Friday, December 21, 2012

Quentin Tarantino's DJANGO UNCHAINED (UNCUT)

Here is a sneak preview of my review - this is the uncut text, the full review will be on Film-Forward later.  But for now, here it is in its full seven-paragraph glory.

A filmmaker's love for his art can be infectious – we've seen it for a good forty years from Martin Scorsese – and there's no working filmmaker I can think of who can, more often than not, infect his audience with that same love and admiration that Quentin Tarantino does. I look at his body of work and there's barely anything I don't think is not only good but phenomenal. It is personal preference; certainly everyone and their mothers (or even grandmothers) has their thoughts on Pulp Fiction, the Kill Bills, Inglourious Basterds, even Death Proof and the lesser known but likable short 'The Man from Hollywood' from Four Rooms. Now we come to the full-blown western, or the spaghetti western (ala Leone, Corbucci, etc), or, scuese me again, the “Southern” as Tarantino has called Django Unchained. How does it live up to his past works? On first viewing – smashingly well, and still with surprises.

When Jamie Foxx's Django is plucked out by Christoph Walt'z bearded dentist Dr. King Schultz (last name 'Freeman'? Perhaps that's a misnomer, I can't tell, or simply a description of who he is), he is disheveled and shaking after walking for days. He is freed by Waltz from his masters for a simple reason: Django knows what the three Brittle brothers look like, and King needs to find them for his bounty – dead or alive. After finding them on a plantation (this itself classic Tarantino, full of absurd humor with a particular flamboyant attire Django puts on himself like French aristocracy, and then horror with flashbacks of slave whippings and torture, and commupance in brutal, quick-witted style, not to mention Don Johnson as a wry plantation owner), and doing what must be done, a sort of mentor/pupil/friendship develops between King and Django. But training isn't all – Django wants to track down his wife Brunhilda, being kept somewhere in the south. Cue the second half of the film from here.

 If I described the plot it doesn't sound too complex. Nor would Kill Bill (maybe 'Basterds' to a little more extent past 'killing Nazis). It's what this filmmaker does with his locations, with these actors who he has cast all so they can show off everything that they got – even Jonah Hill, in just one scene among a bunch of pre-KKK clansmen who have a goofy but very funny argument about the eye-holes in their hoods – that counts so. I don't know how much passion Tarantino had going into the project, though for me I was slightly (though only slightly) concerned on a few particulars, mostly to do with collaborators: Sally Menke, his long-time editor, passed away and this would be his first film without her; ditto producer Lawrence Bender (what happened there, who knows), as well as reports over the summer of various actors leaving the film due to the ol' 'scheduling conflicts' or just (with Anthony LaPaglia's character, who I assume Tarantino replaced himself to play late in the film) walked off completely. Was this a troubled production, not to mention at 165 minutes, his longest run-time?

From what I can tell, it's still the same glorious work of this writer/director from before. In fact he's going MORE ambitious in a way, or just trying new things that impressed me. For once, or maybe since Jackie Brown, his hero is someone who doesn't have bloon on his/her hands already prior to the start of the story. Django is a noble, smart guy, even as a slave he needs some basic education (he learns to read off wanted posters), but picks up Dr. Schult'z lessons very quickly. It really becomes a mythic story for this character, not least compared to classic German folklore (Brunhilda is a famous character in a German fairy tale, this getting a very nice- yes, 'nice'- scene between Django and Schultz by a fire late at night), and I loved seeing his journey from start to finish. Especially when it comes time to get to Candieland. 

