Sitting in the Dark With Strangers 2012: Part Two

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film / sitting in the dark with strangers / the spoiler show

Continuing on with the big list of movies I saw this year (Part One here). There’s a few here I might not be able to summon up a lot to say about, so please bear with me if that’s the case.

30. Ted

I was over Seth MacFarlane by the time Family Guy came back from its initial cancellation on FOX umpteen years ago. This didn’t really do a lot for me, even though it was apparently quite a huge hit. I found myself thinking more about the mechanics of being a small stuffed bear rather than laughing at the jokes. How much beer and drugs would it take to intoxicate such a creature. How does he go to the bathroom? How much force can he really put into punching Mark Wahlberg in the fight scene, which I admit, was pretty good. I also liked the party where the guy from Flash Gordon showed up.

My problem with MacFarlane is that he’s conflated in his head somehow that the obscurity of a reference is a good indicator of the hilarity of a reference. What he forgets is that a lone reference, just sitting there out in the open like that, does not equal a joke. Many fine jokes can be made by incorporating references to obscure things, don’t get me wrong, but there needs to be an actual joke constructed around that. This is also the problem with The Big Bang Theory, btw. Except their geeky references are more like “people who enjoy comic books”, or “the act of playing a video game”, so as to not intimidate their vast fanbase with a fact outside of their philosophy.

29. Turn Me On, Goddamnit!

Not much for me to say on this one, it was a pretty good coming-of-age comedy out of Norway. If that sounds like something you’d be into, it is a fine demonstration of such, with equal parts hilarity and Nordic sadness.

28. Damsels in Distress

Here’s another one where I don’t have much to say about it. The only other film I’ve seen by Whit Stillman is The Last Days of Disco, which I thought was really good. This one though, it didn’t feel like it toed the line between parody and tragedy as well. I can’t for the life of me figure out Stillman’s views on the jockish fraternities on the campus. He does get a great deal of mileage out of how jaw-droppingly stupid some of the guys in the frats are (especially the guy who never learned colours, and his girlfriend’s defense of such), but are we supposed to actually like them? They’re not quite a bunch of loveable losers like Animal House, nor are they the assholes usually presented by the phrase “fraternity brother”. I just don’t know. Stillman is pretty great at turning a phrase, so if you like good dialogue this is an excellent demonstration.

27. Lockout

This movie would have gone up at least five spots, at least, had it actually been called SPACEJAIL. I have a similar theory with regards to the Mark Wahlberg abs-showing vehicle (I’m assuming, I never saw it), Contraband, which should by all rights be called MONEYBELT. As it is, Lockout is a serviceable thriller melding a space movie with a jail movie, or moreover, the plot of Escape From New York with I dunno, Sunshine? The CGI is laughably bad in some parts, but almost charmingly so. Kind of like Casa de Mi Padre, which I just watched the other night and as such did not fit into the list. Both films are kind of sublimely ridiculous, in a fun way. Still, the title is so generic it actually makes me a little mad to look at it.

26. Coriolanus

If you’ve seen Titus or the 1995 Richard II movie, you’ve seen that a Shakespeare play adapted to modern day can work pretty well. This one also works pretty well, but I think Taymor’s decision in setting Titus very explicitly in Rome as opposed to Coriolanus‘ being somewhere indistinct makes it the better film. Roman stuff still works to a point, but there is a real difference between their society and the modern day which I think makes a direct translation difficult. Still, this one had really good action sequences, almost on par with something like Black Hawk Down.

25. Brave

This movie seems like it did what it set out to do? There’s a base level of excellence to be found in almost every Pixar movie for sure, this is down here mostly for personal taste reasons I guess. Didn’t quite reach the heights of Toy Story or Wall-E for me. Or Up, which everyone other than me didn’t seem to like all that much.

24. Skyfall

This is probably my favorite of the Daniel Craig Bonds so far, although I should probably rewatch Casino Royale at some point again soon. It suffered somewhat from the “villain who has read the script” syndrome, which a lot of movies have these days. I really liked Ben Whishaw, apart from his understanding of computer network security, and Ralph Fiennes is also pretty good for what he is given. With the status quo retained at the end of the film, I’m definitely interested to see what’s next. It was a gorgeous-looking film to be sure.

23. The Avengers

Many people have said why this movie is good, including myself and some other nerdy types on the Jay n’ J podcast, so here’s some things I didn’t like about it: A complete misunderstanding of Loki’s trickster character. 400 or so goddamn mentions of the “Tesseract”, which is a much more grown-up name than the “Cosmic Cube” supposedly. A valiant, though in the end unsuccessful attempt to make Hawkeye cool. The complete disregard for the ending of Thor, an ending I didn’t even like to begin with, but at least paid attention to. The heroes being put into a situation where they must slaughter other beings as classic comic book approaches to violence are seen as not being cool enough for the movies (apparently). That said, it’s not like I’m not going to watch the next one, so mission accomplished I guess.

22. Jiro Dreams of Sushi

This movie made me so friggin’ hungry. A beautiful realization of the world’s best sushi maker and his humble life.

