LES MIZ was #1 and I AM was #2
By Alan Waldman / The Rag Blog / January x 2013
- LES MISÃ‰RABLES (U.K.) is a magnificent movie! I consider the stage version to be the greatest musical ever (followed by Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon and Sweeney Todd). Despite the bland singing of Russell Crowe, the film of Les Miz features moving, amusing, rousing and achingly beautiful songs, nicely sung by Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Samantha Barks, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Colm Wilkinson (the original 1985 Jean Valjean) and young Isabelle Allen and Daniel Huttlestone. The direction, by 2011â€™s Oscar-winner Tom Hooper (The Kingâ€™s Speech), is masterful. The acting is fine, many of the visuals are stunning and the timeless Victor Hugo story of a convict chased for 17 years by a vengeful flic drives us through the full range of moviegoer emotions.
- I AM, winner of this yearâ€™s Humanitas prize, is a rich documentary in which Tom Shadyac, the director of many silly comedies (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Nutty Professor), talks to intellectual and spiritual leaders about whatâ€™s wrong with the world and how we can improve it and the way we live in it. This is a smart, insightful, revealing study, with many fascinating and surprising facts and observations. More than 88% of those rating it at imdb.com gave it thumbs-up, and 36.3% consider it a perfect 10. I believe many peopleâ€”particularly veterans of the 1960sâ€”will love this film.
- THE FLOWERS OF WAR (China) is a lush, dramatic, moving film set during the 1937 Japanese occupation of Nanking. It is yet another masterpiece from Chinaâ€™s greatest director, Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, Ju Dou). It stars Christian Bale and an outstanding Chinese cast (many in their first roles ever). Bale is an undertaker seeking refuge in a church with 13 young convent students and a group of refugee prostitutes. The visuals are astonishing, and the many DVD extras on how the film was made are fascinating. A gem.
- THE ISLAND PRESIDENT is an outstanding documentary about President Mohamed Nasheedâ€™s dramatic quest to persuade world leaders at a Copenhagen international environmental conference to institute the carbon emissions regulations needed to save his country, The Maldives (the lowest-lying nation in the world), from being permanently extinguished when the Indian Ocean rises another three feet. This film is compelling, surprising and highly informative. More than 89.2%viewers rating it at imdb.com gave it thumbs-up, and more than 50% give it 10 out of 10.
- MY AFTERNOONS WITH MARGUERITTE (France) stars Europeâ€™s greatest actor, GÃ©rard Depardieu, as an illiterate, lonely peasant who befriends and is taught to read by a cultured little old lady (the wonderful Gisele Casadesus). The unlikely friendship that develops between teacher and student is life-affirming. Â The French cast is fine, the characters are compelling and the cinematography is lovely. This won Best Foreign Film at the 2011 Newport Beach Film Festival. More than 90.3% of those rating it at imdb.com liked it, as did 84% of the 57 critics polled at rottentomatoes.com.
- LINCOLN deals with President Abraham Lincolnâ€™s 1865 struggleto persuade Congress to emancipate the slaves. It is extremely well directed by Steven Spielberg, and Daniel Day Lewis is exceptionally good in the title role. Both of them and the film itself should be shoo-ins for Oscars. Well written by Tony Kushner (winner of six top awards so far for Munich, Lincoln and Angels in America), it is rich in character, drama and period detail. The stellar cast includes Tommy Lee Jones, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Tim Blake Nelson, Hal Holbrook and James Spader.
- THE WOMEN ON THE 6TH FLOOR (France) is a very enjoyable film about a wealthy couple who live in a large building whose top floor is occupied by a group of Spanish housemaids. Fabrice Luchini is excellent as the bored, dull stockbroker who falls in love with his maid and everything Spanish. The maids are very diverse and entertaining. Among them is the great Carmen Maura, who added Franceâ€™s highest Best Actress Award (the Cesar) for this performance to her 33 other major international honors.