I'm the king of the slave-world. 
  While I was liking the movie quite a bit for the first half as a fun bounty hunter-and-pupil story, with some hints at Django's past (i.e. wicked-eyed Bruce Dern makes a cameo), and lots of linguistically-magnificient dialog/delivery from Tarantino and Waltz (what a combination once again!), it's when we get to DiCaprio's Calvin Candie, and by proxy his sort of Dick Cheney pulling the strings (Stephen, played by Samuel L. Jackson), that the film becomes another suspense masterpiece like the sections of 'Basterds' that are remembered most fondly. Django has to be very careful, as well as Schultz, in getting Brunhilda out of Candie's hands, and these scenes get deeper than just fun: it's menacing, intense, and the dialog stretches so far that Tarantino is walking a dental-floss-thin tightrope as to keep the audience with it all. 

The acting, suffice to say, makes up so much of what is great here that it meets Tarantino so much of the time. I have never, and you may have not either, seen DiCaprio play such a villain before, one so... used to his own brutality, with his pointy-bearded-devil chin and cigarette holder, he's a classic villain for any movie, but so much more sadistic due to his time and place, a fourth or fifth generation plantation owner raised by slaves, loving to see them brutally beat the crap out of each other, and here and there (be warned) eaten by dogs. But behind him is Sam Jackson. You almost forget how perfect, every note and line spoken and step taken, he is in all of Tarantino's films (Jules, Ordell Robie), but here it's something else: who do you ahte more, the slave master or the slave that becomes a sort of 'master' of the house? Jackson plays Stephen as a very old man, yet one who's mind is razor-sharp, sensing everything, and we may fear him even more than Candie... that is, until he pulls out a certain skull from a box. But I say too much.

Go see Django Unchained, as the best kind of counterprogramming of the season (Les Miserables), or better yet pair it up with Lincoln and make it a grand-old filmmaker's masters course on how to look at the Civil war just before (this film, 1858) and the end (1865). It's very bloody, musically awe-inspiring, Foxx has never been better, and it asks you to take it on its own brazen, half-cartoonish-half-frightening/shockingly accurate terms. It's major work by a confident master-remixer of genre. If anything I can say is disappointing, ironically enough, it's the first Django, Franco Nero, who has his own cameo at one point, which stops the movie cold for a scene we all saw in the trailer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Papa Mike's Video #6: Francois Truffaut's MISSISSIPPI MERMAID

A gangly logline, sure, but the poster is pretty damn amazing
Mississippi Mermaid (damn, it's a job just to type 'Mississippi') is said to be Francois Truffaut's first big studio movie (and what, Fahrenheit 451 was a little indie movie?) and it shows just in the stars, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Catherine Deneuve - two of France's most beautiful and prominent - and that the story should give these actors something juicy to play with: a man has the 1960's equivalent of a web-relationship, with letters and correspondence, and asks this woman to be his wife on the island of Reunion (I'm sure there's significance there, whatever), not knowing that a) this woman is NOT who she says she is, b) the actual woman is dead, and c) there may be a bit of a con going on with this woman and this man, who owns a plantation/factory on the island, and his millions of dollars.

It's pulpy material, and yet... I couldn't see too much past the B-movie ness of it.  It's a B movie by an A-quality director.  Or rather, Truffaut is smart in how he chooses his material, which is from a Cornell Woolrich story (also writer for a few good pulpy noirs of the 1940's and Hitchcock's Rear Window - his other contribution for Truffaut, The Bride Wore Black, I've yet to see), and to take from Hitchcock (or maybe Renoir? I got the sense Renoir was cause he had recently passed away).  Hey, why not?  A suspense film with big stars in exotic locales?  Will this be more Vertigo or To Catch a Thief?

A time when traveling by map was a serious matter.

The real flipping-of-the-script as it were in the story of Louis (Belmondo) and Julie-cum-Marion (Deneuve) is that when Louis does track his wife down to a small town where she is dancing the night away, and she confesses the wrongs she has done, but also her past: she was an orphan, she had a rough early life, then she met a man on a ship headed to Reunion, saw him kill the real Julie Roussel, and then, well, things just 'happened' the way they did.  Instead of, y'know, trying to dig deeper about where his money is, or do something like kill her, he decides to do something unexpected: fall even deeper, and madder, in love.  And in a way this is what makes the second half most interesting.  Now that there is some sort of understanding, a newfound relationship can be had, where before there was a coldness to things (i.e. the wedding band Belmondo puts on Deneuve's finger, on-the-nose but still effective symbolism as to their 'bond').

