Archive for the ‘Best of 2012’ Category

I began 2012 in a bar in Manhattan’s East Village, taking a sip (JUST a sip!) of Champagne, which if I do say so myself, is a pretty decent way to ring in the new. My friends and I had made the wise choice of staying as far away from Times Square as possible and instead spent the night comfortably seated indoors, enjoying the city.

When morning finally came, we wandered out to Coney Island for the annual Polar Bear Swim. It was an unseasonably warm winter, but even so we weren’t quite brave enough to go in deeper than our kneecaps so instead we watched the more adventurous masses and then ate our weight in Nathan’s hot dogs.

Not long after, I moved back to Salt Lake City, essentially turning my back on the dream of being a national magazine writer and New York big shot to chase the dream of being an ace local news reporter. That’s something they don’t tell you when you’re a kid. It’s OK to have dreams, but eventually you have to choose between them. You can’t be an astronaut AND a professional athlete (do kids these days even dream of being astronauts anymore?).

I did, however, succeed in getting my name published in Entertainment Weekly. So some dreams do come true, no matter how fleeting.

So there I was, back in SLC and finally living in an apartment by myself, something I had wanted to do for years. I am, by nature, a solitary person and even though my spending power means I live in an apartment with a Box Elder bug problem, it’s worth it to not have to wash anyone else’s dishes and be able to play the ukulele whenever I want.

This was the year that I really got into the Ukulele game. Technically, I started playing the Uke in the tail end of 2011 when I bought my soprano Lanikai, but for the first few months it was just something to dink around with while I watched TV in my apartment. Since January, I’ve expanded my Uke family and taken advantage of every open mic I can find.

I also embraced colored pants in 2012. This particular pair (pictures above) landed me on the radio for an interview about metrosexuality and earned me the nickname “Red Pants Guy” from some of my co-workers. An action figure, complete with miniature ukulele, is in development.

Speaking of work, 2012 was the year I got my first “big boy” job. This whole concept of adulthood is still a little difficult to swallow, but as I’ve chronicled in my Quarter Century posts, there’s no stopping the steady tick of time (scared face).

2012 was also the year I became a YouTuber. I’ve played around with video in the past, usually on the writing side, but equal parts boredom and narcissism have resulted in a handful of little clips, most notably my video about Duct Tape — 3,600 views and counting!

In 2012 I ran my 2nd Half-marathon, posting a personal best time and still managing to beat the older gentleman to my left who runs 10 miles every morning (sure, he’s 60, but I’ll still take the ‘win’).

And, after months of slowly accumulating vacation time (employment, once again, rears it’s ugly head. Not that I’m complaining, the idea of being paid vacation time sure beats part-time bakery work) I made my way up the Pacific Northwest to Portland for some much needed R&R and a hipster booster shot.

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Which brings me to the end of the year, and the video that started this post. In my annual tradition of seeing a concert on Dec. 30th, I was lucky enough to have Blind Pilot, one of my favorite bands, playing at Salt Lake City’s “Eve” celebration. It was freezing cold, bad enough that I broke a cardinal rule and left before the encore because I had lost feeling in my toes. On the plus side, the cold weather meant a smaller crowd and much closer proximity to the stage.

Now that I think about it, 2012 was a year of great concerts: The Civil Wars, Family of the Year, The Walkmen, Band of Horses, The Head and the Heart, Typhoon, Milo Greene, Jake Shimabakuro. I’m forgetting a few, I’m sure, but look them up, you’ll be glad you did.

Then, last night, I spent New Year’s Eve feasting on pig, jamming on the Uke and discretely (and shakily) filming friends and strangers at a party.

I should also mention that 2012 was the year I turned 25, a milestone I neither looked forward to nor am happy is passing. In one week I’ll be 26, my last year of “mid-20s” and, technically, closer to 30 than 20. Gross.

Happy New Year.

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Wow! What a year.

I’ll dispense with the pomp and circumstances of a long, tedious intro but I couldn’t help but stop and remark on the amazing year of cinema we’ve just enjoyed. Also, I should add that despite my best efforts, I was not able to gain access to a screening of Zero Dark Thirty before it’s wide release next month. From what I’m hearing, that movie would have surely made the top 10 but alas, I haven’t seen it.

So without further ado…

10. Ruby Sparks

Yes, you could say that it’s just keeping the seat warm for when I finally see Zero Dark, but that doesn’t change the fact that Ruby is an exceptional little indie, that alternates between light romantic humor and surprisingly dark emotional drama.

Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan are aces as a brilliant novelist who skyrocketed to early and unsustainable success and the woman that he somehow manifests with his mind. The ending is slightly underwhelming but the climax is shockingly raw and unforgettable.

Read my full review here.

9. Les Miserables

Director Tom Hooper‘s decision to tape his actors singing live was always going to be divisive and I understand where the criticisms come from. Ultimately in comes down to whether you prefer the musical power of a staged performance, or the gritty realism that only a movie can deliver.

For me, it was an easy choice. Yes, a lot of the actors (Crowe particularly) came off as airy and light, without the usual punch-in-the-face sound that we’ve come to expect from the stage or even other studio-scrubbed musicals, but the raw and sincere emotion that crept into the lyrics as the result of the musical and dramatic flexibility given to the actors, in my opinion, made up for the difference and more.

8. The Queen of Versailles

For all the yelling and chest-thumping about the evil “1%” done in the wake of the economic recession, it’s hard to truly understand the void between the have’s and have-not’s in this country. Then came this riches-to-rags documentary, about Westgate Resorts mogul David Siegel and his family, which put the American class system front and center as the financial collapse put the breaks on their construction of the largest private residence in the country.

The Siegels are not bad people, and there is something to be admired about the self-made nature of their fortune. But watching as they let one, then another, and another of their hired help go and “cut back” in the face of frozen assets, only to find that their life of luxury has made them too lazy to clean up after themselves or even feed their pets, you can’t help but feel an almost exhilarating amount of schadenfreude pulsing through your veins.

Read my full review here.

7. Looper

Every movie that has ever attempted to tell a time-travel story has had to deal with some amount of logical inconsistencies. It is, after all, impossible, and therefore difficult to tie up all the narrative loose ends with a pretty pink bow. While most of these plot holes are the result of lazy, half-hearted storytelling (I’m looking at you Men In Black 3) others, like Looper, are simply the collateral damage of balls-to-the-wall bravura.

In this twisty sci-fi noir, Rian Johnson establishes his own rules for time-travel chronology and leaves the finer points on the cutting room floor as he charges ahead. For the first act, you almost find yourself asking “but…wait, what?” only to see Johnson just scoot your worries aside with a hypnotically chilling scene where a man literally falls to pieces before your eyes. It’s when you know that, questions or no questions, you’re watching something truly special and you can then sit back and enjoy the ride.

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It’s hard to imagine a more perfect high school movie than Steven Chbosky’s Perks. The three leads’ performances are stupendous, particularly Ezra Miller but not to discredit Emma Watson or the film’s star Logan Lerman. The idea of a group of misfit toys assembling to survive adolescence is not a new one, but where those films dwindle in melodrama, Perks soars with heart, sincerity and an acknowledgment that even in the darkest times of life there are moments of true beauty.

Read my full review here.

5. The Dark Knight Rises

Few franchises have been handled with the same care and success as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight. Most three-quels limp to the finish line, weary with exhaustion and ready for something new. And while many would agree that Heath Leger’s Joker and The Dark Knight make the 2nd bat a superior film, most also agree that Nolan somehow managed to reward his fans with a satisfying, natural ending, while still probing the kinds of moral questions and social commentary that elevated his superhero tale above the mold in the first place.

There are valid criticisms, but to end your story with this kind of power is no small feat, and for that TDKR makes the top 10 and, hopefully, a nomination for Nolan.

Read my full review here.

4. Argo

Part spy-thriller, part political drama, and part Hollywood tribute comedy, Argo is the rare “True story” that’s actually true, and manages to keep you on the edge of your seat despite the ending being a foregone conclusion. Ben Affleck, post-renaissance, just seems to get better and better and, frankly, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

3. Moonrise Kingdom

I’ve long been a fan of Wes Anderson’s style, but even so Moonrise Kingdom blew me away with it’s pseudo-fantastic tone and it’s simple sense of fun. The tale of two young lovers on the run from family, a police officer and a troop of boy scouts is just about the most charming time you’ll have in front of a screen all year.

Read my full review here.

2. Silver Linings Playbook

Most movies today are about big things: big action, big drama, big romance, big suspense. Linings, however, is a comparably little story, about a man who returns home after an emotional breakdown and tries to put the pieces of his life back together. In the process, he crosses paths with another damaged sole, in the form of the electric Jennifer Lawrence, who steps back into her indie roots after the mega-behemoth Hunger Games and who, I might add, has never looked more captivatingly beautiful (and yes, I’m including the red dress she wore to the Oscars in 2011).

