Monday, January 14, 2013

2012 Denny Awards - Part 1 - Best Films

Part 1/3 of my Annual "Denny Awards" ;-)
(Other Years' Awards)

Part I - Best Films of 2012
Part II - Most Compelling Performances (Male)
Part III - Most Compelling Performances (Female)

       Winners -       
             Brave [2012] PG / A-II - 4 Stars - More for families with girls as the lead character is a girl.  However, her toddler triplet brothers are hilarious as well.
             Frankenweenie [2012] - PG / A-I - 3 1/2 Stars - More for families with boys as except for the mom, there are almost no girls in the story.  HOWEVER both lead character little Victor Frankenstein and his best friend/nerdy/and yes "kinda creepy" Edgar E. Gore are just great ;-)
       Honorable Mentions -
              Dr. Seuss' The Lorax [2012] - G / A-I - 4 Stars - Can't go wrong with Dr. Seuss ;-)
              Chimpanzee [2012] - G / A-1 - 3 Stars - Cute nature film about a baby chimpanzee who gets adopted by the clan leader after his mother dies.
              Wreck-It Ralph [2012] - PG / A-II - 4 Stars - If Brave is a "mother/daughter" sort of a film, Wreck-It Ralph is a "father/adoptive daughter" sort of one.  One of the best original child oriented animated films of recent years.
               The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure [2012] - G / A-I - 3 Stars - Okay, it's super-commercial (and made by the makers of the Teletubbies of the past) but it is a brave and original sort of project (for 1 1/2 to 3 year olds) that may interest some parents and IMHO deserves mention here ;-).  

        Winners -
                The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012] - PG-13 / A-II - 4 Stars - More for families with young boys (as there are almost no women characters in the story).  IMHO BETTER than even the first LOTR film as it ends at a natural break in Tolkein's Hobbit story.
                Brave [2012] PG / A-II - 4 Stars - More for families with girls as the lead characters are really all women (Merida, her mother, and even the witch).  Picked this film also for families with littler girls but older-preteen girls will get even out of it.
         Honorable Mentions -
                 ParaNorman [2012] - PG - 3 Stars - Kinda like Frankenweenie [2012] but more developed / balanced family dynamics (Norman has an older teenage sister) and generally as a whole both boys and girls have significant roles.
                 Hotel Transylvania [2012] - PG / A-II - 3 1/2 Stars - A father / daughter story that a family with a pre-teen girl or two would appreciate (kids do inevitably ... grow up ...)

        Winners -
                 The Perks of Being a Wall Flower [2012] - PG-13 - 4 Stars - A classic "teenage angst" film, if at times quite sad, probably destined to be this generation's Breakfast Club [1985].
                 Taken 2 [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - Are you kinda angry at dad for "not always being around?" Well he may have a "story" of his own about what he's had to go through to put dinner on the table ;-) 
                 Girl in Progress [2012] - PG-13 - 3 Stars - A pretty good Mother/Daughter film particularly for Hispanic families, similar to the film above, only here it's a single mom who's going through a heck of a lot to give her daughter a better chance at life (but it's still hard when she's not always around and one realizes that "ma isn't perfect...")
        Honorable Mentions                
                 House at the End of the Street [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - another Mother/Daughter film.  The Daughter sees the boy next-door as "someone to fix", while Ma just sees "trouble."
                 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012] - PG-13 / A-II - 4 Stars - see above.  Though here I'd underline that this film tells a great "Call story."  Yes, child you can "stay at home" and lead a totally predictable life, but you may be Called to do far more than that.

