Thursday, January 31, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

Alternate Title:  Madness Ensues

One sentence synopsis:   A Bipolar man gets out of a mental hospital and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife with the aid of a neurotic sex addict.

Things Havoc liked: Please take a moment to consider the fact that we live in a world where a movie with the above synopsis not only exists, but is being seriously considered for an Academy Award.

Romantic Comedies are a genre wasted on me, by and large. I couldn't even name you the classics of the genre with any sense of accuracy. But when the Academy gives one an Oscar nod, it's generally a sign that this might be a good time to branch out. And having actors like Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, and Robert DeNiro involved doesn't hurt, even if DeNiro has made an unpleasant habit of phoning it in for his last few films. Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a wound up Bipolar sufferer just getting out of prison for having nearly beaten his ex-wife's illicit lover to death in an explosion of rage. I've always liked Cooper despite the awful movies he's often been associated with (Yes Man, Wedding Crashers, The A-Team), but I've never seen him quite like this. Solitano is not a fun, wacky, crazy man, but a legitimate Bipolar nut, who early on in the film becomes very hard to watch as he wakes his parents up in the middle of the night to rant and rave, screaming in rage and frustration at the turns his life has taken, all while steadfastly refusing to take the drugs he has been prescribed. His life, such as it is, is centered around getting back together with his wife, who has not only taken out a restraining order against him, but moved away, and his insistence that he can patch things up with her by reading her course syllabus would be hilarious if it weren't so painfully pathetic. I can't say I enjoyed watching him throughout the film, but Cooper is exceptionally good in this role, pushing his condition to levels that make sense realistically without ever going into comic book zanyness. At times he will explode over the most minute of issues, and at other times, he will calmly endure provocations that would make any reasonable person erupt. Such is the nature of mental illness.

Lawrence's portrayal, while perhaps less drawn from reality (she plays a nymphomaniac who got fired from her job for sleeping with literally everyone else), still has the proper verisimilitude for the subject matter. An early scene at a dinner party where she and Cooper manage to have a 'normal' conversation by comparing the effects of the various mood-altering prescription drugs they've been on sounds remarkably like depraved conversations I've had or been witness to among people in similar circumstances. At other times, Lawrence can be as violently rage-fueled as Cooper, calling passers by to accost him for "harassing" her, or cutting her own sister dead by interrupting a dinner party moments after everyone sits down to announce she's leaving because she's 'tired'. Last I saw Lawrence, she was playing a teenage archer in the Hunger Games, but this role is to that one like Taxi Driver is to Meet the Parents. The two of them play well off one another, as she tries to convince him, by hook or crook, to help her in a dance competition, despite neither one of them showing much in the way of aptitude.

But it's really the supporting cast that holds this movie together, from De Niro and the indomitable Jackie Weaver (last seen being awesome in Animal Kingdom), who play Cooper's long-suffering parents, to, and I can't believe I'm writing this man's name in the 'liked' section, Chris Tucker (last seen being an insufferable dunce), who plays one of Cooper's fellow mental patients. Every supporting actor is excellent individually, but it's the overall sense that they give the film, between De Niro's OCD-fuelled football rituals, to Cooper's brother's axiomatic competitiveness, to Lawrence's sister and her husband, who are their own bag of unresolved issues, that allow the movie to walk a tightrope between extremes. We get to see that the illness that Cooper and Lawrence suffer from is clearly one of degrees, as there is nobody in the movie one might call perfectly sane. And yet those degrees make all the difference, something apparent as, over the course of the film, some characters do begin to master their conditions, and others do not.

Things Havoc disliked: Before we get to anything else, I have to mention that this movie posits an NFL season in which the Philadelphia Eagles defeat the 49ers, Giants, and Cowboys, on their way to the playoffs, a posit which catapults the film past fiction and into outright escapist fantasy. It also posits that Eagles' fans are all criminally insane, but I have less of a problem with this.

