Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Top 10 Favorite Films Seen in 2012

Below is a list of my Top 10 films that I saw in 2012. As it turns out, my favorite was actually released in 2011 and was honored with the 2012 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. I had thought about changing my list to include only films that were released in 2012, but that also seems artificial, since one can consume films in many different ways and often I may not have seen a film released in one year until much later (look at all the films I saw from the 1970s in 2012).

Anyway, here is my list of my favorite films seen in 2012
  1. A Separation. This was the best film I saw all year. Even though it was technically a 2011 release and elegible for the 2012 Oscars, I still think it should be on the list. What's so amazing about the film is that it is about such a simple subject: the problems of how to take care of an elderly family by a working couple. The twist is that the movie is set in Tehran, Iran so we see what seems like a typical domestic situation played out in a completely foreign (to American eyes) landscape. The differences in religion, social mores, legal system do not detract from the universal themes that A Separation depicts.
  2. Argo. Bizarrely, both of the top 2 films of 2012 that I saw are set in Iran. The 2013 Oscar for Best Picture deservedly went to Ben Affleck's third feature film, about the little-known true story set around the time of a foreign affairs crisis for the United States. It is an exceedingly well-directed and well-written movie. What comes to mind (and I have seen the film twice so far) is how suspenseful the film is despite the audience knowing how the story ends. I was on the edge of my seat both times I saw the film, which is a testament to the virtuouso level of film-making. And it is also quite funny, by the far the most enjoyable filmI watched all year long.
  3. Bully. Bully is decidedly not an enjoyable film, but it is an important one. I saw it on a plane, not in a movie theater, which is why it is the one movie on the list which does not have an official blog review. However, it still left quite an impression. Bully is about the epidemic of violence, both emotional and physical which kids face in schools every day and tells the story of how the adults and institutions which surround them fail to protect them, often leading to heartbreaking results. The most prominent reasons for bullying are usually around gender expression/sexual orientation but the film makes it clear that the seeds of bullying are really about punishing any deviations from what is perceived as "normal" by the majority and the marginalization of the Other. It is a powerful, emotionally draining experience to watch.
  4. Prometheus. This is a pre-quel to Aliens, one of the classic science fiction movies of all times, directed by the great Ridley Scott. It stars an incredible cast of Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, and Noomi Rapace and looks incredible (it was nominated for Best Visual Effects). Sadly, the emotional impact of the film is not as high as the other films in the Alien franchise, primarily due to a somewhat muddled and non-sensical script. Regardless, it is very watchable and the best sci-fi related visual entertainment of the year.
  5. Django Unchained. The second movie in Tarantino's "Unspeakable" series of films (following on the heels of Inglourious Basterds about the Holocaust) has the audacity to deal with not only slavery, a difficult subject for a white artist to address, but does so using Tarntino's signature humor and over-the-top violence. Django Unchained had a somewhat mixed critical reaction, but audiences loved it (94% on rottentomatoes.com), especially black audiences. Even the Academy recognized the film with two Oscars in very important categories, Best Supporting Actor and Best Original Screenplay. And, hey, it features full-frontal nudity of Jamie Foxx, so what's not to like?
  6. Cloud Atlas. This is another film in which the critics and myself had very different reactions to a film. Cloud Atlas is the latest film from the controversial Wachowski Siblings, the creative team behind The Matrix, and based on an award-winning novel. It is definitely not without flaws, but there are visual sequences in this film that will stick with me for years and again it features a celebrated cast, helmed by Oscar-winners Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in multiple, gender-bending roles.
  7. Looper. It's always a delight when one goes to see a movie with low (or no) expectations and has them overwhelmingly exceeded. Looper is primarily the vision of one person, Rian Johnson, and is another one of those time-travelling brain twister. Most well-known for the curious make-up job inflicted upon Joseph Gordon-Levitt to make him believable look like Bruce Willis earlier self, Looper will definitely make you think and marvel how a creative and frugal director can tell a big story on a small budget.
  8. Lincoln. Now Steve Spielberg is known for the Oscar history it made as the biggest Oscar loser of the year, one of the biggest of all time (10 losses out of 12 nominations) and for the historic third Best Actor statuette picked up by it's star Daniel Day-Lewis. It is a good movie, and a memorable one, but it is not an overly enjoyable one. There's something oddly off-putting about the film, which is something one does not usually say about a film directed by Spielberg, whose ability to manipulate his audience's emotions is legendary.
  9. The Dark Knight Rises. My favorite filmmaker is Christopher Nolan, and I was very happy that he was able to follow one of the largest box-office successes of the last decade (The Dark Knight) with a sequel that completed the Batman trilogy on a high note. The main word that comes to mind with this film is "quality" or "top-notch." The cast is extraordinary: Marion Cotillard, Christin Bale, Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The opening sequence alone is worth the price of admission.
  10. Life of Pi. Ang Lee's masterful film adaptation of an impossible-to-adapt Booker prize-winning novel was the most celebrated film at the 2013 Oscars, winning 4 out of 11 nominations. It is one of the most visually stunning films of the year, and the only reason it is so low on my list is that the overall message of the film, which is a somewhat convoluted argument for the existence of God is disappointing, but I can still appreciate the film as a beautiful and impressive work of art.
2012 was a pretty good for movies. I hope that 2013 turns out to be just as good!

1 comment:

Biki said...

I totally agree with you about Argo, it was an on the edge of your seat, bite your nails roller coaster ride, that didnt let down until the credits rolled. The audience clapped when the movie was over, and I cant remember the last time I heard clapping at the end of a film.

Life of Pi bores me to tears, yeah the breathtaking to look at, but I'm not interested in the G_d angle.

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