BEST INTERGENERATIONAL FILMS (for Older/Adult Children and their Parents) - 
         Winner -
                  People Like Us [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars - Hard film to watch about a post-mortem reconciliation between a Father and Son and then a half-Sister that the Son never knew he had because the Father had two families... 
         Honorable Mentions -
                  This Must be the Place [2012] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - Reconciliation between Father and Son (again even after the death of the Father).  The Father was "a hero/martyr" in life, while all the Son (who actually had become a celebrated "rock star") felt was "unloved." Late for the Father's funeral, the Son with nothing to do decides to hunt down the (Nazi) who had made his Father into who he was.
                   Hick [2012] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - No chance for reconciliation here, just sadness.  A 13 year old growing-up in a truly dysfunctional family decides to run away from home.  Much often terrible and sad ensues ... (Parents, yes your personal behavior does matter ...)
                   Parental Guidance [2012] - PG / A-I - 3 Stars - When the Daughter was growing-up, Dad dominated the Family.  That was okay with Ma' but not okay with the Daughter.  Now the Daughter has her own family ...
                   The Guilt Trip [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - Fun Mother/grown Son film in which the Son has to forgive the Mother for her adoring "motherliness" while also coming to terms with his own limitations. 
                   Robot & Frank [2012] - PG-13 / 3 1/2 Stars - Perhaps he wasn't the best Dad in the world, but now he's old, alone and his two kids have their own lives far away.  But at least the Son buys Dad a "Robot" ... much ensues ... ;-)
                   Starlet [2012] - UR (would be R) - 3 Stars - Great story about two unrelated women, one "young and drifting," the other "old and widowed/alone."  They become friends. 

         Winners - 
                    The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [2012] - PG-13 / A-II - 4 Stars - see above. Obviously, I loved this film.  Great film about choices and destiny.  Do you want a "small life" in an already half-buried house "at the edge of the shire?"  Or are you willing to accept the Call when "Gandalf comes by" to invite you to something new/great?  "Will I come back?" the Hobbit Bilbo asks. "I can't guarantee that," answers Gandalf. "And if you do, you won't be the same as when you left."  What a GREAT story about Call.
                    Safety Not Guaranteed [2012] - R (note rating) - 3 1/2 Stars - For older teens.  Actually with a same message.  Folks, as you grow-up you make choices even if you think you're not.  You won't be young forever.
                    The Perks of Being a Wall Flower [2012] - PG-13 - 4 Stars -Wow, a "three way tie" :-) a film about why making those choices can be hard.   
         Honorable Mentions -
                    Avengers [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - The Marvel Comics stories generally have had good messages, this is no exception.  In this film, I loved the dialogue between Captain America and Tony Stark, two great embodiments of America (one that had been "frozen in time" from the 1940s, the other of today).
                    Frankenweenie [2012] - PG / A-I - 3 1/2 Stars.  If you find yourself "smart" and in a lot of AP classes here's your chance to tell the "cooler" kids "Be afraid, be very afraid ..." ;-) ;-)                   

          Winner -
                    Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - Yes it was a GREAT SERIES about finding a SPECTACULARLY RICH/FULFILLING LIFE even in "the back woods" of dreary/rainy Washington state. 
           Honorable Mentions -
                     Hunger Games [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 2 1/2 Stars - Honestly girls, embrace the "super-hero" within you.  There is an entire generation of boys (your piers) who will accept you/love you for it. ("Slaying dragons" is a lot cooler when you don't have to do it alone ...)
                     Girl in Progress [2012] - PG-13 - 3 Stars - Honestly, find the heart to give "Ma" a break.  She's almost always on your side.

         Winner - 
                 Lincoln [2012] - R / A-III - 4 Stars (as well as the more fictionalized Django Unchained [2012] - R / L - 4 Stars and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter [2012] - R / L - 3 Stars).  Folks, there honestly was no "other side" to Slavery.
         Honorable Mentions -
                 Anna Karenina [2012] - R / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars (based on Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina)
                 Trishna [2011] - R - UK / India (subtitled at times) - 3 1/2 Stars (based on Thomas Hardy's Tess of D'Urbervilles)
                 Les Miserables (musical) [2012] - PG-13 / A-III - 3 Stars (based originally on Victor Hugo's Les Miserables)
                 Wuthering Heights [2011] - R - 3 Stars (based on Emily Brontë's novel Wuthering Heights)
          You really should know at least something about all these stories ... ;-)

