Top 10 Films Of 2012

…..from a year when 10 aren’t enough. 2012 was one of the strongest years in cinema I’ve ever experienced. Here’s a look at the highs of 2012.


My criteria for picking the #1 film has always been that which expresses the joy of filmmaking and expands the possibilities of what film can do. Director Quentin Tarantino shares his love of movies that’s both homage and pop art in equal measure. And so, my #1 pick is the movie about a mid-19th century slave (Jamie Foxx) who joins forces with a German-born bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz) to capture or kill criminals, all while trying to track down and buy the freedom of the slave’s wife from a cruel and charismatic plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). Yeah, that’s right; I ranked ‘Django Unchained’ higher than ‘Lincoln’. Both these films offer wildly different solutions to the problem of slavery (‘Lincoln’ being a period piece drama whilst ‘Django’ operates as a bloody live-action cartoon). But even as a live action cartoon, it is a troubling and important film about slavery- what’s clear is QT’s disgust of slavery and sympathy for the underdog. Tarantino still remains one of the great screen writers of our time and his signature dialogue-heavy, suspense-filled set pieces are to be savored here. The script doesn’t go in the directions we expect and the startling and unexpected turns this picture takes are a complete blast to watch. ‘Django Unchained’ was the finest moviegoing experience I had in 2012 – another incendiary masterpiece from one of the best filmmakers working today.

A CIA operative heads into the middle of the Iran hostage crisis in hopes of getting six American escapees out of the country under the ruse that they’re all part of a movie crew scouting Tehran for a new sci-fi flick titled ‘Argo.’ Ben Affleck directs and stars in ‘Argo’, and though he has had an inconsistent career as an actor, he has hit three home-runs with three at-bats as director. ‘Argo’ works as both a white knuckle thriller and as a ‘Wag The Dog’-esque satire, and the balance between these two very different elements is perfect. This is a complicated film in this sense – combining elements that may seem tough to blend together. It’s an international drama, and a thrilling action picture, but also a very funny Hollywood comedy. Affleck, as director, has found his calling. Each film has him increasing in scope, and ‘Argo’ is his most accomplished work by far. ‘Argo’ is a film of exceptional craft – assembling a thriller that relies on precision and timing rather than shootouts and explosions.


After an eight-month stint in a psychiatric hospital, a young man (Bradley Cooper) tries to get his life back together while interacting with an equally troubled young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) he’s just met. At first glance, a comedy about mental illness would seem like a difficult feat. Leave it to director David O. Russell to find the perfect tone in creating a film whose protagonist(s) suffer from bipolar disorder and depression. The casting is perfection. Jennifer Lawrence has already established herself as a gifted actress, but now she’s playing a damaged character – one that is sexy, has the perfect line for any situation, but is also vulnerable. Truth be told, there hasn’t been one Bradley Cooper film I’ve liked until now. A film like ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ demonstrates that an actor can be a miraculous thing in the right role. Some of his comedic antics are present here, but the role requires him to combine these elements with dramatic acting. This is also a return to form for Robert De Niro, an actor who has been suffering from “Al Pacino Syndrome” for some time. ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ is a master class in film acting.


Michael Haneke’s latest is a heartbreaking, fully-realized portrait of love in old age. This film about an aging Parisian couple is an honest and true portrayal – in its scenes of wheelchairs, hospital beds, and frustrations of feeling hopeless. But, it also show a steadfast love earned over decades of being together: sharing births, talks about the arts, and just being there for each other for the moments both big and small. The title is French for love and I can think of no other film I have ever seen which attempts to define what love is (in such an uncompromisingly honest way). I will never forget ‘Amour’ – it has left a permanent mark on me.



Based on the best-selling novel which was believed to be unfilmable, Ang Lee’s Life Of Pi’ is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Filmed in gorgeous, beautiful 3-D, this is the story of a teenager who must contend with being shipwrecked for a long time on a lifeboat where his only companion is a wild tiger from his family’s zoo. The 3-D photography is beautiful – showcasing the mysteries, dangers, and wonders of the Pacific. I know the Academy voters are already set on giving the Best Actor Oscar to Daniel Day Lewis for his portrayal of the 16th President of the United States. I just hope they don’t forget how they felt about Suraj Shamra’s wonderful work here – this is a role that challenges body and mind and is worthy of Best Actor nomination. Ang Lee’s filmmaking styles couple with Yann Martel’s fable result in a remarkable cinematic experience.


