Compiling a list of my favorite movies of the year took some time but it was cathartic for me. It was a good way to reflect on my year in movies. I saw some of these movies during their film festival run so you can look forward to them when they will be released in 2013. I count them as 2012 releases because I was lucky enough to watch them on the big screen.
Overall, I feel 2012 was a really strong year in movies. It seemed like every month, we had at least one good movie in theaters. Even during the early winter months like January and February we had movies like “The Grey” and “Chronicle” in theaters. The summer was a bit disappointing but after the release of “The Avengers,” how could you follow up an act like that? The fall movie season was fantastic with movies like “The Master” and “Amour.” And honestly, I found it to be a much harder time to figure out my 10 worst of the year list than my best list. The New York Film Festival was exceptional this year with a good mix of mainstream Hollywood releases, foreign fair, and indie movies. Although I will suggest, New York Film Festival programmers should take a more edgy and hip approach to compiling indie films. I’d much rather watch a film like “Girl Walk // All Day” on the wonderful movie screen at the Walter Reade Theater than on my small MacBook. Ending the year, we saw really long movies that clocked in well over two and a half hours long but for the most part movies like “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained” made the time in the theater pleasant (if pleasant is a word to use to describe movies like “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Django Unchained.” I will look forward to next year’s movies. Hopefully, the movies of 2013 will be as strong as 2012.
25. Room 237 (dir: Rodney Ascher)
I watched this during the Sundance Film Festival at the beginning of the year and it has always stayed with me. I re-watched it again during the New York Film Festival and it still has that same lasting impression on me. I feel this movie should be taught in any Film 101 class as it shows how movies can be more than entertainment and art. It can also be an obsession. Watch Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” as a double feature. My Review.
24. The Grey (dir: Joe Carnahan)
What a way to start off 2012. Usually good movies don’t show up in theaters until late March but 2012 was lucky enough to get a movie like “The Grey” at the very beginning. The story of a man dealing with his own mortality as he’s one of the last survivors of a plane crash in the snowy landscape of remote Alaska. This is genre filmmaking at its very best.
23. Prometheus (dir: Ridley Scott)
Ridley Scott’s “prequel” to his 1979 film “Alien” is everything you want out of a summer blockbuster. It has the perfect amount of action, thrills, and suspense. Ridley Scott has a command of the science fiction genre and invokes Stanley Kubrick as it continuously asks where we come from as a species. I love this movie for its vision, scope, and messiness. It’s audacious Hollywood moviegoing. My Review.
22. Les Misérables (dir: Tom Hooper)
Tom Hooper starts “Les Misérables” with a giant, sweeping scene and he never lets that initial feeling go throughout the film’s 157 minute running time. Every scene is full of grandeur, raw emotion, and fabulous music and singing. Even the most intimate moments of this film feel like the most important and biggest moments ever captured on celluloid. It’s really an amazing piece of work and display of acting and singing (performance, really) from Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Russell Crowe.
21. Argo (dir: Ben Affleck)
This is the very best of Ben Affleck’s work as an actor and a director. He’s working at a really high level as he balances tension with comedy. “Argo” is seamless, broad, and a fantastic film that makes history come alive. My Review.
20. Graceland (dir: Ron Morales)
The story of a hired goon to an odious corrupt politician is a keen look at the mean streets of Manila in the Philippines. This movie is gritty, violent, and just out right filthy. Morales does a great job telling the story of a kidnapping gone wrong. Even if you don’t speak the language, Morales’ command of the camera will sweep you into the violent narrative as it delivers you an intimate film about a father and his daughter. My Review.
19. Magic Mike (dir: Steven Soderbergh)
What can I say about “Magic Mike?” Abs! Abs! Abs! Steven Soderbergh subverts audience’s expectations with a strong character study of a man getting tired of his job and aspires to be more than he can. Audiences wanted something naughty; Soderbergh gave them an actual movie, a really good movie at that!