21. Argo

A perfectly competent political thriller, which almost made me tense. I really liked the Hollywood stuff, including Jack Kirby! Also, there was a shout out to Planet of the Apes, which is always nice. The biggest laugh release of all comes at the end where you see all the attention to detail paid to each character’s appearance except for one … 😉

20. Cosmopolis

I think the big theme in my movie watching this year is that of adaptation. This will come up again with my number 14 pick, but Cosmopolis did a pretty great job of adapting a supposedly unfilmable novel. The characters spoke in strange sorts of declarations about the modern world instead of to each other, which follows the plan laid down in the original novel. It is a little difficult in film-form to explain just exactly what Packer is doing without the lengthy explanations delivered in the novel, but I can see why they didn’t want even more expository dialogue in this movie. This one will probably grow on me a little more as time goes on. I’d like to watch it again, at least.

19. The Secret World of Arrietty

Miyazaki, like Pixar, ensures a high standard of quality in all of his studio’s releases. This is a lovely little tale.

18. Killer Joe

What a sleazily great flick. It has single-handedly made me take Matthew McConaughey seriously as an actor. Wonderfully twisted gallows humour and one of the most depressingly low-stakes (money-wise) crimes put on film. The song at the end is hilariously well-chosen. For a regular Hollywood release the scenes and emotions put onscreen are quite startling, so much so that I wonder how on earth this was done first as a stage play. It boggles the mind, and definitely makes me want to check out Friedkin’s first adaptation of a Tracy Letts play, Bug. I wonder if it reaches the Grand Guignol heights of Joe‘s crazy finale.

17. Beyond the Black Rainbow

I mentioned this as a SELL ME ON IT on Episode Nine of The Spoiler Show, so I won’t say too much more here. A dream-like pace, an amazing grasp of imagery and set design and a nightmarish setting combine with an incredible knowledge of this point in film history. I definitely recommend this movie, which has now reached Netflix Instant.

16. 21 Jump Street

Fun on a bun. Perhaps somewhat disposably fun, but fun nonetheless. Where Killer Joe made me take McConaughey seriously, Jump Street showed me that Channing Tatum is a pretty great comic actor, and should stick to doing such roles from now on.

15. Looper

Could never had lived up to the expectations I had going into it, as Rian Johnson’s track record is pretty much above reproach in my mind. I might be being a little harsh on Looper by putting it at this spot, but I think this shows just how good a year we had for movies. Probably would have been in my top 5 in a less stellar year. The “thirty years of Joe’s” life bit was a beautiful piece of filmmaking. Shane Carruth of Primer worked on this too, and he’s got a new one coming out in 2013 that I’m pretty excited about. I’m pretty sure Looper will rise in my estimation as time wears on, it feels like it’s going to enter the art-scifi canon in much the same way as an Alphaville.

14. Dredd 3D

I talked about adaptation above, and this film is an excellent example of adaptation done right. Dredd 3D probably didn’t do that well at the box office as it was too close to its dour subject material. I like the comics in 2000 AD for the most part, and was able to get on this movie’s grim and gritty and satirical wavelength, where I guess many others couldn’t.

13. John Carter

I have a soft spot in my heart for troubled adaptations of classic sci-fi literature. Case in point, David Lynch’s Dune (which I mention a bit here), I probably think about that movie much more than any normal person does. The similar John Carter suffered from the fact that the original texts were so amazingly influential, with Star Wars, Avatar, The Last Starfighter and many others drawing from the tropes it laid down.  I read them all when I was little, so I was basically the target audience for this movie. The bland title was a huge mistake, they should have definitely called it either the title of the first book, A Princess of Mars, or perhaps even just John Carter of Mars. That was a huge misstep in so many ways. I feel like many young girls would have liked to see Dejah Thoris be a badass warrior science princess, had they been told that she was in the movie rather than just “John Carter“. I’ve read that the director thought the character himself was a lot more prevalent in pop culture than he was, which I guess explains it. I bet he knows better now…

12. Chronicle

I was pretty worried last year about the oncoming spectre of a live-action adaptation of anime classic AKIRA. But then Chronicle came along and proved it could be done, probably better in a lot of ways. I haven’t checked lately, but hopefully the Hollywood AKIRA in progress will notice that this great little movie did it much better than they ever could. I knew I liked this movie when one of the main characters uses their special power in such a way that the oft-annoying found footage aesthetic is given a legit reason to keep existing. I don’t want to spoil it, but rest assured, the people behind this movie understand the genre of teenage super-angst, and not only that, were able to build on it. They didn’t talk down to their audience, and that respect shows in the final product.

11. Grabbers

Probably the biggest, most pleasant surprise I had in a movie theatre this year. I saw Grabbers as part of Edmonton’s awesome horror film festival Dedfest, one of the head honchos of which I interviewed on The Spoiler Show not too long ago. It combines the humanity and hilarity of an Edgar Wright film with something like Tremors, which I also have a pretty big soft spot for. Seek this one out, it was a greatly enjoyable movie.

I should have the top ten part of my list done in the next few days here, as well as Season Two of The Spoiler Show’s just around the bend now. Stay tuned.

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The Author

Matt Bowes is a self-proclaimed cultural commentator/arbiter of good taste from Edmonton, Alberta. He enjoys movies and books, and writes about them sometimes at thisnerdinglife.com.

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