The year started off oh so slowly but boy did it end with a bang. In fact, I have been panicking to find some of these movies at the last minute because of how late they have been released and how hard some are to find. As I did with the other list, I apologize if any of you wanted to see any specific movies with me, but I’m dying to rewatch all of these as soon as I can, so do not fret! If you want some movies to watch for 2013 when the worst three months of cinema (where all of the movies no one thought deserved any form of nominations are released) are (apart from Zero Dark Thirty’s wide release and possibly Gangster Squad, that looks terrific), here is a list of the top 20 movies that blew my mind in 2012!
But first, for those who are dying to ask questions (all two of you), here are some Quick 5’s:
2) End of Watch
3) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
5) Wreck-It Ralph
1) The Master
2) Moonrise Kingdom
3) Life of Pi
1) Zero Dark Thirty
2) Django Unchained
3) Silver Linings Playbook
4) The Master
5) The Sessions
1) Django Unchained
2) The Master
3) Beasts of the Southern Wild
4) Les Miserables
Worst movies of the year (that I’ve seen)
1) The Apparition
2) Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance
4) John Carter
5) The Three Stooges
With all of that out of the way, I will now proceed with
My Top 20 Films of 2012
20. Rust and Bone [De Rouille et D’os]
He is a fighter, she is a whale trainer. He is a low tempered, selfish brute, she is an independent worker but open for care. They both have passions that are risky, and she is the one that faces that reality first. Rust and Bone takes place in modern day France, where the economy world wide is terrible and everybody, from the unemployed, those that work in supermarkets, and even those that work at Marineland, are affected. Ali puts his body and his reputation at risk to support his five year old son, while Stéphanie struggles to face the world with her new reputation. These two stories combine as both characters become bigger assets to each others lives. Ali makes Stéphanie feel comfortable with herself, and Stéphanie makes Ali realize his terrible ways and his wasting of his own life. Ali loves having his body beaten up and pummeled, yet Stéphanie feels so protective of her body, before and after her accident at Marineland. This movie works because of its parallels. That’s why someone so unlikeable as Ali works, because Stéphanie makes him face reality. That’s why someone as damaged as Stéphanie works, because Ali instills strength back in her life. The final comparison of many is the title itself, where the world around us, especially during an economy crisis, may die, but our reputations as people, deep down, shall not.
After the hundreds of questions, some legitimate and others conjured up for the sake of extending a list, that people had about Prometheus, now here arrives another: Why is this movie on my list? Movies can either answer all questions or they can be left open. A movie that does both is usually a bad one. Prometheus is courageous because it forces you to ask questions, and many are not answered. In the end, do they have to be? Many questions are answered outside of the movie through hidden websites, online campaigns, and as of the home releases, a smart phone application. This polarizing movie, of which I happened to thoroughly enjoy even with the occasional silliness and open ended style, can be called anything as long as one admits to it being bold. The environment created is breathtaking, the acting of some of the leads, especially Michael Fassbender, is captivating, and the overall idea is pretty wonderful. Many of the questions people have are asked outside of the movie (why did they accept to go on some mission blindly, what was the ritual at the beginning, what happened during the climax, etc.), and the plot holes that can’t be answered may be a bit annoying, but in the end Prometheus works in the moment as if we are on the mission with the main characters, and while many may not agree with the film’s direction, I certainly find the movie ballsy for its approach, and that alone deserves some kudos.
18. The Cabin in the Woods
We haven’t had a good horror movie in quite some time. The Cabin in the Woods laughs in the face of horror and, like something Penn and Teller would do, “reveals” all about the world of horror films while one upping any horror release that has come out within the past few years. It starts off as a parody, where all of the token elements are shown (typical young adults going to an isolated area for fun. What could go wrong?), and as these elements are being messed around with, we are introduced to an organization that runs the way horror movies are unveiled (only in this film it’s a reality). Is this company Hollywood? Is the need to fulfill this task inevitability from originality running dry, or greed through working with a rewarding formula? Much like the ways in the film, this film changes from a spoof to a legitimate drama with deep questions, which is quite bizarre for such a silly movie. You will even feel sorry for “the bad guys”, as the film progresses and you figure out the reason for everything. As virtually every nightmare you can think of gets unleashed and a standard way of life turns into a game with betting and “giving what the customer wants”, The Cabin in the Woods may poke fun at horror movies, but it shows its true intentions through us; The biggest monster of all is, oddly enough, man.
