The Movie Club

Goon: An Excellent Movie About Hockey, Improbably Starring Liev Schreiber
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 11 2013 5:40 PM

The Movie Club

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A few words about Bradley Cooper.

Jennifer Lawrence and Bradly Cooper.
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradly Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook

Photo by The Weinstein Company.

Dear Dana, Keith, and Wesley,

It’s like this every year: We just get going, and it’s time to say goodbye. Since I’ve been working as a critic, I can’t remember a year that I didn’t think was a good movie year. But 2012 turned out to be pretty damn great, which is part of the reason, in this last round of posts, we’re all feeling the need to get in one last word about certain movies that we haven’t yet had a chance to touch on.

But first, a few words about Bradley Cooper. Until this year, I simply could not stand this guy. My distaste for him went far deeper than anything I ever felt for Matthew McConaughey. And yet I can’t believe how much I liked him in Silver Linings Playbook, which I found extremely enjoyable (though like you, Dana, I prefer Russell’s even rangier Flirting With Disaster—but not I Heart Huckabees, which seemed to me a pure example of messy hubris). There’s something about Cooper that has always reminded me of Rat Fink. Oh, God, that’s such an uncharitable, John Simon-ish thing to say. But the guy has been voted Sexiest Man Alive, so he can probably take it. Anyway, in Silver Linings, I saw him playing a character who was believably vulnerable: There’s no swagger in that guy, but there’s not a lot of self-pity, either, and Cooper walks that line deftly. I respect the movie, and Cooper, for resisting the urge to make mental illness adorable. He’s a guy trapped on his own internal hamster wheel, and we can see that it’s hardly a fun place to be.

OK, onto the odds and ends: I think this was a terrific year for genre pictures (whatever that means anymore), movies that are never going to win any prizes but that throw off all kinds of crazy sparks. Things like Dax Shepard and David Palmer’s Hit and Run, which zigged into theaters and then zagged out (and also, incidentally, featured a fine little performance from Cooper as a baddie in dirty-blond dreadlocks). I loved its nutty, old-school romantic-comedy energy and its stunt driving—the movie brought me the same kind of goofy thrill I get from cheapie '70s on-the-road pictures like Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and Eat My Dust. I also loved David Koepp’s Premium Rush, largely because its action sequences are so clearly shot and edited and for the way Koepp honors the crazy logic of New York geography.

Like you, Keith, I was really taken with Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st. I remember as I was coming home from that movie, some of the little neighborhood girls clamored around me, wanting to know if the movie I’d seen was “good.” I had no idea what to say to them—how would you explain a subtle reworking of Le Feu Follet to an 8-year-old?— but in the end, I had to say that yes, it was good. It’s one of those tragic movies that somehow makes you feel better about life.

And now we’re down to the wire. I need to throw in a quick word for a few movies I either caught late or just didn’t get a chance to write about: I loved Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s Turn Me On, Dammit, about a bored teenager stuck in a teeny Norwegian town who fantasizes—and not in a clean way—about just about everyone she comes into contact with. It’s bold and funny and sweet, and I wish there’d been a movie like it around when I was 15. I was also struck by David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense, in which Ewan McGregor and Eva Green meet just as the world is coming to an end—and instead of finding that this unfortunate turn of events cramps their style, they lean into it, moving forward together into this strange new territory. It’s a small film, inventive and intimate, that does a lot with a little.

As a parting shot—a slapshot, maybe?— I need to give one little shout-out to Liev Schreiber’s performance as a scrappy minor-league hockey player in Michael Dowse’s crude, violent, fun-as-heck Goon. When I first saw Schreiber, in that ’70s eight-track-guy facial hair that only hockey players can get away with, I couldn’t believe my eyes: Isn’t Schreiber just too serious to allow himself to look this goofy? But he’s wonderful in Goon, almost—with the exception of one pensive soliloquy—kind of a cutup. It’s fun to see a guy like Schreiber having fun for a change, surprising us and possibly surprising himself.

I have loved being here with you all to recap the pleasures and frustrations of the past moviegoing year. But now it’s time to put 2012 on ice. Here’s to a new year of movies filled with surprises, both from the actors we already love and those we’re learning to love. Bradley Cooper, I’m looking at you.

My best to you all,

Stephanie

Stephanie Zacharek is chief film critic at the Village Voice.