Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 in Review: The Year's Best Movies

Well, another year is in the books. Like everyone else has said, 2012 was a pretty great movie year. Coming up with a Top 10 was relatively easy -- although I'm sorry I couldn't find room for Only the Young, Tabu or 28 Hotel Rooms. So here we go ....

1. The Turin Horse
2. Elena
3. The Master
4. Compliance
5. It's Such a Beautiful Day
6. Room 237
7. Zero Dark Thirty
8. Detropia
9. Amour
10. Holy Motors

I go into more detail about my Nos. 10-6 here. And I write about movies Nos. 5-1 here.

What else? Well, there's my Village Voice ballot, where I lay out my picks for Best Actor, Actress and so on and so forth. (If that isn't enough to tempt you, I also reveal my vote for the year's worst film.)

As for my fondest personal movie memories of 2012, this was a year that started with me attending the first public screening of Compliance at Sundance -- yeah, that one -- and ended with a last-minute viewing of the remarkable It's Such a Beautiful Day the night before the LAFCA awards vote. In between, I was proud to bring director Andrei Zvyagintsev's The Banishment to the Los Angeles Film Festival as part of its invaluable "Films That Got Away" series. (I thank Nicholas Bell for his sharp and perceptive review from the festival.) In my own life, 2012 was not without its challenges, but the movies helped keep me going. I'm grateful to them -- and for you for reading. Here's to a healthy and prosperous 2013.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Atoms for Peace - "Default"

Plenty of potentially worthwhile albums will be coming our way in 2013. One is from Atoms for Peace, the side project from Thom Yorke. Here's "Default" from their debut, Amok.

Happy New Year, folks.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 in Review: The Year's Worst Movies

You don't see more than 300 movies in a year without having to sit through some real duds. So, for Deadspin, Will and I each picked our five worst of 2012. I noticed after putting mine together that they're all comedies. What can I say? I hate laughter.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Love You, Tom Cruise

It was about 30 minutes into watching Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol that I realized, "You know what? I just really love Tom Cruise." So, with Jack Reacher now out, I try to explain what it is about the guy that makes him so special -- to me, anyway. You can read my conclusions over at Deadspin.

Friday, December 21, 2012

'Parental Guidance' Review

When I saw my first poster for Parental Guidance in the lobby of a theater at the Toronto Film Festival, I was convinced it was a spoof. (Sleep deprivation can do things to you.) But, no, it's a real movie, and now that I've seen said movie, my glowing blurb is "It's not as terrible as I thought it was going to be!" This should not be confused with any sort of endorsement for this wholly benign, incredibly disposable family comedy. My review is up at Screen International.

The Weeknd - "Wicked Games"

The Weeknd's House of Balloons was one of my Top 10 albums of last year, and in 2012, it as well as two other mixtapes he put out in 2011 were remastered and sold as Trilogy. "Wicked Games" is from House of Balloons, and it's one of those rare cases where the remixed version really is superior. Damn thing jumps out of the speakers now -- and I was already a fan from last year. Like Weeknd's best stuff, it's sexy, dark and despairing all at once. (Warning: explicit language, if you're wanting to enjoy this in your office cubicle.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

'Les Miserables' Review

In case you thought you could confidently peg my tastes -- or lack thereof -- I hope it comes as something of a shock that I really liked Les Miserables. Oh, it's far from perfect -- there are some really woeful casting choices in there -- but if you're looking for (as I call it) "a towering, somewhat lumbering monolith of entertainment disbursement," well, it fits the bill. Judge me as you see fit -- but do me the courtesy of at least reading my Deadspin review before you do.

