Andrew’s Most Anticipated Film’s of 2015

Now that the summer blockbuster season has come to a close, it is only a matter of time before the Cannes winner and Oscar hopefully start cropping up in theaters. In anticipation for this, I have put together a list of some of my most anticipated films, and because I am writing for the internet, I have put my choices into a numbered list rather than write them out in no particular order. Links to all of these films can be found in the the comments section.

#6. The Lobster – Yorgos Lanthimos

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After receiving generally positive reviews, and even winning the Jury Prize during its stint at the Cannes Film Festival this year, The Lobster kicks off this list at number six. An absurdist comedy from the director of Dogtooth, The Lobster tells of a world where if you become single, you are rounded up and sent to a resort, where you have 45 days to fall in love with someone or you will be turned into an animal – though you do have the benefit of choosing which animal it is. The film stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, and John C. Reilly, in what promises to be one of the best dark comedies, or even comedies, of the year.

#5. The Danish Girl – Tom Hooper

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Though I will concede that in many ways, this film looks like more of an attempt to win Academy Awards than an actual film, I will watch literally anything Tom Hooper directs.  His films have such a grand theatricality to them, his style seems to run in stark opposition to the cinema-verite school of thought, and the result is tremendous. The Danish Girl stars last years Best Actor winner Eddie Redmayne in this biopic of the first man ever to undergo gender reassignment surgery.

#4. Pawn Sacrifice – Edward Zwick

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At the height of the Cold War, Tobey Maguire and Liev Schreiber face off as Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, the two best chess players in the world. The film seems to focus heavily on Fischer and his psyche, promising to dive into the complex yet mentally fragile man who was once the greatest Grand Master in the world. Hopefully, this marks a star turn for Maguire, where he can finally step up to the plate and become a viable star for similar prestige films.

#3. The Walk – Robert Zemeckis

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Cheesy and simple as they sometimes may be, I love Zemeckis films, and from the look of the trailer The Walk will be no exception. A narrative film alternative to Man on Wire, The Walk stars Joseph Gordon Levitt as Philippe Petit, the Frenchman who made global news by spending hours on a wire he set up between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The trailer frames this film like it would a slick heist thriller, and I am certainly sold.

#2. The Revenant – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

With Birdman sitting pretty at the top of my favorite films of 2014, how could I not include Inarritu’s next film on this list. The trailer keeps many of the plot details intentionally hidden, but instead advertises a feeling tense beauty as Leonardo DiCaprio fights for his life across gorgeous American landscapes. Though I am keeping expectations reasonable as it will be hard to follow such a tremendous previous film, The Revenant will likely be another hit for Inarritu.

#1. Sicario – Denis Villeneuve

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Honestly there is nothing to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said. It looks like an incredibly intense and emotional thriller about the war on drug cartels in Mexico from a director who has already proved himself to be a tremendous filmmaker. Prisoners was a great film, but if Sicario delivers the film that the trailers promise, it could well be the best film of the year.

Beat Breakdown #1: Argo

Here’s a new series I’m going to take a crack at. It works like this: we’ll start by taking a look at the screenplay of an Oscar-nominated or Oscar-winning feature film, and try to identify and briefly discuss the important beats. Maybe I’ll keep up with this feature, maybe I won’t. I’m just such an unpredictable, free-spirited type of guy, you know?

In any case, today we’ll be taking a look at the the Oscar-winning 2012 political thriller Argo, written by Chris Terrio and directed by Ben Affleck.

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A .pdf of the screenplay can be found here.

PLOT SYNOPSIS

The film opens with the famed attack on the US embassy in Iran in November of 1979. During the attack, fifty embassy staff members are taken hostage, though six manage to escape and hide inside the home of a Canadian ambassador. Meanwhile, CIA exfiltration specialist Tony Mendez, played by Ben Affleck, begins concocting a daring, go-for-broke rescue mission involving secreting the six erstwhile captives out of the country by posing as a film crew scouting for exotic locations.

INCITING INCIDENT

(Pages 1-9) The action begins immediately as a group of angry Iranian activists break down the gate of the American embassy in response to Jimmy Carter’s decision to grant the Shah of Iran asylum during the Iranian Revolution. Instantly, we’re faced with a simple and effective conflict: the bad guys have taken hostages, and the good guys want to get the hostages back. If simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, then this snappy, effective opening might luncheon with the Queen.

