Stephen Simon’s Mid-2012 Favorite Films

September 4, 2012

As we head into the fall season, when the huge majority of quality films are (finally!) released, what has 2012 brought us so far?

As I detailed in Bringing Back The Old Hollywood, the pickings are almost always very slim for these first eight months because release schedules are dominated by The New Hollywood’s obsession with youth-oriented (superheroes, dumb comedies, etc.) films. This year is no exception.

Also, as I predicted here last year, the summer of 2012 saw further revenue and attendance declines from 2011; moreover, a whopping one hundred million less tickets were sold this summer than ten years ago.

On a happier note, I have five favorite films so far this year. What are yours?

1) Hope Springs. I wrote a whole blog about this film which you can access by clicking on the title.

2) Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

In 2011, Win-Win came out in May as the first real “quality” film of the year. This year, it was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel which is an absolutely delightful, poignant, funny, brilliantly written, directed, and acted film.

Marigold takes place in India at a somewhat dilapidated old hotel where several “mature” adults have come for various reasons ranging from trying to save a marriage to retirement.

Boasting a literal who’s-who cast of esteemed English actors (Dame Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson), Marigold has much to say about life, love, aging, and wisdom.

3) Ruby Sparks. One of the most imaginative and thought-provoking films of this and recent years, Ruby revolves around a still-youthful writer (Paul Dano) who had a huge best seller when he was much younger but has been stuck in writer’s block hell ever since. When his therapist (Elliot Gould) suggests some writing therapy, he begins a story about a character named Ruby Sparks….who (Zoe Kazan) then actually shows up in his home one day exactly, and I do mean exactly, as he has written her.

What follows is a penetrating look at how our imperfections as human beings are actually so critically important to our relationships. The film is expertly directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris whose prior film was the utterly delightful Little Miss Sunshine. As in that film, Ruby is filled with fascinating, relatable characters and the script, written by Ms. Kazan herself, is very perceptive about that age-old cliche of being very careful about what we wish for.

4) Moonrise Kingdom. A boy in summer camp runs away with a local girl, setting off a frantic search by parents and police. Pretty basic stuff, yes? Not in this wildly original, delightful,  charming movie in which absolutely nothing is basic in any way.

Directed by Wes Anderson, Kingdom is so cleverly unique that it looks and feels quite unlike any other film. Mr. Anderson’s directorial style and vision is so consistent that he manages to coax controlled but wildly funny performances from his cast of great actors, many of whom are not exactly known for their subtlety on screen. Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, and Harvey Keitel in the same movie where all three consistently underplay their roles? That happens about as often as the reappearance of  Haley’s Comet. Other wonderful actors such as Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, and Frances McDormand combine to make Moonrise Kingdom one of the most beguiling films of the year.

5) Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. One of the most improbable plots of the year in one of the most oddly titled films in many years combine with a confident director and  a cast of charismatic actors to make a thoroughly entertaining and satisfying romantic comedy. Just the fact that it is indeed both romantic and funny is cause for celebration because that combination is something that many so-called rom/coms seem to have forgotten how to do recently.

Emily Blunt plays the representative of a billionaire Arab sheik who is such a fan of salmon fishing that he commits to building a dam and river in his native Yemen. Ewan McGregor plays the British government Fisheries bureaucrat who is forced to participate in and actually manifest the project which he initially believes is beyond absurd. Skillfully directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Cider House Rules, Chocolat), what follows is a an utterly enthralling, gentle  love story between the completely lovable McGregor and equally charming Miss Blunt. Amr Waked plays the sheik with great dignity and warmth and Kristin Scott Thomas is hysterically funny as the opportunistic and utterly amoral press secretary to the Prime Minister.

So, those are my five favorite films so far this year. What are yours???

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sidney Peck September 8, 2012 at 11:48 am

Due to finances, I’ve only seen one of these films, “Ruby Sparks”. I agree with you, it is a magical piece of cinema. In my opinion, it does everything a film is supposed to do, make the audience FEEL and THINK. As soon as I left the theatre, I texted all my friends and encouraged them to see it.

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Brian Mills September 15, 2012 at 11:44 am

“Hope Springs” and “Ruby Sparks” still waiting to see. So my choices for the first half of the year for the UK releases are: “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”. “We Bought A Zoo”. “The Hunger Games”. “Safety Not Guaranteed”. “Cafe de Flore”. “Woody Allen – A Documentary”. and “Your Sister’s Sister”.

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silver account September 17, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Ruby Sparks wants to wag its finger at the Manic Pixie Dream Girl ideal while still having lots of fun with the Ruby character and pouring out a lot of sympathy towards poor old troubled Calvin. This is a film with so much potential, but instead of fully committing to the moments where it seems to be challenging the representation of women in many indi films, it opts for a montage of Calvin and Ruby seeing zombie movies, going to a fun fair and then going to a dance party where she tells him she’s taken her underwear off. Rather than being Stranger Than Fiction with insightful gender politics, Ruby Sparks is more a hipster Weird Science (John Hughes, 1985).

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