I've kept a fairly spoiler-free policy in these little reviews, which in this case is something of an issue, as my major problems with the film arise in the last third or so. The movie, which had been a reasonably interesting story of how two messed-up people helped one another through their mutual issues, took turns that I admit I did not foresee, but seemed rather forced, considering everything. The ludicrous "bet" that De Niro makes with his friend over the Eagles' game is so foolish that it transparently exists only as a means of generating forced tension for the last bit of the film, while the 'twists' that take place over the last act not only make no sense (how many people would willingly violate their own restraining orders on the advice of 'friends'?) but twist the film into a much more formulaic piece than it had previously been. Why this all was done is beyond me, perhaps the source material had it, or perhaps the narrative rhythm of romantic comedies is simply different. But for all the logical sense of the ending, it simply felt flat to me, thanks to contrivances aplenty that led up to it, though I cannot say more without giving the ending itself away.

Final thoughts:    I saw this movie on the strength of superb reviews and, of course, the Oscar Buzz that surrounded it, and while I didn't think it reached the rapturous heights that the professional critics did, the movie was still a very solid piece, buttressed by excellent performances by everyone, including several actors I had sworn off entirely (Tucker, for instance). I wouldn't call it the best picture of last year, nor even place it in the top ten, but as the romantic comedy genre goes, one can do far, far worse.

Final Score:  7/10

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Les Miserables

Alternate Title:  Misery:  The Musical

One sentence synopsis:  A convict breaks parole to try and better his life, while being pursued by a fanatical policeman.

Note from the Authorities:  We have no explanation for what happened here, and declaim all responsibility.  Those responsible have been sacked.  We regret nothing.

Things Havoc liked:

Sung to 'I Dreamed a Dream'

I saw a film in time gone by.
A film I saw with some misgiving.
The actors all were singing live.
A process which is unforgiving.

Samantha Barks and Ed Redmayne,
Both sing with passion and conviction.
Yet best of all is Hathaway
For whom the style is no restriction.

The design's exactly right,
Filthy extras grub and suffer.
All of which serves to impart
A sense of tragedy and pain...

A live-recording's best applied,
To choral songs of rousing thunder,
With these the film is well supplied
Though 'Red and Black's still kind of lame.

And through this film, I think I see,
Why some find opera such a pleasure.
A song done live will simply be,
More passionate than one at leisure.

I had a dream this film would be,
So different from my scared misgiving.
Much better than the crap I've seen,
It could have been the film I dreamed.

 Things Havoc disliked:  Sung to 'Do you hear the people sing?'
Do you hear the actors sing.
Singing their songs like crazy men.
It is the singing of some actors who should never sing again.
Jackman tries with all his heart.
But he just doesn't have the lungs.
It is enough to make you cringe when the music comes.

But the worst offense of all belongs to Russel Crowe's Javert.
What they thought when they were casting him, I'm simply unaware.
He sounds like a man with his testicles caught in a chair.

Oh the actors scream and cry,
Singing their songs as best they can,
But it's a simple fact: the songs are pitched too high for mortal man.
Jackman's tenor's fairly low.
Crowe is a bass or baritone.
Neither could ever hope to sing stuff like "Bring him home."

Even if we drop the singing, there's just no way to be kind
For whoever was directing Crowe, appears to have been blind.
He looks and he acts like he's terrified out of his mind.

Yes, I heard the actors sing,
But the result was just bizarre,
This is what happens when the film producers won't use ADR.
All the efforts of the cast
All are a waste of time and pluck,
There's only so much you can do when your leads both suck.

Final thoughts:
 Sung to 'One Day More'

One film more,
Another week, another travesty,
This never-ending search for quality.
All that I've ever tried to find's a movie that won't waste my time.
One film more.

I did not think before today,
I would pass up an easy target.

One film more.

And yet I think it was okay.
Although my praise is somewhat guarded.

One more film that's overblown
Not a critic's rant again...
One more film with flaws so glaring
Not as bad as some we've viewed
It will make you cringe and groan.
That one isn't even true
Make you wish you weren't there...

Do not go in misinformed
Do not go inside at all
It's a film of great ambition
But the quality's not there
Though it's flawed, it still has charm
It just wasn't made with care
If the play's your cup of tea...

The film's a cow
It worked for me!

One film more!

One more season of pollution
Crap is flowing in a flood.
Awful movies every winter,
It's enough to boil your blood!

Not all of them suck.
Some just hit a stall.
Never know your luck when e'er the curtain falls.
Find a golden flick,
There amidst the slime.
Some of the best movies land in Doldrum time.

