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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The Blues and The Grey

Shit...just when Liam Neeson thought things couldn't get any worse...he crash lands into the den of Sarah Palin's Alaska.

Man, Liam Neeson has the blues something fierce.  The poor guy has completed one of the oddest transitions of recent memory by going from Oskar Schindler to “Total Bad Ass” in films both criminally overrated (Taken) and glumly forgettable (Unknown).  Now in Joe Carnahan’s transcendent survivalist thriller, The Grey, Neeson plays a man named Ottway who is reeling from the kind of blues that lead men to self-inflicted gun shot wounds to the head.  The film opens grimly enough with Ottway working on an oil refinery as a wolf sniper in the remote Alaskan wilderness amongst men “not fit for civilization.”  He waxes mournfully in voice-over about being separated from his wife (presented to the audience in smartly lit, intimate Nolan-esque slivers of memory) and working “a job at the end of the world.” 

One night he walks out from the rowdy violence of the camp bar into the snow to blow his brains out – but then he hears the ghostly howl of those beasts he’s been paid to study and control.  He can’t help but wonder if maybe he belongs out there – like the wolves – a stalker – a survivor.  He posits himself as much against Mother Nature as he is against his own nature.  These opening moments offer the viewer the type of emotional and philosophical trappings not usually found in your typical Hollywood product – especially thrillers of this sort.  With the help of his resurrected from the doldrums director, Carnahan (who finally fulfills the promise he showed in Narc after years of wallowing in the mediocrity of La La Land), Neeson completes his evolution as an actor through Ottway.  Here we finally have a character who marries the gravity of an Oskar Schindler with the gruff bad-assery of Neeson’s more recent commercial incarnations. 

Of course the bulk the of the film concerns Ottway and his motley crew of cohorts surviving a horrific airplane crash on their way to Anchorage only to be stalked through the frozen wilderness by a pack of ravaging and unmerciful wolves.  But it returns from time to time to those small moments and to the epic human pondering on live and death.  Continue reading