Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Top Films of 2012

This is it, folks....
Personally 2012 was a rough year. It was the first time I have to be committed to rigourous finals and it's a surprise that I got into university I wanted to go with a low, but respectable score of 70. That means I haven't got around watching movies in theatres. At least I made one milestone in my moviegoing life with The Avengers being the first time I watched a film with a group of friends.

2012 for film, wasn't that great. It had a much better variety of films than last year in terms of studio-produced and genre films together. It was a fairly average year for animation and horror, but it was a successful year for superhero movies both critically and commercially. Unfortunately though there were some big-name films that I didn't really enjoy as much as everybody else probably due to hype or out of disappointment. And speaking of disappointment, I'm going to tell you the movies that won't be included would be The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers and Argo, a few examples to be named, because at some point after reading this, you'll be wondering how come your favorite movie isn't listed, which will be addressed in the next list. But it was a great year for teen movies (for the most part) and it was a great year for action fare (for the most part).

For this list I have to put some ground rules on making this list. To be eligible for the list, it must be:

1) Released in the year 2012 at the country the film is produced. So films like The Intouchables or Oslo August 31st cannot qualify because they were released in 2011 at their respective countries. Festival release here in Australia may be eligible.
2) released to a paying audience in an Australian release around 2012 up to when this list is published which will be March 31st. i.e. - it must be released in theatres that year. Not to direct-to-DVD
3) Only feature films can qualify. Short films, documentaries or any film less than 70 minutes long cannot.

When I see a lot of reviewers compile a list, whether it be a professional or semi-professional, often their movies will be saturated by genre films or ones that are completely obscure. I have nothing against any person doing this kind of list leaning towards films people know or not, but mine will consist a mixture of both arthouse, genre and indie flicks that you, after reading, might want to check out.

At this point in time, I couldn't help but think compiling this kind of list feels pointless and that everyone, especially the Internet, makes a big fuss out of it. I already got tons of hate for my Triple J Hottest 100 post, but I still stand by the fact that it's just a countdown about something relatively trivial and subjective. Don't get me wrong, I love movies as the next person, but I feel like the Best of 2012 list represents the author's perspective, not the public. But I know you all come here to see me present my cream of the crop, so in alphabetical order, here are my eleven favorite films of 2012. Why eleven? Because I'm pretty generous:

Remember that opening montage from Up where we see Carl and Ellie get married and grow old til death do they part? Well what if you make that montage as the entire movie where we see the same couple, but it was spoken in French and only focused on the dying wife. That's Amour (no pun intended), a low-key film driven by beyond-powerful performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emanuelle Riva, a gloomy, slow but raw direction from Michael Haneke, that explores the inevitability of death without any sentimentality. It's hard to watch but for those who can get along with its narrative, the film presents many rewards.

The way I see Chronicle as a found footage film that knocks every one in its genre out of the park is brutal. It combines most of the overused elements in that genre, as well as high school and superhero and turns it into a refreshing, often-spectacular film that contains so much emotional intensity. Solid performances from Dane DeHann, Alex Russel and Michael B. Jordan round out within their  characters to make them sympathetic and thought-out, but DeHann gives his character a terrifying yet spectacular arc in his rise and fall as a teenage super.

The film, to some extent, reminded me of a French New Wave film as if it was set in the 21st century; it contains a reflective and observant views of teenage characters who encounter surreal situations that will turn them more important than ever.

End of Watch
I seriously did not know what to expect from this film, but End of Watch raises the bar for all movies revolving around cops. David Ayer's film which is primarily shot on hand held and shot from the perspective of Jake Gyllenhal. He and Michael Pena play typical LA cops doing typical routines ultimately ending up in the most dangerous and extraordinary situations. It delivers on adrenaline and doesn't glorify the tactics of the police force, but rather show that Pena and Gyllenhal are more than just partners. Both actors deliver more excellent chemistry than any other two characters in any movie this year. Ayer's portrayal of cops seems very brutal and realistic, to the point where it is emotionally gripping.

Holy Motors
OK, you're thinking to yourself "haven't you already gave mixed feelings about the movie?". Well I have on first viewing, but by the time it was out on DVD, I watched it again as it's bizzare and surreal content just grew on me and now I think this is an amazing film and is more likely my runner up for the top film for 2012. With Leo Carax's successfully experimental direction and Denis Levant's seamless embodiment of multiple and different characters, this is probably the best love letter to the art of cinema since Cinema Paradiso which comments and pay tribute towards performance art and the business of it. It also portrays an emotionally gripping about the loss of identity as we become isolated and old to the point where we want closure in our lives.

Killing Them Softly
Killing Them Softly is what I would like to label a post-gangster film and I have no qualms about it. Andrew Dominik's follow up to The Assassination of Jesse James is as equally slow and minimalist as his previous film but it's a comment on the worst of America especially during the financial crisis of 2008 to which much of the mob is unfortunately affected. It has the attitude of a Martin Scorsese film and the violence of Tarantino, but it contains the political message of a Spike Lee movie. Sure you may think that observation is either whiny, hypocritical or heavy handed, but there's no doubt that the major focus is on a criminal lifestyle that is crippled not just by society, but by themselves.