Find a gem amidst the garbage.
Why persist in having hope?
So what if they couldn't sing?
So what if they couldn't sing!?
There's a new year just beginning
Yet another year's begun.
Who knows what the year will bring?

That's one film down, of fifty-two!

One film more!

If the film is not exciting,Every week another movie,
Wait a week and try again.Every week another chore.
Maybe one day we will find one,Why go into all this effort,
Worth a score of ten for ten.When the film is just a bore?

One film more!

Who can tell what next arises?One more season of Pollution,
Who knows what we soon will see?Crap is flowing in a flood.
All the best films in creation...Awful movies every winter...

About this film, we've had our say,
Tomorrow is another day.

Tomorrow we discover what Two Thousand Thirteen has in store.

One more day,
One more film,

One. Film. More...

Final Score:  6.5/10

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hyde Park on Hudson

Alternate Title:  The Handjob that Saved the World

One sentence synopsis:  Franklin D. Roosevelt hosts the King and Queen of Britain at the cusp of World War 2, while carrying on several affairs.

Things Havoc liked: Bill Murray is a better actor than most people realize, I suspect.  While his comedic roles are well known to anyone my age, his more recent work either in the semi-comedic Lost in Translation or the outright bizarre Wes Anderson films (Rushmore, Life Aquatic, Moonrise Kingdom) has demonstrated decent range beyond the Ghostbusters and Caddyshacks of yesteryear.  As such, his take on FDR, a man he does, it must be admitted, somewhat resemble, was something I was rather eager to see.  Though Murray does not sound much like the quintessential New Yorker, his portrayal of FDR is refined and restrained, a man surrounded by powerful personalities (most of them women) who deals with them by remaining aloof and slightly detached, but never impolite, or even unwelcoming.  Some have described him as bland or boring, but I've known people such as this, people who retain control of their lives in demanding circumstances by simply floating above it all, and his calm performance anchors the movie in place.

Hyde Park is about the 1939 visit of the King and Queen of Great Britain to the United States, and more specifically to Hyde Park, FDR's country house in the Hudson River in New York.  The visit was an important one in many ways, as it formed the very first stages of the transatlantic relationship that would eventually crush Nazism, form NATO, and last into the present day, and Samuel West and Olivia Colman, playing the King and Queen respectively, underscore quite well just what the stakes are.  Newly crowned as a replacement for his ne'er-do-well brother Edward, and still visibly uncomfortable with his position as King, George is here with his hat in hand, and he knows it, and so does everyone else.  His wife, the future Queen Mother, is hyper-sensitive to the supposed hate that the Americans bear for the British in general and the Royal Family in specific.  In a telling rant early on, she rails against Americans as a collection of "Irishmen, Italians, Germans, and Jews" all of whom are in her mind implacably hostile to the British.  Yet in the conversations with Roosevelt, we can see the nervous beginnings of the relationship that will come, as the older Roosevelt offers his advice, gently though it is couched, to the King who will soon be leading his people into war.  The sequences dealing with this are the highlights of the film.

Things Havoc disliked: If only they were the focus of the film.

The movie is really not about FDR, nor the King of England, nor World War II nor diplomacy nor any of the other interesting topics it brings up.  The movie is about a woman named Margaret Suckley, played by Laura Linney, and her whimsical pining for FDR, her lover.

Yes, in the grand tradition of what appears to be every President who ever lived, FDR had mistresses.  Several, according to this movie, at the same time, all of whom knew one another and formed a sort of coterie around him.  Elanor Roosevelt, portrayed here as a lesbian, was apparently aware of this and accepted it, and they were all expected to live happily together as one extended family.  It is this that the movie is about, and as this is a much less interesting subject than the previous element, we are therefore left waiting for the movie to actually go back to the reason why this subject was considered relevant for the making of a film at all.  Worse still, no effort is made to liven the material with anything at all.  Idyllic drives through the countryside and slices of life in rural New York are intercut with soporific voiceovers by Linney in which she looks longingly into the screen and describes her frustration with having to "share" Franklin with the others, though gosh darn it, she can get over it if she has to.  Words cannot describe how slow these sections of the film are, as the filmmakers seem to think we care as to whether or not Margaret is insulted that Franklin didn't invite her to a diplomatic dinner with the King more than we care about the dinner itself and the weighty issues at work around it.  But never fear, every time Franklin so much as mildly annoys somebody he will no doubt invite them in and apologize, because we can't have anything going wrong in this perfect little world of ours.

