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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Movies of 2012 (So Far)

Since it's been a bit since I've blogged, I thought I'd start by catching up on the 2012 releases I've seen so far.  There are definitely some movies well-worth catching, several of which feature great performances by young actors.  So, in order of preference....

The Kid With a Bike

I'm a huge fan of the Belgian directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne.  In all their movies, such as L'Enfant (The Child) and La Promesse, they present real moral quandaries in the context of working-class European settings far removed from the stops of tourists.  The Kid With a Bike is about Cyril, a 12-year-old living in a state run facility after his dad abandons him.  While searching for his father (and his beloved bike), he meets Samantha, a neighbor who he befriends and ends up staying with on the weekends.  What follows is a beautiful journey of falls and redemptions.  Young Thomas Doret is astonishing in one of the best child performances I've seen, and Cecile de France matches him as an ordinary woman with a remarkable soul.

Grade: A-

Take This Waltz

A movie that I've thought about just about every day in the last two weeks since I've seen it.  It's about Margot (Michelle Williams), a young Canadian woman married to Lou (Seth Rogen) who begins an intense and confusing flirtation with her neighbor Daniel (Luke Kirby).  To tell anymore of the plot would ruin much of the movie's depth.  The director is the young Sarah Polley, who also directed the excellent Alzheimers-drama Away From Her.  In Take This Waltz, she plumbs the emotions of thirtyish characters to make them just as searing.  This certainly isn't a movie for everyone.  Characters will make decisions you hate and it leaves the viewer with no easy answers.  It's also unfortunately marred by a few too many nail on the head dialogue moments.  The cast is excellent, particularly Michelle Williams in another remarkable performance. She's easily one of the best actresses currently working.  When you've seen it, I'd love to discuss!

Grade: A-

Rickshaw Ride

Take This Waltz


Moonrise Kingdom

Director Wes Anderson and I have had a complicated relationship.  I fell in love with his distinctive style and emotions in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums.  I was then intensely annoyed with the 100-steps-too-cute The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou and left cold (or at least tepid) by The Darjeeling Limited.  So, I went into Moonrise Kingdom with trepidation as it looked like it might be too cute by half.  I was pleasantly surprised by how funny, well acted, and consistently delightful it was.  Yes, it includes all of Anderson's trademark quirks, but here they served the story quite well.  It's almost a Romeo and Juliet story as two young teens, an orphan and a girl stuck in an unhappy family make their way into the New England wilderness.  There are jokes a plenty but also some real emotion.  It's easily the best he's been since The Royal Tenenbaums.

Grade: B+ (or maybe A-)

Beasts of the Southern Wild

With a first-time director, an amazing lead performance by a then 6-year-old, and a visual style all its own, Beasts of the Southern Wild was a Sundance hit and probably the buzziest independent film of the summer.  It's a movie I don't want to say too much about.  Think Huck Finn, connections to Hurricane Katrina, and a large dose of magical realism.  It's vibrant, colorful, loud, action packed, and undeniably emotional.  I expect it will keep building audiences and become an indie hit and will probably play in the Oscar race.  And yet, something about it didn't feel quite right to me.  As much love and care went into crafting the community in the film, I think it carries  a whiff of sentimental condescension towards its characters and sometimes flirts with the "noble savage" archetype.  It's a tribute to the amazing, the young Quevenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry, that they are able to create such indelible characters as to make the audience look past this.  So, while I'm only giving it a B, it's definitely a movie you should see and you very well might love.

Grade: B

And, some very quick thoughts.....

The Grey

A survival drama starring Liam Neeson.  It's about men in a plane crash who have to survive Alaska and a pack of wolves.  Spare, tense, and some great Alaska scenery.   Gets a little redundant, but also well made.

Grade: B-

Jeff, Who Lives at Home

I saw this movie only a couple weeks ago, and I pretty much already forgot it.  Really innocuous and inconsequential, although I do really like Jason Segal.

Grade: C