December’s movies, reviewed

I have watched 32½ films in December, making it my second busiest month of ALL TIME, right behind August 2012 with a full 33.

Gena Rowlands in "Faces"

Gena Rowlands in “Faces”

The month started with a John Cassavetes retrospective (or, since I had never seen one of his films before, should I say… spective?). I loved “Faces” and “Shadows,” thought “Minnie and Moskowitz” had its moments and was bothered so much by “A Woman Under the Influence” that I turned it off halfway through. (That’s where that ½ comes from.)

"The Nightmare Before Christmas"

“The Nightmare Before Christmas”

Next up, perennial favorite “The Nightmare Before Christmas” with my perennial best friend Sarah. The film never disappoints, of course, and one thing I noted was that after watching the thing countless times, first on VHS recorded from TV, then on the German (PAL) DVD release, the 4% sped-up songs were so ingrained in our brains that now, watching the film on blu-ray (which has no speed-up) we were always singing along slightly too fast. Kinda weird, but at least this whole PAL/NTSC mess is a thing of the past. (Also: Watching it on the big screen, I noted all the cute penguins in Christmas Town that I had never caught before!)

Gene Wilder in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory"

Gene Wilder in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”

Then I finally caught up with two acclaimed movies from the seventies, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” and “Don’t Look Now,” both pretty great and both kinda weird, too.

“The Dark Knight Rises”

My brother visited me for one weekend and brought along Christopher Nolan’s Batman-trilogy on blu-ray, so over two days we saw “Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight,” and “The Dark Knight Rises.” My assessment after I saw them again is basically the same I came to before: The first one’s pretty much forgettable, Heath Ledger is all kinds of awesome in it but overall the second one is too long and the third one, save one terrible, just terrible Marion Cottilard, remains one of my favorite films of 2012.

Speaking of forgettable films: Steven Spielberg’s “The Adventures of Tintin.” Huh.

Julia Roberts in "Closer"

Julia Roberts in “Closer”

I had somewhat high expectations for French drama “Elles” because when is Juliette Binoche ever not great? Answer: “Elles.” And Sarah warned me about this one, too. Oh, well, can’t all be winners. David Schwimmer’s “Trust” on the other hand was a very pleasant (if that’s the right word for a drama about teen rape) surprise and features the second best scene of Clive Owen in an online chat room after, of course, “Closer,” long one of my all-time favorites and still gripping and tearing at me like it did when I first saw it.

"Jiro Dreams of Sushi"

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

Then some catching up on a few 2012 titles. “Magic Mike” is okay, “Moonrise Kingdom” is just about perfect (maybe Wes Anderson’s best, and that’s really saying something), “Casa de mi Padre” is just my kind of strange/funny, “The Queen of Versailles” and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” are two great documentaries – as is “Marwencol,” which I saw later in the month.

"The Night of The Hunter"

“The Night of The Hunter”

Two more favorites I wanted to give another go, “The Night of the Hunter” and “The Fountain,” next. Every time I watch “Hunter” I’m so amazed by Charles Laughton and cinematographer Stanley Cortez’ visual style, the expressionism, the masterful work with light and shadows – it’s just so beautiful and interesting to look at. And of course Robert Mitchum is at his creepy evil best here. “The Fountain” gets a bad wrap sometimes, but I can think of few films more a thing of beauty than this one. Clint Mansell’s score alone is enough to reduce me to a sobbing mess.

Tom McCarthy in "2012"

Tom McCarthy in “2012”

My one film I saw at the cinema this month was “The Hobbit,” which I didn’t like all that much. On December 21st, in accordance with ancient Mayan prophecy, we watched Roland Emmerich’s disaster porn “2012,” which was fun. I’m always extremely amused to see Tom McCarthy, director of two of my favorite films (“The Station Agent” and “The Visitor”), in this. The last film I saw before going to my parents’ place (where there is no projector!) for the holidays was José Padilha’s “Elite Squad 2,” which I had a hard time following, plot-wise, but as action goes, it’s pretty entertaining. (Also, doesn’t Portuguese kind sound like Russian? Just me?)

Steve Martin in "The Muppet Movie"

Steve Martin in “The Muppet Movie”

Netflix saved me from spending too much time with my folks over Christmas, with “The Muppet Movie” (Fozzie: “I don’t know how to thank you guys.” Kermit: I don’t know why to thank you guys.”), “The Aristocats,” “Christmas Vacation” (fun!) and “Batman: Year One” (yawn!).

Bill Irwin and Rosemarie DeWitt in "Rachel Getting Married"

Bill Irwin and Rosemarie DeWitt in “Rachel Getting Married”

Back in Trier, I rounded out the year with Rian Johnson’s “Looper” (loved it), “Rachel Getting Married” for the third time this year (I know I throw the word “favorite” around a lot, but in all honesty there’s no other film – well, maybe “The Tree of Life” – that gets to me as much as this one), Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia” (wow!, almost three hours but I can’t wait to experience it a second time) and then “Lethal Weapon 3,” because, hey, why not.

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