PLOT POINT ONE

(Pages 27-44) So things have gone to Hell in a hand basket, as they inevitably must, and Tony Mendez is called to action (literally, on the telephone) to restore the status quo—that is, rescue the hostages before they’re ground up for fertilizer. In what we experts (read: random pleb) refer to as the “Eureka moment,” Mendez is on the phone with his kid one night when he notices Planet of the Apes playing in the background, thus providing the inspiration for the hair-brained scheme that is to follow. From there, we’re treated to a sort of odyssey of colorful characters and clandestine meetings as one-by-one the various specialists are brought on board Fellowship of the Ring style to aid in what would eventually come to be known as the Canadian Caper.

MIDPOINT

(Pages 80-86) As per usual with your standard three-act dramatic structure, things get real bleak real fast in the second act. There’s an almost audible clunk marking the shift of tone between the Happy Hollywood Fun-Time Hour in the first act and the point where we spend the rest of the film with the escapees in Iran, miserable, hunted, and afraid. The juxtaposition between the two, however, is a masterful touch, serving to drive home how high the stakes actually are. Of course, what is a Hollywood film without some good old-fashioned sensationalism? Accordingly, the story has to contrive an excuse for the hostages to go out in public, resulting the bazar sequence, wherein the escapees attract unwanted attention from an antagonistic shopkeeper, nearly blowing their cover in the process.

PLOT POINT TWO

(Pages 87-92) One of the other major plot points takes us back to the States, allowing us to get embroiled in the administrative side of things. There’s an ongoing conflict between Mendez and his supervisor, Bryan Cranston’s Jack O’Donell, who, like any good authority figure in a governmental hierarchy just can’t resist stepping on the toes of his subordinates. O’Donell threatens to shut the operation down on the grounds that it’s too risky, but Mendez is loath to see all of his hard work go to waste. Even with its predictable outcome, this sub-plot is handedly well and its last-minute resolution adds an extra basting of adrenaline to the conclusion.

CRISIS AND CLIMAX

(Pages 95-113) When we talk about the crisis, we’re referring the chain of events, often becoming incrementally tenser, leading up to the climax. The climax itself, however, is the point of no return. Argo’s crisis, that extended and incredibly tense sequence during which the escapees, accompanied by Mendez, waltz their Western-sympathizing selves through a remarkably airtight security checkpoint. For the sake of drama, all the possible ways in which our motley crew can be sniffed-out are avoided or solved at the last possible moment, allowing them hightail it to safety while still retaining possession of their limbs. The climax itself occurs moments later, at the point when their plane actually takes off. The wheels leave the tarmac, the perusing Iranian officials shake their fists with impotent rage, and the audience can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the six luckiest McGuffins in all of existence got away safely.

DENOUEMENT

(Pages 114-122) It’s wheels-up in Iran: cut to reaction shot of CIA staff members going berserk in celebration. Not exactly original, but it gets the job done, I suppose. As the audience decompresses from the tense excitement of the preceding sequences, we learn which governmental department gets the credit, who has to share, and who’s bummed about it. Moreover, Mendez himself is bestowed certain honors, but owing to the degree of secrecy surrounding the whole enterprise, they’re supposed to be classified. Ah, but surely reuniting with his family after such a close brush with death is enough reward for old Mendez, who we’ve all come to love and respect. So all’s well that ends well, except for the other fifty-two hostages, obviously.

Andrew’s Top 10 Movies of 2014

I really thought 2014 was going to be a bad year for movies. There were only a few projects I was excited about, and a very disappointing series of spring and summer releases seemed to solidify this initial belief as the year dragged on towards “Award Season”. But boy, did things ever turn around. The past few months have had some really fantastic films, and in my mind easily made up of the lackluster first half of the year. Here are a few of my favorite films from 2014:

10. Calvary | John Michael McDonagh

A sorely overlooked and under-appreciated pitch black comedy from John Michael McDonagh (The Guard), Calvary is a bleak, dark, and perhaps profound look at religion in today’s world. Brendan Gleeson gives an absolutely stellar performance as a priest in a small Irish village who must cope with the fact that a stranger has vowed to kill him at the end of the week. As always, McDonagh is a master of dark comedy, and delivers a very enjoyable, albeit bittersweet film.

