I’ve probably watched 50-100 of the movies that came out this year (hey, I’m on vacation), and these are the ones that I liked enough to watch multiple times (hey, I’m on vacation). Spoilers. (Re: the apparently conspicuous absence of The Dark Knight Rises, I simply don’t have any desire to see this movie again and prefer the earlier Dark Knights.)
The Bourne Legacy
Why did I like this so much? Maybe partially because I love Rachel Weisz and female scientists. Weisz won me over years ago as the sexy, dorky egyptologist in The Mummy. Her approval makes both Renner and Daniel Craig more attractive in my eyes, which is the ultimate compliment coming from me, a sign of a true girl crush. Despite some plot holes such as the lack of killing people with office supplies, this film still has a motorcycle chase scene and even ups the ante with gratuitous wolf wrestling. Apparently contrary to many viewers, I was also extremely sympathetic towards his mission and unconfused regarding the plot. Who wouldn’t fear losing one’s own mind and identity, effectively dying? Furthermore, unlike the other Bourne movies where Bourne battles random minions or incompetent bureaucrats evilly fixated on local concerns, this movie found a suitable antagonist in Ed Norton, an intelligent, lucid, moral person who makes smart, difficult decisions while understanding the higher level risks and costs.
Anna Karenina is unbelievably complex, beautiful, and insightful in book form (is there a modern writer anywhere near this level? Is Tolstoy evidence of the decline of literature?), and now in movie form (movies are still on the up since they’re tied to technological innovation and budget resources). I can’t believe this movie hit so many themes and included so many side stories with such a low budget and in such a concise running time. This could only have been accomplished by imaginative, talented people who really understand the themes of Russian literature. They even threw in Tolstoy’s meditations idealizing simple agrarian peasant life- how ambitious!
Stoppard is an amazing screenwriter. But my favorite parts come from, I assume, the director. The theater setup is brilliant and daring, showing the gap between “the real people,” i.e. the Russian elites, and the commoners who rummage about backstage in the dirty darkness, lacking the knowledge or resources to watch the show. In this aristocratic world, the players are also the audience, everyone obsessively watching themselves and each other, everything an exhibition. The only times they’re not on a stage are when the guys are out on the farm; even the closing scene zooms out to reveal a theater blooming with wildflowers.
Such incredible imagery- whose idea were the mirrors, still the director? I also loved the magical, artistic transition shots such as the toy train becoming a real train, the torn letter fragments fluttering into snow, also the tense horse racing visuals where Anna’s fit parallels the horse’s broken back. The musical diegetic switches could probably become metaphors for the whole film, everything was so thoroughly considered and deliberate, but I’ll spare you any meandering essays.
Even without having read the book, I think you get the idea on how complex life and relationships can be when you don’t exist in a vacuum. The double standard enforced by society causes Anna to both resent and rely on Vronsky despite him not having made the rules and generally being on her side. When “wrong” is defined as making a fuss by being in the way of what others want, offending what others view as acceptable, it’s enough to make a woman crazy!
The acting was rich and amazing, even for a relatively a minor/flat character like Vronsky. If you’ve only ever watched Kick Ass out of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s oeuvre, you never would’ve cast the dorky Dave as the master seducer Vronsky who creepily breaks every rule in the book but is somehow so hot you throw away your whole life to be with him. But if you’ve watched anything else he’s done in addition to Kick Ass, you would cast Aaron Taylor-Johnson as anything. The way he uses his voice and face to morph between screechy, awkward, insecure teen and confident stud who fucks Blake Lively/ Keira Knightley, punches/shoots people, and starts a band is best described as enlightening- an instructive how-to on traveling between low status and high status.
This movie was highly anticipated by Yinmeng and me, mentioning it repeatedly in our Thanksgiving “planning.” On the costuming, dancing, photography, all the visual beauty: years from now I may identify this movie as the sole origin of my extensive and expensive tastes in heavy, exquisite jewelry, furs, crepe, velvet, lace, and casual wearing of veils. The music was also beautiful. I think everything about this movie is perfect: enchanting and creative. I’ll probably watch it a bunch more times in theaters.
