Looking over every film released in the Twin Cities in 2012 is exhausting research—it makes my head spin to think of how many were released, but it is even more mind-blowing how many films opened in New York City in 2012.
Mike D’Angelo’s brilliant and intense film website, “The Man Who Viewed Too Much,” which I have been following for a few years now (and is a complete time-suck) covers everything he has seen, everything released in NYC, and all of his reviews since 1995. It is a hoot to find out what films he has walked out of or turned off, and to track the shifts in his two top ten lists, the “Pure” and “Polls” lists (they differ by featuring films released in theaters versus films that D’Angeol saw on the festival circuit but that will not be in theaters in 2012), and his Movie Nerd Discussion Groups. I enjoy reading D’Angelo’s work, but this got me thinking about all the films I have seen in 2012, before my Top Ten is revealed, that have not been released in the Twin Cities this past year and should have been.
There are plenty of films that never see the light of day in Minnesota theaters—some for good reason, but others that leave me perplexed as to why theaters in the Twin Cities do not give smaller films, both narratives and documentaries, a chance to shine. There are some theaters (Walker Art Center, Trylon, MSP Film Society, and Landmark, most notably) that from time to time find room for more avant-garde, niche, challenging, and off-the-beaten path titles; however, many films bypass the Twin Cities and will eventually find a home on smaller screens (VOD, DVD, Netflix, etc.).
There are many variables involved in the question as to why some smaller films do not grace the big screens in town: Will they draw an audience? How do we market a small foreign film? Will the film get reviewed? These are all valid questions, and I have had to make these decisions as a reviewer and programmer before, unsure as to whether something I have seen will impact other viewers.
One of the best feelings as a film journalist and programmer is discovering a new film—whether it be at a festival, via a screener, or in a small intimate screening—and bringing as much attention to it as possible (mostly by writing and talking about it) and creating some noise and figuring out a way how to get it screened in the Twin Cities. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and at times it is a shame that some films cannot find a theater for a screening, other times, it is outstanding when a film reaches a Twin Cities theater I thought would never experience on the big screen (it was thrilling to catch Kenneth Lonergan’s long-shelved Margaret last February at St. Anthony Main, courtesy of the MSP Film Society, and Neil Berkeley’s documentary on artist Wayne White, Beauty is Embarrassing, at the Trylon microcinema, even if it was only for two days).
With all that said, here are five outstanding films I saw—but not in Twin Cities theaters—in 2012. I recently got word that three of these titles will be opening this January, courtesy of the MSP Film Society’s screen three at St. Anthony Main. I am hoping these other two will find another theater(s) in early 2013, as they are worth seeing—especially on the big screen.
• Neighboring Sounds, a slow-burn Brazilian drama directed by former film critic Kleber Mendonca Filho. The film is a moving portrait of locals living in the coastal town of Recife in Brazil, which has seen its crime rate go up. When a security team is called in to help out ,many wonder if the right decision has been made and how it will affect their current living circumstances. Filho’s camera circles around the block many times and each time we are stopped with surprises, wonderment, and thrilling scenes of inspired filmmaking featuring some standout performances from mostly non-professional actors. (No local opening date yet.)
• Starlet, director Sean Baker’s follow-up to his thoroughly enjoyable Prince of Broadway. Baker returns with another naturalistic approach; the film features two knockout performances from first-time actresses Dree Hemingway and 85-year-old Besedka Johnson. After making a discovering at a yard sale, aspiring actress Jane (Hemingway, great granddaughter of Ernest and daughter of Mariel) returns to the sale but instead of telling its proprietor what she has found, she befriends the elderly woman and what starts out as an unlikely friendship turns into a powerful character and family study. Starlet is never what it seems, leading to unexpected and profound scenes; the bond between Sadie and Jane is unlike any relationship I witnessed in 2012. (No opening date yet.)
• Only the Young. This low-budget documentary by co-directors Jason Tippet and Elizabeth Mims follows three teenagers in a small sleepy Southern California desert town looking for things to do as their town is slowly dying. With house foreclosures, swimming pools being drained, and little else to do, Garrison, Kevin, and Skye are also going through breakups, difficult family situations, and figuring out their own future. The filmmakers’ candid interviews with all three teens are wiser, smarter, and more personable than most coming-of-age documentaries or narrative films in recent memory. (Opening January 25 at St. Anthony Main.)
• Tchoupitoulas (pronounced CHOP-it-TOO-luhs), named after a street in New Orleans, is an impressive follow-up documentary by brothers Turner and Bill Ross IV (45365) featuring dazzling cinematography on one vibrant night. Three adolescent brothers wander the streets of New Orleans, encountering the many street performers, vendors, jazz musicians and others on their night out. The fact the Ross brothers got all the footage is astounding but it’s even more miraculous that it all happened in one night. Tchoupitoulas may be hard to say, but it’s delightful seeing how one seemingly unimportant night unravels with such mystery and splendor. (Opening January 18 at St. Anthony Main.)
• The House I Live In, directed by Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) and winner of the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, is the bravest, toughest and most exhausting (and the best) documentary I’ve seen in 2012; it will finally open this January at St. Anthony Main. Focusing on “the War on Drugs,” one of the biggest problems America has had for over 40 years, Jarecki talks with inmates, parole officers, grieving mothers, and David Simon—creator of HBO’s The Wire—who have seen and heard it all when it comes to drugs in America. As I reported from Sundance, The House I Live In demands multiple viewings to digest and understand everything Jarecki brings his gripping case study. It also should be required viewing, as “the War on Drugs” is not coming to an end any time soon and Jarecki’s documentary will not only enrage you but leave you wanting to learn more. (Opening January 18 at St. Anthony Main.)