2012 Favorites

We now return you to 2013, already in progress

feature_presentationI keep hearing myself say, “I told you the best movies from 2011 were Take Shelter, Another Earth, and Jane Eyre.”  In part so that I can cite the fact that I “told you,” and mostly just because I’ve been wanting to for awhile, I will now hold the Richard Lives equivalent of the Oscars once annually (called “Favorites” because I don’t presume to be any more of an authority on the subject than I seem to be [not to say I don’t make better decisions than the Academy, but I digress]) .  The rules I set for myself are as follows:

I.  Only include movies that I’ve seen/written about here.

II.  Set early February as a deadline.  Do it during awards season.  As such, I won’t have seen every movie of the year, in large part because of my location (for example, I am doing this list before having seen Rust and Bone, as I may not get to it anytime soon.  Apologies to Marion Cotillard, who surely doesn’t need my approval).

III.  Only include movies from the year in question.  Sometimes I see films from the previous year that I never got around to and write about them if I need to, so you’ll see them mixed in with the new movies.  Look at the year of release, listed at the bottom of each review, if you’re wondering why The Lie isn’t included in this year’s list.

IV.  No more than 5 nominees for each category.  Some have fewer.  Some have only one, such as “Favorite Character,” which we’ll also call the Highlander Award, just for fun.

V.  Be honest.  As much as I may like to be seen disagreeing with the Academy, Les Mis was pretty damn good.

I’ll explain the categories as we go, if the parameters aren’t obvious.  The “Body of Work” actor and actress awards refer to actors who had the most prolific year (varied roles, great performances).  2011’s winner was, of course, Jessica Chastain, with seven major roles and no equal in performance and character assortment.

Some categories have several nominees.  Some don’t.  Categories with multiple nominees may have a star (*) next to one, indicating my personal favorite of the year’s best.  However, since the nominees aren’t actually receiving anything from me (positive encouragement notwithstanding) and considering the fact that many of these roles/films are really not comparable (for instance, how do you compare Hugh Jackman’s performance with Woody Harrelson’s and Daniel Day-Lewis’s, and then decide which is somehow “best”?  “Best” according to what characteristics shared by all three?), you may consider all nominees equal winners if I’ve chosen not to “star” anything.  Click the links (movie titles) to see my original reviews.

Without further ado:

Best Pictures

Safety Not Guaranteed             

A Late Quartet                        

Moonrise Kingdom

Les Misérables

Zero Dark Thirty

Best screenwriting

Quentin Tarantino – Django Unchained 

Derek Connolly – Safety Not Guaranteed     

Martin McDonaghSeven Psychopaths    

James Ellroy/Oren Moverman – Rampart

Brit MarlingSound of My Voice 

Favorite character

Léa Seydoux as Sidonie Laborde – Farewell, My Queen

Best Actress (single performance)

Jessica Chastain as Maya – Zero Dark Thirty*

Lea Seydoux as Sidonie Laborde – Farewell, My Queen

Juno Temple as LilyLittle Birds  

Jennifer Lawrence as TiffanySilver Linings Playbook 

Sarah Hayward as SuzieMoonrise Kingdom 

Best Actress (body of work)

Jennifer Lawrence

Best Actor (single performance)

Woody Harrelson as Dave Brown – Rampart*

Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham LincolnLincoln

Michael Fassbender as DavidPrometheus

Richard Gere as Robert MillerArbitrage

Philip Seymour Hoffman as Robert – A Late Quartet*

Best actor (body of work)

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Best supporting actress

Brie Larson as Helen – Rampart*

Imogen Poots as Alexandra A Late Quartet*

Brit Marling as MaggieSound of My Voice

Diane Kruger as Marie AntoinetteFarewell, My Queen

Best supporting actor

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz – Django Unchained

Robert De Niro as Patrizio SolitanoSilver Linings Playbook

Ben Whishaw as Robert FrobisherCloud Atlas

Best director

Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty*

Oren MovermanRampart

Quentin TarantinoDjango Unchained

                                                                                                                                                   Best book-to-film adaptation

Anna Karenina

Les Misérables*

Silver Linings Playbook       

Dark Horse Favorite

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Biggest letdowns

Skyfall

The Expendables 2

Ruby Sparks
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Most Popular Review

The Moth Diaries

Actors who wrote to me

Lily Cole

Lauren Ashley Carter

———

Thanks for reading.  See you next year.

