Robocop (1987, directed by Paul Verhoeven) As a kid, I thought movies like Robocop and Total Recall were cool for the special effects. As an adult, I’ve learned how subversive the pictures were on so many levels. There’s the over plot about OCP and its take over of the Detroit PD turning them into a private army. But there are some more nuanced points being presented in the film. Robocop represents the changes in industrialization. Once you have humans doing jobs like building cars in factories. Now robots do them more efficiently and at a faster pace. Robocop’s existence is a threat to the human police. However, he is also prophetic in his representation of the police’s militarization, and his counterpart ED-209 shows how this goes even more extreme. The world of Verhoeven’s future Detroit is chock full of commercials that represent different ideas that were present in 1980s America. There’s an advertisement for Nukem, a family board game where everyone engages in playing a nuclear war scenario and has a blast. The energy of these spots is so manic that it reflects the anxiety that comes with mass consumerism and a society moving inhumanely fast.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (directed by Don Hertzfeldt) From my review: Hertzfeldt can take us to heart-rending moments of illumination. There’s a memory Bill has of a time when he was staring out at the sea and contemplating “all the wonderful things he will do with his life.” That moment is led into with grace and empathy and never underlined by the filmmaker. It is the audience who will make the connections with the facts and emotions of the scene: Bill’s memories feeling like he’s living in them only to encounter a moment where he had all possibilities laid out before him. He’s snapped back to the present, his situation very dire and his whole self in a state of deterioration.
Wadjda (2012) Written & Directed by Haifaa al-Mansour
Wadjda is a ten-year-old girl living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and wants nothing more than to own her bicycle. She sets her eyes on a brand new one delivered to a neighborhood store, but both the cost and her culture get in the girl’s way of getting the bike. Wadjda starts making and selling mixtapes and bracelets to the other students at her school and even gets paid to help an older student sneak off with her boyfriend. At home, there is tension between her parents as Wadjda’s mother cannot have more children, so her mother-in-law has been searching for a second wife for Wadjda’s father. Add to this her mother’s dependency on a male driver to ferry her to and from a teaching position on the edge of the city, and it becomes pronounced how life for women in this culture is strewn with difficulties and oppression. Wadjda believes that if she can win a Koran recitation competition, she’ll have the money she needs to buy her dream bike.
Amour (2012) Written and Directed by Michael Haneke
Anne and Georges are retired music teachers enjoying the fruits of their labor, visiting former pupils who have excelled in their craft. They have a tense relationship with their daughter Eva and her English husband, but it’s not bad. Life is a beautiful natural thing. Then one morning Anne goes silent during breakfast, unresponsive to Georges’ pleas. She comes to after a moment, but the couple seeks out the opinion of their doctor. It turns out that Anne suffered a stroke, and her body will slowly degenerate as a result. We watch as Anne goes from being a vibrant, joyful octogenarian to becoming a person who is losing both their physical abilities but additionally the faculty of their mind. Georges is ever dutiful taking care of his wife and making a promise never to send her off to a home, but to keep her in their home.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012) Written & Directed by Don Hertzfeldt
This animated feature focuses on Bill, a very average man is going through the routines of his life when he’s struck with severe memory loss issues. Other health complications follow and pretty soon it’s clear that Bill’s life is forever changed. Interspersed with Bill’s story are flashbacks and vignettes about his childhood and members of his family. As these smaller stories unfold, they add to the larger narrative that Bill is the byproduct of generations of mental illness. Because the film is told from a third person perspective inside Bill’s head, we see the world the way Bill sees it. His hallucinations are woven into the flow of the story almost imperceptibly at points. His memories of his family and stories he was told about them become suspect as fictions.
Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Written & Directed by David O. Russell
Pat Solitano’s mom picks him up from a mental hospital in Baltimore, despite the doctors saying he’s not ready yet. Eight months earlier, Pat came home to find his wife in the shower with a co-worker which sent Pat into a frenzy. He’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but believes he doesn’t need meds or a psychiatrist; Pat requires positive thinking. His dad, Pat Sr. shows all the signs of OCD and likely has some undiagnosed issues himself, and he thinks the time he devoted to the elder sibling is what led to his younger son becoming so volatile. Through an acquaintance, Pat meets Tiffany, a widow who has very similar challenges with social cues as Pat does. The duo verbally spars, and there is the spark of an attraction, but Pat is convinced he can get his wife back if he stays on his path of self-improvement. Tiffany sees his wife regularly and promises she’ll deliver a letter to her if Pat pledges to be her dance partner in an upcoming competition. This was an event her late husband would never do with her, and it has become Tiffany’s primary focus. Pat hesitantly agrees with hopes he’ll end up reunited with his former bride.
The Hunt (2012) Written by Tobias Lindholm & Thomas Vinterberg Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Lucas has ended up at preschool after budget cuts to the high school. Despite the significant shift in students’ ages, Lucas has made the transition fairly smoothly, looking after the young children of many of his friends. One of those children is Klara, a five-year-old who develops a crush on the man. During playtime at the school, Klara kisses Lucas on the lips which stuns him. He quietly admonishes her and moves on. That evening Klara sits waiting for her mother to pick her up she strikes up a conversation with the headmistress of preschool. Jumbling together her embarrassment over Lucas and pornography she saw her brother and his friend looking at earlier she rattles off a story about Lucas showing her his genitals. This snowballs until multiple children in the town are also claiming to have been abused by Lucas, caught up in a mob mentality. Lucas’ standing in the community quickly crumbles to pieces as does his sanity.
Frances Ha (2012) Written by Greta Gerwig & Noah Baumbach Directed by Noah Baumbach
Frances is an apprentice in a New York dance company waiting for the day she’s given a place on the touring company. She spends her days cavorting through the city with her best friend Sophie, enjoying their youth and lack of serious adult responsibilities. Frances’ life is thrown into disarray when Sophie announces she’ll be moving to Tribeca for her dream apartment with someone else. What follows are a series of vignettes with Frances bouncing from place to place, finding herself losing the progress she’d felt that she had made. Never giving up her awkward and eclectic sensibilities, Frances keeps going, despite finding herself taking so many steps back, she ends up living in the dorms of her former college, pouring drinks for visiting donors.
Zero Dark Thirty (2012) Written by Mark Boal Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
The September 11th attacks are without question of the most significant moments in the history of our current century and the scope of post-Cold War foreign policy. Osama bin Laden is also one of the most notorious historical figures of our age. Zero Dark Thirty creates a fictional tableau to explain how bin Laden was found and ultimately executed. Of course, because of the safety of the people involved and in an effort not to compromise the intelligence gathering apparatus we will never know the names of anyone directly involved, from the CIA agents to the members of Seal Team Six. Instead, we’re given the story of fictional analyst Maya who follows a winding path trying to discover the whereabouts of a messenger who would deliver directives from Al-Qaeda leadership to cells on the ground. Without realizing what she has stumbled upon she is shocked to discover the journey has led her to a walled compound where bin Laden is hiding out.
Killing Them Softly (2012) Written & Directed by Andrew Dominik
In the fall of 2008, with the presidential election and the financial crisis playing out in the background, Frankie and Russell carry out the robbery of a Mafia-run poker game. Planned by their friend Johnny “The Squirrel” they target a competition run by Markie, a man who once held up his own game and so now suspicion surrounds him. They figure everyone will think Markie did it again and he’ll feel the brunt of the mob. However, the Mafia calls in Jackie, a well-known hitman who immediately knows Markie isn’t this stupid. It’s only a matter of time until all parties involved in the heist are found and Jackie has to deliver his revenge. From there, things get dodgy as the film meanders off, focusing on side characters and slowing the momentum of the story way down.