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March 21, 2013

2012 was a year of great films, future favorites

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Cooperstown Crier

---- — The year 2012 was a blockbuster year for great films. Several of the movies up for Best Picture would have been runaway favorites almost any other time. They will make for easy pickings for the library when they become available on DVD. 

Since I somehow managed to see four nominated films this year I thought I’d offer my first (and perhaps last) annual review of the best of the best.

I’ll first mention what I missed and why. I didn’t see “The Life of Pi” even though it was apparently a cinematic marvel. I didn’t read the book and the previews didn’t tweak my curiosity. I couldn’t stomach the thought of 2½ hours of constant singing in “Les Miserables,” and the over-the-top blood and guts of “Django Unchainged” made it a non-starter. The other two nominees I had never heard of before the Oscars.

The four I watch, “Argo,” “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Silver Linings Playbook” were all outstanding films, and I couldn’t quibble with any of them winning the Academy Award. Three were based on true-life events and the fourth on a real-life mental health issue. All were powerful movies.

As most of you know, “Argo” won the Best Picture award. I’m happy for Ben Affleck, who directed and starred in the movie. He seems like a class act. The story is both funny and surreal as the CIA concocts a bizarre plan of making a fake movie to get six Americans out of Iran during the 1980 hostage crisis. The six are hiding in the Canadian ambassador’s residence. The idea is to get them to pose as Canadian filmmakers with a fake script and pretend they are scouting Iran for locations. Once done with the fake film they will try to get out of the country using fake Canadian passports.

The one problem is that I could see where Affleck used artistic license. I saw a Frontline retrospective of the hostage crisis on PBS back in the 1980s. It covered these six Americans who had initially escaped the embassy takeover and all the turmoil they endured. It was amazingly tense but not nearly as intense as “Argo” portrays it. The embellishment is a bit much.

“Lincoln” produces one of the finest individual performances I have ever seen. Daniel Day Lewis was Abraham Lincoln. It’s only the second time that I’ve ever seen an actor so completely immersed in a real-life role that you believed you were watching the man and not the actor (the other was George C. Scott in “Patton”).

The story of Lincoln trying to pass the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery is riveting. Most of us assumed the amendment passed after the Civil War ended, but actually Lincoln wanted to make sure it passed before the war’s end. One thing we discovered is that political deception and horse-trading are not new concepts.

“Lincoln” is a slow-moving but inspiring and educational film. It makes the assassination of our 16th president that much sadder since we feel we got to know him.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is another intense film that covers the efforts to track down Osama bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. The director makes no bones about taking artistic license since much of the information about the events depicted are still classified. One claim about the movie that I just didn’t detect was that torture led directly to the killing of bin Laden. The prisoner doesn’t seem to give away any useful information until the interrogators treat him with dignity. Maybe I missed something, but that whole angle appears overblown.

“Silver Linings Playbook” is simply a pleasure to watch. The film combines great acting, drama, comedy, romance and an important message about bipolar disorder. Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence play two people who suffer from the disease but their connection helps each to better deal with it. It’s important to understand that people with certain mental health issues are basically normal most of the time.

I was hoping that “Silver Linings Playbook” would win Best Picture because it is a feel-good movie with an important message and doesn’t have to twist the truth, since it isn’t based on actual events. It doesn’t really matter because all four movies are outstanding.

Let’s hope Hollywood has found its mark and will continue to churn out remarkable films at the same rate. 2012 was a very good year.

David Kent is the director of the Village Library of Cooperstown. He can be reached at co.david@4cls.org.