My problem, and maybe this won't be for all people, was that there was a nagging feeling throughout this second half, which I think Truffaut played up more as the film got closer to its climax in the cabin in the woods, that the bottom would drop out.  Certainly I wasn't sure what to feel for Belmondo, except that he was a total dupe, and yet as the film went on I did get the sense, maybe more from the performances than the writing (albeit a few keen-funny moments like an unintended flashing of Deneuve's breasts on a road-side), that these people were in love and would do anything for one another.  Doomed?  I dunno.  But this guy just never clicked with me, except perhaps as a romantic foil, like Bunuel's lead in That Obscure Object of Desire, only Truffaut is nowhere near as ruthless as Bunuel in depicting romantic obsession and ennui.  Unlike in, say, The Soft Skin, a very tough romantic picture, he doesn't quite go FAR enough in a strange way.

Sleeping Beauty 2: Electric Fuckaloo... yeah, I got nothing.

Maybe he IS a good manipulator in a sense of 'Will she or WON'T she' do something, but a lot of the second half when it's not googly-eyed Belmondo at Deneuve by, say, a fireside describing in synonyms every part of her face, there's fighting and bickering.  And while both actors are charismatic, I strangely felt more for Deneuve's Marion, who is a criminal in the sense of being an accomplice to an earlier murder - which the detective that pops up mentions (GOD, what a nuissance! I kid) - before he meets his own demise.  Like a B-paperback book, there's some good twists and turns, but strangely, I was expecting more.  I was feeling manipulated by Truffaut's technique, which was good, but only up to a certain point.  I find it perplexing to describe what I mean but, take it like this: a guy is trying to have his way with a girl, he keeps trying, but then she stands firm, and he backs down.  Realistic?  Maybe.  Does it work dramatically?  Perhaps.  But where else will the drama go?  Is it all happily-ever-after out in the snow?

I get the romanticism angle of the piece, but it clashes oddly with the first half of the film, which is more of a standard but technically interesting pot-boiler (the shots and cuts as Belmondo drives a car early on are really fun to watch, as is the opening credits sequence over newspaper clippings, and other shots like Julie's face on cigarettes can be mildly captivating).  But other things don't add up as well just with the plot that Truffaut puts by the wayside: Julie's sister, who collaborates with Louis to get a detective in the first place, disappears from the movie; how a certain body is discovered is rather ludicrous, even for a movie based on a short story/paperback/what-have-you; some decisions with money, even for dumb movie characters, can be stupid.

"Do NOT fall asleep mid-take again, Jean-Paul!"
What Truffaut gambles on, I think, and is partially paid off, is that his stars will carry and imbue the narrative with a certain spark.  And he's right, up to a point.  I enjoyed seeing these two play off one another, and certainly Deneuve is so beautiful - maybe TOO beautiful for a kind of old-school 'femme fatale' as she may (or may not) be in the scope of the story - that it makes sense how hard Louis falls for her.  Belmondo is... just Belmondo I guess, though I kept having a slight nagging feeling: didn't I see this character before, and better and more idiosyncratic, in Godard's own lovers-on-the-run saga Pierrot le fou?  Maybe Truffaut's film is a little homage to that as well, as some but not all of his stylistic decisions could be more unconventional-fucking-with-you Godard than playful-but-amusing Truffaut (the difference of the Beatles and the Stones in other words).  This is all well and good, but sadly, for the stars involved and the locales and solid camerawork, Mississippi Mermaid is ultimately minor, okay work from a director that did better.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Papa Mike's Video #5: Andrzej Wajda's ASHES AND DIAMONDS

When it comes to violence in the media, no one looks at this.  Too obscure probably.  
(Almost, just almost, forgot that I had done a 'Papa Mike's Video' segment here going back a year and a half ago.  It stalled cause... I dunno.  Lazy, not motivated, I could give excuses or reasons, what have you, I just didn't catch up.  Since The Decalogue - go back to July 2011 for that - I have amassed a few more 'Papa's Mike Video' selections, and finally tonight popped one in.  Boy was I glad I did so!)