Final thoughts:   I really don't know what else I can say about this movie. It takes a decent rendition of FDR in an interesting moment in his enormous presidency and then proceeds to hide the entire affair behind the maddening notion that we are actually here for whimsical reflections on a woman we've not heard of, or the shocking revelation that FDR might have had mistresses. The film is not poorly made, but the experience of viewing it is more chore than pleasure, and while FDR definitely does deserve to have a great movie made about some element of his works and life, this one is nowhere near what the doctor ordered.

Final Score:  4.5/10

Zero Dark Thirty

Alternate Title:  The Hunt for Oscar Bin Laden

One sentence synopsis:   A CIA analyst tries to locate Osama Bin Laden and assembles a SEAL team to strike what she thinks is his hideout.

Things Havoc liked: Katherine Bigalow has established herself as the reigning queen of ripped-from-the-headlines modern military-espionage films, having transcended her mediocre-to-decent directing career (Point Break, Strange Days, K-19) with 2009's Hurt Locker, a movie which catapulted her into the A-list of Hollywood directors and garnered more awards than I can reasonably talk about here. That said, I was not tremendously eager to see Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow's take on the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, as I was simply not interested in what I assumed would be another Hollywood take on the politics of the War on Terror.

Well consider me officially stupid. Zero Dark Thirty has nothing to do with politics, with pat excoriations of the villains of the last ten years, or really with anything that its many, many critics seem intent on accusing it of (we'll get to that subject). What it has to do with is procedure, the long, slow, agonizing process of a CIA agent trying to hunt down and find Bin Laden in the face of great care taken by he and his handlers to ensure he cannot be found. Said Agent, named only "Maya" in the movie and based, apparently, on an actual agent still undercover with the CIA, is the narrative focus of the first two thirds of the film, as we watch her single-mindedly and even obsessively hunt for clues to Bin Laden's whereabouts for more than eight years, operating from both Pakistan and Virginia. Maya is a cypher, entirely work-focused, hinted to be almost entirely without a personal life, and utterly relentless in her search, casting aside the advice of friends and the objections of bosses alike as she tracks down Bin Laden, step by awkward step. Yet the search itself is portrayed with more care than perhaps any procedural sequence in any film I've ever seen. The obstacles Maya encounters seem both real and reasonable, and we get an excellent sense of just how a CIA analyst manages to do their job, sifting through mountainous piles of data to distill the solution they are looking for. The people Maya has to push through are not carbon-copy "unlistening idiots" but reasonable CIA agents with reasonable objections to Maya's obsession, several of whom even question if Bin Laden is relevant anymore on the stage of international terrorism. She threatens and cajoles her way through such obstacles, not in scenes of screaming insanity (okay, mostly not), but in sequences that we can imagine happening. At one point we meet a new boss of her station, who approves her demands for more resources with the comment that he was told by his predecessor it's just easier to give her what she wants.

And what does she want? Why to find Osama of course, and the process of finding him is an involved one. We see scenes of torture, waterboarding and beatings and other such activities, but the film makes clear fairly early on (though not clear enough for some) that torture is not yielding useful results, and that more subtle methods will be required. The film is then about these methods, as associates of Bin Laden are laboriously identified, tracked, pegged to this part of Pakistan or that part of Libya, their cover identities are penetrated and their movements monitored. All the while, the War on Terror rages on around Maya and her small coterie of co-workers and associates, claiming the lives of more than one, and placing her in some (though thankfully not belabored) jeopardy from the other side. The overall picture we get of the CIA is a group of people, some right and some wrong, but all doing what they think is best to try and stymie the acts of ruthless men who wish to kill Americans. Their work is neither dramatized nor shoehorned into someone's idea of the politics of the world, and as with last year's Argo, it is a refreshing sight to see. The addition of such actors as Mark Strong, Jason Clarke, and James Gandolfini (finally not playing Tony Soprano) helps cement this as one of the best procedural spycraft films I've ever seen, particularly late in the process as teams of CIA men are working on the ground in Pakistan to try and trace a cell phone, all while options are being rationally considered and discarded by officials back in the US.