Lincoln

Time passed, as happens

LincolnI’ve never cared much for political biopics, glorification of History’s Great White Guys, or the films of Steven Spielberg, but perhaps that’s why Lincoln did something for me – its subversion of all three forms.  Yes, it’s a film specifically designed to win Academy Awards, but the presence of Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln dilutes the Hollywood Design to the point that the film becomes less like a film and more like sitting in various rooms with the President during the last few months of his presidency.

The film’s title may be a bit of a misnomer, but its chief intention (Oscars for Spielberg) requires it to be the “definitive” Lincoln film, especially since two other Lincoln-themed movies (Redford’s The Conspirator and the campy Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) have been released in the past two years.  You may expect a story so definitively named to cover the title character’s entire life, or at least his up-and-coming years when he was wrestling for the presidency, but no; here, we see Lincoln in his final months of life, struggling to pass the 13th Amendment (the abolition of slavery) whilst being driven to the edge by his home life.  Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd Lincoln (Sally Field) supports her husband’s politics, despite their marital problems, which include the death of their middle son and the fact that Lincoln once threatened to have her put in the “madhouse.”  Additionally, Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is determined to join the army, which Mary staunchly opposes and which Lincoln, regardless of his status as Commander-in-Chief, cannot do a damn thing about.

The timeworn trials of the Lincoln family take a backseat to the political action and sometimes feel wedged between the complex narrative involving the Amendment.  It is worth noting, however, that even though we know slavery will be abolished, Lee will surrender to Grant (Jared Harris, who hardly needs makeup to look like the general), and the Amendment will pass, the story still feels urgent and exciting.  Day-Lewis’s Lincoln is depicted as the Louisiana farmboy he was, not the baritone man’s man archetype we sometimes like to glorify him as.  He actually had a high-pitched voice (the only way he’d be heard in the back row of the giant crowds to which he gave speeches).  He was sympathetic, self-deprecating, and bizarre.  He loved to tell stories and tie old parables into what was happening in the White House.  Day-Lewis, famous method actor, completely becomes Lincoln in this picture, and even gets his obligatory Day-Lewis-Closeup-Yelling scene, but even then, you’ll only see the president here, not an actor.  Lincoln’s famous bowler hat is of course included, but is never played for laughs or even for much attention; it may as well be an extension of the man himself.  Long shots provide Day-Lewis and the rest of the cast with incredible opportunities to paint carefully-crafted pictures of their historical characters.

The film’s primary standout feature, aside from Day-Lewis’s performance, is the sight of the House of Representatives floor, whereupon abolitionist and Radical Republican Congressional Leader Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) pushes for the passing of the Amendment while trying not to appear as a race-equality extremist.  He butts heads with slimeball Democratic Congressman Fernando Wood (Lee Pace), in fiery exchanges that I can only hope have been transcribed verbatim.  The sheer animalistic nature of the countless dozens of white men on the floor looks like something out of a parody, but we sometimes forget that this is the way it once was.  The scenes of these congressmen shouting, chanting, climbing over each other, and clawing faces, forms a perfect parallel with the opening scene of the movie – a brief glimpse at a battle from the Civil War, in which hundreds of soldiers melee to the death in a pit of mud – showcasing how absurd war really is.  Lincoln knows it, as does Secretary of State William Seward (David Strathairn), who treats Lincoln like a misbehaving child when the latter skirts histrionics or does something behind Seward’s back (such as bringing Confederate representatives to the North in order to talk peace, essentially holding the end of the war hostage until the Amendment is passed).

Lincoln features possibly the largest cast of white guys ever assembled.  So many famous and accomplished actors appear, in fact, that it becomes almost a joke after awhile, as they continue to appear one by one.  Noted comedian James Spader appears as William Bilbo, a lobbyist who has some amusing scenes as he tries to convince Democrats to vote for the 13th Amendment; Michael Stuhlbarg, known for starring in the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man and HBO’s Boardwalk Empire as notorious gambler Arnold Rothstein, plays George Yeaman, Kentucky’s reprsentative, and puts on an interesting southern twang; David Costabile of Flight of the Conchords plays James Ashley, and very convincingly; Tim Blake Nelson has the part of Richard Schell, who leads Lincoln’s, shall we say, “street team” along with Bilbo; Walton Goggins, who appeared in Tarantino’s Django Unchained as a character with a much different view on slavery, appears as Wells Hutchins, one of the 16 democrats to break with their party in favor of the Amendment; Hal Holbrook, who played Lincoln in 1976, plays Francis Preston Blair, the politician who arranges a peace talk with the Confederacy; and refreshingly, Gloria Reuben appears as Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave and Mary Todd’s confidante, who receives plenty of screen time and a very important scene with the president near the end.

