EDITORIAL: The 10 Best Films of 2012
With 2012 now in the books, it's time to reflect on the best films of this past year. I feel that, for the second year in a row, I've been lucky enough to catch as many of the best and brightest movies of 2012 as just a regular guy, without the flashy access that most big-wig critics get with their advanced screenings and special events. While this little website has grown leaps and bounds this year, tripling in monthly pageviews, I'm still just like everyone else with a day job and responsibilities. Like I always say, "I wish this could pay the bills."
For the 2012 box office year, I scratched and clawed my way to seeing and reviewing 67 films, up from last year's 53. If you count the five Fathom Event films I attended and reviewed and the 23 weekly "Alphabet Movie Club" vintage reviews, I wrote a staggering 95 movie reviews in 2012. With my wife expecting our first child next month, I'm very sure that will change dramatically, but I will enjoy it while it lasts.
Compared to 2011, I have to call 2012 the better year, but a late bloomer. None of my top five movies from my June "Best of 2012 (so far)" editorial made the final cut here in January. Furthermore, last year, I only saw and wrote six 5-star movies and reviews. This year, thirteen films received that rating on "Every Movie Has a Lesson." I look back to the October-November streak where six of those thirteen movies (and two more 4-star films along the way) happened as a time of pure cinematic joy and pleasure. Week after week for a while, the newest film would seemingly top the last one.
Without further introduction, here are my very own "10 Best of 2012." You are more than welcome to compare my list with those of the top-shelf critics, but I know, if you're reading this, their lists take a back seat to mine. In keeping with this website's theme, each film is ranked and listed with its best life lesson. Enjoy!
HONORABLE MENTION: The three 5-star movies that finished just outside of the "10 Best" are:
Prometheus-- While the movie poses more questions than answers, I can't argue with this movie's technical prowess and stunning big picture. I really enjoyed seeing Ridley Scott back behind the camera of a real science fiction film and I was impressed with Prometheus and look forward to seeing where the writers and Scott take the story next. (my full review)
The Avengers-- From a sheer entertainment standpoint, I had a fanboy blast with Joss Whedon's Marvel team-up. From a film-making standpoint, it was nothing short of a movie miracle to combine five individual movies' story lines and five big-time characters so effectively. With huge expectations, it couldn't have turned out any better. (my full review)
Life of Pi-- Ang Lee put together a wonderful, colorful, and inspiring movie that just finished outside of my Top 10. A well-told journey of survival, Life of Pi is an excellent technical achievement of green-screen and visual effects work and a life-affirming story worthy of a good audience. (my full review)
THE 10 BEST FILMS OF 2012 AND THEIR BEST LESSONS
10. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
Let's start the "10 Best" in a world far away. I have the patience to see this trilogy through and I highly enjoyed the big first chapter and return to Middle Earth from Peter Jackson. Boasting grand epic scale and big visuals, I feel confident that this will be every bit as good a movie trilogy as its predecessor/sequel. I didn't find it overfilled or slow at all. I'll take every minute in that setting compared to two hours of any Adam Sandler movie. (my full review)
ITS BEST LESSON: WE ALL SEEK ADVENTURE-- This movie and the novel its based may be complete works of fiction, taking place in an imaginary world of mysticism, magic, and lore, but the instinctual ideals of the characters in the stories match our own. We, in our lives, have felt many of the same emotions as Bilbo. Chief among them in this first chapter of his story, is the desire to seek out adventure. As grounded as we want to be or feel we are are, we men and women are inquisitive and imaginative. We all have had dreams of lives and achievements beyond those of our daily roles. They differ for everyone, but Bilbo gets his chance to have his adventure and seizes the opportunity.
9. THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER-
Of the movies making my top 10 of 2012, this little independent film surprised me the most. Coming seemingly out of nowhere, original novel writer Stephen Chbosky was able to screenwrite and direct his own adaptation of a troubled trio of high schoolers (Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, and Ezra Miller) that strive to make the most of their lives. Sometimes serious, sometimes funny, and always engaging, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the true little movie that could from 2012. (my full review)
ITS BEST LESSON: WE ACCEPT THE LOVE WE THINK WE DESERVE-- This is an absolute gem of a quote from both the book and the movie. So often, when we are teens, we don't quite see the world for its adult truths. Not all love is first-love bliss and never-ending, stars-aligned happiness Some people settle for less than bliss. Some people always seem to be with the wrong person. From there, there's truth to saying this quote on the subject. Our goal should be improve our self-concept, self-esteem, and, most importantly, our self-worth so that the love we do accept is not just deserved, but matching of those high personal standards.
8. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Yes, The Dark Knight Rises was not as good as The Dark Knight that came before it, but it didn't have to be. What it had to do was raise the epic stakes and fittingly close out of the best movie trilogies of our time. The Dark Knight Rises, with plenty of plot holes that you could drive a truck through, is easily the most comic book-y of Christopher Nolan's three movies that have always sought to be grounded and realistic. I won't call them flaws, but par for the course. I was impressed was Nolan's boldness to end it the way this did. (my full review)
ITS BEST LESSON: WHEN BRUTE FORCE MEETS SHEER WILL-- Each of Christopher Nolan's three movies in this trilogy has had a single word deemed by the director as its core element. In Batman Begins, it was "fear," embodied by Bruce's need to overcome his own to become the symbol of hope. In The Dark Knight, it was "chaos," embodied by the escalation of the Joker to tear down all that was good. Here, in The Dark Knight Rises, it is "pain." During this chapter, we meet a Bruce Wayne who's emotional and physical pain of loss has sapped the indomitable will that made him great. Bane is a superior physical opponent to Batman and proves it, painfully. No matter how physically prepared Batman can get, his sheer will has to be the difference when outmatched.
While keeping its fireworks low key, Lincoln demonstrates Steven Spielberg's talent to, every now and then, put on a clinic in restrained and reflective filmmaking over crafting the wondrous blockbusters that made him a household name. I think, in a lot of ways, many of us take Steven Spielberg and Lincoln for granted. Everything about it on paper said it was going to be solid. We saw that outstanding cast (Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and a strong ensemble in every role from top to bottom) and figured it all would turn out well and good. It exceeded my expectations, respected the history it sought to tell, and looks to be a strong Oscar front-runner. (my full review)
ITS BEST LESSON: THE PRICELESS VALUE OF SELF-EVIDENT TRUTHS-- In watching Spielberg's rehash of history surrounding the end of the Civil War, the passing of the 13th Amendment, and the great leader that ushered the country through this time, we get to bear witness to some of the country's founding principles bubbling up to the surface through bloodshed and political challenge. Lincoln speaks highly of self-evident truths. One online dictionary define a self-evident truth as "an assumption that is basic to an argument" and "a hypothesis that is taken for granted." We bear witness in this film and the history it depicts to justice, fairness, and equality all being self-evident truths. As any good American or student knows, "all men are created equal" is the one that gets the ball rolling, stemming right into the "unalienable rights" of life , liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When the minutia of racism, debate, hate, stereotypes, passion and/or differences cloud a topic, it becomes an unfair mistake and disservice to forget ideals that we take as self-evident truths.
6. MOONRISE KINGDOM
I'll be the first one to admit that I never was a fan of Wes Anderson's constantly quirky filmmaking. Even with a faithful ensemble of stars (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, etc.) that always turn up, it always felt awkward, disjointed, and over my head until I saw Moonrise Kingdom. Instead of being led by a pair of stars playing against type, Anderson gives us a pair of newcomers (Jared Gillman and Kara Hayward) playing inseparable young lovers on a fictitious New England island in the 1960's. While the quirks were still there and dialed to 11, Moonrise Kingdom was a smart and endlessly crowd-pleasing experience. I don't think I smiled so much at a movie all year. If you too have never been able to get into Wes Anderson, give Moonrise Kingdom a good honest try. (my full review)
ITS BEST LESSON: THE VIGOR OF YOUNG LOVE-- No offense to those old married couples who have stayed together for decades, but there is a different level of vigor for young love and first love. Young love is unbridled spark and, like Romeo and Juliet before them, Sam and Suzy have it. Unspoiled by previous loss or previous relationships and supported by a veil of naivety, that first love of our lives, whether it worked out in the end or not, was something we tackled with a full head of steam, reckless abandon, blind devotion, and unequaled passion.
I never in million years expected a James Bond movie to make a year-end "10 Best" list, let along a Top 5 spot. Never in another million years, would I expect a James Bond movie to be a pillar of character development and focused narrative. Then came Skyfall and holy cow. Typical Bond movie cheese was transformed into polished silver. Typical Bond movie fluff was given depth, emotion, and razor sharp delivery. Skyfall is the Bond film that we have longed for and deserved for so long. Taut, cool, suspenseful, and, finally, meaningful. While everyone has their favorite style of Bond film, I don't hesitate to call this one the best of its 50 year history. (my full review)
ITS BEST LESSON: THINK ON YOUR SINS-- This little imperative sentence is the villain Silva's ominous inward threat to M. (Judi Dench) and her colleagues. For many years, M. has lead the job to do a nation's dirty work behind the scenes. Equally as such, Bond has been trained to become a tool of that dirty work as a programmed and formidable killer. When reflection time comes with age, the weight of those sins will give more than just pause. The weak cave to that pressure of regret of those sins. The strong justify their sins with resolve that they were not committed in vain and served a purpose or greater good.