Silver Linings Playbook
The script is great. I was amazed by how much information could be transferred through/despite inarticulate, verbally uninteresting dialogue. For example, very few of the lines are quotable or clever or surprising, and yet it was moving and believable and complex. This was not simply due to acting- it was the script, which somehow made inane, low information echolalia expressive and interesting.
Despite Winter’s Bone, I’d never gotten what everyone was saying about how good an actress Lawrence is, but now I see it and think she’s really cool. Bradley Cooper- I only knew him as a lovable jerk in various guy comedies, but he was surprisingly good in this movie (Limitless had a good concept but a bad plot). I thought it was going to be about football watching (what? How boring) and mental illness (bummer) but it’s actually about dancing (wow, awesome!) and was hilarious (DeNiro and Lawrence have a funny fight about the relationship between the Eagles and her relationship with Cooper) and romantic (Lawrence and Cooper, who would’ve thought?).
I was waiting for Les Mis to come out for this post because that was the last movie I was planning on seeing this year and I rightly suspected that I’d love it. It was the first Les Mis movie wherein I actually understood what was happening or remembered any of the characters names. When you have genius performers and crew working off the compositions of genius composers and lyricists who were working off a genius writer’s 2000 pages of plotting and characters, you get 200 proof ultra-genius that just knocks you out.
Without having read the Hugo, I’d always found the characters painfully retarded. Why is Jean Valjean suicidally moral, appearing to deny his sense of self preservation despite his actually incredible powers of self preservation? His behavior not only offends my survival instinct, it offends my sense of duty towards living up to one’s potential, which is arguably more sinful than any lie or theft. Why is Eponine enabling her crush’s crush on someone else? Why does she have a crush on such a loser anyway? And then she kill herself for his sake? Not only does she stupidly die, she offends my doctrine of self esteem and my philosophy of women being the more sane ones (who falls in love with their male best friend? That’s supposed to be the dumb man’s job), thereby sinning and making me cringe. I coldly consoled myself with the thought that such a woman perhaps doesn’t deserve to reproduce or find love anyway.
While Jean Valjean and the Thenardiers are on opposite poles of the self preservation vs morality spectrum, Javert is off in another dimension living solely off his axiom that the law’s the law. Guided by this root belief, Javert is very principled and robotically amoral, a character type I’ve never encountered in life; maybe real people sense the futility of rules-based philosophies in the face of Godel’s incompleteness theorem. And then there are the young lovers who fall in love at first sight. Who does that?? Only French idiots who should be rightfully dead if it weren’t for Jean Valjean, that’s who!
This movie didn’t really change any of my above views, but it somehow made me not enraged or annoyed by any of their dumb decisions. It was nice. Borat is awesome, and Helena Bonham Carter is one of my favorite actresses. I also kept looking for more shots of Eponine because her waist and torso were freakishly narrow relative to her arm and head circumferences. Instead of annoyance and rage, I felt loving, tender compassion for our pathetic characters. Love for a random stranger or love for one’s oblivious best friend seemed sweet despite its irrationality- after all, irrationality is at the core of romance. And the fact that all these people give up their lives for love (both romantic and not) and other ideals, no matter how misplaced or wrong, is sweet and beautiful. Without changing the characters’ frustrating personalities or tragic circumstances, this was a feat accomplished only through great direction, cinematography, music, and pure onscreen charisma.
This movie also gave me the impression we’re never going to have a French Revolution because the standard of living is so much higher now than it used to be. Poor people would’ve died during childbirth or become orphans starving in the street instead of alive enough to grow up to to college and then become jobless. Despite how bad life was for people back then, especially compared to the cell phone carrying American 99%, they barely revolted. I don’t know much history though. Mainly I feel much more bad for the miserables of the past than for the miserables of today.