'Jack Reacher' Review

I should point out that this review of Jack Reacher was written before the killings in Newtown. I bring this up because this Tom Cruise vehicle has a great set piece concerning a sniper. Honestly, how people will respond to it now is beyond me. Regardless, I had pretty mixed feelings about the movie, which I explain over at Backstage.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

'This Is 40' Review

This is just an OK movie. This is probably Judd Apatow's weakest effort. This is somewhat reminiscent of a Bergman film (which is intentional, apparently). This is my review of the movie. (Yes, this is pretty lame schtick.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

2012 in Review: The Year's Best Movie Moments

For IFC Fix, I decided to put together a list of every great moment from a 2012 film I could recall. As a result, the final product may seem a little haphazard and random but, at least in my brain, it's a highlight reel of what the year was like at the movies. I keep saying over and over again what a great movie year this was. (Everyone's saying it.) But reading back through my list, well, seriously, wow. (And, by the way, notice how many of my moments reference dancing. What can I say: Even a mediocre movie will be elevated in my mind by some good moves.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

'Amour' Review

This review was written before the shooting in Connecticut. I say this because Amour looks at death with a clear-eyed perspective and, yet, in relation to what happened today in the real world, well, it's hard to talk about death right now. Anyway, this is a tremendous film and highly recommended. My review is up at Deadspin.

Randy Newman - "I Want You to Hurt Like I Do"

Congratulations, Mr. Newman. You're the best.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

2012 in Review: My Problems With 'Brave'

For Deadspin, Will and I each picked a hit movie from 2012 that we really couldn't stand. I took Brave, which I think is easily Pixar's worst effort. (I say this despite leaving the screening surrounded by folks who were loudly sniffling at the film's ending.) You can read my reasons here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

'Django Unchained' Review

I should probably confess to you before linking to my review of Django Unchained that I'm not a gaga Quentin Tarantino fan. How can you tell? My favorite of his movies is Jackie Brown, which I think is the smartest, most resonant of his pictures. With that said, though, it's impossible -- as always -- not to be deeply impressed by what he achieves in Django. But I do have my reservations, which I explain in my Screen International review.

Monday, December 10, 2012

2012 in Review: The Small Gems You May Have Missed

2012 simply had too many great movies. (My Top 10 ballot had to be narrowed down from a pretty excellent list of 13 contenders.) For IFC Fix, I decided to single out five movies that have hardly been part of the critical or Oscar discussion this year. They're all worth seeing.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Looking Back at 'Lord of the Rings'

We're mere days away from the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (You can read my review here.) For Deadspin, I decided to look back at the Lord of the Rings trilogy to marvel at how completely unlikely its success really was. (Interestingly, some commenters have said things like, "C'mon, everybody loves those books. Of course they were going to be huge hits." Then how come other big properties, like the Chronicles of Narnia, never quite took off?)

By the way, if you haven't read (or re-read) Gillian Flynn's 2001 Entertainment Weekly story about the making of the trilogy, it's definitely worth your time. Beyond being well-reported, it really does capture the uncertainty of this whole enterprise -- remember, the piece came out before The Fellowship of the Ring, back when no one knew if Rings would flop or not.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The Beatles - "Julia"

This week's Friday Video goes out to some dear friends who just had their second child and named her Julia. The father is a huge Beatles fan, and one of our most contentious ongoing debates was whether "Julia" (off The White Album) was brilliant or dull. I argued it was brilliant, and I was right. Congratulations, guys: I can't wait to meet your little girl.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

2012 in Review: The Scene in 'Trouble With the Curve' I Hated

I prefer singing the praises of the films I love as opposed to ripping on the ones I can't stand, but in the spirit of end-of-the-year recapping, I decided to pick the one scene from 2012 that most enraged me. Which led me to Trouble With the Curve, a film I had major problems with. I detail the movie's dumb scene --and why it matters -- over at Deadspin.

'Hyde Park on Hudson' Review

I know that others hated Hyde Park on Hudson, but I personally couldn't muster up enough disdain to care one way or the other. This Bill Murray historical drama just evaporates on contact, although I do think he makes for an amusing FDR. My review is up at Back Stage.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

'Promised Land' Review

Promised Land is a film that I desperately wanted to like more than I did. A smart, sincere, thoughtful small-town drama about an energy company rep (co-writer Matt Damon) trying to sell the community on fracking, the movie does a lot of things right ... and then it stops doing them. My review is up at Screen International.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

2012 in Review: Why I Love the Ending of 'The Grey'

Continuing with our series of end-of-the-year pieces, Will Leitch and I today took a moment to write about our favorite movie scene of 2012. I went with the ending of The Grey. You can wolf if down here. (And, yes, that may be the worst pun anyone has attempted ever.)