           Winner - 
                   Samsara [2012] - PG-13 / 4 Stars - Nobody knows Sorrow like the Buddhists know Sorrow ;-)
            Honorable Mentions - 
                    Cloud Atlas [2012] - R / O - 3 1/2 Stars - Ponderous film taking us from "100 years after the Fall" to "140 years into our future" asking the question "Are we in this world together?" or "Are the Weak simply Meat for the Strong to Eat?"
                    Band of Sisters [2012] - (UR would be PG-13) - Documentary - 4 Stars - Education has never been particularly respected in either Society or if we're honest, in the Church (think of the history of the Jesuits or even the Knights Templar before them...).  This is a documentary about the Catholic nuns in the United States (as a group always among the most educated women in the country ... heck they've always run schools, universities and hospitals) and (in their own words) about what they've been doing since the reforms of Vatican II.
                    Django Unchained [2012] - R / L - 4 Stars - Why 150 years after the American Civil War are we still trying to find excuses for the South and its legacy of Slavery?
                    Life of Pi [2012] - PG / A-III - 4 Stars - What would have been the better end to the story?
                    Russian Reserve (orig. Русский заповедник) [2010] - UR - Documentary - Russia (subtitled) - 4 Stars - I loved this film.  A calm, confident, classically Russian Orthodox response to the question of what's really needed to save the global village.
                    Avé [2011] - UR (would be R) - Bulgaria (subtitled) - 4 Stars - What if life really consists of simply (and more or less randomly) traveling from "point a" to "point b" under a dreary October sky in the rain? 

                     A Late Quartet [2012] - R - 4 Stars - "Nothing is as beautiful or as 'complicated' as ..." Even a group of four professionals who've been playing together forever can still really get on each other's nerves over the smallest things ... ;-)
               Honorable Mentions 
                     Meeting Leila (orig. Ashnaee ba Leila) [2011] - UR (would be PG-13) - Iranian (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - If this film wasn't set in Tehran today, it could have starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in L.A. of the 1940s.  A film about a lonely 40-something couple living in Tehran preparing to get married.  She just wants him to quit smoking, and he doesn't understand why it would matter so much to her.
                     Lola Versus [2012] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - Three weeks before their wedding, 20-something Lola's similarly aged fiance' breaks up with her and if at least he could give her a reason, ANY reason.  What now?
                     Cosmopolis [2012] - R - 4 Stars - Great "dialogue driven" film about a young "corporate vampire" taking a limo-drive from work to his old neighborhood to get "a hair-cut."
                     Small, Beautifully Moving Parts [2012] - UR (would be R) - 3 Stars - About a young, 20-something woman of today who freely admits that she generally "relates better to technology than to people" who now finds herself pregnant (and obviously not by her computer ... ;-)
                     Day of Black (orig. Dia de Preto) [2011] - UR - Brazilian (subtitled) - 4 Stars -  A retelling of the story of the first African slave in Brazil to be given his freedom.  But okay, he's free, now what?
                     Footnote (orig. Hearat Shulayim) [2011] - PG - Israel (subtitled) - 4 Stars - A story of two contemporary Scripture scholars, father and son, one successful, the other not particularly, and how "footnotes" matter.
                      Avé [2011] - UR (would be R) - Bulgaria (subtitled) - 4 Stars - She's about 19 years old and basically running away from home.  He's in his 20s and heading to the village of his best friend for his best friend's funeral.  What if life just involves traveling in such sad and random ways under a dreary and rainy autumn sky?
                      The Land of Eb [2012] - 3 Stars - A simple tale about a Marshallese Islander grandfather/patriarch who's in his life-time moved most of his family to Hawaii.  Now he's dying (of cancer) and has to come to terms with all the dreams that he's realizing that he's never going to fulfill. 

            Winner -
                    Cloud Atlas [2012] - R / O - 3 1/2 Stars - (See above) a truly ponderous film asking about the fundamental nature of our relationships with each other and with the Cosmos.
            Honorable Mentions - 
                    Have you seen Lupita? (orig. ¿Alguien ha visto a Lupita?) [2012] - UR (would be PG-13/R) - - Mexico (subtitled) - 4 Stars - A brilliant youth oriented "retelling" of the story of Mary envisioned as contemporary and somewhat "flighty" upper middle class teenager named Lupita living in Mexico City today.

