The end of the year is just around the corner, which means it’s time for a bunch of lazy journalists to do their year-end best and worst lists. But why should they have all the fun? I’m lazy too. And I’ve established an award for this stuff two years in a row now–the TDYLFie. I’m going to capitalize on that laziness for an easy article. First, let’s establish some scope. I don’t see nearly enough new releases to make any sort of reasonable “Best/Worst of This Year” list. Thus, this list will be comprised of movies that I’ve seen this year only, which will run the gamut from era to era, genre to genre, and on and on. In reality, this is more of a list about my own experience watching movies this year than it is about anything that was released in this year. Without further delay, here is the awards program for the 3rd Annual TDYLFies.
The “Why the Hell Did I Wait So Long to Watch This?” Award
Real Life (1979) and other works of Albert Brooks
It all started on a chilly February night when I watched Lost in America (1985) starring Albert Brooks. Within two months, I’d seen every Albert Brooks film I could get my hands on. His films weren’t always great but his humor always was. My favorite was Real Life, Brooks’ way-ahead-of-its-time take on reality TV and modernist (or post-modernist?) humor. Uh… spoilers, I guess:
The “Why the Hell Did I Wait So Long to Watch This?” Award (Foreign Edition)
Pedro Almodovar films
Technically, I only watched two Almodovar films this year- Talk to Her (2002) and The Skin I Live In (2011). I walked away completely impressed. So impressed, in fact, that… uh… I didn’t watch any more than those two. Rest assured, Almodovar is on my radar now and he wasn’t before. I had mostly avoided Almodovar prior to Talk to Her. It was only after seeing those two movies that I realized the error of my ways and now I’m anxious to see more. Runner-up in this category goes to Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972) and Costa-Gavras’ Z (1969).
Best Lesser-Known, Low-Budget, or International Horror Film
Tie: Kill List (2011) and V/H/S (2012)
One of my favorite movie-watching joys is discovering genuinely good lesser-known or low-budget movies, especially in the horror genre. It’s the same joy you felt as a kid when you found Easter eggs hidden in the grass. Or in my case, when you found Easter eggs that your brothers hid in piles of dog shit. No, seriously- that’s a thing my older brothers did, and it’s hilarious in retrospect. But I digress. Kill List is the best kind of slow burn horror, wherein tension builds for 85% of the film and then all hell breaks loose at the end. I suppose it’s a love it or hate it kind of movie. Obviously, I loved it. As for V/H/S, you have to love that some of the young turks of the horror genre all collaborated to build their very own special nod to horror. If the horror genre features more work like each of these individual shorts, then horror has a bright future.
Most Unexpected Surprise
The Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
This movie had two big strikes against it right from the start. It was a musical, and it was made by Brian DePalma. I appreciate that some people like those things, but they’re not exactly my cup of tea. Imagine my surprise when I went bananas for The Phantom of the Paradise. Whether it was Winslow Leach in his goofy falcon helmet/mask, the odd effectiveness of the glam rock atmosphere, or the nods to a ton of classic films, this movie has stuck with me like no other movie this year. What I like best about my reaction to this film is how perfect it works as an indicator of what my 2012 was all about- breaking down walls and learning to like things that are out of my comfort zone. The runner-up in this category is Auntie Mame (1958), which is a feel-good movie with themes that border on nauseating, but it’s so well-done that I didn’t mind it for a second. Rather, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Best Giant Cube Full of Hilariously Used Clichéd Horror Stuff
The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
There’s a scene in The Cabin in the Woods where you see a giant white board full of potential horror villains. It’s loaded with monsters like “Dismemberment Goblins”, “Sexy Witches”, “Hell Lord”, and “Zombie Redneck Torture”. The list is hilarious on so many levels. First and foremost, it hammers home how formulaic the horror genre can be. Second, the phrasing is perfect. Dismemberment goblins? I’m all in. But most importantly, it’s all a set-up for a stunningly comprehensive finale featuring an orgy of horror villainy.
Best Studio Discovered
Let’s keep this short and sweet. If you like anthologies and horror, specifically British horror, then you owe it to yourself to check out Amicus. Tales From the Crypt (1972) is a great place to start if you’re so inclined.
Best Viewing Experience
Cinema St. Louis’ George Méliès Program
On one magical night this past July, I traveled back in time to the birthplace of cinema and witnessed the same short films that the very first filmgoers witnessed from 1896 to 1903. The evening was highlighted by Georges Méliès’ legendary A Trip to the Moon, and was punctuated by 12 other short films from Méliès. I’ve never seen anything like it in a theater. That fact alone is tremendously noteworthy. But the context in which I saw the films adds so much more. It happened the same day that James Holmes turned movie magic into a movie nightmare. If ever there was a day that positive movie vibes were needed, that was it. And seemingly by divine providence, waiting for me at Webster University here in St. Louis on that same night, was movie magic. It’s an empty platitude in the face of what happened in Aurora that same day, but it was therapeutic.
Best Movie News Resource For Reasons That I Never Mentioned
Way back in July, a really bizarre story unfolded. The first reviews for The Dark Knight Rises came out, and some of them were negative. A handful of fans of Christopher Nolan’s superhero trilogy lost their mind, and started threatening the critics who had given their beloved film a negative review. Personally, I thought they were insane, and I expressed that sentiment by creating a very tongue-in-cheek Five Stages of Coping With a Negative Dark Knight Rises Review. By dumb luck, my favorite movie writer, Peter Hall, picked it up and ran it over at movies.com . Within 24 hours, I received a call from National Public Radio (NPR). They wanted to interview me about the massive hype surrounding the film. With the help of my friend John, on the same day his second child was born no less, I did an interview with NPR. You have no idea how much that flatters me.
But then the rest of the story unfolded. James Holmes orchestrated his nightmare and NPR’s story about wacky internet reactions (properly) shifted to the horrible news in Aurora. My interview never aired, and I’m glad it didn’t because it would’ve been completely out of place in light of what happened. And that’s why I never mentioned it here. I was ecstatic to be interviewed by NPR, but how on earth could I possibly mention it when it’d never air and when such horrific things had happened?
Best Last Words
Jackie in Killing Them Softly (2012)
Apparently, Killing Them Softly is a divisive film. A lot of critics like to point out that it’s lacking in subtlety. My counter-point would be that it was never interested in subtlety. Director Andrew Dominik had something to say, and he made damned sure the viewer heard it. Frankly, I loved the bejeezus out of this movie. And the best parts were the opening credits sequence, and the last word(s). I’m not even going to tell you what was said or the context. Go figure it out for yourself. You may hate me for pushing you towards that film but I’d bet you’ll want to discuss it when it’s done.