Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Favorite Cinematic Moments of 2012

A musing, aside if you, of my favorite moments while in the solitude of the cinema of 2012.  This is not a list of my favorite films, I've already done that, but my favorite collection of scenes, sequences, or moments that I found the most heavenly in the past of year of the cinema.  In no particular order...except the one final one:

Opening Title Sequence, LIFE OF PI
Ang Lee's Life of Pi was a visual wonder, and if you strip away the awkward (not matter how truthfully adapted) framing structure, it may well have been a cinematic masterpiece.  Never mind, perhaps the brightest sequence of the whole ungodly massively produced project came at the very begin.  A beguiling, playful and wonderfully spirited vignettes of the animals in the zoo that would become shipwrecked some time soon.  No matter how banal it may appear on the onset, it was warm, inviting and beautifully filmed to the Michael Danna's lustrous score.  You start here and remove the older guy talking to the bland English dude and Life of Pi would be nearly a perfect picture.

While I still submit that the hipster teens in Stephen Chbosky's coming of tale are made somewhat false because of their lack of knowledge in all things Bowie, the moment(s) where are three heroes joyride to the famous tune is a touchingly bewitching moment.  Purely a for a movies screenshot-- but then again that can be true of real teenage moments too-- a point of which that the film highlights beautifully.  A rousing sincere sequence that showcases the posture of adolescence.  At first Emma Watson, as the pixie cum muse stands in the back of the truck, arms extending, an image of youthful idyllic expression.  When Chbosky repeats the sequence with star wallflower Logan Lerman doing the same thing, it's an entirely different thing, and the silly joy and bubble of a pop song, it's nearly irresistible.

Self-Administered Abortion, PROMETHEUS
It may hold true that Ridley Scott's widely hyped return/not return to the Alien franchise befuddled and never exactly took flight, but there's one sequence that not only wondrously and horrifyingly paid beautiful homage to blockbuster establishment of his career, but also cemented Prometheus as a horror/sci-fi puzzlement that wasn't short on thrills.  The intense and gross emergency self-administered alien abortion that Noomi Rapace must hastily perform was the icky and tingly edge of your seat sequence that jolted Prometheus and one of the few sequences in recent horror memory where you can't but not look away.  Masterfully and terrifyingly staged, filmed and a rare feat of a performance at its most physically visceral, it's surely something not easily forgotten.

Ruby's Breakdown, RUBY SPARKS
Actress Zoe Kazan both wrote and starred in the twirly indie Ruby Sparks, a film more interesting than particular successful, where a shaggy and none particularly likable writer (played by Paul Dano) finds his latest character becomes a full fledged person, of which he can control with his writing.  Kazan may have written the whole bloody thing in a manner just to showcase her talent and range, of which comes out in a manic, but memorable final act bit of craftiness when the douchebag writer proves his authority in a sequence where Kazan must act swiftly, quickly and unnervingly to the speed of his type.  Ruby Sparks doesn't quite work, but the breakdown is a masterful acting audition tape that should hopefully given Kazan, the actress, the creme of the roles in the near future.

The first part of The Impossible, before it devolves into a standard issue survival film, is a bravura, matter-of-fact depiction of real world terror.  In documenting the tragic tsunami that hit Southeast Asia, director Jay Bayona uses real water and real world effects to capture that scene, and it's frightening as hell, riveting cinema and reveals a grandeur and gravitas that can only come from the cinema.  Intensely staged-- in fact, nearly so as a thriller, that first wave appears nearly out of nowhere (a statement many have validated) and in its pure cinema visual feat sadly almost undoes the film because there's nothing that could top it.

The First Session, THE SESSIONS
The miraculous thing about The Sessions is that it, while fully enshrined in a near innocence and staged nearly innocuously, is that is one of the most sexually free American films to grace the screen in a long while.  The first session between polio victim Mark O'Brien, who yearns to not die a virgin and the sex surrogate, played by Helen Hunt, is a beautifully written and incredibly acted sequence that makes aware the strange condition of the pairing, but plays wonderfully as a naturally expression of ones first sexual experience-- awkward, warm, engaging and inviting.  Filled with a playful banter, especially when Hunt speaks of the difference between her services and that of a prostitute (while comically disrobing) gives way to something far warmer, deeper and affecting.

Near the end of the David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook, the ensemble assembles for a chaotic, seeming free-for-all in mania, only to be eternally shut up when the tartly messed-up Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) speaks the truth.  An expected monologue, in which the young actress/ingenue firstly must put Robert De Niro in his place is a grand display of showmanship and a strength to O'Russell's gift at ensemble performances.  It first plays as a nearly righteous, "go girl!" moment but Lawrence sells it straightly and with absolute assured drive that it's difficult not to get swept up in the fervor.  I strongly suggest the strength of this scene alone is the reason why Lawrence is collecting prizes left and right, and while my eyes may recoil at that a bit, it's hard not to deny why.  It's in this scene where, and Katniss be damned, that Lawrence becomes a movie star.

Quentin Tarantino has long been a champion, and an adept one at that, at the long talking scene.  The sequence where everyone is dining at Candyland and everyone is in the ensemble is inviting is a chiller, a doozy of the written word and masterfully stroke of a film that's undoing comes from its lack of focus.  In short, this is Django Unchained's money shot, and the greatest stroke is that all the characters, each on display and acting on their own part, is on a completely different wavelength.  That conflict and tension is a beaut to watch, and something that seems sadly missing the before and after of this messy film.

A perfect marriage of filmmaker and sequence was formed and beautifully executed when the youthful lovers concoct their runaway plans in Wes Anderson's majestic and personal homage to youthful lust.  The sequence, a series of jump cuts that overlap one another but make a wondrous cohesiveness, seems like something ripely belonging to Anderson's sensibility.  On a dime whimsical, then melancholy, then hopeful, then silly-- a perfect marriage and perhaps the most novel sequence in the auteurs career.

And well, this one might feel kind of obvious, but it's the best....

I Dreamed a Dream, LES MISERABLES
A perfect marriage of character and performer, and one in which both become deeper, and that nearly incandescent way, richer and eternally altered.  The tragic heroine Fantine was always the emotional bulls-eye in Les Miserables, as was the show-stopping song Ï Dreamed a Dream," and yet even as the song has become nearly irrelevant due to YouTube and reality television, Anne Hathaway seizes the opportunity and gives the song seemingly new meaning with her deeply felt, nuanced, live-sung expression.  This utterly transcendent sequence, one in which all the vitriol that has spewed on the interwebs of Tom Hooper's ultra close-up filming must be granted worked to a thrilling degree, can be compared to Jennifer Hudson's Dreamgirls number, but I think a fairer critique should view this as the best musical number filmed for the cinema since the glory days of Liza Minnelli's extolling the virtues of Cabaret.

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