The Movie Man; Four films in 2012 you might have missed
January 2, 2013 By Tim Fak, I said last week that I’ve had a lot of fun over the past year writing this column, and I meant that. The part of that that’s hard for me to believe is that I have in fact been writing this column for the better part of a year; time flys I guess. This week I was faced with a rather interesting challange, what to do for my final column of 2012. I had considered going with the old film critic’s standby of a “top 10” list, but frankly there’s still way too many 2012 films that I haven’t been able to see, and in all likelyhood won’t catch up with all the ones on my list until sometime next summer. Therefore, I’ve decided to devote this week’s edition of The Movie Man to a few hidden gems that you probably didn’t see this past year, but which you might want to catch up on sometime.
For this first film, I’m cheating just a bit because it was technically produced last year, but got its wide US release last year. Made in Iran (which in case you don’t know actually has a pretty lively and thriving film industry), this film is a heart wrenching drama of a couple undergoing the stress of a marital breakdown, as well as the stresses of everyday life. The meat of the plot is provided by a sort of legal mystery that’s as taut and tense as any US made legal thriller I’ve seen. I can’t really explain the details without spoiling large sections of the film, but as mysteries go, it’s a darn good one, and with a conclusion I never suspected to boot. It’s got a lot to say about life, the nature of morality, and also some insights into the culture of modern Iran and its people. What really stuck with me about this film though is the way it treats its characters. Every single person in the film is a fully formed human being with realistic and understandable motives. I really felt for all these people, and was rooting for each of them by the end. This one may be a bit out of your comfort zone, but it’s a truly outstanding film to experience.
"The Queen of Versailles"
This one is a documentary that follows well known, and sometimes controversial, business magnate David Siegel and his wife Jackie as they build what’s purported to be the largest private residence ever in North America, and perhaps the entire world, and the subsequent failure of that project. In a year when the political phrase “the 1%ers” crept into our political lexicon, here’s a film about the “1% of the 1%”. Given the subject matter, and the tone of our times, I expected the film to be somewhat political, but it’s really not (or at least not as much as would be expected) Although, it’s obvious at times that the filmmakers don’t agree with Siegel’s views, they also paint a picture of a man who comes across as surprisingly sympathetic and sometimes even down to earth, especially when the film begins to deal with the housing meltdown that scotches a great many of Siegel’s plans and puts his overall finances into a percarious situation. Fairly fast moving and engaging for a documentary, The Queen of Versailles is a fascinating look at both the rarefied echelons of our society, and many of our current economic troubles.
"Friends with Kids"
My third entry is a light, engaging comedy from writer/director Jennifer Westfeldt, who has been called “the female Woody Allen” for her verbose comedies set in New York. While I’m not sure I fully agree with the comparisons to Allen, I do see where they’re coming from, and this film is certainly a comedy done in a somewhat similar style. This outing concerns two career driven upper class New Yorkers who decide to have and co parent a child together, so as to theoretically skip all the emotional distress they see in their married friends with kids, (hence the title.) The film is a little drawn out, and I thought it ended on a far too predicable note, but overall I did enjoy it. It shares most of its cast with Bridesmaids, so if you like that film and are looking for a new comedy, this one is probably a good bet. Like I said, don’t expect an all time comedy classic, but this is a nice enough little comedy that should at least make you laugh.
It may seem odd to include a relatively big budget action shoot-em-up on this list, but this one flew very much under the radar, and I’ve seen more than a few critics call it the best action film of the year in year end articles so I thought I’d include it (although for the record, I don’t personally consider it the best action film of 2012.) Dredd is the second cinematic adaptation of popular British comic book hero Judge Dredd (perhaps you remember the poorly received 1995 version?), and is much, much closer to the source material than its predecessor. Set in a post apocalyptic future, the story follows lawman Judge Dredd as he embarks on a dangerous mission to guide a rookie to safety and secure a hyper violent vertical slum from a drug lord. The plot is really just a pretext for violence and action, but it’s very good action and is sure to entertain fans of the genre and of the comic. Dredd is played this time out by the awesome Karl Urban, who really ups his game here and proves his action hero credentials. Like I said, nothing here but a fairly standard action film, but a good one, and one that didn’t get the release or reception it deserved.
So there you have it, four films I enjoyed this year that flew low on the radar. Overall, I thought this year was pretty good for film, and produced an above average crop of good (and great) films in a variety of genres, including a few not generally known for their quality. Hopefully there’s something on this list to suit your tastes, and I look forward to a sterling 2013 here at the Movie Man.