Monday, January 21, 2013

The Movie Year 2012 in Review

It seems a little unfair to me that critics, pundits and other internet movie people are required to write up their Top Ten Films of the year at the end of December. Movie studios have turned the last month of the year into one of the busiest. Too many movies looking for awards and prestige come out at the end of the year, which makes it almost impossible to really calm down and look back at the movie year that was. I much prefer to wait until the middle of January, when I have been able to watch any release more than once and take the time to really think of what each movie made me feel. So, without further ado, here are some superlatives reflecting what happened to me at the movie theater in the year 2012.

The 10 Best Films of 2012
Overall, 2012 was a pretty good year for movies. I watched a lot of very entertaning, very interesting and incredibly well made movies this year. And while I enjoy and admire a lot of this year's movies as much as to say they are great, if you want to know which of this year's movies I truly love, then you have to look at the top three in this list. Make no mistake, numbers four through ten are all brilliant movies, but those first three are just where my heart's at.

1. Moonrise Kingdom (directed by Wes Anderson)
When I first saw Moonrise Kingdom, I liked it. When I saw it a second time, I liked it even more, but I still felt like I had to watch it again. After a third viewing, I finally surrendered to this beautiful picture. Wes Anderson combines his trademark top-notch visual style, the melancholy of The Royal Tenenbaums and the childish playfulness of Fantastic Mr. Fox to give us what might very well be his masterpiece. The child protagonists of this story, Sam and Suzy, live a wild adventure when they fall in love and decide to run off together. Meanwhile the adults around them are soaked (like most Anderson characters) in deep melancholy and sadness. The movie plays like a beautiful children's book and reveals its genius in its happy ending. Sam and Suzy's Moonrise Kingdom will live forever as a cherished memory, and that is equal parts wonderful and sad.

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild (directed by Benh Zeitlin)
It's hard to put my finger in just what made Beasts of the Southern Wild work so well with me. If nothing else, I can say it is a very original and special film. One that I was incredibly happy to have seen once my screening was over. Benh Zeitlin's direction and visual style are amazing (even more when you consider this is his first feature, how the hell are you supposed to follow this?), but the thing that always draws me into a movie more than anything else are the characters. There was something inherently primal and emotional in the story of young girl Hushpuppy, who lives with her daddy in the Louisianna community known as "the bathtub", and the way she has to fend for herself and accept at a very young age the most painfully real side of the world. I also look at Beasts of the Southern Wild as a movie about the America and what it has come to represent to its children. And if nothing else, Beasts sports the most beautiful original score of the year.  

3. ParaNorman (directed by Chris Butler and Sam Fell)
I fell in love with this movie. How could I not? It features the most beautiful animation of the year (a wonderful blend of stop-motion and computer animation), an incredibly clever script with plenty of laughs and a tender story that made me cry my eyes out. It had everything that I look for in a family film. And still, it went a step beyond, by having a truly sincere and well-rounded anti-bulying message. The movies too frequently tell us that the answer to bullying is to fight back, but ParaNorman has the guts to show that doing so just makes a bully out of ourselves. Call me a square, but I'm all for movies that advocate for pacifism and understanding. And even more when they do it in such an amazing fashion as this one.

5. Amour (directed by Michael Haneke)
What makes Michael Haneke's movie so great? I feel like I can't really answer that question. I can only say that I have lost three beloved family members in the past four years and that this movie hit very close to home. The sudden fall into illness, the slow deterioration and the long support from the loved one. As much as I loved the people I knew that passed away, I wasn't in a situation like this movie's Georges; but I have been close to those who were. With a devastating and thought-provoking ending, Amour is one of the year's most emotionally powerful movies and more than deserves a spot in this list.

5. The Avengers (directed by Joss Whedon)
This is the most fun I had at the movie theater this year. And with good reason. Big blockbusters nowadays either rely too much in excessive eye-candy action (Transformers) or fall on their faces trying to cram in big themes that end up feeling stupid (The Dark Knight Rises, Prometheus). Joss Whedon knew how to make a great blockbuster: he focused on the characters. The difference between an Avengers and an Avatar is that once the credits roll you think of the characters what they do and their personalities and not in the visual effects. These are not the year's most developed of complex characters, but they are specific enough to put The Avengers in the company of Star Trek and Spider-Man 2 as some of the best "popcorn" movies.