If the film has one pitfall, it’s where Spielberg chooses to end it.  A lovely scene on the night of Lincoln’s death features the president leaving his cabinet behind in order to hurriedly meet with Mary for the opera.  “I guess it’s time to go,” he says, “though I would rather stay” – purportedly Lincoln’s real-life final words to his cabinet that evening; whether or not he prophesied his own fate is up to you.  He then hands his gloves, which he refuses to wear, to his black butler, a free man, who watches Lincoln traverse the hallway until he becomes a silhouette of that tall, bearded, bowler-hatted American icon we all know.  In shadow, he then descends the stairs, leaving this life behind, the gloves perhaps a metaphor for Lincoln passing the baton to the people he has helped free.  This is where the film should end.  Instead, there is maybe another two minutes of reel, in which Lincoln’s shooting is announced to opera-goers, a doctor pronounces him dead as his family grieves, and then a flashback of his second inaugural address is shown before the credits roll.  Is this pure indulgence, a stab at absolute completion, or does Spielberg believe that modern viewers don’t know what happened to Lincoln that night?

Lincoln reminds me of something my dad said the other day, regarding HBO’s John Adams miniseries: “I learned so much more watching that than I did in school.”  Do biopics like these take liberties with history and dramatize people and events?  Yes, of course.  Historical fiction exists to observe and interpret history, not to provide a substitute for facts.  Is there something real, though, that can be learned from a film like Lincoln, whether about the man or the time period?  Maybe.  Regardless, let’s hope we can continue to remember without relying upon the entertainment industry, or else our grandchildren are in trouble.

Lincoln (2012); written by Tony Kushner; directed by Steven Spielberg; starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, and Tommy Lee Jones.

Looper

Counting the paradoxes may cause a paradox

As Oscar-winning screenwriter Jim Rash once said (albeit while playing the role of Dean Pelton on NBC’s Community), “Time travel is really hard to write about.”  The fatal flaw in time travel films is often in the explanation of the time travel science itself – a problem wisely sidestepped in the recent Safety Not Guaranteed, which relied on character depth and development to forward the action.  The science problem tends to drag down films that are desperate to appear brainy – Primer and Donnie Darko come to mind.  In Looper, the third film by Rian Johnson (director of the subversive Hammett-esque high-school crime drama Brick), the exact science is sidestepped in a rather ingenious way: it hasn’t been invented until thirty years after the main story takes place, and even in that time, it’s so illegal that barely anyone knows it’s being used.  The main characters have no idea how it works; it just happens to provide them with an income.

The story centers around Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt in his 4th or 5th leading role this year, and it won’t be his last), an assassin known as a Looper.  His job does not involve stealth or theatrics, however: he simply receives a time and location, arrives there, and waits for a hooded prisoner to materialize out of thin air.  When that happens, he immediately pulls the trigger of his “blunderbuss” (a futuristic shotgun) and collects his payment (bars of silver).  The prisoners, whose faces are always shrouded, are targets of a crime syndicate thirty years in the future, who send their marks back in time to be disposed of without a trace.  Not a bad profession if you can stomach it; the pay is fantastic.  There’s one catch, however: when your contract runs out, the syndicate sends the future version of yourself back in time, and you execute yourself.  This is known as “closing the loop.”  Forget how many paradoxes this would cause in accordance with popular time travel theory (in movies, leastways); it’s an effective device.  In addition to Loopers, there are people called TKs – folks who can use telekinetic powers, but most of them can do nothing but float coins around in silly attempts to impress women, so they’re not taken seriously.

The trouble begins when Joe notices how many of his coworkers are suddenly closing their own loops.  Someone in the future is seemingly shutting down the Looper program. The reactions of the other Loopers is perhaps what’s so shocking about this: they’re all happy.  They receive a glorious payload (bars of gold this time) and drink up their paychecks with buddies before retiring and living lavishly for the next thirty years (at which point, we can safely assume, they are seized and sent back in time to have a hole blown in them).  This seems to be a commentary on the culture of immediacy we currently live in.  Is no one thinking about the future?  Are we only concerned with what we want right this second?  It’s an effective allegory for our times, and doesn’t try to borrow from George Orwell, like so many of these stories are tempted to.

