Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
I was looking forward to this one for a really long time but ended up being very disappointed with it. It had a lot of things going for it: a time travel story, TV darlings Audrey Plaza and Jake Johnson in leading roles, and another meaty role for rising star Mark Duplass. To say the film underwhelmed me is an understatement. There is very little substance here and the situations our characters get involved in are clumsily executed.
A man (Duplass) puts out an ad in the hopes he would find a partner to travel through time with. For starters, it took a huge leap of faith for me to buy that a small magazine would pay for these reporters to cover such a non-story. These three reporters basically had a mini-vacation at the magazine’s expense while receiving no concrete answers or information for several days on end. The film just collapses under the weight of this premise. Of course, that the movie inevitably has very little actual time travel didn’t sit too well with me.
Safety Not Guaranteed is really about faith and believing in the impossible. It’s just unfortunate that I didn’t believe in this movie. C
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
The indie sensation of 2012, Beasts of the Southern Wild is something of an anomaly. When I sat down to watch this film last week, I was transfixed by its unique storytelling, lyrical scoring and a magnificent central performance by Quvenzhane Wallis. But what really surprised me about this film was how much it was being embraced by audiences worldwide. Beasts of the Southern Wild isn’t an easy film to sit through; it’s a bit on the arty side (meaning: it challenges you) and there’s nothing conventional about it. This is not a knock against the film by any means, but it’s the fact that so many people in all walks of life are so taken by this offbeat, colorful film. Even the surliest of moviegoers are finding something to take away from this movie. So what does that really mean? For me, it means that – as of 2013 – the cinema is alive and well. Our favorite art form continues to thrive. B+
The Five Year Engagement (2012)
Sometimes all it takes is a thoughtful script and two engaging leads. On paper, The Five Year Engagement sounds as bland as any other rom-com you’ve seen in the last 10 years. Even the title fails to pop out. But when you get to it, the film takes you in. Nicholas Stoller directs this observant dramedy about a couple who adore one another but continue to find ways to put off their wedding. Emily Blunt continues to excel in leading roles (she has certainly had a very busy year) and her chemistry with the adorable Jason Segel is beautifully matched. I cared about this couple. I rooted for them to be together. It wasn’t just about the laughs or the hijinks but about their resilience. Come to think of it, perhaps The Five Year Engagement would make a perfect companion piece with Haneke’s Amour. No? Too far? B
Yay! An Oliver Stone film without any political or social agendas! I’m not Stone’s biggest fan but I’ve always admired his craftsmanship. He’s a director who embraces film as a way to spin a remarkable story. So that said, Savages is nothing more than a genre piece about a group of drug dealers who are in over their heads when they get into business with a high-powered Mexican drug cartel. The two best buds (well-matched Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson) share a bed with the lovely Blake Lively, and when she’s kidnapped, things get ugly. The great cast also includes a surprisingly good Salma Hayek as the ruthless cartel boss, Benicio Del Toro as her sadistic lieutenant and John Travolta as a sleazy cop (good to see him playing for laughs; Travolta has a lighter side that is not used often enough). The film moves at an urgent clip, thanks to Stone’s penchant for nasty violence, a frenetic camera and showy editing techniques. It’s kind of refreshing to see a master at work on a meaningless project. Stone is just letting loose and having fun. Savages isn’t a great film by any means but it dares you to look away. B
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Finally. A Batman film I can wrap my head around. Until now, I have only been a distant admirer of Nolan’s previous Batflicks. Batman Begins was so heavy-handed and brooding that I found it nearly impossible to enjoy. Sure, it’s a technical marvel but there was very little heart and soul. The Dark Knight was a vast improvement, much thanks to Heath Ledger’s maniacal and inspired performance. The Dark Knight also featured a propulsive energy that was completely lacking in the trilogy’s first entry.
And now, with The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan upped the stakes and turned his Batman trilogy into something really special. This final entry gets it completely right. I’m still not crazy about Christian Bale’s performance under the mask — his voice is haltingly irritating, his features dramatically stuff — but his Bruce Wayne has become an intriguingly well-rounded figure.
The biggest surprise in The Dark Knight Rises was Anne Hathaway as the sneaky, vulnerable Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. The film just lights up when she’s on-screen and she is precisely what this trilogy was missing. A terrific character, a terrific performance. Less successful, though impressively foreboding, was Tom Hardy as Bane, a character that was only frightening in his physicality. In all fairness, you can’t top Ledger’s Joker, but Hardy and Nolan created a worthy adversary to wrap up this trilogy.
Everything else here really worked for me. Caine’s heartbreaking work as Wayne’s loyal servant, Alfred. The brilliant set pieces involving the shut-down and imminent destruction of Gotham. The inner turmoil eating at Commissioner Gordon (a great Oldman performance). Not one, not two, but three delightfully surprising twists in the final act — the first twist drew a huge gasp from me, the second one left my mouth wide open and the last one gave me some serious goose bumps.
So, to my complete surprise, The Dark Knight Rises finally brought some life into the Batman franchise; it provided a much-needed jolt of adrenaline and high stakes. I didn’t think it would top The Avengers as my favorite superhero film of 2012, but damn, it sure gave those Marvel guys a run for their money.
Batman Begins: C
The Dark Knight: B
The Dark Knight Rises: A