Posts Tagged ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’

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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I don’t particularly care for teen movies. For one thing, I’m not a teen, and for another the writers tend to make mountains out of some pretty low stakes. Even the great Clueless, which I love and adore, comes down to whether or not Cher loves Josh, and he her. But even Clueless comes with an asterisk because it is a smart teen-movie satire, a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma and a tribute and time capsule to/of life in the 1990s.

I went into Perks expecting a certain thing that is hard to define. I knew from the promotional material and pre-release buzz that it wouldn’t be a typical “why doesn’t my 17-year-old boyfriend love me?” sobfest. I think I expected something along the lines of Juno, a smart-tongued nostalgia yarn with a killer soundtrack. Perks delivered that, but also something completely its own.

Perks tells the story of Charlie, an introverted freshman with an alluded-to history of mental illness who stumbles his way into friendship with a group of “Misfit” seniors, particularly a brotherly bond with Patrick (played with a masterful stroke by “We Need to Talk About Kevin”s Ezra Miller) and head-over-heels infatuation with Sam (Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, can you blame him?).

The movie is a bundle of fine performances, with each actor inhabiting a true human being with sincerity and personal demons. Patrick is a too-clever-for-his-own-good student who also struggles with the emotional distance of a closeted relationship with the popular high school quarterback. Sam is in recovery from a wild past, where in her younger years upperclassman would get her drunk at parties to take advantage of her “reputation” and all stemming from a much-too-young inappropriate encounter with her father’s boss.

Perks doesn’t revel in these demons, it doesn’t ask for your pity or even sympathy. If anything it opens a curtain on a group of high school students in Pittsburgh and invites you to simply observe as life goes on. There are themes about life, love and loyalty, but these are whispered in your ear to the backdrop of a superb blend of sight and sound instead of hung heavily over your head like an axe.

Director Steven Chbosky (who wrote the book upon which the film is based) also makes the wise decision of leaving the plot loosely oriented in time. The year in which the movie is set is never explicitly stated, instead leaving it up to the audience to derive the late-80s, early-90s mood from the mix tapes of David Bowie music, Rocky Horror performances and pre-Hipster use of vinyl records. In that way, Perks is not an attempt to define a generation but is, by design, a timeless tale of three friends in high school.

Its weakness is its length, running a full two hours and flirting with the cliff of viewer attention. The plot drags somewhat toward the end, but Chbosky steers it back and bookends his tale with a beautiful and satisfyingly open-ended finale. The casting is a revelation, and while both Miller and Watson do their best to steal the show, the understated honesty of Logan Lerman’s Charlie is remarkable and grounds the adolescent emotion. Hopefully, we’ll see much more of him in the future and in good projects like this. B+

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