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Cloud At Last

I’m shocked. This year was a damn good year for new movies. There were ups: Dredd, Total Recall, Argo, and downs: Prometheus, Looper, Flight, and the in-betweens: Django Unchained, John Carter, The Avengers, and this stands in direct opposition to the last couple of years, whose downs and in-betweens weren’t nearly as interesting. 2010 is defined to me as purely Scott Pilgrim, and 2011, purely Drive. 2012 on the other hand saw a deluge of good movies… but still not enough for me to compile a top ten list.

Maybe if I actually managed to see Life of Pi like I set out to, and maybe if I lived in a major city to see Zero Dark Thirty when it came out, but no, shut up — this is Dreck Fiction’s Top Ten Movies of 2012 Rundown, a list of questionable raison d’etre, outside of making ten arguably quality recommendations…

10. The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Dir. Christopher Nolan

I hate myself. When The Dark Knight came out and everyone loved it, I could not see the value in it. Nolan’s sequel was boring, overwrought, and dumb as hell. Now, when The Dark Knight Rises comes out and people are generally positive on it but don’t think it’s as good as it could’ve been, I scratch my head yet again. I loved The Dark Knight Rises. It’s visually stunning, socially resonant, and exciting. So am I a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian? At this point, I can’t tell, all the way over here in my lonely, argumentative corner. In some ways, I don’t care, because The Dark Knight Rises and it’s lack of Batman, introduction of neat visual icons, and cool dystopic story, keeps me welcome company.

9. Persepolis (2007) Dirs. Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud

From what little I understand of comics, Persepolis and other autobiographical comics that dominated the underground scene of their time… set the medium. Nowadays any serious comic is like this, but I’d be hard pressed to find an artist with as powerful a story as Marjane Satrapi’s. This movie is beautifully animated, and tells a heartbreaking story of a difficult coming of age during bloody history in the making. It’s a microscope pushed all the way in during a greater conflict, and the humanist themes found are just as emotionally sweeping as in any great war epic.

8. Total Recall (2012) Dir. Len Wiseman

With every remake, we ask: did we really need a remake? The answer is almost always “no,” but I’m glad for a few reasons we got Total Recall 2012 (maybe in fifty-eight years we’ll get a Total Recall 2070). One reason is that for a sci-fi action movie, it isn’t boring as all get-out. There is action from start to finish, which is plainly shocking. How did they afford that? Typically the action movie dynamic is: all the action scenes are super expensive so they can’t be all the movie, so let’s pad this out with exposi — oh shit we forgot to write a story. Here, it’s not only action but action in a lavish sci-fi world. A familiar one, yes, but hey. How many movies are set in current day L.A.? I could stand to see a few more set in 2019 L.A., if I’m being honest.

7. The Man with the Iron Fists (2012) Dir. RZA

This movie and Cloud Atlas really bum me out. In twenty years, people will look back on them and call them cult classics. Movies that fucking failed financially, finally fulfilling forgotten… (where am I?) finally gaining notice only when it’s too late for the filmmakers to benefit and make another. These movies are really something else, and it totally upsets me that people call for originality and novelty in their movies, and then slam these two for being different. I don’t have much new to say on The Man with the Iron Fists, other than I’m so glad I saw it in theatres. I’ve missed way too many modern cult classics — Slither, Grindhouse, and Scott Pilgrim come to mind — when they were in theatres and making no money.

6. The Raid: Redemption (2011) Dir. Gareth Evans

I curse The Raid: Redemption for only one reason — it partially ruined the otherwise perfectly fine Dredd. This is a martial arts movie that goes for the hard hits, and even though I’ve seen that meth lab battle a few times, I always wince at the big impacts. I haven’t been this physically affected by an action movie since the first and second viewing of Crank 2, in all its nipple-cutting glory. I love energy in movies, so if you want to be blown away by a pure action spectacle (think 300 but with no slow motion and an actual story), The Raid: Redemption is just as good as everyone says.

5. Chungking Express (2005) Dir. Wong Kar Wai

Wong Kar Wai is a vicious filmmaker who goes after cinematic conventions like a Charles Bronson-esque vigilante. Though I can’t get my head around how he does it (I assume, with his method, he’d have to fuck up at some point — he’d have to), I’m glad he makes movies as good as this, Chungking Express, often considered his best movie (though I prefer 2046). This movie is two parts — two love stories featuring gorgeous people in a gorgeous city looking despondent through windows at each other.

