Before 2012 comes to a close, I thought I’d share some of the top cinema experiences I had this year. Unlike some of the other hot lists out there, this is not an Oscar prediction list. It is simply a list of 7 standout titles I enjoyed in theaters and at home.
Prince of The City
No one likes a rat. Sidney Lumet’s epic cop film takes it upon itself to truly define why. This under-appreciated 1981 masterpiece stars Treat Williams in arguably his only great role, along with every bulky New York actor with a mustache at the time. Based on a true story, Prince of the City introduces an untouchable NYPD detective team as their most celebrated partner (Daniel Ciello) agrees to go undercover for a special commission. In doing so, he risks exposing his own NYPD secrets at a federal level.
This film plays like a stunningly shot documentary, with every scenario carefully calibrated with Detective Ciello’s emerging paranoia. Hard to do when you’ve got characters floating around with names like Rocky Gazzo. With enough tension and tough guy one-liners to hold crime film lovers over for a weekend, the cop politics in this film are worthy of study, and challenge you to distinguish the true difference between justice and loyalty.
Best quotes of the film: (1) “I know the law! But the law don’t know the streets.”
(2) “I’ll tell you what I’m in a position to do, and that’s throw you out the fuckin’ window. It’s only the fifth floor, but I’ll try to aim you so you land on your pointed little head.”
Shoot the Moon
Albert Finney and Diane Keaton star in this rare and moving family drama directed by Alan Parker. Thanks to the success of Redford’s Ordinary People in 1980, a small number of intimate films about marriage and divorce were able to see the light. This 1982 film is easily one of the best to come from that time. Keaton’s performance alone is like nothing you will ever see her in today.
Shot with haunting grace and paced with real intelligence, Shoot the Moon will test your emotions (and surprise you) more than most marital dramas can.
Quote of the film: “You were changing diapers and scraping shit off walls… you were creating LIFE! And what was I doing? Staring at the fucking Bermuda graph and counting the god damn dimples on a golf ball.”
This eclectic James Toback film is another rarity. Made in 1978, this is a low budget New York character piece that just sticks. Harvey Keitel stars as an aspiring pianist who is always playing, no matter where he goes. Walking the streets blasting classics with his tape player, Keitel mixes his musical inspiration with some very sketchy and dangerous people, including his own father (and a ‘pimp’ cameo by Jim Brown).
If you’ve ever seen a Toback film (Two Girls and a Guy, Black and White), it’s usually about the kind of people you would hate to meet. But with a sharp sense of story and some bold shots of street spice, Toback’s films are ripe with entertainment. Running at a slick 82 minutes, Fingers will light a fire under your film bucket before you know it.
Quote of the film: “Do you believe this? This is the Jamies, man! “Summertime, Summertime!” – the most musically inventive song of 1958! What are you eating? Shrimp? Are you gonna tell me this song doesn’t go with your shrimp?”
This Milos Forman film was so uniquely impressive that it still stuck with me ever since I wrote about it a few months ago.
You can read my review in full here: Connecting and Taking Off
Out of all the big budget films that came out this year, I feel this one spent its money with the best intentions. Beautifully crafted throughout, Lincoln is a special kind of achievement for Steven Spielberg. Experiencing it on the big screen during its first week in release allowed me to enjoy the timing. As Lincoln portrays the bitter stalemates in the old world of American politics, I felt an ironic silver lining when comparing it to the current Republican vs. Democratic battleground of today.
But more importantly, Lincoln excels as an actual transport into the man who was Abraham Lincoln. It seems pointless to compare Daniel Day Lewis’ performance to any other actor’s this year — maybe because his was not a performance, but a fully executed reality that we are now lucky enough to experience. Lewis’ innate ability to capture Lincoln’s aura and convictions is nothing short of amazing. Most remarkably is that he does so quietly, never out-staging his fellow actors. If he hadn’t, I may not have noticed that Tommy Lee Jones was also showcasing the absolute peak of his abilities. Aside from a few excusable spoon-fed moments, I can finally say this is Spielberg’s best film in a long time. Lincoln is a four score, four star epic I will gladly watch again.
Quote of the film: “Each of us has made it possible for the other to do terrible things.”
Assault on Precinct 13
This 1976 John Carpenter cult favorite has been on my list to watch for years. I had no idea how good it was going to be. Featuring some of the most chilling shootout sequences ever shot, it’s so incredible to know how little this film was made for. With only a fraction of its $200,000 budget spent on the the actual film production, it’s impressive how ‘Hollywood’ this film looks.
In fact, indie filmmakers should take note — this is a high concept idea, executed with essentially one location for most of the action, starring no-name actors. It works like a charm because it milks its premise like a champ. Looking at just the music and action alone, it’s very easy to see why so many people love this film.
The less I say about this one, the better. Seek it out, and make sure it’s the original version, rather than that clunky remake starring Ethan Hawke.
Quote of the film: “In the meantime, I got this plan. It’s called “Save Ass”. And the way it works is this – I slip outta one of these windows and I run like a bastard!”
I saw this in the theater earlier in the year and it pulled me in like a tractor beam. Not only does this film reveal a much needed message about education’s obstacles in America, but it captures the heart of what we have left to give. I’m going to simply exclaim that this is Tony Kaye’s finest achievement since American History X and easily Adrien Brody’s most enthralling performance since The Pianist. If only this film could have stayed in the theaters longer.
Shot by Kaye himself and starring many other fine actors such as James Caan and Lucy Lui, Detachment gives us more than what was missing in Dangerous Minds, and does so without asking for your permission. Its gritty realism is stark but in the end, beautifully justified. If you are a teacher or want to see what it’s like out there, I strongly suggest you rent this now.
Quote of the film: “So to defend ourselves, and fight against assimilating this dullness into our thought processes, we must learn to read. To stimulate our own imagination, to cultivate our own consciousness, our own belief systems. We all need skills to defend, to preserve, our own minds.”