Thursday, January 03, 2013

A Few Small Joys Of 2012

While this doesn’t proclaim to be a “best of” list in any regard, it does serve to highlight a few gems that made 2012 worth smiling about.

My Heart Is An Idiot:  Essays by Davy Rothbart
As the editor of Found magazine, Rothbart spends a lot of time combing through the secrets and stories of other people’s lives.  In this set of essays (ala David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell), the ever-affable and big-hearted Rothbart opens up about his own life.  Rothbart’s a charming troublemaker bent on fully living his own experience and writing compelling prose about it.

“Cabin In The Woods”
Somehow both subverting and embodying the ideas behind what makes a horror film (and yes, what makes a good horror film), “Cabin In The Woods” presents its horrific scenarios in service to its story, rather than out of pure gratuity.  The Joss Whedon/Drew Goddard-penned script doesn’t overlook character development, and its workaday “B” storyline, featuring Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, emerges as the surprising engine of the movie.

“Beasts Of The Southern Wild”
It may not be possible to watch this film without crying or falling in love with Quvenzhane Wallis, the movie’s six-year-old star.  Based on the stage play “Juicy And Delicious,” “Beasts” can feel more like a lucid dream than a film.  It has a mystical quality that helps keep the crushing realities of loss of home and family at bay.

On the surface, it seems like there are 100 ways this movie could be terrible, but with its inventive well-developed story, forceful characters, and irreverent flourishes, it’s surprisingly funny.  The humor is often dirty, but Seth MacFarlane’s story of a teddy bear come to life, who continues to live with his best friend John (Mark Wahlberg) in a prolonged state of adolescence may be the funniest movie I saw this year.

Jeff Mangum at ACL Live
No one can make you want to both cry and make-out in public like Jeff Mangum.  The Neutral Milk Hotel singer’s acoustic set at ACL Live leaned heavily on songs from In An Aeroplane Over The Sea and it was beautiful to watch.

“The Colbert Report”
It’s hard to believe that Stephen Colbert has been delivering his hard-headed satire for seven years.  Whether highlighting “Difference Maker” (nee high art proprietor, nee exotic dance club owner) Stephen Dick Jr. or spoofing the sad Sarah McLachlan pet-adoption ads, the show is better than ever.

“Shut Up And Play The Hits”
If there was one music documentary to be impressed by this year, this was it.  From directors Will Lovelace and Dylan Southern, who’d previously made the documentary “No Distance Left To Run” about the band Blur, “Shut Up…” has a purposefully narrow scope.  The film takes place in the week leading up to, and the day after, LCD Soundsystem’s final concert, at Madison Square Garden.  Showcasing footage from that show, along with an interview by Chuck Klosterman (whose nasal voice adds an excellent texture), the film follows James Murphy as he pointedly chooses to shut down his band while he’s still on top.

“Shut Up…” doesn’t lean on typical documentary conventions – it’s very rare that anyone looks into the camera directly, or even pays it particular attention.  The view is much more fly-on-the-wall, allowing the film to pull off the feat of feeling both intimate and removed, like watching characters in a play.  We’re right there with Murphy, watching intently as he exercises the want to maintain ultimate control, even if that means organizing his own funeral.

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