The Hunger Games (2012)
Suzanne Collins’s dystopian trilogy is written in the first person, from the perspective of a resourceful, sarcastic, unforgettable girl. For unfair reasons — similar pop cultural timing — I compare Katniss Everdeen to Harry Potter and Bella Swan, and Katniss comes out on top. She’s a wonderful bullshit-caller. She’s realistic and guarded about boys. She’s a fount of witty observations about the insane society she was born into, where twelve tattered Districts provide for a decadent Capitol. (My friend and colleague Matthew Yglesias explains how this works.)
The film adaptation of the first novel gives the Katniss role to Jennifer Lawrence, an approachably gorgeous actress who slummed in TV, then broke big in the fine 2010 sleeper Winter’s Bone, then appeared in The Beaver for some reason. She’s a star now, even though her Katniss is less than I hoped for. The film is, well, a film. There’s no first-person musing. We know that Katniss is smart and wry because she stars cold through the parade of idiots making her life harder — and eventually trying to kill her.
I’m leading with my only complaint. This is just a terrific blockbuster, disorienting and absorbing. The art direction is by Tom Stern, who honed his craft on a lot of crap (the horribly failed J. Edgar), beautifully frames the gingham poverty of District 12 and the Caprica-esque sleaze of the Capitol. Director Gary Ross — who previously directed two lame period pieces — puts his camera sickeningly close to the action. Look at thee start of the Games, when tributes are permitted to run toward a stash of weapons. It’s a perfect chance for them to kill each other. We see them do it with quick shots of bloody weapons raised after striking, knives flying too fast to track.
21 Jump Street (2012)
Surprisingly great slackjaw comedy.