I know I’ve witnessed something amazing; that I’ve seen a film of unbounded imagination, and fearless scope. But, I’m not entirely sure I know what it’s about. ‘Cloud Atlas’ interweaves six interrelated stories over a span of five centuries involving a gigantic cast of A-list stars in multiple roles. Acts of love, cruelty, kindness and more appear to ripple through incarcerated souls as well as time from the past through to the present and well into the future. This is one of the most ambitious movies I’ve ever seen. What does all this come down to? The movie’s themes about the nature of life are evident – we are bound by one another “from womb to tomb” as one character states, and when one door closes another opens. We make choices between gutlessness and bravery, cruelty and humanity, and each of these acts have consequences. I found ‘Cloud Atlas’ to be a magnificently bold, ambitious, gorgeously filmed epic unlike anything I have ever seen before. “Now, what the heck was that about?” Your papers will be due on Monday.



‘Searching For Sugar Man’ is a celebration of the goodness of an artist and his craft. How do we know he is a good person? Well, he was on the verge of stardom before fading into obscurity and at no point do we see him display any feeling of bitterness about it. The public may not have been right the first time, but then again, there is more than one public. If anyone was worthy of a second chance, it was singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, and this inspiring documentary unfolds like a good mystery. Director Malik Bendjelloul follows two Cape Town fans to find out if the rumored death of Rodriguez was true; and if not, what became of him? This wasn’t an easy quest – Rodriguez was a man who was only known by his music. Even his face on the album covers remained unclear. There is more than enough material here for a good musical documentary but what makes ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ a great movie is that Bendjelloul takes it a step further – he reminds us that second acts are possible and of what it feels like to burn bright and hopeful before disappearing. ‘Searching For Sugar Man’ should be a lock to win the Best Documentary Oscar this year.


An assassin (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who’s hired to kill victims sent to him via time travel must contend with his next target (Bruce Willis) being himself from thirty years in the future. Huh? The theatrical trailer of ‘Looper’ makes it look like a two hour chase flick with a time travel conceit. But, that isn’t what this movie about is about. The mechanics of the time travel concept is introduced early on, and then pushed into the background in favor of sinking into this milieu encompassed by characters that face some very difficult questions. Director Rian Johnson’s primary focus is on the narrative. The action set pieces and special effects are simply window dressing. ‘Looper’ is an ambitious picture, successfully combining elements involving dystopian futuristic sci-fi, western shootouts, and even children with serious anger management and parental issues. With a great premise, sharply drawn characters, first-rate performance, and an intelligent script that meanders in the best possible way, ‘Looper’ is a gentle reminder that there is still original filmmaking out there.


Two L.A. cops, known for taking risks and bending the rules, come across heightened criminal activity they’re determined to stop but that puts them in grave danger. Director David Ayer has crafted an exceptional film that combines two tired genres: the racially mismatched buddy cop movie, and the handheld found footage picture. This is Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Pena’s show and they shine to the extent that I wished there was an end of the year best duo award for such work – I can’t remember the last time I saw such great chemistry between two male leads. Much of the dialogue between the two felt very natural and I’m sure some of it was improv. It was great to see a movie about honest cops who work to serve and protect, and not to use their badge as excuse to get away with murder. David Ayer gives us an unforgettable, sometimes gruesomely violent and shocking ride. To say that ‘End Of Watch’ is one of the best police movies ever made would be a disservice – to congratulate it for clearing a fairly low bar. It deserves even better praise than that.