Monday, December 03, 2012

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' Review

Two things I think are worth mentioning in regards to my review of The Hobbit. The first is that I wasn't the biggest fan of the Lord of the Rings films, save for The Return of the King, which was really tremendous. The second is that I saw The Hobbit in conventional 2D and 24 fps, which I think may have helped. (The reviews I've read thus far from 3D/48 fps screenings seem to be very down on the visual bells and whistles.) So, with all that said, I enjoyed this film just fine. OK, enough preamble: My review is now live at Screen International.

Brad Pitt and 'Killing Them Softly'

As you probably heard, Killing Them Softly tanked over the weekend. That's too bad -- it's a great movie, and Brad Pitt is darn good in it. For IFC Fix, I look back at Pitt's career and am very impressed by what I see: He's a guy willing to take risks and make them work. Here's my article

Friday, November 30, 2012

PJ Harvey and Thom Yorke - "This Mess We're In"

I haven't listened to Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea in a while, so I popped it in the other day. Still fantastic, but "This Mess We're In" really shocked me. I had forgotten just how terrific and romantic and evocative that song is -- and, believe me, I played it plenty back in 2000, so I was sufficiently aware of its greatness. But hearing it again after so long ... well, it was like being bowled over again for the first time.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

2012 in Review: C'mon, Zach Galifianakis

Today at Deadspin, I cast my vote for the performance I most want to forget from 2012. Which brings me to Zach Galifianakis and The Campaign. Sorry, Zach.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

2012 in Review: Tom Cruise's Great, Forgotten Performance

2012 is very nearly over, so it's time to start looking back at the best and worst of the year. For Deadspin, I singled out a great performance that's been completely forgotten about: Tom Cruise in the very mediocre Rock of Ages. Enjoy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

'Zero Dark Thirty' Review

Zero Dark Thirty is the follow-up film from director Kathryn Bigelow, who won an Oscar for her last one, The Hurt Locker. I respected the hell out of The Hurt Locker without necessarily thinking it was as terrific as other people did. So keep that in mind when I say that Zero Dark Thirty is the superior movie -- for me, it addresses some of my quibbles with the earlier film. I don't get into that much in my Screen International review, however -- instead, I focus on what makes Zero Dark Thirty such a singular experience. You can read my review here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Bruce Springsteen - "State Trooper (Trentemøller Mix)"

If it's playing in your town, you should see Rust and Bone, the fine new film from French director Jacques Audiard, who previously made the great A Prophet. Lots of reasons to recommend Rust and Bone, including the performances from Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts, but Audiard has also put together a great collection of disparate tunes for the soundtrack. Katy Perry's "Fireworks" has been the most noted, but I also deeply dug this remix of Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper," which at first you might not realize is a remix. Shocked the hell out of me in the movie -- and now I'm fairly obsessed with it. Not being familiar with Trentemøller, I found this rather helpful background. And here's his website.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Yeah, 'Red Dawn' Is Awful

The question isn't "Is Red Dawn bad?" but, rather, "How bad is Red Dawn?" Plenty -- it's plenty bad. I get into it over at Deadspin.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving: Some Thoughts on 'Hannah and Her Sisters'

Just about every year right after Thanksgiving passes, I'll think, "You know, I should have watched Hannah and Her Sisters." I don't know if I'll have time this holiday to do it, but for IFC Fix, I wrote about the film's enduring greatness -- and how oddly appropriate it is that it's set around Thanksgiving. Enjoy.

(Image taken by Happyotter, who is very much a fan of this film as well.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hell Yeah Ang Lee

Oscar-winning director Ang Lee will be releasing Life of Pi on Wednesday. My review will be coming out closer to that time, but meanwhile let's reflect back on the man's career to this point. My appreciation is over at Deadspin.

