Friday, December 28, 2012

(Lucky?) 13 Good Movies I Watched This Year

These are some of the best movies I saw this year(-ish). These are just alphabetical, not ranked. Don't ask me to rank them. STOP ASKING! Anyway, I saw a lot more movies than this (obvs, because all I ever do is watch TV), but I thought maybe these were ones you hadn't heard of or forgot about or whatever--they're good, just go watch them.

1. Adam's Apples (2005, Denmark)
The apples are your responsibility, Adam.
Mads Mikkelsen, America's Next Top Danish Heartthrob, stars as exasperating do-gooder priest Ivan, who has seemingly no concept of the depths of despair he and the rest of the world are really living in. Adam is a Neo-Nazi skinhead recently sentenced to community service at Ivan's parish. A number of odd characters also stay at Ivan's church, trying to get their lives (back?) together. Ivan puts Adam in charge of an apple tree. Adam thinks Ivan is annoying, as well as delusional and is not interested in being "rehabilitated." Shenanigans ensue! Dark and funny--one of my favorite combinations.

2. Beginners (2010)
I think I'd just be like, "Sorry you're dying Dad, but it looks like you're just gonna have to grow a beard now!"
This is a movie about sad people. It is sad. And sweet. And hopeful? Scottish dreamboat Ewan McGregor stars as Oliver, a sadsack graphic designer/cartoonist and commitment-phobe mourning his father's recent death. From Oliver's flashbacks, we see his father Hal, who comes out as gay after his wife's death, develop a relationship with a sexy younger man (Goran Visnjic, who I never knew could play "dorky"--might be the jean shorts), get diagnosed with cancer, and slowly die. In between, we see Oliver after Hal's death, trying to get by with the help of his father's dog and an equally commitment-phobic French actress, Anna, played by the lovely, lovely Melanie Laurent (AKA badass secret Jew in Inglorious Basterds).

This Jack Russell plays a large and adorable role as the sad dog whose name I can't remember right now.
Anyway, Oliver and Anna fumble into love, neither knowing how to not ruin it. We watch Oliver trying to support his newly out-and-proud dad, and as he takes care of him through his illness. We also see Oliver's memories of a childhood with his hilariously odd mother, while Hal was largely absent as a parent and as a husband. Hal and Oliver and the dog and Anna are all so very sad and very sweet. This movie is good. Really, really good.

3. Conan O'Brien Can't Stop (2011)
“I might be a genius, and I might be the biggest dick ever. Or both.” Source.
Do you love Conan O'Brien? I love Conan O'Brien. Have you ever wanted to see Conan tired, angry, annoyed, and/or passive-aggressive? This documentary about his live tour in the aftermath of the Leno/NBC debacle a few years back shows Conan being all those things, and you'll love him even more for it. He's ceaselessly hilarious, but so much more real than when he's "on" as a TV show host. Andy Richter is adorable, Conan's family and crew are remarkably tolerant, and I truly think Conan and his assistant Sona should go on the road. He's such a dick to her. It made me want to hang out with him even more.

4. Flame and Citron (2008, Denmark)
Spending all day killing people can be pretty exhausting, eh?
Mads Mikkelsen here again plays "Citron," an amphetamine-head who drives the getaway car for a redheaded assassin known as "Flame." They work for the Danish Resistance against the Nazi occupiers during WWII, targeting collaborators. Unclear alliances, a sexy spy lady, Nazi officers, and a motley crew of cops, patriots, opportunists, and general criminal elements clash in this film. Dark and morally ambiguous. So, so good.

5. Jeff, Who Lives at Home (2011)
I knew it! Bros wear basketball shorts all the time just in case a game of pickup should appear along their cosmic journeys.
Jason Segel plays stoner Jason Segel Jeff, a loser who lives in his mom's basement in this charming, low-key comedy by the Duplass brothers. Taking place all in one afternoon, Jeff gets stoned and starts to believe that the universe is giving him signals everywhere he goes. Ed Helms and Judy Greer play Jeff's miserable brother and sister-in-law, and Susan Sarandon manages to not annoy me as their long-suffering mother. And in the end, maybe the universe is taking Jeff on an important journey, and also maybe his family should stop being such dicks to him all the time? (He should probably still get a job and stop pretending broshorts are real clothes, too, but that is really beside the point.)

6. Kenny (2006, Australia)
The man knows his TP.
Shane Jacobson is sickeningly charming as Kenny, a man who manages a deluxe porta-loo business in this Australian mockumentary. He and his crew man all your large fairs and festivals and concerts and are not so happy about you trashing his shit. Literally. There is a lot of shit in this movie. Kenny's family is basically the worst, but Kenny is completely loyal to them for some reason. Everybody thinks his job is gross (which it is) and embarrassing (which it doesn't have to be). But then Kenny gets sent by his corporate overlords to an international "poo conference" in the U.S. He is SO EXCITED about all the toilet crap they've got on display [I cannot help myself, okay?]. Kenny finds himself hobnobbing with toilet bigwigs, which interferes with his plans to hang out with a nice flight attendant lady he met. What will Kenny do when corporate wants to promote him for his good work at the conference? Will he ever call that lady? Why is his dad so terrible? This movie is hilarious AND heartwarming.

7. Linda Linda Linda (2005, Japan)

A Japanese high school is about to have its spring festival. Beautiful guitarist Kei and her friends have been preparing to play a short rock set on the musical stage. After a falling-out in the group, she and drummer Kyoko and bassist Nozomi randomly decide to recruit shy Korean exchange student Son (Doona Bae, who's apparently in Cloud Atlas) to join in as a new vocalist. She can't really sing that well, but the song they chose, "Linda Linda Linda" by The Blue Hearts, doesn't require it. It's catchy as hell and their excitement over it is infectious. Through various starts and stops, the girls hurry to learn the song in just a few days while dealing with their other school responsibilities and timidity and mysterious ex-boyfriends and high school girl drama. It's very cute.

8. My Family and Other Animals (2005, UK)
Eat your heart out, Wes Anderson.
This most recent adaptation of naturalist Gerald Durrell's memoir of the same name was produced for television and ultimately aired in the U.S. on Masterpiece. In 1939, the jet-setting British Durrell family (mother, daughter, three sons) decide to spend the summer on the Greek island of Corfu. Eldest son Larry is an aspiring (and ultimately successful in real life) novelist, middle son Leslie is obsessed with all manner of masculine pursuits, daughter Margo longs for romance, and Gerald meanwhile scampers through the woods and on the beach, bringing home any living creature he can find while attempting to dodge a series of private tutors. They are eccentric and their lives are full of various villa-based shenanigans in this idyllic period before the outbreak of WWII. I feel like Wes Anderson must have based, like, so many of his film families on these people. But these people were real. And so, so charming.

9. Tomboy (2011, France)
Much more successful than the time I gave my sister a haircut.
School's out for the summer, and Laure's family has just moved to a new neighborhood outside Paris. At ten, Laure is quite shy and a serious tomboy. Laure and little sister Jeanne are sweet and playful together, at first sticking together at home since they don't know anyone else yet. Then Laure lets the new kids she meets mistake her for a boy, claiming her name is Mickael. Mickael soon develops a crush on a girl named Lisa, and begins running around with Lisa and a group of boys who live in the same apartment complex. Mickael loves being a boy, even going so far as to pop off the ol' shirt while playing soccer and carefully crafting a play-doh penis to tuck in a bathing suit.  Jeanne finds out what's going on, and has to be bribed to keep quiet. Eventually their mother finds out what's going on and demands Laure tell everyone the truth, including Lisa, who has become Mickael's girlfriend. While the film ends on a hopeful note, it seems pretty clear that posing as a boy is not just a game or a phase for Laure, that she is likely to be transgender, and this is not the end of Mickael, but who knows what extra horrors puberty will wreak on this child.

10. Troubled Water (2008, Norway)
Sweet prison-learned organ skills.
As a teen, Jan and a friend were convicted of kidnapping and (presumably) murdering a little boy in their neighborhood, though a body was never found and each boy blames the other. A decade or so later, Jan is paroled and is able to fudge his way into a job as a church organist that provides an apartment. Withdrawn, Jan hides behind his shaggy hair, looking sad all the time (can you see why I might like this movie?), but demonstrates true passion while playing the organ. He meets an older woman, a single mom who lives nearby, and they haltingly begin a relationship together. Jan doesn't tell anyone that he's a convicted murderer, but the truth begins to come out when the victim's mother has a chance meeting with Jan and basically freaks the fuck out, especially when she sees him with his girlfriend's son. She is determined to ruin his life the way he ruined hers. Will she do something super-fucked up? Will Jan finally confess what really happened? YOU WILL HAVE TO WAIT AND SEE, MY FRIEND. Due stay tuned for sweet Simon and Garfunkel tunes rockin' the church.

11. Tulpan (2008, Kazakhstan)
Returning to the steppes in triumph. Or something.
Young Asa has just completed his service in the Russian Navy and comes back home to the land he loves, the steppes of Kazakhstan. However, he must move in with his sister and her family. Asa wants to start life on his own with a yurt and sheep herd, but the local sheep dealer won't sell him any sheep until he gets married. Asa's sister is fiercely loyal to him, but her husband Ondas resents him and is basically a dick. Their little kids are adorable, BTWs. Ondas takes Asa to meet the family of Tulpan, the only single girl around. Her family's not really into him, and she and they want her to go away to school. Asa has no other marriage prospects. He and his friend talk about leaving for the city, since their opportunities are few out on this barren landscape. Not a lot happens in this movie, but it is kind of beautiful and lonely and Asa is kind of hapless and sweet.

12. Wrecked (2010)
Things are going super-well right about now.
Like anybody's surprised there's an Adrien Brody movie on this list. And let me tell you, this movie is almost exclusively Adrien Brody. Our nameless protagonist finds himself bashed up in a wrecked car in a ravine in the middle of the woods. He can't remember who he is or how he got there, or where "there" is anyway. He's got an injured leg and very few resources to survive upon. Through clues in the car and a flash or two of memory, he figures out that he's somehow been involved in a bank robbery. Did he kill a guy? Is this gun his? Are the other robbers coming back for this duffel bag full of cash? Are the people he's seeing really there or is he hallucinating? Will he starve to death or get gangrene or fall down a cliff trying to find his way out of the woods? It's intense. And really, really good.

13. XXY (2007, Argentina)
Gawky teens, falling in love?
Alex, now fifteen, lives with her parents in a small coastal Uruguayan town. She was born intersex, but has been raised as a girl. Unbeknownst to her husband, Alex's mother invites an old friend to visit, a surgeon she thinks might be able to "fix" Alex before it's too late. Puberty may be making Alex more masculine, but she has been prescribed hormones to suppress its effects so she can "stay" a girl. However, she's recently stopped taking her pills. Alex's mother and father clash over whether or not they should try to control her biological development. Alex seems interested in exploring her sexuality and allowing her body to develop naturally without pinning down an explicitly gendered identity.  The surgeon and his wife come and bring their teenage son, Alvaro. Alex and Alvaro find themselves hitting it off. Alvaro's maybe into dudes, but Alex isn't not a dude, right? Also, will the adults in Alex's life let her decide who and what she wants to be, or will they try to make a medical intervention? (Rating this highly told Netflix I would like Tomboy, so here's your nonconformist gender-identifying children foreign movies primer.) And what happens when the local hooligans found out about her atypical genitalia? (Hint: really, really bad things.) I do promise it's not relentlessly depressing, but it is a complex subject matter and definitely worth checking out.

Go watch them. Now you will be a better person. I wish you a happy 2013 in movies!

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