Connecting to one another through writing, stirring passions with words, blurring the lines between fact and fiction, uncovering sad personal truths buried in a typical family dynamic…that is a lot of the subtext running throughout the compelling new French film In The House. Directed by the renowned François Ozon with a simmering noir-ish intensity, he portrays a connection between a disillusioned literature teacher and his gifted student.
I’ve long had a poorly formed theory that one can find a metaphor for anything in life through two games: chess and golf. Seriously. Both games balance on a line between science and art. While chess is often viewed as pure logic, there is a grace within the game that lies inside its confines, where little morality tales play themselves out across a checkered board. Meanwhile, golf is complex, frustrating, inscrutable, impossible to perfect, and when done well, can create a sort of universal harmony in the world. To quote one of my favorite sports movies, Tin Cup, when striking the ball “a tuning fork goes off in your heart…” Also, it’s just a lot of plain fun.
Young men in love with life, hard drinking and drugging, sexing it up with as many people as possible, always being restless, going at a pace as quick as they bodies will physically allow: that’s what the Beats were about. Getting as much from life as you can and simultaneously examining it along the way—a whole generation of people in the calm following World War II were trying to find themselves. This also invited a good deal of selfishness as well. While fun, there was also sadness. For them and for countless others after, the writing of Jack Kerouac became holy scripture. Previously thought unfilmable, Kerouac’s most famous book, On The Road, has become a new film, and it is much better than you would expect.
We are still in March. You know how we can tell where we are in the year, aside from looking at a calendar or asking someone else or looking outside at the still-mediocre weather? Just by looking at the current movie listings. We are in the post-Oscar season, pre-summer blockbuster doldrums of the first few months of 2013. This is when studios release mostly forgettable films they don’t have much confidence in that are destined to sit on your future Netflix queue as “oh, I mean to get around to watching that” fare. Yes, yes, every once in a while there is some exception that busts this trend. 300 was a surprise blockbuster early in the year it came out. And in 2012 we had The Grey, which was better than anyone expected. But mostly, late winter is the time for movies you’ll have a vague recollection of having seen once.
The Academy Awards are rapidly approaching. This is an event I’m always excited to watch, even if it’s controlled by so much politics and sometimes the ceremony is a genuine snooze fest. It’s still fun because it has the veneer of respectability. The Golden Globes are decided by a small amount of people who seem easily open to influence or bribes. The Grammys have so many oddly fractured categories it’s hard to keep track of them all. Not to mention you rarely walk away from them feeling that the right people won. The Tonys award some great talent, and that charming NPH has been doing a bang-up job hosting awards shows, but unless you live in New York it’s unlikely you’ve actually seen any of the shows being celebrated. It’s hard to root for a team you can never watch. So, sports fans have the Superbowl, I have the Oscars.
Diving into the work of the famous Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky is something I’d always meant to get around to. His is one of the names bandied about by cineastes, he is often heralded as one of the “great” filmmakers, and he is an important name in world cinema. Fortunately, the Criterion Collection’s new Blu-ray release of his first film, Ivan’s Childhood, has provided a great starting point.
Re-entering society after being in jail can be a monumental struggle for some ex-convicts. Integrating back into a world that has certain rules and prejudices can be overwhelming. It can be a very lonely prospect, too. Often just getting into a daily routine is a challenge for the newly released. Making that adjustment is the focus of the low-budget independent movie Francine.
Do you like your action/adventure movies filled with a wall-to-wall knock-off Danny Elfman score and unconvincing CGI blood? Do you like pedantic, uninspired dialogue? Do you like your period stories filled with modern day aphorisms, F-bombs, and one-dimensional characters? Then Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters may be for you.
2012 was a terrific year at the movies. 2010 and 2011 both felt a little underwhelming at the time. There was some good work, to be sure, but the amount of work that felt new or exciting was less and less. However, this last year felt like an embarrassment of riches at times. Good stuff was coming out every week, and a lot of it had real merit. Below is my list of top 10 films for 2012.