For me, Butt-Numb-A-Thon is a big part of my life every year. I spend an obscene amount of time thinking about it. BNAT is the pinnacle of my AICN life. It was at this time last year that Harry gave me a job writing for Ain't It Cool News, and ever since then I've felt a bit like Walter in THE MUPPETS, trying to figure out my place in the scheme of things. These guys are my idols, in a lot of ways. Harry, Eric, Steven, Cargill, even Drew have inspired me to write more and to think more about film than anyone else. BNAT has been such a huge part of my life for these past 13 years (even when I missed it a couple of times) that not to go feels like having an appendage removed.
This year may very well be the best year since 2003 for me, and that year was a damn fine year. In 2003 we got RETURN OF THE KING, OLDBOY and an early screening of THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (and although that film has fallen in my estimation in the years since, at the time it had a lot of power over those of us who saw it that first year). This year I've seen some films that stunned me, made me laugh, or cry, or cheer. Many of these you'll be seeing in the next few weeks and months. Some of them are rare and difficult to find. All of them are great pieces of art and they each have their own worth. I'm overjoyed, as usual, to be a part of things here at AICN and I can't wait to see what next year has in store.
I'm working on very little sleep, so I'm feeling a little bit punchy. Forgive me if I seem vague about some things - I'm not fully prepared to talk about some of the things I've seen this year, and some of them I really don't have a lot of liberty to talk about yet. And honestly, some of them I'm going to be very short about because I frankly don't want to spoil anything - one movie in particular I will talk about very briefly only.
Yes, we saw THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY trailer thanks to Gandalf The Grey magically transporting Quint from the beautiful landscapes of Middle-Earth to the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, Texas. No, I can't talk about any specifics except to say that something I always treasured from the original book is in the trailer in a big way and I was very happy to hear it. The trailer will play in front of THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN and it's simply sublime. It's more character-based than epic, but it's like slipping into a warm embrace from a very old friend that you haven't seen in many years. Truly wonderful.
We saw 12 films this year - it was to be 13 but Harry decided to show that 13th film at a later time - and because of the extra space this year's BNAT was far more social than years past. This one really did feel like a warm family reunion. We visited and chatted and geeked out over the films we saw. Honestly I love BNAT so much more when we have a bit of space between movies and this year it really worked out. The day flowed so perfectly well, and I have to say this is one of the best line-ups Harry's ever had.
Poor Jeff Mahler had to endure seeing his TEEN WOLF smashed into a thousand pieces throughout the event, and seeing those 2 second snapshots of the film always brought a laugh. We saw some great vintage trailers - and STUNT ROCK, of course, couldn't be a BNAT without that - and this year Harry seemed to want to play more than punish. It was his 40th, after all, and as I can attest, happiness, and giving happiness to others, becomes the main goal at that point in life.
So enough with the stalling - let's get to the movies we saw!
Yeah, it's opened already. So what? As anyone who has ever attended BNAT already knows, HUGO is the quintessential BNAT film. And it's a film that Harry struggled to include in the line-up, and he decided, "Why not?" Why not, indeed. Seeing HUGO with a BNAT audience was a special treat for me. A BNAT audience isn't the normal movie audience. To put it bluntly, when it comes to movies, we know our shit. And HUGO, for us, is a confirmation for something we hold so dear and close to our hearts - that film is a transformative experience, and that a great film changes the lives of those who make it, and those who see it. HUGO is a magical movie, a transcendent one, and seeing it there at BNAT was wonderous. I was surprised by how many people hadn't seen it yet. People's lives get busier and it becomes more difficult to just drop everything and go see everything that opens, so I was pleased that many in the BNAT audience were experiencing it for that first time.
LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE
After HUGO we got a special treat - a 35mm print of Georges Méliès' classic film, scored by Graham Reynolds on keyboards. I'd only seen snippets, never the entire thing, and never in a movie theater. So charming and wonderful, and beautifully projected onto the screen. It was a real treat to see this with this particular audience, an audience who appreciates the magic of silent filmmaking and of this film in particular. So happy Harry played this.
