Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mark Ahn's 10 Favorite Movies of 2012

This year, I decided to mostly focus on what I enjoyed about films on my list; I'm aware all of them have their flaws both obvious and subtle, which are absolutely worth talking about. So, what I mean is, see you in the comments.

The honorable mentions (movies I really liked but didn't make this list): Django Unchained, Seven Psychopaths, The Master
10. Lincoln - This one sure felt like homework when I first heard of it: award season release date, Spielberg, Daniel Day-Lewis, serious but beloved historical figure, trailer cut with swelling strings. It felt like a Serious Adult Movie (like The King's Speech or Les Miserables) for Serious Adults. I don't have a punchline for this, other than that I should withhold judgment on what movies look like "homework," and find out why the heck am I so afraid of those anyway? I really enjoyed Daniel Day-Lewis's performance, but also was genuinely fascinated by the other historical figures/characters and their 19th century political machinations. I spent an hour reading about Thaddeus Stevens. Did you know he helped make public education free in Pennsylvania? Me neither.

9. The Raid: Redemption - I liked this year in movies because there were quite a few "smaller" films that I really liked, and this one was a pleasing bolt out of the blue that came out in March. Action movies touting new (to film) martial arts forms tend to be hit or miss (Ong Bak, anyone?) because they end up being a highlight reel of fights, but there's nothing to hold it all together. This movie is not too different from that formula, except the leanness here has a purpose, not just a red flag for a total lack of substance. Loved the simplicity of the premise (good guys have to fight their way out of the bad guys' base) which was just enough narrative before making way for the terrific intensity of the fight scenes, which literally had no strings attached. Mad Dog is one of my favorite henchmen ever. Keep making movies, Gareth Evans!

8. Moonrise Kingdom - It has been said that this movie seemed a little like Wes Anderson's greatest highlight clip package, but for a director of this quality, there's a lot of highlights to pick from, and I don't think that necessarily makes for a bad movie. There are all the hallmarks of his style (primary colors, period rock, dry dialogue, child/parent angst, Bill Murray), but what I liked the best was the relationship between the two primary characters, Sam and Suzy. Anderson's movies have covered the particular loneliness and anxiety of children before, but the budding romance between two pre-teens is new ground, and realistically and lovingly handled.

7. Argo - My favorite performance of Ben Affleck playing a Latino guy. Along with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck is establishing a rep for brainy, substantive, well-made movies with a realistic (I'm tired of "gritty") feel. Love this movie's ensemble of actors (including John Goodman, who's had a solid 2012 himself), Hollywood subterfuge, compelling true events, and the tension that maintains throughout the story. The cherry on top is the best usage of a movie's title in a line of dialogue for the year, for sure.
6. Silver Linings Playbook - Another excellent "smaller" film from this year. It's easy to gravitate toward characters who are damaged people, but what it's easy is to treat those damaged characters with a gentleness that still allows them to retain their humanity amidst their troubles, which David O. Russell does beautifully here. Love the performances by America's Sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rober De Niro, but it's a movie full of great little moments, like Pat's therapist, Chris Tucker and the family showdown. On a side note,  I love how much the love of sports is involved in the story, and how the neuroses of sports fandom (especially a tortured fanbase like the Eagles') is an effective story complement for the more obvious disorders of the characters.

5. Skyfall - Thank you, Sam Mendes, for making a Bond that was worthy of the franchise's 50th anniversary. Thank you for getting a more varied performance from Daniel Craig, giving a little more credence as to why many consider him their favorite Bond. Thank you for taking care of Judi Dench. Thanks for Javier Bardem. Thanks for making a digitally-filmed movie look so good (you too, Roger Deakins). Thanks for not getting crushed under the weight of a long and dubiously important past, but making something new that still gave us the standbys we like. Thanks for tapping into the spirit of the series, paying homage to it, adding your own meaningful contribution to it, and then pushing it into its next phase with momentum.

4. Looper - I don't want to think too hard about time travel, either. I really loved that Rian Johnson's muse, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, shows that he's on his way to carrying a bigger movie all on his own, playing well here off Bruce Willis's intertia. Ultimately, my favorite part of this was Johnson's success at creating an original science fiction movie; the difficulty of science fiction is that there is an expectation for something that doesn't currently exist (like time travel), but it still needs to be realistic enough that an audience buys into it. It must present something very alien, but still very familiar, and this movie gets it right with its small touches and the lived-in feel of its universe.