18. Klown (dir: Mikkel Nørgaard)
This is one of the best comedies of the year! The story of two friends going on a sex tour (The Tour de Pussy) around Denmark will make anyone laugh, and then cry, because you’re laughing too much. I wasn’t surprised when I heard that this movie would receive an American remake because it has so much entertainment value to it. Don’t wait for that version, watch this one now!
17. The Cabin In The Woods (dir: Drew Goddard)
Drew Goddard delivers a lot of scares in this deconstructionist horror movie. At first you’ll think this will be a typical “Cabin In The Woods” movie but then it becomes so much more. It has one of the best endings of any movie this year as it examines why we are so fascinated with horror movies. Also it was co-written by Joss Whedon so it gets points just for that.
16. Anna Karenina (dir: Joe Wright)
This is one of the most visually arresting films released in 2012. Joe Wright was bold to adapt “Anna Karenina” as a moving stage play that reflects the emotional direst of its protagonist. “Anna Karenina” is beautifully manic and simplifies cinema to its pure essence. This movie is a celebration of love, romance, and cinema!
15. Moonrise Kingdom (dir: Wes Anderson)
This is Wes Anderson’s best (live action) film since 1998. The budding romance between two 12-year-olds in the 1960s is a love letter to young love. It captures the off-kilter feeling of being an oddball outsider in a world of routine. “Moonrise Kingdom” showcases a fun and exciting on-screen couple in Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward). It’s a romp of the French New Wave (especially the films of François Truffaut) with American sensibilities. My Review.
14. Araf: Somewhere In Between (dir: Yesim Ustaoglu)
This movie features THE scene of the year! “Araf: Somewhere In Between” follows a young girl named Zehra (Neslihan Atagül) from Turkey as she comes of age in the pits of poverty. Its slow pace might turn off some but it’s necessary to really consider the actions of this young girl. She falls in love with the wrong men and makes terrible decisions but throughout the film, she grows sympathetic to the audience as we watch her become trapped in this small Turkish town. It’s a sobering punch to the stomach and a display of high art in cinema.
13. The Raid: Redemption (dir: Gareth Evans)
This is a masterful display of bullets, blood, and ballet. “The Raid: Redemption” should be a stage play somewhere on Broadway with its physicality and high emotions. The story of a SWAT team getting trapped in a drug lord’s slum made the inexplicable crossover from midnight grindhouse theaters to well mannered art museum screening rooms. The visual movement of action, choreography, and camerawork is something to consider if you dismiss this film than anything less than high art. My Review.
12. The Queen Of Versailles (dir: Lauren Greenfield)
This documentary went from showcasing one of the wealthiest families in the United States as they plan to build the country’s biggest house and then quickly turned into a harsh and sobering look at American capitalism and greed. But what makes this film interesting is not a comical look at how a wealthy family learns to live like the rest of the country but how that relates to how every American lives in this corrupt and bankrupt system. My Review.
11. Damsels In Distress (dir: Whit Stillman)
Whit Stillman’s return to cinema since his last film, “Last Days of Disco,” in 1998 did not disappoint one bit. Stillman is a master of dialogue and words. This movie moves like an anthology with scenes that feel more like short stories than anything else. The story of four young women who attend one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in the country was a revelation of the talents of the lovely and beautiful Greta Gerwig. Stillman and Gerwig were made for each other and hopefully they work together again. She’s Chris Eigeman v2.0. Everybody do the Sambola!
10. Girl Walk // All Day (dir: Jacob Krupnick)
Now this is just pure joy! Jacob Krupnick’s wonderful collaboration with the adorable dancer Anne Marsen is a complete expression of happiness, movement, and the great city of New York. There’s a moment in the film where someone asks Anna “Why are you dancing?” and then she answers, “Because I’m happy!” This exchange expresses in words that should be seen on the screen to be enjoyed with family, friends, and complete strangers. I look forward to watching this movie at every Brooklyn party I go to.