Runner up movies I wouldn’t terribly object to seeing again but haven’t/wouldn’t go out of my way to do:
There were several hero archetypes bought up in this movie and an interesting undercurrent of accepting one’s identity and destined role in the social order. The eponymous Ralph is a reluctant hero who wants to have a simple life where he’s appreciated, finding nobility in executing the task for which he was designed. A hero in a more literal sense, the GI Jane character shoots aliens and repeatedly systematically saves the world. In addition maybe Vanellope is a heroine in that she doggedly and somewhat selfishly just wants to fulfill what she senses to be her destiny- Ayn Rand would probably approve. To me, the villain was the most interesting character who shows by far the most impressive vision, creativity, daring, ambition, and verve. With a will to power that surpasses most supermen, the villain hacks and controls a whole universe that isn’t even his native universe to achieve his dreams and transcend his programming. This upstart attitude goes against the grain of the rest of the story, wherein Ralph’s bad guy group recites a litany describing how they should accept their badness. Because Vanellope, the true heroine as designated by the game designer gods, finally returns to her throne, the story seems to disapprove of game characters straying from their programming and encourages everyone to find happiness and pride in their true natures. Although Vanellope has to realize her true nature is different from what she’s been told, the premise of video games prescribes an objectively true nature for everyone, which Nietzsche and the villain would disagree with, and which Ralph’s rise as a hero who defeats the villain also proves wrong. Surprisingly deep for a kid’s story, right? The animated movements were also cool.
21 Jump Street
Did Jonah Hill write this? If so, he is awesome. This was so funny and original despite following the tried and true movie script formula.
I haven’t watched any of the Alien movies and normally do not seek out spookiness. However alternative histories fascinate me, especially if they involve aliens, plus this movie had a really well designed and imaginative vision of futuristic and alien technologies. Despite generally disliking the disgusting, I was entertained by the surgery scene and all the exploding squids.
None of the characters are very deep but the choreography and concept is a win. We should have more movies like this- it’s probably impossible to stop objectifying women so it’s only fair that we also objectify men, a clear case of two wrongs making a right. I’d always thought male objectification would be difficult because men are on average not very attractive or good at dancing relative to women, but this movie proves hot guys are out there, mainly in the South, and that they can dance.
Perks of Being a Wallflower
I read this book ages ago because Chomsky is from USC, which is really close to my high school. This movie is so affectionate towards Pittsburgh that I almost miss it. Despite my childhood being completely different from anything portrayed in this movie, it makes me nostalgic and loyal to my old stomping grounds.
Emma Watson does not do a good job at having a non-English Pittsburgh accent. That plus the short hair has left me disenchanted with the actress who was so cute as Hermione, one of my favorite characters, and so hot in Burberry, one of my favorite brands. But Logan Lerman saved the day! I was uncertain about Lerman’s ability to portray a psychologically unstable, insecure, friendless, unpopular genius because Lerman is abnormally cute and likable. But he’s actually talented and does a good job, so I feel slightly guilty for judging him based on his appearance. Maybe I’m also feeling guilty because I think he’s hot despite his character not even being 18 years old and a big theme of the movie being child molestation. Luckily I’m a woman and that’s one instance of a slightly beneficial double standard. I think it makes sense for women to be attracted to younger men (and for anyone to be attracted to younger women). Maybe one day I’ll be a 45 year old woman dating a 20 year old man- would that be so terrible? Except right now I’m 27 and he’s like 2 years old so it’d be weird if we met anytime in the next 15 years or so, which sadly was not avoidable for Lerman’s character in this movie. Although people used to anticipate sex with the underage all the time back when they were betrothed as infants, and it’s happening to Jacob in Breaking Dawn, which surprisingly no one seems that freaked out about, maybe because our “WTF” neurons are so desensitized and exhausted by everything else happening in those books.
I would not normally watch this genre of movie but skimmed it on a plane. Probably due to my having skipped some sections, parts of the plot were confusing and I don’t really understand who was killing who or why. Nevertheless, the amazing acting makes me think I should watch it again without skipping some day. Honestly I never respected Shia Labeouf’s acting because, despite having had sex with Megan Fox, he’s in several very bad movies (admittedly I’ve seen almost every movie he’s in), and I always think of him as that annoying, supposedly funny kid from the Disney channel. He was really good in this movie though, as was that red haired woman, Mia, and Bane.