This is inspired by Nick Davis's remembrances of his many trips to the movies through the 2000's. One thing I am going to do differently though, is to include some notable home-video viewings as well. Some of my most memorable movie moments this year were home-video viewings, and some of my theatre viewings weren't worth blogging. It wasn't my most active year of movie-watching (due to a full-time teaching position that I had for several months) but it was a fun one, and this gives a small representation of what I watched, and how I felt about it.
January 14, Rave Valley Bend 18, Huntsville, AL
Who gets up, leaves home by 9:00 AM on a Saturday morning, and drives to a movie theatre almost forty miles from home just to see The Artist and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? That would be me. I was teaching full time then and I didn't have time for weeknight movies, so this was pretty much my only bet. I caught a 10:30 showing of The Artist, and maybe it was because of the early showtime, but I was shocked that there were less than ten people in the theatre. I was also shocked that the audience really didn't seem to fall in love with the movie the way I had thought they would. I myself liked it, okay, but it was nothing like the full-on coup of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy at 1:30. Even though I had read the book, I went into Tinker Tailor..., fully expecting to be confused and frustrated, but it turned out to be as good of an adaptation of a novel as one could hope for. From the perfectly moody atmosphere to the tricks it plays on us--especially by making us wonder when the "plot" is going to really kick in, only for us to realize that it kicked in from the minute it started--I totally, completely fell for it, and to my surprise, the audience did as well.
January 16, Athens AL
So here's the deal: Dusty and Jeremiah are Lord of the Rings guys. Like, Big Time Lord of the Rings guys. I'm a bit of an agnostic towards it all. Somehow it was decided that, since most of us are teachers and in jobs that allow us to be off on Martin Luther King Day, it would make for a perfect day to watch the Lord of the Rings movies. Back to back. The extended versions. So yes, that comes out to about twelve hours worth of viewing. It ended up as a kind of come-and-go type of thing--there were five of us there the entire time, 9:00 AM until almost 10:00 PM (counting for breaks, etc.)--and while I can't say I was exactly won over by the thing, I came out with a grudging respect for the trilogy, and with some firmly-held beliefs: I think that Fellowship is a three-quarters very-good-to-excellent film that begins to fall apart after Galadriel tells Frodo of his destiny; I think that The Two Towers is easily the best, and most exciting film of the three, with several memorable scenes and sequences, especially Elrond's prophecy to Arwen; and I think that Return of the King is easily the least successful of the trilogy, some good ideas marred by so much bloat, and a refusal on Jackson's part to end.
January 21, Monaco Pictures, Huntsville, AL
Another double feature related to the fact that I have to have an opinion about the Oscar nominees every year, but at least this one was a bit closer to home. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was my early show, one of those cases where I was the youngest in the theatre by a decade or more, and one of only two males in attendance. It's easy to gauge audience reactions sometimes, and I could really feel how uncomfortable the audience was with this, and, by the end, how many absolutely hated it, angry that they had gotten suckered in to such a downer. Maybe that--along with the fact that it's one of the most widely-hated Best Picture nominees in recent memory--is why I've always been a bit compelled to defend it. Yeah, it's a failure in many ways, and it's too literal-minded, but it takes some real risks, and isn't afraid to place an abrasive, unlikeable character front and center, and it doesn't shy away from the emotional minefield at the center of its concept, even if it doesn't always navigate that minefield very well. I'll take it any day over my 2:00 show, which was The Descendants, a smug piece of middlebrow condescension from Alexander Payne. By this point I've pretty much written Payne off. The only real memory I have associated with this showing is that, the following Monday, a student in my seventh period class said she saw me going to my seat in the theatre.
February 4, Monaco Pictures, Huntsville, AL
I never would've seen the 3D release of Beauty and the Beast on my own, but my sister was taking her kids, she asked me, and I had nothing else of interest to do. (Except for grading, so maybe I should rephrase that as, "I had nothing else I wanted to do.") And she was willing to pay. It's not that I hate Beauty and the Beast--it's just that these Disney movies are nothing I ever feel the desire to return to when it's going to cost me $10. For free? Sure, why not? 3D doesn't really serve a movie like this very well, so it looked like a bunch of cardboard cutouts placed behind each other. I'm not sure why Disney wants to convert these movies to 3D, when the very nature of "traditional" animation works completely against the very idea of 3D. (Well, the reason, obviously, is money.) The good thing is that the movie is still a good one--far better than anything Disney has done since--and 3D doesn't obscure that.