                    Flight [2012] - R / O - 3 1/2 Stars - A well formed / Protestant informed Parable asking the question: Can even a "miracle worker" who has some "issues" be saved without confronting them first?  
                    Band of Sisters [2012] - (UR would be PG-13) - Documentary - 4 Stars - (see above) - again, education often gets dissed.                  
                    Life of Pi [2012] - PG / A-III - 4 Stars - Yes, this story may help you see the Fundamental Choice between Believing and Not Believing more clearly.  
                    Samsara [2012] - PG-13 / 4 Stars - Nobody knows Sorrow like the Buddhists know Sorrow...
                    Footnote (orig. Hearat Shulayim) [2011] - PG - Israel (subtitled) - 4 Stars - Definitely not for everybody, but anyone who's ever seriously studied Scripture (in an academic environment) would appreciate this film.

               Winner -  
                     The Well Digger's Daughter (orig. La Fille du Puisatier) [2011] - UR (would be PG-13) - France (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Lovely story from France of the first half of the 20th-century about how an "unplanned/inconvenient pregrancy" can end up being a blessing / answer to the prayers of all.
               Honorable Mentions -
                     Lose to Win (orig. Nad Życie) - (UR would be R) - Poland (subtitled) - 4 Stars - A biopic about Polish volleyball star Agata Mróz-Olszewska who found herself diagnosed of having cancer and pregnant at almost the same time.  Against the advice of most of her doctors she brought her child to term and only afterwards began cancer treatment.  She died.  But she died of an infection that she could have gotten (and died of) anyway even if she had aborted her child.  Instead, she left a healthy child to her husband (their only child) and family... A remarkable story that leaves one with much to think about.
                     October Baby [2011] - PG-13 / A-II - Drama - 3 1/2 Stars - American and perhaps more edgy than the above two films.  However it's about an (adopted) teenager who finds-out that she was born while actually being aborted.  Yes, it's necessarily going to be an "edgier" / "angrier" story than the others.

               Winner -  
                     Celeste and Jesse Forever [2012] - R - 4 Stars - A film about a young couple Celeste and Jesse that's divorcing and asks all concerned (including the viewers) the very pointed question: "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?"
               Honorable Mentions
                      Ruby Sparks [2012] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - A young writer previously facing "writer block" starts writing about a young woman who's appearing in his dreams.  Suddenly she appears in real life.  But even if he created her, if he loved her would he not let her go free? 
                      Valley of Saints [2102] - UR (would be PG-13/R) - India/USA (Subtitled) - 4 Stars - A lovely romance between a poor, 20-something and definitely Muslim Kashmiri water-taxi operator and a young, wealthier, better educated and possibly Hindu graduate student who's returned from the United States to study the water quality of the lake that's been his livelihood.  There are so many barriers and this appears to be a Muslim movie so they _don't_ hop into bed.  Instead, they smile, they talk.  And one gets the sense that they get to know each other quite well.  Is it enough?  But what difference would it have made if one or the other had 'tried for more'?
                       Jab Tak Hai Jaan [2012] - UR (would be PG-13) - Hindi (subtitled) - 4 Stars - Another movie from India, this time a true big-time Bollywood production directed by one of its masters.  The male protagonist is a legendary "sapper" in today's Indian army.  Stationed again in war-torn Kashmir, he diffuses the most complex of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in short order and he never ever wears any protective gear as he does so.  Why would someone so recklessly risk his life like that?  Well he must have a story... And what a story it is ;-)
                       Ted [2012] - R / O - 2 Stars - She's wants him to grow-up, but his best friend remains his childhood "teddy bear."  Often crude and very "basic" with its symbolism but may help young men realize that their girlfriends have friends and co-workers of their own to whom they have to justify why they are going-out with them.  And if one's boyfriend's "best friend" remains "his teddy bear" well, that's kinda embarrassing ... ;-)