Andrzej Wajda's Ashes and Diamonds had to be smuggled practically out of the country for it to play at the Venice film festival, where it went on to international acclaim and so on and so forth. But it's how Wajda changed around the book that sounds most interesting: originally it was going to be (in the book anyway) the character of the senior communist official, Szczuka, played by Waclaw Zastrzezynski as a respectable older man who fought in Spain for the communists many years before (this also changed from the book, though only slightly). But Wajda's daring was twofold: make Maciek Chelmicki, who was more of a supporting character, the lead, and cast someone who should be too... well, contemporary to play a trained killer/soldier in Poland circa 1945, Zbigniew Cybulski. Cybulski showed up with his look, and said it was his look and wouldn't change it. Thank goodness.

When Cybulski appears in the film, it does, for just a split second, seem like an anachronism, or the reverse of it, I don't know. He has dark sunglasses, a jacket that looks like it was out of Travis Bickle's collection, jeans and different-non-soldiery shoes (this latter part I didn't notice, the jacket, haircut and especially the glasses stood out most). The director compared him to James Dean, but for me it almost seemed like someone akin to Belmondo's character a few years later in Breathless: cool, hip...young, basically. He stands out because he *is* a stand-out, a young person. He isn't the only one, of course, as he waits at this hotel overnight on the last evening of the war, people having lots of (drunken) fun celebrating, or having fancy dinners, or singing/playing music - there is also the young woman Krystyna (a very pretty Ewa Krzyzewska, whose performance grew on me as the film went on). She works as the bartender, and Maciek, being a young guy in a strange place, fancies her. But is this something more? CAN he feel something more? 

The end of the war at first doesn't really affect him too much, and why should it? He chose to do this last mission, and so did probably a lot of young men unsure what to do with their lives. Not all of the dialog early on is the most original, but it's acting, how Cybulski carries every word and step, how he goes about a room when he's happy-delirious (flaming lots of shot-glasses as his superior says names of people, dead people I gathered), or melancholy (the bathroom scene, one of my favorites). Not all of the scenes without him are fantastic - there's a sort of sub-plot with another guy apart of the killing-group who gets wasted with an older guy, and who causes a ruckus (which is putting it politely at one point, happens concurrently with the meeting Maciek has with his boss), and there's some goofy comedy to that. Wajda needs this in the story, and we probably do too: too much time with the brooding Cybulski, a very handsome but impulsive guy, and it might be too much. 

I'm sure there's some art criticism I could apply here, but really I just want to marvel how much he looks like Josh Brolin
And the backdrop is very apt here. So much celebration, and yet, in a big way, perhaps the message is (or was for me), the fighting never really ends. Not really. There will always be an enemy, always someone to kill in the name of "superiors" who are never seen, except for one of their middle men. Most curious, but appropriate in watching it, that Wajda and his DP were influenced by film noir and gangster pictures, especially the Asphalt Jungle. The film doesn't have that genre to a full extent, since it's more of a war film (or immediate 'post-war', kind of like how Italy had its post-war-but-still-wartime films). But the themes resonate through gangster films; the big fat-last kill, the crime being purported, the coolness off-set by the tragedy. And the ending, which borrows more than a bit from 'Jungle' (though I forgot all about it and really got broken up, by the shot, the acting, the location akin more to Los Olividados), is unforgettable as making this story matter past being a simple wartime parable.

