Thursday, February 7, 2013

2012 Top 10

Before we begin, some old business: I made last year's top ten before I saw two outstanding movies: We Need to Talk About Kevin and A Separation. Had I made my list after seeing them, they would've made my list for sure - in fact, A Separation would've been my number one instead of Take Shelter. So from now on, I'm not gonna even begin preparing my top ten before February.

2012 was an awesome year for movies. I wish I had seen more films than I did, but seeing everything is not possible for me, and to be honest, I don't really feel the need to. I recently saw an article about a dude who saw a movie a day for the past four years, and frankly, for that amount of dedication to cinema, you'd have to pay me. 

Besides, some movies should take some time to linger in the brain, so that they can be reflected upon. I often do that, if for no other reason than to attempt to figure out what I want to say about a given movie and how. Framing the context for my post is obviously very important to me, since I don't always write traditional reviews.

I also wanna re-acknowledge a film that I saw for the first time in 2012: Adam Rose's Queen, an absolutely beautiful and powerful short film I saw twice at the Queens World Film Festival that would've made this list except it was actually made in 2011. It has stayed with me all year long and I cannot possibly recommend it enough. There's not a whole lot I can report on it in terms of news. It continued to play film festivals in 2012, which is good, and you can see the whole thing here. I guess I was hoping some big studio would notice it and get Rose to do a feature film version, but it hasn't happened yet. Still, it's a great movie and I didn't want it to be forgotten in this best-of list of mine.

And here it is:

10. Flight. In a year in which truly adult movies have made a bit of a comeback at the box office, here's a great example of one. Thank god Robert Zemeckis has returned to live-action movies, because it meant he made this gem of a film. With a powerful original screenplay (Oscar-nominated, thank you very much), Denzel Washington dives deep into a story not just about the struggle with addiction, but the nature of heroism as well. Hollywood, please give us more stories like this, that examine the human condition. Nurture talent like screenwriter John Gatins. And keep Denzel working, okay?

9. Searching For Sugar Man. I've given a lot of thought about the "Sugar Man doesn't present the whole story" issue. A lot of it stems from the bigger question of "What do we expect out of documentaries?" Let's be honest, though, this is far from the first doc to present a biased point of view. Even if the narrative is skewed to favor the filmmakers' agenda, the bottom line is that I now know who Rodriguez is because of this movie, and I'm glad about that. Plus, the film itself is well made: the startling landscape shots of South Africa, the stark street scenes of Detroit, the animated segments, the way Rodriguez is introduced; I found it all quite entertaining. I think docs should provide a starting point, a basis for which people can choose to follow up on the information presented to whatever degree they choose, and Sugar Man achieves that much, if nothing else.

8. Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson sometimes gets mocked for his visual filmmaking style, but the truth is, he's not that much more idiosyncratic than say, David Lynch, or Stanley Kubrick, or Orson Welles. And here his craft serves the story well in what amounts to a simple, timeless love story in which he gets two great performances from his teenage protagonists, surrounded and supported by some of Hollywood's biggest name actors.

7. Lincoln. I didn't say much about the film itself the first time around, so I'll rectify that here. The craft behind this movie amazes me more than anything else, though the story is certainly compelling in and of itself. The lengths Steven Spielberg went to in order to recreate this period in American history are staggering, and yes, I'll say it again: this was a twelve-year labor of love for him. What impressed me most about Lincoln is how he was able to get out of his own way and let Tony Kushner's great script, and that all-star cast, centered around Daniel Day-Lewis, tell the story. The usual trademark Spielbergisms, like the "Spielberg face," feel more under control here and as a result this has a more complete feel than many of his recent films. Who woulda thought that it would make $170 million dollars? That might be its greatest accomplishment.

6. Argo. Will it win Best Picture? The odds are looking better and better each day. Six weeks ago I was convinced that nothing could stop Lincoln, but oh, how fortunes change. And this is a film that deserves every accolade it has gotten, regardless of whether it's the result of an anti-Lincoln backlash or not. Is it the best picture? Well, obviously, I think there were five movies better than it, but you know the Oscars; it's not about Best Picture, it's about Best Campaign. Doesn't take anything away from this film though, and I couldn't be happier for Ben Affleck because of it.

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild. In my Oscar nominations post, I may have made it seem as if Benh Zeitlin wasn't deserving of a Best Director nod because Kathryn Bigelow got snubbed. Not true. While I still believe Bigelow was robbed, the fact that the Academy gave this first-time independent director major props is quite significant, because he made a beautiful film, on a relatively low budget, with a bunch of unknown and untried actors, including a little kid barely out of kindergarten, on whom the entire film rests. It's always a good thing to see a low-budget indy film go all the way, and even if Beasts goes home empty-handed Oscar night, that won't change  its great feat.

4. Cloud Atlas. The critics missed the boat on this one. I'm reminded of when I first saw The Fountain, another deep-meaning sci-fi movie that was underappreciated during its release. I believed then that it would be rediscovered one day (hasn't happened yet), and I feel the same way about this. This gives you so much to chew on, coupled with some of the most jaw-dropping visual effects, costumes, set designs and makeup anywhere. It's not for everyone, but if you give it a chance, and submit yourself to it, I think you'll find watching it a rewarding experience.

3. Django Unchained. I have got to stop underestimating Quentin Tarantino. With both this and Inglourious Basterds, I admit, I wasn't entirely certain if these film-geeky, revisionist-history, genre mash-ups would catch on with a wide audience the way his earlier films did, but they totally did, especially Django, which was way more entertaining than I suspected. Tarantino is a true American original in the film world. No one makes films anywhere near like him; few people understand movies the way he does, and I would argue that his passion for the medium is second to none. It's evident in every frame of his films.

2. Life of Pi. This has everything Cloud Atlas has, plus it's in 3D - the best 3D I've seen since Avatar. It's not like I've seen many of the post-Avatar 3D films, granted, but seeing established filmmakers like Ang Lee (and Martin Scorsese) explore this new aspect of filmmaking in such an imaginative and immersive manner gives me hope that this new technology will actually be worth something someday.

1. Zero Dark Thirty. This should come as no surprise if you've been following my Facebook page. I've posted a lot of ZDT and Kathryn Bigelow-related material there, and with good reason. This movie held my attention from start to finish. Regardless of whether you think it endorses torture or not (it doesn't), whether you think writer Mark Boal is the power behind the throne or not, whether you're a Republican or not, one cannot deny that it is an extraordinary piece of filmmaking from a director who has elevated her game significantly in recent years to become a legitimate A-lister with a vision and the skill to see it realized. I can't wait to see what she does next.

Agree? Disagree? Let's talk about it.

2011 Top 10


  1. I saw lots of movies last year, but I'm behind on some of the biggies--I might see Zero Dark Thirty today. Of those that I saw, Django Unchained was my #1 pick for 2012.

  2. I didn't see as many big movies as I would've liked either. Never did see 'Skyfall,' or 'Wreck-It Ralph.' OTOH there were a bunch of docs I never got to see either. So it goes.

  3. Interesting list, Rich. I haven't seen Flight nor Searching For Sugar Man yet though. Glad to see Argo and ZDT here, I am rooting for ARGO for Best Picture Oscar.

  4. Like I said on Twitter, I think it's still possible that the Academy may shock us all and pick something other than Argo or Lincoln... but I'm not ready to go with anything other than Argo right now.


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