9. Postcards From The Zoo (dir: Edwin)
This is a strange fairy tale of a little girl growing up in a zoo in Indonesia. We are on a journey of whimsical joys, beautiful photography, and the gritty urban streets of Jakarta. Edwin’s visual eye places everything in this little girl’s imagination as she grows up into a young woman. Plus there’s a cowboy magician in this movie! My Review.
8. Elena (dir: Andrey Zvyagintsev)
“Elena” is a devastating look at a marriage of convenience and the class division of a Russian suburb. What’s fascinating about this film is Zvyagintsev’s camera, which doesn’t judge the film’s characters or sympathize with them either. It almost dares you to watch this film and warns you once you’ve committed to witness what goes on behind closed doors. My Review.
7. Life Of Pi (dir: Ang Lee)
Ang Lee is a master filmmaker. His films are sometimes hit or miss but when they hit, boy, do they hit! “Life Of Pi” is daring and never confined to its family film boundaries. This is the best use of 3D in a movie, not just of 2012, but also of all-time. The story of a shipwreck and its survivors – a boy and a tiger named Richard Parker – puts into question reality, religion, and belief. If Ingmar Bergman were alive, he’d make a movie like “Life Of Pi.” Luckily, we have experienced this film through Ang Lee’s sure hand and keen eye.
6. The Avengers (dir: Joss Whedon)
“The Avengers” was five years in the making since Marvel Studios decided to make an Iron Man movie and then other superhero movies that would directly tie into “The Avengers.” Not only did this movie succeed, it blasts the competition and your expectations out of the water, or sky as it were. This movie melds comic book sensibilities with Joss Whedon’ trademarked cleverness and wit. It is also the best time you’ll ever have in the theater.
5. Something In The Air (dir: Olivier Assayas)
Set in the early 1970s in a small Paris suburb, “Something In The Air” is a wonderful expression of youth, drugs, and sex. A movie so filled with rock n’ roll and irreverent youth that it doesn’t matter what era this movie takes place in (or country for that matter), what matters is how it feels and plays out. The film feels so personal to Assayas that you can’t help but feel and get caught up in the film’s events. When you’re young, you feel like you can change the world, and this film feels like it could change cinema.
4. Zero Dark Thirty (dir: Kathryn Bigelow)
“Zero Dark Thirty” is Kathryn Bigelow’s masterpiece! The story of the pursuit and execution of Osama Bin Laden is well known to most Americans but what’s interesting is that we’re not just into what happens in the movie but rather how it happens. Bigelow creates a sense of tension with the events that doesn’t rely on procedures but with raw emotion. We know Osama Bin Laden dies at the end but we’re just as invested in the story as if we didn’t know. Now that’s filmmaking!
3. The Master (dir: Paul Thomas Anderson)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow up to his Academy Award nominated film “There Will Be Blood,” takes a look at the relationship of an unstable man and a man who built an unstable belief. The film marries the idea of the two sides of humans – the animalistic and the civilized – and how these two forces clash, compete, and compliment each other. This is the best American film of 2012. My Review.
2. Amour (dir: Michael Haneke)
“Amour” is a film about the inevitable, aging. The story of a French couple whose love grows as each day passes by but whose bodies and minds disintegrates before us. It’s heartbreaking, devastating, but at the same time, somehow, beautiful and sincere. “Amour,” simply put, is about love, and how devotion can test the boundaries of the human condition.
1. Wuthering Heights (dir: Andrea Arnold)
Now what I love about Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights” is not just its subject matter but also its presentation. We have certain ideas of what a literary costume drama should be but what Arnold does is strips those elements away to show it at its bare bones. There is no artifice with “Wuthering Heights,” there’s brutal honesty in devotion and passion. A passion so deep that it’s never talked about or acted upon. The idea of the two would-be lovers – Heathcliff and Cathy – never giving in to their love and desire for one another is so heartbreaking and painful that it’s almost palpable as it translates to the audience watching the film. This film is so raw, gritty, and crude, but, somehow, also well mannered and deliberate. It’s almost incomprehensible how these two ideas come together so well but I guess that’s just the lyrical beauty of Andrea Arnold’s “Wuthering Heights.” My Review.