Directed by Morten Tyldum is based on the novel by Jo Nesbo, ‘Headhunters’ boasted the second biggest opening weekend in Norwegian history. This film about an accomplished headhunter who risks everything to obtain a valuable painting owned by a former mercenary is a first-rate thriller – one that doesn’t depend on stunts and special effects, and instead takes delight in the turns and reveals contained within this labyrinth of impositions. Filmmakers outside of Hollywood don’t have the millions of dollars to spend on CGI. What it comes down to is the basics – well developed characters and an involving story. ‘Headhunters’ successfully pulls the viewers into its machinery and holds them there for its duration. No hero this year has been put through the ringer like the central character here. ‘Headhunters’ is a film that flew under most people’s radar this year. I know there is an American remake in the works, but I strongly urge you to seek this version out before Hollywood butchers it.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Flight, The Intouchables, Moonrise Kingdom, Oslo August 31st, Rust and Bone, A Simple Life, Skyfall, Take This Waltz, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, The Sessions

Note: A few of you have asked if I forgot about ‘The Hunt’ (a movie that I’ve been trumpeting since I saw it at TIFF in September). Not at all. It’s opening in Toronto on March 2013, so it will be on my list of the best films of 2013.

Worst 10 Films of 2012


1. The Campaign

A cinematic mess of impeachable proportions which proves the only thing more annoying than a Will Farrell comedy is a Will Farrell comedy with Zack Galifianakis. It even resorts to baby-punching for a cheap laugh.


2. Red Lights

An all-star train-wreck that has a twist ending so preposterous, it makes M. Night Shymalan’s post-Signs career look Hitchcockian in comparison.  


3. Les Misérables

Certain to garner multiple Oscar nominations, but I found Tom Hooper’s edit style (whereby the performers belt their lungs out in close-up) to be entirely wrong. 


4. Mirror Mirror

Tarem Singh’s visual palette can’t disguise ‘Mirror Mirror’ from being Snow White Trash.


5. The Devil Inside

‘The Devil Inside’ is the sort of the film that would play on an infinite loop in Cinematic Hell. Exorcise your right to skip it!


6. Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning

I don’t know how this series about cyborg servicemen has been running for two decades. Jean Claude Van Damme is no stranger on my annual Worst Of lists.


7. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’ feels like a parody of a Best Picture nominee – and yet somehow, it was nominated for Best Picture this year. 


8. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

‘Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2’ is one of the weaker entries in this insanely popular (but idiotic) franchise. At least, we can say for sure that this is the end.


9. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

‘The Hobbit’ represents an even greater level of disappointment for ‘Lord Of The Rings’ fans than ‘The Phantom Menace’ did for ‘Star Wars’ fans. This feels like a rough draft to a much better film.


10. The Bourne Legacy

‘The Bourne Legacy’ is not about Jason Bourne, and Jeremy Renner even looks like he’s silently asking himself why this movie was ever made. This is as unnecessary a sequel as there ever was this year.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is perhaps the biggest film ever made about little people with big, stumpy feet. This is Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s first Middle-Earth fantasy novel. ‘The Hobbit’ is a prequel to the insanely popular ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy (also directed by Mr. Jackson). It is about (as you would expect) a hobbit – he’s been recruited by a wise wizard to join thirteen dwarves. They seek on a quest across Middle-Earth to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from a fierce dragon.

‘The Hobbit’, as I recall, is a quick read. This 320 page children’s book has been stretched beyond the limit. Inexplicably, this story has been dragged out into three movies. The first entry in this series runs at approximately 170 minutes, and I felt all 10,200 seconds of it (I suspect the next two pictures will be at least as lengthy, but here’s hoping those don’t *feel* as long). ‘The Lord of The Rings’ trilogy was a grandiosely epic tale of Good vs. Evil. ‘The Hobbit’, on the other hand, was a very light-hearted adventure book. Early in the film, it is said that Dwarf Thror’s “love for gold had become too fierce.” I think the same criticism can be said for Jackson’s love of this material. Financial motivations aside, I’m not entirely sure I understand why ‘The Hobbit’ needed to be made into a trilogy. The hardcore ‘Rings’ fans who purchased the extended editions of the original trilogy may appreciate what is offered here – it gives them a chance to spend more time with characters they love. This, however, doesn’t make for a tight story and ‘The Hobbit’ really suffers from a narrative standpoint. Note: There are two (!!) prologues!