Things Havoc disliked: I've avoided, until this point, mentioning that Maya is played by Jessica Chastain. I've done this because, frankly, she's just not that good.

I know, I know, this is insanity. Chastain has been nominated for Oscars and just finished winning the Golden Globe Awards. I know. But I have to call these things like I see them and Chastain is way, way off course with this one. I can forgive that she looks about 22, but I can't forgive that she acts like she's 22. I said above that the movie is about careful, controlled work used to ultimately bring Bin Laden down, but in between scenes of said work, we get scenes of Chastain trying to act tough to her superiors, to the detainees, to anyone who gets in her way. Everyone reacts to her like she's some firebrand spy who can destroy the reputations of those who cross her, yet all we see is a child throwing a tantrum. Her efforts to appear driven just come across as petulant, consequently forcing us (or me at least) to constantly imagine that the other actors are reacting to someone else who is delivering their lines in a more reasonable manner. At one point, she begins a process of writing passive-aggressive notes on the glass office door of her boss at the CIA to protest why nothing is being done to follow up on one of her leads, something I could understand if she did not continue to write said notes even after her leads are being followed up on by the boss in question, as though he had done nothing at all. I don't pretend to know how the CIA works, but I would not expect to remain long-employed if I engaged in behavior like that, not even in Government.

There's also the issue of the last third of the film. This would be the part that deals with the actual raid on the Bin Laden compound, a raid presented in an extremely realistic manner and (it appears) in real time. I can appreciate the artistry of such a sequence, and the skill that no doubt had to go into producing it, but the fact remains that while this raid is presented, I'm sure, with the greatest of fidelity to the real raid, the film is not actually about this military operation, and shifting over to it for a full 45 minutes is jarring as all hell. Having spent an hour and a half watching a set of characters search for Bin Laden even as terrorists try to strike back at them, we are now suddenly in the company of an entirely new set of characters, none of whom we have met before or know anything about, as they laboriously clear the compound room by room, ultimately shooting Bin Laden down (spoiler alert) and returning to base. As we know that the raid happened and was a success even before sitting down in the theater, I am left with the question of just why the sequence was given so much prominence within the film. Real military operations are systematic affairs, neither flashy nor terribly interesting to watch, and this one consumes a full third of the movie's run-time, all to get us to a point that we knew, going in, we were going to get to from the beginning.

Final thoughts:   I don't want to give the impression that I hated this movie, for I did not, nor that its flaws were crippling, for they were not. But a movie being touted as a strong contender for Best Picture awards must receive higher standards of scrutiny than the rest of its fellows, and Zero Dark Thirty is simply not the masterpiece that it is being described as. That said, it has also been the recipient of a great deal of political criticism, accused of being either an endorsement of torture (a laughable claim to anyone who has actually seen it) or pro-Obama propaganda about the inhumanity of the Bush Administration (an even more laughable claim). This would normally be the place where I respond to such criticism, but as I mentioned in my Django Unchained review, I don't tend to consider seriously the objections of people who have manifestly never seen the film in question. Zero Dark Thirty is, ultimately, an very good movie, but however it does on Oscar night, it is not destined to be remembered by me as one of the highlights of 2012.

Final Score:  7/10

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Worst Movies of 2012

If the Good movies this year were very Good, then the Bad movies were all the more horrible for being measured against them. My best film pick from last year might have struggled to make the top five this year, but last year's worst movie (Tron Legacy) would be hard pressed to make my list at all this time round. Worst of all, in most of these cases, I have nobody to blame except myself. One movie a week may seem like a fair amount, but it's not so much that you can't avoid obvious disasters, and so movies which were clearly never going to be good (Battleship, Atlas Shrugged 2) by and large went unseen by me over the course of the year. For one reason or another, I chose to see every one of the films below, believing they had a chance of being at least halfway decent, and was rewarded for my patience, time and trust, with some of the worst cinematic experiences I have ever had.

