I don’t usually post my list of favorite and least favorite films until long after awards season has passed. This year, I waited even longer than usual. This is because I was having a hard time coming up with the motivation and enthusiasm to write breakdowns of why I liked or didn’t like a film, how it effected me, etc. Recently I came to accept that I simply have too little desire to commit that much time to such an endeavor, but I would still like to post my list so that it is available for anyone who may be interested.
I will, however, link titles to any posts I wrote about specific films in the past.
As with all lists, this simply reflects what were or were not my favorite films, what films had an impact on me one way or another, whether great or small. There are also titles from 2012 that I have yet to catch up with and, as I do, I will add them to this list where appropriate.
So here ’tis. All lists are alphabetical.
FAVORITE FILMS OF 2012:
AMOUR (2012) 9/10
ANNA KARENINA (2012) 8/10
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012) 8/10
DEEP BLUE SEA (2011-2012 U.S. release) 8/10
HAYWIRE (2012) 9/10
HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, THE (2012) 8/10
KID WITH A BIKE, THE (2011 – 2012 U.S. release) 8.5/10
MAGIC MIKE (2012) 8/10
MARGARET (2011 – 3 HR CUT released to DVD-only in 2012) 10/10
MASTER, THE (2012) 8.5/10
PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, THE (2012) 8.5/10
SAMSARA (2012) 9/10
SPRING BREAKERS (2012) 8/10
TURIN HORSE, THE (2011 – 2012 U.S. release) 8.5/10
2012 FILMS ALSO WORTH SEEING:
ARGO (2012) 7.5/10
BERNIE (2012) 7/10
BRAVE (2012) 7.5/10
CHRONICLE (2012) 7/10
DARK KNIGHT RISES, THE (2012) 7.5/10
END OF WATCH (2012) 7/10
FRANKENWEENIE (2012) 7/10
GREY, THE (2012) 7.5/10
HATFIELDS & MCCOYS (2012 – TV Miniseries) 7/10
HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (2012) 7/10
IMPOSSIBLE, THE (2012) 7.5/10
INTOUCHABLES, THE (2012) 7.5/10
KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012) 7/10
LIFE OF PI – in 3D (2012) 7.5/10
LINCOLN (2012) 7.5/10
LOOPER (2012) 7/10
MOONRISE KINGDOM (2012) 7/10
NOT FADE AWAY (2012) 7/10
PARANORMAN (2012) 7.5/10
PROMISED LAND (2012) 7/10
QUARTET (2012) 7/10
ROYAL AFFAIR, A (2012) 7.5/10
RUST AND BONE (2012) 7/10
SESSIONS, THE (2012) 7/10
SKYFALL (2012) 7.5/10
TALL MAN, THE (2012) 7/10
TO ROME, WITH LOVE (2012) 7.5/10
ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012) 7.5/10
FAVORITE TV OF 2012:
DOWNTON ABBEY SEASON 2 (2011 BBC Mini-series – 2012 U.S release) 9/10
SHADOW LINE, THE (2011 BBC Mini-series – 2012 U.S release) 10/10
SPARTACUS: VENGEANCE (2012– Starz Series) 8/10
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2012:
DJANGO UNCHAINED 4.5/10
HITCHCOCK (2012) 6.5/10
LEAST FAVORITE FILMS OF 2012:
CLOUD ATLAS (2012) 3.5/10 before I gave up 1 hr in.
JOHN CARTER (2012) 3/10
PROMETHEUS (2012) 2 /10
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012) 2.5/10 before I gave up 1 hr in.
BEST OLDER FILMS SEEN FOR FIRST TIME:
ENTER THE VOID (2009) 9/10
GRAND PRIX – in 70mm (1966) 8/10
SUMMER INTERLUDE (1951) 8.5/10
SUMMER WITH MONICA (1953) 9/10
There was a time when American cinema and Hollywood meant something. That time is long gone and empty films like OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL are the hard proof. These types of films have, sadly, become the norm. They also, as it turns out, show us yet another example of how when James Franco is cast in films where he is given nothing to do — no real script, nothing of substance to latch on to — he simply cannot fake it. Like his bored and boring performance in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (read my post on that film HERE). Compare these to the recent SPRING BREAKERS which, like the film or not, shows Franco actually giving a performance. He’s capable of it. But offer him a role in a Hollywood film and he accurately reflects the project’s entirely insipid nature. In many ways, he’s our best barometer for showcasing just how empty Hollywood has become.
