Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Most Inspiring Films 2012!

If anyone is still out there, my apologies for not keeping up on my reviews. I have been seeing movies (my life blood) and "living" at the Loft Cinema, but my writing has consisted of composing cover letters for my job search. But it is that time of year that beckons me to write my most inspiring films list - and I couldn't resist!

(Note: this is not a complete list by any means. I am not including the big epic motion pictures, "Anna Karenina," "The Hobbit," and, "Les Miserables." The trailer for the documentary "Chasing Ice" looks pretty inspiring, but I haven't seen it yet.)

Honorable Mention: I didn't expect to have half as much fun as I did at the off-kilter biopic, "Hitchcock." Director Sacha Gervasi sets the tone from the opening scene with Alfred Hitchcock's (Anthony Hopkins) outrageous, tongue-in-cheek humor. Like some of Hitchcock's later works, the genre is hard to classify. The synopsis refers to it as a love story between Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, (the flawless Helen Mirren) during the making of "Psycho." But what would a movie about Hitchcock be without hints of suspense and other fiendish delights. I found the details of Hitchcock's unorthodox directing style especially alluring.

12) "The Kid with a Bike." While in search of his "stolen" bike, a boy discovers that his father has abandoned him. The hard reality sets in -  not all parents do what is best for their kids. This movie deals honestly with how that neglect affects a child and causes them to make bad decisions. And yet one understanding, committed adult can make a difference - even if they can't solve all the problems.

11) A twenty-something novelist with writers' block creates the perfect girlfriend in "Ruby Sparks." Sure, it's reminiscent of "Stranger than Fiction," but the love story actually works better here. What makes it stand out is how truthful the characters' relationship seems. There's one fight that sounded just like me and my ex-boyfriend. Ruby's reactions to this situation are so original and yet somehow they don't seem contrived. They seem as real as she is. As a writer myself, the idea of a character coming to life for the author doesn't seem that far fetched. But what really inspired me was the theme that we "literally" (hehe) create our own world.

10) "The Sessions" is the story of a man in an iron lung (with the soul of a poet) who enlists the help of a professional sex surrogate to lose his virginity. I've heard nothing but good things about this festival crowd-pleaser. (Come to think of it, they were all men and Helen Hunt's naked body certainly would inspire more than just the main character.) Just the idea of a priest encouraging this arrangement and hearing the intimate details at confession is entertaining. And John Hawkes' self-deprecating portrayal makes it easy to believe that women could fall for him. If that doesn't give you hope, what will? One of the best feel good movies of the year.

9) In "Moonrise Kingdom," a misfit scout escapes an absurdly corny New England camp to run away with his girlfriend – another troubled foster child. Hilarity ensues as they are pursued by a troop of weapon-wielding boy scouts and clueless adults. By making this delinquent adolescent couple sympathetic, director Wes Anderson finally delivers a film, in his definitive quirky style, that is accessible to movie audiences and highly entertaining.

8) A family accomplishes "The Impossible," fighting terrible trials to be reunited after a tsunami literally tears them apart. Naomi Watts was nominated for an Oscar for her heart-wrenching performance in this true life story.

7) Believe it or not, "Silver Linings Playbook," is a feel good romantic comedy about the mentally ill. Ex-teacher Pat (Bradley Cooper) is released from the mental institution under the stipulation that he live with his parents and take his meds for his bipolar condition. Driven to win back his ex-wife, he attempts to recreate himself by seeing the silver linings in life (rather than by using drugs). His dream is shattered when he discovers that his wife has a restraining order against him. He believes that if she could just see how much he has changed, she will take him back. He creates an unusual alliance with an equally messed-up woman (Oscar winner Jennifer Lawrence)  who agrees to get a letter to his ex - in return for him being her partner in a dance contest. She is suffering from a similar delusion that this contest will solve all her problems. By helping her, he in turn helps himself.  The movie seems to say that love may just be another delusion, but when shared it has the power to heal - like no pill can.

6) "Amour," An elderly couple shared a rewarding life together and a love of music. Their love is tested when the husband must cope with losing the cultivated partner he married to Alzheimers Disease and must decide whether to sacrifice his last days taking care of the love of his life. "Amour" was nominated for Best Picture and won best Foreign Language Film.

5) As an aspiring filmmaker, I couldn't resist "Argo," the story of a CIA agent who used the guise of making a sci-fi flick in Iran to get to the embassy employees trapped there during the hostage crisis. Sounds like a Hollywood plot device, but it really happened! The real power of film lies in its ability to educate and create understanding while entertaining. "Argo" succeeds on that level by sharing important insights into what motivated the crisis. "Argo" also nabbed Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay on Oscar night!

4) In "The Other Son," two young men – one Israeli and the other Palestinian – discover that they were accidentally switched at birth during a raid in the Gulf War. This film transcends the usual melodramatic movie of the week by incorporating authentic Palestinian and Israeli attitudes and culture. The young men question their identities. Are they Jewish or Palestinian?  What makes you Jewish? Can a sworn enemy be accepted as a member of the family? Will they find that they have more similarities than differences?

3) I generally don't include big Hollywood epics, (Spielberg doesn't need my help anyway...) but, "Lincoln" is such an important movie. While dealing with a wife battling debilitating grief and the burden of the Civil War, Lincoln fights tirelessly to pass a law that will abolish slavery and hopefully end the war. This was not a popular cause. He even had opposition from his own party. But he did it because it was the right thing to do. Today's politicians could learn something about moral courage from this man. In addition to the timely theme, I enjoyed being transported back to the Civil War Era through authentic costumes and set design. I found the back-story about the first lady and Sally Field (as Mary Todd Lincoln) absolutely compelling. Best Actor winner Daniel Day Lewis refrains from chewing the furniture (which I usually enjoy) to give us a subtle, lived-in performance of the determined and often witty Lincoln.

2) One film on my list isn't a film at all - but a play. I've included the National Theater Live production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time," because it was one of the most moving big screen experiences I had this year. In director Marian Elliot's hands, Simon Stephen's stellar adaptation of Mark Haddon's award-winning novel is theatrical in the best sense of the word. We get a glimpse of the inner life of a teenage boy with high functioning autism. Christopher (Luke Treadaway in a devastatingly real performance) sees the world in terms of mathematical equations and must brave the terrifying world outside his home to investigate the death of the neighbor's dog that he has been accused of killing. Through his search, we come to a better understanding and acceptance of this courageous young man.

1) I was delighted when my favorite film of the year, "Searching for Sugar Man," won Best Documentary.  A South African music critic sets out to find out what happened to the obscure American rock musician who became the voice of Apartheid. His compelling search leads him to rumors that this eccentric rock poet (who had the promise to be the next Dylan) had shot himself on stage after vanishing into obscurity at the failure of his first visionary album. I found it so inspiring that if you follow your calling, it can have a far reaching impact beyond your own awareness. I should have gone home and written a review, but I was inspired to write lyrics for a song!

Movie Blessings!
Jana Segal