2012 was a year of unexpected surprises and disappointments. Films that I had been looking forward to for years - "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" and "Django Unchained" - left me with a feeling of discontent, and I was blown away by the more unsuspecting films. "The Avengers" was a blast this summer, moreso than "The Dark Knight Rises" which everyone was anticipating to be The Best Batman Film Evar.
Quentin Tarantino is one of my favorite writers/directors, and "Django Unchained" was just simply not his best. The script was oddly paced, and even though Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz gave some of the best performances of the year, they just couldn't hold the film together. "Django" is great, but only for certain parts of it; and those parts just don't add up to a film with the signature QT spark.
"The Hobbit" has been a roller coaster ride throughout its production, but the biggest mis-step may have been to break the film up into three separate pieces. Again, the pacing was way off and could have possibly benefited from having the source material condensed into one film. But then again, if they did that, it wouldn't satisfy the Tokien purists. The characters also had little to no chemistry together. One of the best things about the "Lord of the Rings" films is that the characters had chemistry. "The Hobbit" has two more films to redeem itself into a fairly good introduction piece though.
And now for what are my Top 10 Films of 2012. If you've ever made a Top 10 list of anything, you know that these lists are very personal and purely of opinion. It should be known though that the films that I missed out on in 2012 that could have possibly changed this list are: "Compliance", "Amour", "Holy Motors", "The Sessions", "Your Sister's Sister", "Bernie", "Killer Joe".
10. "Moonrise Kingdom" - A whimsical yet brutally real love story between two pre-teens on an island, with brilliant performances by Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, and a great cameo by Tilda Swinton, in the beautiful style of Wes Anderson. Every frame is saturated with gorgeous color and could be printed out and hung on a wall as artwork. This one will become a classic for years to come.
9. "Safety Not Guaranteed" - Indie dramedy festival darling veteran Mark Duplass wrote and starred in this tale of a man seeking accompaniment to travel back in time and fix his now broken relationship. This film is quirky, moving, and incredibly sweet, touching on how to deal with isolation, loneliness, and moving on.
8. "Argo"- "Argo" is a brilliant, innovative, smartly written piece of filmmaking in a year full of brilliant, innovative, smartly written filmmaking. We all know the end of the story, and yet the last 30 minutes of the film is some of the most nail-biting, tense, thrilling cinema of the year. Ben Affleck deserved that Golden Globe for Best Director, and he didn't deserve to be shunned at the Oscars. "Argo" does have a decent shot at winning Best Picture though, and I'm rooting for him. Even though some of the other Best Picture noms are rated higher on my list. This is only personal preference, and I am very weird when it comes to memorable movies. This one is well made yes, but will it be remembered? "Milk" was one of my favorites when it came out, and I just recently saw dozens of copies in the $3.99 blu-ray section of my local video store (yes, we have one).
7. "Cabin In The Woods" - Another film that was stuck in pre-production hell, Joss Whedon's "Cabin in the Woods". This movie shows that just because a film has struggles, doesn't mean it sucks. "CitW" rewrote the way horror movies have forever been known to be, spun it around on its head, and then killed it with a unicorn. From the Big Corporation's lively betting to the elevator scene, "CitW" is a must-see for horror lovers everywhere. An instant classic to be re-watched over and over and never forgotten.
6. "Life of Pi" - Ang Lee's take on the bestselling novel "Life of Pi" is a spiritual experience and visual masterpiece all in one. Like taking a trip to one of the Seven Wonders of the World and being rendered speechless by the majesty of it all, pondering your own small-ness in the universe. As Pi wanders aimlessly and helplessly in the ocean with shipwrecked Bengal tiger Richard Parker, he embarks on his own spiritual journey. The brilliance is, we go on it with him. The ending of the film is ambiguous (I haven't read the book yet), and implies a sort of "Lady or the Tiger" scenario. Did he or didn't he? We will never know, and still, it doesn't really matter. It was the wondrous journey that matters.
