause nothing is really happening, and you go home and watch some more TV and maybe it’s a fun night and you go out and watch a movie. I mean it’s got so bad that half the people on TV, inside the TV, they’re watching TV. What are these people watching, people like me?

This is technically a 2011 movie but I didn’t see it until February of last year, and that was in a theater so I’m putting it on this list. Deal with it. It’s a truly amazing film, full of artistry and intense emotional struggles as a mother (Tilda Swinton) tries to love her son but just can’t. Well, that’s half of the movie. The other half still follows her as she tries to deal with the consequences of an act that becomes clear as the movie goes on. I won’t go into too much detail here to save the experience for any of you that haven’t watched it yet. Let’s just say that this movie is even more relevant now than it was when it came out. Director Lynne Ramsay totally immerses us in this horrible situation with her use of color and sound. It’s a singular movie experience.

2. Skyfall. A. **

It always makes me feel a bit melancholy. Grand old war ship. being ignominiously haunted away to scrap… The inevitability of time, don’t you think? What do you see?

I liked this movie so much I saw it twice in a 24 hour period. James Bond has always been hit or miss. It’s part of the charm of the series, you never know what you’re going to get from film to film. This time we got the best movie yet. Daniel Craig’s Bond is older and rustier than ever. He faces a world where his necessity is in question. Do we even need a Bond anymore? By the end of the movie the answer is a resounding yes, especially if they all look and feel like this. Outstanding work from Judi DenchJavier BardemBen WhishawSam Mendes, and Roger Deakins meld into something wonderful. And it even has thematic depth!

1. Moonrise Kingdom. A+. *

There’s a cold water crabber moored off Broken Rock. The skipper owes me an IOU. We’ll see if he can take you on as a claw cracker. It won’t be an easy life, but it’s better than shock therapy.

There was a time when I didn’t like Wes Anderson. Fantastic Mr. Fox changed that and now I look forward to every new movie he makes. This was the first I got to see on the big screen and his meticulousness in framing and the art direction really pops when everything is larger than life. Featuring one of the few times when I’ve liked Ed Norton in a movie and a bunch of really solid supporting roles, the real stars are the two newcomers that play the kids at the center of the story (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward). It is, like most Wes Anderson films, full of melancholy and nostalgia and the driest wit and now that I have figured him out I really love it.

 

That’s the list. I hope you got something out of it. There is, of course, another, hidden list that is peeking out around the edges here. The list of movies I just didn’t get to. There are a ton of these and most of them not interesting. Here are the interesting ones:

This is Not a Film, Damsels in Distress, The Five-Year Engagement, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Headhunters, Rust and Bone, Men in Black 3, Oslo August 31st, Your Sister’s Sister, Magic Mike, Ted, Take This Waltz, The Imposter, Shut Up and Play the Hits, Ruby Sparks, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Searching for Sugar Man, Hope Springs, The Bourne Legacy, Compliance, Lawless, Arbitrage, End of Watch, The Sessions, Flight, Chasing Ice, Rise of the Guardians, Hitchcock, The Guilt Trip, Jack Reacher, This Is 40, Not Fade Away, Tabu.

So if you can make a case for any of those please do in the comments below. Also let me know if you agree or disagree with any of my list items. Or even give your top 10 or whatever!

Best Movies of 2012: Part 2

Turns out I’ve seen 65 movies from 2012, including one movie I saw in between starting and ending this post. None of the movies I forgot about yesterday were in my bottom third of the year, so I won’t have to edit that post outside of putting different numbers on each entry. I’ll be doing that once I finish the last post in this series (likely on Monday). So even though I left off yesterday’s list at 41, I’ll be starting today’s at 44 and going from there down to 21. Sit back and enjoy.

44. The Queen of Versailles. B.

What’s my driver’s name?

An interesting documentary about a family that was building the biggest house in the US turned into an even more interesting documentary about living in a changing world when the economic collapse of 2007 hits. It’s fascinating to see what these people see as normal and what happens when they are confronted with normal normality. These were the 1%, and the film goes to great lengths to show how they’re real human beings with real problems.

43. Wreck-It Ralph. B. *

Is it “Turbo” to want a friend? Or a medal? Or a piece of pie every once and awhile? Is it “Turbo” to want more out of life?

An enjoyable animated film about overcoming your programming or something like that. Its message is one I don’t really get behind. I think it goes too close to “accept who you are in life” which is fine when it’s a personality trait but not so fine when it’s a job. We see Ralph being a caring person even though he’s supposed to be the villain. By the end of the movie he’s still the villain. That’s not cool. It is a really well made movie, though, and fun to watch.

42. Jeff, Who Lives at Home. B.

You know what? I have a asshole for a brother and it breaks my heart.

A few great scenes here highlight the superb acting and character stuff going on. It’s a little over the top. I like that. I’m having some problems coming up with things to say about it, though, which is why it’s down here .

