Inspired by IndieWire’s amazing compilation of Top Ten lists and by Umberto Eco’s reminder about the pleasures of list-making, I’ve decided to do my own list of favorite movies from 2012. This year;’s list is shaped by a number of changes in my life. I didn’t get to the theater as often as I would have liked, and my favorite theater was forced to shut down when the owners of the property decided to redevelop the space and build a grocery store. I also missed the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival for the first time in several years, which means that I was unable to catch many docs, something I hope to correct in 2013. I’m hoping to devote more energy to reviving the blog this year, and my piecemeal–in no particular order–top ten list is a way of getting that started.
- Moonrise Kingdom: Wes Anderson’s compelling and comic story, set in the early 1960s in a small New England town, focuses on a young boy, Sam, on a scout trip who runs away with Suzy, who lives nearby. they exchange notes and plans and filly escape together prompting a madcap search led by Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and Bill Murray. Really enjoyed the off-beat performances, the period music, and Anderson’s usual attention to mise-en-scene.
- Looper: gritty, futuristic sci-fi at its finest. Joseph Gordon-Leavitt plays Joe, a “looper” who waits in an appointed location–a corn field in Kansas–where he assassinates criminals sent back in time. Joe ultimately faces meeting himself as an older person, leading to one of the more fascinating ethical dilemmas about time travel I’ve seen in a long time (and one of the few movies I had time to review this year). The interplay between Leavitt and Bruce Willis also works really well.
- Lincoln: Daniel Day-Lewis’s uncanny portrayal of Lincoln has received the most attention, but I loved the movie for its attention to the mundane aspects of governing and the challenges that the president faced when negotiating to get members of the opposing party to support his proposed amendment to end slavery. An oddly apt commentary on the fiscal cliff negotiations and current complaints about divided government.
- The Master: Paul Thomas Anderson offers an unsettling engagement with the post-World War II sense of meaningless confronted by many vets, including Freddie (Joaquin Phoenix), who wavers between submission to and resistance against a Scientology-style cult led by Philip Seymour Hoffman. I was ambivalent about this film, but Jason Sperb, who has written a book on PT Anderson, ultimately sold me on it.
- Django Unchained: Tarantino continues his engagement with the politics of images and genres with his subversive, playful mashup of spaghetti western and slave narrative. It’s easy to dismiss Tarantino as a pastiche filmmaker, but his depictions of iconic film images–the “mandingo” fights, Samuel L. Jackson’s “Uncle Tom”–are far more subtle than they first appear. I still think this film would make a great companion with Perry Henzell’s similar spaghetti western-inspired anti-colonialist The Harder They Come.
- Argo: Although its depiction of the Iran hostage crisis vastly simplifies the historical record–little attention is paid to the hostages who went unrescued–Ben Affleck has deftly crafted a terrific retelling of one of the most audacious rescue efforts in recent history. The levels of performance–spies pretending to be movie executives–were terrific fun.
- Take this Waltz: low-key character study by Sarah Polley about a woman’s struggles in an unhappy marriage.
- Silver Linings Playbook: although its depiction of psychological disorders was often too glib, Russell’s film won me over with the chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as a pair of misunderstood lovers.
- Beasts of the Southern Wild: I wavered between embracing the film’s originality and struggling with something that felt a little inauthentic about the whole thing. On the whole, though, I liked the depiction of Bathtub, a tiny, isolated Louisiana Delta community ravaged by a massive hurricane.
- Perks of Being a Wallflower: heartfelt adolescent drama about growing up as outsiders (the “misfit toys”). It gets all of the awkwardness of high school pretty much right and even offers a kind of utopian space where Charlie, Sam (Emma Watson in a great post-Hermione performance), and friends can feel safe and connected. Solid late-80s/early-90s period detail, too.
I still haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty or Holy Motors, so I may make one or two updates in the near future. Just missing the cut were Bernie, Les Miserables, and Safety Not Guaranteed.