Saving the lives of others can sometimes be seemingly impossible, because all of the clear options cannot work. That’s when the most bizarre ideas work and make anything work. Argo was the title of a fake movie, but now this movie title, that was once based on a spaceship, represents the absolutely insane plan that rescued hostages during the revolution in Iran. Argo starts off with a jaw dropping opening scene, eases into a dark comedy where the film itself laughs at the very idea of such an insane plan working, and then it bursts into a spine tingling second half that does not stop for a break. It begins to believe in itself, and the characters that were bold enough to attempt this plan keep the movie steady and uplifting. Argo works on speed; Quick line delivery, quick action execution, quick results. Its story is quick, but its morals and its characters progress gracefully as the story ventures forth. They don’t examine themselves as people as much as they examine themselves as a necessity to a larger picture. Argo is a burst of tension and victory not just because of its unique story, but also because of the inspiring gang of four that inhabit it and protect all around them, as they keep calm and in command when the rest of us freak out along with the ticking of the clock.
Nothing like a good old fashioned Western that takes place in the future. Remember Cowboys vs. Aliens? The concept was pretty cool but it wasn’t executed too well. Looper may not have aliens, but it sure does have futuristically foreign concepts. It may not have cowboys either, but in this post apocalyptic and empty future, the concept of the lone outlaw fending for his or her self still rings true. The unholy and disfigured here are psychics, the long journeys in the open lands are done with time travel instead and the search for identity ends with one going back in time and killing themselves. Much like the art of time travel itself, the movie is so quick and cut throat at first, but it relaxes and takes its time in its second half once it, like Gordon-Levitt’s character, realizes that it has to face the inevitable truth. Gordon-Levitt’s character faces himself, played by Willis, from the future. The movie faces those that will find something to question about the methods of time travel. It answers all that it can, and leaves the rest of the movie for people to either pick apart the logic or to enjoy the ride given to us. Those willing to pick it apart will probably have missed an emotional look at identity and a statement of the greed ridden failing future. Those willing to enjoy the ride would be touched by said story. Either way, both audiences would most likely want to travel back and experience it again.
15. The Sessions
This touching true story, based on an essay by Mark O’Brien himself, is a wonderful tribute to the bold man himself. It is wise with its revelations and its pacing, as it never rushes the discoveries O’Brien makes nor does it drag on to get us to feel depressed for what is going on rather than wowed. It documents a personal time in a fragile life, where a man paralyzed from the neck down because of polio confronts his vulnerability and humanistic desires and wishes to lose his virginity. The event itself may seem awkward, but the charming and touching performances by Hawkes, Hunt and Macy make the connections between the characters approachable and qualitative. You can see that everybody on board with this project wanted to do the original essay justice, as they were all clearly moved by it themselves. This is one of those rare instances where a man’s story, no matter who he is, is engaging and full of awe, and thus warrants a film for all to see. It’s barely about his life, in fact. It’s about a moment in his life, and yet we learn all about him through these moments, where he opens up to all with such courage and such honesty. The Sessions isn’t about a handicapped man trying to lose his virginity. It is about a man fighting his fears and overcoming his obstacles while being so humble and so lively and so forgiving of his inner self and his body.
14. The Dark Knight Rises
The biggest challenge here was following The Dark Knight; a groundbreaking film when it comes to comic book movies. So why not have a villain that is the polar opposite of The Joker? The Joker is thin and clumsy, Bane is steady and massive. The Joker worked off of nothing and unpredictability, and Bane had a set goal in mind from the very start. Nolan refused to duplicate the chaos and animalistic nature of The Dark Knight, as well as the more personal structure of Batman Begins, as The Dark Knight Rises works through triumph and celebration. People complain about Bruce Wayne’s abilities to come back and they question how he even returned. That’s the power of Nolan’s trilogy. It’s so realistic and captivating on a societal sense, that we often forget that it is not only a work of fiction, but even a work of fantasy. That doesn’t explain the latter, and I can’t explain that. Yes, The Dark Knight Rises may be flawed, but it is still powerful for the most part and so engaging. The plot and story get completed, Wayne’s character structure gets completed, amongst the structures of the other characters both old and new, and most importantly Nolan’s message about society gets completed. We learned about the importance one can have in society. We learned about the unpredictable nature of greed and societal collapse. Now, we learn about the anonymity that can save our struggling society and not just some sole figure, making this trilogy not only thrilling, but also a big statement of our times.
