CHICAGO – If you’ve ever wondered what the difference is between a director and a producer, let “47 Ronin” explain how the hierarchy of creativity hinders the evolution of even the most straightforward-sounding pitches. “47 Ronin” is the type of samurai movie set in Japan that features native actors speaking only English, while Keanu Reeves stars as an outsider clearly plunked into the picture for stateside star power.
Film Feature: The 10 Most Overlooked Films of 2012
CHICAGO – The wider range of films critics see during a single year, the less susceptible they are to the inevitable onslaught of expensive awards campaigns. Just because a studio can bark the loudest doesn’t mean its product has any bite.
The majority of Oscar bait I’ve witnessed during the final months of 2012 have been wildly overrated behemoths weighed down in self-importance and executed with all the calculated precision of a undergrad aiming to score an A on the final. What’s lacking from many of these pictures is the spontaneity and imagination of true artistry, and that is precisely what the films on this list have in spades. From the most criminally overlooked blockbusters to the most invaluable indie gems available online, here are the Top Ten Most Overlooked Films of 2012.
10. “Cloud Atlas”
I’ll be the first to admit that Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski siblings’ staggeringly ambitious adaptation of David Mitchell’s masterful novel is—shall we say, flawed. Some members of its ensemble are grossly miscast, others are covered in wince-inducing make-up and there’s one entire section of the picture rendered utterly intelligible by incoherent dialogue (no other film this year has been in such desperate need of subtitles). And yet, regardless of its shortcomings, this is still one of the most exuberantly entertaining pictures in recent memory. By juxtaposing Mitchell’s smorgasbord of interconnected parallel timelines, Tykwer and the Wachowskis have crafted an immensely provocative meditation on the malleability of identity, the necessity of change and the impact that a single human life can have on the course of human history. After primarily sleepwalking through the first decade of the 21st century, Tom Hanks delivers a decade’s work of fabulous performances, while Jim Broadbent cements his status as one of the funniest men in the business (he’s like a live-action Wallace minus Gromit).
Sophia Takal’s hypnotic drama played for a week at Facets, and it has haunted me ever since. Evoking memories of Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist,” albeit without the excessive bloodletting, Takal’s film creates an immensely moody atmosphere through its subtly unhinged score by Ernesto Carcamo and gorgeously brooding cinematography by Nandan Rao. The tremendously prolific Sundance star Kate Lyn Sheil plays Genevieve, a young city dweller who moves to the country with her boyfriend, Sebastian (Takal’s real-life husband, Lawrence Michael Levine, a fine filmmaker in his own right), and quickly befriends a cheerfully genial local woman, Robin (wonderfully played by Takal). As the trio’s friendship deepens, Genevieve starts to fear that Sebastian and Robin’s relationship goes far beyond the boundaries of friendship. Jealousy emerges as the monster lurking within the shadows of Takal’s forbidding forest, and Sheil (who has starred in no less than 17 feature films over the last two years) delivers one of the year’s most shattering performances. She reminds me of a young Meryl Streep, and could very well have an equally enduring career. She’s certainly off to a spectacular start.
8. “Tiger Tail in Blue”
Tiger Tail in Blue
On the heels of its well-deserved nomination for “Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You” at the Gotham Awards, Frank V. Ross’ sublimely melancholy romance will be premiering at the Gene Siskel Film Center in January. Make sure to add it to your “must-see” list for 2013. Though Ross stole scenes in Joe Swanberg’s web series “Young American Bodies” and displayed his gift for eliciting equally naturalistic work from actors in his excellent directorial efforts, “Present Company” and “Audrey the Trainwreck,” “Tiger Tail in Blue” represents his most accomplished work to date, both in front of and behind the camera. It reminded me of Derek Cianfrance’s riveting 2010 romance, “Blue Valentine,” which flipped between the endearing origins of a romance and its wrenching demise. Yet whereas the past and present are clearly delineated by nostalgic grains and piercing HD in “Valentine,” Ross’ film is elegantly subtle in the way it intersects various passages in the lives of married couple Christopher (Ross) and Melody (Rebecca Spence), whose once electric connection is flagging due to conflicting work schedules. Cinematographer Mike Gibisser brings a distinct tone and flavor to each scene, leading up to a final act that knocked me for a loop.
7. “Nate & Margaret”
Nate and Margaret
Another “Young American Bodies” alumnus had a superlative year in 2012. After directing a series of darkly hilarious shorts, including the prize-winners “Untied Strangers” and “Irregular Fruit,” Nathan Adloff made his feature filmmaking debut with an immensely charming look at an unlikely friendship. Tyler Ross gave one of the year’s best performances as Nate, a young film student whose best friend is Margaret (Natalie West of “Roseanne”), a 52-year-old aspiring stand-up comedian. As Nate starts opening himself up to a relationship with his first boyfriend (Conor McCahill), Margaret begins to lose her inhibitions onstage. Not only does the film capture the endearing chemistry between its two protagonists (Adloff has referred to the picture as “‘Harold and Maude’ without the sex”), it also portrays with startling insight how an overly dependent friendship can stunt one’s growth as an individual. Most importantly, the exceptionally observant script co-authored by Adloff and Justin D.M. Palmer refuses to define its characters on the basis of their gender, age or orientation. This is lovely crowd-pleaser as uncompromisingly quirky as it is universally relatable.
6. “Take This Waltz”
Take This Waltz
I love it when a film puts its own indelible stamp on a familiar tune. In the case of Sarah Polley’s beguiling dramedy, it’s The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star,” which plays over scintillating footage of Margot (Michelle Williams) thrusting her head back while riding aboard the Scrambler, a carnival amusement that reduces the world to a swirl of color. This delirious setting, which crops up more than once in the film, serves as a metaphor for the euphoric “honeymoon phase” of a relationship that Margot desperately desires to recapture. She’s reasonably happy in her marriage to an adoring chef, Lou (Seth Rogen in his best performance since “Knocked Up”), yet she’s unwilling to settle into the rhythms of a longterm romance. When a handsome neighbor (Luke Kirby) makes no secret of the fact that he’s hopelessly smitten with her, Margot’s once secure future threatens to collapse. Polley’s heroine could’ve emerged as wholly unsympathetic had she not been played by an actress as engaging as Williams, who draws the audience into Margot’s mounting obsession despite its multiple signals of doom. And as far as supporting performances go, you can’t do much better than Sarah Silverman’s sardonic alcoholic who delivers an unexpected dosage of sage advice.