I decided to make this a list of my ten favorite movies of 2012, the
only thing I believe I am fully qualified to rate is my own enjoyment. I thought 2012 was a good year of movies so I had a struggle deciding on my ten favorites. The order of my list from 4-10 is pretty flexible, but I firmly stand behind my top 3 and the order they are in. One quick shout out, I liked Lincoln but it didn’t make it on my list but Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln is my favorite performance of the year. It is his masterpiece and I enjoyed every moment he was on screen.
Honorable mentions: Lincoln, Argo, Flight, Sleep Walk With Me, Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Your Sister’s Sister
10. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
I was both surprised and not by how much I liked Snow White and the Huntsman. It has a lot of things that I love: fantasy, magic, a strong female villain, and buckets of melodrama. The one major deterrent for the film is its female “lead” Kristen Stewart. She may as well be a stick figure in a dress for as much charisma and conviction she brings to her character. The real delight in the film is Charlize Theron as the beautiful and evil queen Ravenna. Theron turns it up to eleven (in a good way) putting everything on the screen and leaving nothing in reserve. Director Rupert Sanders’ visual aesthetic matches Theron’s otherworldly character and leaves you visually satisfied. I wish I could see this movie with a stronger actress in the Snow White role. There is a scene when Stewart has to rally the troops to follow her in battle. Stewart seems to think that yelling=inspiring. She couldn’t rally teenagers to go to a mall, but the rest of the cast makes up for Stewart’s lack of talent and makes the film a lot of fun to watch.
9. ZERO DARK THIRTY
Zero Dark Thirty is a difficult movie to sit through. Man’s
inhumanity to man is on bold display. Director Kathryn Bigelow lets Mark Boal’s script do the talking but knows when to turn up the volume (literally and figuratively) when it is time for the action to take over. The film doesn’t sugar coat the truth behind the steps taken in the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. It shows you the torture during the Bush administration, the change in tactics after Obama was elected, the grueling search for reliable intelligence, and how once you have proof how hard it is to get anyone to move on that information. Jessica Chastain is a powerhouse as the driven and stoic Maya who ultimately is responsible for the intelligence that leads to the assassination of the worlds most famous terrorist. I’ll admit to having a good cry in my car after I saw the film, this is a list of my favorite movies of the year and while I didn’t have “fun” with this film I was deeply moved and impressed by it.
8. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
Safety Not Guaranteed was just one of the many “Indie” films that
I loved this year. It tells the story a narcissistic reporter and two interns as they investigate an advertisement in the newspaper asking for a companion to travel through time with, who must bring their own weapons, and accept that their safety is not guaranteed. Aubrey Plaza teams up with Mark Duplass as they train to travel back through time and change the biggest regrets of their lives. The plot, while utterly absurd, is the gateway by which we get to meet and know these characters. Plaza uses her “uninterested-hipster persona” perfected by many years on Parks and Recreation to great effect in this film. Duplass’ quirky character Kenneth is a few degrees south of normal but Duplass brings a sincerity and authenticity to him that keeps Kenneth from ringing false. Safety Not Guaranteed was a small but delightful film that deserves a watch if you missed it during its short and limited run in theaters.
7. THE AVENGERS
Like the rest of the fan boys and girls out there I am a Joss
Whedon sycophant and apologist. I can see past the weak first hour and blatant plot holes and character inconsistencies for the sake of The Avengers as a whole. I love it when the group finally comes together to battle the aliens and take Loki to task. I even love the sequence where Iron Man fixes the ship for twenty minutes. The clever dialogue and Whedon’s patented sense of timing kept me entertained and engaged in the film and fogged my vision to its flaws. I had mixed feelings about the films that preceded The Avengers; personally I choose to forget Iron Man 2, much of Captian America, and parts of both the Hulk movies. The Avengers is an action filled romp that was one of the most fun experiences I had at the cinema this year.
6. ANNA KARENINA
Joe Wright proves in his unique interpretation of the famous novel
Anna Karenina that if you don’t take a risk you can’t get the rewards. Treating the film like it is in a world that exists both in and on a stage, Anna Karenina is a success and a cinematic achievement. In less capable hands this version of Anna Karenina could have been a joke and a hot mess. It transfixed me but I can see how it would not work for
some people. The timeless love story is one we have seen redressed and repackaged a hundred times but Wright’s direction gives it a freshness that keeps it from feeling like just another retread of an old story. The performances in the film are all strong; a few standouts were Matthew Macfayden, Domhnall Gleeson, and Keira Knightley as the titular character. Anna Karenina is another step in Wrights’ evolution as a filmmaker and I am excited to see what is next.
