With less than a month to go before top ten lists are due, time is running out to catch up with the best movies of the year. From now until the end of December, I'll be posting weekly updates about what I watch and whether I think it stands a chance to make my -- or your -- best films of 2012. This week I watched:
Oslo, August 31st
Directed by Joachim Trier
Criticwire Average: A- (out of 44 critics)
A couple fellow critics have been screaming at me for months to watch this Norwegian drama about a single day in the life of a recovering drug addict. My fellow critics were right. The haunting "Oslo, August 31st" opens with an absolute gut punch: Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) awakens in a hotel room with a woman. He leaves and makes his way to a forest, where he finds a secluded lake. Without saying a word, he fills his pockets with rocks, wades into the water, and tries to drown. As he holds himself underwater, director Joachim Trier's camera remains focused on the surface; the air bubbles get fewer and fewer, and then everything is still -- until Anders leaps back into view, gasping for air. He returns to the rehab facility where he lives, and then makes his way to Oslo for a job interview. While he's back in town, he visits old friends and makes a few new ones at a party, all the while trying to keep his head metaphorically above water as his old urges begin to return. Though Anders' addictions are a crucial part of the story, the film is about more than watching a junkie teeter on the edge of the wagon; Trier is also exploring the very relatable worry that, at a certain point, it becomes too late to start over. It's sad that Anders is an addict, but it's sadder still that he thinks that at age 34 he has no other options available to him.
Will it Wind Up on my Top Ten List? With so much competition, I'm not sure. If it came out last year, it almost certainly would.
Could It End Up On Yours? Absolutely.
Where Can You Watch It? Netflix Watch Instantly.
Directed by Sam Fell and Chris Butler
Criticwire Average: B+ (out of 21 critics)
The hands down, clear-cut best animated movie of the year -- although not necessarily the best kids movie of the year; this one's far too mature for the young'uns. Its premise comes straight from classic horror: a boy named Norman (voice of Kodi Smit-McPhee) has the ability to talk with the dead, and is tasked with saving his town from an impending zombie invasion. But the situation is more complex than it first appears, and so is "ParaNorman." Though the ghouls and some of the themes will freak out or confuse really little kids, this is an ideal movie for young teenagers -- I'd show it in middle schools to teach students about bullying in a really entertaining way. "ParaNorman" comes from the same studio (though not the same director) that made "Coraline," and it shares that film's scary tone and gorgeous stop-motion animation. This film was a bit of a flop upon its initial release (just $55 million at the domestic box office), but its dark comedy, spooky visuals, and warm message suggest it has a real chance to become a cult classic; maybe even this generation's "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
Will it Wind Up on my Top Ten List? It might; either way, it's already a lock for my Best Animated Feature of the year.
Could It End Up On Yours? If you're an animation fan, I would expect it to.
Where Can You Watch It? Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube.
Silver Linings Playbook
Directed by David O. Russell
Criticwire Average: B+ (out of 59 critics)
A complaint I often read in movie reviews that I don't understand: "This movie is too manipulative!" A historian once said of Alfred Hitchcock that he didn't direct actors, he directed audiences. In other words, he was perhaps the most consciously manipulative director in history -- and also perhaps the greatest. So what's wrong with a little (or, in the case of, "Silver Linings Playbook," a lot) of manipulation? The more shameless this romantic comedy got, the more I liked it. The opening scenes try to walk too fine a line between ridiculous only-in-a-movie gags and quirky, slice-of-life observations about middle class Philadelphia. Bradley Cooper plays Pat, a man, like Anders from "Oslo, August 31st," nearing middle age with a load of emotional baggage so heavy he should have a couple of skycaps trailing him at all times. Just out of a mental hospital, he's living with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) while he obsessively tries to figure out a way to win back his ex-wife -- even as he begins to spend time with a beautiful younger woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who wants him to be her dance partner in a local competition. The dance contest is patently absurd -- all these professionals from around the world versus Cooper and Lawrence, who are barely passable? -- and all of the plot twists that come together at it are completely manipulative. And you know what? They made me cry like a baby. Maybe Hollywood formula has become so degraded over the years that they've started to feel less clichéd than quote-unquote "realistic" indie film tropes. Rergardless, it's nice to see De Niro, who has several intense scenes with Cooper, really committed to a role again. Even if you don't care for the movie as much as I did, I suspect you'll find his performance to be its own kind of silver lining.
Will it Wind Up on my Top Ten List? No, but I remain fascinated by this movie. I disliked a lot of it, then was totally won over by the last act. That doesn't happen that often.
Could It End Up On Yours? Possibly. If you like Hollywood formula, there are few films this year that do it better.
Where Can You Watch It? In theaters.
Read more of my Catch-Up Capsules.