Dec 28, 2012

2012 in Film: Guest List

Mike Horky's Best Film Performances of 2012:
Joaquin Phoenix in The Master:

As an impressionable drifter coming back from World War II, Phoenix's Freddie Quell is mesmerizing. He brings Paul Thomas Anderon's film its intensity, its intrigue, and leaves the audience in awe of this flawed, impulsive man desperately trying to find his place in a world he no longer recognizes. His ticks, the way he cocks his lips, and even the intensity in his eyes all add to a riveting portrayal. Freddie need not even speak for Phoenix to convey many emotions. He can also make it hard for the audience to understand what Freddie is thinking; this is what makes Phoenix's acting so brilliant. If we knew why Freddie acts the way he does, it would take away so much from the mystery of the character. If his mind could be understood, he would be another ordinary insane man. But the unknown thoughts that Freddie possesses makes him that much more interesting, compelling, and shocking, all thanks to Phoenix. It's hard to imagine another actor playing this brilliant character that Phoenix so perfectly brought to life.

Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook:

Lawrence proved herself a more than capable actress in 2010's Winter's Bone, where she was captivating as a daughter trying to find her deadbeat father. So it's no surprise that her performance in David O. Russell's film is equally as captivating. Playing Tiffany, a mentally unstable foil to Bradley Cooper, Lawrence brings much of the heart and humor to Silver Linings Playbook. She's equally funny and devastatingly sad, and she effectively pulls off this balance with grace and fervor. Lawrence gets deep into her character, bringing life to this woman who lost her husband along with her mind, and is unclear of what life has left for her. She handles Tiffany's depression as realistically as possible, never once crossing into overacting, or the classic "cry hysterically because it might give me an Oscar" approach. She cries, screams, and acts passively because it's important to establish her character, as well as provide the audience with a enthralling performance, drawing us in, making us care and hope that her and Cooper end up together in the end. Her scenes with Bradley Cooper (which is basically all of them) showcase her outstanding range and prove she is a force to be reckoned with.

Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts Of The Southern Wild

I love when a film comes along that introduces us to a brand new actor or actress. They are usually a joy to watch, and give powerhouse performances. This year, Quvenzhane Wallis is one of those actresses, giving a relentlessly emotional and admittedly adorable performance as Hushpuppy, a young girl living in the backwoods of the south. She is lean, mean, and much tougher than any girl her age, all traits given to her by the immensely talented Wallis. She commands every scene she's in, leading the audience to believe that this little child is much older than she truly is. Taught by her father to endure through the harsh conditions of the world, Hushpuppy acts tough, roaring at any threat she faces. Wallis uses this not only as an extension of her character, but also as a mask for Hushpuppy's inner torment. Missing her now deceased mother, she is emotionally distraught, and Wallis uses this to her advantage. Here we witness a girl trying hard to keep herself together, and hold on to the childhood she could never fully enjoy, all while hiding under a facade of maturity and toughness. But that is not to say she's without her childlike innocence -- there are definitely a few "AWWW" moments throughout the film. This adds another layer to her character; while she believes she can take care of herself, she might not be as ready to face the world alone as she thinks. It isn't until her epiphany towards the end the film (and it's a doozy) that Hushpuppy finally grows up and faces the harsh realities of the world with confidence, all through the powerful voice and emotions of Wallis. A well-crafted performance from an actress with quite a future ahead of her.

Ann Dowd in Compliance

Sometimes, it's the performances in independent films that are truly spectacular. Ann Dowd's riveting performance as an innocent restaurant manager caught up in the middle of a police fiasco is one that comes to mind. Playing Sandra, a manager of a local ChickWich restaurant, she embodies the definition of morality, or more or less questions it throughout the film. She's just a normal woman, but she's a normal woman haunted by her own conscious. Caught up in a moment of extreme stress and confusion, she commits a strange act on one of her employees (a strip search) at the request of a so-called police officer over the phone. It might seem out of line, or is it? That's the beauty of her performance. As you watch, you wonder if you would truly follow through with her actions had you been in her situation. Would you listen to a man claiming to be a police officer, would you really be that stupid? Do you think you would do the right thing? The conflict in her facial expressions, in her answers to the "police officer", and the hesitation in her actions all point to a woman uncomfortable to follow through, but obliged to do so if it means the intensity of the situation will come to an end. Dowd brilliantly portrays a woman balancing on a fine line between between innocent victim and oblivious torturer, and above all a person that truly resembles what we, as citizens, would be thinking and doing in a situation such as the one presented to Sandra. I cannot picture another actress in this role, Dowd nails it.

John Hawkes in The Sessions

I would think it's extremely hard to act with nothing more than your face and voice, but John Hawkes makes it seem effortless. Playing a real life poet named Mark O' Brian, Hawkes is brilliant as a man whose only wish is to have sex with a woman. A strange goal, and perhaps even slightly creepy, but Hawkes makes this journey towards sex as triumphant and emotional as Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, and Rocky combined. He's a sad, awkward, yet oddly charming character, and it's Hawkes' acting chops that make him this way, and make you care about him. He makes you laugh, cry, and above all be appreciative of life. He takes you inside the mind of O' Brian, and makes you feel the stress and emotional turmoil of being a handicapped man. He gets you emotionally invested in this character, and takes you along the journey of O' Brian. Hawkes makes him so likable and so innocent, that it's near impossible not to find yourself drawn to such an emotionally complex individual. From the quiver of his lips, to the breaks in his voice, and even the sorrowfulness in his eyes, Hawkes brings his character to life, and makes him as real as he was 20 years ago. His performance topples Daniel Day Lewis' portrayal of Christy Brown, another handicapped man. And when you can beat the impeccable Daniel Day Lewis, your performance must be praised.

Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln

Tommy Lee Jones has always been a favorite of mine. He's like that really cool grandpa you have that can become a real hard-ass in a split second. In Lincoln, Jones portrays Thaddeus Stevens, bringing his own southern charm to the role, and often outshining Daniel Day-Lewis' performance as Abraham Lincoln. Every line Jones speaks sounds as true and influential as it would have in 1865. I felt as if he believed every word he was speaking, as if Jones, not Stevens, was proposing the idea of abolition. Even without lines, Jones makes sure you know what Stevens is thinking, in that solemn face of his. And when he speaks, it's with power and confidence unlike any voice in the acting world today. Jones makes Stevens a man unafraid to speak his mind, with a dry, sarcastic sense of humor that makes even the most tense scenes less excruciating. With that gravely southern accent, and beady eyes, Jones gives Lincoln its charm, and creates a visceral portrayal that stands out in an impressive cast of talented actors.

Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward in Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson has a gift of not only making great films, but also picking the best casts to star in them. With Moonrise Kingdom, the cast is top-notch, but the two standouts are newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. They are the driving force behind the film, giving it its youth and naivety. Their scenes together so perfectly portray young love, to the point where it's almost too achingly accurate to watch, that one can't help but admire how committed these two young actors are to these roles. Hayward's soft delivery of dialogue, as well as the piercing glare of her eyes (man, those eyes are awesome), brilliantly embody a girl who is fed up with her home life, and ready for some romantic thrill (basically teenage rebellion in a nutshell). Gilman is also wickedly good as the nerdy, determined boy who is too in love to care about consequences of running off with a girl he barely knows or wonder if he's making the right decision. Their love is awkward, but both actors successfully get their audience too emotionally invested in their romance to notice. In a way, they are an embodiment of our youth. We feel what they feel. We become caught up in this teenage rebellion, and are reminded what it's like to fall in love in the first place.

Judi Dench in Skyfall

This is "M" like we've never seen her before. Once a respected member of MI6, cool, confident, and collected. Now a disgraced, vulnerable woman, fearful of what is to come, "M" is too blinded by her loyalties to fully take control of a situation. Judi Dench has always made a brilliant "M", but in Skyfall she really steps up her game. Her character's transformation is devastating to say the least, but every character needs to fall from grace at some point in their existence, otherwise they aren't all that interesting. Dench gives "M" a very different outlook on life in Skyfall. She's scared, not only of the newest threat to MI6, but also of how she could let the threat become so powerful, and how perhaps she isn't the right fit to run this organization anymore. Dench makes her conscious of danger, gives her a doubtful tone, and a fearful gaze, as if nothing is going to be alright anymore, and maybe MI6 can't protect the world forever. "M" and Bond have some of the most emotionally invested scenes in this film, and Dench owns every one of them. It's sad to see such a powerful character become so vulnerable, but it's also fascinating. I never really cared about what happened to "M" in previous films, but Dench changed my opinion entirely in Skyfall. Here, I was scared for "M"s life, and sympathetic of all that she has gone through. Dench makes it clear that being one of the most prolific members of MI6 can take an emotional toll on you. One that you might never escape.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained

Leonardo DiCaprio playing a villain? It might seem unheard of, but in Tarantino's latest picture, he owns the role of plantation owner Calvin Candie. It takes some getting used to when DiCaprio first utters "n----r", but it's pretty shockingly hilarious nevertheless. DiCaprio embodies Candie, making him as devilishly charming as he is brutishly evil. It might be the southern accent, but DiCaprio gives Candie such a daring personality, it's almost impossible not to like him on some degree; even if he can snap at any second and bash your skull in with a hammer. His performance may only fill the last quarter of the movie, but it still resonates far beyond any cast member's performance. DiCaprio makes Candie as much a gentleman as he is a threat, which is outstanding considering DiCaprio has never had experience playing a villain. Looking back, I really can't see any other actor playing Calvin Candie as well as DiCaprio. He gave the character such an edge, and a real touch of sinister class, almost like Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. But yet, it felt so much different, even more humorous, and even more subtly terrifying. Well done Mr. DiCaprio, well done.

Amy Adams in The Master

Here is another actress going against type, and playing a very dark and sinister character. Although Amy Adams isn't directly playing a villain, her Mary Sue Dodd is as close a villain as The Master has to offer. She's like that back-stabbing wife of one of your friends. Sure, she might appear to be nice, but behind your back she's a real bitch. Adams really gives Dodd a multi-layered performance, portraying a woman who wants the best for her husband, but at the same time feels that she must control him and attempt to assert the authority she always dreamed of having. She thinks that she must run the religion her husband has started or else it will fall apart and their work will be for nothing. Adams gives Dodd a crazy, neurotic personality that is both terrifying and compelling to watch. Here is a woman that on the surface is calm and collected but underneath is controlling and untrusting of others. Adams fills Dodd's voice with authority and doubt, and provides a fearful, piercing gaze that would scare any weak-willed person. Going against type was a wise choice for Adams, as she has created one of the most unsettling wives to ever grace the screen. She also made handjobs one of the most terrifying actions ever, so that's a pretty big accomplishment too.

Honorable Mentions: Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), Daniel Day Lewis (Lincoln), Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master), Matthew McConaughey (Killer Joe), Marion Cotillard (Rust And Bone), Mads Mikkelsen (A Royal Affair), Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables).
*Note: I was not able to see Zero Dark Thirty or Amour before this review. But I can guarantee that Jessica Chastain and Emmanuelle Riva would have made this list.
Mike Horky's Best Films Of 2012:

1. The Master
2. Silver Linings Playbook
3. Argo
4. Django Unchained
5. Moonrise Kingdom
6. Looper
7. Skyfall
8. Safety Not Guaranteed
9. The Cabin In The Woods
10. Compliance

Honorable Mentions: Beasts Of The Southern Wild, Lincoln, A Royal Affair, Les Miserables, Holy Motors, The Dark Knight Rises, The Sessions

Daniel Ott's Top Films of the Year:

1. The Avengers
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
3. Cabin in the Woods
4. Django Unchained
5. Looper
6. Silver Linings Playbook
7. Skyfall
8. Moonrise Kingdom
9. Bernie
10. The Master
11. Indie Game: The Movie
12. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
13. The Raid: Redemption
14. Argo

*Zero Dark Thirty, Amour and Les Miserables could not be seen before the publishing of Daniel's list

Steve Harrison's Top Ten Movies of the Year:

1. The Avengers 
2. Skyfall
3. Looper
4. Argo
5. The Dark Knight Rises
6. The Hobbit
7. Pitch Perfect
8. Ted
9. The Hunger Games
10. Chronicle

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