- ORANGES AND SUNSHINE (U.K.) is a provocative, well-crafted documentary about a Nottingham, England social worker who accidentally discovered that poor English childrenâ€”150,000 of them!â€”had been forcibly separated from their parents and deported to Australia, New Zealand and Rhodesia, where they were told their parents had died. The film deals with hundreds of them who were sent to Australia, where many were physically and sexually abused by a Roman Catholic Christian Brothers group. The British and Australian governments hushed this up for decades. Emily Watson and Hugo Weaving head a strong cast.
- THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (U.K.) has a dream cast of seven of Britainâ€™s finest actors (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Penelope Wilton, Tom Wilkinson, Celia Imrie and Ronald Pickup), plus Dev Patel who was nominated for 26 awards (winning 10 so far) for this and for Slumdog Millionaire. They all do a terrific job, and the Indian locations are very absorbing. This is a charming, funny, marvelously detailed film about a group of British retirees who go to a supposedly refurbished hotel in India and get into all kinds of enjoyable or dramatic interrelations. So far this film has 12 major award nominations (for director John Madden, writer Ol Parker and the eight lead actors). Madden, who was Oscar-nominated for Shakespeare in Love, is at the top of his game here.
- SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (U.K.) is a fun, quirky romantic comedy-drama from Norwegian master director Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog, Chocolat, The Cider House Rules and Once Around) and Oscar-winning scribe Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire). Ewan McGregor plays a British fisheries expert who is hired by an eccentric Yemeni sheik to introduce fly fishing to his desert land. His budding romance with Emily Blunt is sweet and charming.
- TO ROME WITH LOVE is a very cute Woody Allen comedy which follows the predicaments, romances and adventures of various Romans and tourists played by Roberto Benigni, Judy Davis, Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Ornella Muti and a passel of Italians. Fun stuff.
- ARGO is the exciting, dramatized true story of a CIA agent (played by director Ben Affleck) who rescues six Americans hiding in the Canadian Ambassadorâ€™s residence in revolutionary 1979 Tehran by pretending to use them as the crew of a Star Wars-type movie he wants to shoot there. Excellent comic relief is provided by Alan Arkin and John Goodman, who, however, canâ€™t stop repeating â€œArgo fuckyourself.â€
- THE DICTATOR isan amazingly funny comedy written by and starring Sacha Baron Cohen as Middle Eastern despot Hafez Aladeen of Wadiya, who unexpectedly finds himself working behind the counter of a Manhattan bakery. Although there is much crude, sexist, racist and stereotypic humor in it, this is actually the most accessible of Baron Cohenâ€™s films. Unlike Borat and Bruno, which consist entirely of crazy pranks he plays on unsuspecting dupes (like Pamela Anderson and Ron Paul), this movie is completely scripted, so the comedy is less outrageous and mean-spirited.
As was the case in each of the past 31 years, much of the yearâ€™s best writing was on television, rather than in the movies. The 21 American series I liked most were (more or less in order of preference): The Newsroom, Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Homeland, House, Suits, White Collar, TremÃ©, House of Lies, Flight of the Conchords, Justified, Law & Order SVU, C.S.I., Elementary, Blue Bloods, Covert Affairs, Vegas, Burn Notice, Californication, Tilt and Playmakers.
Here are the 22 non-American series I enjoyed most in 2012. Some of them are older, but I watched them last year because my local library offers lots of British DVDs.Unless indicated otherwise, all are British: Little Dorrit (miniseries), MI-5, Inspector Morse, A Touch of Frost, Luther, The Hour, Corner Gas (Can.), Downton Abbey, Midsomer Murders, Inspector Lynley Mysteries, Dalziel & Pascoe, Whitechapel, George Gently, Rebus, The Border (Can.), DNA, Murphyâ€™s Law, Kavanagh Q.C., Lilyhammer (Nor.), Spiral (Fra.), The Eagle (Den.), Judge John Deed and Vera.
[Houston native Alan Waldman is a former editor at Honolulu Magazine and The Hollywood Reporter.]