41. Haywire. B. *

I don’t even know how to play that. I don’t wear the dress. Make Paul wear the dress.

Fantastic punching and kicking with a hole at the center of the film. Casting an MMA fighter as the lead solves some problems (the intensity of the action is top notch) but creates others (she can’t act). Luckily there are plenty of supporting male actors that take up the acting slack. The fight with Michael Fassbender is one to watch.

40. Brave. B. *

There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us, you only have to be brave enough to see it.

Pixar’s first Disney Princess movie was pretty ok but not indicative of their super high standards. It does things these stories don’t normally do and it looks great as their films always do. I wish there was something special here. There just isn’t. It’s perfectly fine.

39. Frankenweenie. B.

You do not understand science, so you are afraid of it. Like a dog is afraid of thunder or balloons. To you, science is magic and witchcraft because you have such small minds. I cannot make your heads bigger, but your children’s heads, I can take them and crack them open. This is what I try to do, to get at their brains!

I love all of the little classic movie touches that Burton puts on this claymation remake of an early short of his. Filming it in black and white was also a great touch. It’s a little too inconsequential for me, even though the final 20 minutes or so have some great action stuff and pulls the ideas at play into overdrive.

38. Dredd 3D. B+. *

It’s all a deep end.

See, The Raid: Redemption? This is how you do a big dumb action movie. It has the same basic plot but there are at least sketches of characters to keep me interested in what’s going on. More importantly, the directors justify all the slowmo action with a plot device that makes everything look awesome. I’d gladly watch another in this world.

37. Wanderlust. B+.

This is historic. The revolution has begun – all because this courageous woman saw an unjust world and waved her boobies at it.

A pretty funny comedy with the always worth-watching Paul Rudd and a fantastic supporting cast. It’s a fish out of water story that manages to get across the problems with the fish and the new surroundings he finds himself in.

36. Argo. B+.

It’s got horses in it, it’s a Western.

It’s got a great opening scene which sets up the stakes for the rest of the film and ratchets up the tension a few notches every minute. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t do much with that. All too much talking going on. Affleck’s best remains Gone Baby Gone.

35. John Carter. B+. *

Ah, Zodanga, where the men are as limited as the menu and woman are as hard as the beds.

The budget, and how ticket sales couldn’t match it, seemed to be all anybody was talking about with John Carter. That’s a shame, because it’s a super fun movie full of just-right performances for the kind of movie they’re in and stellar visual touches thanks to Pixar alum Andrew Stanton. As a space opera and a movie it bests any of the Star Wars films.

34. 21 Jump Street. B+. *

We’re reviving a canceled undercover project from the ’80s and revamping it for modern times. The people behind this lack creativity and they’ve run out of ideas, so what they do now is just recycle shit from the past and hope that nobody will notice.

This movie is proof positive that movies based on nostalgia tv shows can actually be good. It’s the chemistry between the two leads and the surprising performance from Channing Tatum that makes this movie work as well as it does. Funny and even a little touching.

33. Safety Not Guaranteed. B+.

To go it alone or to go with a partner. When you choose a partner you have to have compromises and sacrifices, but it’s a price you pay. Do i want to follow my every whim and desire as I make my way through time and space, absolutely. But at the end of the day do I need someone when I’m doubting myself and I’m insecure and my heart’s failing me? Do I need someone who, when the heat gets hot, has my back?

One of those “quirky” comedy romance things that has a lot more going for it. I’ll watch Aubrey Plaza in anything, she’s always great. The romance here is believable and a bit sad. The ending is just what I wanted from a movie like this.

32. Bernie. B+.

We must always be on guard for the mischievous lip drift. Even the slightest hint of teeth can be disastrous. You cannot have grief tragically becoming a comedy.

This was the year of unexpected people giving standout performances and Bernie continues the run. Jack Black is perfect as a good man gone bad in this weird little movie. Based on a true story, some of the people interviewed in the pseudo-documentary parts are the real townsfolk. That’s cool. This one is worth it just for a career best show from Jack Black. Everything else is icing.

31. Amour. B+.

Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.

The second Oscar Best Picture nominee to show up on the list. This one is in French! And surprise surprise, it’s depressing as hell. An old couple has to deal with the mental and physical deterioration of the wife, played superbly by Emmanuelle Riva. Michael Haneke can be depended upon to give his audience and emotional time, I just prefer his more “out-there” works like The White Ribbon or Funny Games.

30. The Bay. B+.

I’m going to show the world what happened here.

One of those found footage movies that seem to be all over the place. This is, like many of them, a horror film and it’s at its best early on while the chaos and footage from multiple sources ramp up the tension and keeps everybody on the edge of their seats. The movie gets more ridiculous as you find out what’s happening, though there are still some fantastically disturbing scenes (the police going into the house).

29. Killing Them Softly. B+.

They cry, they plead, they beg, they piss themselves, they cry for their mothers. It gets embarrassing. I like to kill ’em softly. From a distance.

