The Oscars are today so before the most overhyped award show around (although I am impressed with the nominees) gives out their awards to the supposed “best” films of the year, I will tell you what I think were the “best” films of 2012. When I finally compiled this list I saw before me a mess. This is one of the more disappointing top ten lists I have ever come up with and that is because I rarely saw anything special in 2012. This is not to say that each film that made the list was not a great movie, cause they were, but that not a lot of “special” films came out this year. What looked at first to be a very promising year for the movies sort of ended up being a very underwhelming year. The bigger films that came out all seem to be lesser films than what they should have been (the exception maybe being the wonderful Skyfall) and the smaller movies didn’t impress much. So I have here a slate of movies that couldn’t even touch the films of 2011 but I digress. 2012 was still a great year at the movies. Filled with high-flying superheroes and a hushpuppy that lives in the bathtub with her daddy, film was still the focal point of the arts in 2012. So even with all my grumblings I have found 15 excellent films from a year that provided it’s fair shares of ups and downs.
Honorable Mentions (Alphabetical Order)
Cabin in the Woods
We all saw the trailers for this film before we knew anything about it and we were all thrilled when the movie turned out to be the masterpiece of the spoof films. Set up as your run of the mill slasher film, Cabin in the Woods is an examination of what it means to see the graphic misfortunes of others. Set aside your preconceived notions of what it means to be scared and be completely taken off guard by the funniest film of the year.
One of my favorite memories of the year: My buddy Travis saying that if something happens then it will be one of the coolest things ever … and then it happened.
End of Watch
The law is the law and End of Watch glorifies all those that take that phrase to heart. An excellent cop drama about two of the LAPD’s finest, End of Watch is a disturbing ride into the mean streets of LA. When those credits roll it isn’t easy to shake this gut wrenching drama. This is the type of cop drama that should be the norm and not the exception.
Lincoln is that movie that we all knew was going to happen one of these days. Spielberg, Lincoln, and Daniel Day Lewis: a match made in Oscar heaven. Yea the product is kinda what you expected but in a good way as Spielberg does our 16th President justice. Until it’s final moments Lincoln rarely missteps and is a satisfying biopic about one of our greatest Presidents. And yea, Daniel Day Lewis is excellent as always.
Wes Anderson has always been known for his quirky style of filmmaking but this time around it finally got to me. Anderson and crew tell a charming story of a boy experiencing love for the first time. Set up as a children’s book tale, Moonrise Kingdom is a whimsical 2 hours. I have never been overly fond of Wes Anderson but this is my favorite film of his and the first film of his that I was genuinely touched by.
As Skyfall begins we are given an opening chase scene that is reminiscent of all the Bond openings that came before it. It is when Bond is shot and falls that the film takes a turn into a somewhat diagonal direction. Both in tune with Bond’s future and past, Skyfall is the entry that the Bond films needed. It isn’t a perfect film by any means but it is a Bond movie that hinges on the familiar and the unknown. Bond has been around awhile but finally he is off enjoying what we love about him and what we want to love about him. This is the perfect new start for Bond and shows that even the oldest film relics can breathe new creative life while still being true to itself.
The Top Ten Best Films of 2012
The most surprising film of the year for me, Chronicle is an intense character study and maybe the best “villain” driven film of all time. Chronicle is the story of three young men who suddenly have superpowers but it is also a story of a troubled teen that is pushed too far. Chronicle takes advantage of both the found footage film and the superhero film as it is equipped with three great performances (Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, and the awesome Dane DeHaan) and a clever script. Chronicle is more than just a found footage film even though it deals with the logistics of the genre very well (even if it sort of defies logic with it’s camera placements at the end) because it identifies itself as a prime example of great character development. Andrew is our main character and the film revolves around his struggle with the circumstances of his life. The other characters are sort of fleshed out but Chronicle spends most of its 84 minute running time with Andrew. A movie like this could have failed if it had not decided to focus on Andrew. He is one of the better fleshed out characters of the year and his story is one of the best tragedies of recent memory.
Chronicle doesn’t just thrill the audience but it also challenges the viewer with a story of morality in the face of the fantastic. I walked into Chronicle with the expectation to see a superhero Cloverfield and left feeling like I saw a great piece of creative filmmaking. In the age of fads, Chronicle rises above the found footage genre and becomes one of the shinning examples of popular entertainment.
What I love most about being apart of this Netflix generation is the hidden gems that become available via instant streaming. I had heard about Bernie but I really had no interest in seeking it out but one day it showed up on my Netflix and I am so glad it did. A black comedy centered on the loveable Bernie who finds himself in a predicament that leaves a whole community confused, the film is a captivating look at what makes a man. With a narrative that resembles the Office, Bernie not only dissects our main character but it also dissects a whole town that is dealing with a shocking crime. Richard Linklater directs this small comedy with a touch of sarcasm and subtle reality. Linklater is good at directing comedies but he is also good at infusing them with humorous truths. Then you have Jack Black who has never been better. He plays Bernie ambiguously as his character is either the victim of circumstance or a calculated murderer. Bernie is the best comedy of the year and yet it likes to linger in the subtle middle ground of actions and emotions. I love that phrase “Perception is reality” but really if we can’t escape our own head then who is to say what is really going on?
