Setting a film in the future is tricky. You can have fun with it and create eye-popping visuals unconcerned with authenticity, or you can try to build a convincing projection of the world we live in now. What you should avoid is landing somewhere in the middle, as Neill Blomkamp has in Elysium. Certainly pieces of Elysium‘s world feel possible, like the disconcertingly ubiquitous biotechnology; some of it even probable, like the bastardized mélange of languages or the lack of paying work in an overpopulated world. But between the magical healing tubes, the utterly structureless society, and the absurd lack of humanity in damn near every character, Blomkamp’s follow-up to 2009’s slick District 9 spends far too much of its screen time asking you to meet it halfway.
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“You’re a good man, Ellis.”
This approbation comes near the end of Jeff Nichols’ Mud, and serves as crucial validation for the film’s 14-year-old hero. Much of Mud finds Nichols exploring the lengths to which a boy will go to be treated as an equal by a man he respects. Through selfless labor and violence and love, Ellis tenaciously builds up the ground beneath him in a grasp for equal footing, and every last action rings of utter truth. Because Jeff Nichols understands that most of us are still boys, falling over ourselves to prove that we’re not.
Despite my best intentions, I’ve always treated black people differently than whites. I’ve never had a close black friend, and while my racism tends to reveal itself in an obnoxiously patronizing amiability opposed to a violent bigotry or snide superiority, my presence here isn’t bringing us any closer to a post-racial America. Maybe that makes me the perfect audience for Fruitvale Station, a film that endeavors only to tell the dreadfully true story of Oscar Grant in all its agonizing detail, and ends up carving a portrait of a man whose humanity is what makes his story so compellingly universal.
There is a great Superman film out there somewhere. There’s nothing inherently challenging about telling this story, other than the powerful ownership so many fans have over it. And I suppose there’s an argument that Zack Snyder has gotten closer to it than anyone else; Man of Steel paints its main character’s neurosis and isolation in wide swaths, and these elements are necessary for any modern rehash. But, as is often the case with mega, ultra, super blockbusters, they’ve put the horse before the cart with this latest iteration of the world’s first superhero, building a flashy skyscraper on the rickety foundation of a David S. Goyer-penned screenplay.
Way back in 1982, Vertigo debuted on BFI’s Sight & Sound Poll of Best Films at number 7. Since then it has slowly ascended, finally summiting the list in 2012, displacing the oft-thought irreplaceable Citizen Kane. No list is gospel, but the collaborative nature of the Sight & Sound, along with its tenure and visibility within the world of film lend the list a weight that few can counter. Which makes Vertigo a legitimate contender for the throne—the protean, elusive, much debated Best Film of All Time. Except, here’s the thing: it’s not.
Only recently has the bond between war and honor begun to fray. For millenia men have treated that most basic equation as gospel, but we’ve reached a point where the anti-war proselytizing, the media exposure, and the blurred lines between right and wrong have engineered a far more nuanced view. The realities of war have been planted deep into the fiber of our consciousness, allowing us to ponder the ways that it can adversely alter a man, even degrade him, without the interference of combat’s putative virtues. T.E. Lawrence is a man changed by war, and this volatile metamorphosis from intellectual dandy to merciless leader of desert warriors lies at the center of David Lean‘s arresting classic, Lawrence of Arabia.
2012 was a year to remember.
An exceptional and exceptionally diverse collection of film makers put together an array of movies that were, more often than not, pretty damn good. It’s years like this that remind a guy why he fell in love with film in the first place.
And with another year comes another Wertzies.
For this, my 3rd annual collection of the year’s Best Movie Stuff, I’ve added a few categories: Part One will include my picks for Best Visual Effects, and Part Three will feature a list of the year’s 10 Best Moments. Otherwise you can expect to see my favorite Screenplays, Directors, Actors & Actresses, the Most Overrated, and of course, the Best Movies of the Year*.
We tell ourselves that we deserve to know everything. That we can manage the truth, however burdensome it may be. The reality is that we want to hear a great story, and if the truth is part of it than all the better. Zero Dark Thirty is eager to give us both, revealing the epic tale behind the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, and uncovering just enough gory detail to establish the film’s verisimilitude without melodramatics. Director Kathryn Bigelow and Writer Mark Boal aren’t interested in the mythology of this already mythologized tale, and their composure results in a deeply enthralling story. A story about a woman who spent the better part of her life hunting a man, and the considerable toll that process took.