Friday, November 16, 2012

What's Steven Spielberg's Best Film?

That's the question that Will Leitch and I pondered for Vulture. We put our heads together and ranked the filmmaker's 28 features. We really enjoyed doing it, although I know some of our picks have been less than popular. Here's our list.

Back Stage: 'The Twilight Saga' Comes to an End

For this week's Screen Grab, you can read my thoughts on Anna Karenina, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God and Silver Linings Playbook. But this weekend is all about Breaking Dawn - Part 2, which you and I both realize. That review leads my column, which you can read right here.

Joni Mitchell - "The Last Time I Saw Richard"

Joni Mitchell's birthday was earlier this month, which made me think about her career and what I would consider her best non-hit. A lot to choose from, but I'm going with "The Last Time I Saw Richard," the closing track from Blue. Is it about her first husband? Maybe.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

'Anna Karenina' Goes Beyond the Gimmicks

I missed Anna Karenina in Toronto, but I wasn't exactly wowed by the idea of director Joe Wright taking the Tolstoy novel and staging it like a piece of faux-theater. Well, then I saw the movie and was duly impressed. I get into it over at Deadspin.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Oscar Season > Election Season

The headline to this post is pathetically simplistic, I realize, but for IFC Fix I thought about the ways in which Oscar campaigns are preferable to presidential campaigns. (Seriously, if the Academy ever allows studios to go negative in their campaigning, it'll be the worst thing ever.) My piece is here. (And, yes, that is an image from Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Just because.)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Crazy Career of David O. Russell

In the late '90s, David O. Russell was looked at as one of a crop of new American filmmakers (along with David Fincher, Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino.....) that might be capable of ushering in a new Hollywood Golden Age. (Someone even wrote a book about it.) Russell's career has had its rough patches since, but he's back in the Oscar conversation with Silver Linings Playbook, an offbeat romantic comedy-drama that I liked in Toronto. For Deadspin, I look back at Russell's career -- and, yes, I do talk about a particularly ugly screaming match of his.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Prince - "Kiss"

I have no empirical proof to back up this feeling, but I just get the sense that when it comes to Prince's all-time best songs, "Kiss" isn't getting the props it deserves. So here's the song -- and I'm sorry the video quality is so, so terrible.

Update: Well, that was quick: Prince's Controversy Music got the video shut down. Oh well, here's another Prince instead, Prince Be:

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Back Stage: Spend Some Time 'In Another Country'

There are several great options for your movie weekend: Skyfall and Lincoln both come highly recommended. But over at Screen Grab this week, I single out In Another Country, the latest from writer-director Hong Sang-Soo, which is really sublime. My whole column is available over at Back Stage.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

'Skyfall' Review

Casino Royale blew me away. Quantum of Solace was a bore. Now comes Skyfall, and it's a fine, fine return to form. In my Deadspin review, I explain how this series has drawn inspiration from Christopher Nolan's Batman movies, to great effect.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Falling in Love With '28 Hotel Rooms'

Months after attending this year's Sundance, it occurs to me that my two favorite films at the festival had something in common -- and not just that they both appeared in the festival's "Next" section. Compliance and 28 Hotel Rooms can both be viewed as behavioral lab experiments. In Compliance, we watch as a group of fast-food employees are manipulated by a prank caller into doing unimaginable things, and because almost the whole film is set inside the restaurant, there's a lab-rat feel to the proceedings. In a very different way, 28 Hotel Rooms works so well because of its confined locations -- in this case, a series of hotel rooms where the adulterous affair takes place over an unspecified amount of time. For whatever reason, such films can appeal to me. (I think it may have something to do with the idea of watching how human beings in a very specific location act under unusual circumstances.)

