Top Ten Films of 2012

Affleck Wins Oscar

NOTE: This is, clearly, a year too late. But it serves as a reasonable prequel to the Best Films of 2013, coming next week! Probably. Anyway, enjoy!

I have a motto: “Life’s too short to watch bad movies”. In fulfillment of this, I spend much of my spare time trying to tick off ‘Best Picture’ winners, nominees and classic films from previous years. I’m currently watching Amour. In 2012 I also checked off From Here To Eternity, 127 Hours, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and the classic On The Waterfront among others.

I also regard myself as an amateur film buff. I don’t use the word amateur either literally (because I’m not a paid professional) or with false humility, but because I recognise that I have a fairly amateur point-of-view. I like quirky films, films with heart, character-driven dramas, tear-jerkers that have purpose and meaning behind them and huge, glorious epics that strike me down with grandeur. I also have young kids, meaning I see a lot of kids films. Too many. But sometimes they’re brilliant and that gets taken into account too. So I recognise that there is a specific type of film that is more likely to win me over and that my critical eye is likely to be distinctly different from that of everyone else.

This is also a funny time of year to do a ‘best of’, I know, but it’s award season, the true end of the film year.

The Rules:

1) Films had to be eligible for the 2012 Oscars
2) Films have to be watchable. There are some films that are ‘epic’, possibly ‘well-acted’ and from a ‘name’ director, but were terrible and unwatchable.
3) Films must be seen by me personally, at least 90% through. That’s fair. It covers catnaps.

The ones that were close:

15) The Amazing Spider-Man
14) Dark Knight Rises
13) Les Miserables
12) The Hunger Games
11) Beasts Of The Southern Wild

That’s right – I put the Hunger Games above Les Miserables. It was a good movie! And Les Mis was not – well, not exactly. Great music, good acting, but as a complete film it fell short for me. I found Anne Hathaway over the top for the most part. Fantine is a tough gig because it’s a small part, but a crucial one.

If this sounds critical already, rest assured that I really liked all the 5 movies just listed!  2012 was a great year in film and it’s hard to choose the best of the best.

So here we go!

Looper Poster

10) Looper    

Arguably the most underrated movie of 2012, Looper served as official notice of a few things:

1) Joseph Gordon-Levitt can carry a film on his own
2) Bruce Willis is still fun in small doses (not in unnecessary additions to the Die Hard franchise
3) Gordon-Levitt’s long hair did not have magical properties, as everyone once thought.

Hello, is that the 90's? We have something that belongs to you.
Hello, is that the 90’s? We have something that belongs to you.

Director Rian Johnson created a fantastic film that somehow had action, time-travel and Bruce Willis and wasn’t totally ludicrous. That in itself earns it a spot on any reasonable list, but the fact that it takes a reasonable shot at looking at what it means to love and sacrifice for that love pulls it higher. It’s an ambitious movie that delivers. And it’s fun to watch JGL impersonate Bruce.

Argo Poster

9) Argo

What to say about the movie that wasn’t, in every sense of the word?

Argo doesn’t have particularly great acting like Silver Linings Playbook, it’s not epic like Lincoln, it doesn’t capture the heart like Life of Pi and Les Miserables, it’s not as tense and gripping as Zero Dark Thirty, not as action-packed as Django Unchained or Skyfall and it doesn’t have the whimsy or uniqueness of Beasts of The Southern Wild, Amour or Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

It has elements of all of these of course – and one of the best stories – but it just isn’t my Oscar-winner. And Alan Arkin must have cashed in a favour to get his Oscar nomination.

Frankly, I’m just not sure what was special about Argo. I mentioned to my fellow movie auteur B-Ry that I think we’ll regard it as one of the great Oscar catastrophes in the future, a la Crash and Shakespeare In Love. Not because it’s a bad movie – it isn’t, it’s a very good movie – but because the quality of competition around it in 2012 was so good.

