Throughout the year, I watch many films. Not only do I enjoy cinema and have a degree in Film/Video, but I find films provide me a way to refresh my insights and keep from getting too burned out from covering an issue or topic as a writer.
The Dissenter may be a civil liberties/national security blog, but here I like to highlight the importance of art in culture and society. If time is available and there isn’t a story I need to be covering, I have sometimes posted a review of films I’ve seen. (This year I reviewed Rampart and Savages.)
Last year, on December 31, I posted a list of ten top films from 2011. I like to think what I am doing here is something routine that readers may come to expect each year.
Now, here’s the list of films I enjoyed and appreciated in 2012.
Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is a hedge fund executive in New York City struggling to complete a deal. He has engaged in fraud to cover up the fact that he suffered a major investment loss. His wife (Susan Sarandon) and daughter (Brit Marling) have no idea he is anything but a family man. Simultaneously, Julie Côte (Laetitia Casta), who Miller is helping to become a successful art entrepreneur and also having an affair with, decide to take a trip to upstate New York. In a car crash, Côte is killed. Miller must slip out and find a way to conceal the death so that he can complete a deal he is trying to make with his hedge fund.
It is an appropriate story for the times. The fraud, which should land him jail time, is unlikely to sink him. However, involuntary manslaughter would definitely lead to jail time. Like a true businessman who puts people before profit and prestige and social status before ethics, he is willing to keep concealed what really happened. Unfortunately, Jimmy Grant (Nate Parker), a young African-American man who rescued him after the car crash and is indebted to Miller, becomes the subject of a police inquiry led by a police detective (Tim Roth). This story line takes the film from being one simply about white collar crime going unpunished to a representation of the justice system in America, as police show the lengths they are willing to go to push Grant to snitch on Miller because they know how difficult it would be to get him for other crimes like fraud.
In 1979, a covert CIA operation was mounted to rescue six staff members who escaped from the US embassy and sought refuge at the home of a Canadian ambassador. They escaped the same day that fifty other staff members of the embassy were taken hostage in a crisis that lasted until they were released on January 20, 1981. Argo is the story of this operation led by CIA specialist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), who develops a cover story to get the escaped staff out of revolutionary Iran by convincing Iranian officials he is there to scout locations for a science fiction movie.
The film makes the list because it is like some of the more classic political or espionage thrillers made in the 1970s. Paced well, it builds to its climax appropriately, though one knows historically the six managed to escape. In the film world it never looks like there are any guarantees the staff will make it. On top of that, the film does not omit the role the CIA played in orchestrating a coup that removed Mohammed Mossadegh from power and replaced him with Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This is proper context for why Iran was so wary of outsiders trying to meddle in their country’s affairs.
Beasts of the Southern Wild:
Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), an African-American girl, lives in a bayou community called the “Bathtub” with her sick father, Wink (Dwight Henry). Her home is essentially a trailer with scraps of metal and wood to keep her sheltered at night. One night, there’s a dangerous incoming storm, but Hushpuppy and her father stay in their home. The storm leads to flooding. Hushpuppy and her father set off on a makeshift boat to look for survivors. As her father begins to realize the salt water could damage his paradise on the bayou, he comes up with a plan to blow up a levee that can stop the flooding.
This is the story stripped of fantasy, devoid of the spirit and imagination of Hushpuppy, which makes this depiction of some of the poorest people in Louisiana an incredible tale. Hushpuppy says in the film, “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right. If one piece busts, even the smallest piece, the entire universe will get busted.” She is learning in school about ruthless prehistoric creatures called “Auruchs” from the melting ice caps. It is essentially a myth that explains climate change. In her world, the Auruchs are responsible for flooding her home and she must be a beast and fight back. Finally, it was made on a low budget by a collective of young filmmakers who value telling stories over fixating on what sells at the box office and that comes through in the film. (more…)