I’ll almost always like Brad Pitt. I think he has the right tools to be a blockbuster star and an indie darling. Here he re-teams with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford director Andrew Dominik to great effect. It’s stylish as hell and has some interesting things to say about the American pursuit of whatever we’re pursuing. Check out that final scene for some greatness.

28. The Amazing Spider-Man. B+. *

You should see the other guy, who in this case is a large, giant lizard.

Much of the talk about this film had little to do with the film itself. Let’s put aside the concept of a “necessary” film (are any? aren’t all?) and judge this movie for what it is, a great reboot of a series that deserved better than it got in its previous incarnation. I never liked many of the actors in the previous versions and Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone and co. were all steps up for me. Now that we’ve got the origin covered, I’m excited to see where this series goes.

27. The Impossible. B+. *

Lucas, go help people. You’re good at it.

Holy wow that tsunami scene is incredible. The most intense thing I’ve witnessed since 127 Hours. That movie, however, built up to THE SCENE and then had a cathartic release and then credits. This movie kind of fizzles after the first 30 minutes or so. There’s still some great acting going on, including a newcomer performance (Tom Holland) that bests that other new kid on the block from Beasts. It just can’t sustain the gut punch over the entire film.

26. Jiro Dreams of Sushi. A-.

I’ve never once hated this job. I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. Even though I’m eighty five years old, I don’t feel like retiring. That’s how I feel.

An inspiring documentary about dedication to a craft/art and what it can bring you. Jiro makes the best sushi in the world and his work ethic is second to none. Besides being an interesting look at how he runs his restaurant, it’s also a bit of a character study. Jiro isn’t some uptight jerk, he just knows what he knows and does what he does. A late trip out to the countryside to meet with some old schoolmates sheds a little extra light on this fascinating man.

25. The Grey. A-.

Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.

Liam Neeson fights wolves this is not. It’s actually a carefully considered existential survival film. Who would have thought? Well photographed and intense in the right ways with a sublime ending, this one might be the surprise of the year.

24. Silver Linings Playbook. A-.

You know, for a while, I thought you were the best thing that ever happened to me. But now I’m starting to think you’re the worst.

Though I prefer David O. Russell‘s weirder films over his family dramas, I still like his last two movies quite a bit. Here it’s the better-than-usual portrayal of mental illness and solid acting from Jennifer Lawrence and Robert De Niro looking like he actually cares about the movie he’s in that vaults this as high as it is on my list. And who doesn’t love a dance scene as the climax of a movie? Curmudgeons, that’s who.

23. Zero Dark Thirty. A-. *

You can’t run a global network of interconnected cells from a cave.

Going in I thought this had a good shot at making my top ten for the year. As you can see, it didn’t. I liked it a lot, I just didn’t love it. There’s the torture stuff that everybody is obligated to talk about (it doesn’t condone torture, nor does it say that torture was essential to the finding of Osama) but the really interesting stuff is what Jessica Chastain is doing. She builds a character slowly but surely so that by the last shot we feel as conflicted as she seems to. I wish there was more drama, but I like what we got.

22. ParaNorman. A-. *

I have cheered the un-cheerable, Norman. And I’m not letting you give up now.

My favorite animated film this year by a long shot, ParaNorman also has fun horror references and packs even more character stuff into the film than Frankenweenie does. It looks great and is even a little scary. There are some wonderful things going on a bit below the surface that make for one of the more subversive and interesting kids films in a while..

21. Chronicle. A-. *

And as human beings, we’re considered the apex predator but only because smaller animals can’t feed on us because of weapons and stuff, right? A lion does not feel guilty when it kills a gazelle, right? You do not feel guilty when you squash a fly… and I think that means something. I just think that really means something.

Yet another found footage movie. I always say that a new found footage movie should do something different with the formula. Chronicle does, introducing a bit more filmic creativity with a plot-justified floating camera. We are no longer tethered to some dude’s wrist. Chronicle also has a pretty cool story going for it, combining teen angst with superpowers in a clever and interestingly dark twist on the superhero genre.

Well, that’s all for now. Leave a comment if you think any of these movies should be higher or lower on a list. Or if you have anything else to say. Check back on Monday for the final part of the list.

Best Movies of 2012: Part 1

I’ve seen 61 movies from 2012 as of this writing. That is, I believe, a record for me. And now I will inflict upon you my recounting of them. As usual, this will be from the bottom up and I’ll break it into 3 pieces for easier digestion. If the title is underlined, click it for a full review. If it has a star at the end it means I saw it in theaters.

61. Underworld: Awakening. F.

This is a new war and it’s only beginning.

I think it’s about time to stop this whole thing. We’re now jumping years ahead and making ever more ridiculous creatures. It’s a werewolf but bigger! Scary!

60. The Raid: Redemption. F.

Pulling a trigger is like ordering a takeout.

I shouldn’t fall asleep during a movie which is almost entirely action and yet I did. A complete lack of character and story make this 90 minute movie feel like a slog.

