With less than a month to go before top ten lists are due, time is running out to catch up with the best movies of the year. From now until the end of December, I'll be posting weekly updates about what I watch and whether I think it stands a chance to make my — or your — best films of 2012. This week I watched:
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Criticwire Average: B (out of 60 critics)
After eight years lost in the uncanny valley of motion capture, Robert Zemeckis returns to the land of the living (and live-action filmmaking) and immediately reminds you that the guy who made "Back to the Future" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" was kind of an amazing director. The opening plane crash of "Flight" is a knockout — brilliantly staged, shot, and edited, and so insanely visceral I instinctively grabbed my wife's hand as we were watching this screener. Any list of the best scenes of 2012 that doesn't include that crash is not to be trusted. Sadly — for "Flight" as well as its hero, Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) — it's all downhill from there. Though Whitaker's heroic actions save his plane after a mechanical failure at 30,000 feet, his blood alcohol level was still twice the legal limit when it happened. Whitaker has his union's backing (represented by Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle), but that may not be enough to save his job if he can't finally admit he has a drinking problem and clean up his act. Screenwriter John Gatins essentially uses the trajectory of the doomed flight to foreshadow Whitaker's own character arc: smooth sailing one second, hurtling uncontrollably towards disaster the next. Unfortunately, Whip's predictable and frustratingly static battle with his inner demons is often only watchable because of Washington's soulful performance; the events of the film's final courtroom hearing are so patently absurd they would be laughable if not for a stupendous sell job by Denzel. The film really is like that plane crash: Washington saves the day, but just barely.
Will it Wind Up On My Top Ten List? No, but I wouldn't begrudge anyone who backs Washington for Best Actor.
Could It End Up On Yours? Doubtful, unless you're a real junkie for addiction stories.
Where Can You Watch It? In theaters.
My Criticwire Grade: B-
I've been hearing about this film from admiring colleagues for a while, particularly about one specific blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment that supposedly transforms the plot's entire dynamics around its midpoint. Thankfully, no one spoiled just what the moment in question was, and I have to admit that after months of buildup it did not disappoint — although other parts of "The Loneliest Planet" did. Here is the scenario: Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg), engaged and very much in love, are backpacking around Georgia on vacation. They head up into the mountains with a local guide (Bidzina Gujabidze), and for a long time, everything is beautiful, peaceful, happy, and calm. Then that infamous moment occurs and everything about the relationships between these three people change forever. The main problem: the key scene everyone talks about is perfectly economical, while the rest of the movie is sprawling and ponderous. You keep waiting for some kind of serious fallout from this incident but it never comes. I don't need Alex and Nica to sit down and talk about their feelings — but I also don't need to watch them break down a couple of tents for ten minutes (the metaphor is clear after the first two). Those thirteen mind-blowing seconds in the middle are rightfully acclaimed. The 113 minutes around them, while absolutely gorgeous, could have used a little trimming.
Will it Wind Up On My Top Ten List? It's not looking too likely.
Could It End Up On Yours? It wouldn't shock me — this movie has some very passionate supporters.
Where Can You Watch It? On demand.
My Criticwire Grade: B
This is Not a Film
Directed by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
Criticwire Average: A- (out of 42 critics)
Facing a six year prison sentence and a twenty year filmmaking ban, Iranian director Jafar Panahi sits in his apartment under house arrest. He's been expressly barred from directing or writing — but no one said anything about acting or reading from screenplays he'd already written. With the help of a documentarian friend, Panahi uses his living room, a few chairs, and a roll of yellow tape to explain his vision for a movie he will likely never get to make. Over the course of an afternoon and evening, Panahi discusses his screenplay, talks with his lawyer, drinks tea, pals around with his family's pet iguana, and makes one of the most boldly and brilliantly subversive films I have ever seen. Stripped of almost all of his resources, he still finds ways to remain truthful to his reality-bending aesthetic, pausing to reflect on the phoniness of staged scenes and to compare his current legal situation to characters from his past movies by pulling them from his DVD collection (where a copy of the Ryan Reynolds film "Buried" sits in a place of prominence, silently voicing Panahi's rage and frustration). Panahi and Mirtahmasb repeatedly make reference to the fact that they never shut off the camera, which might be another attempt to exploit a legal loophole or a symbolic gesture from an artist who refuses to be buried.
Will it Wind Up On My Top Ten List? Yes.
Could It End Up On Yours? Yup.
Where Can You Watch It? In theaters.
My Criticwire Grade: A
Read more of my Catch-Up Capsules.