3. Safety Not Guaranteed - Patrick already wrote far more extensively about this one in his review, so I'll just say again: hurray for smaller movies!

2. The Avengers - This is high on the list because it's sort of a lifetime achievement award. It's obviously good and highly entertaining on its own, but it's so good that I don't even want to think about more Avengers or Marvel Comics movies, although those movies' existence will help set this one's important. I want to enjoy the moment for this movie because so many things had to go right for this to even happen, and the enormity of the execution, the depth of the vision, and the good fortune that went into that is staggering. Just to keep score, five separate movies had to be relatively successful, all five of those movies had to be cohesive enough to describe a common universe, they had to get a director who had the right eye for detail, and for goodness's sake, they had to get the Hulk right. Bravo, Marvel, you did something unprecedented (as far as I know) in movie history.

Ok, I take it back. When's Avengers 2 coming out again?
1. Beasts of the Southern Wild - At its heart, it's a movie full of beauty, from the smaller, although not less important, perspective of a child. I spent a few weeks in Louisiana right after Katrina, and although I fully recognize this doesn't make me an expert, I can say that the movie accurately captures the vibrant, mercurial edge that life takes there. I'm still intrigued by the fierce pride that its residents feel for where they come from, this pride only intensified by the natural disaster that they endured. What I'm most amazed by in this culture (and I would say New Orleans embodies this) is how amidst pain or loss there is still a spirit of celebrating the present -- as if to say "I'm alive now, and bad things might still be around or have to be dealt with immediately after, but I'm going to take this moment right now to laugh or dance or create something beautiful." We get to see this, and feel that desire for that strong rock that we can call a home, though Hushpuppy's eyes as she navigates the waters of her relationships and the Gulf of Mexico. It's far from perfect, but it hits the right notes in trying to show how a child tries to care a life out of the complex fragility of the world.


  1. Mark, thank you for putting Silver Linings Playbook in your top 10. That movie completes me and had me at hello. And yes! Chris Tucker :-)

    1. Just for you Adam, just for you. I left Silver Linings really loving it; this movie was definitely a case of my preconceived notions being pleasantly demolished.

    2. OK, you two are making me really want to see "Silver Linings Playbook" (especially after the lousy last couple of days I had). Not crazy for David O. Russell though ("I Heart Huckabees" sucked, and "The Fighter" was too vanilla). Push me over the edge, tell me why "SLP" is worth the blind-buy (surprisingly I still don't know what the movie is about besides what's on the trailer, which I don't quite know what to make of it).

    3. JMV - I wouldn't blind-buy it, but I do think it's worth a viewing. I really liked the moments where it feels more than just your av-uh-rage bear romantic comedy, which I wouldn't even call this, because it's not totally a romance, or totally a comedy, and definitely not a bear.

      David O. Russell has mentioned in interviews that he felt a special connection to the story because his son is bipolar and has OCD (like Bradley Cooper's character), and the care and familiarity with those conditions shines through, without it playing as overly sentimental.

      I think the people who didn't like it tended to feel like it was a little pat, or predictable.

    4. OK, I'm in. Will see later this week. :-)

  2. Great list Mark - still have to see a number of them but based on the ones I have seen these are some solid picks.

    It's weird - I read something early on that lead me to believe Silver Linings was going to be really good - then I started reading a lot of stuff making fun of it before it even came out - THEN I started hearing some pretty good reviews when it did come out. All that to say I feel like I was one of the few people that was actually expecting it to be good from the get-go. Also, I had no idea there was something in there especially for Eagles fans (not many of us here in Nova Scotia) so looking forward to that!

    1. I wish there weren't so many narratives on a movie before a movie even comes out. Why can't we just wait until it's released and decide for ourselves? It's frustrating, right? Especially when it possibly steers you away from something you might really like, like SLP.

    2. Very frustrating as a viewer - I can only imagine how frustrating it is for the people actually making them.

      So who's mostly to blame? Marketing departments? Dirty rotten bloggers (like YOU)? The stupid masses in general?