59. Resident Evil: Retribution. D.

How do you think Umbrella populates these test scenarios? Hundreds of people dead each time they run a simulation. Umbrella imprints them with basic memories, just enough to ensure a correct emotional response to the threat of the bio-hazard. In one life, she could be a suburban housewife. The next, a businesswoman in New York. The next, a soldier working for Umbrella.

Another movie with pretty much only action but at least this one has the generosity to make up crazy stuff. Zombie dragons? Sure, why not. I’ll still watch the next one.

58. The Devil Inside. D.

You’ll burn.

One of those yearly possession movies. Entirely ho hum. At least it makes you read a little.

57. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. D+.

You will tell me or I will eat your stinking soul!

Four out of my bottom five movies have a colon in the title. There must be something there. This is better than the previous movie in the series because of Idris Elba. This doesn’t mean very much.

56. The Campaign. D+. *

Remember the politician that punched a baby? Well, he’s at it again. He just punched Uggie, the dog from the Academy Award-winning film The Artist.

One fantastic scene (The Lord’s Prayer) cannot save this. Zach Galifianakis keeps on trying, for which I salute him.

55. Chernobyl Diaries. D+.

Have you heard of extreme tourism?

A scary movie devoid of scares except for one (the bear). It does have a good sense of place, though.

54. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. C-.

Pop your pecs.

The Rock is charismatic as hell. He’s always fun to watch. And there are some fun ideas here. It mostly doesn’t hold together, though.

53. Cosmopolis. C-.

Where is your office? What do you do exactly? You know things, I think this is what you do. I think you acquire information and turn it into something awful.

Besides The Raid: Redemption, this is probably going to be the biggest controversy here. I really didn’t get anything from this movie. There’s a lot of stuff going on but it means nothing to me. It’s almost a void of a movie.

52. Safe House. C.

You practice anything a long time, you get good at it. You tell a hundred lies a day, is sounds like the truth. Everyone betrays everyone.

“No one is safe, no one is house.” Doug Benson.

51. Friends with Kids. C.

I know that she is honest; she won’t even take the little shampoo bottles from the hotel room, or sneak into the movie theater for a double feature. She always buys a second ticket. Always.

It’s nice to see Adam Scott in a leading role. The movie is kinda dumb, though. It has one great scene at a dinner table that hints at what the movie could have been. It isn’t.

49. Wrath of the Titans. C+. *

You want me to say it, brother? You want me to say I’m afraid? Doesn’t that go without saying? When mortals die, their souls go somewhere – there’s no place where gods go when they die! There’s nothing, just oblivion.

This is the first movie on this list that I can say I had a good time with. Use it as a line of demarcation between good and bad. Or not bad and bad. It’s a CGI fest that works at being spectacular.

48. Lockout. C+.

That’ll freeze the nerves in this spot for 24 hours. You want some in your mouth?

SPACE JAIL! Guy Pearce does a pretty darn good Kurt Russell in this spiritual successor to Escape from New York. And that Irish guy is pretty cool.

47. Snow White and the Huntsman. B-.

I was ruined by a king like you once. I replaced his queen. An old woman. And in time I too would have been replaced. Men use women. They ruin us and when they are finished with us they toss us to the dogs like scraps.

An amalgam of fairy tale tropes and more obvious homages plus a great villainous performance from Charlize Theron and an insane one from Sam Spruell as her brother.

46. The Dark Knight Rises. B-. *

There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.

at the halfway point when I did my mid-year list. How the mighty have fallen. Let’s all hope that Christopher Nolan moves on to something that actually interests him again because it felt like all of his passion left between The Dark Knight and this. He’s on a bit of a skid now and since I have one of his movies in my top 100 (The Prestige), I hope he can pull himself out of it. At least Bane and Catwoman are fun.

45. The Hunger GamesB-. *

My mother said, ‘It looks like District 12 may finally have a winner.’ But she wasn’t talking about me. She was talking about you.

A book adaptation that fails by being too faithful to the source material. It needed some actual adaptation instead of just copying all the dialogue from the book and filming it with a shaky cam. And they ruined the wolf things at the end. I have high hopes for the next film, though, because of a new director and some more room to wiggle.

44. Beasts of the Southern Wild. B-.

Everybody loses the thing that made them. It’s even how it’s supposed to be in nature. The brave men stay and watch it happen, they don’t run.

Boy, this one totally should have worked for me. I love magical realism and pseudo-fairy tale movies (see the high placement of Magnolia and Where the Wild Things Are on my top 100 for proof). It really didn’t though. Looks great and some nice performances from non-actors but they can’t pull this one together.

43. Premium Rush. B-.

I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can’t stop. Don’t want to, either.

Dumb fun. Michael Shannon is pretty fun being evil. Too much non-action, though.

42. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. B-.

Men have enslaved each other since they invented gods to forgive them for doing it.