I’m happy for Affleck. I’m happy everyone else is happy. I’m just disappointed that a movie with basically zero Oscar qualities managed to nab the coveted Best Picture.

Django Unchained Poster

8) Django Unchained    

Tarantino has mellowed a bit in his old age. Sure, Django still has plenty of cussin’ and fightin’, but the manner in which it’s delivered and the sheer volume of it is definitely less than, say, Kill Bill. It seems to have garnered some tension for its use of the N word but honestly, Lincoln was at least as racist.

The movie, not the president.

My only gripe is at the people who claim it’s reinvented the spaghetti western. I’d say it’s a pretty straight rip-off of the Dollars Trilogy in terms of character, pace and comedy – particularly The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Not a reinvention. But I’m happy if it serves as an inspiration to other directors to make similar films,

Django is well-acted and uproariously fun. Christoph Waltz thoroughly deserved his Best Supporting Actor nod (he owes Quentin a fair bit) and Foxx and Leo could also have easily earned a nomination in other years. Django Unchained is no Oscar movie – I’m surprised it was nominated. But a terribly good film worth watching.

Skyfall Poster

7) Skyfall

I am unequivocally biased when it comes to Bond movies. I simply don’t even care. They have their own genre – call it spy action, if you’d like – but each movie serves as a magnificently unique microcosm. Each connects to the previous films in different ways, but none with quite the panache of Skyfall.

Skyfall doesn’t just nod to the past, it bearhugs it, with cars, M’s office, Q and Moneypenny all serving as reminders that we don’t have to leave our favourite traditions behind. The back story of Bond was just thick enough to make sense but the action and richness of the tradition amongst a solid story make this an excellent Bond and movie. Then there’s the X-Factor – Javier Bardem. Bardem was unlucky not to get the opportunity to win another Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The man makes an incredible villain.

Bardem's hair: not getting better in his villainous roles.
Bardem’s hair: not getting better in his villainous roles.

This is where you ask: was this an Oscar picture? Was it better than Argo? 
Well, maybe and yes. Argo’s greatest feat was its story-telling, something Skyfall did equally well – but with the Bond factor. It’s the same reason that it sneaks ahead of Django Unchained. Basically, if those two are Oscar contenders…why not Bond?

Either way, I’m glad it’s restored some of the lost sheen that Quantum of Solace rubbed off the Bond franchise.

BEMH Poster

6) Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  

Back-to-back Dame Judi’s!!

I’m still a little unsure how a movie about a bunch of elderly Brits retiring to India became one of my favourite movies of the year, but there you have it. With some of cinema’s elite headlining and given youth with hopeful Dev Patel, Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is one of those films that inexplicably makes you smile amid suffering. Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Bill Nighy shine in characters that seem completely out of sort for them and reveal the sort of incredible acting talent they have stored away when not seen in James Bonds, Harry Potters and The Boat That Rocked. It takes a relevant and interesting subject matter, places it in an exotic location and challenges the audience to empathise with, even fight for, characters from utterly different perspectives.

The fish-out-of-water motif works beautifully and director John Madden takes what is essentially a romantic comedy and gives it depth, meaning and character. Well worth seeing.

Life Of Pi Poster

5) Life Of Pi  

How do you take a Booker Award-winning novel with only one human character set in the middle of the ocean and make it an engaging, thought-provoking film? Well, mostly by getting Academy Award winning director Ang Lee to take the helm.

Lee has created a visually stunning, theatrically beautiful film which tells its story brilliantly. Suraj Sharma and Irrfan Khan are wonderful as the younger and older Pi, respectively. In a weaker year it could even be the best picture.

Just not this year.

Zero Dark Thirty Poster

4) ZeroDarkThirty   

ZeroDarkThirty is a film shrouded in controversy. Is it historically accurate? Is it pro-torture? Is it pro-Obama?

I don’t really care.