5. "Silver Linings Playbook" - "Silver Linings Playbook" is one of those movies that is just so beefy and dense that you almost need a break from it after 30 minutes. I know I did. So much detail about its flawed characters is thrown at you, but if you endure, it gives one of the most satisfying rewards of the year - redemption. Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, and Jacki Weaver were all nominated for Academy Awards for their performances, the first time a film has had actors in all four major categories since 1981's "Reds", and they are all so deserving of them. David O. Russell is nominated for both writing and directing Oscars, again, very deserved. This movie is everything: a quirky indie with weird and complex characters, a drama about dealing with mental illness, and a heartwarming romantic comedy. It's fearless.
4. "Celeste and Jesse Forever" - As a fan of both Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones in their comedic roles, I never thought I would be so moved by a film that starred the two of them. "Celeste and Jesse Forever" is about a recently separated married couple who try desperately to remain best friends as they start dating. Rashida Jones co-wrote the fantastic script, switching the stereotypical roles around and giving a lot of focus to the female character. She's very strong, determined, and sexy, but exposes her fragile side, going through a personal revelation to come out stronger on the other side. With a great supporting cast as well (including Elijah Wood as Celeste's gay business partner), "Celeste and Jesse Forever" will be a movie I recommend to friends and acquaintances for years to come.
3. "Flight" - Denzel Washington's performance as alcoholic pilot Whip Whitaker might go down as one of my favorite performances in recent history. Beginning with one of the most terrifying plane crashes ever filmed, "Flight" deals with the roller coaster aftermath and investigation into Whitaker's involvement, or lack thereof, in the safety of the passengers and crew aboard that plane. He is so self-absorbed and egotistical that he can't fathom any wrong-doing on his part, until the final courtroom scene that pushes him over the edge. Robert Zemekis took a departure from animated films to direct this moving character study, and the result is remarkable, compelling work.
2. "Looper" - Rian Johnson piqued my curiosity with "Brick", then squarely solidified himself into my personal Directors to Watch list with "The Brothers Bloom". With those two films, he made homages to very different film genres and succeeded wildly. "The Brothers Bloom" didn't get much critical love when it was released in 2008, but ended up in my Top 10 of the year list. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, a looper - a person sent back in time as an assassin, killing people whom the future government have sentenced to death. Bruce Willis stars as future Joe, hell bent on not getting himself killed. The story is so complex and layered that it would take this whole post to describe it all. Rian Johnson is a genius, and I only hope we don't have to wait another four years for his next film. Until then, we can get by with his whip smart direction of episodes of TV's "Breaking Bad".
1. "Les Miserables" - I've been a fan of "Les Miserables" since high school; endlessly listening to every cast album, seeing the musical live several times, memorizing every word. This is another one I've been following throughout pre-production, trying nervously not to judge the casting decisions and hoping for the best. This movie succeeds on every level. The up close and personal camera angles are like a love letter to people like me who have only looked on from the cheap balcony seats, unable to make out the characters facial expressions. We have no choice with this movie but to live every moment along with them, the good and the awful. Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman rightly won their respective awards at the Golden Globes, and I'll be cheering them along on Oscar night as well. I just can't get enough, and few mis-steps aside (like Helena Bonham-Carter's portrayal of Madame Thenardier, for example) this movie was just note-perfect and the obvious choice for my favorite film of 2012.
Honorable mentions go to:
"ParaNorman", for being the best zombie film of the year, the best family film of the year, and for being so daring as to make one of its main characters a homosexual. Bravo!
"Liberal Arts", my favorite festival movie of the year.
"Dangerous Liasons", my favorite foreign film of the year.
"Cosmopolis", for its satire of the class-structure.
"Madagascar 3", for being so much fun, and for that darn catchy "Afro Circus" song.
Other notables that didn't make the list:
"Lincoln" - I'll probably get a lot of flack for this, but "Lincoln" was an overextended , overrated PBS documentary that will be putting school-age children to sleep for decades to come. Great in certain parts, but not in whole.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" - This was a gorgeous film, but the story-telling style and perspective reminded me a lot of "Kid-Thing". Unique and interesting though, but it just didn't make my Top 10.