I had never heard of this film, but listening to Harry talk about it made me want to see it very badly. Basically, imagine a film from 1930, that imagines what the world would be like in 1980, with all the ideas, prejudices, and suppositions that would entail. What you get is JUST IMAGINE, a truly surreal look at the "future" world of 1980, where we are given numbers instead of names and the government decides who you can marry and who you can't. (Gee...) One young man, who can't marry the girl of his dreams, decides to take a trip to explore Mars with his best friend and a straggler from 1930. In between are some very strange musical numbers, including one where a young couple seem to be trying to mate two houseflies. Insect porn. This film got a big response from the BNAT audience - it's hidden treasures like this that make BNAT what it is, and if there was anything missing from this year's BNAT, it was that we didn't see more strange vintage films. But I really can't complain because of how good this year turned out to be.
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
I have not read John LeCarre's novel, or seen any of the previous George Smiley films. But I loved this quiet but intense thriller about a possible mole inside the upper echelons of British intelligence. Gary Oldman and Tomas Alfredson filmed an introduction to the film beforehand, and I loved how Oldman pronounced Butt-Numb-A-Thon, accent on the Butt. Oldman is exceptional in this film - all subtle nuance and behind-the-eyes acting. A stellar supporting cast as well - Benedict Cumberbatch was my favorite of the supporting cast, but everyone does amazing work here and manages to turn a very long book into an efficient and riveting thriller. I'm very glad I waited to see this here at BNAT.
SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS
I'm not the biggest fan of Guy Ritchie's first SHERLOCK film, and while I think the second one's a better movie, it did suffer from seeing a film before it that has the actor playing the definitive modern interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch. But, that said, A GAME OF SHADOWS has a much improved story and benefits from two performances - Stephen Fry as Sherlock's older brother Mycroft, and Jared Harris as Professor James Moriarty, who is terrific. I especially loved the climax where Sherlock and Moriarty basically have a "think-off" instead of a predictable final duel. It's not to my taste as far as adaptations of Sherlock Holmes goes, but it's still a fun movie for people who just want to stick their toe into the stories.
THE BEAST WITH FIVE FINGERS
I have to be honest. This is the film that knocked me out at BNAT. You have to understand, the night before BNAT for me is like the night for a 7-year-old boy on Christmas Eve, eating Cocoa Pebbles cereal and bouncing off the walls unable to sleep. I woke up at 3:30 in the morning the night before BNAT, and tossed and turned for 3 more hours until I couldn't take it anymore and woke up the wife for the day's festivities. It seems early in the roster for me to get knocked out by a movie, but there you have it. I enjoyed what I did see of it, with Peter Lorre as the world's most obsessive astronomer, and the look of the film is terrific. When it comes to BNAT, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and this is the movie that crashed me, at least for about an hour or so.
THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN
I love Steven Spielberg's film. I had already seen it before BNAT, at a press screening, but seeing it with this audience was what I was hoping for the most this year. And it does not disappoint - TINTIN is Spielberg playing with a new set of toy trains, and you can tell as the film progresses just how much fun he is having. I think the 6 minute editless chase scene is one of Steven Spielberg's finest moments as a director, and the audience applauded once that scene ended. It is bravura filmmaking and I'd love to see Spielberg play with this technology again. It also helps that TINTIN is just a damn good movie - a true old-fashioned adventure tale, and it's one I think audiences will embrace when it opens. And, if you need another reason to see it - HOBBIT trailer. In front of TINTIN. So you get that trailer, and a great movie as well.
This isn't my favorite Studio Ghibli film (that would be PRINCESS MONONOKE) but it would definitely come a close second. It's just so damn charming, and sweet, and innocent. If you haven't seen it, I urge you to seek it out, and next year Ain't It Cool and the Alamo Drafthouse will be screening them with 35mm subtitled prints. This was one of those prints, and as it's Harry's favorite Miyazaki, he had to show it. It looked gorgeous, especially the aerial flight scenes. Hayao Miyazaki always had a wonderful skill in animating flying things, and PORCO ROSSO has a sky filled with them, all different shapes and colors, and it looked especially beautiful on the big screen in 35mm. So happy this played - it was BNAT's first anime and a very great title to pop that particular cherry.
THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
I'm not going to review this movie with any length, at least, not yet. But I will say this. Read nothing. See nothing, including the trailer. Go in blind. There are movies that it's okay to be spoiled a little bit on. This is not one of those movies. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS won BNAT this year, hands down. There are audience experiences at BNAT that I cherish more than any other. Seeing THE LORD OF THE RINGS films for the first time. Seeing Buster Keaton's THE GENERAL with a live band. To that, I'll simply add the last 30 minutes of THE CABIN IN THE WOODS. It's going to be a BNAT experience that I'll treasure forever, and simply put, this is a must-see film when it opens in April. Because it's probably going to be one of the most talked about genre films of the year. Believe it.
GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
Neveldine/Taylor is an acquired tate, I think, for some movie fans. I think their frenetic shooting style puts a lot of people off, and I understand that. I'm very big on spatial geography in action sequences, and these guys like to put themselves in the middle of everything in their shooting. This movie followed a mind-blowing movie experience at BNAT, so I think it was due to suffer in comparison; that said, I had a hell of a lot of fun with it. It's pulpy, fairly predictable, but Nicolas Cage amps up his Cageness level - maybe to VAMPIRE'S KISS levels, but not BAD LIEUTENANT or "Not the bees!" WICKER MAN levels. He seems to be having a lot of fun with the character, and I enjoyed it for what it was - B-movie pulp, and just all-around goofy. I will say that I wasn't terribly impressed with the 3D, but it's still early.
My favorite film of BNAT13WOLF. I didn't expect what I got with this movie. The trailers sell it (and I've called it such) as Liam Neeson punching wolves for two hours. It's not that. What Joe Carnahan has made here is, first off, his best film by far, and second, a meditation on the mind of man when faced with an extraordinary situation, and how man faces their fears and doubts to overcome it. I cried a lot at THE GREY. It is, in my opinion, Liam Neeson's best performance - sad, heroic, afraid, but stalwart, and he is tremendous in it. The supporting cast does great work too, especially Dermot Mulroney, as a father facing the possibility of not seeing his daughter again, and then there are the terrifying wolves, which are truly scary. There's the plane crash, which is incredibly intense, and then there's how Liam Neeson's character's past is so slowly revealed. I think the trailers do the film a disservice in selling it as an action piece - although there's action in it, I registered so much more with the emotion of the piece. Considering his recent loss in real life, Neeson brings that great sadness to his role in THE GREY and in one particular scene, as Neeson rages against God for what has happened, I could feel his own personal anger in that moment. I think THE GREY is an exceptional film, and it's unfortunate that it opens in January because by the end of next year I think it is a film that should be recognized come awards season. THE GREY was the film that I loved the most at BNAT - although CABIN IN THE WOODS kicked the audience's ass, I think THE GREY resonates so very much. Do not miss THE GREY.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - GHOST PROTOCOL
Brad Bird's first live-action film already grants him entry to that rare category of directors who know how to shoot modern day action. Working animation has sharpened those skills to a razor's edge - Bird knows how to intercut several sequences into a cohesive whole, and he's mastered spatial action geography with this film in a way that Michael Bay, with all his movies, has never and will never master. Seeing it in IMAX is the only way to go here - the Dubai sequence is stunning in how well it works - and Tom Cruise, frankly, has never been better in an action film than in this. Easily the best film of that franchise, GHOST PROTOCOL has Cruise's Ethan Hunt trying to stop a nuclear attack, and what I loved the most about it is that it's a team movie, and not just the Ethan Hunt Show. Everyone turns in great work, including Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, and Jeremy Renner. There's no fat in the movie - GHOST PROTOCOL moves with confidence and speed, and it's probably the best action film of the holiday season. A great way to end BNAT.
And did I mention the kickassocity of the G.I. JOE: RETALIATION trailer? Or how scary the new trailer of THE DEVIL INSIDE is? No? Well, you'll see in the next few days, I'm sure. For me, this was a singular great BNAT, and I can't wait to be back next year. On a personal note, thank you, Harry, for what seriously has been one of the greatest years of my life. I've had an amazing time, met amazing people, and seen things you people wouldn't believe - wait, that's a movie line. But it has been a tremendous experience writing for Ain't It Cool and I hope to be bringing more things to the site as much as I can. Happy 40th birthday, Harry. And thanks for my life these days. It's the best gift I've ever received.