Kyle’s Top Ten of 2012
There were a lot of movies that deserve applause from 2012 and there are many movies I really liked. Indeed, I had quite a hard time deciding which ten movies would make up my Top 10, something people seem to think is terribly important for a film lover/critic/scholar to have. I’ve chosen to base my list not, necessarily, on what are objectively the ten best films, but instead on the ones I enjoyed watching the most and which stayed with me for the longest afterward. That seems reasonable, doesn’t it?
10. The Grey
This movie represents one of the most pleasantly surprising film-going experiences I’ve ever had. I went to see this assuming it would be what was advertised: a movie where Liam Neeson punches wolves. What it turned out to be was an examination of a man whose whole life was in turmoil, doubt, and despair before he gets stranded in the middle of the frozen tundra. It’s surprising how exciting this movie is but also how ambiguous pretty much the entirety of the action is. Could the whole film be a Jacob’s Ladder situation? We don’t really know, nor do we really need to. The movie is about the will to live, not the actual living. And there’s some wolf punching, fine.
9. The Dark Knight Rises
I feel the need to go to bat for this movie almost more than any other movie because it’s been really unfairly maligned by a lot of people. The important thing here is that this is still a comic book movie and it still represents the culmination of Christopher Nolan’s vision of Gotham City. No, it’s not the culmination many people was hoping it would be, but it’s dazzling to look at and has some really great performances by Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy. As far as the so-called “narrative plot holes” go, it’s just another instance of Nolan being more concerned with the what and the way than he is the how. How Bruce Wayne gets back to Gotham City after being in the pit is not nearly as important as the fact that he gets back. The whole thing could be a dream; who cares? Those people holding up The Dark Knight as perfect need to look again at those plot holes. The entire third act, for instance. Okay, I’m putting my leash back on.
8. Silver Linings Playbook
There are some really terrific performances across the board in this one. Everybody is very grounded, even amid their varying degrees of mental illness. That might be what I appreciated the most: that while Bradley Cooper’s character is the diagnosed one, everybody else is dealing with something, some quirk or impairment to their behavior. It gives a surprisingly realistic portrayal of people living in this country, attempting to better themselves while being crushingly blind to what really troubles them. In plot, this is one of the most formulaic romantic comedies there could possibly be (guy wants to get back ex, gets help from quirky girl who falls for him, he realizes he loves her and not the ex, happily ever after), but it’s the path Russell takes us to get there that makes it enjoyable. Not the destination but the journey.
7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Speaking of something being about the journey and not the destination, we have this very deliberately-paced film from Turkey. For the vast majority of the movie, you think you’re watching one story and it turns out to be another. A character we thought was the focal point was in fact not, and one we didn’t think was, was. The filmmaker, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, uses the vast countryside fantastically as this group of men tries to complete their unenviable task of finding a murder victim’s body. It’s the cinematic equivalent to putting stage actors against a plain, black backdrop. It’s a really wonderful movie with another ambiguous ending which I seem to love.
If it were possible to “enjoy” a movie where such unpleasant and uncomfortable things happen, then this is the example. The story and events being depicted are so unsettling and angering, yet the way Zobel handles it is tasteful, believable, and yet not without its humor – its dark, disturbing humor. Everybody in the cast gives a wonderful performance, specifically the three leads. I knew what I was getting into before entering the theater and so was more or less prepared for the kinds of things I’d see, yet there still was a point when I was squirming in my chair and wincing as the situation became evermore inescapable. When it finally is escaped by the characters, there’s little to no solace, certainly not for the future of humanity.
It’s easy to be cynical about a big Oscar-bait movie like this, with its all-star cast, its multi-award-winning writer, its legendary director, et al, but you can’t argue with results. Choosing to focus on specifically the last three months of Abraham Lincoln’s life and the passing of the 13th Amendment, Spielberg and company smartly take as read that people watching will know who the man is and what he represented. Watch that John Ford movie if you want his early years. This is the end of a great man’s life and the beginning of a new chapter in America. Tommy Lee Jones gives a bravura performance which manages, for me, to outshine Daniel Day-Lewis’ albeit terrific portrayal of the title character. Even though we all know the outcome of the climactic vote, we’re still tense while it’s happening, and excited when it goes through. That’s good filmmaking.
4. The Avengers
There’s no two ways about it: this movie was an absolute joy to watch, and a bit of a revelation. Joss Whedon was given the task of taking characters introduced in five separate movies from four different directors which range in quality from “quite good” to “not very good” and put them all together in a single film where they each get to shine for a moment or five and nobody gets left out. It’s a testament to his skill not only that this film didn’t suck but that it was so full of action, laughs, character moments, and quotable lines. It’s the perfect popcorn movie. It also raised the bar for the next set of films leading up to Whedon’s sequel in The Year of the Flying Car, 2015. Oh, and, lest we forget, The Avengers made a shit-zillion dollars. Clearly several things worked. That all this was accomplished using Marvel Comics’ b-team of heroes further proves Whedon’s talent. Let that guy make whatever movie he wants. Now.
3. Moonrise Kingdom
I’ve always liked Wes Anderson movies, but I’ve never actually loved any Wes Anderson movies until this one. The two main kids are so weird and offbeat yet completely likeable and, even though they’ve run away and are far too young, we root for their romance to succeed. Edward Norton and Bruce Willis are both delightfully understated while Bill Murray and Frances McDormand do what they’re good at. The screenplay, written by Anderson and Roman Coppola, was justly nominated for best original; it’s funny, heartfelt and strange. Bob Balaban’s deadpan narration and the constant use of Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra nicely round out the story, giving context we maybe didn’t need but certainly appreciate. Social Services, also.
It’s no secret that I’m a lover of all things James Bond. I appreciate the vast majority of the films, even a fair amount of the clearly-terrible ones. Skyfall is a tremendous James Bond movie, but more than that, it’s a great movie, full stop. I’ve heard complaints that the movie isn’t as exciting as it should be or that the action scenes were “boring” to which I will unload this long-forgotten word: “hogwash.” That is spoken by people who liked GoldenEye and Casino Royale only. I like those movies, too, but that’s not all of what Bond is. Sam Mendes manages, at last, to make a Bond movie that is about Bond as a character while acknowledging his filmic and literary history. It peels back the layers of what makes a 007 film until it literally becomes a man defending his ideals, past, and life and those of his two surrogate parents. There also was not a more visually dazzling movie in 2012. Roger Deakins’ cinematography truly paints with light, shadow, and color and is gorgeous. So much more I could say. Great song, great villain, great story, great action, great Bond.
1. Django Unchained
I didn’t think it was possible for Quentin Tarantino to make a movie more like a traditional Spaghetti Western than he did with Inglourious Basterds, but I sure was wrong. He continues his newfound trend of making revisionist historical films that are as much about the myth and mystery of film itself as they are about the times and events they depict. Choosing to use slavery in the pre-Civil War South as the setting and circumstances is very much in keeping with his sensibilities and, like it or not, it’s a powerful way to tell a traditional hero narrative in a different way. As in Basterds, the cinema becomes the history we remember. Upon first viewing, I lamented the apparent lack of a one-on-one showdown, but there actually is one between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie and Christoph Waltz’s Dr. King Schultz. Their final conversation before an explosion of violence is shot exactly like one of Leone’s quiet, deadly staring contests. Tarantino, as always, uses banter to build tension and not the lack thereof. It’s a movie about myth on many levels: the myth of Siegfried, the myth of the American West (or South), the myths employed in Hollywood Westerns, and the mythic nature of cinema. All get put into the filmmaker’s Cuisinart of references and we get my favorite movie of the year. Can’t say enough good things about it.