People have been confused about this film. Is it supposed to be funny? Why does it change so drastically halfway through? Why on earth are they fighting over a camera that shows how many people stare at a woman’s ass? If you are not used to De Palma’s purposeful campiness, switcheroos, and complete absurdity by now, decades into his career, you may never be used to it. Passion may alienate those who are easily skeptical about films that aren’t squeaky clean or easily forgiving, but that’s kind of what is magical about it. If you are willing to accept everything in this twisted film, then you’re in for a roller coaster of emotions. The movie works like a living, breathing photo shoot in a fashion magazine, where even the credit font seems pulled out of Vogue. The acting is both over the top and extremely realistic at times. The music seems unoriginal, yet moving. Passion is a statement of the world and its fondness for sugar coating and hiding behind wealth, sex and materialism. It makes fun of it, it shows the severities of it, and it puts a De Palma spin on it. De Palma even makes fun of his own style in this movie. Yes, Passion may be as acquired of a taste as the pleasures of the kinds of people the movie makes fun of, and I may be the only person who truly enjoyed this movie, but the movie stuck with me for a very long time after seeing it, and if I am silly for ranking this film so high on this list, then so be it.
Life sure is odd, isn’t it? We think we have Aurora all figured out; She’s just some arrogant old stick in the mud that has no concept of money and is slowly beginning to talk nonsense. We give Aurora the cold shoulder as her housemaid and her next door neighbor have to keep fixing her mistakes. We don’t even see the majority of them, but we can tell, through the frustration of those around her, that she is constantly an issue. That’s Aurora in a nutshell, right? Tabu is lovely because most of it is not even a flashback, but a poetic retelling of ones life by someone else. Aurora’s senility and her characteristics are explained through a stunningly shot retreat back to a farm near the mountain of Tabu, where the threat of the Portuguese Colonial War looms and crocodiles represent pets and friends that are willing to turn on you. The movie never resorts to being a sentimental ode to Aurora. Once her story of her life in 2010 and 2011 is told, that’s the end of it. The film never tries to refer back to how she is now, because that rendition of her character is finished with. Tabu works wonders in her native land instead, as if both were separate stories of the same person that connect seamlessly. This is one of the more demanding films of 2012, but if you have patience with the humanistic story being told and the images provided as if they were a moving scrapbook, Tabu will become an artistic statement on the study of character, and a dive into life as more than just a story.
11. Silver Linings Playbook
Every year or so, there is a romantic comedy or dramedy that is refreshing, innovative, and exciting. Silver Linings Playbook is that film of 2012. This movie teeters along the edge of sensitivity and hilarity without being disrespectful, and the heartfelt cast is to thank for this. Bradley Cooper, finally being able to show the potential we all knew he had, is a man trying to restart his life while suffering from bipolar disorder. With that in mind, the movie never pokes fun at this disorder or overly exploits it. It’s more about cherishing his will to keep going or to fight against it. He finds a connection through Tiffany, expertly acted by the young and unstoppable force herself Jennifer Lawrence. They share their problems and their eccentricities with each other, and we share our own with them. This isn’t a love story built on a challenge or on luck, or even on a mission. This is a love story built on human nature and loss, whether it be the loss of one’s self worth or the loss of a loved one. This film could have easily fallen into either the pool of silliness or the pool of depression, but instead it walks past both while dipping its hand in either or to get a sense of both. It’s light but not too light, it’s funny but not judgmental, it’s moving but not hating, and it’s unique but very familiar. It isn’t easy to make a film for everyone without being painfully formulaic, but this movie reminds us that it isn’t impossible.
