Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Best Movies of 2012, and your Best Picture

Jobs were changed, things got busy, and the viewing is still on its way up since the ultimate low in 2009. It was the year I experienced Satantango. Discovered Roy Andersson and his connecting windows. The year Mr. Nolan comforted me with his tale of domesticity. So yeah, with no further ado let us begin the wrapping proceedings.  

14. Cloud Atlas (Dir: Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski)
Big melodramatic and theatrical in its tone, and utterly cinematic in the way it causes a grand symphony of periods separated through time, often resulting in making the moment in the future to be some kind of “cause” for the “effect” in the past, Cloud Atlas is a film of utter sincerity. Its politics, surely myopic, celebrating the individual is for dummies, and yet it is magical in its celebrations of grand gestures. Its confluence of tones, from suspense to tragic to melodramatic to slapstick is something I shall always treasure. I have a thing for films wearing their hearts on their sleeves. 


13. Talaash (Dir: Reema Kagti) (Read review)
A film with several issues, both in filmmaking and otherwise, and yet that seems to be more significant than good in our present atmosphere of overblown macho-bravado. The detective, the moustache, the mystery, the lost son, the wife, the woman, all of them neat archetypes telling one thing and one thing only – that control is an illusion. Ms. Kagti causes a thorough deconstruction, not as criticism but as therapy.  

 12. We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists (Dir: Brian Knappenberger)
The beauty here is in the fact that there exists a film that tells the story of a bunch of folks who were users of 4chan. Its very existence is the validity of cultural respect and recognition accorded to a bunch of guys, who in any other time period in history would’ve grown on to become members of the regular groups within our society. Its existence and narration charts the journey from loneliness to nerdiness to uniqueness to acceptance to coolness. And with the revolution bug of 2012 on its side, its journey from general coolness to historical validity is complete. The anonymous have affected history. 
It could very well have been the story of Trekkies, or comic book fans, or Wikileaks, or any group within our society culturally looked down upon. Makes for a great double-bill with Premium Rush.

 11. Everybody in our Family (Dir: Radu Jude)
An incredibly tough movie to sit through, especially with the knowledge of a near-and-dear one facing a similar crisis of patriarchal control. Here is a picture of the modern urban genteel man, defined by his posters and his DVD collections, utterly helpless against his woman and cutting an even more pathetic picture than in Blue Valentine. Probably the year’s most psychological film, in the way it observes human interaction and causes an explosion out of them. Borderline horror. Thus a comedy.

 10. Django Unchained (Dir.: Quentin Tarantino)
Outside of Mr. Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises Quentin Tarantino offers the year’s most formally ambitious and thematic stunner as far as American cinema is concerned. Refusing to confuse history for legends and vice-versa, this film starts off from a fundamentally disadvantageous position than its predecessor and attempts to chart a rather shocking piece of genre coup d’état. Mr. Tarantino had history and cinematic history both tangibly and intangibly on his side in Inglorious Basterds, but here, he takes his deep knowledge of the inherent structuralism of familiar genres and tries to overwrite the most American of all of them – the western – with the southern, thereby rewriting the very representation of history. This, in a time, when much of our cinema is quite content in making legends and myths out of history (Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), and what results, until that Altman-esque dinner setting, where Mr. Tarantino once again proves there’re only a handful of filmmakers out there who can pack a whole narrative arc into one single setting and still retain the inherent themes. That is until the cop-out of an ending, where the film and the filmmaker fall prey to themselves.   

9. Samsara (Dir: Ron Fricke)
Volcanic eruptions. A little baby asleep, as if it were a still picture of him. The fossilized body of an old man. Tutankhamen. The face of Buddha. The face of a little girl performing the Balinese dance. A land of temples. Desert. Mt. Nemrut. Sand mandala. A house filled with sand. Mursi tribeswoman holding a machine-gun. An American family posing with a machine-gun. Mursi tribeswoman holding her child. A tattooed man holding his child. The lines that run on the rocks in the Monument Valley. The lines that run because of the roads and the traffic in a city. Sex dolls. Geishas. Slums. Prisons. Schools. Buddhist temples. DMZ. The Israeli Palestine barrier. Mr. Fricke abstracts all of these, and unites them, and us. We’re all here, together, urban or rural or tribal or the west or the east, in our desire to create immortal artifacts. It is a humbling experience, and at the end the Buddhist monks look at that sand mandala and wipe it off. They collect the sand, all its colors indistinguishable, and we’re left with the image of the desert. A deeply meditative film best experience at 4 a.m.   

 8. Celluloid Man (Dir: Shivendra Singh Dungarpur)
In terms of his contribution to the history of our cinema, Mr. P.K. Nair’s story is the one superhero film that is absolutely essential viewing. Here is a man who literally owned nearly film we made, touched them, lived them, and remembered them. He caused their preservation, and thereby the preservation of our history. But that isn’t the most fascinating aspect of Mr. Dungarpur’s film. We speak to his daughter, about how he was never at home, about how the mother came to be both the parents, and I imagine the nature of the family dynamic. And about the gender dynamic. The question is, could there ever be a female archivist completely sacrificed to the art? It is a necessary question when we begin to understand the representation of our history and the hands who wrote it.

 7. Nameless Gangster (Dir: Jong-bin Yun)
The story of the most un-cinematic of archetypes, of the greedy nepotistic citizen driven by self-preservation in a capitalistic society, i.e. us, neither driven by the rules of the cops nor the criminals, is something of a triumph amongst the performances of the year. Mr. Jong-bin Yun creates an epic out of this culture, precisely depicting what Hardt and Negri call a “pastiche of values and practices, and probably making a case for the family, more than the corporation or the nation, being the most corrupt form of the common. 