Regardless, this Friday 28 Hotel Rooms comes out in Los Angeles. I watched the film for a second time over the weekend, and I was moved by it all over again. This week's IFC Fix column is about me trying to come to terms with a movie I absolutely love, even if some of my colleagues have been rather cool to it.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

'Hitchcock' Review

I have a soft spot in my heart for the opening night of AFI Fest. Many years ago, I attended my first ever opening night when I attended the U.S. premiere of Life Is Beautiful. It was in the Grauman's Chinese, and Roberto Benigni spoke beforehand, doing all the shtick that, because no one was that familiar with it, was actually immensely charming. (That feeling would change as it was repeated ad nauseum during that Oscar season.) Regardless, the oh-wow excitement of a big premiere has always stayed with me, even if now I tend to look at them as a lot of talk talk talk until we can finally get to the movie.

This year's AFI Fest opening night film was Hitchcock, and I confess that I was somewhat optimistic going on. Anthony Hopkins seemed to have Hitchcock down cold, and I'm a sucker for behind-the-scenes stories of how classic movies are made -- in this case, Psycho. Alas, the film is defiantly mediocre. My review is up at Screen International.

Friday, November 02, 2012

'Lincoln' Review

I'm already curious to see Lincoln again. Not because I think it's a masterpiece -- it has its flaws -- but because I found the experience so engrossing that I wonder how it'll hold up on a second viewing. Steven Spielberg's film is essentially a serious version of the Phantom Menace parody that The Simpsons did years ago. Remember, it was all about procedural amendments and other political minutiae? Well, that's what Lincoln's about: It follows the president as he fights to pass the 13th Amendment (which abolished slavery) through the House of Representatives. That shouldn't be riveting, but it is. And Daniel Day-Lewis has a lot to do with it. My review is up at Screen International.

'The Man With the Iron Fists' Review

It's a strange set of affairs when a movie starring Russell Crowe opens and just about nobody is talking about the fact that Russell Crowe is in it. And, yet, that's where we find ourselves with The Man With the Iron Fists, the feature directorial debut of RZA, the man behind Wu-Tang Clan. The movie is a loving, somewhat slapdash homage to old-school kung fu movies, and Crowe is actually pretty fun in it. As for the movie itself, well, it's just OK. My review is up at Screen International.

Steely Dan - "Midnight Cruiser"

Most weeks, I resist the urge to post a Steely Dan song for the Friday Video. Just too obvious. This week, though, I'm giving in and putting up a personal favorite that you may not have heard. It's "Midnight Cruiser" from Can't Buy a Thrill. Lead vocal is provided by Jim Hodder, the band's drummer at the time. This song is up there with Neil Young's "Days That Used to Be" in my pantheon of all-time great "What happened to us, man?" tracks.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Back Stage: 'Wreck-It Ralph' Is Fun, Fun, Fun

Five movies opening this weekend are reviewed in my latest Back Stage column, and not a one of them is a dud. (Even the so-so This Must Be the Place has its moments.) But allow me to draw your attention -- forgive the pun -- to the animated gem Wreck-It Ralph. Between this movie and ParaNorman, we've had a pretty decent year for toons. Here's my column.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

On Being a Horror Wuss

Because it's Halloween, I decided for this week's IFC Fix column to own up to the fact that horror movies used to freak me out as a kid. I got over it in my adult life, which is a good thing considering all the horror films I watch for my job.

(By the way, most of you will recognize that this is a still from The Exorcist. For the record, this movie does not freak me out. I've mentioned why before.)

Friday, October 26, 2012

Back Stage: Say Hi to the Guy Who Liked 'Cloud Atlas'

This week's Screen Grab column features my reviews of Chasing Mavericks, The Loneliest Planet and Pusher. But it's led by my writeup of Cloud Atlas, a movie that lots of people can't stand but I sorta loved, despite how bombastic and silly it is. (And, believe me, there are plenty of clear flaws with the film.) The whole column is up at Back Stage.

The Rolling Stones - "Rocks Off"

The Rolling Stones will soon be back for yet another tour. So I'm picking a personal favorite of theirs. Off Exile on Main Street, which, of course, you knew already.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Visiting 'The Loneliest Planet'

I saw The Loneliest Planet for the first time at the Toronto Film Festival in 2011. There was one problem: Because I rushed a public screening, I wasn't let in until 10 minutes after the movie started. So I was excited to see the film again, which I have. Yep, it's still great. I sing the indie drama's praises over at Deadspin.