8. The Dark Knight Rises
When I said in the intro that some of the bigger films weren’t as good as they should have been, The Dark Knight Rises was one of those films. The Dark Knight Rises contains numerous small (and a few medium) flaws but to call the film disappointing is a joke when you have it amongst the top ten films of the year. The truth is that The Dark Knight Rises is not as polished as it needed to be but once you get past all of its shortcomings you can see the superhero film you waited four years for. It took two viewings to love but when I was cleared of all my expectations I saw a truly exhilarating and satisfying film. Each film in the trilogy is very different from the others as Rises styles itself as a true epic. Following a three-act narrative, Rises is a big movie and that is what I love about it. Nolan pulls all the punches as his Batman goes out with a bang. The Dark Knight was a great crime drama but I am glad that Rises doesn’t follow the same formula. Rises is a first hour of uneasiness, a second hour of despair, and a third hour of elation. Batman returns, falls, and rises in one of the biggest and best superhero films of all time. Except for a desire for clearer logistics and a tighter story, The Dark Knight Rises contains all the right elements to make Nolan’s last Batman venture a worthy one.
It is easy to take Nolan’s concluding film in The Dark Knight saga for granted because of what a masterpiece The Dark Knight was but to do that is to miss out on a great movie. Once you get past the small (a punch can fix a broken back?) stuff then you will see the Batman we all fell in love with back in 05’. Nolan has given Batman the best gift he could have given him, a happy ending.
7. The Master
P.T. Anderson is known for his challenging dramas but The Master maybe his most challenging film to date. Unlike a lot of his other films, The Master doesn’t entertain as much as it studies its subject. Almost like a scientific study in what it means to believe in something, The Master is a quiet little drama. Some left bored and some left with their head hurting but if you can stand this two hours of psychological drama then you can see a movie that doesn’t back down from it’s subjective stance. Starring Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman as characters at two ends of the spectrum, The Master is all about comparing and contrasting. A beautiful film with it’s fair share of thought, The Master focuses on the impulses of the human experience. Belief is a strong thing and Hoffman’s character (Lancaster Dodd) is a man who is trying to make people “believe” in something bigger than themselves. His biggest challenge is Freddy (played by Phoenix) who is mentally damaged by WW2. Lancaster tries to break this young man and mold him into one of his devout followers but human nature is stronger than a few well-placed words. Hoffman and Phoenix match each other’s intensity in probably the best one-two punch ensemble of the year. They challenge each other and heighten the drama to point of no return. The Master isn’t a movie to love but it is a movie to stand back and admire. It is P.T. Anderson’s patent style and it is the movie of 2012 that will be dissected and discussed the most in the coming years.
6. The Grey
I remember reading the excellent short story “To Build a Fire” which centers on a man trying to survive the cold. Throw in some wolves and Liam Neeson and you have maybe the modern adaptation of that short story. The Grey is a film about survival, as our man characters have to best the wild and Mother Nature. A surprisingly deep and affecting film, The Grey is at it’s best when it examines Man vs. Wild. You feel the cold and the danger as you watch the film and see human kind struggle to find it’s place in the wild. I didn’t watch this movie until about a year after it came out which is a crime because it is a movie to be seen. It is an intense thriller while also being a drama about the fight to live. Liam Neeson has sort of gone Nicholas Cage on us be he still has the ability to own a gut wrenching drama. He is an actor that still has incredible range when he is not off trying to kill everyone (just wolves). As the wolves draw close and the cold chill goes down your back, The Grey welcomes the harshness of our surroundings and celebrates man’s journey through life and death.
Once more into the fray
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know
Live and die on this day
Live and die on this day
5. Holy Motors
I usually judge my year-end top ten lists by how many foreign films made the cut. This year there is inexcusable only one film. This is not a knock on foreign cinema but more of a knock on myself. I only caught a few foreign language films this year (although I feel like I caught the most important ones) but the very best of them was Leos Carax’s Holy Motors. A strange and engaging ode to the power of the cinema, Holy Motors is an episodic adventure, which is all apart of a day in the life of an actor(?) named Oscar. Oscar is played by Denis Lavant who embodies about 15 different characters throughout the movie. His performance is the best of the year as he switches modes from a murderer to a dying old man. Lavant is the perfect actor to portray all of the emotions and thrills that the cinema provides and Carax enjoys the variety of the picture. A true art house film that is sentimental about film’s past and uneasy about film’s future. Holy Motors explores what the movies mean to all of us while also exploring the range of the various stories that have graced the silver screen. Motors maybe a little scared of the progress that film has seen the past decade but Carax is trying to express his anguish in what was and what may never be. No matter what you see in Holy Motors it is one of the craziest and most unique films of the year. A true original and a tombstone for all the movies whose audience is slowly fading away.