      I very deliberately attempt to avoid everything but the trailers - hell, when I'm renting something I already have some idea of, I don't even like to read the summary on the back - but some buzz is just hard to avoid, especially as I'm more into movie blogs and podcasts. Fortunately I have you guys to help steer me in the right direction!

    3. We are changing our name to Dirty Rotten Bloggers (DRB for short).

    4. DIBS on being the second keyboardist for the DRB.

      Sorry that you got caught up in the tidal wave of trash, Sol. I guess I got lucky in avoiding whatever the hype was; I boycott all the speculative movie news, too.

  3. Mark, glad to see that I'm not the only one incapable of downgrading "The Raid: Redemption" and "The Avengers" below Top 10 status because of their perceived shortcomings. No movie is perfect (particularly this year) but for my money no two movies gave me more bang-for-buck fun action than these two. That last fight in "TR:R" between Mad Dog and the brothers was freaking insane, and a worthy climax to what until then had been one of the most kinetic and kick-ass flicks I've seen in years. And "The Avengers" had the benefit that its weakest scenes were at the beginning, then it kept gathering steam and getting better as it went along until it detonated into an orgy of comic book hero fun that not even a lazy screenwriter's 'get out of jail' trick could bring down. Also, yay "Looper." :-)

    And, last but not least, my new-to-movie for today:

    David Chase's NOT FADE AWAY (2012) (i.e. "That Thing You Do" remade by the guy who wrote the ending to "The Sopranos")

  4. This list. This freakin' list. It's outstanding is what I'm trying to say.

    I haven't seen BOTSW. Like Cloud Atlas, but for different reasons (primarily for my lack of knowledge of what the movie is, or researching such information), I think I was hesitant to see this movie when it was released. However, the word I keep seeing pop up in reference to it is "beautiful," and I love a beautiful movie. I'll think I'll put it in my Netflix queue right next to Cloud Atlas when the time comes and have a double feature.

    On to what I have seen! Any list that includes The Avengers, Safety Not Guaranteed, Argo, Moonrise Kingdom, Looper AND Skyfall is a list I can get behind. I had a great time with all of them for various reasons. They have all stuck with me and just might show up on a future list of mine.

    1. John-

      Beasts of the Southern Wild, whether you end up liking it or not, is definitely beautiful, and as JB frequently mentioned about it, it's very different than almost anything you've seen. I would suggest avoiding reading more about it before viewing it; I'd be curious to hear what you think.

      I think beautiful was also how I felt about Tree of Life too, although the movies are very different from each other.

  5. I have to watch BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD again. I was sick and did not really pay attention; I might have been heavily drugged or half-asleep (that could work for other movies, maybe...). I did love what I saw.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. A little story.

    I asked my fiance if she wanted to see Beasts of the Southern Wild.
    "Whats Beasts of the Southern Wild?"
    I try to explain it despite not really knowing much about it myself. I then read out to her your (Mark Ahn) above paragraph write up.
    "Thats impressive. Who was that?"
    I tell her it was by a guy named Mark Ahn
    "Who's Mark Ahn?"
    I explain that you are a contributor to F this Movie, you go on podcasts, your write reviews, you told a story once that you were kidnapped
    "He was what?"
    I repeat myself
    "What, like kidnapped kidnapped? Proper kidnapped?"
    I tell her it is true, but she doesnt look like she completely believes me, so I download that Taken podcast, fast forward to the end and we listen to you tell the story of being kidnapped.
    "Wow. Ok, let's see Beasts of the Southern Wild."

    Im not sure if it was the review or the story that convinced her, but when Mark Ahn speaks you listen....or something.

    1. Look, some people have credibility because of things like "film studies degrees" or "teaching experience regarding movies." I counter that with "victimhood in potential felonies." Clearly, I speak for the underdog. Sorry, Brad's fiance.

      Anyway, let me know what you guys thought of it.

  8. The first list I've seen to include "Skyfall" so thank you for that. I found myself agreeing with your take on what highlights there were, and I have to agree about Sam and Suzy's relationship in "Moonrise Kingdom." They're definitely the center and the heart.

    1. The more I think about Moonrise, the more I like it. Glad you enjoyed it.