To make matters worse, there is no resolution to this overlong, plodding spectacle. I understand that this is a deliberate choice and that the full construction of the arc can only take place at the completion of this trilogy. Even so, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ is clearly a setup for a sequel, and while these characters are still in the early stages of this journey, there should be some sense of accomplishment. The movie ends abruptly and unexpectedly (that is until you realize you’ve been sitting in the same seat for three hours). The incomplete feel was both satisfying and dissatisfying – I felt that I was cheated out of a conclusion; but , I also felt that a weight had been lifted, releasing me of my movie reviewing duty.

What is an acceptable length for a film of this scale? There is no answer to that. A movie is only too long if it feels too long. How faithful should a film adaptation be to its original source material? Again, I don’t know the answer. I can say that it feels like everything (and then some) from the first third of Tolkien’s book is displayed on the screen. And yet, the movie doesn’t work.

‘The Hobbit’ resembles a videogame structure – all the pieces are mechanically assembled: Insert a scene featuring the Dwarves, followed by a scene with the Orcs, then one which combines the Orcs with the Goblins; oh wait, let’s see those Orcs again. Also, it doesn’t feel like anything taking place really contributes to the quest these characters embark on. The film goes on so many tangents that after a while, we forget the purpose of their journey. The mission in ‘LOTR’ was to return a powerful ring to its place of creation and destroy it. There were several missteps and setbacks along that journey, but we never forgot what the end goal was – we felt the stakes were high. The stakes in ‘The Hobbit’ are significant lower than they are in ‘LOTR’. If the mission isn’t a success, thirteen dwarves lose their lives. The problem here is I don’t care for these characters – the dwarves are essentially interchangeable; they don’t possess distinctive traits to make them separable.

Since the mid 1920s, 24 frames per second (fps) was agreed upon as a shooting and projection standard – a rate that is slightly slower than how the human eye perceives reality. However, this frame rate creates problems with quick camera pans – the result isn’t as fluid and seamless as one might hope for. I believe this is the reason why Mr. Jackson has decided to shoot ‘The Hobbit’ at a new frame rate – 48 fps. The screening I attended showcased the picture in IMAX 3-D at 24fps. While I can’t comment on the visual intelligence at 48 fps, I feel I should comment on the fact that a $150 million movie cannot change cinema – it can only change the way people make $150 million movies. I’m afraid it comes down to basics: an involving story featuring well-developed characters; the special effects and creative visuals should be the icing on an already tasty cake. But, the visual eye candy (at least present at 24 fps) can’t disguise ‘The Hobbit’ from being the wobbly, ungainly film that it is. The movie *feels* as long as it does because it is difficult to get immersed into the experience – to share the identities and adventures of these characters. We’re witnessing technique from a distance.

There are some good things about ‘The Hobbit’. The casting choice of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins is a good one. Fans of the ‘LOTR’ series will be glad to see Ian Mckellen, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blachett, Christopher Lee, and Andy Serkis return to their respective roles. We expect good performances out of these actors, and everyone here hits the right notes. ‘The Hobbit’ does build up towards a well-produced climactic battle between the Orcs and the Dwarves (and it was great seeing Bilbo’s character step up to the plate). My personal favorite is a mesmerizing creepy sequence involving a game of riddles between Bilbo and Gollum (once again, played by Serkis in his motion capture character).

‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ represents the same level of disappointment for ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans as ‘The Phantom Menace’ did for ‘Star Wars’ fans some thirteen years ago. This feels like the rough draft to a much better film – one that is in need of judicial editing to make a tighter movie. Lacking the novelty and excitement present in the ‘LOTR’ pictures, ‘The Hobbit’ comes off as a pale imitation of something we’ve seen back in – oh, hmm, 2001, 2002, and 2003. QED.

Cosmopolis vs. Holy Motors



“These stretched limousines that fill the streets; I’ve been wondering, where are they parked at night?” This is a question posed by Robert Pattinson’s character in ‘Cosmopolis’. The answer to this question can be found in the last scene of ‘Holy Motors’. What do these two films have in common? Both premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Both films span the course of a single day. The central characters in both pictures are very wealthy and spend their day being driven around in their stretch limo. And, of course, there are schedule stops and detours along the way. In theory, this would make for an interesting double feature. Unfortunately, only one of these two movies gets it right.