One Looper, however, recognizes the voice of his future self and cannot pull the trigger.  This is Seth (Paul Dano), a good friend of Joe.  Having failed to complete his contract and close his own loop, Seth knows he will be hunted down by the incredibly efficient enforcers of the Looper program.  How do they operate so well?  Because they’re headed by Abe (Jeff Daniels), a man sent from the future to manage the Loopers and make sure everything resembles clockwork for the next thirty years.  Abe, despite Daniels’ vintage fuzziness, can be intimidating at times, and he convinces Joe to sell out Seth, which is immediately followed (as we know it must be) by Joe’s own loop being closed.  However, Old Joe (Bruce Willis) appears without a hood, and Young Joe has no chance to react before the former knocks him cold with a Magic Movie Punch and vanishes.

And so a double man-hunt begins: Young Joe is searching for Old Joe, because if he doesn’t kill him, his fate will be the same as Seth’s.  Abe’s right-hand man, Kid Blue (Noah Segan) would love nothing more than to see Joe dead as payback for an earlier insult, so tension is high.  Old Joe, on the other hand, is searching for someone else: in a diner conversation with his younger counterpart, he reveals a piece of information mentioned by Seth’s older self earlier – that in the future, a man called the Rainmaker has taken control of everything in a Fidel Castro-style takeover (apparently after seeing his own mother die), and is closing all of the loops for unknown reasons.  Old Joe has returned to the past in order to kill the Rainmaker before he can put his future plan into effect, thus ending this cycle and bringing his wife (Qing Xu) back to life.  Young Joe doesn’t care.  He wants to live his own life now.

On the run from Abe’s thugs, Young Joe happens upon a farm owned by Sara (the wonderful Emily Blunt).  In spite of her trepidations, she takes him in, helps him through drug withdrawal, and agrees to let him stay for a few days under the condition that he stay away from her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon).  We soon learn, however, that Cid, a powerful TK, may be the future Rainmaker, which means that not only is Sara in danger, but both Old Joe and Kid Blue’s posse will soon descend upon the farm.  The film makes use of effective and clear flashforwards in order to illustrate what might happen if certain conditions are (or aren’t) met, including which decisions on Young Joe’s part will either cause or prevent the rise of the Rainmaker, and the action ends with a The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly triangle-style shootout.  The action, though, doesn’t cap the film – we’re always encouraged to care about the characters before the sci-fi backdrop, which is an incredibly fresh change from inspired-but-flawed sci-fi installments such as the recent Total Recall remake.

Emily Blunt puts her heart into every role, and Sara is no exception.  I’m still on the fence about her character, however – per usual, there’s only one principle female character (the only other woman with lines is a prostitute played by Piper Perabo), and despite being tough as nails, Sara’s entire existence revolves around motherhood.  If nothing else, she overcomes the sci-fi trope of the women being either nonexistent or uber-dependent damsels who can find their way around a bedroom but not a gun, and it’s clear that Sara is an independent woman who holds all sorts of cards over Joe.  Bruce Willis essentially plays his Die Hard counterpart here, delivering tough-guy dialogue and mowing down legions of enemies while shouting “motherfuckers!”  Paul Dano is underused as Seth – did Johnson forget that Dano appeared in all sorts of Best and Almost Best pictures?  Jeff Daniels is great as Abe, which seems almost like a comeback role for him, and he successfully plays against type here.  Abe is also funny – when Joe talks about possibly moving to France, Abe says, very deadpan, “I’m from the future.  Go to China.” Unfortunately, his comeuppance is depicted off-screen, which is not only a wasted opportunity (Daniels vs. Willis!), but a lack of payoff from a film that promises an action finale (and as you know, I’m not one to pander for action).  Finally, Gordon-Levitt is made up to look like Bruce Willis, which I worried may be distracting and hokey (see DiCaprio’s makeup in J. Edgar), but it’s seamlessly done.  His character, a sci-fi leading man, is predictably one-note, but with more compassion than you might expect, and the performance is strong.