March 3, The Belcourt, Nashville, TN
All Sony Pictures Classics movies used to come to Huntsville--the ones in English and the ones not. I was able to see several, up through Of Gods and Men, In A Better World, and Incendies, without leaving town. But for some reason, despite the fact that it was the foreign movie of 2012 (and despite the fact that there is a significant Iranian population in Huntsville), A Separation was never booked for Huntsville. So sometimes a trip to Nashville is in order. I really have to give my dad credit on this one; he's always been a good sport, about my movie-viewing habits (I drug him along to things ranging from Cache to Of Gods and Men) and he was willing to drive up to Nashville for this one. I can't say that he was taken by movie quite as much as I was--he's not a fan of endings that don't resolve--but he respected it, and I could tell that he was as involved in the plot as anyone in the theatre. This is one case where I really wish people would give subtitled films a fair shot, because anyone who likes a good drama could get caught up in A Separation straight from the opening scenes, and it seems nearly impossible not to be riveted by the clarity and compassion that Farhadi grants the various points-of-view on display.
March 10, Carmike 10, Huntsville, AL
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo may have been a literary sensation, but when you get to the discount theatre, you're mostly dealing with people who haven't read it. The fans, for the most part, saw it back when opened. So here we are--we being my sister, her husband, and I--in the middle of a completely crowded theatre with people who didn't know what to expect. During the rape scenes, you could feel the discomfort rippling through the crowd--lots of squirming, whispering, bathroom and popcorn breaks. The audience settled down a bit as the investigation took over the narrative although, A) it's hard to argue that the earlier sequences are any less interesting or tense than the investigation; and B) the investigation is, in its own way, every bit as disturbing as anything that came before. Coming out of the theatre, gauging reactions, I don't think that many people had an idea of what, exactly, they had just seen--which to me is as good a sign as any that a movie is doing something right.
March 29, Carmike 10, Huntsville, AL
The Carmike is a discount theatre, one of those where you can pay $15 for a huge bucket of popcorn at the beginning of the year, and keep bringing it back all year for $3 refills. The Carmike is a bit rough around the edges, but it's also, surprisingly, one of the few theatres in Huntsville that still shows 35mm projections. I don't know where I stand on the 35mm vs. digital thing (my sister is a photographer who has been all-digital for years), but I do like seeing those reel-change pops and flickers. But with less 35mm projection, we have less people who know how to project it, which was probably why during the first five minutes of The Grey, the bottom half of the frame appeared to be projected below the screen. After a quick complaint, they had it fixed, and I was able to get taken in by Joe Carnahan's evocative atmosphere. It's rare to see a movie that knows how to use sound the way this one does. I'm not just talking about the plane crash (which is great), but most impressive is the wolves themselves--breathing, growling, out there somewhere, but you're not sure exactly where.
April 20, Hollywood 18, Huntsville, AL
Yes, I was one of those teenagers. I saw Titanic a lot back in the day. A few reasons for this: When it came out, I couldn't drive, and as a private school kid, none of my friends lived nearby. So I was pretty much at the mercy of my sister, who could drive, and she and her friends were pretty much seeing Titanic weekly for awhile there. When Titanic 3D was announced, I knew that we would be seeing it together. The movie is still one of the best big budget epics put out of Hollywood; it's cool to hate it, but it works for me every time. I can chuckle a bit at some of the bad dialogue (mostly courtesy of Billy Zane), but Titanic conjures up a lost world in a way that most movies never even dream about doing. It didn't need 3D to do that, but 3D and all, it still works pretty magnificently for my money. And, for what it's worth, there was a couple in the theatre who were obviously seeing it for the first time, and it was pretty apparent by the end that it had worked for them too.
May 10, Athens AL
Back on April 27, 2011, much of the central and northern parts of Alabama got hit by severe tornadoes. Several were killed or injured, property damage was unspeakably high. The Friday after that (schools were out for a week), I had some of my former students come over to take a shower and charge their phones if they needed to, and we watched a movie. We've done these movie nights a few times since, but this was probably our last one, since they've graduated and gone to college. We decided to watch a Blu-Ray of The Town, a movie that has a much bigger fanbase than I ever would've expected--these guys had seen it before, could quote lines from it (Boston accent, of course). As for me, I think it's the second-best of Affleck's three features, not quite as interesting or original in its look at working-class Boston as Gone Baby Gone, but a definite step above Argo, which just feels like really well-done work for-hire.
May 26, Carmike 10, Huntsville, AL
Why did Tarsem make Mirror Mirror? He's always been, at the very least, distinct, but here it feels like we're watching a lame Tim Burton knockoff. There's no feel for how to direct the actors--most seem to be acting in completely different types of movies. The sets and photography are garish and ugly. It's one of those movies where you wonder why they even went to the effort of making it. My nephew is that kid who pretty much likes anything, but about an hour into this one, he leaned over and said, "When will this be over?" I couldn't have agreed more.
July 6, Monaco Pictures, Huntsville, AL
A bit of a lull in viewing, but it's hard to complain when it's broken up by something as strange, and fascinating, as Oliver Stone's Savages. I didn't know anything about Savages going in, other than the fact that it involved drug dealers. I'm not one of those who says that "Oliver Stone hasn't made a good film since...", since I think that everything he's made since Nixon ranges from interesting to very good, but I do think that Savages probably is his most interesting, entertaining, and thematically rich film since Nixon. It verges on the insane at times, but it fascinates in the way it constantly plays with our assumptions about the characters; it slides the supporting characters into (and out of) the film in interesting ways, makes us wonder at times if the movie is going to veer off and follow them instead of our established trio, and never quite lets us get a handle on what we think about these characters, or the movie itself. If Stone has "lost it", then I wish some other filmmakers could lose it in such interesting ways.
October 4, Hollywood 18, Huntsville, AL
I've never actually been to one of those Metropolitan Opera HD screenings, but I know from seeing the lines that they routinely sell out. So why couldn't the 50th Anniversary screening of Lawrence of Arabia sell more than four tickets to its 1:00 PM show? Granted, it was a weekday afternoon, but the people who go to the Metropolitan Opera screenings generally appear to be retired types, and I would assume there would be some overlap in taste. It was disheartening, to say the least, that so few people showed up for such a rare chance to see this movie in an absolutely stunning 4K transfer. No, it wasn't 70mm (very few theatres are equipped to project 70mm these days), but I've never seen a movie look quite like this. You know that old line about how you've never really seen the movie until you've seen it in the theatre? Absolutely true in this case. Lawrence felt new and alive in a way that it never did on DVD, and even though I have the BluRay, I know it won't equal that theatrical presentation. It certainly gave me a new appreciation for Lawrence: for how touchingly weird Peter O'Toole makes his character; for Omar Sharif, who, under different circumstances, might have gone down as one of the all-time great film actors; for the way Lean balances the genuinely epic with the intimate and personal. I do think that Lean could've paced the film better, and that he allows the film to go on too long after its climax--ending a film with discussions about electricity in Damascus makes it feel like it just peters out. In terms of 1962's Oscars, I'd still be team-Mockingbird. But I was able to "get" Lawrence of Arabia and its huge reputation in a way that I never was before.
October 13, Cinemagic Theatre, Athens, AL
When I first saw Argo, I thought it was excellent--an entertaining, expertly-made thriller. Now, with about three months of distance, I mainly think of two things: A way over-indulged Alan Arkin, and a gallingly sentimental ending. I do still think that the climactic sequence is expertly edited, but any love I had for this movie evaporated once Affleck started winning Best Director awards. Can't a decent entertainment just be recognized as that without having to be elevated to an Oscar contender? Or are things in Hollywood to the point where any studio product that isn't garbage is going to get an Oscar push? Give me any scene or sequence from The Town or Gone Baby Gone over the whole of Argo.
October 26, Athens, AL
When our original plans fell through Jeremiah and I decided on a movie night. Conspiracy and Zodiac. We first watched Conspiracy, an underrated and underseen HBO film from 2001 about the Wannsee Conference, featuring about the best cast of (mostly) British actors you could imagine. It takes place more or less in real time, only has the one set, and is completely dialogue driven. Because of that, I thought that Conspiracy was the bigger gamble of the two movies, but he was completely transfixed, which is a good sign of just how perfectly controlled Pierson's direction and Loring Mandel's scripting are--the way the camera keeps all of the characters in play, the way they allow certain characters to come into the forefront and recede into the background unexpectedly, the way the plan for the Final Solution is kind of quietly put out there without being explicitly discussed before someone forces the issue. For something that most people think of as just another HBO Emmy-baiter (if they think of it at all), Conspiracy is full of ideas and finesse. With Zodiac, it went like this: 150 minutes of mostly silence, totally taken by the movie. Mark Ruffalo and Jake Gyllenhaal in the diner, Jeremiah comments, "This is a really good movie." About ten minutes later, when it cuts to closing credits: "What? It can't end like that." Lesson for me: If you're going to show someone a movie about the Zodiac killer, it might help to tell them before that they never arrested anyone.
