There's slight comfort as we enter the bombastic tales of the summer movie season; a few films have proven their weight dramatically and culturally. Here's my picks for the top 5 of the year as we near the halfway point:
5) THE CABIN IN THE WOODS- A daffy and effectively scary uprising of the horror genre, courtesy of director Drew Goddard, writer of Cloverfield who earned his stripes while working TV duties with J.J. Abrams and co-writer Joss Whedon. The meta-coolness behind the film was enough to give it a cool indie credibility, but there's a chilly and wonderfully seductive touch to the film as it plods through in its dissection of the genre in whole. For whomever might gripe that the characters are merely ciphers, the magicians at the work are fully aware and play with the idea of archetypal horror movie characters in a way that feel more revelatory than the first Scream did back in 1996. The Cabin in the Woods sat on the shelf for several years due to distributor MGM's financial woes, as well as a brief flirt with a 3-D conversion; happily for the audience that came out (and a decent $40 million gross hints that many did) saw a special scary movie carved out for those long in need of a smart, fun spooky film. Let the Buffy alums collaborate again soon...
4) BULLY- Likely the most important film to come so far in 2012, Lee Hirsch's thoughtful, emotionally avid documentary set around the concept of teen bullying in schools has incensed many (including the MPAA, who in an act of graciousness changed their initial ruling), as this is a film that demands to be seen be not merely by every student, but by their parents, and every school administrator. While not the most artful of muckraking projects, it packs an emotional wallop that would be hard pressed not to turn any person into rethinking their ways, or recalling back to less than stellar youthful times. Bully is a hard, but necessary film that stands as an important piece of filmmaking for any child who has felt less than, and every grown-up who looked the other way.
3) THE HUNGER GAMES- Shockingly, the spring sensation, the same one that broke all those box office records, and had such super-bolic hype also happened to be that rare, imperfect slice of franchise filmmaking that was about something. Whether viewed as an unlikely mash-up of Battle Royale and 1984 or merely as a cynical Hollywood attempt to capitalize on yet another teen-lit phenomenon, The Hunger Games, smoothly and articulately directed by Gary Ross, is a rare blockbuster friendly franchise that was full of ideas. Sad, myopic ideas of civilization and worlds gone far astray as kids compete to the death so an all-encompassing set of leaders can retain control. The Hunger Games is sci-fi in the better sense where the characters advance the story, rather than the props and futuristic gagdetry. I think somewhere, Phillip K. Dick might be proud.
2) THE KID WITH THE BIKE- The latest slice of humanistic slice of life, brought to the screen from the masters of such, The Dardenne Brothers delivered with their latest, which had its award winning premiere at last years Cannes Film Festival. Centering their latest around a wayward youth trying to find a sense of home after his father unapologetically casts him aside, there's something slightly daring and beautiful with The Kid With the Bike that hits emotionally without overt sentimentality or preaching. It's a small gem of a film.
1) JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME- As one who has never quite warmed to the indie-cool sensibilities of the Duplass Brothers before, with their mumblecore indie hits Cyrus and The Puffy Chair, it's a welcome surprise that their latest, about a slacker thirtysomething (played effortless by Jason Segal) works as well as it does. A small, but passionate piece of American filmmaking, unjustly ignored in it's initial springtime release, I hope this weird, funny, warm family dramedy finds new life in the realms of the home viewing because it's almost the indie slacker version of Homer's Odyssey.
What are your favorite films of 2012 so far?