What I do care about is that ZDT is an intelligent, well-paced film from a superb film-maker in Kathryn Bigelow that documents one of the crucial events of our era with what appears to be a realistic depiction of how it may have come about.

With ZDT, Jessica Chastain also vaults herself into the discussion for, “Best Young Actress Alive” along with the discussion for, “Person You’d Least Like To Hang Out With Due To Her Weird Intensity.”

The bottom line with this movie? It’s a tense, intelligent thriller that deserves more recognition than it got.

Moonrise Kingdom Poster

3) Moonrise Kingdom  

Definitely the most under-rated film of the year. Wes Anderson doesn’t exactly make Oscar movies. He certainly doesn’t make movies that generally resonate with the common man. The few people who watched The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou know what I mean. But he has a quite incredible amount of star power in his films, that seems to grow with every script, and he uses these stars to power fascinating, quirky characters that star in nostalgia-driven, beautiful films.

Moonrise Kingdom is his best since The Royal Tenenbaums, one of my all-time favourites. Featuring standout performances by Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and especially youngster Jared Gilman in the lead role. It’s sweet, feel-good and very well-written. Unlucky not to get an Oscar nomination in my book.

Lincoln Poster

2) Lincoln

It’s almost baffling to me that Lincoln didn’t take the Oscar. Not that I thought it was the best movie…obviously, I had it ranked second. But a historical dramatic epic, helmed by Spielberg, fronted by the entity of dramatic majesty that is Daniel Day-Lewis, almost seemed like a shoo-in. It earned a staggering 12 nominations at the Oscars, yet managed to take home only 2 of them. Rather than gripe about Tommy Lee Jones missing out to Christoph Waltz, or Sally Field to the well over-rated Anne Hathaway, I’m just going to say that Daniel Day-Lewis films should be mandatory viewing for all film lovers. The man has a staggering ability to transform himself and completely personify the character he is taking on. Whether it’s as a villainous Bill Cutting in Gangs of New York, the in-your-face Irish punk of Gerry Conlon in In The Name Of The Father or as the smooth Guido Contini in Nine*, DDL brings method acting full circle to the point where you simply forget he is playing a character and the character stands by themselves: he’s simply that good.

*Let the record show that despite me loving DDL I do not advocate the watching of the very average Nine.

SLP Large Poster

1) Silver Linings Playbook

The quirky Silver Linings Playbook may appear an odd choice for movie of the year alongside deep and intense films like ZeroDarkThirty and the steam train that is Daniel Day-Lewis being Daniel Day-Lewis.

But there has been a recent argument that the best picture winner should be something that is not only magnificent film-making, but something that captures the era. It’s the argument people use to wrongly claim that The Social Network should have beaten The King’s Speech for Best Picture…even though Inception should really have won that year.

Now I essentially refute this argument – the best picture is the best picture – but in a year of strong films, what makes the Silver Linings Playbook stand out is its willingness to grapple with the complexities of mental illness and to do so in a way that is still engaging, fun and highly entertaining. Who is more off the deep end, Cooper, Lawrence, Chris Tucker or any of the undiagnosed supporting cast?

Silver Linings Playbook reminds us that there is an element of madness within all of us. Superstition, paranoia, phobias, angers, passive aggression…it brings dealing with mental illness right to the forefront, but also demands we accept the part of the ‘spectrum’ that we are on. And it crafts the idea of hope, that even people with seemingly insurmountable troubles can find refuge, joy and kindness when they’re running on the same track or dancing to the same tune – even if that tune is a bizarre mash-up that ends with a crotch in Bradley Cooper’s face.

If you’re a director who can craft a magnificent picture with a brilliant cast, vivid and innovative use of sound and video, a fantastic story and a relevant social issue that reflects society in 2012, then you take home my Academy Award for Best Picture in a crowded year. If you can do it while also bringing hope and joy – you earn a 5-star rating.

Excelsior, people.

Excelsior

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