22 February 2013
  My top 10 of 2012
Throughout the past year, the movies loomed large in the public consciousness. Movie stars once again played a major roll in the reelection of the President. A massacre in an Aurora, Col. movie theater struck the country as a singular tragedy. The Hunger Games, a new movie franchise that is sure to dominate popular culture for several years to come, came alive on the big screen, while at the same time the oldest franchise in movie history, the 007 saga, perhaps gave us its greatest installment. And the 2012 awards season has garnered much attention as one the most remarkable and unpredictable in modern memory.

2012 has been a year where popular mainstream cinema often impressed by straying far beyond the minimal expectations for the category. Yet an explosion of exemplary independent films also showed that they can draw in audiences. Some of the greatest movies of the year were made about children and adolescents, yet adults loved them just as much. And others were made about geriatrics, yet they managed to draw in viewers from across all demographics. As such, my top ten list for the 2012 is a surprisingly eclectic one.

10. Killer Joe. . . If there was en entertainer of the year in 2012, it was Matthew McConaughey, and nowhere was he better than in the NC-17 crime drama, Killer Joe. A bizarrely watchable almost David Lynch-ian take on a B-movie thriller, Killer Joe features McConaughey as a cop-turned-hitman with a penchant for young girls and fried chicken. Accompanying McConaughey on screen is another ubiquitous face from 2012, actress Juno Temple, who plays the hitman’s teenage love interest. Both McConaughey and Temple have yet to be Oscar nominated, but it is only a matter of time.

9. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. . . This film was not the only 2012 entry in the growing canon of major releases to feature characters in their autumn years, but it was certainly the best. Marigold Hotel’s expansive cast was probably the most remarkable ensemble of the year, but surely nobody was surprised. It is inspiring how actors like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Penelope Wilton keep turning in some of the best performances of their careers in film after film as they get older. I am definitely looking forward to Marigold Hotel’s sequel, rumored to be in development.

8. Liberal Arts. . . A love letter to my alma mater, Kenyon College, Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts is simply one of the most authentic films ever made about college. Period. The fact that this movie has not garnered more attention (no Independent Spirit Awards nominations, seriously?) is one of the biggest mistakes of the 2012 awards season. Liberal Arts absolutely encapsulates the spirit of the liberal arts college experience, including both what the experience feels like to those going through as well as what it is like to reflect on that experience years later. As an added bonus, Allison Janney gives the single funniest performance of the year.

7. Silver Linings Playbook. . . Perhaps written by a different screenwriter, crafted by a different director and starring a different cast, this could have been a simple, forgettable, easily dismissed (and likely offensive) romantic comedy of the Renée Zellweger variety. However, in its finished state, Silver Linings Playbook is a poignant, often heartbreaking look at what it is like to be living with mental illness in an unkind world. And when the film reaches its romantic apotheosis, what could have been a cliché, turns into a necessary reminder that these characters can and will live their own lives, despite of and in the midst of the social norms that should define their paths.

6. Les Misèrables. . . Tom Hooper has once again outdone himself by revolutionizing the musical theater genre. Much has been made about Hooper’s directorial choice to have the actors sing live on camera for Les Misèrables, but the effect of this choice from an audience standpoint can not be overstated. The emotions of these characters become so visceral when the actors are filmed in this way. It is far different from the sleek, polished look of other movie musicals, a look that would simply have been wrong for this gritty story. Les Misèrables has never been my favorite musical, but Hooper manages to elevate the material into something truly remarkable.

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower. . . For some reason, I waited to see this until it came out on DVD, but after my first viewing, I immediately wanted to rewind the tape and watch it again. (No, I don’t use videotapes, but you get the picture.) Wallflower simply features an utterly compelling screenplay. The main character Charlie is heartachingly portrayed by Logan Lerman, while emerging talent Ezra Miller himself gives an admirable performance as the freshman’s flamboyant older confidante. I can’t say that I exactly related to what these characters were going through, but I definitely related to what they were feeling, and this is the mark of a great film.

4. Anna Karenina. . . Every film Joe Wright makes contains specific elements that sort of trademark the film for the audience. In Atonement, it was the movement of fingers across the keys of a typewriter. In Anna Karenina it is the way the scenes unfold as part of a giant industrial pop up story book. The technique is undoubtedly jarring at first, certainly transporting the audience outside the story at times. But as you get further and further into the film, you see that the ways in which the industrial design of the film reflects the calculated nature of Russian society from which Anna is constantly struggling to escape. In the end, I think Wright’s filmmaking here, albeit idiosyncratic, is simply enthralling.

3. The Master. . . This is not the most watchable of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films. It doesn’t contain the sense of humor of Magnolia or Boogie Nights. It doesn’t really feature the drama of There Will Be Blood. Yet I can’t say that I really enjoyed it any less than these three masterpieces. The Master is many things. It is an intimate look at post-war U.S. society. It is a character study of two unique individuals. It is a reflection on what it means to be a part of or the leader of a movement. Because of its complex, not easily definable nature, Anderson’s latest work probably never got the attention it deserved, but its viewership will no doubt continue to rise in the future as it is discovered on DVD.

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild. . . There are many beasts depicted in this work of magical realism about a bayou community displaced by a hurricane. The main character in the film, a young African American child named Hushpuppy, is forced to face an absentee, alcoholic father, outside authorities intent on driving her to the mainland, as well as a series of prehistoric beasts always hurtling toward her. Yet in some way she is able to derive strength from everyone and everything around her, so that in the end, not even these aforementioned mythical beasts can move her off her feet, which are so firmly planted in “The Bathtub.” This film truly deserves all the accolades being heaped upon it, and I can’t wait to see what Benh Zeitlin comes up with next.

1. Skyfall. . . Over 50 years, the character of James Bond has appeared in 23 separate films, yet none of these have managed to achieve what was achieved by Skyfall this year. Skyfall is more than a simple action film. First of all, it is the most beautifully shot film of the year. However, it is the storytelling that makes this film unique in the larger 007 pantheon. Skyfall simultaneously serves as a prequel and epilogue to the entire franchise. It is a story about a pair of individuals intent on maintaining their devotion to their country, while at the same time, everyone around them is telling them they have become to old to be useful. As these two people almost single handedly save Great Britain from one of the most unhinged villains in Bond history, a new era emerges in which age is sure to be but a number from here on out. The most watchable movie of the year, and sure to be the one that will ultimately define 2012.
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