9. Edge of Tomorrow | Doug Liman

By far the biggest surprise of the year for me, I never would have expected Edge of Tomorrow to end up on this list after I saw the commercial. But damn, was it good. This Groundhog Day-esque sci-fi film is a nearly-perfect summer blockbuster in my mind, and a perfect environment for leading man Tom Cruise to shine as a charismatic, manipulative member of the military, dragged into the role of unlikely hero. With the exception of a pretty mediocre ending, Edge of Tomorrow far exceeded my expectations for a summer sci-fi flick.

8. The Theory of Everything | James Marsh

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More than just a biopic of one of the world’s greatest scientific minds, Theory of Everything is a tragic and incredible story of triumph and struggle. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones deliver two of the most powerful performances of the year as Steven and Jane Hawking. The storytelling is compelling and extremely well-paced, and Redmayne’s role of Hawking offers a perfect outlet to show off his serious acting chops like never before. For my money, he is a serious contender for Best Actor this year.

7. Whiplash | Damien Chazelle

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An intense and unsettling character study, Whiplash is a film about the cost of excellence. MilesTeller stars as a borderline obsessive jazz drummer striving to surpass his classmates and become the best who ever lived. The films biggest credit is the building conflict between Teller and his professor, played by J.K. Simmons, who abuses his students emotionally and verbally in an attempt to push them to become better musicians. The tension between the two actors is palpable, and their intensity carries the film.

6. Gone Girl | David Fincher

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Yet another excellent dark and psychological film from David Fincher, Gone Girl really tries to do something different with the thriller genre. Despite a few missed beats throughout the film, Gone Girl is airtight, and packed with a few very satisfying twists throughout, including a pretty unconventional and unexpected ending that really made the film for me. Affleck is great as always, and proves yet again that he is fully capable of handling demanding leading roles.

5. The Imitation Game | Morten Tyldum

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As someone who has a strong interest in programming, it’s unsurprising that I would have a soft spot for this film. However, this movie is so much more than a film for those interested in the material. The cracking of the German Enigma machine is a fascinating piece of history, but the film is really more of a look at the life of Alan Turing, the father of modern computing and the man put in charge of the project to crack Enigma. The film focuses heavily on the issue of the treatment of homosexuals during the World War II era, and Benedict Cumberbatch shows some serious acting chops in portraying a socially inept and emotionally conflicted Turing. I would not be surprised in the slightest if this film is awarded best picture this year, and would be entirely satisfied with that verdict.

4. Foxcatcher | Bennett Miller

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Foxcatcher was one of the most talked-about films this year due to Steve Carrel’s transformative star turn as wrestling-lover and obscenely rich guy John Du Ponte, and after seeing the film there is clearly a reason for all the commotion. Carrel is incredible, disturbing and ominous; however it would be a disservice to the film to not also talk about Channing Tatum as Olympic gold medalist Mark Shultz, who gives an equally powerful and unexpected performance. Aside from the acting, Foxcatcher a very slow build to a very satisfying payoff, ratcheting up suspense as all the characters become more and more fragile and spiral towards the eventual climax of the film.

3. Wild | Jean-Marc Vallée

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Yet another “based on true events” movie this year, Wild tells the story of a former heroin addict’s journey hiking the 2000+ mile Pacific Crest Trail alone. I was by no means enticed by this premise, and in addition am not a particularly big fan of Reese Witherspoon. That being said, this film was hugely impressive. Witherspoon absolutely nails it, and director Jean-Marc Vallee’s use of quick cutting and flashbacks are extremely effective at giving emotional weight to the movie as we slowly learn more about Sheryl Strayed’s past. I have now seen the film twice, and the second viewing only solidified this movie’s position on my top 10.

2. Nightcrawler | Dan Gilroy 

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Sinister and charismatic, Jake Gyllenhaal easily delivers the best performance of his career as a free-lance video-journalist in Nightcrawler. The film is methodical, slowly building tension and a profound sense of dread. Throughout the entire movie, it is impossible to shake the feeling that something could go horribly wrong at any moment. Nightcrawler is by far the most gripping film I have seen this year, and I was completely enthralled from start to finish.