10. Safety Not Guaranteed
Memes can either be clever and remarkable or downright grating. It was black and white before. Now with Safety Not Guaranteed, some memes can be actually given life and rejoiced as a studied entity. Based on a real newspaper advertisement from the 90’s, and made famous during the recent internet age, this movie takes a very questionable printed request for a partner to time travel with, where the person asking states that they have done it before, and that weapons are probably necessary. This movie could have been silly and absolutely appalling as really, this is an entire movie based on one funny thing that isn’t even really a joke. Instead, this movie is charming, hilarious whilst being appropriate to this subject, and actually very deep. What if people who make weird requests like this are not psychotic? What is the backstory of people like this? Do they have motives for attempting the impossible? What would it be like to befriend people like this, of whom are shunned from society? This movie answers all of this, with lovable performances from even the scummiest of characters. It is worth noting that you truly believe everything Kenneth says, like Darius does, and you don’t even really know if he is right. Safety Not Guaranteed is not only a superb, and actually gripping, dramady, but it is also proof that even the shallowest of modern day jokes can be given heart if one truly thinks past the obvious.
Oh the things that can be said about this movie. To get the obvious out of the way, this is Tim Burton’s best film in years. No contest. Not even remotely. It is his most personal and heartfelt since Edward Scissorhands, his biggest homage to film since Ed Wood, and his best recent film since Sweeney Todd (of which this film bests). You have the many tributes to the story of Frankenstein, but also many tributes of science, mythology, and even B-movie monster mayhem. This film could have just stuck with being about a boy and his dog, but it takes the questions about life and death and science to another level. They could have saved the obvious plot threads until the end, but Burton expands as quickly as possible, always keeping the movie alive much like Victor’s quest to have his dog live again. It’s intriguing for kids, very well thought out for adults, and funny for all ages. The models are so gorgeous to look at because they are the closest things to Burton’s drawings coming alive. They aren’t too grande like in his other stop motion films, of which are good in their own right, but are instead very personal and very appropriate with the movie’s theme of whether or not one should let go of what they cling on to as children. Burton may have released some questionable films in the past, even one this year, but Frankenweenie is proof that through trial and error, if you keep doing what you love, it has to work sometime, and the result is this surprisingly touching tale of eccentric charm.
We know the story. We know the history. We know the man. We know his legacy. We didn’t know the potential until this film. Instead of a full scope of his life, we are given the finer details during the time that President Lincoln vowed to abolish slavery and end the Civil War. We can cherish the efforts and excelling patience of Lincoln with so much more intimacy with a film like this, that works on the grande scope of his achievements and not the grande scope of his life. Nothing is just glanced over. Spielberg’s heart and passion shines through this movie without turning it into something candy coated; treating it with the dignity it deserves and the admiration it thrives on. We get a personal look into the White House and what occurred inside of it. We get a superb recounting of history as more than a costume drama. We get a moving, thrilling rendition of something we already knew but could never bring ourselves to imagine in such a way. We get the heroic story of Abraham Lincoln in the biopic of the year, and we don’t have to look forward to another about this story for a while; Not when it almost literally comes to life in front of you.
7. Moonrise Kingdom
If you need an introduction to Wes Anderson’s best work, it’s usually bizarre to suggest the newest film of one’s career, but Moonrise Kingdom is both a fantastic welcoming to his style and the top of his talents thus far. This curious tale, that works like something Roald Dhal would make if he worked with a camera, is the funniest film of the year. It’s the kind of comedy that ages well and is better with repeat viewings, almost like the first viewing is one of fantasy and wonder, and every viewing after works like the story being retold to your friends. The moments with the adults feel like a hysterical play, and the moments with the two leads like one of Suzy’s mystical coming-of-age novels. In the end this film, in signature blue and yellow fashion, has jokes of many dimensions (silly jokes for kids, very dark jokes for adults, irony for all, all through dialogue and visuals) but they all feel natural and very humane. From veteran actors of old to a look into the possible future generation of actors, Moonrise Kingdom is full of talent and is, unquestionably, an affectionate piece for all.