4. The Queen of Versailles
There have been a lot of great documentaries this past year but none captivated me more than this riches to rages story. Based on the journey to build the biggest house in America, Versailles takes a sharp turn when the economy takes a tumble. One of the victims of the recession is the Siegel family whose income comes from Westgate Resorts, which is owned by the father, David Siegel. Siegel has built an empire through hard work and risk but as the film progresses we see a man and his family who have lost their sense of “financial reality”. Addicted to a “more is better” lifestyle, the Siegels have to deal with a new reality when the loan collectors start calling. A movie everyone should see as it tells a cautionary tale about the real power of money. As almost all of my classmates and peers begin to start their careers it is easy to see the desire for a lifestyle that we have all seen on T.V and our dreams. Living within your means is a clichéd and unattractive phrase but it maybe one to live by. Money isn’t everything but sometimes it really is, just ask the Siegels.
Set in a bleak future where the mob has control of time travel, Looper explores the consequences of our circumstances. When the movie starts it is easy to draw visual parallels to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner but Looper has a bigger heart than that Sci-fi classic. Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as the same person with 30 years between them. Levitt is a hired gun for the mob of the future as he is given the task to kill his future self and end his “Loop”. But to say that that is the only surprise of the film would be a grave understatement as the movie takes many twists and turns. Not relying on the impact of the movies signature scenario, Looper takes the story in many brave directions, which keeps the audience on their toes. The bravest of those directions is when Levitt’s character (Young Joe) runs into a mother and child (played by Emily Blunt and Pierce Gagnon) who harbor the change that Old Joe (Willis) is after. A story of loss and regret, Looper examines the very fabric of time. A new Sci-Fi classic and a time travel film for a smarter generation, Looper is a movie that will most likely grow in time. Looper is about the power of fate and how it is in the hands of the present and not in the hands of the old and weary.
2. Zero Dark Thirty
The newest and best Kathryn Bigelow film has been receiving a lot of heat since it was announced that it would be a story chronicling the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. People claimed it would be a pro Obama film released at the right time to sway an election or that it is a pro torture film with its subject matter “supposedly” justifying the use of the interrogation technique. For people who have seen the movie it is clear that Zero Dark Thirty is not a movie about torture or Obama, it is a film about the hunt for closure. America has been hunting Osama since the Twin Towers fell and the film shows the extremely frustrating search in a fascinating and exciting way. Bigelow has finally made a truly great movie here as she explores the continuing search for “balance”. Her narrative gives the movie a thriller feel while still being a smart and intelligent story of the greatest manhunt known to man. Bigelow is able to put up a mirror to the audience and while very few of us had a part in Osama’s search and death, the audience can still feel the hopelessness and hate that these past ten years have brought.
A masterwork of what it means to find peace, Zero Dark Thirty is one of the best takes on America during it’s crisis with the Middle East. The film isn’t left side or right side; it is an objective look at the hunt for closure. The ending here is perfect as the film looks back upon the audience. Where do we go from here? What will happen next? When will this all end? Zero Dark Thirty is based in a world where closure is a true Catch-22.
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
I think the reason why I love movies so much is how the moving pictures can sometimes genuinely touch us. How we can be drawn close by a story and when we least expect it, that story can take a hold of us and seep into our very nature. Beasts of the Southern Wild is a movie that took me by surprise with its emotional story of a little girl and all that she sees in the world. The center of her being is her daddy who has been unstable throughout her life and the wish for a mother figure that is only recollected by dreams and words. Set in the Bathtub, which is somewhere off the coast of Louisiana (most likely right off of New Orleans), Hushpuppy lives in a world of necessity. Spending her days getting by with only the fruits of the world and enjoying the close knit nature of the community that she lives in. It is a place that is both poor and full life and yet it is filled with broken people. How Hushpuppy sees the events of the film is where the real power is. She carries with her the naivety of a child, which is a great juxtaposition with the very adult perspective of the audience. The father/daughter relationship is the key here as Hushpuppy and her daddy, Wink, deal with some of the most painful things in life. These two characters played by unknowns (Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry) carry the intensity of actors far more experienced than themselves. They provide the moral compass of the movie as Wink stares down his own demise and Hushpuppy tries to make sense of the world with one of the few tools she has, her imagination.
Moonrise Kingdom also was a film about growing up but that film hid behind childlike wonder. Beasts styles itself as a film more in tune with the harshness of being an adult. Like I said before the key here is Hushpuppy and Wink and it is an emotional ride as we see a daughter cling to her daddy and a daddy who could never let go. Benh Zeitlin directs this fantasy/drama and his story of the Bathtub is one of the most emotionally gratifying films around. It is a sad film but it is also an inspiring one. To see a young girl transform and beat back against all that stands in her way is courage seldom seen on-screen. His film is about growing up and acceptance, and then it is about remembering where you fit in the universe. You never know when a film will come up and get you. Beasts sinks it’s teeth in at all the right moments and leaves it’s imprint on you when a little girl never stops loving the world around her. This is simply the best film of 2012.
I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right.
I hope you all enjoyed the list and maybe found some films to check out in the future. Film is truly my hobby and doing my annual top ten list is a great exercise in appreciating the best films of each year. So now that you have read the list do you agree or disagree? Are you cheering to see a movie like Chronicle make the cut or do you want to punch me in the face for not including Django Unchained? However you feel I hope to hear from you and to continue to discuss/debate my favorite art form, the cinema.