November 11, Athens, AL
Jeremiah's house again. I'm not sure how it ended up just us there, because Jared and Dusty and some of the others were going to come, but at any rate I decided it was time to introduce my best friend to The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance aka The Greatest Movie Ever Made. This one is a bit of a litmus test for me, and I really have a hard time listening to movie thoughts from anyone who dislikes it. It's just so tragic, filled with such a sense of loss, such a beautiful elegy for Ford's (and Wayne's ) career, and for the Western genre in general. It plays so expertly on our traditional ideas of narrative and point-of-view. There are so many memorable scenes and images, but none stick out in my mind more than the one above: Ransom Stoddard taking one last look at Tom Doniphon's coffin, the cactus rose on top of it telling him everything. Luckily, Jeremiah really liked the movie. I can live with him not loving it, because he gave it an honest look, and liked it.
November 18, Monaco Pictures, Huntsville, AL
Jeremiah, Jared, and Jeb were my viewing partners for Lincoln at a 9:00 PM show. I was pretty taken by Lincoln from the start, and I love how much smaller and warmer Daniel Day-Lewis's performance is than we would expect, and how Sally Field's Mary Todd was a balance between depression and pride and possible mental illness but without full-blown craziness. I loved how it never pretended to be making any type of definitive statement about Lincoln or America, and how it was willing to ask questions about Lincoln and what he did. I love the small things, like that brief scene where Lincoln tries to convince a congressman to vote for the Amendment, and the congressman stumbles over the admission, "I am a...prejudiced man." I do wish Spielberg had ended it with that shot of Lincoln walking down the hall and out the White House, but I think this is easily one of Spielberg's best films. Unfortunately none of my friends felt nearly as strongly about the movie as I did, but I can live with the knowledge that I was right.
December 3, Madison Square 8, Huntsville, AL
I could be wrong, but I think it's safe to say that 2012 won't offer an action sequence as unnerving as the plane crash in Flight. I don't fly very often, but this scene made me want to fly even less. Flight itself was interesting and frustrating in the way the ensemble worked together: What exactly can you say (and where can you begin?) about a movie that features vivid and finely-tuned performances like those of James Badge Dale and Tamara Tunie in the same film as an indulgent, completely unmodulated performance like John Goodman's? One that features some perfectly written scenes and sequences alongside awful scenes like Denzel Washington's visit to Brian Geraghty in the hospital? I honestly don't know what to make of this film, other than to say that it was both great and awful, oftentimes in the same scene.
December 16, Monaco Pictures, Huntsville, AL
The duty of friendship calls, and so it was time to accompany Jeremiah and Dusty (and some other friends) to a showing of The Hobbit (in 3D, High Frame Rate), a movie that brings a new definition to the word "indulgent". Peter Jackson simply had no idea how to control his impulse to put every single detail from The Hobbit (and The Simarillion and the appendices to The Lord of the Rings) into the film, and while I don't doubt there is a good three-hour film in Tolkien's The Hobbit, I do doubt that there are three good three-hour films in The Hobbit. No matter how many "adventures" Jackson throws at us, though, it's never going to have anything close to the resonance of The Lord of the Rings because the stakes are so much lower here: those movies were about trying to save the world from evil; this story is about helping some annoying dwarves find gold. I was mostly shocked at how ugly it was visually--the high frame rate (or maybe it was the 3D) made the visual effects look like they were from a video game, and the normal scenes in the Shire looked like outtakes from As the Middle Earth Turns.
December 22, Carmike 10, Huntsville, AL
After deciding that The Perks of Being a Wallflower would probably never come to Huntsville, I was surprised to see it pop up on my IMDb app as one of the movies playing in town. I don't know if it was the print they had or what, but unfortunately there was a loud buzzing noise coming from the screen for the entire that was a major distraction, especially for the first half of the film. Not knowing much about the film going in, I wasn't quite prepared for the variations in tone from very funny to devastatingly sad--towards the end, when I thought the movie was about to fade out, writer/director Stephen Chbosky pulled the rug completely out from under me--but I think I can easily call Perks one of the best teen-themed movies in years, if not decades. And no, I don't feel a bit embarrassed to say that Logan Lerman is the only person who I would consider placing over Daniel Day-Lewis for Best Actor 2012.
December 28, The Belcourt, Nashville, TN
My movie year ended in Nashville, with a pair of Stewart/Hitchcock films: The Man Who Knew Too Much and Vertigo. The prints for these two weren't in the best of shape, varying in quality from reel to reel, and sometimes even from scene to scene, but it was fun to see these two the way audiences 50+ years ago did. I had never seen The Man Who Knew Too Much, so most of its plot twists were new to me, and while it may not be one of Hitchcock's greatest, most consequential films, it's worth it just for that climactic Albert Hall sequence alone. Vertigo I had seen before, but it had been long enough that I had forgotten several key plot points. Safe to say that it's still one of the very best movies ever made about obsession, one that could no doubt reveal new surprises through even back-to-back viewings. It's hard to think of a better way to end 2012.