MY TOP 10* MOVIES FOR 2012
2012 was an incredible year for film in which I watched over 90 movies. This then represents the very crème de la crème of what I saw. Click the titles for the full review.
*Addendum (January 8th 2013) – My Top 10 was originally posted on December 31, 2012. Within one week I saw two movies that, while technically 2012, didn’t get a wide release until 2013. Zero Dark Thirty would’ve made my Top 10 and Rust and Bone would’ve been an honorable mention. Since my list was already published, it remains the same, however I feel I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge these two exceptional films which I have now included.
Directed by Stephen Chbosky - Starring Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Mae Whitman
One of the most poignant dramas concerning high school life since the golden era of John Hughes. But Perks goes much deeper. It’s less humorous and more warmly accessible. The story is involving because it seems timeless – not of any particular time or place but of an experience and that experience is high school. Though fashions and music may change, the attitudes remain familiar. Insecurities are laid bare and exposed in a way that is both believable and at times heartbreaking.
Directed by Wes Anderson - Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis & Edward Norton
Moonrise Kingdom wisely celebrates what it means to be a child again. There’s an exciting mix of unabashed nostalgia, but without any hint of mawkishness. He strikes a precise balance that both romanticizes the impetuousness of youth, but with some delightfully caustic bite thrown in.
Directed by Morten Tyldum – Starring Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund, Julie Ølgaard
What makes Headhunters so ridiculously engaging is how the narrative develops in a way that you cannot guess the outcome. That’s precisely the fun. Like classic suspense of the past, this has the kinds of twists and turns that would make Hitchcock proud. There’s one surprise after another and the developments are innovative in that way.
Directed by Christopher Nolan – Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine.
Bruce Wayne’s personal conflict to reconcile his desire to help his beloved city vs. a longing to live a normal life is beautifully played up in this installment. His interactions with his trusted butler and confidant highlight this inner struggle. And struggle he does! Bruce Wayne rises not once, but TWICE in this chapter. The first time is his re-emerging from his self imposed exile. The second is almost Rocky-esque in the way it exaggerates our hero’s underdog status. It’s a bit manipulative sure, but it’s effective because it gets the viewer to cheer for someone who’s got nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Directed by Benh Zeitlin – Starring Quvenzhané Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, Gina Montana
Beasts subverts the very conventions of film. The filmmakers have filtered the narrative through the stream of consciousness of a young girl. It’s fiercely innovative, highly distinctive and peculiarly told. This doesn’t rely of the traditional methods of storytelling. It’s filmed rather haphazardly and much of the discourse is indecipherable. But all of these techniques actually serve to heighten the drama of a bewitching little girl.
6. Life of Pi
Directed by Ang Lee – Starring Suraj Sharma, Tabu, Adil Hussain, Gérard Depardieu
There is an artistry in the middle section of the movie that finds a quiet beauty in simply existing. Its themes of spirituality and romanticism are explored with a maturity and depth that will entertain adults, but still delight children. The narrative explores faith as an existential meditation that transports the viewer to a story far beyond a mere shipwreck.
Directed by Sam Fell & Chris Butler – Voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tucker Albrizzi, Anna Kendrick, Casey Affleck
I appreciate a more subversive edge in my so-called children’s entertainment. There’s often a hyperactive quality in cartoons that equates frantic with funny. I appreciated ParaNorman‘s subtler moments that cultivated a quieter tone. ParaNorman is part of a grand tradition of the macabre that is reminiscent of the work of Roald Dahl, Edward Gorey and Lemony Snicket. ParaNorman combines unconventional wit and spooky overtones with just enough warmth to shoehorn in a message when you aren’t looking.
Directed by Tom Hooper – Starring Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried
What impresses is that director Tom Hooper deftly handles the large ensemble of actors giving us an intimacy with each one that benefits their character and our sentimental attachment to each story. Les Misérables is paean to the beauty and romance of Victor Hugo’s well known French tale and indeed of grand filmmaking at its most epic.
Directed by Rian Johnson - Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano
What’s separates Looper from your garden variety time travel hokum is its character based structure. The sincere connection we have to these characters compels us to watch. It’s a mesmerizing tale with a very satisfying conclusion. Looper blends an engaging sci-fi time traveling fable with the tenderness of an emotional drama.
10. The Intouchables
Directed by Olivier Nakache, Éric Toledano – Starring François Cluzet, Omar Sy, Anne Le Ny, Audrey Fleurot
This is a buddy picture detailing how human beings want and need the same things regardless of ethnic or social class differences. Through discussions regarding music, recreational activities, even child rearing, we slowly get an impression of two men that have much more in comon than was originally believed. It’s the performances that elevate this beyond the traditional odd-couple plot. The honesty draws the viewer into their situation. There is a genuine chemistry at work here.
11. Zero Dark Thirty
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow - Starring Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Kyle Chandler
Naturally the struggle to find bin Laden was a 10 year objective that encompasses hundreds of people. Maya is important because she gives the fight a face with which to identify. When she finally feels she has a solid lead on bin Laden’s actual location, she urges the military to strike with an elite force. But the argument of whether they can follow that revelation is a measured discussion rooted in the possible uncertainty that could have dire repercussions if they’re wrong. Her frustration is understandable and so we are drawn to her.
Honorable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
Worst of the Year, starting with the most conspicuously bad: