My Top 10 Movie Lines of 2012
I'm like Alice's Rabbit, late late late. But I have a day job, it's been a busy month, and the distributors, as usual, are slow to getting some of the more acclaimed movies to the outer reaches of the land, which is to say Seattle. Can't SIFF help with this? You'd think. At the same time, I'm earlier than last year's list. So there's that.
Someday I hope to do a piece on the ways movies in any given year complement and refute each other. I saw the big-budget musical “Les Miserables” a month after the doc “How to Survive a Plague,” and thought you could played Marius' survivor's-guilt lament, “Empty Tables and Empty Chairs,” from the former, over the closing credits of the latter. Meanwhile, the best counterargument to the overall torture storyline of “Zero Dark Thirty” isn't the folks, such as me, blah blah blahing about the inefficacy or immorality of torture; it's Ken Burns' doc, “The Central Park Five,” where we realize we don't need enhanced interrogation to break people; just interrogation. ZDT tells us everyone breaks; CPF tells us the innocent always break first.
So here we go. Here's to the screenwriters who write the words. Here's to the actors who say them.
10. “The story is in the ice somehow.”
-- Photographer James Balog in the documentary “Chasing Ice.”
The story James Balog winds up telling, or showing, is time-lapse photography of the destruction of beauty. We watch glaciers melt away in a matter of months. It's like watching La Sagrada Familia or the Louvre or Marion Cotillard melt away. The story he tells is a kind of horror story, and it's ours, and it's ongoing. See it. Or at least be aware of it.
9. “Thank you, Vishnu, for introducing me to Christ”
-- Pi Patel, age 5, in Ang Lee's “Life of Pi.” Screenplay by David Magee. From the novel by Yann Martel.
“Life of Pi” seems to be about a boy and a tiger, as “Django Unchained” seems to be about an ex-slave bounty hunter; but both movies are ultimately about storytelling. This is the first of Pi's stories: young, curious and Hindu, and coming across Christianity and other religions. The story of Jesus confuses him at first. A story of self-sacrifice? By a god? But God? What's the point of that? In a way, young Pi is like most moviegoers. He wants wish-fulfillment fantasy. He wants the strong to be strong and smite the evil and foolish. Eventually he comes to understand Jesus on a deeper level.
8. “I liked being watched. I liked turning them on. I liked getting them all worked up. But then I'd just get bored.”
--Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) in Jacques Audiard's “Rust and Bone.” Screenplay by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain. Based on a story by Craig Davidson.
Stephanie and Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) don't exactly meet cute. She's on the floor of a disco with a bloody nose. He's the bouncer who bruises his knuckles taking the guy out. He looks at her legs driving her home. He ices his knuckles at her place. By the time of the above admission, she's lost her legs (that's why the past tense) and his knuckles have another rendezvous with ice. But it's the stark admission of it. The honesty of it. We don't get that in many movies. It's a good reminder to men, too. Your interest is assumed; what else have you got?
7. Lori: I know I’m not a talking teddy bear but at least you didn’t have to make a wish to get me. John: How do you know?
-- Lori (Mila Kunis) and John (Mark Wahlberg) in Ted. Screenplay by Seth MacFarlane, Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild.
I would've liked this movie a lot more if it hadn't steeped itself in the worst pop-cultural crap, but asking Seth MacFarlane not to do that is like asking Steven Spielberg to end a movie abruptly or Quentin Tarantino to tone down the gunplay. MacFarlane's humor will always be hit or miss to me. But the above line? A bouquet of roses in a junkyard.
6. “How can I hold that all men are created equal when here before me stands, stinking, the moral carcass of the gentlemen from Ohio, proof that some men are inferior, endowed by their maker with dim wit impermeable to reason, with cold, pallid slime in their veins instead of hot, red blood. You are more reptile than man, George. So low and flat that the foot of man is incapable of crushing you.”
-- Thaddeus Stevens (Tommy Lee Jones) in Steven Spielberg's “Lincoln.” Screenplay by Tony Kushner, based on the book by Doris Kearns Goodwin.
For all the great dialogue in “Lincoln,” the revelatory moments, it's the insults, the eru-fucking-dite insults that stand out. We think we're bad motherfuckers in the 21st century when it comes to trash talk. We actually owe the 19th century an apology for how far we've slipped.
5. “We accept the love we think we deserve.”
-- Mr. Anderson (Paul Rudd) to Charlie (Logan Lerman), and Charlie to Sam (Emma Watson) in Stephen Chbosky's “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” Screenplay be Stephen Chbosky. Based on his novel.
Dr. Phil would go out of business if everyone tattooed this quote somewhere on their body or mind. That wouldn't be a bad thing. Either thing.
4. “Remember in the sixties when girls wore short skirts? Wasn’t that great?”
-- Paul Simon remembering a convesation with South African artist General M.D. Shirinda in the documentary “Under African Skies.”
Shiranda wrote the song that Simon would adapt into “I Know What I Know.” At this point in the story of the making of “Graceland,” and its subsequent controversy, Simon worries that the album isn't political enough; that it isn't evoking the reality of South Africaenough. So he asks Shiranda what his song is really about. This is his answer. Shiranda's right, too. It was great.
3. “It sort of felt like reaching the Wizard of Oz. It's like you’ve got to the center of the whole system and there’s just this schmuck behind a curtain.”
-- ACT-UP activist Mark Harrington in the documentary “How to Survive a Plague.”
I immediately flashed to “All the President's Men”: Deep Throat telling Bob Woodward of the Nixon White House, “These are not very bright guys ... and things got out of hand.” That's still one of my most-quoted movie lines. Harrington is talking about meeting up with the scientists and bureaucrats of government agencies that allow or don't allow the rest of us to use this or that drug. “Schmuck Behind a Curtain” could be the title of any number of books or movies. It explains the world.
2. “I was a terrible father. [Pause] It's a bullshit business. It's like coal mining: You come home to your wife and kids, you can't wash it off.”
-- Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) in Ben Affleck's Argo. Screenplay by Chris Terrio. Based on an article by Joshuah Bearman and a book by Tony Mendez.
This is before the trip to Iran to rescue the hostages. Siegel and Mendez are just talking matter-of-factly on some steps in Los Angeles during magic hour. They've got fast food. They're opening up. Why not? Life is short. It's a great line reading by Arkin. There's disappointment in his voice but not much. It's a mea culpa without too much culpa. By this point in his life he recognizes the ways of the world, and of men, and of himself. He's past fooling. He's describing Hollywood but he could be describing any business. They're all like that. That's why it resonates. We all carry that bullshit home. It infects everything. None of us can wash it off.
1. Loki: You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel. German man (rising): Not to men like you. Loki: There are no men like me. German man: There are always men like you.
-- Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and German man (Kenneth Tigar) in The Avengers. Screenplay by Joss Whedon.
For all the CGI and Jack Kirbyesque action sequences, it's Whedon's words in “The Avengers” that won me over. “I have an army.”/“We have a Hulk.” But this is the most poignant point in the movie. I'd always liked the line of Loki's from the trailer about how human beings were made to be ruled. I wanted to see what they did with that. This is what they did. During the above exchange, Loki is amused because he knows himself to be a god, not a man, but the man reduces him with a few words. With a turn of a phrase, he suggests Loki isn't above men but below them, because there is no one so low as he who forces others to kneel. It's an Ozymandias moment, really. It's Ozymandias reduced by words rather than time.