10 Sleepwalk with Me: Indie crap at its finest. Sleepwalk with me is a slow, languid film made as a vanity project by a comedian whose association with this movie is way too personal for his own good. Mike Birbiglia might be a talented comic, I don't know, but he cannot make a film to save his life, and his attempts to be 'different' by ripping off 90s genre films that did work (High Fidelity, for instance) only prove that he doesn't know what the hell he is doing. There is no reason to care about anything that happens in this film, with the result that nobody does.

9 Taken 2: How fitting that Liam Neeson should appear on both my best and worst lists while playing what amounts to the same character. The original Taken was nothing special, but it was at least more interesting than this painfully generic 'kill the bad guys who threaten mah womens!' film, the sort of which Neeson has made many times before, and better. A promising premise and several interesting sequences early in the movie turn out to be purely accidental, as this movie has nothing whatsoever to tell us beyond the fact that Liam Neeson can kill people as long as he has enough stunt doubles. I passed up Looper to see this movie. Not my best decision of the year.

8 The Raven: One of the worst things I've ever seen John Cusack in, and given that I saw Room 1408, that's saying something. But Cusack ultimately isn't the problem here. The problem is that The Raven is an insufferably boring film, made by people who apparently have not seen another movie since 1957, believing that the concept of a killer who taunts his pursuers is somehow a new and unexplored one. Buttressed by outright embarrassing performances from most of its secondary actors and a plot that works only if you don't think about it, the Raven was a complete waste of time. Quoth the Raven: 'Piss off'.

7 Farewell my Queen: This movie was so boring I suspected it was a practical joke. Taking a piece of history filled with dramatic events and persons, Farewell my Queen manages deftly to fill the screen with exactly none of them, relying instead upon long, pregnant looks between various members of royalty and their servants, until the next title card swoops in to tell us briefly what is happening in other, more interesting films. I could have fallen asleep at the opening credits, awoken two hours later, and told you exactly the same amount of information about the contents of this film, and given how wretchedly uninteresting the entire proceeding was, I'm rather surprised I didn't. It's movies like this that give French cinema a bad name here in the States, as I honestly could not blame someone who, upon seeing this movie, swore off that country's films forever.

6 Prometheus: What a waste this movie was. What a waste of talent and concept and for that matter, film stock. An extended trailer for another film that will almost certainly not be made (I hope), Prometheus was supposed to add something to our understanding of the Alien series, a series desperately in need of some class and skill. Instead it left me in awe of just how far the mighty Ridley Scott has fallen in recent years. I defended Kingdom of Heaven and even Robin Hood, but there is no defending this self-indulgent piece of garbage. Many movies I saw this year were bad, and some were (obviously) objectively worse. But damn few managed to piss me off the way Prometheus did.

5 Dark Shadows: Where do you even begin with a movie like this? Dark Shadows is one of those films that doesn't just fail, but fails on every individual level of filmmaking in which it is possible to fail. The acting is wooden and terrible, the script is truncated and clunky, the music is overblown and intrusive, the story is trite and absurd, and not one of the elements of the film works together in any useable way. If Tim Burton never makes another one of his 'whimsical' romps through pop culture with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, it will be way too soon.

4 The Amazing Spiderman: This movie can kiss my ass. I've seen bad movies before, even bad superhero movies, but I've never seen a movie as personally insulting to my sensibilities as both a nerd and a film fan than this one. Not only does nothing work in this film, but the elements were arranged, purposefully, in such a way as innovation, creativity, and fun were physical impossibilities. From the lazy CGI to the throwaway plot to the bullshit flag-waving hoo-rah crap that I'm still angry about, this movie was a slap in the face to the entire fanbase of either the first movie series, the comic books, or the very concept of Spiderman, and the people who made it should be drowned in a septic tank.

3 The Odd Life of Timothy Green: Among other things, this film is proof of the inhumanity of man. A perfect stranger told me to see this film when I, in perfect innocence, asked her what I should see. In addition to thus proving that Century theaters employs psychopaths, this film taught me such valuable lessons as "Jennifer Gardner can't act", "Peter Hedges lost his mind sometime in the late 90s", and "movies that look like they would kill Wifred Brimley should probably be avoided". Seriously, I'm no enemy to sentimental films, but this movie can send you into diabetic shock with a ten minute viewing. Pro tip for future filmmakers: If your movie would cause Frank Capra to ask for more violence and T&A, you may want to rethink your life choices.