More and more of my friends and acquaintances are confessing to no longer being able to conjure the desire to go to the cinema any more; it’s no longer a satisfying experience for so many of us. In fact, it has become, on far too many occasions, a downright depressing experience. Not handing over your hard-earned cash to see these grand and elaborate wastes of time is one of the most powerful statements you can make in opposition to this spiraling trend. Every time you pay to see a film like OZ: THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, you support the creation of more just like it. Which you may be fine with if you like this sort of fare and are enjoying America’s current fling with all things dimensionless.
In conversing the other day with a screenwriting friend who has been taking pitch meetings around town, it seems things have gotten even worse than when I was taking those exact same meetings years ago. Conversations about character no longer have a place; they are fleeting asides to conversations about how many digital teeth a monster might have or how many tentacles. The “people” in the story have become nothing more than catalysts for effects. It used to be the other way around.
Is it that I’ve just become an old man complaining about how much better things were “back in my day?” Perhaps, but I don’t believe that’s truly the issue at hand. It seems to me the Hollywood film industry has fallen victim to the same raging disease that has swept this entire country into a catatonic inability to accomplish almost anything of value. We have fallen behind the rest of the world in so many areas where we once lead the way. The Daily Kos recent comparison of TIME magazine covers in America and abroad is the perfect highlight of our cultural infancy; we are still children in this relatively new country of ours. But it seems the freedoms that once invigorated our countrymen and fed our desire to explore and express ourselves, to stand out and carve new paths, has given way to a capitalist agenda that speaks to the weakest, least developed parts of our psyches. It has literally divided our country. Hopefully, it’s all just a phase, the one step backwards before the two steps forward. Certainly, future historians are going to have a field day with us. Unless, of course, this one step backwards leads to a complete tumble down the stairwell for the entire human race.
I’ve mentioned this little anecdote before, but it bears mentioning yet again here: not too long ago I took a meeting with a producer who had recently produced a major Hollywood action/thriller. It was a film I actively did not like and had been shocked by the sheer lack of logic and basic storytelling qualities inherent in the film. When asked about this, the producer confessed to me that everyone involved with the film was fully aware that the script had no inner logic and oftentimes blatantly broke the rules of the world it had set up. His justification for such blatant storytelling disregard was that they had shown a cut of the film to a test audience and the audience didn’t seem to notice any of these things, so the filmmakers decided that it simply “didn’t matter.” And maybe they were right. Have we bred and raised new generations of Americans for whom the dollar sign is the be-all and end-all of our journey here on earth? Are we systematically eliminating our desire to connect with one another in meaningful and revealing ways?
History shows us that storytelling has always been a profound and integral part of the human experience. So what does it say when our most beloved storytellers no longer know how to tell stories? Or even care?
The Grateful Dead at the Family Dog at the Great Highway August 3, 1969 in San Francisco. An incredible night in its entirety, but this 23 minute Dark Star with violin and saxophone accompaniment by David LaFlamme and Charles Lloyd respectively carries us across entirely new landscapes and over unimaginable peaks. It is a breathtaking auditory odyssey.
Spring 1977 is largely considered one of the Grateful Dead’s best tours. So much so, in fact, there’s a 5 show box set that’s just been released by the Grateful Dead and Rhino (the keepers of the Dead’s massive musical vault) this week. But for me, the magic didn’t end with the completion of the spring ’77 tour. It was simply being ushered in by it. The Dead’s fall tour of that same year, followed by the 4-show New Year’s run at Winterland and into the spring tour of 1978, contains some of my favorite shows of all time. In fact, that Winterland run should be released as its own box set along with the 3-camera black and white video that was shot by the Bill Graham folks. If ever there was a treat for DeadHeads, that would be it. When was the last time you saw Jerry doing Pete Townsend windmills? Sure, the video isn’t up to today’s Hi-Def standards, but it’s still incredibly revealing and energetic and such a rare and beloved piece of history for anyone who loves the Dead that to NOT release it in the best quality possible may actually be considered a hate-crime in some countries.