The story spins gold out of the quiet dramas of non-extraordinary life and, under the direction of David O. Russell, pulls an extraordinary performance out of every actor who steps on screen — Chris Tucker is a revelation and De Niro turns in some of his best work in years. And, in probably the movies most impressive feat, it somehow manages to inspire without the slightest hint of sanctimony or insincerity.

Read my full review here.

1. Lincoln

There’s no point talking around it, Daniel Day Lewis’ performance in Lincoln is so good it defies description. Were that the film’s only attribute it would be enough, but add to it superb acting from one of the largest casts ever assembled, crisp writing that captures humor, despair and victory, and all the talents of one of the greatest Hollywood directors to ever pick up a camera and you have, in a word: Art.

I left the theater feeling like I had just watched one of the greatest movies ever made. I could find no fault (except that it didn’t end at the right moment), and was both educated and entertained in the viewing.

I still feel it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. I toyed for a while with re-arranging my top 3 but the choice, in the end, was clear.

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For the readers who may not remember from last year,  as part of the annual Wood’s Stock Top 10 (coming soon), we like to award a special 11th-Best Film of the Year Award.

Number 11 is more than just “what would have been number 10 if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids.” It is a loving tribute to populist, popcorn cinema; a slot specially reserved for a film that was produced for broad, mass market appeal but still managed to keep things classy, smart, and show us something new.

So without further ado, the 11th Best Film of 2011 was:

Skyfall

There have been many Bonds and even more Bond movies. In the 50 years since the dapper British womanizing spy first took names and saved the world, the tone of the films shifted from fun, to silly, to outlandish and back again before landing on the bruised face of Casino Royale’s Daniel Craig. Royale was sensational and (in my humble opinion) a superior film to Skyfall, but despite its strengths, the legions of Bond fans disappointed with the Union-Jack-Jason-Bourne-style had reason to gripe.

In their haste to adopt the “realism” that had infused the action drama post-Bourne, Royale’s makers had all but thrown every essential Bond element out with the bathwater. Gone were the dry one-line quips, gone was Q and his gadgets, gone was Miss Moneypenny and her innuendo-loaded sparring with 007 and long gone was the tuxedo-wearing Lothario who somehow beat villains to a pulp with his bare hands and escaped again and again from the sure clutches of grim death without so much as a drop of sweat on his French-cuffed shirts.

Again, many of those decisions made Royale a superior film but to many fans, it just didn’t seem like a Bond film anymore. Then came Skyfall.

In what is seemingly the perfect marriage of new and old, Skyfall reintroduces long-lost elements to the franchise while still preserving the mortal and bleeding Bond that won over new fans in Royale. Also, Director Sam Mendes added a sort of dramatic heft to the plot, which was tied together in a pretty red bow by the off-kilter brilliance of Javier Bardem as the villain Silva.

Bardem, as the silver-haired tech terrorist, somehow oozed a disquieting presence out of his poured and slipped sociopathy and madness into every syllable he spoke. Every great action film has a great villain, and Bardem turned in the goods.

Because of Skyfall, Bond seems to have an extra spring in his step for a 50-year-old, and what was becoming a shaky and inconsistent franchise suddenly has a breath of new life.

 

 

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2012 has been an amazing year for movies.

Slowly but surely I’m whittling my Top 10 list down to the final titles and in a movie year this stacked I’ve been forced to painfully leave a lot of great cinema on the cutting room floor. My first pass at a Top 10 yielded 30 titles, which I’ve since narrowed down to 12, so without further ado, here’s a few of the movies that didn’t quite make the cut, but deserve recognition of their own.

Best film about college: Liberal Arts

When he’s not playing the central character in CBS’s highly-successful sitcom How I Met Your Mother, Joss Radnor likes to fill his time writing, directing and starring in quiet independent films. His first was Happy Thank You More Please, which he then followed up with Liberal Arts about a mid-30s university admissions employee taking a trip back to his alma mater and falling hopelessly in puppy love with a young co-ed (played by the disarmingly beautiful indie “it” girl Elizabeth Olsen).

I caught LA at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and was tickled pink when it got it’s theatrical run. The movie manages to deliver a quiet, emotionally honest film that could have easily ran off the rails into contrived shenanigans but instead stays the course, tapping into the shared nostalgia of the millennial generation and daring you to not fall in love with Olsen right alongside Radnor’s character.