Let’s start with the one that doesn’t work. ‘Cosmopolis’ is the latest film from controversial director David Cronenberg (who I’m a big fan of). Based on the novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, the film follows Robert Pattinson’s character, a young Wall Street billionaire. It is set almost entirely in his limo during the course of a fateful day. He runs into one traffic jam after another. After all, the President of the United States is in the city, there’s an anarchist riot, and a funeral for a contemporary hip hop artist. People step in and out the limo. He occasionally steps out of the car to meet his wife who doesn’t want to have sex with him. The women who do want to have sex with him enter the limo.

“The urge to destroy is a creative urge.” The characters in ‘Cosmopolis’ speak in epigrams about fate, destiny, revolutions, the free market, the intersection of man and technology; the film fulfills an entire Philosophy undergraduate curriculum in the course of two hours . There is a precision to the dialogue which I admired. The characters here are smart – they speak to each other in a highly structured way – a way that no one in real life speaks. Unfortunately, it is also pretentious, boring, and everything transpiring on the screen keeps the viewer at a distance. I didn’t care at all about anything that happened to R Pats. But, shouldn’t I? When the film’s main character is being targeted by an assassin, shouldn’t I care if he lives or dies? The final confrontation between Pattinson and his assassin (played by Paul Giamatti) feels like its own separate movie. It’s a very talky sequence that goes on for thirty minutes (and feels even longer).  

There will be ‘Twilight’ fans that enter this movie to see Robert Pattinson. Their attention spans will be tested. “Where’s Bella? Where’s Renesmee?” The casting choice of Robert Pattinson is this role is a curious one. The verdict is still out on him. In every role he picks, he plays a distant, non-responsive character. I wonder if he is this boring in real life? I’d like to see him in a comedy – this could demonstrate his range as an actor. That being said, and despite the fact that I didn’t like ‘Cosmopolis’, I do think this is a step in the right direction for R Pats. With ‘Bel Ami’, ‘Little Ashes’, and ‘Water For Elephants’, he is clearly choosing non-commercial movies outside of the ‘Twilight’ series, which thankfully, has now come to a conclusion. If he continues to choose roles like these and work with interesting directors, he won’t be typecast as Edward forever.  

‘Holy Motors’ is Leox Carax’s first film in twelve years. At the start, the central character played by Denis Lavant appears as a rich financier type. He slips into the back of a huge limo and is driven through the streets of Paris by his driver Celine (Edith Scob). Inside the limo is a dressing room consisting of costumes, props, and make-up. His dossier contains nine appointments. To give you an example of the sort of assignments he goes on – well, he dresses up as an old woman and pretends to be homeless. In one sequence, he becomes a Tasmanian devil-man who disrupts a fashion shoot in the cemetery, kidnaps the model, and hides out with her in an underground lair. In another sequence, he plays an actor wearing a full-body stocking dotted with motion captures sensors and performs a bizarre sex act with a woman in a black studio. All sorts of cray-cray happens.

‘Holy Motors’ is a most peculiar experience – a film of an unclassifiable genre. Or a cinematic capsule consisting of multiple genres. What the hell does it all mean? The opening shot is of a movie theatre audience gazing into the screen ahead of them. We then see a man (Carax) waking out of bed, then walking towards the room of a wall – the wallpaper resembles a forest. He is able to unlock the door with a key that grows out of his fingers. This leads him to the aforementioned movie theatre where we now meet Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant). Is this a movie? Is this a dream? Is this a movie circumscribed within a dream? Or is the dream circumscribed within the movie? I don’t know.

There is a Lynchian feel to ‘Holy Motors’ at the start. But soon enough, the films develops into its own thing; establishes its own tone and rhythm with unforeseeable stops along the journey. It is intended to be episodic – a series of vignettes tailor-made to display the showmanship of a fearless performer. I think this is a movie for true fans of cinema – yes, some of the material is morbid, but what ‘Holy Motors’ does well is communicate the joy of filmmaking. Peter Greenway once said that “Cinema is far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to the storytellers.” I think Carax would agree – he’s crafted a film that contains a story if you want one, and doesn’t if you don’t.