It doesn't surprise me it made a smash in Poland, where Wajda smuggled, as Scorsese would say, ambiguity in the middle of a communist-run country, and intrigued the rest of the world. It's a tough and rough picture in some ways, yet gorgeous to look at in others. Occasionally an intended metaphor may go over my head (the horse), or be a little thick not even in meaning but just visual power (the upside down figure on the cross). But Ashes and Diamonds holds up, in large part because the performance/character of the protagonist resonates, because the story feels true to the world it's depicting. How long can murder and massacre go on for? What do politics do amid people crying in their houses over dead loved ones? Big points that could have been spoon-fed are left for us to decide, and all the better for it.

And cue Blow Out piano music...


Yes, I know.  This is now an irregular blog.  It happens.  The marriage grew stale, what can I say?  Say what I can.  Life, other things, interests, goofing off on the internet or with books and movies or making glorious pun-sex to my real-life wife.  Things have kept me away from this blog, not least of which directing one movie, producing another, and producing a comedy TV pilot (a lot of those things don't actually take up TOO much time, just enough so I can exaggerate things a bit).

But I HAVE seen movies this year, a good many, and once again I have been thinking about what the 'Out-of-Time' moments are of the year, those scenes that left an impression, whether the film was great, very good, okay, not so good, or just downright terrible.  I have a bunch.  Some are from movies I haven't reviewed at all - except in my brain...

So yeah, a rough list, with a little explanation of stuff here and there:

1) CONSUMING SPIRITS - an animated film unlike any other this year, one that befuddled me, bored me at times, but picked up with a fully emotionally grounded third act (or is it 4th and 5th) that drew me in closer into its idiosyncratic, paper-machete/Gumby-production-designed landscape.  A moment out of this time would be seeing an old (animated) woman, stark naked, mumbling about this or that Dr. Katz style, and her daughter (only looking marginally different) trying to get her back to being sane again.

2) PROMETHEUS - Michael Fassbender's David watches Lawrence of Arabia like it hasn't already gone out of style.  He watches Peter O'Toole be graceful and priggish on a screen so wide and digital it adds a 7th  dimension in the frame.  He may be an android, but do androids dream of lovingly-performed homage?  "Nothing is written."  Sure.  And "Big things have small beginnings."

3) FLIGHT - Robert Zemeckis has a shot in the middle of a very frantic, heart-pounding, I'm-gonna-top-what-I-did-in-Cast-Away plane peril sequence, Denzel Washington's captain with a little booze and coke (hey, why not?) awakened from his cat-nap by the plane dropping, and then taking charge to do something very unconventional... another woman is being taken away on a gurney by paramedics from a heroin overdose.  Right above them, a plan flies upside down.  Same shot, unbroken, WHOOSH.  Instead of flying through the air as Zemeckis is wont to do, he has someone else look up at the flying
*(a runner-up, which is more like a Travolta 'Staying Alive' bit but with no loss of irony, is Washington walking down a hallway, twice in the film, in a sharp suit and tie and aviator sunglasses to 'Feeling Alright' by Joe Cocker.  Who's the drunk-ass motherfucker who will find morality through his own pain and trial and error?  DENZEL!  (You got it))

4) FRIENDS WITH KIDS - Jon Hamm gets drunk, argues, raises the ire of Adam Scott, which should be hard to do, and Kristin Wiig does her best dramatic acting without barely saying a word.  Who knew one could slip an uncomfortable Mad-Men-esque scene into the middle of a romantic dramedy?  (Well, a little Hamm goes a long way)


6) CHRONICLE - A son finally faces up to his somewhat cartoonish and yet painfully real abusive drunk father (damn, a lot of drunks here so far), and it's done in such a way where you could almost picture it like "Magneto - the Early Years", minus the Nazis. And then the shit's on...

7) BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW - A young woman gets out of the lab, and a shot becomes wider and wider to reveal her in the middle of a field.  There's so much WORLD out there to see and explore now, no longer in the confines of tight corridors and colored lights, not to mention the stare of an acid-fuckhead scientist.

8) THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - And suddenly Batman reveals not only does he have the capability to return (with some new toys like 'The Bat', which comes in black, fulfilling a childish request from nine years before for young Mr. Wayne), he can in the midst of a high-speed pursuit of a mumble-mouthed warlord change things from day to night with, uh... hey, how did that happen?  Cool chase and all, but, uh... continuity girl, you're fired.
*(runner up would be a mis-remembered moment in the film: when I first saw it in theaters, I thought when Bane is standing in the middle of the city giving his monologue to the cameras/Blackgate prison, he exclaimed "I HAVE A LETTA FROM JIM GORDON!!" which was the very line, the very moment, when I put my hands up in the air and said out loud 'what the fuck?' which continued much of the way through the rest of the film.  As it turns out, on second viewing on DVD, Bane didn't quite say the line that way, but even with showing how Bane got the letter from Gordon just before he escapes down the river of the sewers, it was still fucking stupid.  By the way, his real name is Robin ::facepalm::)

9) HOLY MOTORS - ALL OF IT!  This movie, much like a David Lynch film or last year's Tree of Life, is a collection of out-of-time moments and scenes, and especially as it is about the oddball-risk-taking art of performance, of playing characters in some sort of sub-reality we can recognize.  So many I could pick - the CGI running-and-then-sexcapade set with motion-capture suits in a black background; Denis Levant revealing with little couth his little-big Denis in a cave.

But I'll narrow it to two: Levant, whether it's a performance or just the 'intermission' I don't know, he plays an accordion in a big cathedral, and suddenly other people join in on this song which builds and builds.  It's like that musical set-piece in Southland Tales with Timberlake that for a few minutes makes the movie magical, only better cause it's with accordion.  And the second is another musical scene, with Kylie Minogue (who we also hear, coincidentally?, playing at a party that Levant's not-daughter is at from street level).  She sings a song with these words starting off: "Who were we, who were we, who we were when we were back then..." and it's the most heartbreaking thing I've heard all year - two performers wondering, briefly, what the fuck they're doing with their lives.  I *think* that's what they're going for anyway.
*(runner up - the very last scene of course, which suddenly makes the film into a Thomas and the Tank Engine bit or something, and to which it left me happy as a pig in slop)

10) DJANGO UNCHAINED - Django feels doubt, just for a beat, maybe the only real time, as he and King Schultz look down at a bounty on a farm.  Do you shoot the guy while his kid is down there?  Who cares?  Bam, dead, now you get to keep this warrant poster you were able to read a moment ago, and don't lose it, it's your first bounty poster after all...
*(runner up, quick flashes of a man being ripped apart by dogs while a man awaits what may or may not be his end listening to Beethoven plucked at a harp)

11) BRAVE - A witch leaves a bunch of messages in a cauldron.  Don't you just hate it when you're given the automatic voice messaging prophecies?

12) LINCOLN - So many words throughout, so much Euclid, but when Honest Abe visits a field of dead soldiers, only somber John Williams can chime in.

13) ARGO - As a group of actors in full regalia, looking like they're somewhere between Flash Gordon and Dune, do a table read of a script that won't actually be a movie, people in front of cameras in Iran tell of the troubles facing them, or rather giving their demands and their own 'performance' to the cameras.  Whose more of the actor, the actor or the one who doesn't see he/she is it?  It may not even be *that* deep, but it affected me, as one who lives to look at reality and fantasy as they intertwine (and it almost feels like the climax of the film, by the way, is SO far into excess, mostly as the terrorists chase a plane that can't really be taken down by that point, that it becomes it's own "movie" in the reality of this movie.  The only way it could me more meta is if Alan Arkin came off the screen to belittle me)

14) BERNIE - Sing along with Bernie: "LOVE LIFTED MEEEEEEEEE!" (I don't even have any significance with this, it just stuck out in my brain all summer, and... ah, there it is again.  Catchier than anything Tenacious D could put out)

15) HAYWIRE - Forget having 'sex', Gina Carano and Michael Fassbender, let Steven Soderbergh shoot your long fight scene like it IS a sex scene.  And at the end, after so many not-too-long shots full of 'holy shit did they actually DO that without doubles??', instead of a cigarette a bullet to the face over a pillow will do fine.