4. Battle Royale (2000) Dir. Finji Fukasaku

Django Unchained wins points for its tremendously bloody violence, but there isn’t too much of it in the end. Battle Royale somehow manages to keep its chaos going throughout its run, and though it’s generally difficult to stomach (fifteen year olds in school uniforms machine-gunning each others’ bodies apart), the adrenaline matches your guilt. I don’t like the idea behind this movie, I think it’s a little too harsh, but it does create the scenario I love from horror-comedies (this is not horror-comedy, for the record), where characters react realistically and funnily to an insane situation. I think to that scene where two students are shooting at each other at the start of the game, hesitating and stumbling over each other like the fisticuffs in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I’m a little dissapointed that Chiaki Kuriyama went out so quickly, and that after Kill Bill: Vol. 1 she didn’t do much high-profile stuff… but the shotgun dude was cool, and he made up for it.

3. The Road Home (2000) Dir. Zhang Yimou

As much as I might bellyache over The Road Home‘s core conceits, that of good ol’ fashioned, freeze-your-ass off transcendental living, y’all goddamn cityfolk, and one person’s definition of feminism in the obsession and stalking of a man, I can’t help but be utterly silenced by its sweeping, rollercoaster romance. Its got easily my favorite score I heard this year, with that main theme swelling in just the right points in the narrative, keeping the tears inside on a steady flow. For such a tiny story where scope and scale are concerned, there are moments that feel like punches to the gut — this is exemplary cinematic storytelling, audio/video as literary device akin to In the Mood for Love. The sequence of our heroine’s initial courting of the dude builds brilliantly: she attempts to wait for him as he walks along the road (home), but gets cold feet and ducks behind the bushes three or four times. When she finally sums up the courage, she passes him on the road (home) and he gives her a nod. She smiles really big and the theme swells — no dialogue, all expression.

2. Cloud Atlas (2012) Dirs. Andy and Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer

Like I said earlier with Iron Fists, this makes me so sad. You’ll notice that when critics talk down on Cloud Atlas, their criticisms are vague as hell. I don’t believe they know why they hate the movie, and frankly, sir, I don’t believe I know why I like the movie. But I felt it as I sat there in an uncomfortable ass, stadium-seating-impaired theatre, craning my neck upward. The movie pounded with life and imagination, it was like a guided tour through three of the most creative minds in film. I don’t know what we were meant to take away from the film (a reason why it’s not #1), but I feel like if I were to begin deconstructing it, I’d ruin the purity of experience for myself. Also, go Keith David!

1. Brokeback Mountain (2005) Dir. Ang Lee

“Are they gay?” my friend asks when I’m watching it for a second time.
“I think… they’re confused.”

The right answer is simpler: it doesn’t matter. Labels have no place here. This is a story about individuals who are destroyed by such things — cultural expectations, masculine and familial priorities — so any frazzled critic who shouts that calling these characters homosexual marginalizes the bisexual community needs to sleep on it (back in 2005). The characters at various points in the movie maintain that they’re both straight men, and this represents a major failure in American (and global) society. Brokeback Mountain doesn’t point fingers or complain, it does a movie’s job, and makes a much more powerful statement in doing so. One of its most sympathetic characters is actually one of the two men’s wives, and indeed, the film illustrates the destructive power of intolerance in the female characters it reaches indirectly. In my opinion, one of the most heart-wrenching (if somewhat hokey) lines is delivered by Delmar’s (Heath Ledger) second girl.

For a supposedly straight male, I tend to concern myself a lot with LGBT issues (there’s that contrarian again?), but Brokeback Mountain doesn’t speak to The Man Inside me (who will one day walk free of the pain), but the humanist I aspire to be.

So there you have it. See you round.

I decided to do this about fifteen days early because the posts have been slow. This year was pretty bad for new movies (Battle: LA, Hereafter I think). Susprisingly though one made the list, and in fact there were quite a few recent titles. There were not however, enough movies, so this list extends to include TV shows.

For a quick recap, I really like the Genrebusters, so I stole their idea for Year End Reviews, where they talk about the movies they’ve seen that year, not the movies that came out. This, in my opinion, serves a better purpose, because these lists are all about recommending titles, and you’d probably have heard of any title from ’11 that I’d recommend. So here we go, with a title from ’11–

10. The Thing (2011)

Maybe not the best movie I saw this year, but definitely one of the most entertaining for my nerd-dollar. It’s sort of like fan-service; I really like the core Thing idea, and John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of my favorite things. Now for more of it, but this time the creature is faster, bigger, more deadly. It actually kills people (not just dogs); it’s predatory. To the rescue is Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s flamethrower, and she goes to town on these gooey freaks.

