Argo. Directed by Ben Affleck. There’s no question that this thriller, telling the story of six people hiding out in Tehran’s Canadian embassy during the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis, is a fine film, but I wonder how well it will hold up as a Best Picture Oscar winner. There are definitely films from 2012 that I prefer – Moonrise Kingdom, Skyfall, Life of Pi – although Argo is still an entertaining way to spend two hours. It has plenty of drama and action, helped out by Alexandre Desplat’s Middle Eastern-tinged score. I commend Ben Affleck not only for his skilled direction but for his ability to direct himself as an actor, making his performance better than it often is in the hands of other filmmakers. He also directed the large cast of supporting characters very well, especially the old stalwarts Alan Arkin and John Goodman, who have all the best lines from Chris Terrio’s Oscar-winning screenplay. Yes, there are inaccuracies and liberties taken in the retelling of the event, but to paraphrase the late Roger Ebert, you don’t go to the movies for “a history lesson.”
Beasts of the Southern Wild. Directed by Benh Zeitlin. I went into the film with certain reservations, knowing that it was a big indie hit. In fact, I saw it on DVD not long before the Academy Awards ceremony, so I knew which of those awards it had gotten nominated for (ultimately not winning anything). It took me a while to get into the spirit of the film, but when I did, I found myself really liking it. The film gets better as it goes along; you just need to stick with it. Quvenzhané Wallis really does do quite an amazing job as Hushpuppy given the fact that she was only five years old during filming. Dwight Henry is also superb as Wink, Hushpuppy’s often neglectful father. If the powers that be decided Oscar nominations based on merit rather than campaigning, Henry would have gotten a most deserved nomination. The score by Dan Romer and director Zeitlin also deserved an Oscar nomination, much more so than, for example, the Oscar-bait work composed by John Williams for Lincoln. Beasts of the Southern Wild, through its unconventional storytelling, actors and music, captures the unique flavor of New Orleans in the post-Katrina world.
Chronicle. Directed by Josh Trank. Better than your standard teenage fare, Chronicle is what I would term a “concept film,” combining teen drama with science fiction as its main characters are granted mysterious superpowers from a local underground cave. (If I remember correctly – though I may not – it has something to do with radiation.) The film’s main selling point ought to be its leading actor, Dane DeHaan, although he has not yet become a “name” actor, even though his career is on the rise with projects like The Place Beyond the Pines, Kill Your Darlings and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. His performance is easily the best and most nuanced in the film, especially since he’s still convincing as an adolescent despite being in his mid-to-late 20s. I felt that the ending portion of the film was weak, but otherwise it was a pretty good movie. The lack of soundtrack music makes it feel all the more realistic, in spite of its sci-fi situations.
The Company You Keep. Directed by Robert Redford. This flick is disappointing and bland, failing both as an attempted history lesson (to repeat Ebert) and more basically as the thriller that it tries to be since it lacks the excitement necessary to be called a thriller. I have never been much of a Redford fan, except in the case of Quiz Show, which proved to me that he can direct, and I suppose also The Sting, in which his performance is not altogether bad. Here he is clearly at least a decade too old for the role, especially noticeable in scenes where has to do a lot of running. (It must have been physically taxing for a guy in his mid-70s.) One of my biggest issues with The Company You Keep is that reminds me of other films Redford acted in, like All the President’s Men and Sneakers – neither of which I love – so I don’t feel like he’s breaking new ground with yet another story about radical political causes. (I’m a Democrat, but I can’t endorse everything liberal.) Redford’s ability to amass a huge star cast is impressive, but some actors end up getting roles with far less character development or interest. Susan Sarandon and Julie Christie do excellent work, but the characters played by Terrence Howard, Anna Kendrick and Brit Marling are so one-dimensional that they shouldn’t even be in the film. If there’s a bright spot to be found among the men in the film, Sam Elliott maintains his omnipresent “cool dude” personality and Shia LaBeouf is more tolerable than usual as the co-protagonist, an upstart reporter.
In Another Country. Directed by Sang-soo Hong. This is a movie that came and went without much fanfare, though it deserved some attention for being funny and charmingly low-key. (I wrote a post about it when I saw it two months ago, such was my immediate appreciation.) Isabelle Huppert is delightful in three roles that are iterations of the same woman, Anne, kind of like how Ozu made his “Noriko trilogy” with three versions of essentially the same Noriko character. In the second act of the film, Huppert’s Anne is particularly wonderful, making her a little bit loopy and quirky and bringing out a nice comic side from Huppert. Kwon Hye Hyo also does well as a Korean friend in love with Anne, regardless of which version of her is onscreen. The film can best be described as short (1 hour 29 minutes), sweet and simple. It proves that a film does not need to be narratively or technologically complex in order to be enjoyable.