Saturday, January 12, 2013

Indie Game: The Movie (2012)

Indie Game: The Movie

Lisanne Pajot and James Swirsky's documentary,
Indie Game: The Movie, follows the developers of two major indie games–Fez and Super Meat Boy–as they struggle to meet two separate deadlines: a release date in the case of Super Meat Boy and a gaming convention in the case of Fez
Throughout, the designers talk about the inspirations behind their games and what they mean to them. 

Roger Ebert has said, rather infamously, that video games are not and cannot be an art form. If Indie Game does anything well–and it does lots well–it proves him wrong. If you come away from Indie Game seeing Fez or Super Meat Boy as anything less than personal, expressive works, you weren't paying attention. These games don't just exist to entertain or earn a profit; they're extensions of their creators. They tap into memories, hopes, and dreams, and they reflect some aspect of each designer's worldview, the same as any artwork does. 

But all that aside, Indie Game does what the best documentaries do–it helps us to understood, identify with, and even care for people who are wildly different from us. If I had caught this one last year, there's no doubt it would've found a spot on my year-end favorites list.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Loneliest Planet (2012)

If a day or two of reflection dampened some of my enthusiasm for Men in Black 3–and "enthusiasm" is perhaps too generous of a word–then it had the opposite effect on my view of Julia Loktev's The Loneliest Planet. Based on a short story by Tom Bissell, the film follows Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his fiancee Nica (Hani Furstenberg) on a backpacking trip overseas, during which their relationship is tested. It has the kind of slow, we'll-get-there-when-we-get-there pace of other art house films, with an ending so open it might be more accurate to say it just stops, as if Loktev and her crew filmed until the money ran out and then went home.

The reason for the couple's trouble is small in one sense, but, in another, has enormous implications. As such, this movie, like Nuri Bilge Ceylan's magnificent Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, is about the little details and how they accumulate. So, while the initial experience of watching the movie was not as engrossing as I would have liked, the journey–and the movie is very much a journey–has stuck with me. We need those moments of Alex and Nica enjoying each other to appreciate the gulf that develops between them later on. To add more plot for the sake of a broader audience would be to demolish the world, and the atmosphere, Loktev creates–both of which are charged with meaning. 

I don't regard The Loneliest Planet as highly as others do, but I respect Loktev's creative choices, and I look forward to seeing what she does next.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Men in Black (2012)

With a few days of reflection under my belt, this one is pretty much what you would think it is–a not bad but certainly not great piece of popcorn entertainment. Which is one way of saying that it's as good or bad as almost anything else. Which is still another way of saying that, like most movies, it's fine, no more but also no less. It has some nice acting by all involved, but the stand outs are Josh Brolin as a young Agent K and Michael Stulhbarg as Griffin, an alien who can see the future in all its variations. The third act is what gives the movie it's emotional boost. You have the feeling, going in, that things could go horribly wrong, either for Earth or for Will Smith's Agent J. It doesn't, of course, but it doesn't all go smoothly either. The twist isn't a big thing–I saw it coming from pretty far off–but I don't want to spoil it. It's the reason you might come away from Men in Black 3 thinking more highly of it than it probably deserves.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Favorite Films of 2012

I've given up on the idea of ranking my year-end favorites. Last year's list was completely alphabetical, and so is this year's–almost. The one exception is my number one pick, which I've listed separately. That doesn't mean I like my other fourteen picks all the same way, or for the same reasons. It just means that my feelings for them are subjective enough to make ranking them a slippery and endless endeavor. That's especially the case when I start comparing artistic merit to actual level of enjoyment. Some rank higher in one category, but less in the other, and vice versa. I should also point out that I didn't see everything I wanted to before midnight hit, but who can? So anyway, with the disclaimer out of the way, on with the list:

Favorite movie of 2012: 

Moonrise Kingdom

The other fourteen, in alphabetical order:

The Dark Knight Rises
The Deep Blue Sea
Holy Motors
Jiro Dreams of Sushi

The Kid with a Bike
Les Miserables
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Sleepwalk with Me
Shut Up and Play the Hits
Under African Skies