2 To Rome with Love: Five months later, and the daze has not yet worn off. To Rome With Love is one of the most epochal disasters I have ever borne witness to, a collapse that invites parallels to the 1968 Phillies or the Fall of Constantinople. Woody Allen has made spectacular films in the past, but this movie plays like the work of his arch-enemies, a plot to smear his good name and destroy his reputation. Every one of the four narratives this movie contains is not merely bad but unwatchably bad, irrespective of the brilliant actors and gorgeous scenery that surrounds them, while Woody himself turns in the single most aggravating performance I have ever seen any actor give. This movie was the sort of catastrophe that ends careers, even those as storied as Allen's, and if he does manage to get another movie made, I sense I shall have a hard time convincing anyone to see it, myself included.

1 Red Tails: This movie did what the Star Wars Prequels could not, ending George Lucas' career as a filmmaker once and for all. To be perfectly honest I look back now, some 12 months after seeing Red Tails, in awe of the achievement of having made it. This was a movie so bad that I could have written a doctoral thesis on all the myriad ways in which it failed, and still not plumb the furthest depths of its decrepitude. Incompetently written, shot, acted, scored, edited, mixed, and even released (dumping a movie out in January is a clear sign of failure, guys), this film would have been grotesquely offensive had it not been so clearly too stupid to ascribe malice to (or for that matter, thought). I said a year ago that it would take me a long time to recover from the catastrophic train wreck that was Red Tails. I still have not. And that is why despite all the terrible films and insulting stupidities I subjected myself to last year, Red Tails holds the position it was seemingly fated to hold from the beginning, atop my list of the year's worst films.

The Best Movies of 2012

I'm not a professional film critic, I don't have the educational background or the long-term experience to speak of film the way that some others might. But I began this project two years and eighty films ago under the proviso that one did not need to be those things in order to discuss movies rationally. And being as I've now gone through my first full year as an amateur film critic, I feel it is appropriate now, at the end of one year and the beginning of another, to consider what I saw over the last twelve months as a whole.

2012 was a strange year for movies. Last year my best film of the year was (the admittedly great) X-men First Class, a superhero movie that exceeded my middling expectations for it, and while I still consider it one of the pinnacles of superhero film-making, last year it stood out head and shoulders above all of the other great films I saw. Had X-Men First Class come out this year, it would have much steeper competition, and likely been relegated to "merely" a position within the top five. Simply put, the best films of 2012 were a crop considerably more impressive than those of 2011, and despite my switch from a top 5 list to a top 10, I still had great difficulty cutting several films I considered excellent or even award-worthy. And so, without further ado, I present to you all the best films (that I saw) from 2012:

10  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey:  Number ten is always the hardest, as you're forced to decide which excellent movie doesn't make the list. In my case, the call was between Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth and Argo, a film I expect to see on many people's lists, as well as at Oscar Time. My selection in this case was based simply on which film I enjoyed watching more, and for me, time spent in Middle Earth is hard to top. For all the fears of a disaster, for all the comparisons to the Star Wars Prequels, the first of the new Hobbit Trilogy was a return to form for Jackson and his band of magicians, and while the resulting movie was not the equal of the original masterpieces, it remains one of the better fantasy offerings of this still-young century.

9 Rock of Ages: A hilarious farcical romp through the heart of my favorite decade of music, Rock of Ages was miles better than I expected it to be. Cored around the increasingly ubiquitous Tom Cruise (who had no fewer than three movies this year), this film was a wall-to-wall riot, filled to bursting with excellent renditions of classic rock tunes from across the 80s. The acting may have been par for the course, but the awesome ensemble cast and the movie's refusal to go three minutes without a musical number elevated this one well about the likes of similar musicals, at least in my opinion.

8 The Grey: Of all the picks on this list, The Grey is probably the least defensible, yet I stand by it as one of the best of the year. Having walked in expecting Taken with Wolves, what I received was a soulful, patient, engrossing look into the nature of men and the wilderness. Deconstructing the hard-edged unstoppable monotone badasses that Neeson has been reduced to playing again and again recently, The Grey was buttressed by a superb score, a restrained pacing, and an ending I still think about to this day. Whatever you might have assumed from the trailers or subject matter, I strongly encourage you to give this film another shot.