1. Birdman | Alejandro González Iñárritu

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Without a doubt, Birdman was my favorite film of the year. I have now seen it multiple times in theaters, and something I fully intend to see several more times. It’s extraordinarily well-acted and written, both Michael Keaton and Edward Norton shine, but it is the cinematography that cinched this as my number one choice, as there is a visual gimmick throughout the film that I was pretty taken with. The film is not just about the desire for fame or redemption, but taps into the most basic human need to find significance and recognition in life. Birdman is a little surreal, and more than a little funny, and while it might not be the film of the year for everyone, it is definitely a must-see.

Andrew’s Top Ten Movies of 2013

While at times I did feel like this was a weak year for movies, I found it surprisingly difficult to put this top ten list together, simply because there were so many films I wanted to include. After giving it some thought I was finally able to whittle my list down to ten, but for those of you interested in the movies that didn’t quite make the cut, here are the honorable mentions in no particular order: Stoker, Saving Mr. Banks, Mud, The Bling Ring, Captain Phillips, Kings of Summer, Blue is the Warmest Color and Nebraska.

10. The Wolverine

While this may seem like a somewhat weird way to start off the list, I actually enjoyed this movie immensely. For me, it satisfied everything I was looking for in a nice self-contained action/superhero movie. The Japanese setting actually added a lot of character to the movie, and the film still showed some restraint in not completely drowning the movie in typical Japanese action film clichés. While the climax is, admittedly, somewhat problematic, it was still satisfied with the film as a whole.

9. Much Ado About Nothing

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While this movie does suffer from being a bit too cutesy at times, but I can pretty safely say it is one of, if not the best Shakespeare film ever made. Joss Whedon’s sense of humor matches perfectly with the play, and he is able to make a Shakespeare movie which doesn’t feel forced or clichéd, and is genuinely funny, something that has been tried and failed more than a few times. It is easy to blow this film off as cute and inconsequential, which it is, but it has more than enough charm to earn a spot on the list.

8. Blackfish

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It is rare that I am blown away by a documentary, but I have to give credit to Blackfish for doing just that. While there has been some controversy surrounding this movie, as it clearly takes aim at the beloved and well established company Sea World in a way that does seem very biased, I think the evidence in the movie speaks for itself. More than a film about the mistreatment of Killer Whales kept in captivity, Blackfish is an interesting look at the danger these animals present to their trainers, and the extremely preventable deaths and injuries caused by the animals that until now have been ignored by the public. It is powerful, and sometimes hard to watch, but is a documentary I feel like everyone should see.

7. Rush

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The only reason this movie didn’t end up higher on my list is that nothing about it was particularly unique or interesting. However, giving credit where credit is due, Rush is still a fantastic film.  It captures an intimate conflict between two larger than life figures risking their lives to claim superiority in a way that felt genuine and believable. Rush is an airtight movie, expertly handling climactic beats throughout the film and ending up as perhaps one of the most well rounded films of the year.

6. The Way Way Back

I am usually not one for feel good movies, but I have to say I was quite taken with The Way Way Back. It has a great cast and is a genuinely sweet and funny coming of age story. It is nice to see Steve Carell out of his comfort zone, playing the antagonistic boyfriend of the protagonist’s mother; however the real stand out for me was Sam Rockwell who once again proves he is a force to be reckoned with as a top comedic actor. Written and directed by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the Oscar winning duo behind the script for The Descendants, this film was definitely a stand out in a year saturated with coming of age films.

5. American Hustle

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While in a lot of ways I felt like this should be my number one movie this year, there were a few glaring details that kept it lower. The way the film was put together felt awkward in a few places, and some of the scenes in the movie just didn’t seem to work well within the film as a whole, not to mention the ending which I thought was a little weak and very rushed. That being said, the performances in this movie are easily some of the best of the year. With an actor nominated in each of the four major acting categories for the Golden Globes, and likely for the Oscars when those nominations are released, American Hustle definitely has a lot to bring to the table. It’s stylish and fun, but it’s the characters and their relationships that really solidify this movie as one of the best of the year.