To beat Skyfall on this list, you've got to be special and memorable. The four movies from here to the top are just that for me. Starting with the best and most exciting film sequence of the year (that incredible inverted plane crash scene), Flight just kept on impressing. I never doubted Denzel Washington, but he accurately and tellingly gives his all in a movie far more about addiction than about the friendly skies. It's a dark turn for me and incredibly interesting one to watch unfold. This is a triumphant return to live-action filmmaking for director Robert Zemeckis. (my full review)
ITS BEST LESSON: THE EDGE NEEDED TO DO WHATEVER IT IS YOU DO-- While none of us are going to start condoning that all of our airline pilots chug screwdrivers and snort lines of cocaine before taking the controls on an airliner at 35,000 feet, every profession in this world has a certain degree of a mindset or an edge that it takes to perform that job at a high level. Think of that school teacher or mother that has to have her morning coffee to function before dealing with small children. Think of that athlete that has to psych himself up before a game with loud music in his headphones. Think of every person that has to talk into a mirror before they do whatever profession they do. That mindset or edge is each person's comfort zone and operational capacity. Sometimes, it takes certain triggers and vices to get there. For Whip, you could argue that he was better on drugs and alcohol than not.
Ben Affleck's continuing progress as a director is something to behold after just three features, the solid Gone Baby Gone, the exhilarating The Town, and now the inspired Argo. Deftly combining a little behind-the-scenes Hollywood fun with a timely-yet-forgotten piece of poignant American history, Argo is the most complete movie of 2012. It has solid ensemble acting, well-timed humor, and excellent suspense in play. It's #1 on Roger Ebert's list and #3 on mine, though it's on par to be the best of the year. Argo is the real deal. (my full review)
ITS BEST LESSON: PUTTING YOUR LIFE ON THE LINE FOR RESPONSIBILITY-- Once you get past the necessary manufactured lies that spur the espionage and master plan of Argo, you see the real purpose and cause that those lies make possible. We see a government that won't give up on its own people. We see a leader and an neighbor risk his livelihood and safety to shield strangers that need his help. We see movie moguls that put riches aside to help their country. We see a determined man stick his own neck out to gain the trust of those in his charge. Most of them do it knowing they will never get public recognition for their actions. Each of Argo's contributors take on these risks and consequences out of a sense of responsibility. That sense of duty and desire is worth more than all the lies and deception.
2. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Simply put, David O. Russell's crazy people festival was the most enjoyable movie I saw in 2012. I loved every minute. From top to bottom, whether it's Bradley Cooper's bipolar lead, Jennifer Lawrence's daring grieving widow, Robert De Niro's OCD powder keg father, or Jacki Warner's storm calming mother, Silver Linings Playbook is an actor's showcase. For me, this is 2012's As Good as it Gets, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, orThe Descendants. Like those films, Silver Linings Playbook takes on interesting and clearly flawed characters with balls and the right dose of reckless abandon. It's a domestically scaled movie that offers the right balance of both wild comedy and enriching drama. Awards bait or not, it sucked me in 100%. (my full review)
ITS BEST LESSON: FINDING THE SILVER LINING IN ALL THINGS-- You will see that this film's somewhat obscure title has a purpose, many in fact. Controlling mental illness, managing depression, dealing with stress, overcoming grief, and finding positives in both progress and defeat are all little victories and silver linings to those situations and elements that can't be fixed. Our characters seek and learn this positives from the opening credits to the final shot.
1. ZERO DARK THIRTY
Before this late bloomer made its debut, it was an arm-wrestling match between Argo and Silver Linings Playbook for my top film of 2012. Zero Dark Thirty answered the bell, answered the hype, and put those movies behind it. It's the finest and most important film I saw this year and it earns every ounce of my respect. Unapologetic, unsympathetic, and without shameless or forced patriotism for the sake of being a crowd-pleaser, the movie's daring realism and razor-sharp edge are its greatest strengths. I'm sure, someday (much like Oliver Stone's JFK), we'll get to the point of questioning the Hollywood dramatization factor of this depicted decade of American history, but, for now, Zero Dark Thirty boldly asserts itself as the year's best. (my full review)
ITS BEST LESSON: IT TAKES A SPECIAL PERSON TO DO THESE JOBS-- When the CIA recruits and looks for field agents and officers, I'm pretty sure not everything in their job description (like waterboarding and torture techniques) makes the proverbial classified ad and job interview. The same goes for Navy SEALs. With not a whiff of "look at my cool job" or "I'm better than you" arrogance, Zero Dark Thirty gives us ordinary people doing extraordinary things, some good and some evil, and not in James Bond or John Wayne ways. Best of all, we never learn a back story for any character, preserving the mystery that, for all we know, that lady in the checkout line in front of us at the grocery store or that guy shopping at Dick's Sporting Goods is a Maya or a SEAL Team 6 member. These people are their jobs and nameless heroes. They are imminently more dedicated and qualified than us to do them.
Be sure to keep following this blog and my 2012 Awards Tracker to handicap many of these films' Academy Award chances. Nominations come on January 10th. Finally, I will look ahead to 2013 with the list of my most anticipated movies of the coming year. Happy New Year, everyone!