Lavant is splendid (and in a way, he is the film); I can’t believe that he didn’t win the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his work here. The award went to Mads Mikkelson for ‘The Hunt’ (a terrific performance, but Lavant’s is unquestionably the actorlier of the two). I praised Tom Hanks and Halle Berry for stretching themselves in ‘Cloud Atlas’ – a movie that required them to play six vastly different characters situated in segments ranging from the 1700s to the 2300s. While this picture may not be as ambitious in scope, it still presents the same (if not greater) opportunity for its central performer – to be able to embody nearly a dozen separate identities, whereby each segment (or “assignment”) consists of a separate film genre. And while ‘Cloud Atlas’ was a complicated film, it was still easier to identify a thread of narrative between the alternating segments. Don’t even bother with ‘Holy Motors’.

I found ‘Cosmopolis’ to be an academic exercise. It has a fully functioning brain, but there was no soul. Conversely, ‘Holy Motors’ was a joyous ode to cinema – a film that seems too weird to exist, but works in wonderfully mysterious ways. QED.

Anna Karenina


Like most love it or hate it films, ‘Anna Karenina’ is neither. It falls right in the middle. Call it a half-success. Or a half-fail. This is Joe Wright’s adaptation of a Leo Tolstoy’s novel which has been made into a movie (or mini-series) over a dozen times in the last eight decades. As is usually the case with literary adaptations, I have not read the source material. This is Mr.Wright’s third collaboration with Keira Knightley (who he previously directed in ‘Atonement’, and ‘Pride and Prejudice’).

The plot: Keria Knightly plays the title character, a 19th century aristocratic socialite who appears to have it all. She’s married to a government worker (Jude Law), and the two have a son. But she’s in love with Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a young cavalry officer. She then has this brazen, adulterous relationship that threatens her societal standing. Everyone stares at her disapprovingly while fluttering their fans. She’s left to contend with the personal and social ramifications of her adultery.

There’s a lot in ‘Anna Karenina’ that works really well. Ambition counts for a lot these days, and I admire Wright’s ambitious approach in bringing this story to the screen. There is an intricately structured theatrical framework surrounding a simplistic girl-meets-boy narrative. It is a carefully calculated technical approach, and I give the film big points for trying to do something different. Here are some examples of the visual intelligence employed: There is a character on stage and set pieces slide in such a way that it creates a room around him; as the camera pans around a particular character, the set surrounding them changes; a character walks across a hall and there are others dressing him as he’s walking (his body doesn’t remain in a state of rest for even a moment); the back of a stage opens up and you see the beautiful countryside. If you were impressed with the long tracking shot Mr.Wright demonstrated in ‘Atonement’, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

From a technical standpoint, ‘Anna Karenina’ is first rate. Unfortunately (and the reason I’m not recommending the movie), this also creates a problem. The technique employed, by its very definition, is one that is distancing. We’re being reminded that we’re seeing actors on stage – this makes it difficult to see them as characters, and we cannot get absorbed into the story in the way we ought to be. I wish I saw this picture at the Toronto International Film Festival so I could ask the director why he chose this filmmaking method. My guess is this – the upper class members of St.Petersburgh really took “All the world’s a stage” to heart, and lived their lives as if they were on stage.

But, this method doesn’t allow us to sympathize with Anna for the decisions she makes. She is not a victim of high society, she’s a victim of her own indiscretion – she chooses to leave her husband and son because she believes she has experienced true love for the first time. It’s strangely impulsive to those around her, and divorced women in 1847 Russia didn’t receive much sympathy from their peers. Maybe that was the point Mr.Wright was trying to make. But, if I credit the technical approach for being an enormous success, I have to say that it comes at the expense of characterization, which comes off as a failure. Ultimately, Mr.Wright fails to construct Anna as a tragic hero. A viewer can get hooked into the journey of a heavily flawed protagonist provided he or she feels empathy for the character (the most recent film I can think of for myself would be Denzel Washington’s character in ‘Flight’). The distancing technique kept me at arm’s length emotionally, and ultimately, I did not care for her. It’s also difficult to feel her suffering with all the visual eye candy afloat. There’s a scene where Anna is sick and lying in bed, and her hair is so artfully arranged across the pillow – this, coupled with some beautiful lighting, makes her suffering look pretty.