I am one of those people who enjoy Jack Black’s “shtick”, which works to great effect in Bernie. Black plays the charismatic funeral planner in a small East Texas town. The performances in Bernie are fantastic, with the exception of a miscast Matthew McConaughey. Shirley MacLaine as the widow, Marjorie Mugent, is brilliant. She seems to have tapped into some of the magic from her Ouiser role in Steel Magnolias. Bernie takes a look at small town Texas life, the film both pokes fun at the people of Carthage while also showing that they are fiercely loyal and salt-of-the-earth people. The talking-head interviews with the citizens of Carthage are used to great effect to both emphasize and counterbalance the plot points in the film. While Bernie is a dark comedy there are a lot of genuine laughs in the film and I hope this is a direction that Jack Black and director Richard Linklater continue in.
4. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
The first thing I always say about The Cabin in the Woods is the less you know before you see it the better, so there will be no spoilers here. It isn’t a coincidence that this is the second Joss Whedon film on my list. His sense of humor and clever filmmaking appeals to me. While half the film pitch-perfect mimic’s all those teens-go-out-in-the-woods-to-get-drunk-and-laid-movies the other half is a clever and biting analysis of the audiences that flock these types of movies and what it says about us. It is a lot of fun and, like The Avengers, I understand the criticism but I don’t agree with it. I will admit it looses something after the first time you see it, but Cabin in the Woods taps into the psychology of film going audiences in a way I find fascinating and endlessly debatable.
3. TAKE THIS WALTZ
Written and directed by Canadian wunderkind Sarah Polley, Take
This Waltz in a lot of ways captures the voice and tone of many in my generation of late twenty-somethings still searching for love. Michelle Williams and Seth Rogan play a young married couple (Margot and Lou) that have fallen in to a rut early in their marriage. Margot meets her neighbor Daniel, played by Luke Kirby, while traveling for work. They have an obvious connection but she is married. They struggle to not fall in love with each other while Margot tries to find happiness in her short and stale marriage. While I know it is an original screenplay by Polley I can’t help but think of it as a modern day Brief Encounter. This is Polleys’ second feature that she has directed and it is a triumph. It is a beautifully shot movie with a big heart and several great performances. Sarah Silverman is a stand out as Geraldine, the sister-in-law, and recovering alcoholic.
Looper was guaranteed to be on my top ten list this year, in fact it was #1 for a long time. It had everything going for it that I love including: director Ryan Johnson, Actors: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt, and it’s a science fiction/time travel movie. I had been waiting over a year and half for Looper since Johnson had announced his next movie was a time travel film starring his Brick lead Gordon-Levitt. To my delight it did not disappoint. It was good to see Willis acting again as opposed to just grimacing his way through his films tossing out titular phrases. Gordon-Levitt and Blunt bring their usual levels of conviction to their characters and together have great on-screen chemistry. Johnson does some really interesting things with world building and with using elements of time travel to tell the story. Looper challenges its audience to keep up while telling a complete story and adding to the time travel genre in some new and interesting ways.
1. CLOUD ATLAS
I had an idea from the nearly six-minute trailer for Cloud Atlas that I was going to like it. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with it. When the film was over I was left with a feeling of longing for more which is a feeling I almost exclusively get after reading a really good book. So when it comes from a film I know it means something. Cloud Atlas tells the stories of six main characters all in different times and parts of the world who are all connected to each other. Their stories intertwine and touch each other in unexpected ways. The film uses the same group of actors in different roles sometimes portraying a different race or gender emphasizes the interconnectedness of the characters and stories. It isn’t surprising that the film needed more then one director and the fact that Tom Tykwer and the Wachowski’s were able to collaborate and create such a seamless vision is a mirror to the theme of the film: that we need each other and that our choices are like ripples in a pond that spread out and touch others. I could gush on about this film and how great the performances were, how beautifully each story was shot, how wonderful the story and script were but I will just say that it is a film that has stuck with me and made me think deeper about the world and people around me.