              Winner - 
                         Samsara [2012] - PG-13 / 4 Stars - Third film of its kind by the film makers.  Each time it is just an awesome visual spectacle to behold.
              Honorable Mentions -
                          Anna Karenina [2012] - R / A-III - 3 1/2 Stars - again a visual feast to behold.
                          Day of Black (orig. Dia de Preto) [2011] - UR - Brazilian (subtitled) - 4 Stars - Set almost entirely in an upscale Brazilian shopping at night, this parable about "becoming free" is once more visually stunning.
                          The Well Digger's Daughter (orig. La Fille du Puisatier) [2011] - UR (would be PG-13) - France (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - Fundamentally optimistic and EVERY SINGLE SHOT could be a painting by one of France's late-19th century Impressionist painters.
                          Cosmopolis [2012] - R - 4 Stars - If the above films were all visually driven, this is a great dialogue driven film set almost entirely in a young "corporate vampire's" coffin-like limo as he takes a ride from his work to his childhood neighborhood to "get a haircut."
                          A Late Quartet [2012] - R - 4 Stars - just a lovely, perfectly cast, again largely dialogue driven film about the tensions that can exist even in the smallest, tightest knit communities ;-).
                          Meeting Leila (orig. Ashnaee ba Leila) [2011] - UR (would be PG-13) - Iranian (subtitled) - 3 1/2 Stars - I am free to say that Iran's regime is oppressive bordering on totalitarian.  But life for its people does go on, and this is a lovely human story about two lonely 40-somethings preparing to get married and trying to set things straight prior to taking the big plunge.
                          Avé [2011] - UR (would be R) - Bulgaria (subtitled) - 4 Stars - A simple film about two Bulgarian teenagers/young adults that asks sincere and pointed questions about the meaning of life under a dreary and rainy autumn Bulgarian sky. (I honestly loved this film ;-)
                          End of Watch [2012] - R / O - 4 Stars - Risky, but IMHO probably the best "shaky cam" film ever made.  The use of the hand-held and even clip-on cameras in this police drama made one honestly feel that one was _there_ in the squad car, in the room making the arrest, even being punched during an arrest ;-).  Not for everybody, but IMHO a great use of this technology.   
                          Safety Not Guaranteed [2012] - R - 3 1/2 Stars - A low-budget "science-fiction-y" film that tells a great story AND IT WORKS.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FILM - (Note this category may still change)
              Winner -
                      The Central Park Five [2012] - UR - 4 Stars - In a very strong year for documentaries I pick this one because it's probably the most challenging to our society now.  In the summer of 1989 a horrific crime was committed in New York's Central Park.  A 28-year old white woman jogger was raped and left for dead in the Park.  But in the frenzy for justice, five young teenagers (all Black or Hispanic) were rounded-up and accused of the crime.  And despite having no other evidence other than their own confessions (extracted without the presence of either their parents or a lawyer) they were convicted of the crime.  Some years later someone else, a serial rapist, arrested subsequently for other crimes freely confessed to it.  What a nightmare...
              Honorable Mentions -
                       Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry [2012] - R - 4 Stars - about the avant guard Chinese artist, who helped design Beijing's Olympic stadium only to become later one of China's most prominent dissidents.
                       Searching for Sugar Man [2012] - UR - 4 Stars- the story of a 60s era Hispanic blues singer from Detroit who went by the name of Rodriguez.  So shy that he would sing and play the guitar facing the the opposite direction from the audience, his career quickly fizzled.  HOWEVER, one of his albums made it to South Africa, where it became an enormous hit among the 60s era (white) Afrikaner folk/rock community.  But no one knew what happened to him... After the Apartheid regime fell, and the internet came to South Africa, someone created a website dedicated to finding out what happened to him.  The rest of the story follows ;-)  
                       Band of Sisters [2012] - (UR would be PG-13) - Documentary - 4 Stars - mentioned already several times above, a great documentary giving the American Catholic nuns "side" of what they've been doing since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.  Always among the most educated women in this country, they've been both spiritual guides and at the edge of defending the most marginalized of society.
                       The Other Dream Team [2012] - USA/Lithuania (at times subtitled) - UR - 4 Stars - about little Lithuania's 1992 Men's Olympic Basketball team and what it was like previously to be forced to represent another country (the former Soviet Union) prior to regaining independence (four out of five of the starters on former Soviet Union's 1988 gold medal men's Olympic team were actually Lithuanian)
              Not yet reviewed in this category (so these may still be included somewhere in the documentaries list)
                       Invisible War [2012] - about the under-reported epidemic of rape existing today within the U.S. military.
                       The Gatekeepers [2012] - interviews with the last 5-6 directors of Israel's "Shin Bet" domestic intelligence agency.        
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