This is way better than I expected it to be. There’s a fight on top of a stampede of horses. And the slavery/vampire fodder thing is kinda clever. It does what it needs to do.

41. Killer Joe. B-.

You insult me again, and I’ll cut your face off and wear it over my own.

Bleak as hell and also kinda funny. Matthew McConaughey is fantastic. The last scene is hilarious and brutal at the same time. Weird. Watch Bug instead.

Come back tomorrow for the next 20 movies on my list. Have anything to say about these films? Leave me a comment and we’ll have a talk.

Best Books Read in 2012

I didn’t read enough books to make a 2012 only list, so these will be all the books I read last year, old and new. And listed in order from worst to best. Find me on Goodreads and follow along as I try to read 40 books this year. I got through 34 last year, so I’m rounding up to the nearest ten.

30. Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

“No one in the world gets what they want and that is beautiful”

I really didn’t care for this one at all. Too many references and not enough character. It’s kind of a silly story about a guy so famous and rich people study his favorite books and movies to find clues to winning his inheritance. There are some fun sequences, and the virtual reality world has some interesting concepts to it, but I just didn’t care about any of the characters and their silly preoccupations with this rich guy and their own minor flaws. There’s nothing a few words with a therapist couldn’t fix here. Silly.

29. Batman: Hush – Jeph Loeb

This one suffered from comparisons to the Arkham City game I played just before I read it. It tries to cram a bunch of the characters and villains into a big conspiracy or something and it just ends up feeling like a visit to each person’s area in a videogame with a boss fight and then a few words about not knowing what’s going on. And the new villain is pretty dumb, I thought. Just play the game, it’s got a better story and a better sense of how to use these characters. I don’t know what all the fuss is about.

28. The Fall – Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

“Power revealed is power sacrificed. The truly powerful exert their influence in ways unseen, unfelt. Some would say that a thing visible is a thing vulnerable.”

The second book in this vampire series continues to build the mythology but I mostly didn’t care about it. There are a few scary scenes but it just didn’t mean anything to me. It’s just so rote. Not enough GdT in this collaboration.

27. The Map of Time – Felix J. Palma

“Merrick belonged to that class of reader who was able to forget with amazing ease the hand moving the characters behind the scenes of the novel.”

This book kept almost being really great. It would peak during the middle of each of the three stories set in Victorian London when things looked like they would be going in one direction. But then they would turn to something less interesting and less exciting. I get what Palma’s going for (I don’t want to spoil what is a fun if frustrating read), I just didn’t really care about it. It’s unfortunate. A book with Jack the Ripper, time travel, and H.G. Wells should be great. This is mostly missed potential.

26. The Infernals – John Connolly

“Why is there always one bloke in these boy bands who looks like he came to fix the boiler and somehow got bullied into joining the group?”

The followup to a really great book (The Gates), this one also disappointed. It got better once everybody got into Hell and there was some nice fairy-tale qualities there, especially in the torture forest scene. All the characters from the first book return and that’s kind of a bad move, I think. It would have done better to introduce more new characters instead of rehashing old ones in new roles. It’s still a fun and easy read, scary enough for a kids book, but again, much missed potential.

25. A Feast for Crows – George R.R. Martin

“When you smell our candles burning, what does it make you think of, my child?”
Winterfell, she might have said. I smell snow and smoke and pine needles. I smell the stables. I smell Hodor laughing, and Jon and Robb battling in the yard, and Sansa singing about some stupid lady fair. I smell the crypts where the stone kings sit. I smell hot bread baking. I smell the godswood. I smell my wolf. I smell her fur, almost as if she were still beside me.
“I don’t smell anything,” she said.”

The least of the A Song of Ice and Fire books is still a pretty good book. I understand Martin’s decision to split this book and the next in half, characterwise, but you really lose a sense of the scope when you’re only dealing with certain characters in the whole book. There are lots of memorable happenings, though, including a fantastic arc for Cersei.

24. X’ed Out – Charles Burns

I loved Black Hole, Burns’ previous graphic novel, so I thought I’d give this one a try. Mostly I’m just confused by it. It’s surreal as hell and I don’t know many of the references I’m told are contained within. I’ll finish out the series, but I’m not in any hurry to do so.

23. The Thief – Megan Whalen Turner

“They’re going to leave me. All I wanted to do was lie in the dry prickly grass with my feet in a ditch forever. I could be a convenient sort of milemarker, I thought. Get to the thief and you know you are halfway to Methana. Where ever Methana might be.”

I’m assured that the rest of this series gets really good and I believe it because the book gets better as it goes along and by the end I really liked the world and the characters. It’s kind of typical genre fare for the majority of the story and even though it’s told in first person you don’t get any sense of the main character until the end. That’s all on purpose, though, so it’s not as bad as it seems at first glance. I’m excited to keep reading this year.

