Because what you need is ANOTHER top 10 list!
I can’t believe it’s been a year since I began this little experiment. Actually, it’s not quite been a full year but it’s close enough for government work. I’ve been looking forward to this particular entry in the ole’ blog because it’s where I get to talk about all the movies I really loved over the last 365. For those who are regular readers, you might be able to guess some of the following films. For new readers (for all actually,) I can only hope you find something on here that you haven’t seen. And I hope my brief words will inspire you to seek it out and see if I’m right.
This ‘best of’ only covers movies that opened theatrically in 2012 and that I saw within the calendar year. Regrettably, there were some stellar flicks I did not get to see that could have possibly earned a spot. Katheryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty has yet to open in Austin and I’m ashamed to admit I never got around to see PT Anderson’s The Master. I missed out on foreign films like Holy Motors and Amour. And I’m looking forward to eventually seeing documentaries like West of Memphis and The Impostor.
Still, I did see a lot and I feel these ten (11 actually) represent what was a great year for movies.
I wished at the time I first saw Cloud Atlas that I loved the movie. I merely liked it then and while the movie was in danger of falling out of my top ten I ultimately decided that despite some faults it merited inclusion for, among other reasons, daring to be different and bold. This was a risky film to make for all involved none more so than directors Tom Twyker and The Wachowskis. They presented a thematically deep, visual feast that I feel will, eventually, become a very important movie to future filmmakers and audiences. Of all the movies on this list, it is the one I am most looking forward to rewatching.
Beasts of the Southern Wild almost did not make the list but a second viewing on Blu-ray necessitated expanding this top ten into an eleven. The heart of the movie is in the performances of Quevenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry as six-year old Hushpuppy and her father, Wink. The fable-like story plays out in the Bathtub, a physically decaying but spiritually vibrant bayou township that is resisting the incursion of forces both modern and ancient. Wallis shines as the girl who is willing to fight for what she loves and Henry is amazing as the world-weary father who struggles to teach her how to survive.
I love time travel movies. I love good time travel movies even more. And this third feature from writer/director Rian Johnson certainly qualifies as the latter. Johnson brought a cool vibe to his neo-noir flick Brick and his caper flick The Brothers Bloom was good, light fun. But with this twisty tale, he goes full tilt boogie. It’s stylishly shot with great performances from the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Paul Dano. The love story with the always fetching Emily Blunt is relatively standard but the fresh spins brought to trusty time travel tropes trump any presumed familiarity.
The best action movie of the year and quite possibly the last 10 years. Suffice it to say that once things get kicking on this Indonesian delight it never lets up. There’s a lot of blood, broken bone and gunplay here as is to be expected in a siege movie. The 70’s brought us John Carpenter’s Attack of Precinct 13. The 80’s & 90’s brought us the wild and wooly adventures of John McClane in the Die Hard franchise. Director Gareth Evans brings the action movie screaming with thunderous fury into the new millennium and I can’t wait to see what he serves up next. And yes, there’s going to be a sequel!
Compliance is the most disturbing movie of the year. Hell, it might be one of the most disturbing movies ever. People get angry when they watch this film that details one fast food restaurant clerk’s horrific day after she is accused of theft. You know it’s based on a true story but surely it’s been fictionalized to some extent; exaggerated for dramatic effect. There’s no way this could have happened. Just keep telling yourself that. It’ll make you feel better. At the very least though, watch the movie. You will most definitely have an opinion. Then ask yourself what you would have done. Be honest.
6. The Grey
Joe Carnahan directed Narc, Smokin’ Aces, and that dreadful A-Team movie. Joe Carnahan also directed this. So…all is forgiven. Liam Neeson is a certified bad ass as the oil worker whose survival skills are put to the test trying to preserve his life as well as those of his co-workers that survived a plane crash into the icy Alaskan wilderness. A pack of wolves is hunting them and taking them out one by one leading to an epic showdown between the leaders of the two packs. This is survival horror at it’s finest. Some folks balked at the somewhat misleading ad campaign but, honestly, those folks ain’t right.
5. Life of Pi
Never having read Yann Martel’s book I wasn’t sure what, other than a big giant tiger, to expect from this modern-day fairy tale but was pleasantly surprised with what I found. Director Ang Lee delivered a beautifully shot movie with stunning imagery and some of the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen. Suraj Sharma in his first feature role as the titular Pi does an incredible job acting against green screens and the empty air where digital animals were later added. The story can be taken as a straight tale of survival and endurance but those so inclined can delve into the deeper themes of spirituality and faith that are ripe for analysis.
4. Killer Joe
Take some poor white trash. Throw in some stone cold cash. Mix in a murder plot and confused feelings of incestuous love. Put it in the hands of William Friedkin, the director of The Exorcist. Go balls to the wall and fully embrace your NC-17 rating. Don’t let off the gas until that beat up jalopy crashes into the wall of that run down corner store and goes up in flames. The plot of the movie is relatively standard and nothing you haven’t seen before. No, the performances are what drive this particular vehicle. Matthew McConaughey is both frightening and oddly charming as a bad cop and Juno Temple is revelatory as his would be star-crossed paramour.
It’s the best horror movie since Drag Me to Hell and one of the most refreshing in years. Drew Goddard directs a crackerjack script he co-wrote with ‘uber-geek’ and mentor Joss Whedon. The pair bring a sharp knowing wit to all those scary movie tropes we’ve come to loathe and love. The satire provides for a fun first two acts with clever jabs at the stock characters and scenarios of a backwoods supernatural slasher. Then the proceedings take a completely unexpected turn with a surprising third act that turns the whole movie on its head. It was an injustice that this fine film sat on a shelf for several years. But it certainly was worth the wait.
Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper are very pretty people. Writer/Director David O. Russell was no doubt aware of this simple fact during the production of this darkly comic relationship drama. That he was able to portray them as such damaged and at times unattractive people is a credit equal in parts to his skill behind the camera and that of the actors in front of it. Lawrence continues a string of great performances as a brassy widower and Cooper, VERY far removed his Hangover stomping grounds, deftly portrays a manic naiveté as a cuckold, recently released from a mental institution, dealing with rage issues and an ex-wife with no interest in reconciling.
Way back in June I declared that this was my favorite movie of the year. I waited patiently for something to overtake it. Many films came close but Wes Anderson’s whimsical tale of young love held on for a well-earned spot atop this list. After what I thought were less than stellar outings with The Darjeeling Limited and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I was dubious of Mr. Anderson’s latest effort. I’ve never been more happy to have my expectations dashed. Anderson expertly directed a cast mixed with young, first-time actors and Oscar veterans. Using his trademark visual style, he focuses on the utterly charming ‘first date’ between young Sam and Suzy, played to innocent perfection by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand and Bruce Willis fill in the supporting roles and are obviously having a blast playing in Anderson’s backyard. The movie is void of any pretension and absent any cynicism. It is, quite simply, a perfect little movie.
And there you have it. Eleven movies well worth your time. Eight of them are already available on Blu or DVD with Atlas, Linings & Pi sure to follow in short order. Maybe you agree with my selections. Maybe you don’t. I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have on your own favorites. I hope I’ve maybe turned you on to a movie you hadn’t seen. And maybe you can do the same for me.
Here’s to a great 2012! Here’s hoping for a great 2013! Here’s hoping for many great movies to come!