16) RED HOOK SUMMER - A preacher, accused of and likely guilty of sexually molesting a boy years earlier, hasn't been arrested (statute of limitations and all that), but following a beatdown by some local thugs in his own ministry, wobbles back to his apartment - all in one long take, passing by people who may or may not be actors at this apartment complex - all to "Help me see my faith in God" chanted on the soundtrack.  As a couple of cops say later in the movie (a flawed but undeniably worthwhile Spike Lee joint): "The Hook."  "Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit."

17) KILLER JOE - Wherein a blowjob on a fried chicken drumstick very likely earns a motion picture by the MPAA an NC-17.  But hey, sometimes a man has gotta get off on those 11 herbs and spices.

18) THE MASTER - That goofy smile we are fascinated by goes dark as the 'processing' gets more and more intense, and DON'T BLINK, that's the suspense of it... and then close your eyes and think of someone you knew... "I wrote my mother, I wrote my father..." somebody Freddie used to know, when things were maybe, kinda, sorta, not really innocent.

19) MOONRISE KINGDOM - One of those moments where I slightly changed my mind about something I thought didn't quite work - as young Sam is running from the scout group in the field during a particularly egregious thunderstorm, and following a shot that has some splendid triangulation for a chase, Sam is STRUCK BY LIGHTNING!  And he's fine, and runs along and the chase continues.  The first time I saw this scene, it took me out of the movie: up until then Anderson has been crafting this little world of this island and young lovers on the run with whimsy and delicacy to the innocence and tragedy interwoven in the comedy, but it's still felt like it was in the 'real' world to an extent.

And yet the second time, maybe it was the narrative devices (i.e. Bob Balaban, serving little function except being fantastic at delivering exposition in dangerous locales), or getting more into the young-adult-fantasy-book feel of the thing, but I didn't mind it so much.  Maybe too it's because I knew what would come after, with the climax on the rooftop of the church, and it felt just a little more... right in a way.  Maybe if it were animated it would be perfect.  But, yeah, a moment I came around to not minding so much, and even having a big laugh at the absurdity of it all.

20)  HAVANA IN BUSHWICK - Yes, this is a short film, and yes it only played oen film festival (which I went to, with some flawed results in my book), but it was one of the more striking and inventive shorts in recent memory.  It's about a guy, who don't talk too much, who goes to a party, meets a Cuban Muse (this is after the party if my memory serves), and then is taken to some sort of fantasy space.  Suddenly, the man is given a paintbrush, and he paints across the screen as fabulous guitar music strums behind him.  And then there's later a Russian muse (why have her?  hey, why not? it's Dasha Kittredge people!), and a lovely, singing Audrey Lorea as Claudia, a muse in her own right.  It's just this little moment, where fantasy adds on another dimension, a truly fun cartoon moment in real life, that overloads with whimsy and surreal fancy.

21) RUST AND BONE - A woman who had her legs amuputated by the sheer will/natural nature of a killer whale, goes along with a guy down to a beach.  She's in a wheelchair, and watches him swim rigorously in the ocean, and then decides she needs a swim too (Cotillard's eyes and face in this scene, so good).  She goes in the water after discreetly shedding her pants (half redundant of course anyway), and while in the water, which is giving her a rebirth in a small (or big) way, she sheds the shirt too.  Bare-breasted, she finally, for the first since discovering her lost apendages, gets a good solid swim.  As someone who finds swimming the most satisfying form of physical exercise, this struck me very emotionally, even if it wasn't a very long scene.  That she needs a little help at the end brings the characters together organically as she clings to his back tenaciously.  Suddenly a bond is established, which leads more or less through the rest of the picture.  But it's just this one bit in the ocean that makes something so quiet but profound for this character's coming to terms with her drastic physical change (and if you want to look it, you googley-eyed men and women in the world of the internet, it's out there in stills).
*(runner up: a scene that could be in a Wong Kar Wai film, Cotillard dances a bit to love-shack in her wheelchair, then wheels herself to the bathroom - no matter how much fun she can have, for a moment, it can be over just as quickly)