The tightness and beauty, mixed with a high rockin’ energy that came to characterize the Spring 1977 tour, only intensified as the year rolled forward. Garcia seemed uncontainable throughout this period: wide grins and guitar-slams so intense and heartfelt you’d think Garcia was trying to make the music reverberate straight through the center of the earth itself. And perhaps it did. The fierceness with which Garcia played throughout this period brought the band to new heights and each and every member of this touring circus rose up to meet Garcia. Sometimes the effect was less “tight” than they had been in the past, but the savage joy that took its place fills me to the core.
One such show was the Dead’s final show of their 1977 Fall tour. The Dead always loved playing New York and the Broome County Arena in Binghamton was no exception. This gig not only closed the tour, but an astounding three-night N.Y. run.
The first set is so magnificently tight and masterful. And the soundboard recording available streaming on Archive.org is one of the most beautiful mixes I have ever heard. Each and every instrument is clear in the mix. Vocals are sharp and confident in a way that is rare for Dead recordings of any kind. And Garcia’s voice is so soft and melodic with traces of that early 70′s Garcia sound. Keith is uncharacteristically high in the mix and it is such a joy to hear what he is doing here. His contribution to the band’s sound is unparalleled. And to hear the nuances and intricate exclamation points created by Bobby will make your hairs stand on end (in that good way). Even Donna, who many complain was off-key more often than not, is in prime and delicate form here. If you ever wondered why Jerry loved singing with Donna so much, this recording and show will answer that question for you.
The second set isn’t as tight as the first. Some botched lines and slightly less-certain moments do crop up, but they are met with laughter and some of the most creative work-arounds I have ever heard, eliciting even more energy and commitment from the boys. It’s a show that one simply cannot stop listening to.
The show’s opening MISSISSIPPI HALFSTEP is among the best I’ve ever heard. So much pure energy and storytelling, it threatens to blow the roof off the place. This is followed by one of the best JACK STRAWS I have ever heard (in my opinion, Spring 1978 was the peak for JACK STRAWS so this is on the precipice of that moment in time). I would dare say that most every song in this first set is in competition for best version ever. If it’s not the best, it’s among the top 5. The MINGLEWOOD/DUPREES DIAMOND BLUES combo alone makes it all worthwhile. And the MUSIC NEVER STOPPED closer just lilts and roars.
The Sunday-appropriate SAMSON opener for the second set shows that the boys hadn’t lost their energy during the break. And Donna’s SUNRISE may make believers out of non-believers. One of the best ever. The SCARLET-FIRE that follows is not as tight as the rest of the show (though it’s no slouch!) with Jerry forgetting lines and even disappearing for a while (broken string? Bathroom break?), but this just spurs on more creativity and a clear desire to make up for lost time. Once the boys kick into GOOD LOVIN’ and then ST. STEPHEN, we’re off and running again straight through to the end of the show and a rockin’ TRUCKIN’ set closer.
There’s just something about this era for the Grateful Dead that moves me. Hell, there’s something about every era of the Dead that moves me, but this period speaks to something deep inside, something primal. It encapsulates both the grace, beauty and ferociousness that I most love about the Grateful Dead, mixed with the potent suspense and fire that is created out of risk and that the boys did so well when they allowed themselves to be vulnerable. All the while maintaining the musical clarity that came with being professional musicians at the top of their game.
If you’re less accustomed to this period of the band than others, or simply don’t know the band all that well, give this show a try. Not only might it knock yer socks off, but it will give you a prime example of why the Grateful Dead are considered such a wide mix of American musical styles in a way few bands have ever been. And why they are, still to this day, considered one of the greatest live bands in musical history and of such profound cultural importance. Not to mention, why they bring so many of us so much unabashed joy.
The Urban Dictionary describes Douchebaggery as:
1) The philosophy held by douchebags, holding that no one other than themselves (or perhaps their close associates) matters in the least bit, and thus that other human beings can and should be treated like complete excrement for little or no reason (and often for selfish reasons). Closely related to fascism, which has been practiced by control freaks such as Adolf Hitler.
2) The act of putting this philosophy into practice.
