OK. I’ll admit. The year of 2012 seems like eons ago and here I am talking about my favorite movies from that year. I’m late. Later than the Oscars. When I’m not a real critic nor do I get any sort of press passes to movies, sometimes I have to wait to see movies that I think might qualify for my list on Netflix (which occasionally takes forever to get titles out for DVD service).
I have been meaning to toss up in the corner of my extremely small blogosphere some great flicks I saw last year for the sake of discussion. After all, 2012 was a really fine year for movies. Perhaps the best in a long time. I, by no means, came close to seeing everything that was released which is another reason for this blog. I might have missed a few and the small portion of readers who peruse here can feel free to let me know about it. Agree, disagree, fiercely debate…the floor is yours.
10) Arbitrage- First of all for me to even put a movie starring Richard Gere on this list, a note should be taken. I do not often like movies with Gere in them but here is a stunning exception. Gere plays Robert Miller, a Wall Street type hedge fund manager who is incredibly charming and has all the look of a family man and decent business man. Then the secrets start unraveling but that isn’t the best thing about the film. Here we have a guy who is unbelievably fraudalent, commits adultery on his wife, is willing to hang his daughter out to dry (she is the CFO of his company) yet the visceral audience reaction is to root for him. Maybe we cannot help but identify or cheer for the leading character. The central question (and tension) of the story is: will Robert Miller end up getting away with it all? Here is what I took away from this movie. First time director, Nicholas Jarecki has crafted a sort of moral fable. We root for guys like Miller in our society. Successful. Great looking families. Sometimes, these things are all facades that a nasty individual hides behind. A “wolf in sheep’s clothing” doesn’t even begin to describe it.
9) Beasts of the Southern Wild- “Beasts” is a truly moving story of a little girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) who lives with her daddy (Dwight Henry) in the Bathtub (an island off of Mississippi that is susceptible to storms). The people who live here have carved out their own survival in amazingly difficult weather circumstances and poverty. The wonderous story contains majestic elements, moments of terror and magic from the perspective of the little girl. Really glad this received attention by the Academy awards for an incredible Wallis (who was 6 when she filmed this) and for best picture, best director and best screenplay. One cannot go wrong here.
8) The Master- I think Paul Thomas Anderson is one of our greatest directors. My reaction to this movie was very interesting even to myself. When I got done watching it, I was willing to acknowledge the impeccable filmmaking and legendary performances (from Joaquin Phoeix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams) but I wasn’t sure I found the story compelling. Then I started thinking about the movie and several days later, still cannot escape some of the images and ideas communicated. This is a profound film in the tradition of Terrence Malick but especially Stanley Kubrick. The work certainly has its detractors and this is not for everyone. The film is extremely abstract but, for those who have seen it, that may be one of the points. “If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you’d be the first person in the history of the world. “- Lancaster Dodd (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman).
7) Life of Pi- I don’t often describe movies as beautiful (or atleast try not too) but this work fits the bill. Director Ang Lee has created something really awe-inspiring here. I’m one of those who usually finds 3-D to be an excuse for Hollywood to charge an audience more money for not that great of a gimmick. This film however was worth seeing in 3-D! One day in India, Pi Patel’s father tells him he is selling the family zoo because business is not good. They are going to sail to Canada to sell the animals in the United States. There is a very epic shipwreck and Pi is stranded on a lifeboat for days with a bengal tiger (who he names Richard Parker). The remaining time is a meditation on life and faith. I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of the metaphysical conclusions about faith that the story brings up but I commend the story for bringing this dialogue to the surface in a very powerful way.
6) Moonrise Kingdom- This is probably Wes Anderson’s best film. A pair of young lovers flee their New England town which causes a search party to fan out and try and find them. Set in 1965 and on an island, this is a testament to childhood love. As usual with Anderson, most of the proceedings are silly but the actors are always serious which adds to the fun. The excellent cast includes: Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton.
5) Argo- A worthy Oscar best picture winner (even if I would have preferred another movie to win) and good for Ben Affleck who went from career disaster (Armageddon, Gigli, Daredevil) to directing some fine movies. This is a highly entertaining film that flies by. Although Hollywood and history don’t exactly get along at the end (and some points in between), “Argo” turns into a tension filled machine without any bullets being fired. Now that is something different. Also, the CIA is made to look somewhat good. Is this the first movie ever that has done that?
4) Looper- I was surprised by this science-fiction mind bender! The movie takes place in 2044 and 2074. In the latter year, time travel has been invented but is illegal. Cleverly, this illegal invention is used by the mob to…shall we say…make people disappear. The “loopers” are the people hired by mobsters to dispose of people which seems to happen with loaded shotguns in corn fields. Of course, this plot sets up a showdown between Joe in 2044 (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and Joe in 2074 (Bruce Willis). Where the story goes from here is fascinating and opens up moral dilemmas that one doesn’t even want to think about. The story feels a little Terminator-ish but is enough of its own concoction to truly inspire. Big time truimph for writer/director Rian Johnson.
3) Silver Linings Playbook- Here is the quirky, romantic comedy of the year and it really earns this title. Following treatment in a mental institution, Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents with hopes of reconciling with his ex-wife. He ends up meeting Tiffany who harbors issues of her own. The result is a rather odd love story but one that genuinely connects to the audience because the characters are so well-developed that we are engrossed in their trials and successes. Some of the best acting of the year can be found in this movie: a career defining performance for Bradley Cooper, a deserving Oscar win for Jennifer Lawrence, solid work by Jacki Weaver and, hey, Robert DeNiro can still act when he really wants too.
2) Lincoln- OK…Steven Spielberg doing some of his best work casts the best actor ever (Daniel Day Lewis) with award-winning playwright Tony Kushner writing about America’s greatest president, Lincoln. How could this not be on the list or any list? This makes 19th century legislature intriguing and fascinating. The focus of the movie is on Lincoln getting an amendment to the Constitution passed in order to free the slaves in the middle of the civil war. Even though parts of the story are odd (Connecticut voting against the amendment?) or was that added for dramatic flair, there are some really great moments throughout this one.
1) Zero Dark Thirty- Despite on the controversy, hoopla, uproar and whatever else- “Zero Dark Thirty” is the best movie I saw in 2012. A cinematic mountaintop for director Kathryn Bigelow who has topped her last excellent film, “The Hurt Locker”. There is no one making better movies about our conflicts in the middle east right now than her. Making this work took a lot of guts. She stared down loony bloggers with bogus interpretations, Hollywood elites chained to political correctness, and congressmen who wanted a hearing based on the information that screenwriter, Mark Boal, received (supposedly) from the government. A statement on the first decade of America’s foreign policy in the 21st century, this movie feels like something people will be watching and talking about decades from now. People may have went to see this film for many reasons and perhaps expected different responses after viewing it. Some of them may have been surprised when they walked out feeling haunted specifically after the ambiguous last shot.
There they all are according to my opinion! Worth noting is that I have not seen many of the acclaimed documentaries from last year and I also have not seen “The Impossible” or “Amour” yet as well. Of course, there are thousands of more movies I did not catch that made it out in 2012. That’s why it’s your turn to tell me what I missed.