‘Anna Karenina’ is one of the most difficult movies I’ve had to review this year. Most films are clearly good, or clearly bad, with only a few falling dead in the middle. There is so much to love here. And yet, I can’t quite recommend it. Expect Oscar consideration for Best Costume, and Best Production Design. Other possible categories include Cinematography, Best Actress (Keira Knightley). I certainly don’t think it’s worthy of a Best Picture nomination, but Academy voters may think otherwise. Perhaps the gentlest of thumbs downs I’ve given all year. QED.

Killing Them Softly


‘Killing Them Softly’ is a film adaptation of the novel ‘Cogan’s Trade’ by George V.Higgins. As is the case with most adapted screenplays, I never read the source material, and thus cannot offer a comparative analysis. Reviewing the movie as a movie, I can say that it is has Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Ray Liotta, and Richard Jenkins. It is directed by Andrew Dominik, whose previous film ‘The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford’ I pretty much loved. So, with such talent both in front of and behind the camera, why did I hate this movie as much as I did? 

I hated this movie right from the opening. The opening is like nails on a chalkboard – very irritating sound editing which made me wonder if I had walked into the incorrect auditorium; one that is showcasing the umpteenth sequel to ‘Saw’. The movie then manages to momentarily escape the corner it’s locked itself into with some clever, but admittedly artificial dialogue. The film’s greatest strength is also a weakness. The problem here is Tarantinoism; wise-cracking hitmen who speak at an elevated level you wouldn’t expect. But, because this has been done to death now, you do expect it.

Mr.Dominik creates a dark underworld – one that is occupied by hitmen, drug dealers, drug addicts, and illegal card operators. My guess is this story takes place in Boston – my uneducated assessment based on the accents and geographical references. Scott McNairy and Ben Mendhelson are two idiots who must contend with the aftermath of robbing a syndicate card game operation, including the hitman (Brad Pitt) who has been called in to address this matter. Ray Liotta is the guy who oversees these card games, and of course, he likes to appear in movies such as these (brutally violent pictures that contain a minimum of 100 f-bombs). I liked seeing Pitt play a hitman with a very specific set of rules – he is cool and detached, and leaves the emoting to others. The film’s title is derived from this character’s refusal to kill people he knows personally – he doesn’t like it when feelings get involved, and so he “kills them softly” from a distance. The only two people who seem to know anything about him: the middle-management gangsta (Richard Jenkins), and a washed-up hitman (James Gandolfini). This is a world consisting of tropes and archetypes. Which is a polite way of saying clichés and pretentions.

Why was James Gandolfini’s character even in this? He is only in two scenes. His character’s personal life is a complete mess – his two dialogue-heavy scenes consist of him bitching about his marriage and talking about hookers. This is just an excuse to have Tony Soprano as a cast member. This character’s motivations and actions do not tie into the main story at all. It’s just filler – take these two scenes out, and it doesn’t impact the direction of the picture in the slightest.

I understand films such as these contain scenes of graphic violence, and rarely does it ever bother me. Here, it did. In one particularly brutal sequence that seemed never-ending, a character is beaten into a bloody pulp. It is just stomach-turning torture porn for the sake of being stomach-turning torture porn.  

What annoyed me most about ‘Killing Them Softly’ is its misguided attempt to be about something. The film is so preoccupied with creating an aura of meaningfulness that it comes off as meaningless, and ultimately phony. The cars, clothes, and griminess of the production design make it appear as if this story is taking place in the early 1990s. But, the television and radio edits make it clear that this movie takes place in 2008; specifically, the weeks leading up to the presidential election whereby every macroeconomist’s forecast of a financial crisis was proven to be accurate. The only thing I hate more than an incompetent movie is an incompetent movie that assumes the stupidity of its audience members; that audience members won’t be able to get the intended message without beating them over the head with it.

