Category Archives: Our Favorite Films of 2012

Our Favorite Films of 2012 – Argo

By Brian Slattery

 

 

When I first watched Argo I hadn’t given it much due for how great a film it actually is. I did recognize it was a good movie with a compelling story and a mix of comedy and drama that brought balance to the movie. Given a second watching I really appreciated some of the finer details in the film.

Set mostly in 1980 Iran, Argo is the story of a CIA operation to rescue six “houseguests” from the Canadian embassy, with the help of both Canada and a select few people in Hollywood. The “houseguests” had escaped the US embassy in Iran when the facility was stormed by hundreds of Iranian revolutionaries, angered by the US’s decision to bring the Shah of Iran in for asylum instead of allowing him to be tried (and likely killed) in the Iranian justice system.

The plan to get the Americans out of Iran involves going into false production on a science fiction film named Argo. The CIA has to make the film appear legitimate in both Iran and, more importantly, in Hollywood. Once the cover is sufficiently created, CIA exfiltration agent Tony Mendes (Ben Affleck) is sent in with fake credentials for the Americans to help them escape.

What I like the most about the movie is the portrayal of the two different worlds in the film. The Hollywood world, seemingly so carefree and oblivious to the plights of the rest of the country, and the Iranian world where any wrong move could spell doom for any and all of the six Americans. One of the best recurring visuals that describes this throughout the film is the image of the Ayatollah constantly in the background, representing how scrutinized and searched for anyone with American ties is in Iran.

 

 

While there is no stand out performance, the entire ensemble does an excellent job, especially the Farsi-speaking cast. And while it was deservedly left out of the acting nominations, I feel that Affleck’s directing was possibly the biggest surprise snub of the Oscars. To pull together such a great ensemble cast, and get a brilliant group performance, he is possibly the most deserving director in this year’s crop of Best Picture nominees.

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Our Favorite Films of 2012 — Life of Pi

By Steven Moore

 

 

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi, without question, should win the award for Best Picture at the 2013 Oscars. It probably won’t, but it should. Life of Pi is an adaptation of Yann Martel’s novel of the same name. Whether Martel intended to write a modern Jainist manifesto or not, he did. The Jainist philosophy is one of pluralism, in which there is one single truth, but all beliefs are an aspect of that truth. If one person says a lemon is sweet and another says a lemon is sour, both are true, and both are aspects of lemons. Similarly, Pi, the protagonist, cannot limit himself to a single religion or ideology. He embraces Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Scientific Skepticism equally, claiming, “Faith has many rooms, and all of them have doubt.” Like his namesake, he does not allow himself to be constrained by tradition, but continues on, always ready for something new.

The movie begins exploring its central question through the framework of a writer interviewing the adult Pi, who relates a story through flashback, telling of his youth when he tried to feed a tiger, Richard Parker, only to be admonished by his father, who warns him of the danger: “You only see yourself reflected in his eyes.” While Pi is certain that all living things contain a soul and some notion of compassion, faced with the tiger’s brutality toward a living goat, he must also face the ugliness of the survival instinct. His father’s statement becomes the overall question of the movie. Like Richard Parker, is Pi’s survival instinct as animalistic and barbarous? When stripped of society and faced with just survival, is he nothing more than an animal?

Although we don’t realize it until the end, Pi tells his story using symbolism and parables, fitting since much of the movie revolves around religion. One of the most blatantly symbolic moments of the film for which there is no explicit “factual” counterpart is a floating carnivorous island. The island parallels the island of the lotus eaters and serves a similar purpose. This carnivorous island, which resembles a sleeping Vishnu in a wide shot, offers a safe harbor when Pi most needs it.  Like the island of the lotus eaters, the danger of the island is apathy. The island has everything he needs to survive, but Pi must decide if survival is more important than anything else. It’s no coincidence that immediately after leaving the island, the next scene shows Pi arriving back in civilization and the departure of Richard Parker.

 

 

When Pi relates his story, and it is rejected by a couple of Japanese businessmen as too fantastical, he tells the “real” story. This is when you realize everything you’ve seen has been symbolic, that Richard Parker’s departure was the departure of Pi’s survival instinct; however, the Japanese businessmen ”didn’t like my second story, and left without saying anything else.” The movie begins by promising to make Pi’s interviewer believe in God. When he reads the report the Japanese businessman wrote down, it is the more fantastical version of the the story. Pi gives two stories in which the boat sinks, his family dies, and he survives, then asks,”Which do you prefer?” One is the ugly reality of human suffering, and the other gives that suffering meaning. The Japanese businessman, the writer, and the audience prefer the first story.

Through its pluralism, Life of Pi makes a case for a single, shared human experience, simultaneously barbaric, tragic, beautiful, and full of meaning.

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Our Favorite Films of 2012 — Prometheus

By Steve Hawco

 

 

I’m not going to bother making the case for Prometheus as the best film of the year, but it sure was my favorite. Ridley Scott’s officially unofficial prequel to his masterful Alien, Prometheus lacks the Hollywood glamour of Les Misérables and the real-world poignancy of Zero Dark Thirty, but it makes up for it with genuine chills and the best production design seen this year.

Scott works from a relatively anemic script by Damon Lindelof (of Lost fame) and Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour), telling a sci-fi tale of archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green, Devil). Exploring caves in 2089 Scotland, the ambitious couple discover evidence of extraterrestrial visitation to Earth. The star maps scratched onto the walls lead Shaw and Holloway and their team to a distant moon, dubbed LV-223, aboard a Weyland Corporation vessel, the Prometheus.

The explorers find structures on LV-223 that are clearly the result of intelligent design, and Shaw aggressively pursues her search for the origin of life on Earth, despite the dangers posed by the harsh environment and a mysterious organism. From here, the script leaves a lot to be desired, as our intelligent protagonists make idiotic, damning decisions and most of our questions are left unanswered. The biggest criticism leveled against Prometheus, understandably, has been the script, and the sins of Lindelof on one of the most ravenously devoured TV shows of all time haunt a movie that he didn’t even begin the writing for in the first place.

Hiring Lindelof may have been a glaring mistake, but thankfully it was Scott’s only one. The movie is a stunning example of art direction and special effects (a large percentage of which are practical effects rather than computer-generated), and the 3D cinematography by Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean) shows off the slick costumes and props throughout. The set pieces are amazing, featuring a race by two of the characters across alien terrain while a huge spaceship crashes into the dirt at their heels, and an unholy birthing scene that makes a case for “scene of the year.”

 

 

Prometheus looked stunning in 3D, with amazing depth throughout, the highlight being the whole-room smartphone apps of the future which makes three-dimensional holograms all around the characters. I am happy to report that the 3D Blu-ray looks almost as good as the RealD theater presentation.

Top it off with a wonderful performance by the red-hot Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) as the android David, and you have one great movie in the sci-fi/horror genre. Just don’t ask for a satisfying conclusion to any question apart from, “How high will the body count get?”

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