Tim Grierson on the Year’s Forgotten Gems


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Most critics agree that 2012 will be remembered as a particularly strong movie year. Whether it’s “Zero Dark Thirty” or “The Master,” “Moonrise Kingdom” or “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Amour” or “Holy Motors,” bold films were everywhere. The only downside to such a terrific year is that some superb smaller films have been pushed into the margins, overlooked by critics’ groups, end-of-the-year lists, and Oscar bloggers. With that in mind, I thought I’d select five that are absolutely worth your time that I haven’t mentioned in any of my columns this year. If you were having trouble narrowing down your 2012 favorites to a Top 10, these selections will only further complicate your process…

Goodbye First Love – This French drama from filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve tackles an age-old subject, but with a real daring and freshness. An impressionable teenager named Camille (Lola Créton) is utterly smitten with her older boyfriend Sullivan (Sebastian Urzendowsky), convinced that they’re meant to be together forever. So what is she supposed to do when Sullivan decides to travel the globe and leave her behind? “Goodbye First Love” takes a clear-eyed perspective on the passionate unreasonableness of young love, quietly observing as Camille mourns for the guy who turned his back on her. Créton bravely allows Camille to be exasperating and moody, such is the seeming permanence of her stubbornly broken heart.

It’s Such a Beautiful Day – When we think of animated movies, our minds go to major productions like “Brave” or “Wreck-It Ralph,” where hundreds upon hundreds of animators and other artists are working together to make big blockbusters. By comparison, Don Hertzfeldt makes personal, do-it-yourself projects. This year, he released “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” which compiled two previous short animated films with a new final installment, all about a luckless gent named Bill coping with the ennui of regular life. The three-piece movie runs just over an hour, but with wry humor and some utterly poignant touches, it addresses the complexity of life, death and family in such a way that it’s very nearly overpowering.

Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present – For those who are allergic to performance art, an entire documentary about heralded, divisive art-world figure Marina Abramović might sound like hell. But director Matthew Akers delivers a portrait of an icon made human as she prepares for her latest show, which will involve her sitting quietly and expressionlessly in a chair for several hours each day while museum patrons take turns sitting opposite her. Abramović will only stare back at them, and likewise “The Artist Is Present” gazes back at her as she goes about her craft. But this is no dry academic treatise: Few films this year made me cry as much as this one, in part because of the extraordinary (albeit brief and silent) connection she makes with her fans during this exhibit.

Middle of Nowhere
– This year’s Sundance helped launch “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and “The Sessions.” But don’t forget about this wonderfully observed Los Angeles drama about a young woman named Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) who promises to wait for her husband (Omari Hardwick) while he serves a prison sentence. But Ruby’s devotion to her man leaves her in an emotional purgatory that keeps her own life from moving forward, which causes all sorts of complications when a gentlemanly bus driver (a superb David Oyelowo) starts to develop feelings for her. Great performances, realistic stakes, genuine feeling — writer-director Ava DuVernay has crafted a movie with the richness and care of a novel.

Only the Young
– Of the many strengths of the documentary “Only the Young,” chief among them is how loving and nonjudgmental filmmakers Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims are about their subjects: three teens living in Southern California negotiating the anxiety of adolescence. Raised Christian but loving skateboarding and punk music, Garrison, Kevin and Skye are observed as they deal with crushes and broken families, and the movie blessedly never tries to categorize them, letting their contradictions speak for themselves. It also doesn’t hurt that “Only the Young” is quite often simply beautifully made, weaving together the teens’ conversation with images from their desert hometown that capture a universal sense of longing and isolation that any young person can recognize. Like many of 2012’s forgotten gems, “Only the Young” may not have made many waves, but its precise, wonderful artistry makes one ponder how many other wonderful films are out there waiting to be discovered.

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Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

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Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

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End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

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