6. Zero Dark Thirty (directed by Kathryn Bigelow)
Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal give the hunt for Osama Bin Laden the analytical, almost journalistic treatment they gave The Hurt Locker. There's been a lot of talk about the film's depiction of torture, but what the complaints are not taking into account is how much of the film is presented not to be glorified, but to be morally analysed. Is there a better or more conflicting image to describe the hunt for this man than that of Jessica Chastain's obsessive analyst in the last shot of this movie? 

7. Anna Karenina (Joe Wright)
Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is probably my all-time favorite novel, so you know I've spent a lot of time wondering how I would adapt it to the big screen. The biggest praise I can give to Joe Wright's movie is that I couldn't think of doing another adaptation after this. Even if the film isn't perfect (it is after all a little rushed, especially towards the end, in order to meet the 2 hour running time), Wright's decision to stage the drama in a run-down theater is a stroke of genius. The great relationships and the feelings of the novel are all there, and even if we rush through Anna and Vronsky's fate, this is one of the best looking and boldest visions of the year.

8. Holy Motors (directed by Leos Carax)
A man rides through Paris in a limousine. He makes a stop, puts on a costume and goes on to play a scene. He does it again. And then again. And every time the scene is different and the whole thing becomes a crazier and crazier study of cinema's place in today's life. Leos Carax' Holy Motors is not a perfect movie, but it is bold, adventurous, playful, ambitious and intensely original. You may not love it, but you owe it to yourself to watch it. 

9. The Master (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
A movie that has been widely lauded as a masterpiece. And also widely dismissed as a collection of enigmatic choices it doesn't have an answer for. To say that you understand The Master, as I tried to do in my original review, is to lie. It is one of the weirdest, most original movies of the year. It asks a lot of questions about human relationships and beliefs and is filled with so much detail and so many specific choices in the way it is shot, scored, and performed by the actors, that I have no doubt there is a lot to take out of it the further one tires to understand it. 

10. Looper (directed by Rian Johnson)
This is the way you approach time travel. This is the way you do a science fiction action movie without a billion hours of exposition. Rian Johnson's incredible script and vision make this one of the most entertaining and outright satisfying film experiences of the year. Where does the big success come from? Like I said about The Avengers, from the characters. Case in point, Emily Blunt, who apparently has the role of the token woman in the film, ends up giving not only the best performance in the film, but one of the best of the year. 

The 4 Worst Films of 2012 
I just didn't watch some films that are surely amongst the year's worst (That's My Boy, Oogieloves, Battleship). So here's the worst from what I saw.

1. Project X (directed by Nima Nourizadeh)
Is this really something we call entertainment? Look, I'm a twenty-year-old guy and I may not be as much of a wild machine as some other people my age, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't like to get my party on. But has "party" become a synonymous with the glorification of substance abuse, misogyny and overall douchery? I can't believe a well-thinking human being could watch this movie and not find it completely outrageous and offensive. 

2. God Bless America (directed by Bobcat Goldthwait)
In a way, I kind of feel sorry for this movie. It's a movie about a tired middle-aged man and a teenage girl taking on society by going on a killing spree, a subject that has become so delicate due to recent events that it will surely live on the shadow of this year's tragedies. In another way, I don't feel sorry at all. You see, God Bless America is a terrible movie. It believes itself to be groundbreaking satire when all it does is attack the easiest possible targets. And the fact that it never inflicts the minimal amount of judgement on its protagonists and their actions (they're going on a freaking killing spree!) is outright amoral. I'm not saying this is a subject matter that can't be explored in film, but it should be presented with at least a minimum amount of nuance. 

3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (directed by Peter Jackson)
I already expressed my feelings about Peter Jackson's bloated return to Middle Earth in my review. Back when I wrote it, I wasn't necessarily thinking it would end up on the list of worst films of the year, but the more I think about it, the more I realize this is the Middle Earth equivalent of Episode I (it even has its own Jar Jar Binks). A complete bore that doesn't deserve to come as close as it does to erase some of my estimation for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. 

