some pretty wonderful films of 2012

this has been such a solid year for film. haven’t seen everything i would like to yet, such as life of pi, les miserables, django unchained, zero dark thirty, the perks of being a wall flower, seven psychopaths, lawless, holy motors, the grandmasters, and a handful of others.

these are my personal favorites (from what i’ve seen and in no particular order)

a incredibly tense and entertaining film in spite of knowing the outcome if you’re aware of the history. affleck’s probably a better director than he is an actor and he makes what could easily have been a dry, military/diplomatic/espionage slog into something decidedly scary but also funny and touching.

beasts of the southern wild
a surprisingly moving allegory with commanding performances from a cast of relatively unknown actors. the world of this film, the bathtub, is transparently a mythic vision of a community surviving the aftermath of hurricane katrina. through beautiful language and storytelling and quvenzhané wallis’ precociously assured central performance, it was one of those films that i had to digest for a long time before i knew what to say about it.

the avengers
action superhero blockbuster ‘splosion fest at its best. but with joss whedon writing and directing it had an intelligence to the narrative and humor that is usually missing in this type of film. with such a large ensemble cast, it was amazingly well-paced and balanced with each character.

silver linings playbook
a quirky romantic comedy with admirable performances from all involved and a script so filled with absurd truth i almost felt exposed watching the film. while i wish there weren’t so many films, especially of this ilk, that involve a final act dance number/competition (little miss sunshine, napoleon dynamite, etc.) the humor and honesty of this examination of love and mental illness is so on point that the plot devices hardly matter.

the raid: redemption
possibly the best action movie i’ve ever seen, with martial arts set pieces that are simply mind-blowing. the plot is simple, the stakes immediately identifiable, but the execution is magnificent. the night we saw this film there were audible gasps during many of the sequences and several sections where the choreography is so intense, as a performer i couldn’t imagine how long the scenes took to rehearse. this is a true action film, not relying on cgi or other special effects to make its point. this is incredible human athleticism on film, and it’s effective and overwhelming.

moonrise kingdom
perhaps the most relentlessly wes anderson of wes anderon’s films. it’s a love story of the highest order, and involves all the usual eccentric characters, stylistic art direction, and unpredictable dialogue you’d expect, but somehow exploded to ecstatic heights. where ‘the life aquatic’ and ‘darjeeling ltd’ seemed at times to get overwhelmed by anderson’s cleverness, this manages to maintain a consistently ingratiating tone that makes it one of the sweetest films to tackle young love.

the smartest james bond film in years. it knows exactly what it is and embraces that, taking the gritty edge of this era of bond but infusing it with the same goofy charm that informed previous incarnations. daniel craig’s great, javier bardem’s great, judi dench is great, it’s all fun, takes place in England for a great deal of it which is refreshing, and isn’t afraid to make fun of itself (nothing worse than films like this being absolutely devoid of humor, a la the dark knight rises).

jiro dreams of sushi
a film about being driven in life to be perfect at one thing. an amazing documentary given i don’t personally eat sushi or any seafood for that matter and yet this man’s attachment to his craft as presented is so understandable and affecting. there is deep simplicity in jiro ono’s life. he could probably have expanded his michelin 3 star restaurant which is located in a subway station. or opened numerous other locations. instead he has devoted his life to perfecting his style of sushi in his modest establishment achieving international acclaim and the respect of the culinary world for his dedication. the film crafts such an empathetic portrait of jiro ono and his sons and evokes a real need in the viewer to discover their own true purpose.

anna karenina
joe wright takes one of the most beloved stories of all time and creates an utterly theatrical conceptual vision as a springboard for its themes and ideas. it’s not a straightforward and realistic telling of tolstoy’s tale, and yet for me it probably came closer to expressing the emotional heart than any previous version. such a risky film, shown by the critical response which wasn’t a collective embrace. many railed against the high concept drive of the film, but wright and his cast are deserving of applause for being unapologetic in their approach.

safety not guaranteed
mix goofy romantic comedy with science fiction and you get something like this film. this is not a life-changing film, but it’s deeply creative, funny, and never anything but entertaining. concerned with a man attempting an amateur experiment with time travel seeking someone to be his assistant, the film tackles believing in the people for whom you care, in a sweet and wonderfully human way.

the master
one of the more divisive films of the year, there is no strict adherence to linear or logical narrative in the master. p.t. anderson has created a truly raw examination of the human needs for a sense of purpose, social approval, and understanding. with larger than life but admirably committed performances from joaquin phoenix and phillip seymour hoffman, it’s a film that isn’t going to appeal to anyone seeking a spelled out story or point, but it is addressing something very real and universal through the intimacy of relationship.

how refreshing to have an animated film geared towards children with a central female character who’s concern isn’t getting the attention of a man, but rather her desire to simply be her own person! in fact, this film is the first of its kind i can recall to have the central story be about the relationship between a mother and daughter. admittedly, the mother’s concern is that her daughter behave properly so she can get married, but that is ultimately secondary to exploring the nuances of their relationship and regardless of the film’s imperfections it was an important and really fun experience.

the cabin in the woods
this film takes every cliche that has ever been committed in horror films and explains them away in such a clever and simultaneously ridiculous way. it has all the typical trappings of a classic horror film: an attractive youthful cast caught in terrifying and grizzly circumstances, absurdly violent gore, and a twisted and irrational evil, but its underlying concept makes this typical situation into something entirely novel. it’s hard to explain much about this film without giving away what makes it so special, but it revels in poking fun at the entire horror genre without ever resorting to schlocky parody.


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