2012 in Review
I sound like a broken record when I say, "Texans got talent." But, it's true. We obviously talk a lot about filmmakers here at Slackerwood, but it's time to show some love to our local game developers. You (hopefully) already know that Texas is second only to California in number of developers and maintains a solid presence in the state dating back to the birth of the industry. In an article from last February, UK game magazine Edge hyperbolized that "it's impossible to overstate the impact Texas has had on videogames." (For a great overview of the local industry, read the full Edge article.)
This past year continued the reign of our interactive artists, bringing both critically acclaimed and financially successful games, ranging from atmospheric iPhone projects to big-budget Xbox games. And, as a Texan (if you're reading this, consider yourself honorary), it's your duty to support your local game developer. Rising tides raise all ships, you know!
Below is a small list of notable video games that Texas developers had a hand in creating in 2012. Hopefully it will inspire you to stretch those thumbs on your gaming device of choice. BTW, if I hear anyone say, "The last game I played was Pong," I'm going to out you for the Words With Friends player I know you are.
There's something about 2012 I just can't shake. I find myself going back to the films I enjoyed last year, the ones I went to after a philosophical debate with my downstairs neighbor, or when I wanted to sing and piss her off. There's variety in the movies I chose, ready to set whatever mood you're in.
- Wake in Fright (pictured at top) -- Long-considered to be lost (and almost destroyed), this Australian thriller was remastered and acquired by Drafthouse Films last year. It's gritty and sometimes shocking protrayal of masculinity and the pliable nature of the human psyche, not to mention the disturbing performance by Donald Pleasence, is like nothing I've seen before. I'm not sure if I would have ever heard of Wake in Fright (an Australian friend of mine hadn't heard of it), let alone been able to find and watch the movie, if I hadn't attended Fantastic Fest.
Based on the 1961 book of the same name, the film, which was nominated for a Palme D'Or at Cannes in 1971, tells the story of good-natured British schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond). Upon arriving in a rough outback mining town on his way to Sydney, he meets a group of alcohol-induced degenerates who change his life forever. The film's U.S. distribution rights were sold at Cannes in 1971, and yet it only had a short run in theaters and never appeared on VHS or DVD ... until now. I owe a big thank you to the film's cinematographer, who found the original negatives in canisters marked for inceneration in Philadelphia. After decades in obscurity, and with support from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Wake in Fright was restored and had the rare honor of being screened twice at Cannes in 2009.
2012 was a year of change not only for Slackerwood -- we were taken under the wing of Austin Film Society, does it get any better than that? -- but for me. Asked to describe what I do in five words or less, it's simply been "watch movies and drink beer." Sounds simple enough, but the creativity and inspiration I've discovered in the last year since a major career change has been both frightening and exhilarating. I became the lead curator for AFS SXSW Shortcase, and was admitted to the Austin Film Critics Association (AFCA), which meant watching a lot more films this year.
Top Ten Lists are interesting for less than ten seconds after reading, unless you disagree with a selection or the order -- then perhaps you might ponder the list for a few minutes. I use an analogy when talking about craft beer -- "it's a good thing people have different palates, or else we'd all be drinking macro American light lagers." Therefore I won't be listing any "Worst of" as there may be some merit in a film that others may appreciate.
So while I did compile a "Best of 2012" list recently, I'd also like to mention some special awards I would personally give based on particular merits. Without further ado, here are my alternative awards:
Reflecting on the past year's selections of films and performances leaves me more excited than I was this time last year after a lackluster 2011. Blockbusters such as The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers demonstrated that there is still energy and originality in these long-familiar characters. Just as 007 fans will argue that Sean Connery is the one and only James Bond -- personally I think Daniel Craig in Skyfall has picked up that gauntlet -- I will argue for director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale truly owning the Batman franchise.
2012 also featured impressive performances from many new and veteran actors, and the standout portrayals were from stars who transformed into their characters so effortlessly. The slate of films worthy of recognition is quite substantial, so I've shared a short summary of what influenced my choices for 2012.
Best Film: Cloud Atlas
A series of stories interwoven that demonstrate the power of one person's actions, "by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future." Blending the genres of historical drama, sci-fi, romance, espionage, and comedy, Cloud Atlas is a visually stunning masterpiece that shows the triumph of the human spirit through love and kindness over greed and vice. My fellow Slackerwood critics seem to agree -- read Mike's review as well as Jette's Fantastic Fest review.
Sometimes if you randomly choose a movie at Austin Film Festival or SXSW, you stumble upon a great find. In 2012, using my typical method -- whichever movies are within walkable distance from free/cheap parking downtown and showing at times that I feel up to being around festival crowds -- I saw some sweet, memorable movies. Here are my favorites:
This tense drama, depicting the effects of sexual abuse by a community leader on an adolescent boy, provides an intimate look into how the boy's close-knit family deals with the fallout. When I watched this at SXSW, it turned out I was sitting next to some of the actors. Luckily I had nothing bad to mutter to myself about the film. Wolf is illuminating, a film that gives great consideration to its subject matter and the characters involved. Even the character of the abuser is treated with dimension and depth. And it was filmed in San Antonio! (Mike's review)
Wolf was still making the festival rounds in November.
Here are my top ten and other notable films from last year. To be eligible for my list, a movie had to release in the U.S. in 2012 and screen in Austin in 2012 also. (Some well reviewed 2012 releases have not yet opened in Austin.)
10. Searching for Sugar Man
This superb documentary about singer/songwriter Sixto Rodriguez would have made my top ten list even without its irresistible soundtrack (which I dare you not to buy after seeing the film). Although the publicity surrounding Searching for Sugar Man has spoiled some of its "Whatever happened to this guy?" premise, it's still an engaging story and a great tribute to a musician whose terrific songs were nearly forgotten for decades. (Jordan's review)
My third-favorite Richard Linklater film -- nothing can top Slacker or Dazed and Confused -- is the best comedy of 2012. Based on the true-crime tale of Bernie Tiede, a Carthage, Texas mortician accused of murdering wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent in 1996, Bernie is a thoroughly engaging and hilariously dark romp that nails the East Texas milieu with a cast of spot-on small-town characters. Jack Black is perfect as the gentle and generous Tiede; so is Matthew McConaughey as tough-on-crime District Attorney Danny "Buck" Davidson. (my review)