In our Yearbook series, Double Exposure contributors share lists and essays that attempt to define their year in film. In this entry, Maya Rosmarin offers that essential standard of the high school yearbook: superlatives.
Most Attractive: Django Unchained – With its hyper-stylized characters and unsparing gore, Tarantino delivers another film that is both hard to watch and hard not to watch. It is, at times, so over the top that it borders on caricature, but that is precisely what is so attractive about it. Django is a pastiche in the vein of Tarantino’s other films (Inglourious Basterds, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill), but it has joined the ranks of more than just the director’s stylistically consistent oeuvre. It is now one of the many films that my family and I have gone to see on Christmas Day, a tradition that has lasted about as long as Tarantino has been active as a director. Django Unchained has some scenes that are particularly unsettling (one of Mandingo fighting, which may or may not have actually occurred in the South, or anywhere for that matter; and one of a pack of dogs attacking and eating a man alive), but those arecounteracted by scenes of vengeance and empowerment characteristic of Blaxploitation films of the 1970s. What, in another action film, might seem like unnecessary violence, is justified in Django by its close ties to modern American ideals. As an audience, we relish in the act of retribution against oppressive agents, something that is classically democratic. Django is attractive on both an ideological and visual level, largely due to the beautifully and precisely decorated estate of Monsieur Calvin Candie. The film is, despite some of its flaws – in character development, among others – superficially attractive and totally fun to watch.
Most Likely to Succeed: Amour – Amour, with the exception of one scene at the very beginning of the film, is shot entirely within the apartment of its main characters, Anne and Georges. It is brought to life, and ultimately death, by Jean-Louis Trintingant and Emmanuelle Riva and their beautifully subtle performances. As Anne’s health deteriorates, limiting her physical and mental capacities, so does the area in which the characters move around in the film. At the beginning, Anne and Georges can move about the city with ease, but eventually they are confined to their living room. Georges later closes Anne into their shared bedroom, and in the final scenes, he is in their “small bedroom,” scarcely larger than the twin bed on which he lies. Haneke has already received accolades from many critics and film festivals, maybe most notably the Palme d’Or from Cannes, and is currently shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. Based on its critical reception thus far, I predict that Amour will do extremely well in the coming awards ceremonies.
Best Couple: Holy Motors and Alps – These two films, both somewhat surreal in premise, play games of “what if” as their lead characters assume various different identities. They pair well together because they are thematically similar, but their directors’ approaches are remarkably different. Holy Motors follows the mysterious Monsieur Oscar from tableau to tableau, each meticulously designed and orchestrated for his arrival. Alps explores similar adoption of personae when its leading characters, each a member of the organization for which the film is titled, are sent out on jobs to act as substitutes for surviving family members of the deceased. Their roles are not arranged for them, but dependent upon somebody’s death, and decided by the organization’s leader “Mont Blanc.” Holy Motors is violent, colorful, and indulgent, while Alps is understated and dark. The contrasting aesthetics and rhythms of the two films balance one another; Monsieur Oscar jumps from scene to scene suddenly and with little notice, but Alps is meandering and subtle. Once Oscar is finished with one character, that scene is terminated absolutely, but in Alps the characters alternate between substitute jobs, switching back and forth indefinitely. What is left unsaid in one film is filled in by the other. Both directors, Leos Carax and Yorgos Lanthimos, explore alternatives to the traditional audience-to-film relationship, and seem to come to similar conclusions: it is getting harder and harder to convince an audience to believe what cinema wants it to believe. These films comment on the death of cinema, but both contribute to the particularly good crop of films released in 2012.
Best All Around: Oslo, August 31st – Joachim Trier’s film follows a Norwegian by the name of Anders on his afternoon and evening out from the rehabilitation center where he has spent his last eight months, recovering from drug addiction. He is allowed one day of freedom to interview for a position as an editorial assistant at a magazine, but leaves his appointment early, and spends the rest of August 30th, and the beginning of August 31st reintroducing himself to the life that he used to live. Anders speaks with old friends, reflecting on how different he has become from them (Anders’ friends quote Proust and live in comfortable apartments, while Anders struggles to maintain his fragile sobriety, and lives in a rehabilitation clinic). As the film progresses, he leans more and more into his old lifestyle, and gets romantically involved with a girl, Rebecca – who, interestingly, goes by the same name as Anders’ more successful friend’s wife – in whom he has only minor, superficial interest; he remarks that there is no point in getting intimate, as it is a law of nature that “everything will be forgotten.” The film is unsentimental and clean. It is not bogged down with affectation, but manages to explore and define experiences of loss, longing, and solitude. After his interview, Anders sits in a café, and eavesdrops on the conversations going on around him, an image of the world going by around him while he sits in passivity. In part because the moments of silence are just as effective as the conversations, in part because Anders pays attention to people’s pronunciation of bruschetta, and in part because it is wholly nonjudgmental, Oslo, August 31stis my best all around film of 2012.