4. Hotel Transylvania (directed by Genndy Tartakovsky)
I am a huge fan of Genndy Tartakovsky's television work (which includes Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack and Star Wars: Clone Wars), so it was extremely sad for me to see him have to direct this mess. Hotel Transylvania is nothing but a cheap Shrek knock-off that doesn't come remotely close to the level that such a gifted animation talent as Tartakovsky deserves. The final credit sequence, which is the only glimpse at the Tartakovsky that I used to know, looks better and is far more entertaining than the film itself. Well, at least the movie made money and here's hoping this fine director can go on to better, more personal projects. 

Most Underrated
I'm going to have to cheat a little bit in this one and actually go with two different movies that are in similar underserving situations. A lot of people acuse Bachelorette of being too cruel, heartless and mean. At the same time, a lot of people find Safety Not Guaranteed too cutesy and quirky; too "sundanc-y", if you will. But I think people are forgetting that these movies have a lot to say and they do it in an incredibly entertaining and effective fashion. I have thought a lot throughout the year about the immaturity and mean friendship of the characters of Bachelorette and how that resembles some of my relationships. Also about Safety Not Guaranteed's point of view on life and belief. I think if you didn't like these movies the first time around, you should give them one more try and not think they are above you just because they're Sundance comedies. 

Most Overrated
Because of the amount of praise it's gotten and my unenthusiastic reaction to the movie, I have no other choice but to go with Sam Mendes' Skyfall. But I also don't see how critics could have given such a warm response to Tim Burton's Frankenweenie. I know it's lazy to think this, but I do believe the praise comes solely from the fact that the film is a stop-motion animation in black and white. It's really not much different from the junk Burton's been putting out lately. And yes, I must say that this is partially a biased opinion since I find a similar film that hasn't been as warmly received by critics, ParaNorman, infinitely better.

Biggest Surprise
Anyone who has seen it has to agree, 21 Jump Street is an awesome movie. It's hard, but understandable, that we were all expecting it to be a complete disaster before it premiered. This movie based on a stupid 80s teen show sounded like the recipe for another Starsky and Hutch. But it worked and I think mostly because the people involved set out to make a genuinely good movie with clever ideas and great comedy. The amazing comedic performances and chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are the cherry on top of this hilarious sundae. 

Biggest Disappointment 
I wasn't mad with anticipation for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises (hell, I even wrote a blog post about it), but I was expecting something more than this. I knew the most probable outcome was that we weren't going to get something as good as The Dark Knight, but this? Not only did the movie fail to meet the expectations, it was actually a pretty terrible movie. The screenplay for this movie is without a doubt one of the worst screenplays of the year. With a ridiculously complicated plot, nonsensical plot developments and the whole ridiculous Marion Cotillard ark that doesn't any purpose whatsoever; this movie made me angry. And one more thing, (SPOILERS) could we stop making movies where someone survives an h-bomb explosion?

Film That Is Probably Better Than I Made It Looked in My Review 
For the most part, Ava DuVernay's Middle of Nowhere has pretty much been praised by critics all around. It didn't have the same effect on me, although I must say it could be that I didn't watch it under ideal circumstances. An early morning screening is hardly ideal for such a slow-paced movie (especially for someone who is not a morning person). Struggling to not fall asleep while watching the movie was only made worse by the fact that I received some terrible news right after the movie ended. These kind of things shouldn't interfere my critical reaction to films, but hey, we're all human, are we not? 

Film That Is Probably Worst Than I Made It Looked in My Review
It's not that I liked Cloud Atlas but think it is not a good movie. It's that I actually didn't like Cloud Atlas very much, but wrote a review that -reading back on it- makes it look like a pretty good film. I hope you can cut me some slack and understand that I can make such kind of mistakes on this newborn of a blog. I hope something like this doesn't happen in the future. You don't know how much time I've spent freaking out about having made Cloud Atlas look like a good film when I shouldn't have. So in this case, the title of this category shouldn't read "film that is probably worst.." I'm sure Cloud Atlas is way worse than I made it look in my review. 

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