6. Django Unchained
Ruthless. Sly. Rewarding. Challenging. This is the emotional struggle of a slave that finally has the break he has been begging for to rescue his wife and get his life of freedom he has longed for. Aided by a foreign bounty hunter, Django dives head first into the life of vengeance, lawful hunting and gun slinging. This is the ultimate film Tarantino has wanted to make his entire life, and his first (and hopefully not last) Spaghetti Western is the most thrilling movie of the year, with some of the most memorable heroes, unforgettable villains, and the best dialogue all year. The language is shocking and the violence brutal, but you are kept on your toes for virtually the entire movie, as you experience the tip toe threatening situations Django and Schultz may have faced, being a freed slave and the man that freed him. The film is a tribute to the best Spaghetti Westerns (with its muted 60’s style flash back scenes and its Ennio Morricone inspired, and supplied, soundtrack) as well as a modern rendition that combines how far the war on racism has come (featuring the odd rap number, somehow perfectly fit into the score). Carrying the triumphs and glory of the new wave of Westerns in the 60s, the snappy and witty dialogue of the modern age (partially created by Tarantino himself in the early 90’s), the characters that ruled blaxploitation films (the last name “Shaft” wasn’t a coincidence) and the rush of an action movie, Django Unchained is a rooted-yet-off-the-walls Western that will only age better with time and revisits.
5. Zero Dark Thirty
The Hurt Locker, being one of the best movies of the past decade, jumped out of nowhere and blew everybody away. When Osama Bin Laden was finally captured and murdered this year, the duo behind The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal) instantly began working on a film called “Kill Bin Laden”. This, however, surprisingly did not come out of nowhere. Boal has been struggling to write a movie about hunting Bin Laden for quite some time now, and this event is what finalized his story once and for all. It was finally completed, and immediately it was worked on. For a film made in under a year, this historical epic is baffling. How could a film made with such a short time frame be so captivating and so gripping? The heart and soul of Bigelow and Boal drive the movie with patriotic admiration, but not too much to avoid drowning the movie. The characters of whom we know little about are introduced to us by stellar performances guided by determination. The fear that drips from every corner of the screen, despite us knowing the ending of it all, makes the movie zoom past you as the dirty work is done by the trustworthy team on screen, saving you in the process. The Hurt Locker was described as a miracle and a one-hit wonder. Zero Dark Thirty, which can be described as the bigger, more orthodox partner of that movie, is proof that it wasn’t. Sometimes when you have the right team, it isn’t impossible to strike gold again, especially when the second time around becomes a more personal and challenging attempt.
If Moonrise Kingdom is the movie about celebrating youthfulness, Amour is the movie that celebrates longevity. It is always difficult to watch a film about one person going through deterioration, never mind two. Anne becomes paralyzed on one side of her body and she slowly withers away. Georges continues to help her as much as he can, but he too is well beyond his years and is finding every subsequent challenge more and more difficult. Their chemistry is what keeps them trying, and it’s what keeps us optimistic. It is incredibly hard to make such a heavy movie and have the audience still feeling hopeful, and that’s what Amour does. Situations may not get better, but they are made the best they can be. What really gives this film a boost is how realistic it is for the majority of the time, and how Haneke sprinkles poetic fragility at moments to truly emphasize moments. This is a story about a couple facing the inevitability of life and death, as they both weigh the options of what actions they should take; George acting for the both of them and Anne hanging on as best as she can. Last year, the action packed thrillers ruled. This year, it seems that French language films have taken the reign, and this Austrian, French and German produced film is an example of how universal the concept of will power is, as Amour is the greatest film about love I have seen in quite some time.