For my full Wood’s Stock review, click here.

Best Documentary: Bully

When Harvey Weinstein (of The Weinstein Company) started kicking up dust about Bully’s R rating, it was obvious that he was making a grab at free publicity for Bully, the little documentary that could. But upon viewing, it turns out it was worth the fuss.

Bully tells the story of a handful of school-age misfits and their struggles to get by in the public school system. It paints a dark picture, mostly by the way it holds a mirror up to adult society and the way we tend to shrug off incident of abuse and violence with a simple “Boys Will Be Boys” and, at most, a slap on the wrist. It ain’t pretty, but it’s something that must be shown if anything is ever going to change.

For my full review, click here.

Best Superhero(es): The Avengers

After years of mind-numbing Transformers and Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, you couldn’t help but wonder if we had collectively reached the tipping point of diminishing returns on big popcorn summer spectacle. Then a funny thing happened, one after another Marvel started releasing a string of sugar-sweet superhero flicks, all while dangling the carrot of an Avengers team-up project in front of us.

“Madness!” we said. “It can’t be done.”

Well, it can and was and in their most brilliant move yet Marvel hired super-geek and uber-nerd Joss Whedon to craft arguably the most ambitious action film ever created. The varying franchises came together with seamless harmony, Hulk finally got the treatment he deserved and under the careful tutelage of Whedon we laughed, cried and perched at the edges of our seats. Bravo!

For full review, click here.

Best January surprise (tie): Chronicle and Haywire

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In the world of Hollywood, the January-Febrary period is typically reserved as a wasteland to burn off whatever phoned-in piece of nonsense the studios have collecting dust on the shelf. But, every so often, a shrewd filmmaker will strategically place a lesser known but creatively ambitious property into the wasteland, with the hope that the less competitive slate will help the movie find a greater audience.

We’re lucky to get one of these, but this year we got two in the form of Chronicle, a found-footage spin on the otherwise tired genre of superhero origin stories with a cast of unknowns, and Haywire, a heavily-pedigreed ensemble action piece centered around a female Bourne-esque hired gun played by professional fighter Gina Carano.

In both cases, you get something familiar and yet not quite like anything you’ve ever seen. Chronicle uses CGI sparingly and in the process pulls off some very impressive visual treats while still preserving the vibe of three high school punks who stumble into superhuman abilities. In Haywire, A-List director Steven Soderbergh pulls back the camera, showing every kick and punch of his hyper-realistic actions scenes. It’s like watching a Bruce Lee kung fu movie, except one with a female hero, a plot and respected actors (Michael Fassbender, Ewen McGregor, Kurt Douglass and Antonio Banderas, to name a few).

Best Indie: Safety Not Guaranteed

In Safety Not Guaranteed, a (possibly) crazy Mark Duplass places an advertisement in the newspaper for a co-pilot to join him in an adventure back in time. The ad catches the eye of a magazine writer, who sets off with two interns to get the scope and meet up with an ex-girlfriend on the way.

That’s essentially it, but the minds behind SNG manage to turn a 50-word classified ad into one of the quirkiest, most charming pics of the year as Aubrey Plaza and Duplass train for their voyage through time and New Girl’s Jake Johnson deals with the questions of what could be and what could’ve been. The underlying question of whether or not Duplass’ character is completely out of his mind is craftily toyed with for the film’s entirety, until everything comes together in a simple yet perfectly satisfying conclusion.

The Wood’s Stock Balls-To-The-Wall Award: The Cabin In The Woods

A jock, a hot blond, a nerd, a stoner, and a “good” girl go away for a weekend in the woods. Oh, you’ve heard this story before?

No. You haven’t.

Joss Whedon (him again?) and Drew Goddard know every horror trope in the book, and gleefully play with each and every one of them in Cabin In The Woods, where five friends head out on seemingly the most cliched movie premise in history only to encounter…well I can’t tell you, because it would spoil it.

The first trailer for CITW set the film up for some sort of genre-bending, trippy time, but you can practically hear the filmmakers giggling as they twist and turn the plot before going all-out redonk-a-donk crazy in act III. In lesser hands, CITW would’ve been simply Halloween part 8 (or whatever number we’re on). Even in mediocre hands CITW would’ve been a failed attempt at meta horror-comedy. But in Whedon and Goddard’s hands, CITW is the kind of crazy party I want to go to again and again.

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