Sunday, January 20, 2013

ABANDONED THEATER: Robby's Top 20 Films of 2012: 20-11

(Abandoned Theater is the segment of YPOIW where TJ and others (but mostly TJ) discuss another one of our great passions: film. Today however Robby is going to chime in on a two-part series of his top 20 films of 2012. Here is the first part of this list, counting down from #20 to #11. Part 2 will be up soon)

20. Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino's mashup tale of spaghetti western-meets-blaxploitation revenge fantasy was the kind of shock to the system we always welcome from the man. After literally rewriting history in depicting his version of the downfall of the Nazi regime in 2009's masterful Inglourious Basterds, Tarantino jumps back in Django Unchained to make a "southern" where the slave is the hero. While the catharsis of seeing Jaime Foxx's title character crack a whip on a former abusive owner is certainly there, there are never any overbearing historical lessons or lectures. Instead you get a classic heroic quest of a man coming from the bottom and ending at the top; Tarantino just chose to accurately depict slavery right in the middle of it.

19. Bernie

The strangest factor about Richard Linklator's Bernie is how ambitious and complicated it turned out to be; with balancing the acted out narrative with accounts of real-life residents of the Texas town that this strange story took place, the film could've fallen apart or conceded to one side more than the other, etc. Instead Linklator does this balancing act so carefully, and the end product ended up being one of the most earnest tributes to small-town life I saw in 2012. These people and their stories were treated with the utmost care and sincerity, and on the other side of the coin, Jack Black's portrayal of Bernie Tiede brought out a quietly funny, subtle side of him that none of us have seen before. It is far and away the best work he's ever done.

18. Skyfall

There just aren't many long-running franchises that can pull off what Skyfall did. The Bond series has gone in about as many directions as you can think a spy series can; so it's nothing less than a triumph that being its 23rd installment, this film feels so fresh and so fun and so new, yet is so rooted in Bond's history and everything that makes it resonate with so many. Not only that, but Skyfall brings a vulnerability and a depth to Bond that I've not seen in far too long and that makes Daniel Craig a staple of greatness in the Bond trajectory.

17. Excision

This is just the kind of film I needed in 2012. Excision is the type of film that is twisted and warped in the best possible way. It's no surprise that John Waters is involved in the project. There aren't many films that can have me jaw-dropped in awe of the horror of a situation, while wondering if I should be laughing or not. And at the center of it all, perhaps the anchor that makes it all work, is AnnaLynne McCord's transformative performance. Excision is the great example of a director and an actor, who come across as perfectly normal people, going to the dark recesses of the soul and making art out of it. Beautiful, bloody art.

16. The Master

The Master is difficult no matter what way you look at it. Truthfully I'm still in a toss and turn about how much I really liked it, and how much I'm really rewarded for watching it. There are some elements of previous Paul Thomas Anderson works; Freddie Quell's social frustration and ticking-timebomb mentality is reminiscent of Adam Sandler's Barry Egan in Punch-Drunk Love; and Quell's relationship with Lancaster Dodd is comparable to the sometimes-friendship, most of the time-rivalry of Daniel Plainview and Eli Sunday in There Will Be Blood. But while those comparisons are there, The Master separates itself in being a staunch rebellion against structure. The Master almost acts as an ambient film; the parts are there laid out for you, but it makes no effort to give any help in assembling them. But you might find, as many viewers have, that the journey of figuring out The Master might be as savory as your destination.

15. Indie Game: The Movie

Video games are an art form. They can be as personal, soul-bearing, and born of great internal struggle as film, paintings, music, etc. That is the argument I think Indie Game: The Movie has presented by the end of it. While it's a sentiment I had already deeply believed in before I watched the film, it's so earnest and truthful and sometimes heartbreaking that I'm all the more confident to say it. Thank god for this film.

14. Seven Psychopaths

After 2008's fantastic In Bruges, writer/director Martin McDonagh makes another complex, artful film that might be too clever for its own good, but in some ways it's all the better for it. People throw around the Tarantino comparison constantly, but Seven Psychopaths reminds me just as much of a Charlie Kaufman film, in that it very much makes you think about the movies you watch and how they're constructed. While McDonagh might somewhat have the Tarantino syndrome of being in love with your own writing perhaps too much, I still think this is a beautifully executed, violent ride that's worth the occasional downfall.

13. Wreck-It Ralph

Yeah yeah yeah, I'm putting a Disney movie above Django/The Master/Skyfall/blah blah blah. Just calm down. In many ways Wreck-It Ralph is the Pixar-quality film we didn't quite get in 2012, to me; it's intensely inventive and creative in its universe and mechanisms, but its characters are so strongly and beautifully drawn out and developed, and the story so rife with complexities in its stakes and emotions it can't just be another cartoon. While Wreck-It Ralph may appeal to me with its intense video game-related knowledge and design, what moved me at the end of the day was how much I loved the characters and cared for their plights. When animated characters can feel just as real as anyone in a live action film, that's when you know there was magic there.

12. End of Watch

This was one of the biggest surprises for me in 2012. I had no clue walking into the theater that showed End of Watch that I'd be watching one of the best police films I've ever seen, and I fucking mean it. This movie is like a roller coaster from the very start, with its genius blend of incredibly realistic "found footage" style shots, with a traditional narrative. I was blindsided by this film, and I'm so happy I was.

11. Robot & Frank

Robot & Frank in many ways is a portrait of uncertainty; uncertainty of the future, of technology, of your staying power in an ever evolving world, and for Frank Langella, uncertainty of your ability to even function any more. Langella is an actor of great intensity, a factor that shines through even in one of his more understated roles. In fact perhaps Robot & Frank's greatest accomplishment is how quietly tragic Langella's Frank can be. In the process of watching him maybe we can grasp a stronger perspective about how strong our connection is, or isn't, with the world around us.

(That's it for part 1, part 2 is coming soon. In the meantime, be sure to follow Robby on Twitter @ClydeNut)

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