7 The Cabin in the Woods: It's hard enough to make a Horror film that I can tolerate. Making one I actively love is an extremely rare occurrence, yet Joss Whedon did just that with this hilarious, gory, lovingly absurd, over-the-top send up to every horror movie made in the last three decades. While a couple of the main characters could have been more convincing, and the ending somewhat self-indulgent, the movie was brilliantly-written, well orchestrated from beginning to end, and maintained a gloriously-irreverent tone all throughout, giving me hope when I most needed it that Wheedon's hands were the right ones to place the Avengers in.

6 The Dark Knight Rises: Polarizing as it was, I never mistook the Dark Knight Rises for anything but a masterful film, if not the equivalent of the lightning strike that was 2008's Dark Knight. A movie whose ambitions were simply staggering, Dark Knight Rises managed, somehow, to up the stakes beyond even what the previous installment had offered, add half a dozen new main characters, and keep Batman out of Gotham for an hour of it's runtime, all without completely imploding. Though the movie did have some serious structural flaws, ultimately I enjoyed it fully as much as its predecessor, and while I would not call it the strongest of Nolan's trilogy, it certainly merits inclusion on a list such as this.

5 Lincoln: One of the greatest Biopics ever made, Tony Kushner's screenplay elevated this film into a masterpiece, forever cementing my memory with the image of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, and finally giving me a reason to praise the ultimate method actor. Packed with an all-star cast, and directed by a blessedly saccharine-free Steven Spielberg, this was a return to form in many ways, both for Spielberg and for Lewis, and should, if there is any sense to the universe, garner a small mountain of Oscar nominations and statuettes come March.

4 Searching for Sugar Man: It's hard to ask for more than a wonderful story told in an entertaining way, but if I had to be selfish, I might demand that the story be true. And believe it or not, the story of Sixto Rodriguez is just that. Over the course of a journey from Cape Town to Detroit with stops in many other places, we get to know this forgotten musical legend, his music, his times, and the movements his songs helped to spawn, all without him ever knowing. The ending of the film, really the entire last third, is a series of escalating wonders, as the story of this musician and his music enters realms I thought reserved only for fantasy. The best Documentary of the year, and a gem for any who manage to see it.

3 The Avengers: The Avengers is what it's all about, proof positive that Hollywood can still get it done when it absolutely has to. One of the most entertaining movies I've seen in years, the Avengers manages to top every one of the constituent films that led up to it, a blockbuster that proves, if there were still any lingering doubt, the incredible heights to which Comic Book films have ascended. Not merely a wonderful action/adventure romp (which it is), Avengers was an exceptionally well-characterized movie, filled with awesome moments both in and out of action sequences. If Avengers is any indication, then whatever Disney-Marvel has for us in the future from this series cannot possibly come soon enough.

2 The Intouchables: I know that everyone rolls their eyes at me when I recommend a French language film, but I will tolerate no disrespect to The Intouchables. By far the funniest movie I saw this year, Intouchables did not miss a single step from start to finish, relying on two spectacular performances from Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet to get through material that could, in a lesser film, have been intolerably maudlin. Whether you like foreign or indie cinema or not, I demand that you go see this film. You will absolutely never look at a foreign film the same way again.

1 Cloud Atlas: There are movies that are good despite their flaws. There are movies that have no flaws. And then there are movies that are so good that you forget whether or not they were flawed. Cloud Atlas is one of these films. A sweeping, fantastic epic of six separate narratives tied together into one, this is one of the most ambitious films I've ever seen, taking its audience on a journey across time and space. Though difficult to get into (it made several respected critics' worst lists), once I began to understand this film in even a slight degree, it unfolded into a masterpiece, one that I would have sat through three more hours of had there been more to see. Cloud Atlas was not merely the best film of the year, it was the best movie I have seen in a long, long time. Indeed, I would unhesitatingly put it on a list of my ten favorite films ever.

The General's Post Summer 2018 Roundup

Let's get back into the swing of things, shall we? The General's Post Summer 2018 Roundup Ant-Man and the Wasp Alternate Ti...