Yes, you’re free to hate on The Thing just because it’s a remake of a cult classic (wonder what people will say when they redo Buckaroo Bonzai or Big Trouble?), but you’d be overlooking what is a very entertaining movie, one of the best horror movies to come along in recent years, and solid science-fiction entertainment. When it comes out on DVD I urge you to pick it up. Blame me if it sucks, only because I can’t spell the director’s name.

9. MST3K: The Girl in Lover’s Lane/I Accuse my Parents

I just can’t decide. I watched a couple of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes over the course of the year, including Swamp Diamonds and Gamera, but I’ve discovered that if you want the pure MSTK experience, you have to go for the cheesy black-and-white 50’s movies of questionable raison d’etre. Interesting to note is that The Girl in Lover’s Lane features Jack Elam in pre-Once Upon a Time in the West days, in something of an embarassing role in an embarassing film. Joel and the gang tear into these, and some of the one-liners made me lol out loud. Unfortunately I can’t really relate them because the jokes require the context. So a guy’s walking down the street looking frumpled and Crow says…

8. Clerks 2

This was, if I remember correctly, and if Netflix is to be believed, the first movie I saw this year. I knew while I was watching it that when I inevitably came around to doing this post I’d have to include it. Not only a very funny movie, it’s also a totally bold and necessary film. Indeed Kevin Smith has given us some rough times with movies like Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but he’s a surprisingly good writer/director, and Clerks 2 is his finest hour. It is also one of the most interesting sequels ever made, because it’s almost as if Clerks 2 should be a stand alone movie, and Clerks a prequel.

The passage of time between films has made a huge difference for the characters, and this is a major (and pretty heavy) theme. We return to Dante and Randall and discover they’ve moved on with their lives, but not up. Well, Rosario Dawson works at the new place, so that’s pretty good, but it still isn’t optimal. This movie’s all about self-actualization and coming to grips with reality. Time to grow up, but we really need to examine ourselves before we do.

If a theoretical Clerks 3 happens, and Kevin Smith has talked about this (in between airplane drama and cameo appearances in Die Hard 4), I can’t imagine it being anything but a retread of Clerks 2–it’s an essential story to… the saga of these guys’ lives, and to Kevin Smith, whose Zack and Miri was even more of a personal story, but unfortunately sucked balls. One good joke at the beginning said by Craig Robinson. And then silence.

7. Dexter: Season 5

Quinn gets an interesting subplot this time around, with Peter Weller no less, Dexter deals with a post-Rita family, and a new character enters the fold. Haters’ll hate, right? This is probably the least popular season, and there’s a reason. This one requires more suspension of disbelief than any other, with escapes and cover-ups that shy from logic. It’s also got that new character Lumen, who you could either see as a good thing like I do, or as a by the numbers revenge movie applied to the Dexter framework. I really appreciated it because I liked the relationship between Lumen and Dexter, even though I knew it had to end. The finale really shows the limitations of television as a medium of storytelling. SPOILERS. We know Lumen won’t last because she’s a movie star. Poor Dex.

6. Lust, Caution

This movie is long, but stick with it because it’s absolutely beautiful. I suppose that when you hear about Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, you hear about the sex scenes, and they are quite graphic, but that’s really not a big deal. They serve a specific purpose, and this whole movie is a tragedy, so I can’t imagine being aroused by it and its sombre mood. Tony Leung’s totally awesome, and if you like this movie I’d recommend checking out the movies of Wong Kar Wai like Happy Together and Days of Being Wild. Also, great music.

5. A History of Violence

I was none partial to Eastern Promises, but I really dug A History of Violence. It’s violent, and it’s a really cool story. It’s David Cronenberg at his most entertaining; this may not be his best movie, but it’s his most enjoyable.

4. Party Down

The cast and writing of a sitcom make all the difference. Premise is usually inconsequential, and in fact some of the more high-concept stuff I usually don’t like–Parks and Recreation, which is the direct opposite of high concept (and will be mentioned again regarding this show’s cancellation), is a great show, very funny. Anyway, the cast and writing of Party Down really shine. In terms of premise, we have these caterers working in LA–it’s essentially a retread of Clerks 2, because most of them aspire to higher things. Romances come and go, parties are ruined, profanities fly–wonderful. I also really like Adam Scott; he’s one of those actors like Mary Elizabeth Winstead or Nathan Fillion that I just really like seeing in things, even if it’s Pirahna 3D. I’m sure you have a few of those. In fact, I went out of my way to watch an indie movie that really wasn’t my style just because he was in it (also JK Simmons, who’s awesome), called The Vicious Kind and I even kind of enjoyed it. Party Down streams on Netflix–highly recommended.

