Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 - Top Ten Movies (Honorable Mention)

Well, I think if I wait to see Zero Dark Thirty, I'll never get around to my Top Ten Movie List, so I'm just going to roll with what I've seen so far. And I'll start with the Honorable Mentions.

While I'm here, I'd like to point out an interesting development in the mainstream film industry. In the past, the major studios would dump their worst, most pointless, most disappointing movies during the winter months of January-March. I always thought this was bad practice. I mean, what else are people going to do during the winter months? Going to the movies strikes me as a decent winter activity. I always suspected that releasing decent movies with broad appeal during the barren winter months could do extremely well. There is a not insignificant portion of the population (cough, cough, me) that, ya know, likes going to movies! We go the movies as a matter of routine. But we won't go if you are only releasing the most egregious crap dredged from the bottom-of-the-barrel. So these winter months always struck me as a marketing opportunity. I'm not sure if it's accidental or not, but Hollywood seems to have gotten the message. Taken probably started the trend and interesting, well-acted movies like Safe House continued it. There are dollars to be made at the box office during this season. As evidence, look at the upcoming slate of January-March releases.

  • Gangster Squad - Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn
  • Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters - Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton
  • A Good Day to Die Hard - Bruce Willis
  • Jack the Giant Slayer - Ewan McGregor (Director Brian Singer)
  • Oz The Great and Powerful - James Franco, Mila Kunis (Director Sam Raimi)
These strike me as movies with a solid pedigree and decent box-office potential. [Important Editor's Note - I probably won't see any of these] Now, to some extent, I'm sure some of them are being unceremoniously dumped into the winter months because of a disappointing finished product. For example, I seem to recall Hansel & Gretel getting some buzz about a year ago during the briefly-lived Jeremy Renner era, but the current trailer looks awful. But I think releasing Die Hard in February is an excellent decision. It's a significantly faded brand, but a lot of people will probably go to see it because it's competing against some terrible shit. Die Hard in February is an event. Die Hard during the summer gets buried in the shuffle.

Onto the honorable mentions. First Up -

Django Unchained

Definitely my most surprising Honorable Mention. Going into the movie, I would have bet $1,000 that Django would have cracked my Top Ten list. And it's entirely possible it may crack my Top Ten list one day in the future. I hold Inglorious Basterds in infinitely higher esteem today then I did the night I saw it in the theaters. But Django disappointed me in a few ways. 

One, the main character was perhaps only the third or fourth most compelling character in the film. That's a problem. The good guy protagonist doesn't always need to carry the movie. Antagonists can do that (see Heath Ledger, the Joker). But he needs to be more compelling than his sidekick. In this film, Christoph Waltz gets the better of Jamie Foxx in every way. That's not really Foxx's fault. But as written, Waltz's Dr. King Schultz is just an inherently more interesting character - he gets the punchlines and moral cleanliness that probably, in a more traditional narrative, would be reserved for the villain and the hero respectively. 

Django also lacked the dialogue-driven humor and quiet suspense that powered QT's greatest films and most memorable scenes. Barring one awesomely hilarious scene poking fun at an impromptu KKK iteration, nothing in Django compares to the Michael Fassbender scene in Basterds, any of the Uma Thurman-David Carradine scenes in Kill Bill vol. 2, the Lucy Liu introduction in Kill Bill vol. 1, or pretty much anything in Pulp Fiction

Uncharacteristically, I thought the music in Django was awful. The inconsistency between musical genres from one scene to the next drove this viewer to distraction and threatened the movie's connective thread. Generally, I enjoy QT's eclectic musical choices and many of the most iconic QT scenes are driven by his musical selections (Stuck in the Middle With You, Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon, Battle Without Honor or Humanity). But man, there was no connecting thread across genres in this movie. It really threw me off from moment to moment. 

Lastly, as mentioned in other reviews, this movie could have ended about thirty minutes earlier. I don't mind long movies. When I pay $12 for a movie, I don't mind if I get three hours for my money. But there is no reason to set-up the ending for your movie, delay it for thirty minutes, and then deliver the same ending the audience expected. It's utterly pointless. 

However, I do award Django bonus points for creating the most likable German character in my cinematic viewing history (allowing for the possibility that a non-Nazi filmmaker has portrayed Germans positively in a movie I haven't seen). As a German-American, I'm used to (and not opposed) to seeing my antecedents predominantly depicted as history's greatest monsters (pre-Jimmy Carter). I can honestly say a core component of my political identity is a genuine fear of excessive national pride and patriotism. Having seen what Germans are capable of, I continually view tribalism as a extremely dangerous form of social identity, and I try to avoid it when possible. That being said, it was legitimately nice to see a positive German role model. Yes, he was a bounty hunter, but he also demonstrated a moral integrity that exceeded that of anyone else on the screen, including Django. As someone who is used to seeing Germans depicted poorly on-screen (again, I repeat, I have no problem with that. It is an important historical reminder, perhaps the most important historical reminder), this was a welcome development. It appears some of us are redeemable. Yay!


  1. Yep, Django isn't a bad movie but it is just frustrating in its non-greatness. Merge the two endings and that alone might have pushed it up into my top ten. Now I sit in anticipation of your list.

    Anyway, I've found January especially to be the month of Oscars overflow, so we get Zero Dark Thirty for example. That's what really makes the months manageable.

  2. You seem to have waited to see ZDT and also never have gotten around to doing a top ten list.