The 7th Annual Davies Awards in Film

Hollywood zeroed in on real drama and history in 2012, and they hit their mark.

Hollywood zeroed in on real drama and history in 2012, and they hit their mark.

A Look Back at 2012:

There’s so much to say about the year in film that was 2012. In many ways it was like two distinct years. The first half was grim and borderline torturous with the only bright spots being two films that came out of the blue to depict with great grit and emotion man vs. his own nature (guised as man vs. nature) in The Grey and The Hunter. In the summer, we were met with art house films critics were too eager to gush over. Yes, Moonrise Kingdom was Wes Anderson’s most charming film in a while, but it was still a Wes Anderson film. And yes, Beasts of the Southern Wild had a cool title and interesting set-up, but it really didn’t make any sense.

Oddly, at the multiplex things were clearer as some of the heavy hitters were well above average. The Hunger Games offered a new series positively literary when compared to the god-awfulness of The Twilight series (finally put to rest this year). Many people didn’t like it, but I still got a kick out of Prometheus while The Dark Knight Rises was a fine conclusion to a fine trilogy. Even The Avengers (overrated by fanboys) was above average…though it was still a comic book movie. This trend continued into the fall with the best James Bond film of the modern era, Skyfall, lighting the box office on fire.

Quietly simmering beneath all of this pop-culture hubbub was a snarky good year for neo-noir with the twisty sci-fi yarn Looper at the multiplexes and art houses runneth over with films like the Russian melodrama Elena, Friedkin’s southern-fried piece of Americana trash Killer Joe and the Twin Peaksian French entry Nobody Else But You.

But it wasn’t until the fall that things got real and filmmakers tapped into history to deliver highly polished professional products of the most prestigious order.
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Detachment

Adrien Brody gets detached in Tony Kaye's new talkie.

In 1998, director Tony Kaye made one of the most auspicious debuts in film history with American History X, yet it was a film he disowned.  He railed against the system that didn’t allow him final cut, and he perpetuated a myth that the film’s star, Edward Norton (who gave a galvanizing performance as a Neo-Nazi that catapulted his name onto the A-list) meddled with the film at the behest of the studio to make it his own and not Kaye’s.  The end result was a film that became a cultural touch point for my generation.  It was probably the most talked about film in my dorm room freshman year of college.  It was a film so raw and violent in its emotional outbursts that it ranked as one of those films “I only care to see once” yet I will never ever forget the “upper jaw to the curb” or the “dinner table Neo-Nazi tirade” scenes so long as I still have a coherent memory.

In Europe, Kaye’s enfant terrible persona would’ve been celebrated, but in Hollywood, he was subjected to a modern-day blacklisting.  Since that time, he’s made a few documentaries (including an apparently incendiary one about abortion that even I am too scared to watch entitled Lake of Fire) and has one completed film mired in legalistic backlog (how ironic) interestingly titled Black Water Transit.  And yet…in 2012…somehow…against all odds, quietly emerges his newest film, Detachment.

In its tale of inner-city teachers struggling to survive and connect with out-of-control students neglected by vapid parents, Kaye’s film (scripted by Carl Lund) is full of grotesque stereotypes, overt symbolism and some of the most annoying hand-held shaky-cam aesthetics I have ever endured.  Yet for all of its Crash-like didacticism and reductionism, when Kaye (who also served as the director of photography) allows his camera to stay static and his actors to fill the scene with their soliloquies, the result is positively electrifying and poetic. Continue reading