22. This Book is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It – David Wong

“There are two types of people on planet Earth, Batman and Iron Man. Batman has a secret identity, right? So Bruce Wayne has to walk around every second of every day knowing that if somebody finds out his secret, his family is dead, his friends are dead, everyone he loves gets tortured to death by costumed supervillains. And he has to live with the weight of that secret every day. But not Tony Stark, he’s open about who he is. He tells the world he’s Iron Man, he doesn’t give a shit. He doesn’t have that shadow hanging over him, he doesn’t have to spend energy building up those walls of lies around himself. You’re one or the other – either you’re one of those people who has to hide your real self because it would ruin you if it came out, because of your secret fetishes or addictions or crimes, or you’re not one of those people. And the two groups aren’t even living in the same universe.”

Jason Pargin writes the second in his comedy/horror series under the pseudonym of his main character. The first book in the series is higher on the list. This one is less inventive and not as fun, but I seem to be one of the few with that opinion. It’s still a fun read. Again some scary parts but I would have preferred more.

21. The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss

“I swear I’ve never met a man who has your knack for lack of social grace. If you weren’t naturally charming, someone would have stabbed you by now.”

Another followup in a fantasy series. When will they end? I can’t deny the cleverness on display here and I never hated my time reading. Everything just feels so drawn out. There’s a part in the middle that feels interminable. I liked the first book a lot better and I will again continue the series, this one didn’t do much for me, though.

20. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater – Kurt Vonnegut

“I love you sons of bitches. You’re all I read any more. You’re the only ones who’ll talk all about the really terrific changes going on, the only ones crazy enough to know that life is a space voyage, and not a short one, either, but one that’ll last for billions of years. You’re the only ones with guts enough to really care about the future, who really notice what machines do to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us, what big, simple ideas do to us, what tremendous misunderstanding, mistakes, accidents, catastrophes do to us. You’re the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distance without limit, over mysteries that will never die, over the fact that we are right now determining whether the space voyage for the next billion years or so is going to be Heaven or Hell.”

This was a re-read for me of the second Vonnegut book I ever read. I remember liking it more than I did this time. Now I recognize the almost comical single-minded focus of the satire. Yes, rich people are silly and care about silly things. It’s good, it just isn’t as good as I remembered.

19. Red Seas Under Red Skies – Scott Lynch

“Mew,” the kitten retorted, locking gazes with him. It had the expression common to all kittens, that of a tyrant in the becoming. ‘I was comfortable, and you dared to move,’ those jade eyes said. ‘For that you must die.’ When it became apparent to the cat that its two or three pounds of mass were insufficient to break Locke’s neck with one mighty snap, it put its paws on his shoulders and began sharing its drool-covered nose with his lips. He recoiled.”

Here’s another second in a fantasy series with a higher previous entry on this list. Heh. Anyways, our master theif and his musclebound best friend go to the high seas and infiltrate a pirate ship in the pseudo-Italian fantasy world. Lynch has created a fantastic group of characters and an excellent world, but this one was a little too scattershot, especially when compared to the first in the series.

18. Mistborn: The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson

“What? Is that boy crazy?”
“Most young men his age are somewhat crazy, I think,” Sazed said with a smile. “However, this is hardly unexpected. Haven’t you noticed how he stares at you when you enter a room?”
“I thought he was just creepy.”

Look at that, another fantasy novel. I guess I like those. Another great group of characters and a very interesting magic system based on burning metals to attract or propel things and do other stuff. And the toppling of the evil emperor is always a fun goal.

17. The Passage – Justin Cronin

“Rust, corrosion, wind, rain. The nibbling teeth of mice and the acrid droppings of insects and the devouring jaws of years. The was of nature upon machines, of the planet’s chaotic forces upon the works of humankind. The energy that man had pulled from the earth was being inexorably pulled back into it, sucked like water down a drain. Before long, if it hadn’t happened already, not a single high-tension pole would be left standing on the earth.

Mankind had built a world that would take a hundred years to die. A century for the last light to go out.”

What a weird vampire book. The opening is so intense and then it turns into a strange soap opera for a few hundred pages. And then it becomes a road novel. And then it becomes The Walking Dead. And it’s also pretty damn well written for a vampire book. I’m excited to read the follow up to see if Cronin can keep up the weirdness.

16. John Dies at the End – David Wong

“And watch out for Molly. See if she does anything unusual. There’s something I don’t trust about the way she exploded and then came back from the dead like that.”

The book before This Book is Full of Spiders, it serves as an introduction to a totally crazy world full of drugs that give you magic powers and meat monsters and alternate dimensions. It’s totally nuts. And funny, and even scary a few times.

15. Locke and Key (Vols. 1-4) – Joe Hill

Comic books! Horror! Pun titles! The Locke kids move back to their family mansion after their father is killed in a horrible event. They find keys that have helped the Locke kids throughout the ages fight evil. The best is the key that goes into the base of the head and opens up the mind. You can put a book in and know all of the knowledge contained within, or take out your fear. It’s a great concept and the generational storytelling is pretty awesome. I’m excited to see it wrap up this year.

