Thursday, January 10, 2013

Alex's 10 Favorite Movies of 2012

My top 10 list for 2012 is not without a caveat.

I didn't get to see the highly-touted foreign films (I've heard excellent things about Rust and Bone, Amour and Holy Motors). It's not because "I h8 subtitles" or anything like that; they were just hard to find and the deadline here is looming. I realize it's popular to immediately try and put The Year in Cinema: 2012 into some sort of historical context right away, but I think that sort of thing is better assessed with a few years of perspective. Take this from a guy who was absolutely certain that Shopgirl was the sixth-best movie of 2006. That said, I think it's pretty noteworthy that some films I absolutely adored (The Avengers, Argo, Chronicle and Wreck-it Ralph, among others) did not make the cut. Allow me to somewhat undercut my previous point by saying I think 2012 had a whole lot going for it. And now, the heavy hitters:

10. Take This Waltz - The two bros at F This Movie! who have forgotten more about film than I will ever know hated this, but Sara Polley's latest got its hooks into me from the opening shot. There's no shortage of movies about infidelity (some people [named Adrian Lyne] have made a career out of it), but I feel like Take This Waltz was up to the arduous task of examining the moral conflict that precedes the choice to cheat rather than exploiting the act itself as a manipulative plot device. I think the movie is bold -- bold enough to say "sometimes people cheat because love erodes over time." And after it says that, it shows that even newfound love continues to erode over the hypnotic final 30 minutes. Also, the stark contrast of the film's dark subject matter with its vibrant color palette made me feel all of the feelings.

9. The Cabin in the Woods - Isn't this why people make movies? To make things like this?

8. Moonrise Kingdom - Add me to the chorus of "just when I was starting to worry about Wes Anderson" population. It's hard to recall a movie so devoid of cynicism that still has legitimate stakes. I like that I was able to say at the end of the film, "That was a prototypical Wes Anderson movie" and not have that be an insult.
7. Skyfall - I have little to add to Patrick and JB's discussion of Bond 23, except that it was the first time a Bond movie made me question the very structure of the world in which these movies have existed for five decades. It also managed to pull off that introspection without sacrificing all the things you've loved about Bond movies in the first place.

6. Jeff, Who Lives at Home - Listen (LISTEN). If a movie released in 2012 deems the 2002 movie Signs as important enough to serve as the basis for its eponymous character's entire worldview, I'm going to be pretty jazzed about that.

5. Zero Dark Thirty - While I initially wanted there to be a little more Munich in this movie (a deep examination of the effect that the hunt has on the hunter), I realized that this is not the point at all. As Patrick explained in his review, this is a film that has a masterful grasp on precisely what it is: one of the finest procedurals ever made. That sounds like I'm dismissing the movie as a piece of non-art, but I don't mean it to. I just mean that Kathryn Bigelow's aim to tell a very simple story and tell it well is evident. I live in Washington, and I won't dignify the ludicrous political games being played with this movie except to say fuck all the legislators. I will say that the film was under a microscope from the moment we all received that fateful news in May 2011. Bigelow was making the movie anyway, but was now tasked with depicting a spectacle (the SEAL raid) about which the public has demanded details for nearly two years. Boy, does she deliver. The last 40 minutes of this movie knocked me flat on my ass.

4. The Master - I'm terrible at prognosticating, but I cannot shake the sense that in 10 years, we're all going to be talking about The Master, even if we aren't all talking about it now. It's weird that I feel compelled to couch my praise of the newest P.T. Anderson movie in a "just hear me out" tone, but here we are. I really adore this movie. The performances, the artistry caked over every frame, the way it puts the audience on edge in even the most mundane moments. The fact that, at its heart, it might really just be a love story between two men. It has invaded my soul and isn't vacating it anytime soon.

3. Django Unchained - While The Master feels like a monumental task of filmmaking, there's something far more effortless about the latest Quentin Tarantino revenge tale. This isn't to say the movie is lazy, just that there is a strong trust evident in the actors, the story, the music and various other elements that makes it seem so communal and organic.

2. Safety Not Guaranteed - One of the best examples I can recall of a complete mastery of tone. I don't mean to go all Gene Shalit on everyone, but I'll tell you what this picture DOES guarantee, and that's a good fucking time at the movies!
1. Looper - In the hands of a lesser storyteller, the central idea for Looper is a terrible straight-to-DVD film starring Eric Roberts and...I don't of the kids from Glee. Hell, it was even marketed that way: The only thing to fear is YOURSELF. But Rian Johnson has arrived, folks. He was already good at telling intricate, character-driven stories, and now he's going to start slapping together incredible action set pieces? The game is over and Rian Johnson has won.


  1. I'm disappointed in your writeup for Take This Waltz. You forgot to mention the best part(s)!

  2. I did not finish reading your list yet but wanted to comment quickly on TAKE THIS WALTZ (ok, so I am not too far in the list at all). I like what you say about the adultery storyline; that is kind of what I felt in SLEEPWALK WITH ME! (Also in TTW - so many pretty colors. Does that neighborhood/sky/world really exist? When is the whole FTM crew going to move there? We'll have so many movie parties.)

  3. Alex, how do you feel about "Zero Dark Thirty" not getting an Oscar nomination for Katheryn Bigelow as director? I didn't like the movie enough to rank in my top 25 but the direction wasn't a problem for that movie, quite the opposite. Bigelow directed the hell out of this movie, and the last 40 or so minutes are so well put-together she manages to make tense something everybody watching already knows and is aware of the outcome. That takes skills, but according to Hollywood "Zero Dark Thirty" pretty much directed itself. :-(

    Something tells me Bigelow is going to become the new Barbra Streisand (remember those old 'The Academy snubbed Barbra Streisand... again' meme from the 1990's?). And kudos for having the balls of your conviction and book-ending your list with "Looper" and "Take This Waltz," both of which I ranked lower than my actual liking them on my list but I confess to being a little intimidated in ranking them higher than I did. Then again, I was seriously debating whether to put "Titanic 3D" ahead of "Django Unchained" as my #3 favorite movie of 2012, so...

  4. Yet another list where I've seen less than half of the movies being discussed. At this rate my Weekend Weigh-in will have to be "The 10 Best Movies I Didn't See in 2012." I like that you refer to "Skyfall" as "Bond 23", that tickles me.