4. Wolf of Wall Street

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A manic story of riches, corporate corruption, and missed chances for redemption, Wolf of Wall Street manages to be far from the typical cautionary tale about wealth. It is raunchy, perverse, even sickening at times, but boy is it a fun movie to watch. Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic as Jordan Belfort, a man on a drug fueled rampage up the corporate Wall Street ladder. The film has a great sense of humor, and is one of the best “truth is stranger than fiction” movies I have seen in a long time. It’s an unbelievable story, and even manages to keep the viewer engaged throughout the monstrous 3 hour run time.

3. 12 Years a Slave

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My bet for Best Picture this year, 12 Years a Slave is nothing short of an incredible movie. What really makes this movie stand out is that it’s not just the movie about the horrors of slavery that seems to get made every few years, but also an incredible character driven story. All of the acting in the film is fantastic, the conflict between Michael Fassbender and Chiwetel Ejiofer was extremely tense, and every single character in the film was well fleshed out and distinct, which is a nice change from the typical flat slave owner characters in similar movies. Expertly directed by Steve McQueen, I look forward to seeing his work in the future now that he is gaining mainstream recognition and success.

2. Place Beyond the Pines

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I knew this movie would end up high on my top ten list immediately after I walked out of the theater. Place Beyond the Pine comes in a close second for my favorite films this year, as I loved nearly everything about this movie. The setting, powerful performances and distinct three part narrative gives a profound amount of weight and importance to an intimate tale about family, father-son relationships, and consequences. The movie shifts effortlessly between protagonists and still manages to make the viewer care about all of them, as the film almost feels like three shorter films tied together by themes and shared characters. The third act of this film received some criticism as it is a bit bizarre, but I thought it fit perfectly and Dane DeHaan’s performance is in many ways what made the movie for me.

1. Inside Llewyn Davis

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Calling this movie a dark comedy would be an understatement, as it would be one of the most cynical movies I have seen if it wasn’t so damn funny. It is an interesting character study of Llewyn, a fledgling folk musician and a bit of a jerk, whose life starts out bad and gets progressively worse as the film goes on through a serious of misfortunes that befall Llewyn.  Despite its melancholy outlook, Inside Llewyn Davis offers a lot in terms of personality, style, and memorable moments and is my favorite film of 2013.

2012 Oscar Short Films (Live Action)

Death of a Shadow

The first of these short films is unfortunately the most disappointing of the bunch. The story tells the tale of a French soldier who perished during World War I. After his death he is given a bizarre camera and with it an opportunity to regain his life. The catch being that he must photograph the shadows of 10000 dying men for his devilish handler. Despite being armed with an interesting supernatural premise and a quite marvelous looking Steampunk set design the storytelling fails to impress compared to its much better contemporaries.

3.5 out of 5

Henry

This next film really impressed me. It takes the complex issue of Alzheimer’s and gives the audience a first person look at how it slowly and horrifyingly destroys the mind. The film follows the title character, Henry, as he goes about a normal day, but we slowly realize something is off as he is visited by strange people he’s never met and taken over by his distant memories. Both Henry and audience become disoriented with this erratic shifting between time and space. The filmmaking in a way emulates the minds slow entropy as it’s corrupted by Alzheimer’s. This allows the viewer to empathize with Henry and gain a rare and heartbreaking window into this terrible affliction.

4.5 out of 5

Curfew

This surprisingly enough was the only american film in the group of nominees. It begins with a shot of Richie, the protagonist, sitting in a bath tube just minutes after he has slit his wrists. Right before the last pints of blood flows from his veins into the bath water he gets a phone call from his estranged sister. She’s panicked, and she asks him to look after her daughter while she takes care of something important. This is her last option, and she really doesn’t want to even let Richie near her daughter, but she doesn’t really have a choice, so he wraps up his leaking wrists and gets out of the bath to babysit.

At its core Curfew is nice little tale of redemption. Richie who at the start of the film is a suicidal former drug addict forms a bond with his distant sister and her precocious daughter allowing him to regain a place in the world. Unfortunately, this heartwarming story is hindered by the sheen of amateurishness that covers the film, imagine a student film that was given an actual budget, but luckily Shawn Christensen, the director, pull everything off quite well, regardless. He’s able to get over his initial awkwardness and bring together a quite cleaver and touching story of redemption.