6. Cosmopolis (Dir: David Cronenberg)
Eric Packer is a system. Much like religion, or psychoanalysis, it is a system to rein in predictability into this world. The limousine is a cinematic screen in its computer/laptop window avatar, reducing/abstracting everything to data and information. He has all the questions and the answers to which are reduced to patterns. Or interpretations. A verifiable meta-body. A concept dealing in concepts. The limousine and Eric within in, described in Jungian terms, are the Self and the Ego, and the financial system defined around the way the ego assimilating everything around it as data. As reason without emotion. Until the Yuan crashes. Mr. Cronenberg’s finest film since A History of Violence.     

 5. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Dir: Alain Resnais)
In a way, this is Cloud Atlas by way of Resnais, and where that film simply offers the same interpretation for different texts, You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet, through the personality of its actors, through its mise-en-scene, through its double-circular structure of an audience of actors watching amateurs inspired by those actors, provides for interpretations of differing emotional gradients. There is that space-time continuum that is wholly his, where dreams and the subconscious and the real and the fantastical all interact with each other, on this stage that is not merely theatrical or cinematic but spiritual. Much like Jean Cocteau’s Le testament d'Orphée, it is a filmmaker reflecting back at his own work and his chosen art with an eye towards immortality, and between this, Holy Motors and Cosmopolis one might be looking at the holy triptych of cinema as far as 2012 is concerned.    


 4. The Imposter (Dir.: Bart Layton)
Mr. Layton’s film is pure cinema. Every edit, every dissolve here is a cause pure cognitive manipulation. Its double-layered structure is essentially slippery, an impostor itself, a genre film disguised as a documentary. Daringly mixing the boundaries between fiction and documentary and the associated ethics in this age of Zero Dark Thirty, where anything based on a true story asks us to consider it as a document of history, The Imposter blatantly betrays our complacence and asks of us to consider every choice a filmmaker makes, and thus question every document. It is, quite undeniably, the most skillful use of standard narrative devices this year, and has the strongest shot of being labeled the best directed film of the year.

 3. The Dark Knight Rises (Dir: Christopher Nolan) (read review)
Here’s a film deeply personal, and a journey which I might tell my grandchildren about. From Batman Begins, where I was somewhat of a Travis Bickle living alone in Chennai, to The Dark Knight where I would harbor fantasies of meeting God and dream of higher purposes (borderline sociopathic tendencies) to 2012, where I was married for two years. Completely domesticated. Anthony Mann somehow captured my existence in the closing frame of Winchester ’73. And never would I have expected for Mr. Nolan to go where he went his final film on the Batman, trivializing/elevating him into a symbol and telling the story of Bruce Wayne, and making me realize that it was not Batman who should be on my t-shirt, but that I should be wearing t-shirts made by US Polo Assn. or Van Huesen, or anything that would make me a dignified part of society. Mr. Nolan’s film comforts me, while the one below disturbs that comfort. 


 2. Holy Motors (Dir: Leos Carax)
The Bordens’ trick was on the stage. Robert Angier’s trick was below it, locked inside a water cell, invisible to the audience. The Bordens represented Keaton, or Chaplin. Angier, I guess, was Andy Serkis. And irrespective of where the trick existed, the physicality of the act remains. Be it Maya Deren’s camera over Chao-Li Chi, or the little sensors spread around Mr. Levant here, the violence and the beauty of motion are just as gracef…….well, not really. Mr. Levant’s Oscar is something of a relic of a bygone era where there existed a dynamic of illusion between the spectator and the actor. Although the illusion, in this age of Youtube where everyone could be a filmmaker putting on an act and thus an actor, is still present, the dynamic might be radically different. Or absent. Especially when you come to believe we’re all living inside a movie. And if we’re, which I think it is very much the case, Holy Motors is cinema. And Denis Levant is Holy Motors

 1. The Grey (Dir: Joe Carnahan)
In probably the most instinctive and inspired editing choice, Mr. Carnahan decides to have his camera point at the sky as Mr. Neeson’s John Ottway cries out at God in utter desperation and demands of him to make an appearance. It is as if the camera dares God to come, it is a moment where we are no longer a passive audience, and we expect something to emerge. Some movement. Any movement. A bird probably. A sign if you can call it. Nothing happens. In that dark auditorium, I confess, I was shattered. It is the kind of shot I could write pages about, and what it means within Mr. Carnahan’s world. It isn’t a simple question of God existing or not, but the question of God within the context of our mortality. Performing a thorough deconstruction of not merely Liam Neeson but every know-it-all leading man guiding a bunch of “common” people, The Grey tries to snatch the photographic image and hence the memory from its preoccupation with the feminine and into the world of male bonding. Ottway kneels there folding his palms and worships the wallets. If you know me, you know how much I value that.

So yeah, the Grumbach this year shall go to a movie that, like those films of the 50s and 60s, is destined to be genre favorite among guys played innumerable times on television, and which shall inspire a whole generation of filmmakers. 


Movies to be Watched:
Tabu (Miguel Gomes), Paradise: Liebe (Ulrich Seidl), Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu), Differently Molussia (Nicolas Rey), Reality (Matteo Garrone), Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paraval), Student (Darezhan Omirbayev), Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan).

It’s kinda late I guess, but I feel now I can wish you all a Happy New Year 2013.