Here is a humble list of my favorite films* from the 2012 movie year. It is a little self-indulgent as this will not be the main point of the blog from here on out, but there were some great movies made this past year — movies that have great stories and were rich with the type of themes that you could, honestly, sit for hours and talk about. If you have missed any of these films, I would highly recommend you try to catch them at some point.
*disclaimer: I have not actually seen every single movie that came out during the 2012 movie year — though not for lack of trying!
10. The Dark Knight Rises
It should say a lot about how good of a year of film it was when Christopher Nolan’s final installment of the Batman franchise barely cracks the top ten. Though it may have been the weakest of the three Nolan-Batman films from a pure entertainment stand point, this movie wraps up what we have been waiting for with years of build up — the final act in a story about a man who loves a city. Some of the best conversations you will ever have about friendship, the value of truth, and the cost of sacrifice can come after an exhausting jaunt through a story about Gotham, its citizens, its villans, and its greatest heroes.
9. Silver Linings Playbook
In a time when it’s easier to make a “rom-com” with very little substance or emotion, writer/director David Russell brings us a tale that uses much more than a montage to bring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence together. Topped off by superb performances by all involved, Silver Linings Playbook looks at two people who are trying to overcome serious emotional and psychological problems. The film does an amazing job of pulling the viewer in and showing them the consequences of putting our hope and faith in the wrong things, but also is able to evolve and show the joy that can be found when that same faith is set on the right things.
8. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Peter Jackson again takes us into Middle Earth to explore the tale of Bilbo Baggins and his incredible adventure. Besides being visually captivating, the movie does a great job of transforming the book and some of the other Tolkien source material into an easy-to-follow story. The movie is sprinkled with dwarves that are both silly and serious, and also a Bilbo/Golem scene that completely steals the movie. To top it all off, like all of J.R.R Tolkien’s literature, this film is filled with deep questions about the importance of one’s family and legacy, sacrifice, and the value of home and belonging.
7. Cabin in the Woods
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard completely deconstruct the horror genre with their own “cabin in the woods.” For those who thought they were simply going to see another horror film remixed and rehashed with the same stale formula, I am guessing they, nor I, had any idea what was in store. Without giving too much away, the film takes a step back and tries to answer WHY there is a cabin in the woods, and why every character in every horror movie ever made seems to always do the wrong thing at the wrong time. As clever as it is hilarious (as we have come to expect from anything Whedon touches), it also raises, in a very “Whedon way”, questions about sin, repentance, and atonement, and humanities right to exist. The feat of honestly exploring those topics in the horror genre justifies its on this list.
6. The Life of Pi
Many thought that it would be impossible to bring the Yann Martel novel to the big screen, but Ang Lee put together a film that is both visually superb and captures the essence of the best-seller. Without considering the depth that it tries to attain on an emotional and spiritual level, the movie has positioned itself for an Oscar for achievement in cinematography. The beautiful and painful journey of Pi Patel alone on a lifeboat with none for company but a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker makes direct statements about the identity of God, religion, belief, and how all those things paint one’s understanding of reality.
5. Zero Dark Thirty
Setting aside all the controversy that the film has stirred due to the implications that US torturing of captives contributed to the capture of Osama bin Laden (which the film actually showed us did not help), Kathryn Bigelow weaves another gritty and brutally honest story that brings us face to face with the serious nature of global conflict. At times capturing the intensity that helped win a best picture Oscar for The Hurt Locker, this film takes us on a journey that dives head first into suffering and to what ends man will go to to preserve peace and justice (along with the moral relativity that comes along with such decisions).
4. Django Unchained
An homage to what we loved most in spaghetti westerns, Django Unchained, is the latest offering from Quentin Tarantino. This antebellum western is stacked with a great cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jaime Foxx, Christoph Waltz) that deliver scene after scene. The tension and blood devour each scene sprinkled with the occasional dark humor that we see in previous Tarantino films. Besides the obvious themes of slavery, greed, and injustice, Django’s blood filled path of vengeance also raises fundamental questions about the nature of vengeance and who’s hands it should ultimately lie in.
Ben Affleck, the director, is basically perfect with his third full length film following up Gone Baby Gone and The Town with a classic caper story with a unique twist in Argo. From top to bottom, this “based on a true story” film is terrific, taking us on a suspenseful ride that immerses us in the 1980 conflict and tension between the US and Iran. In a time when foreign policy is being questioned and second guessed, we are able to pull a story from our past and see that it’s possible to solve some tense situations without the use of force, which, at it’s very core, shows us the struggle that each person must deal with when it comes to the use of violence, and the lengths someone would go to for self-preservation.
When it was announced that Steven Spielberg would be teaming with “Actor of our Generation” Daniel Day-Lewis to create a film about one of the most beloved presidents in US history, Abraham Lincoln, it seemed too good to be true. Somehow this movie was able to deliver and even exceed expectations on many fronts. Brilliant, beautiful, and deep, with a cast that was also bolstered by the liked of Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln takes us on a journey of a man trying to give freedom to an entire race of people, at whatever price. The film, much like Abraham Lincoln himself, deals with the fundamental questions of the meaning of freedom, the cost of sacrifice, and defining and preserving human dignity, regardless of cost.
1. The Avengers
Acclaimed comic writer Warren Ellis recently pointed out in an interview that the Avengers movie was always going to do well regardless of who took the reigns, and he is right. His counter point, and also very true, is that Joss Whedon simply did not take something and throw it out there to make money. It was an unbelievably difficult task for anyone to write and/or direct an Avengers movie that would deliver on the hype and build up of years of previous films that had promised some great narrative, but Whedon does it brilliantly by giving us a film that has the perfect amount of heart mixed with comic book cleverness and humor. With so many fan favorite super heroes piled together (like Thor, Captain America, the snarky Tony Stark, or even a leather clad Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow), who else could allow the Hulk to steal the movie’s greatest scene in a movie full of so many truly great scenes? Besides covering the spectrum of emotions with ease, Whedon gives us a story about individuals who have to wrestle with their past, their identity’s, and the greater good — while we, as an audience, and thanks to Loki, are taken for a ride that explores the most fundamental of questions: What have we, as humans, been created for?
Honorable Mentions: Chronicle, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Looper, Les Miserables, Moonrise Kingdom
If you have seen a movie this past year that you loved or really hit home for you in some way, feel free to share. This is a far cry from a definitive “Best of…” list.