Looper is one of the better sci-fi thrillers to come out in a long time.  It handles its characters well, and never quite allows its material to get away from it or become too complex.  The most complex thing involved may be Bruce Willis’s feelings about playing a character called Old Joe.

Looper (2012); written and directed by Rian Johnson; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, and Jeff Daniels. 

Premium Rush

Have I got the ticket for you!

It’s been a good year for biking.  Cyclist Rachel Vaziralli (an acquaintance) holds the current throne on the internet’s search for the next American fitness star, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Michael Shannon find themselves in a movie that glorifies cycling.  We never see Shannon on a bike, but considering his role in this film, no foul.

The story of Premium Rush resembles the type of narrative presented in Vantage Point or the TV series LOST: we begin by focusing on one character who seems to be the game’s main player, but we are then thrust back and forth in time in order to experience the story according to other characters who may have seemed, at the outset, less than vital.  The film uses this structure to tell a relatively formulaic MacGuffin story revolving around a mysterious envelope holding an object only ever referred to as “the ticket.”  Everyone wants the ticket; that is, everyone except the one carrying it in his pack – Wilee (Gordon-Levitt), a bicycle messenger who has very much the same take on bikes that I do on cars: an old one is trustier despite the cost of the inevitable repairs.  Unlike a car, however, Wilee’s bike has no brakes; he claims that bicycle brakes contributed to the greatest injury he ever received (we’re spared, however, from this scene).  Wilee has been dispatched to deliver the ticket for Nima (Jamie Chung), who happens to be the roommate of his girlfriend, Vanessa (Dania Ramirez).  Relationships between the three are rocky.  Nima wants Vanessa to move out on short notice; we don’t know why.  Vanessa is considering breaking up with Wilee; we don’t know why.  Wilee suspects that the package contains “drug stuff” and doesn’t trust Nima.  He’s delivering the package as usual when he is accosted by Bobby Monday (Shannon), a dirty cop with a gambling problem and a name from 1990.  Monday almost gets Wilee to fork over the package, but his temper gets the best of him and Wilee decides to continue with the delivery.

What follows is a cat-and-mouse game around Manhattan, and the outcome depends fully upon allegiances.  The aid of Mr. Leung (Henry O), a Chinese money launderer with a team of enforcers, could tip the scale in anyone’s direction, but he and his right hand man (Kin Shing Wong), a completely silent (and classically inscrutable) man who does nothing but play Sudoku, remain relatively impartial in spite of the money owed to him by Monday.  The cops, aggravated by the consistently reckless bikers and unaware of Monday’s dastardly nature, remain an obstacle from beginning to end.  Fellow bike messenger Manny (Wolé Parks) should be on Wilee’s side, but antagonizes him due to non-reciprocated feelings for Vanessa.  We know the key to the ticket reaching its destination for its intended reason (which ends up being a little deeper than we may need to go in a film so light) is to achieve full cooperation between Wilee, Vanessa, and Nima, but to get there, the three of them need to come to an understanding while two-thirds of the equation is speeding through New York City traffic at speeds I’d rather not even consider.

Even better than the film’s structure is its tendency to map out Wilee’s decision-making process when he’s in danger: years of biking through Manhattan have seemingly given him a sort of sixth sense about where taxi cabs, pedestrians, UPS trucks, and any number of other hazards will be in relation to him when he reaches a bustling intersection.  These parts of the film are quick and happen often enough that they seem unique to the film but not often enough to bore or overwhelm an audience; filmmakers too often fall into the Trap of the Clever Trick, mistaking novelty for genius.

Michael Shannon makes an interesting switch to a villainous maniac after giving 2011’s best male performance in Take Shelter, but it’s a good warmup if you’re following Shannon’s work this year, because he’ll soon be appearing in The Iceman as infamous contract killer Richard Kuklinski and as the villain in the newest iteration of the Superman franchise.  Gordon-Levitt is having an eventful year as well, appearing in four films (including Spielberg’s Lincoln, which, if the Academy is as predictable as ever, will be in the running for Best Picture – sad that we know that before the film is even made).  Ramirez makes an effective heroine, and though the film’s characters only allow us to know them on the surface, she does a fantastic job of ensuring us that she’s acting on what she thinks is right, not out of obligation.  Also appearing in the film are Aasif Mandvi (in one of his better performances) as Wilee and Vanessa’s dispatcher, and Lauren Ashley Carter in a mostly-background role as the dispatcher’s assistant, Phoebe.  Despite her scarce screen time and involvement, she stands out.  Anthony Chisholm appears as Tito, a veteran messenger described as being “like ninety-eight years old,” and who brings back fond memories of Peter Boyle as the grizzled old “Wizard” in Taxi Driver.