The political elements are so distractingly heavy-handed. During the robbery, the television in the background shows George Bush announcing the bailout and its financial effects on American families; this speech is being delivered as the thugs walk out the door with giant suitcases filled with cash. We also hear Obama’s speeches of hope and change in America. Yes, it’s an attack on the capitalist structure; but it is delivered to audience members in the most assaulting way imaginable. ‘Killing Them Softly’ feels like the polar opposite of what ‘The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford’ represented – this was an expertly crafted film that was quiet and subtle, and assumed a certain degree of intelligence from its audience members.

My verdict – rent/steam/download that one instead. Skip this one. QED.  

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2

Ladies and gentlemen, I have some breaking news – for the last three weekends, there has been a movie occupying the #1 spot at the box office. Vampires and werewolves – um yeah, the last Twilight film is currently playing in theatres, and now that the series is over, I don’t know what I’ll do with myself. After all, this is the film that is out-grossing ‘Skyfall’, ‘Lincoln’, ‘Life Of Pi’ – three terrific motion pictures which remind of us of what cinema is capable of doing.

It only seems like four years ago since buff werewolf Jacob (Taylor Lautner) and sparkly vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson) were battling for the affection of Bella (Kristen Stewart). I suppose it seems that way because the first (and fairly unmemorable) Twilight was released in 2008. This is a series that has been inconsistent in terms of its badness. The material isn’t the problem. On the weekend of the first film’s release was the release of another vampire romance – an excellent and criminally overlooked Swedish movie called ‘Let The Right One In’. In a perfect world, the pubescent masses et al would have been flooding the theatres to see this one. Le sigh.  

The full title, ‘Twilight: Breaking Dawn – Part 2’ is one of the weaker entries in this insanely popular (but idiotic) franchise. This is the most self-aware film in the series, fully embracing its bat-shit crazy premise. But, it is still plagued by the faults of its predecessors: glacial soap opera pacing, inconsistencies in the ever-changing rules revolving around the vampire mythology. So, what is this movie about? We have the Italiano vampires known as the Volturi. Michael Sheen plays the CEO of the Volturi and he receives some intel –the daughter of Edward and Bella is an immortal and must therefore be destroyed. But, of course, they are dead wrong about this particular matter – just how moronic are these moronic vampires? Anyways, all this somehow leads to a chaotic climactic battle, which is essentially a series of decapitations that push the bounds of its MPAA PG-13 rating. The fact that ‘Bully’ (an important documentary about child/teen bullying in America) nearly received an R-rating for a few f-bombs and this gets a PG-13 rating makes me question the validity of the MPAA rating system.

There’s also a twist in the final sequence that’s unforgivable. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that the same cheap trick was used earlier this year in Oliver Stone’s ‘Savages’ and it is the biggest cop out a filmmaker can take. Ok, I changed my mind – I’m going to (sort of) spoil it. You will be fooled by a fake ending which telegraphs something that may seem epic. Once you’ve had the rug pulled from under your feet, you will have realized that all five of these pictures built up towards something so anti-climactic: a (poorly written) dialogue exchange between all the stakeholders involved in this (imagined) all-out war.

Question for Twilight loyalists: vampires don’t sleep, but Edward and Bella are seen putting their daughter to bed several times. Is it because she’s a hybrid? Because she’s half-vampire, half-human, does that mean she only requires half the amount of sleep that a human infant would require?

There is one good moment here. Just before the “big battle” takes place, everyone is out standing in the winter cold under the grey skies. Sheen’s character sees the child – his eyes light up bright red, and he releases a bizarre combination of a cackle and a giggle. Overacting? You bet. But, at least someone is acting here.

Why am I even bothering? There is an audience for this. All of you reading this have already made up your minds about the series – this review won’t alter your perception. ‘Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2’ will continue to dominate the box office in the coming weeks. At least, we can say for sure that this is the end. For the Canadian Saga Film Division, I’m Jerry N, and I’m signing out. QED.