3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
In a community known as the Bathtub, Beasts of the Southern Wild creates a story similar to the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Here, we are guided by a young girl named Hushpuppy who is both too young to understand but also smart for her age and can understand some things she shouldn’t. She understands life, and her importance as a person and not just someone’s kid. She understands death, and the impossibility to escape it, of which she still tries her best to refuse. She understands danger, and how to stare it in the face. This story is so unique because it is not only the concept of a disaster and a struggling community through the eyes of an imaginative child, but it also shows a different perspective on natural disasters. What if people didn’t want to be helped by volunteers? What if people knew they wouldn’t have a good future anyways and they wished to spend it together as a community and not in some facility (of which Hushpuppy compares to a fish tank without water)? This story blurs harsh realities with fantasy as Hushpuppy imagines large animals known as Aurochs stampeding, of which she was taught about at school. Whether these creatures exist in this story or not, Hushpuppy becomes ready to take on the world and all of its battles, while we experience one of the boldest movies of the year. Keep an eye out for Benh Zeitlin. If this is his first feature film, I can’t even fathom what he can accomplish with experience.
2. Life of Pi
This exhilarating tale of survival and spirit was deemed impossible to film when it was simply a terrific novel. Ang Lee, the director that dabbles in all styles and genres, put this story to the test and created a gorgeous miracle of a movie. This “impossible” movie not only works, but it works so with such exuberance and beauty. The concept of spirituality and religion is a largely used theme here, transforming this modern day fable into something more than just a tale of survival. Whether you know the main character as Pi or as Piscine, his true story with a tiger named Richard Parker and an assortment of other animals or the made up story to get others to understand, some sort of recognition will ring true to people, much like religion. That’s why Pi believes in so many religions, and that’s why he had such a connection with the animal kingdom that others doubted was possible. Pi’s backstory before his test of survival work as a basis of building his character, so we can understand his strengths and weaknesses much like he himself can. We follow Pi through his many religious awakenings and questionings, so the journey is more than just surviving such harsh living conditions but also a survival of mentality and internal strength. Life of Pi is not just a huge accomplishment, it is a living, breathing story book that remains a breathtaking piece of art.
1. The Master
What happens when you put a mind that is so damaged against a cult that is known for brainwashing many people? How does a mind so perverted and loathing get influenced by a cult that manipulates on love and goodness? When a man is stuck in one position and is slowly killing himself mentally, can he be saved by an organization that freezes you into one way of thinking? Will he truly be saved? You can go on for hours with The Master, the best film of 2012. The amount of depth and analysis going on within this film is nearly impossible to calculate within the first watch. In fact, I’m sure there are many aspects to these questions that I have missed and will need to revisit. There is no standard way to tell this story. There is no way to capsulate it and ship it off to Hollywood. Like a boat capsizing, this movie is a non stop panic to find clarity within life and within the mind of Freddie Quell. Freddie, the antihero of the year, is despicable and vile. We like him because we, like The Cause, want to see him get well again. We love him because we, the flawed people of the world, see ourselves within this character, as we are reminded that anybody can be so mentally deranged if life gets the better of them. We love The Cause, despite its blatant flaws and manipulations, because we feel sorry for those within it and we congratulate their efforts and their willpower. The Master never kicks Scientology to the curb. Yes, we know that most people hate this religion and we all know what they think about it. Instead, The Master doesn’t go the obvious route and it instead tries to get us to level with the people within such an organization. I hate to admit it, but it succeeds.
The music frames this movie with dread, quirk and mental collapse. The cinematography captures this movie as a vision of life as a brilliant creation being trodden on by a grumpy hunch-backed demon. The water surrounding this movie like a moat reminds us just how easily one can drift off somewhere else; somewhere distant. It also reminds us about how easy one can drown, as Freddie dangles above the sea without even caring. Why should he care? Life is only so long. Why can’t he be in his own world? If he is happy, what is wrong with that? It’s only when people defile his world that he gets violent, right? Then again, why sympathize with someone so short tempered and explosive if he gives almost nothing back to those that help him?
The Master is a visual and analytical study about human nature, about cinematic characters, about religion, about psychology and about life itself. The Master is a brilliantly acted, brilliantly shot, brilliantly scored, and brilliantly directed piece of, well, brilliance. I have missed this movie since seconds after leaving the theatre. This is not a typical movie. This is not your basic story. This is a risky film that dares to defy what a movie can represent and how life can be represented. It was my most anticipated film of the year, and did it ever go over my expectations. The Master is a movie that will grow with time and will stand out more as the years go by. For now, I think recognizing it as my top film of 2012 will suffice, as I await watching it again and again as soon as I can.