The following is an example of some profound L.A. douchebaggery (which is a particular subset of the standard douchebaggery).
Our tale begins at the L.A. Farmer’s Market, a place I’ve been going to for many years. It is a permanent haven of glorious foods and beverages. An L.A. landmark, to be sure. It’s a great meeting place for friends or casual business associates, for drinks, music or a place to read or write. Sadly, it’s next to the far newer outdoor mall-from-Hell known as The Grove. In truth, The Grove is more than a mall. It’s a malignant tumor both culturally, artistically and socially. But let’s not delve any deeper into that today. Suffice it to say that I think of the Farmer’s Market as being far less trendy than its neighboring Grove (though the trendy types do accidentally wander in from time to time, their inner GPS momentarily failing to warn them of the bewildering landscape ahead). The atmosphere is definitely more bohemian at the Farmer’s Market and social status seems far less relevant there somehow (as a result, those rare, disoriented souls almost always find their way rather quickly to the nearest exit and return from whence they came).
Here are the events I experienced today, on this seemingly ordinary sunny Southern California morn, of a particular douchebag who laid claim to the Farmer’s Market as his own personal stomping ground:
I arrive at the Farmer’s Market with my dog Gus. I sit down at an empty table. There’s what looks to be an old discarded newspaper on the table. I’m waiting for a friend. I’m early. I take a seat at the table and settle in. I read my book for a while, work on the computer, check email. After about 20 minutes, my friend arrives. She grabs us some coffee and we talk for about 10 minutes. Ironically, our discussion centers around how some folks in L.A. don’t know how to interact with other human beings in a respectful, healthy manner, how L.A. oftentimes attracts some pretty dysfunctional people who seem to have an overwhelming disregard for others (see douchebaggery above).
As if on cue, a young man walks up to our table and places his plastic cup of bright red juice down on it and proclaims that this is, in fact, his table. He says it in such a way that both my friend and I are a bit confused, but he doesn’t seem to be aggressive or crazy. Maybe this is just where he usually sits. He takes a piece of the newspaper and starts to read it standing up. I tell him to feel free to take the entire paper and he informs me that this newspaper is his. Then he goes to a nearby occupied table, asks the folks sitting there if he can use their free chair, they say yes and he brings it over to our table and sits down and stares at us. I inform him that I have been sitting there for nearly half an hour and he, unwilling to leave, informs me that he got there first and thought leaving the newspaper there was enough to let people know that this table was taken. I tell him that many people leave discarded newspapers on tables when they are done and, since no one was sitting here but me for the past half hour, that there was no reason I should have assumed this table was taken.
I should say, at this point, that the table next to us was empty. He could have sat mere inches away from where he had placed his newspaper down in what was clearly a failed social experiment. But instead, he opts to try and intimidate us out of there by simply being an entitled prick. He could have even asked us to move, which would have been weird, but at least friendly, respectful. He could have explained that he worked at the establishment that this table was in front of and would really appreciate us letting him sit there (and no, the table was not reserved for patrons of that establishment). In fact, there were a million ways this guy could have handled this situation as a decent human being with some measure of tolerance and respect for others. But instead, he acted as if he’d been wronged. As if we’d sat there with complete disregard for him, as if it were a personal “Fuck You.” My friend and I did move to the other table as we really didn’t want to make a scene over a table (though I was tempted). We did, however, talk extra loudly about how there are so many douchebags in L.A. and how the guy at the next table was the perfect example of why this town can suck.
Yes, I do know that there are many good people in L.A. Yes, there are douchebags to be found in every corner of the globe. But somehow this guy walking up and vomiting his dysfunction all over two strangers enjoying coffee and conversation in the moment that we were discussing such matters and how they pertain to L.A. life and lifestyle, seemed just a bit too coincidental for me not to question it as a message from the universe, if the universe is inclined to send such messages. In truth, I don’t believe the universe is so inclined, but events like this make me question my own beliefs.
L.A. may not lay claim of ownership to douchebaggery, but they do have their own specific breed of them and the town does seem to be a magnet of sorts for such reptilian creatures.
For the record and as a sort of “public-service”, I feel the need to share that the establishment this individual represents is known as The Barber Shop Club. I cannot say what the other employees of this establishment are like. They may well all be extremely nice individuals with a great respect for others. But based on this one unpleasant soul, I would say to any self-respecting individual with expectations of being treated even remotely as a human being (if I were to be asked) to take your chances elsewhere and to actively avoid such an establishment and warn friends and loved ones to do the same. Unless, of course, you are the adventurous type and want to possibly come face-to-face with a real, live, honest-to-goodness douchebag. But be warned, they are more tolerable from a distance.
This is a daring and insightful speech given by Steven Soderbergh last week at SFIFF. It is one of the most perceptive and articulate commentaries on the state of cinema today and the difference between “cinema” and “movies.” For me, personally, it encapsulates so much of what I have been writing about for years and captures the very essence of why I started Off Leash Films and what I hope to achieve.
This speech comes at a perfect time for me as I have been engaged in conversation with a young filmmaker who recently commented on one of my older posts. The following is a response to several of his questions to me regarding editing choices I made on THE PLAGUE: WRITERS & DIRECTOR’S CUT and my approach and attitude toward making films and whether or not I consider the audience ahead of time:
Question: Hal, one question my friend, did you make the film for you or for the audience? That is what all filmmakers need to ask themselves. I agree with you, I need to see both films from beginning to end to judge and compare, also I’m sure the producers have taken away your characters and their emotions and made it all prokat – a recipe that works generally. I’m only saying I preferred the points where the film cut. The tightness of the shots and the fact that when it didn’t intercut it rounded up my emotional tension which is what I needed.
…I ‘m only young and learning and grown up with the fast cutting generation and think films like Amour are nerve wracking and should be respectful to the current audience and include editing – what is your view of films like Amour or Angelopoulos’s style? I love Fincher, hate Tarantino, love Attenborough, Altman, Nolan, Bergman… I love a good film, I don’t like self-indulgence and auteurs that do film only for themselves and just happen to have a good pr company behind them. I met Lars Von trier and he was horrible to us young students , full of pretentiousness and up his own. But I met Scorsese as well and he was amazing and helpful. It’s truth that I have learned from your site and take on board what you say about the intention. How do you know your intention? You shoot A and you edit B and on the way you might like C… is it always defined? Should it? If you were to do Plague again what would you do differently?
Answer: My answer is very simple: I don’t have an audience that is specific or makes any demands. I make films for myself WITH the knowledge that I am not so unique or unusual that I am going to alienate most or all of the human race. My audience are the people who will be moved and/or effected by my films and want to see more. Plain and simple. I am not a director for hire. If I were, then I would have to consider what the audience is that the producers want to reach if that is their goal. If I direct a pre-existing comic book or a James Bond film, then, yes, I must consider the audience. But if I’m making films that are an expression of who I am and tell the stories I have a need to tell and offer the experience that I want to put out there, then considering some non-existent audience makes no sense. The last thing I want to do is second-guess other people and decide what they might or might not like, what they might or might not “get.” Then I am not honoring anyone, least of all myself.
Hollywood has trained many filmmakers to think in terms of audience (males 16-25, for example). This has nothing to do with filmmaking for me. That is marketing and when marketing dictates what kind of films you make and how you are going to make them, the work itself becomes that much less personal and, as a result, that much less daring. Vittorio De Sica once said, “Art has to be severe. It cannot be commercial. It cannot be for the producer or even for the public. It has to be for oneself.” So I guess the question you need to ask is are you a director for hire or someone who has a vision they want/need to explore and share? Both are completely valid approaches. But they are not the same.
As for the directors you mentioned, AMOUR was one of my favorite films from last year. I love Haneke. I wouldn’t have changed a frame, not a beat. My other favorite from last year was the 3-hour cut of Kenneth Lonergan’s MARGARET. The year before that TREE OF LIFE and MELANCHOLIA. So yes, I love Von Trier. And I don’t care whether he is a nice guy or not. That has no bearing on the effectiveness of his work for me. And you used the term “self-indulgence” negatively. Yet I think it’s a requirement for making any kind of art. Who are we supposed to indulge in making art if not ourselves? An audience? The audience finds the art, not the other way around. At least as I see it. Coppola is still one of my heroes and his approach to filmmaking now is absolutely thrilling to me. My favorite Coppola is still THE CONVERSATION. You like Bergman. He is one of my favorite filmmakers. He did NOT make films for an audience. An audience found his films. For him, it was about him and his actors telling stories. In a way that moved and excited them.