4.25 out of 5

Buzkashi Boys

These next two films both take place in turbulent and violent war zones, but the first of these, Buzkashi Boys, isn’t really focused on that. It instead focuses on the people and hope more so than the politics and strife of its setting, Afghanistan.

At it’s heart the film is the story of possibilities and hope in even the most impoverished and hopeless places. Rafi, the young son of a poor blacksmith, and Ahmad, an ambitious street urchin, learn that they have the abilities to reach for whatever they want. They may not attain them, but that they must always be hopeful for something greater, be it to become a Buzkashi rider, a form of Afghan polo, or a simple blacksmith. That hope is what keeps us always striving and keeps us strong in even the hardest of places.

4.5 out of 5

ASAD

The second film is set in the conflict ridden coast of Somalia as it follows the young Asad who is struggling to survive the strife all around him. Contrary to that description though, I would say the adjective that most accurately describes the film is charming. Yes, I know, What could possibly be charming about a young kid trying to avoid the dangers of Somalia? Well, you can thank Harun Mohammed for his work as Asad and the character’s cavalier way of dealing with the threats around them for that. These people at this point are used to anything you can throw at them, be it thuggish soldiers pointing guns at them or the pirates that they grew up with. All they can do is go on with their lives, give each other comfort and make each other laugh, and that comfort shines wonderfully.

4.25 out of 5

Amour Review

Winner of the Palme d’Ore and Nominated for Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Picture, Michael Haneke’s Amour is more than deserving of all the praise that is being lavished upon it.  Rarely do I leave a movie feeling as emotionally devastated as I did after my viewing of Amour.  Deliberate, uncompromising, and brutally realistic, in my eyes this film is nothing short of a contemporary masterpiece, as well as one of the most poignant films about mortality in recent memory, or perhaps ever.

Amour is about Georges and Anne, a two retired music teachers who spend their time appreciating the literature, music and life. However, when Anne’s health begins to deteriorate, the film shifts more towards and meditation on life and death as Georges is put into the role as full time caretaker for his ailing wife.  While the plot itself may not sound riveting, the execution of this film is superb, as the film full articulates its themes and ideas within the narrative.  Amour is full of beautiful yet minimalistic cinematography, as well as absolutely some of the best acting performances of the year from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, who is nominated for Best Actress for her role in the film.

This film in many ways feels more like a play than a movie. By that I mean the narrative feels very intimate, as there are really only two main characters and a very small number of side characters. Even with the small scope of the film, Amour manages to do what few films can, offer something so powerful that the message of the movie transcends its small scope and offers something much more universal, a story that nearly everyone will have to directly or indirectly experience in their life time.  This makes Amour is particularly notable in this area because of the strong effect the message has on its viewers.

Haneke’s true genius in Amour is not the film itself, but rather the emotions he is able to evoke in the audience.  His use of sound within the movie is deeply unsettling, as the film has no score where brief piano scenes are nearly the only instances of music in the film.  As a result, much of the film is ominously quiet, and all instances of sound feel very deliberate and impactful.

Amour is by no means a movie for everyone; it is a difficult film as well as a very depressing one, as it makes the view contemplate the true and ugly nature of human mortality.  That being said, the fact that a movie had this kind of impact should speak to the merit of this film, it is an absolutely incredible movie from and emotional narrative standpoint, and a movie that was clearly made by a capable director.  Though I fear it may set unrealistic expectations for the film, I can comfortably say that Amour was the best film I have seen all year.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Gabriel’s Top 10 Movies of 2012

10. End of Watch

This was hands down the best buddy cop movie of the year. That being said it was also one of the only buddy cop movies of the year, but don’t let that diminish it’s accomplishments. Sure, it has some flaws, like the villain’s lacking performances, but that doesn’t stop this from being an all around hilarious, heart breaking, and magnetic film. It was just a blast to watch, and I would recommend it to anyone who loves film.

9. Lincoln

This film really surpassed all my expectations. Sure, I had heard that Daniel Day Louis was spectacular in the title role, but that didn’t stop me from prematurely judging this as the typical Spielbergian sentimental dreck. Luckily, the truly fascinating nature of the civil war era and Lincoln himself were there to help the film transcend the typical. Also, [insert obligatory Daniel Day Louis was amazing comment].

