2012 Year End Movie Review: Jason Zingale

2012 wasn’t exactly an unforgettable year at the movies – I know that, you know that – but it can hardly be described as a disappointment, because while there weren’t many films that will be remembered 20 years from now, there was still plenty of quality to be found if you looked hard enough. As is usually the case with these year-end features, my Top 10 deviates a little from the typical crop of movies that you’d expect to find on most critics’ lists (some that I didn’t love as much as others, and some that I never had the chance to see), but it’s nothing that will surprise anyone who’s read my past work.

Best Movies of 2012

1. “THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

It’s not every day that the author of a critically acclaimed novel gets the chance to adapt their book for the big screen, let alone direct it, but after watching Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job. After all, Chbosky knows the material inside and out, and it definitely shows in this modest but heartwarming tale about finding your place in the world. It’s your typical coming-of-age story, but one that’s handled with a certain level of maturity rarely found in high school films, and though the comparisons to “The Breakfast Club” may not be completely warranted, it’s one of the few movies about high school that actually gets it right. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller all deliver excellent performances in their respective roles (especially Miller as the openly gay senior that takes Lerman’s freshman under his wing), and Chbosky’s deft script earns every emotional moment. It’s just a shame that “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” will probably get lost in the shuffle come awards time, because it has everything you could possibly want in a film.

2. “SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

Leave it to David O. Russell to create a romantic comedy as quirky, dark, funny and surprisingly touching as “Silver Linings Playbook,” because the movie is almost as crazy as its two leads. One minute a fiercely honest character study about a man coping with bipolar disorder, and the next minute a charming rom-com revolving around an amateur dancing competition, the film performs such an amazing tightrope act that it’s really to Russell’s credit that it doesn’t come crashing down like a house of cards. Of course, the movie wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it weren’t for the risks that it takes thematically, but none of that would matter without its outstanding cast. Bradley Cooper finally gets the chance to show what he’s fully capable of in the best role of his career, and Robert De Niro has some great moments as Cooper’s superstitious father, but it’s Jennifer Lawrence (already so good at such a young age) who steals the show with a phenomenal performance that all but guarantees she’ll win the Oscar for Best Actress.

3. “ARGO

Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the Boston-born multihyphenate moved away from the comforts of his hometown to a much larger stage, delivering arguably his best film in the process. A politically charged thriller that felt eerily timely in the wake of the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya, “Argo” is unique in that it also juggles a lighter Hollywood insider subplot in addition to its main story. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work, but Affleck makes the blending of the contrasting tones appear almost effortless. The comedy provided by Alan Arkin’s veteran producer and John Goodman’s makeup artist never undercuts the seriousness of the action in Tehran, and yet the strategically placed laughs help break up the tension that mounts over the course of the film. It’s been a while since a movie literally had me on the edge of my seat, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. The fact that it’s also based on a true story is simply the icing on the cake.

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Blu Tuesday: Time Travel, Fantasy Girls and Dirty Politics

Movie fans have plenty to look forward to this week with plenty of great titles arriving on Blu-ray. And it’s not just limited to the films featured below, either, because Criterion is releasing the horror classic “Rosemary’s Baby” for the first time on the format, and Universal’s “Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection” is finally coming to stores.

“Safety Not Guaranteed”

“Safety Not Guaranteed” is an amalgamation of everything that’s great about independent filmmaking – from its hugely original script to its wonderful cast of characters – but the one thing that it does better than anything else is create a cinematic experience that’s rich in both comedy and emotion. A lot of movies have tried to juggle the two in the past, but Colin Trevorrow’s directorial debut is one of those rare few that actually pulls it off. Though it can technically be described as a time travel movie, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is more about the characters’ relationships than the veracity of its sci-fi premise, and that’s thanks to Derek Connolly’s excellent script and the fantastic cast. All four actors click really well as a group, but they also deliver some great individual performances, especially Aubrey Plaza, who proves that she can do more than spout witty one-liners and mug for the camera. Though the movie didn’t enjoy as much success in theaters as it did on the festival circuit, it’s hands down one of the funniest and most sincere films I’ve seen all year.

Blu-ray Highlight: It’s not much, but “A Movie Making Mission” provides some good insight into the making of the film, with interviews from director Colin Trevorrow and the cast discussing the movie’s origin, shooting certain scenes and the time machine.

“The Campaign”

It’s been a while since Will Ferrell starred in a comedy that really made me laugh, and Zach Galifianakis isn’t as funny as his popularity would suggest, but “The Campaign” is better than I expected, even if it never fully takes advantage of its promising setup. The movie walks a fine line between silly and stupid, and although it veers into the latter far too often, it’s no surprise why director Jay Roach cast the two comedians, because they excel at playing these types of buffoonish characters. The film’s real MVP, however, is Dylan McDermott, who does more with a single look or line of dialogue than what Ferrell and Galifianakis are able to achieve in an entire scene. The duo still earns its share of laughs with their usual shtick, but while the movie’s goofball tone is successful to some degree, “The Campaign” would have worked even better as an edgier, darker comedy in the same vein as Alexander Payne’s “Election.” Roach has even had some success in recent years with the HBO election dramas “Recount” and “Game Change,” so it seems strange that he was afraid to push any boundaries here, because it was a big missed opportunity.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s nothing of note worth discussing, but the two-disc effort does include an extended cut of the film, a handful of deleted scenes and a gag reel.

“Ruby Sparks”

It’s been six years since Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ directorial debut “Little Miss Sunshine” took Hollywood by storm, and people were beginning to wonder whether the filmmaking duo would end up becoming just another one-hit wonder. The dreaded second album syndrome is something that haunts artists working in any medium, so it’s curious that Dayton and Faris decided to approach the subject head-on by making a film about that very thing. It may seem a bit presumptuous of Zoe Kazan to write the movie with herself and long-time boyfriend Paul Dano in mind for the lead roles, but it’s evident pretty early on that the two actors have great chemistry. Dano continues to impress in his second outing with Dayton and Faris, while Kazan, although solid as the title character, deserves more kudos for her debut screenplay, creating a charming and mostly original love story that doesn’t always go in the direction you’re expecting. Though it was only inevitable that “Ruby Sparks” would be compared to “Little Miss Sunshine,” the movie is a clever but flawed Woody Allen-esque comedy that proves that its directors aren’t just a one-trick pony.

Blu-ray Highlight: Fox’s Blu-ray release is a pretty disappointing affair. Although the bonus material includes five featurettes on a variety of topics like the story, the cast and filming in Los Angeles, they’re so brief that it feels like little more than an afterthought.

  

Coming Soon: A Moviegoer’s Guide to June

With the exception of Marvel’s “The Avengers” (which not only lived up to expectations, but is also currently destroying the competition at the box office), last month wasn’t exactly the greatest start to the summer season. Thankfully, June looks like it’s going to fare a little better, with a return by director Ridley Scott to the genre that made his name, the latest from animation giants Pixar, and even some good old schlock in the form of Abraham Lincoln versus vampires. It’s hardly the type of blockbuster month we’re used to, but there’s enough variety and promise among these films that it doesn’t matter.

“SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN”

Who: Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, Charlize Theron and Sam Claflin
What: A twist on the classic fairy tale where the Huntsman ordered to kill Snow White winds up becoming her protector and mentor in a quest to vanquish the Evil Queen.
When: June 1st
Why: First-time director Rupert Sanders’ coming out party looks mighty impressive from a visual standpoint, and I’d like to believe that a cast of this caliber (from the three leads down to the seven dwarfs) wouldn’t have signed on to the project if the script wasn’t good. The idea of adapting the popular story into a fantasy action film is certainly an inspired one, as it not only broadens audience appeal, but allows for the introduction of newer elements as well. I’m a bit surprised that Universal hasn’t revealed more of the aforementioned dwarfs in the marketing campaign, but while they’ll likely play a bigger part in the movie, it’s quite refreshing not to have every single detail ruined in advance.

“PROMETHEUS”

Who: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron
What: A team of explorers discover a clue to the origins of mankind, leading them to a distant world where they must fight to save the future of the human race.
When: June 8th
Why: Whether or not “Prometheus” has anything to do with the original “Alien” (and at this point, I don’t think even Ridley Scott knows for certain), it’s shaping up to be one of the coolest movies of the year, despite my concerns that it’ll pull a “John Carter” at the box office. The trailers have done an excellent job of whetting our appetites while still remaining fairly elusive about what the hell is going on, and from the footage I’ve seen, it’s obvious that the film shares many of the same visual and tonal cues with the 1979 sci-fi horror classic. Though Noomi Rapace has a lot to prove in her first Hollywood leading role, Scott has smartly surrounded her with enough talent that she’s under no real pressure to carry the movie on her own. With that said, however, she certainly looks the part of an Ellen Ripley substitute, and that’s something worth getting excited about.

“SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED”

Who: Aubrey Plaza, Jake Johnson, Mark Duplass and Karan Soni
What: Three magazine employees head out on an assignment to interview a guy who placed a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel.
When: June 8th
Why: I had the good fortune of seeing the Sundance hit at SXSW earlier this year, and I can’t say enough great things about it. Based on a real-life classified ad that became an Internet meme, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a magical film about the human spirit whose charm is difficult to ignore. The character-driven dramedy is an amalgamation of everything that’s great about indie filmmaking – from its hugely original script, to the quirky characters, to the incredibly honest and funny performances by its cast. But the one thing that it does better than anything else is create a cinematic experience that’s rich in both comedy and emotion. A lot of movies have tried to juggle the two in the past, but “Safety Not Guaranteed” is one of those rare few that pull it off almost effortlessly.

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2012 SXSW Film Festival Recap

If you’ve never been down to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest (whether it’s for the music and film festivals or the interactive conference), it’s something that you need to experience at least once, because the city exudes a vibrant and welcoming energy that makes it very hard not to have a good time. This year marked my third consecutive trip to the SXSW film festival, and though my virgin voyage was a bit of a baptism by fire, I was practically oozing the confidence of a grizzled veteran this time around. I knew exactly what to pack, how to plan and what to expect when I got there.

At least, that’s what I thought, but Mother Nature has a funny way of messing up your plans. From airline-wide delays that had me sprinting across Dallas-Fort Worth airport to catch connecting flights, to the miserable weather that I was greeted with when I arrived, it wasn’t exactly the greatest start to my trip. Apart from the almost non-stop rainstorms that put a damper on the opening weekend festivities, the only thing that could have made it any worse was if the movies I had chosen to see weren’t very good. And sure as the rain continued to fall (from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon, with hardly a break in between), there were more duds than normal at this year’s event.

It’s not that I expected to love every movie that I saw at the festival (you’d have better luck winning the lottery), but some of them – including star-studded comedies like “Nature Calls,” “Frankie Goes Boom” and “Small Apartments” – were so terrible that even a direct-to-DVD release would be more than they deserve. “Nature Calls,” in particular, is so egregious that I almost left before the first act was even over, and I’ve never walked out of a movie in my life.

Fortunately, I was able to catch a number of really good films as well. In addition to the long-delayed horror comedy “The Cabin in the Woods” and director William Friedkin’s controversial crime thriller “Killer Joe,” there were three movies that I enjoyed so much that they’ll likely end up on my Top 10 list by year’s end. Below are highlights from my reviews of those films:

1. “Sleepwalk with Me”

Most stand-up comics probably only dream about making a movie as funny and honest as Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk with Me,” let alone one that marks their directorial debut. Reminiscent of Woody Allen’s films in a lot of ways… if you weren’t a fan of Birbiglia beforehand, you will be afterwards.

2. “Safety Not Guaranteed”

A character-driven dramedy with equal parts humor and heart, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a beautiful film about the human spirit that is impossible to ignore. [It’s] original, humorous, heartfelt and, perhaps most importantly, filled with immense hope.

3. “The Raid: Redemption”

“The Raid” is an unrelenting, action-packed can of whoop-ass that delivers one of the most crowd-pleasing moviegoing experiences of the past decade. This is about as close to non-stop, wall-to-wall action that I’ve ever seen… including what is easily some of the best close-quarters combat ever committed to film.

The week got better as the weather improved, and although I didn’t carve out nearly as much free time to explore the city as I had originally planned, I did happen to stumble upon a cool sports park operated by Nike in support of their new FuelBand, a USB fitness bracelet that tracks your activity throughout the day. Taking up nearly an entire block, the park featured a basketball court, a miniature skate park, and a turf soccer field that allowed me to blow off a little steam in between screenings. I even spoke with one of Nike’s on-hand representatives about the new FuelBand, and was so impressed by the short demonstration that I contacted the company about getting one of the in-demand devices to review for Bullz-Eye.

It was nice to get out and kick the soccer ball around for a while, but it was one of just many small thrills during my trip. I also had the pleasures of meeting director Bobcat Goldthwait (who was at the festival with his new film “God Bless America”) during a random encounter at local hangout The Highball; I had the chance to interview Matthew McConaughey, Gina Gershon and Jamie Chung, among others; and I enjoyed the many delicacies that Austin has to offer, including personal favorites like Freebirds (think Chipotle but better), sandwich chain Schlotzsky’s, and of course, the delicious $5 milkshakes at the Alamo Drafthouse. My trip may have had some hiccups along the way, but as has always been the case with SXSW, the one-two punch of some great movies and that inescapable Austin charm made it yet another festival to remember.

  

SXSW Film Fest 2012: Day Two

This is my third year down in Austin for the South by Southwest film festival, and I think that I’ve finally figured out the science to covering the event all on my lonesome. Instead of past years, where I’ve done a mix of both full-length and shorter movie reviews, this time around, I’m going to be doing daily blogs with even shorter, capsule-style reviews of the films that I saw the previous day. I’m hoping this will make me more productive than usual, but as my schedule is constantly in flux, please bear with me. And if you can’t wait for my daily posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter @JasonZingale for more.

“Nature Calls”

I never got the chance to see director Todd Rohal’s “The Catechism Cataclysm” when it played at SXSW last year, but after watching his new comedy “Nature Calls,” I’m kind of glad that I didn’t. The film stars Patton Oswalt as Randy, an assistant scoutmaster desperately trying to help his father’s deteriorating Boy Scout troop regain its former glory. When the few remaining members ditch their upcoming camping trip in favor of going to a sleepover for the adopted son of Randy’s brother, Kirk (Johnny Knoxville), however, he crashes the party and convinces the kids to go camping with him. What follows is an incredible mess of a movie that tries to pass juvenile stupidity off as comedy, but instead barely registers a laugh due to Knoxville and Rob Riggle’s annoyingly over-the-top performances as idiot man-children. There’s actually a good message straining to be heard amongst all the stupidity, but despite its attempt at balancing vulgarity with heart, “Nature Calls” fails on nearly every level imaginable. It’s a shame that this will go down as Patrice O’Neal’s final film performance, because although it got a good reception from the SXSW crowd, this would never make it onto a theater screen through more conventional means.

“Safety Not Guaranteed”

Colin Trevorrow’s feature film debut is exactly the kind of movie that you go to a film festival hoping to see. Based on a real-life classified ad that was posted by a man seeking a partner to go back in time with, the movie stars Audrey Plaza, Jake Johnson and Karan Soni as a trio of Seattle magazine employees who track down the mystery author hoping it will lead them to a good story. What they don’t realize is that although Kenneth (indie go-to guy Mark Duplass) may be a little eccentric, he honestly believes that he’s solved the riddle to time travel. A character-driven dramedy with equal parts humor and heart, “Safety Not Guaranteed” is a beautiful film about the human spirit that is impossible to ignore. All four actors deliver some incredibly honest and funny performances, but it’s Plaza who shows that she can do a lot more than spit out a witty one-liner and mug for the camera. “Safety Not Guaranteed” is original, humorous, heartfelt and, perhaps most importantly, filled with immense hope. And in a cinematic landscape fueled by cynicism, it’s nice to see a movie that hasn’t given up on the human race, no matter how strange we may be.

“Killer Joe”

William Friedkin hasn’t made a great film in a very long time, and while “Killer Joe” doesn’t exactly remedy that, it’s the best movie that he’s made in a while. Adapted by Tracy Letts from his stage play of the same name, the self-described “totally twisted, deep-fried, Texas redneck trailer park murder story” is one of the most intense and polarizing moviegoing experiences in recent memory. Matthew McConaughey stars as the title character, a Dallas police detective who moonlights as a contract killer. When he’s hired by a young man (Emile Hirsch) in debt to a crime lord to kill his mother and collect on her $50,000 life insurance, Joe takes his younger sister Dottie (Juno Temple) as collateral until he’s paid for his services. But as is usually the case with movies like this, things go horribly wrong, and although the events that transpire will likely divide audiences (particularly a tension-packed final act that gets a bit weird and perverse), it’s as oddly fascinating to watch unravel as it is repulsive. Every single performance is great – from Gina Gerson’s devious stepmom to Thomas Hayden Church’s clueless father – but it’s McConaughey who truly commands the screen with his best role in ages. It’s about time the actor showed off his full potential, and this white trash “Blood Simple” does that and more.

  

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