I think Theo Angelopolis’ LANDSCAPE IN THE MIST is one of the most beautiful and moving films I’ve ever seen. Yes, I get why some people find his films too slow, same with Tarkovsky films, but I adore them. They “speak” to me. They move me to tears, excite me in their artistry, in their ability to express and touch me. Ridley Scott, on the other hand, bores me now. He made 3 amazing films early on and the rest feel very empty to me. That does not mean they are empty, only empty to me. His recutting of ALIEN removed the very thing I found to be most effective and daring about his original cut. But several years ago he went back and “picked up the pace.” Shame. He didn’t even see what he had done and why it was considered so amazing by so many. He is a filmmaker whose instincts I no longer trust. I have met the man. I have had story meetings with him. He’s very nice. I enjoyed his company. But his ideas bore me, as do most of his films.
For me, THE PLAGUE needed to linger on the moments that resonated for me. That is the experience that I wanted to share. What happens in those moments and the feelings that come up for people experiencing that. However, it will not be the same experience for everyone. Another reason I do not consider the audience or allow them to dictate my creative decisions. I have no control over what individuals bring into the screening room with them. To try and second-guess that I see as a futile mission and one that has no appeal to me.
My desire, as well, with the editing of THE PLAGUE was to juxtapose certain images and themes, to suggest directly and subconsciously the connection between the kids and the adults. Every cut is made with purpose. Each has something to say, something that is nonexistent in the producers’ cut, which ONLY wanted to make a film with action and bloodshed. A killer-kid film. They wanted to answer as many questions as quickly as possible which, for me, reduces tension. That is something that I have no desire to be a part of. Nor do I find that to be effective in any meaningful way. I believe my cut is more frightening because of what it conjures up under the surface, those feelings that we don’t initially understand, but that rise to the surface nonetheless. I also believe that allows my cut to linger with its audience far longer than the other cut. But that is, as you know, also dependent on who is watching and what kind of experience they are open to. Again, something I have no control over nor do I have a desire to control.
You asked me what I would change if I could do THE PLAGUE again. Ironically, I would think less about audience reaction and more about what moved me personally. I would not have wasted precious energy on worrying about what others might think or how it fit into genre expectations. I would have made the film even more visceral, more abstract. I would have also trusted my instincts about the people I was working with and not talked myself out of taking the project elsewhere when I had the opportunity. And I would have never allowed myself to be talked (threatened) into miscasting the leads which, no matter how I cut the film, will always bog it down and dramatically lessen its impact. The film can never rise above the fact that they were miscast, that they were there to appease Sony’s marketing department despite the fact that they were not who or what we imagined in those roles, nor were they capable of pulling it off to the level that the film and story required in order to be what we intended and hoped the film would be.
There are so many quotes by so many artists that speak to me personally. They mirror my own feelings and articulate my own personal discoveries. They are also full of lessons and instigate thought. I want more from my films, both those I make and those I watch, than perhaps some others out there. That seems to be the case. But I also know that I am not “special.” There are so many people out there yearning and searching for the same artistic storytelling experiences that I am. Now maybe that’s not the majority of male 16-25 year olds (though it might be as so many films supposedly geared toward that audience still bomb), but I trust that what I want to say and how I want to say it has an audience. All I need do is be true to myself and follow my instincts and my passions. I feel no need to attract the largest audience possible. I am also not looking to make films for the studios or work with a budget of $200 million. So I have the luxury of not having to worry about such distracting things as what others might think and that someone might not like or respond positively to something I do. There are more than enough people who will have the opposite reaction, or simply their own complex reaction. I know what moves and effects me and that’s what drives me. I’ve written a fair amount about all this. You can find some of it at my production company site:
I suggest reading the list of quotes there as I have personally found so many of them to be inspiring and deeply insightful.
And some other blog posts I’ve written that may or may not be of interest to you. Either way, they do articulate in more detail what I have been trying to say above. And probably more accurately. If you want to read them, they are here: