If 2011 marked the death of film, why do I have so many promising movies left to see? From Certified Copy to We Bought a Zoo, I’m struggling.

Then again the record-breaking $34.5 million performance of The Devil Inside this weekend makes the death of film seem like a good idea in 2012. Cameron Crowe, Spielberg, and Fincher look on with envy; horror fans tired of cheap “found cinema” gimmicks despair; Pazuzu weeps.

“Kokumo will help me find Pazuzu”–Richard Burton, The Exorcist: Part II (1977), a movie I actually like. (Watch it with the dialogue at Artist levels and the Ennio Morricone score turned way up.)

Film criticism died a little this week with the dismissal of J. Hoberman from the Village Voice. Or maybe it’s the Voice that’s cracking, as Hoberman, an excellent thinker as well as writer, is bound to find some other gig. There’s some good film writing at the Voice (and too much that’s politically correct and/or full of look-at-me self-regard) but it’s like a planetary system without a sun now.

Hoberman’s ten lessons for film critics. ”Plot synopses automatically ruin a review.” Agreed. (Mostly because I’m lousy at them. I’m not sure how I’d do as a “recapper,” the reigning form of TV criticism.)

It would be hard to summarize Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so I’m not going to. Not because it’s muddled, but because it’s so very dense, and in an exceptionally satisfying way. Even compared with the legendary miniseries there’s nothing compressed about it. It and A Separation make for two of my Top Ten.

(I watched Margin Call again. That counts for something when making a Top Ten list, right?)

Tinker Tailor has one of the most chilling examples of “collateral damage” that I’ve ever seen in a movie, which is largely a cerebral, after-the-action movie with several startling corpses. And I thought the bloody car seat on The Walking Dead this season was bad…

Best line, Kathy Burke to Gary Oldman (who directed her in his harrowing 1997 film Nil by Mouth): “George, I think you and I are underfucked.” (Can you imagine anyone saying that to Alec Guinness?)

All the actors are terrific. Director Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) has it all under tight control. One asset that may be overlooked is its exceptional score, by Alberto Iglesias, which adds a touch of the exotic to the somber Cold War palette.

The two-time Oscar nominee (one for a prior Le Carre adaptation, 2005’s The Constant Gardener) scored The Skin I Live In for his frequent collaborator, Pedro Almodovar. I never reviewed it, and unlike other Almodovars it tanked here, for reasons that are fairly obvious (icky subject matter, clinically treated, being one). But it haunts me.

What’s with languishing franchises The Fast and The Furious and Mission Impossible suddenly roaring back to life at the boxoffice? Are audiences that starved for comfort food?

I think not, given that seven of the top ten movies at the boxoffice last year were sequels, a number that could swell to nine–nine!–if the Mission Impossible and Sherlock Holmes followups crack the list in the new year. That would leave Thor, a movie by committee if there ever was one, as the one “original” on the list. Depressing.

Worse for the business, fewer attendees are feeding at this sequel trough. (I only saw the Transformers sequel. And Thor.) At this rate of attrition there won’t be anyone left to see The Devil Inside II, The Devil Inside 3D, The Devil Inside: Ghost Protocol, and Fast Devil Five.

The not-bad indie I watched on Showtime last night, 3 Backyards with Edie Falco, grossed $43,000 in theaters. That’s not unusual. Producers and distributors say they make it up in the (shrinking) DVD rental market and On Demand, but out there in the boonies they never get a chance at being part of the conversation on cinema.

Returning to the top of the charts, not sure I missed much. Come to think of it, the best cinema I saw all year was on TV: the ninth episode of HBO’s Enlightened, “Consider Helen,” with its intense focus on Diane Ladd’s character. A stunning half-hour directed by Phil Morrison (Junebug). Nothing I saw at the movies affected me more. (And at this time of the year I’m not looking forward to any movie as much as I am to new seasons of Justified and Mad Men.)

This year’s Top Ten lists break two ways: The higher-brows go for The Tree of Life and Melancholia, the rest for The Artist and War Horse. It’s hard to find a list that finds room for all four. I haven’t seen War Horse yet but I’m not sure any of the other three will make mine; good, even great, in part, none of them totally grabbed me (and outside of its spot-on lead performance by Jean Dujardin and affection for the medium The Artist felt lazy, one missed opportunity after another).

I keep reading that The Artist, along with Hugo and Midnight in Paris, represents a trend toward nostalgia, like we saw in the early 70s, when The Sting and What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon invited audiences to laugh their troubles away and escape into past forms or the past itself. Try selling that to an audience that doesn’t seem nostalgic for anything older than Cars (2006). Will The Great Gatsby 3D prove a masterstroke for director Baz Luhrmann, or a career-halting dud like Peter Bogdanovich’s At Long Last Love and Nickelodeon, which ended the earlier craze by 1976?

Everyone’s middle choice is The Descendants. Makes sense, as it’s a decent movie that approaches you for a hug, then walks away, leaving you ambivalent despite obvious merit. George Clooney’s TV commercial for it has more passion.

A bit of a kerfuffle erupted over Christmas week when the National Film Registry announced that it had chosen Forrest Gump (1994) as one of its selections. Given its digital innovations it’s an obvious choice I think, not that Woody Allen hadn’t gotten there first in some ways with Zelig in 1983. The Post article suggests that for some in the film community, however, representation should be a factor along with artistic merit in making those choices. That’s a point worth debating, but a Gumpian amnesia settled over the whole topic by New Year’s.

What movie did I see this holiday season? A Dangerous Method. Because nothing says good will toward all men than Michael Fassbender spanking Keira Knightley.


About the Author

Bob Cashill

An Editorial Board Member of Cineaste magazine, Bob is also a member of the Drama Desk theatrical critics society in New York. See what he's watching on Letterboxd and read more from him at New York Theater News.

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