Monday, October 22, 2012

'Flight' Review

Early this year, I lamented that Denzel Washington's career had fallen into a rut. I needn't have worried: Once he found the right piece of material, I knew he'd kill it. Well, it didn't take long. His new movie, Flight, is one of his strongest in years. My review is up at Screen International.

'Take This Waltz' Comes to DVD

I saw Take This Waltz at the Toronto Film Festival in 2011 and was impressed by its unpredictable, deeply affecting tone. Tomorrow, writer-director Sarah Polley's romantic drama arrives on DVD. If you haven't seen it, give it a shot. I explain why over at IFC Fix.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Daryl Hall & John Oates - "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)"

My growing fondness for '80s cheese is criminal and should be brought up on charges as soon as possible.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Back Stage: Stick With the Small Stuff

This weekend has two wide releases, and I can't recommend either of them. Paranormal Activity 4 isn't up to snuff, and Alex Cross is rather dreary. Instead, I suggest you seek out two very limited releases: Holy Motors and The Sessions. This week's Screen Grab rundown covers those movies as well as the disappointing Nobody Walks. Dig in.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Checking In With 'The Sessions'

When I saw The Surrogate back at Sundance, I liked it with some reservations. I wanted to revisit the film before it came out, and so the time has come. Now retitled The Sessions, the film does a fine job of sidestepping the cliches of the Oscar-bait/disease-of-the-week genre that might have been tempting for such a film to fall into. My article on The Sessions is up at Deadspin.

'Paranormal Activity 4' Review

As I've mentioned before, I'm a fan of the Paranormal Activity series. So, it's no fun to report that the latest installment, Paranormal Activity 4, is the weakest of the bunch. It's not terrible, mind you, but it's the least inventive -- although it did prey on my fear of sharp knives. My review is up at Screen International.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

'Holy Motors' Sure Is Great

Yes, that's Eva Mendes lighting the cigarette of some disturbing creature in Holy Motors, the new film from French writer-director Leos Carax. It's a maddening, mysterious film -- it's also pretty great. I explain why over at Deadspin.

Monday, October 15, 2012

What Am I Going to Do With You, Kevin James?

For years, I've been convinced that Kevin James could be a movie star: He's got a light touch and a sweetness that's rare. Unfortunately, it's getting harder and harder to root for him when he makes movies like Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Zookeeper. On the occasion of his latest, Here Comes the Boom, I decided to look back at his career up to this point. You can read my piece over at IFC Fix.

'Alex Cross' Review

Having never read any of James Patterson's Alex Cross novels, I can't say I have a specific vision of what the character should look like or how he should be embodied. But after seeing Alex Cross, I'm not convinced Tyler Perry was the right choice. He's likable, I suppose, but he's just not gripping enough of an onscreen presence. You can read my review of Alex Cross (or, as I like to call it, Tyler Perry's I Can Do Cross All by Myself) over at Screen International.

Friday, October 12, 2012

I Heart 'Paranormal Activity'

I've reviewed every sequel in the Paranormal Activity franchise for Screen International, and I'm happy to say I'll be doing the same for this week's Paranormal Activity 4. (I'm seeing it Tuesday night.) I think this is a quite good series of horror films -- inventive and stripped-down in a way that allows for nice, solid shocks. For Deadspin, I advance the theory that this franchise has improved with each installment. Enjoy.

The xx - "Chained"

The xx's self-titled debut was much praised -- rightly so -- but their latest, Coexist, seems less beloved. I find it quite beguiling. Here's "Chained."

Thursday, October 11, 2012

On the Underrated 'Sinister'

Next week, Paranormal Activity 4 opens. That's become the go-to horror franchise for Halloween, but I'd like to say a few words about Sinister, which opens this weekend. It's actually a pretty smart horror flick -- it's less frightening than it is atmospheric, but it gets the job done. I go into more detail about this unlikely surprise over at Deadspin.