Everyone has their criteria for deciding the best of the previous year. Not everyone explains the criteria they use. Some judge by quality of workmanship, others by their own personal enthusiasm, and some do an aggregation of positives as a way of figuring out the top of the heap. My personal film going is not exhaustive enough to be definitive as to the best of the year. I get around to plenty of films, but many of the quality films slip under the timeline at the end of the year, or they played for limited times during the year and I missed them when they came out. For the last seven years, I have caught up with several Academy Award nominees at the AMC Best Picture Showcase, so although they did not make it into the yearly tally, I did get to see them in a theater. This year I saw sixty two new films that came out in 2012. In addition, I went to twenty other films, the ten at the BPS and another ten which were special screenings of classics. If I just used that as my standard, the best film I saw this year in theaters was Casablanca. So I limit my choices to ones that were originally released in the calendar year. While it is fun to challenge others and to be challenged to defend your own assessment of a single movie, I use my end of the year list for sharing with others my personal enthusiasms. I do not pretend that all of my choices are award worthy or superior to the things others might like. My list is “my list” of the movies I responded to the most positively during the year and at the end when comparing all of those responses. I hope you enjoy and feel free to post your own lists in the reply section.
10. Wreck It Ralph
I think animation is one of the great artistic mediums for people to work and to touch others. I have frequented animation festivals at different times in my life, and of course by personal library is stocked with Disney fare and Looney Tunes. Wreck it Ralph is a fresh story, set in a world I am not familiar with but one that I understand. The voice work was excellent and the design of the film was cotton candy amazing. I struggled a bit in choosing this over “ParaNorman”, which is equally well designed. Ralph wins out because the story seems a little more coherent to me and it is accessible to everyone. ParaNorman might be a little creepy for smaller children.
9. Django Unchained
The last film I saw in the last year, was Quentin Tarantino’s riff on the spaghetti western. It has a wicked sense of humor, and a grim view of the “peculiar institution” which was the focus of the civil war. All of this was accompanied by the florid violence and witty dialogue that have become trademarks of a Tarantino film. He makes movies for people who geek out over movies, so in essence he makes them for me. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz do the buddy movie with a vengeance. Leonardo DiCaprio is a late arrival in the film, but brings considerable talent to making his character a loathsome piece of crap that we can hardly wait to get smacked down.
8. Paul Williams Still Alive
I was most aware of Paul Williams film music, but I knew he had a huge body of pop hits to go along with the movie work. When I was younger, he was everywhere: on TV, in Movies, doing concerts and acting. Somewhere along the way he virtually disappeared. As the title implies, he is still alive, and as a matter of fact was President of ASCAP, the music rights group for composers. He simply stopped being the attention seeking celebrity he had been for most of his career. A week before I saw the film, he made an appearance at a screening of Phantom of the Paradise
and did some Q and A. I stayed and got a chance to shake his hand. At the documentary premier, he also did a Q and A and was equally charming. I enjoyed the film immensely, and while it may not be a traditional documentary, it was strengthened by the choices the director made and of course by the subject himself.
I had a little trouble with the story the film tells. I thought it focused on an odd period of time and an event that was less interesting than other episodes in the President’s life. In fact the selection of the Constitutional Amendment as the fulcrum for the story actually reduces Lincoln’s prominence in the film. Never the less, the performances are staggeringly good and Spielberg does his usual excellent job at making a film that matters. It was a movie that I admired more than I loved, but it was definitely one that is high quality and will bear repeating down the road.
6. Silver Linings Playbook
Another end of year addition to the quality list. The ads make it look more comedic than it was, and the romance is truer than you might expect. There are three great performances in the film and the depiction of someone with bi-polar addictive personality is harrowing. This is a movie that one can enjoy more afterwards than during, because several scenes are uncomfortably realistic and sad. Oh, and it has football in it.
5. The Grey
The earliest release on my list, this is a film that opened a year ago and may have slipped by the attention of the usual critics groups and Awards organizations. Liam Neeson stars in an action based mediation on what is valuable in life and where do we get the will to go on. Because it was promoted as an action film, many may be unaware about how deep the spirituality is in this movie. It is also a sharp, thrilling piece of entertainment. The title refers not only to the wolves that stalk our protagonists, but to the cloudy arenas in which we make our daily decisions. It is sad but also very moving.
I like Tim Burton style, even though I have not always liked Tim Burton movies. His roots as an animator have always pervaded his live action work. Here he is basically an animator again and it shows that this is his true medium. I have nothing but praise for this movie. Yes it is sentimental and it drips with all the Gothic imagery that Burton brings to the table. Unlike Dark Shadows earlier, here you have a real story and there is an emotional core to it. I must have seen the trailers fifty times during the lead up to this, and I thought I would be burned out on just the idea. Once the movie starts, the magic takes over and I remember why I love movies so much. All it takes is a boy and his dog.
This movie starts out with all kinds of things that I usually hate. A fictionalized world where criminals lead lives that are over the top and have no consequences to them. Sin City is one of the most annoying films I ever saw and this had every indication that it was going that direction. At some point however, there is a shift, the science fiction element in the story, forces us into a deeper look at the main character and the main character takes a deeper look at himself. This movie ends up going in a very different direction and I was really impressed by the way the story telling pulled us through some moral dilemmas and some exciting action set pieces as well. What started out as a piece of pop crap actually turned out to have something to say to us and to say it in a very interesting manner.
In my opinion, the best picture favorite at the Academy Awards, and the best made drama of the year. ARGO takes a real historical event and turns it into a gripping suspense film, despite the fact that the audience is likely to know the outcome before they even step into the theater. The art direction, costumes and make up for this movie do not go over the top in making the late seventies a time period for mocking. Instead, they set the scene for a reliving in an honest way of a breathtaking piece of espionage success in the midst of what to that point was one of the biggest disasters in American Foreign relations. Good people doing their jobs are victims and they act in an heroic manner. They are rescued by other good people doing their jobs in a creative and dramatic fashion. As a bonus, Hollywood film production gets a short historical review with a realistic depiction of how the business worked at the time. By the way, all of the actors are very good and the ensemble performances by the six who escaped being taken hostage by the Iranians is noteworthy for the subltelty of their work.
This will not be a surprise to anyone who knows me. I am a Bond fanatic and so it might be expected that 007 would put in an appearance. He does, but he does so not simply out of loyalty to the character. This is simply a terrific film. The story manages to update Bond and connect him to his roots all at the same time. It has the most spectacular action sequences of any film released this year and some rock solid performances. I got to participate in a blog-a-thon leading up to the release of this movie and the whole experience is the shining highlight of the last six months.. Even if you have never been a big fan of Bond, you will almost certainly enjoy this film. I saw it twice on opening day (including the midnight advance screening) and I have watched it twice more since then. It may only be up for one award at Academy time (Adele impresses me a lot), but this is a movie people will see over and over again for the next fifty years. I don’t know who goes back and watched “The Hurt Locker”, “Crash”, or “The King’s Speech”, but everyone can watch a Bond film and enjoy it repeatedly. This is admittedly a selfish choice for the top of the list, but it is my list after all.