8. I Wish

Hirokazu Koreeda must be the single most underrated Japanese filmmaker of all time. Ever since his first masterpiece, Maborosi, in 1995, he’s been putting out some of the most interesting work in film, period. His most recent movie, I Wish, ranks among his best work, giving us a naturalistic look at two brothers struggle to stay together after their parents’ divorce. Koreeda was able to marvelously sums up many of the wonders of childhood and in a manner that is worthy of the many Japanese masters before him.

7. Flight

This and End of Watch where hands down my biggest surprises of 2012. Going in I expected an ok film that would probably just end up turning into more of the standard Robert Zemekes fair. I’m happy to say I was quite wrong. It turned out to be a rather stirring look at the detrimental effects of alcoholism with the added bonus of probably one of the greatest, most chilling plain crashes in all of cinema. Not to mention the incredible and quite unique performance from Denzel Washington.

6. The Cabin in the Woods

There are few films I can say just fill me with absolute joy. They reduce me to a state of unadulterated glee from which nothing can take me. Cabin in the Woods is one of these such films. It may at first seem like a generic slasher flick, but in reality, it’s one of the most imaginative, creative, and brilliant horror film I’ve seen in years. There’s little more I can say other than that I left the theater with a smile plastered to my face and in utter awe.

5. Holy Motors

This movie really through me for a loop. It’s really quite different from anything I’ve ever seen before. Unlike a conventional film narrative, it’s a more akin to a journey through life and cinema. The film admittedly presents the audience with a real challenge, but amazingly it’s always fascinating to watch, primarily for the enlightening central performance by Denis Lavant. Just in the course of this 115 minute film he takes us so many different places, while still remaining the center that holds this film together.

4. Monsieur Lazhar

Monsieur Lazhar is a film about death and the ways we cope with it. It shows us a fourth grade class dealing with the cryptic suicide of their homeroom teacher, and Bachir Lazhar, who takes it upon himself to replace that said teacher. At first glance this may seem like the typical teacher-saves-troubled-kids film, but it’s much more than that. There is an irrefutable emotional reality here that gives it a profundity found in very few films, and I just couldn’t help but be drawn into this touching and beautiful portrait of grief.

3. Moonrise Kingdom

With Wes Anderson’s most recent film, Moonrise Kingdom, he creates the sort of storybook tale we would read before bedtime as youths. He takes that whimsical and colorful time in our lives and puts it on the screen to a magnificent effect. Sure, some people might be a bit turned of by his idiosyncratic style, but I think he uses it to perfect effect here to create something I can’t wait to show to my kids someday.

PS. Check out my review here: https://simplyfilm.org/2012/07/14/moonrise-kingdom-review/

2. Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino will always have a very special place in my heart. He was in a lot of ways the first director I really got to know. In my film nerd infancy, many years ago, the first thing I ever did was marathon through Tarantino entire filmography. It was from that moment that I always knew I would love movies. He was just a master. You could see it in every frame. He just draws you into his spell of movie magic and taking you along on a euphoric ride through cinema. Sure, he’s a bit overindulgent and I don’t think he’s usually very ambitious thematically,  but he just fills me to the brim with everything I love about film, and Django is just another fantastic example of that.

1. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

I will not deny the fact that this is a difficult film. At a goliath two and a half hours, it’s hard to imagine how this movie could be worth it. But, I assure you that this will be hands down the greatest experience you will have all year. Under the guise of a conventional police procedural this is actually a remarkable exploration of truth and perception in the face of a morally gray world. Nuri Bilge Ceylan, the director, gives us a film that, on a purely visual level, may even surpass Prometheus. Sure it’s challenging, it’s slow, it’s long, it’s obtuse, but I do not doubt for a moment that the reward is worth the challenge. So if you feel up to it, you won’t be disappointed, and if you don’t, well, you’re missing something truly amazing.

Honorable Mentions

Zero Dark Thirty, Elena, The Dark Knight Rises, Safety Not Guaranteed, Silver Linings Playbook, This Is Not a Film, Oslo, August 31st, The Kid with a Bike, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Bernie, Looper, Prometheus, Borne Legacy, Sleepwalk With Me, Raid: The Redemption, The Impostor, 21 Jump Street, and Chronicle.