It was very close to being excluded from the list until I decided I had to put eleven films since I'm really generous. I have to watch Looper more than once to know whether or not I enjoyed it. But after watching this two times in two days, this is an enjoyable flick that shows movies can be fun when they are mentally consuming, a la Inception. Rian Johnson's mainstream foray reveals the filmmaker as an up and coming talent that Hollywood should pay attention. It's a blockbuster that is character driven rather than device driven as its subject matter on time travel is out of the focus and is only designed as a way to drive the plot. Speaking on time travel, the people who constantly jump in on possible plot holes about how time travel works in this film, keep in mind that time travel still hasn't been invented yet, so there is no way that we know it could work. Wouldn't you want to enjoy the movie rather than carving out how many flaws you could find?

Moonrise Kingdom
When I saw this movie the first time, I have to admit I was a bit puzzled by what Wes Anderson was aiming for in his latest film. But after second viewing, Moonrise Kingdom pretty much shows why a lot of people enjoy his work. With his intentionally stilted and staged dialogue to his dry atmosphere and this may be his best work to date (not counting Fantastic Mr Fox in animation). Wes Anderson is a filmmaker whose work I could only admire rather than enjoy, but Moonrise Kingdom shows it can be seen in both ways. It's the most whimsical movie of the year, that comes with an oil painting-esque cinematography and 60s pop-ish soundtrack but it's almost, to be fair, the most emo piece of cinema I think I'll ever see.

The Perks of Being A Wallflower
I had little expectations going into Perks, but the movie flip those off to deliver the ultimate gem of the high school genre. While some people will complain that not all of the taboo issues have been covered or exaggerate this movie as Rich White Kids with Typical White Problems, I don't care. And to go with the latter is practically missing out the point. I see this as a shy teen who develops a friendships with misfits who later learn to embrace the better things in life rather than the angst they experience.

The only flaw I could find in this film might be that Stephen Chbosky aiming too far on the melodrama, particularly by the closing minutes of the film. But nonetheless it's one to watch if you want to dive into the high school genre.

If you haven't read my review, I went into more detail about how much I've enjoyed the film including how it's a realistic and honest portrayal of high school life. Logan Lerman and Emma Watson give solid performances but Ezra Miller is by far the standout here as the free spirited class clown Patrick. Perks is an instant classic for many people my age, but for others that are older, there's a lot that they could identify in this film.

Seven Psychopaths
Martin McDonough's follow up to In Bruges is as clever and funny as its predecessor. It's a self aware satire of Hollywood screenwriting and exhausted tropes used basically from the film's perspective, screenwriters are either bored or uninspired. But in this case, Colin Farrell plays an indecisive screenwriter whose best friend might be one of the psychopaths (hence the title) written in his script. There are many moments in this film that is absolutely dark and shocking, nonetheless hilarious. But the film shares some that have an emotional feel of In Bruges. Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken all deliver chaotic performances where their characters still retain their likeability and quirkiness that keeps the film together. Rockwell in particular has more energy delivered here than any other film he has been in.

Zero Dark Thirty
Most people have never enjoy Kathryn Bigelow's latest film or The Hurt Locker, but I admire her ability to present war as a piece of morality and trauma. Sure it's been told before in previous war movies (and much better) but at least she's willing not to take sides or address a possible agenda. ZD30 is two hours and thirty minutes of the CIA manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. Bigelow knows her limits where she restrains any patriotism for a sense of morality - does it even matter if we can't find the guy? Or does using the only tactics offered help? What's at stake here? Those questions are part of what had been displayed in this film as well as the little yet important roles many figures play here. While the main highlights is Jessica Chastain's gripping performance and Bigelow's bleak observations of the mission, it's the technical precision applied that should be lauded; the sound mixing and cinematography are flawlessly brought. What's worth watching is the very intense finale that wraps as the entire film as a challenging, engaging and gripping procedural about the operations of the CIA during the Bush-Obama era.

Which leaves me to my cream of the crop. Forget THE AVENGERS, forget THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, leave Life of Pi and Beasts of the Southern Wild out of this. Even Django. The most boldest, grandest achievement of cinema in 2012 that brings the word 'epic' to the largest of artistic value is...

 Cloud Atlas
I find myself lost for words for what I could talk about in this movie, that I'm really embarrassed in speaking about it because it wouldn't be of everyone's taste. More than anything this film represents what I want in a film - it's a reflection on the human spirit, it's extremely conceptual, challenging and yet it all plays out for my entertainment. 2012 was the year where ambition was the biggest thing that could be portrayed throughout the scope of film and with the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer holding the heaviest of responsibility, their effort should be more than admired. The structure in where six storylines are told in between many generations is a large part of why this film is, I rarely say this, beautiful. I've never seen cruelty incorporated against the triumph of truth, abolitionism and connection in this audacious mode of non-linear storytelling ever. 

In a year where superhero movies dominated blockbuster cinema and where high school movies have spoken to young audience, Cloud Atlas is a blockbuster that manages to speak to an audience who know what the filmmakers are going for. The only flaw that the movie might contains is the possible small pickets in its narrative that could have threatened its purpose. As of now, I'm still thinking about this film and figuring out more where the movie sits in terms of history. 

And that's the list folks. Sorry if I haven't done a list of the worst of 2012 simply because I haven't seen all the worst ones and I couldn't afford any time to waste my money on them. But if I have to give you the movies I couldn't stand this year, it's gonna be like this:

- Beasts of the Southern Wild
- The Cabin in the Woods
- Cosmopolis
- Detention

However recapping back here's the entire list in alphabetical order again with my most favorite highlighted:

- Amour
- Chronicle
- Cloud Atlas
- End of Watch
- Holy Motors 
- Killing Them Softly
- Looper
- Moonrise Kingdom
- The Perks of Being A Wallflower
- Seven Psychopaths
- Zero Dark Thirty

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