With its speedy, decently-written dialogue, the film gives its actors a chance to deepen the characters through conversation, (somewhat) filling the hole opened by lack of background information.  Oddly, though, the hole doesn’t take away from the enjoyment or really distract much at all, as long as you’re willing to accept the fact that none of the characters are going to surprise you by the end.

Ultimately, Premium Rush is a good summer post-blockbuster whose existence is justified by the fact that, unlike ninety percent of the blockbusters I see, the screenwriters seem like they’ve actually written a screenplay before (don’t take that as too high a compliment, but it is a compliment).  The most difficult part of this film?  Trying to maintain the speed limit while driving home afterward.

Premium Rush (2012); written and directed by David Koepp; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Shannon, Dania Ramirez, and Lauren Ashley Carter.

50/50

The worst result of a bad mattress I’ve ever seen

Real-life inspiration aside, the latest of several movies entitled 50/50 manages to deliver not only laughs, but competent drama.  This may seem like a herculean task in a film featuring Seth Rogen, but lest we forget, Donnie Darko also had him in it.

Rogen’s presence is a welcome one, being the comic relief of the film as well as the fictional counterpart to his real-life role as Will Reiser’s close friend.  The cast is captained by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who provides the “dram” half of the dramedy.  He plays Adam Lerner, a radio host who, despite his almost obsessively healthy lifestyle, is diagnosed with a rare spinal cancer.  His girlfriend, Rachel (Bryce Dallas Howard), prematurely agrees to take care of him, having no idea what she’s in for, and things go quite badly for the relationship when she experiences even the first level of Adam’s sickness.  Adam’s mother, Diane (Anjelica Huston) has almost no one left, seeing as her husband (Serge Houde) is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  Rounding out the cast is the adorable Anna Kendrick, who plays Katherine, Adam’s young therapist.

Katherine is the film’s breath of fresh air, however obvious it may be that she and Adam are headed for an unethical romantic relationship the first time she gives him a ride home.  She provides what I suspect is one of the film’s most meaningful lines – “I’m not good at getting rid of stuff” – when Adam comments on her disaster of a car.  Kyle (Rogen) attempts to support Adam while also using his cancer to meet women, which leads to some funny moments, and Adam’s mother smothers him with care, despite his refusal to call her back most of the time.  These tough situations, along with Adam’s worsening condition, lead to some great conflicts and build to some heart-wrenching moments.  Interestingly, Adam’s character isn’t incredibly likable when the story begins; he seems to loosen up and spread his wings after his diagnosis.  Speaking of which, the doctor who gives Adam the news does so in such a bored, routine manner that he might be a janitor mopping the floor.  I was stunned to see Adam return to him later.  As Roger Ebert said in his review, “would it kill the son of a bitch to make [the odds] 60/40?”

The film relies on the concept itself – a young person becoming sick and dying – in order to deliver its primary drama.  If you know anyone who has had cancer, especially through the later stages, you know it’s far worse than portrayed here (although you may chalk it up to the fact that this is a feel-good film and, if you want to go this route, that Adam’s cancer was operable).  In addition, the inclusion of an Alzheimer’s-afflicted father feels thrown in, as it doesn’t seem to affect Adam very much (I think he only says two lines to his father in the whole film), and might better serve a film centering around Diane, as he is largely her responsibility.

One of the best moments of the film is the convergence of all the people who orbit Adam throughout the film (other than Rachel, who is ousted in an emotionally-confused and rather mean-spirited scene on Adam’s porch).

I am surprised Adam lasts as long as he does before throwing a screaming fit.  Scenes like this provide some real tear-inducing moments, which is commendable for a film pitched as a feel-good comedy.  The story ends in the perfect moment, an opportunity most films miss, with Katherine posing a question to Adam, a question all film heroes must face when their adventures end.  I think Adam might be one character who knows how to answer.

50/50 (2011); written by Will Reiser; directed by Jonathan Levine; starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anna Kendrick, Seth Rogen and Anjelica Huston.

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