It’s also not a major time investment, unfortunately. Like another TV show on this list, it was cut down in its youth. A lot of it had to do with casting issues–Jane Lynch left after the first season to be on Glee, which is really sad because Constance was one of the best characters, and Adam Scott left to be on Parks and Recreation. I like Parks and Recreation, it certainly picked up steam after an okay “well this is sort of like a watered-down version of what The Office (US) was before it started blowing assholes” first season, but I like this show a whole lot better. The characters are so memorable and the things they do can be so self-destructive but it’s alright–it’s a lot like Trailer Park Boys in this regard.

3. Dexter: Season 3

Another reason why people probably don’t like Season 5 so much is because it followed Season 4. I feel the same way about 2, but I totally understand this because 4 was probably the best season. My favorite however, has got to be 3. This year I saw 3 and 5, having seen 4 last year… that’s what not seeing TV live does to one, I suppose. The stakes in this season are at an all time low, nothing major happens to any of the characters, and we get a new guy Quinn who doesn’t do much and for now isn’t an adequate replacement for the dearly departed Doakes. (That’s what the last book’s gonna be called, Dearly Departed Dexter, I’m calling it now).

However. A new character is introduced, a fellow named Miguel Prado, and the friendship that he and Dexter cultivate that eventually turns dark was very engaging. Some of the exchanges, like the rooftop scene, were extremely memorable. Dexter’s created a monster, and the show did fool me for a moment there–I thought Dexter might have actually cared for this guy, and that idea rang true with me despite probably being false. Even though I knew what was going to happen in this season before it did (he mentions Miguel once in Season 4, a minor sidenote; his absence was somewhat noticeable in retrospect), it was classic suspenseful Dexter at the top of its game.

2. Arrested Development

Like number one on this list I started watching Arrested Development on a lark. I had seen the first two episodes a long time ago (a friend of mine always pushed this show), and thought they were okay, but never ventured beyond that. In fact I believe I decided on Arrested Development because of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World–I actually just wanted to see more Michael Cera (and I wasn’t gonna watch Year One). It’s funny because Arrested Development in turn made me start paying attention to Jason Bateman, which drove me to Extract and Paul, and after it was over, I needed something to ease the pain, so I tore through as many sitcoms as I could, which was only really two, and two short ones at that. Spaced and then Party Down, with their powers combined could help me stop being sad that Arrested Development was over and not coming back.

A few months later I’d find out that it was in fact coming back, and I just about pissed in my pants. Arrested Development is not only the best sitcom I’ve ever seen, but the best TV show. It was so goddamn funny I want to fill this paragraph with expletives for no reason. But I won’t. As soon as it was over I wanted to watch it again; I got my sister to watch it (work in progress), and my roommate, who was hooked and we started marathoning episodes–like ten episodes a day.

It’s so layered, so rich, so… post-modern. You can go on Wikipedia to learn about all the in-jokes and hidden things, there’s too many to list. Season 1 was good, like pretty funny and effective in setting up characters: Michael is the perfect straight man, his son is awkward and in love with his cousin, his brother GOB is an aggressive moron, his sister a selfish airhead with a closet homosexual husband, his younger brother a motherboy. His dad’s in jail, his mother probably should be. It works, but this is the weakest season and kind of a slow start.

Stick with it, seriously. Season 2 starts out strong, and lever lets up. Recurring jokes are abound and always rewarding: Tobias is gay gives us some of the most quotable lines in network TV, Maeby as a studio executive reveals the absurdity of Hollywood, Buster losing is hand (foreshadowed like crazy throughout the whole season [“Never thought I’d miss a hand so much” is in Episode 3: Amigos]) is classic, Michael not liking or remembering George Michael’s girlfriend Ann clues us into his flawed-father character, and Oscar being Buster’s secret father is probably my favorite recurring joke. Something like Buster announcing “I guess my father’s not here,” will prompt the camera to zoom in slowly on Jeffrey Tambor in a wig and cue the dramatic piano for him to say, “Maybe he is.” Cut to Lucille rolling her eyes.

You could just go anywhere on the Internet and people talk this show up like I’m doing. They’re not afraid. You can’t oversell Arrested Development. You either love it or you’re trying to hate it. Don’t try to hate it. Do yourself a favor.

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