22)  COMIC CON: EPISODE IV - A FAN'S HOPE - This somewhat little-seen doc from earlier this year, one more feather in Joss Whedon's cinematic cap for 2012, where he came into his own with a handful of remarkable films, chronicles the 2011 San Diego Comic Con from the POV's of a dealer, a cosplayer, two artists, and most touchingly two nerdy kids in love.  The guy wants to propose marriage, and through a series of misadventures needs to get away from his adorably clingy girlfriend so he can get the ring to propose at just the right time: during the Kevin Smith panel at the con.  This moment, when he finally gets to propose, made me about as happy as I've been at the movies all year.  You almost aren't sure if he'll put it off - perhaps this is director Morgan Spurlock amping up the drama/comedy where there wasn't as much - but the pay-off is so glorious, not to mention tinged with genuine admiration (and genuinely funny jokes) from Kevin Smith that it seems so larger than life.  The only thing that could top it is if Mewes came out with a 'Snoooogans!' right behind their seats.

23) SKYFALL - Javier Bardem makes an entrance as a Bond villain.  BOY DOES HE EVER!  One long shot, almost a minute and a half, two minutes, barely moving camera until a minute into it, as the subject moves down a hall surrounded by computers and a million wires.  A mini-masterpiece by Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins.  Imposition while telling a story of rats.  Something about villains and rats - Costello in The Departed, Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds - brings out the real chill/holy-fuck factor, don't it?

24) COSMOPOLIS - Robert Pattinson, while engaged in the only halfway interesting conversation in the whole film with Paul Giamatti, shoots his hand.  Does he feel it?  Do we?  What about that haircut?

25) SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS - And at the end, a moment of understanding, with just the way Colin Farrell says 'Fine' to Tom Waits' threats to come over and kill him for a lack of screen credit in his movie, Seven Psychopaths.  "You've had it rough?" "A little." "Hmm... yeah, Tuesday's no good for me."  And it's back to protecting the bunny.

26) LIFE OF PI - And suddenly, in the middle of the ocean as Pi continues his game of wits with a tiger, HUNDREDS OF FLYING FISH come their way, in 3D!  WITH ASPECT RATIO CHANGE!  Somehow I picture Lou Zealand from the Muppets on a ship instigating this on them.

27) CLOUD ATLAS - Tom Hanks, in a movie where he gives a myriad of performances, some very good (a man speaking not much English, a scientist who may do the right thing), some not so much (a doctor on a ship), there is by FAR his worst performance of his career: a cockney English gangster at a book party, threatening Jim Broadbent's good-hearted but old book editor.  What the fuck were they thinking?  AND YET!  Hanks throws a guy out the window - cause, you know, that's what Cockney English gangsters do - and for a big moment, I laugh out of disbelief.  Even in the worst, head-scratching moments, entertainment, however unlikely, results.

28) SAMSARA - chicken death.  That's all, no comment, see it for yourself.  For a few minutes, if you're not a vegetarian, you will be.

29) THE CABIN IN THE WOODS - Bradley Whitford gets his wish, in the worst possible way.  MERMAN! (I just thought of that word in Derek Zoolander's voice. hehe)

30) BRANDED - The narrator of this attrocious piece of shit is revealed: a female cow constellation, who tells us in the final shot: "And a new era begins now."  Um... check please?