14. Wonderstruck – Brian Selznick

“Ben remembered reading about curators in “Wonderstruck”, and thought about what id meant to curate your own life, as his dad had done here. What would it be like to pick and choose the objects and stories that would go in your own cabinet? How would Ben curate his own life? And then, thinking about his museum box, and his house, and his books, and the secret room, he realized he’d already begun doing it. Maybe, thought Ben, we are all cabinets of wonders.”

A fun dual tale of a young deaf woman and a boy who loses his mother. It really is a fun book, despite that description. The girl’s story happens all in pictures and the boy’s in prose and when they cross over it’s glorious. The pencil drawings a really beautiful and they accent the nice writing. I hope this follows in Hugo’s path.

13. The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch

“I’ve got kids that enjoy stealing. I’ve got kids that don’t think about stealing one way or the other, and I’ve got kids that just tolerate stealing because they know they’ve got nothing else to do. But nobody–and I mean nobody–has ever been hungry for it like this boy. If he had a bloody gash across his throat and a physiker was trying to sew it up, Lamora would steal the needle and thread and die laughing. He…steals too much.”

I kind of loved this. It helped that I read it while on vacation to Italy as it takes place in a pseudo-Renaissance-Venice. Lynch just gets so much out of his characters and plot and setting. It’s such a fun romp. If you liked Ocean’s 11 and you can handle some fantasy stuff, give it a shot.

12. Ragnarok: The End of the Gods – A.S. Byatt

“He was beautiful, that was always affirmed, but his beauty was hard to fix or to see, for he was always glimmering, flickering, melting, mixing, he was the shape of a shapeless flame, he was the eddying thread of needle-shapes in the shapeless mass of the waterfall. He was the invisible wind that hurried the clouds in billows and ribbons. You could see a bare tree on the skyline bent by the wind, holding up twisted branches and bent twigs, and suddenly its formless form would resolve itself into that of the trickster.”

A little book, but not small. It’s the Norse myths combined with some autobiographical WWII stuff. Byatt gets nature and the nature of humanity and it’s all on display in this one little work.

11. A Dance with Dragons – George R.R. Martin

“An admiral without ships, a hand without fingers, in service of a king without a throne. Is this a knight who comes before us, or the answer to a child’s riddle?”

Martin does what he does. Nothing can match the greatness of the third entry to the series, but this one does a good job of getting back to what made the series work. It gets bogged down in Dany running the city and all that crap but the rest is so good. Some amazing scenes on display.

10. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon

“Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.”

I read this all in one sitting. Haddon gets into the mind of the autistic main character so well that you see the world differently for the rest of the day. It’s inventive and even a little scary. A truly moving book.

9. Swamplandia! – Karen Russell

“A single note, held in an amber suspension of time, like a charcoal drawing of Icarus falling. It was sad and fierce all at once, alive with a lonely purity. It went on and on, until my own lungs were burning.
“What bird are you calling?” I asked finally, when I couldn’t stand it any longer.
The Bird Man stopped whistling. He grinned, so that I could see all his pebbly teeth.

“You.”

What a debut novel. It’s everything that Beasts of the Southern Wild should have been. The tale of a family in the Everglades that runs a gator show/park which gets thrown into chaos after the mother dies. It’s a fairy tale, a journey into hell, an account of working at a low-rent Sea World. It’s magical realism and I loved it.

8. Cosmicomics – Italo Calvino

“To fall in the void as I fell: none of you knows what that means… I went down into the void, to the most absolute bottom conceivable, and once there I saw that the extreme limit must have been much, much farther below, very remote, and I went on falling, to reach it.”

I just love the combination of science and humor and inventiveness that Calvino displays here. There are all kinds of great short stories that take a scientific concept and turn them into really fantastic little fairy tales. The moon one in particular is fantastic.

7. The Wind Through the Keyhole – Stephen King

“There’s nothing like stories on a windy night when folks have found a warm place in a cold world.”

King revisits his Dark Tower world for a bit of an origin story with a fairy tale at it’s core. It’s three framing stories deep, which is fun, but the meat of the story is where all the magic is. It’s a wonderful addition to the mythos King has so lovingly curated.

6. American Gods – Neil Gaiman

“People believe, thought Shadow. It’s what people do. They believe, and then they do not take responsibility for their beliefs; they conjure things, and do not trust the conjuration. People populate the darkness; with ghost, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.”

I read the majority of this years ago but never finished it. It’s big, sometimes unwieldy, and I love it. The concept alone is enough to get it a top 10 spot. Shadow is a great character and all the gods he gets to visit are well-realized.

5. A Storm of Swords – George R.R. Martin

“It all goes back and back,” Tyrion thought, “to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance in our steads.”

Holy wow! So much stuff! Deaths! Deaths! Deaths! This is where the ASOIAF series really takes off. I can’t wait for the TV show to take it on.

4. Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer

“Do you think I’m wonderful? she asked him one day as they leaned against the trunk of a petrified maple. No, he said. Why? Because so many girls are wonderful. I imagine hundreds of men have called their loves wonderful today, and it’s only noon. You couldn’t be something that hundreds of others are.”

This might have the best writing on this whole list. It’s beautiful throughout. Check out my full review.

3. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami

“Kumiko and I felt something for each other from the beginning. It was not one of those strong, impulsive feelings that can hit two people like an electric shock when they first meet, but something quieter and gentler, like two tiny lights traveling in tandem through a vast darkness and drawing imperceptibly closer to each other as they go. As our meetings grew more frequent, I felt not so much that I had met someone new as that I had chanced upon a dear old friend.”

I don’t know why it took me so long to read what is considered on of Murakami’s best works. I haven’t been disappointed by him yet, and the craziness on display here is why I keep going back. Magical realism at its best, and since that’s the best genre of literature… Read my full review.

2. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – Dave Eggers

“Pain comes at me and I take it, chew it for a few minutes, and spit it back out. It’s just not my thing anymore.”

There’s a lot of parent-loss on this list. Make of that what you will. This one is mostly autobiographical, from what I can tell, and it contains a lot of humor and pathos that you kind of expect from a situation like this. Inventive in its literary ambition, it’s a fantastic book. Full review here.

1. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

“Power, time, gravity, love. The forces that really kick ass are all invisible.”

It’s a rare book that has an innovative form to go along with a spectacular story. Cloud Atlas is a book of halves and it’s really cool. I love all of the different styles of writing on display here, and the characters are outstanding creations. It’s so so good.

Movie Review: The Deep Blue Sea

“Lust isn’t the whole of life, but Freddie is, you see, for me. The whole of life. And death. So, put a label on that, if you can.”

This is not the movie about super smart sharks that eat Sam Jackson. I’ve seen that movie probably like 10 times. This film, different in that it has a “The” in the title, is a drama about a romantic triangle that has very little romance in it. Mostly, it’s a movie about regret and mistakes and expectations. It’s not the stuff of blockbusters or mutant animal films, but it is the stuff of a top 10 movie of the year. Terence Davies wraps this sad story in a warm blanket of long scenes and long takes and longing stares out of windows. It’s a story of emotional connections that don’t connect and as such is not exactly a happy occasion. But with the lighting and soft focus Davies turns what could be a cold film into a wonderfully affecting movie.

I’ve only seen one other Terence Davies movie, The Long Day Closes, which I reviewed on this site. That film is a coming-of-age movie and it, too, is a sad tale told warmly. In fact, the two movies could be happening concurrently. In The Deep Blue Sea, Hester (Rachel Weisz) leaves her older husband (Simon Russell Beale) for a WWII pilot, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston) in 1950 London. All three are fantastic in the film and I’m sure Weisz and Hiddleston will get a lot of recognition as we roll into awards season. Weisz is one of our more lively actresses and to see her play depressed and repressed is a tragedy in its own right. We know that she can be so vivacious but here we only get a suicidal and ultimately lonesome woman. Hiddleston doffs his Loki helmet and puts on the charming suit of a former RAF pilot who inspires love in Hester but can’t seem to return the favor. It’s that difference between her love for him and his less effusive response that creates the drama of the film.

The movie consists of a few scenes in the love affair between Hester and Freddie temporally jumbled. Mostly, I think, this is due to the out-of-order scenes being memories Hester conjures to make herself even more miserable. Two scenes stand out in the memory department. One has the young couple taking in an afternoon at the museum. Hester tries to get caught up in the artwork but Freddie can’t quite connect and gives up, declaring that he’s off to see the Impressionists since the cubists aren’t doing anything for him. It’s a scene of two ships passing in the night. Maybe they can tell that the wake is there, but they’ll never see each other. The other memory comes as Hester rushes down to the tube station where she and her husband hid during the war. Her memory is a long tracking shot showing how people built and kept alive a hope of normalcy even while living underground. Each family has a little space set up and curtains to separate them. But they come together in song as Davies is fond to do. They recreate their community in dire circumstances and at the end of the shot is Hester and her husband, embracing and, it seems, loving each other. After the memory ends she slowly ascends back to street level, crying at what she’s lost and for what.

This is a winter movie with lots of talk about catching a chill and the use of a gas fireplace for various purposes. But most importantly, it makes the last image devastating. Early on we see an impressionistic series of shots with Hester and Freddie intwined with each other in bed. The camera focuses, at one point, on their hands and how Hester grasps and re-grasps Freddies hand. At the end of the film all she has left of him is his golfing gloves which she handles in much the same way as she did with the real hand earlier in the film. It’s heartbreaking that the man she loved never loved her back and was practically just a shell which never reciprocated any feelings. The gloves, like Freddie himself, were only the form of a thing and not the thing itself. Freddie acted like a lover but never loved.