ArgoI have to admit - was surprised when this one took the Golden Globe. And now it's a likely Oscar Best Picture winner? I thought it was pretty good, but best picture good? Eh. Admittedly, I did love the opening scene. It did a great job of sucking me immediately into the story, creating excellent tension and a feeling of authenticity. Unfortunately, the writing wasn't always able to sustain those qualities, inserting cheap Hollywood ploys instead of trusting the fascinating true details of the story. Characters weren't developed much, but the directing was capable and the story absorbing.
Beasts of the Southern WildIt helps if you approach this not as a movie, but as a visual form of poetry, an emotional character study that builds its own world in the territory of magical realism. To fully appreciate Beasts of the Southern Wild, you have to set aside your adult eyes and let the movie bring you into a child's mind. Everyone will get something different out of it and it's not the kind of film everyone is going to love. Look at it too closely and some of the pieces might start to peel apart. But, it is the kind of film that everyone will remember. And, the leading performance is astounding for its rawness and truth.
Cabin in the WoodsI know, I know. Hah, hah, hah. A horror film? Nominated for an Oscar? Okay, well it's happened a couple of times, but not many. However, I do have the power to nominate it for a Lofgy. Why? If you've seen it, you know. If you haven't seen it... well... it's an intelligent deconstruction of the horror genre that actually addresses a lot of the conflicting emotions and thoughts I personally have in regards to horror. Things happen in this movie that you've definitely never seen before. Cabin in the Woods turns audiences' expectations upside down and inside out, all the while managing to subscribe to and subvert a traditional, three-act structure. Plus, it's funny. So, if you can handle a little gore, you should check it out. It might change the way you think about scary movies.
Django UnchainedThe remarkable thing about this film? Hmm... well, there's the thoughtful and effective pacing. There's the cast filled with vibrant characters who wear their roles like well-fitting, yet beautifully embroidered jackets. Oh, and also the dialogue that sparks and crackles, squeezing laughs out of the audience. It's fun and occasionally rises above the simple adventure/exploitation flick it pretends to be - offering the viewer a candy-coated challenge. I think Tarantino has more crayons in his box than the rest of us. There were a couple elements that didn't sit well with me, (won't elaborate for fear of spoilling) but, in fairness, it wouldn't be a Tarantino picture without these things. This one is larger than life, folks.
LincolnWhen Lincoln started, I became concerned that it might turn out to be an ongoing pastiche of triumphant music, triumphant speeches and small children staring up in adoration at the important man. Fortunately, it wasn't. In its strongest moments, Lincoln steps away from the biopic format and immerses itself in the very real, very complex frustrations of pushing, and sometimes even shoving, a country forward. It boasts a large cast of characters with conflicting motives, many of whom are an absolute joy to watch. A few of the more personal aspects of Lincoln's life, family members and such, are given short shrift, however, by the time the music finally does soar, the viewer feels the kind of emotion that comes from more than just cheap pandering.
LooperIt's a shame that this film was probably never even considered for a nomination. It demonstrates so much creativity that it nearly knocked me over, but also balances all the raw imagination with moments of solemnity and scenes where even the most jaded viewer might find new nightmares to follow them into the morning. Though it did annoy me a bit that so many plot points were explained away with "Well, that's how it is in the future", the film was entertaining, unpredictable and added up to a surprisingly emotional experience. More of this, please.
The MasterAt the center of this film is the relationship between two extremely different men, one desperate for a saviour and the other trying to be that saviour. The ways in which they connect, strive and delude themselves are fascinating. The movie is most famous for being a thinly veiled expose on Scientology, but that isn't all it has to share. The imagery is lovely, the structure untraditional, the acting powerful, and the writing dares to wander into challenging and complex territory. An excellent film.
Moonrise KingdomPossibly the most Wes Andersony of Wes Anderson films, Moonrise Kingdom proves that Wes Andersoniness can be a glorious thing. Filled with thoughtful details, the heart of this story is about all the ways children and adults face the loneliness and small cruelties of life. Music? Literature? Maybe an affair or even an island campground far away. Those of us who are most fortunate can find understanding in another human and the most beautiful moments in this movie are the moments where the characters truly connect, reaching through all the fantasy and the kitsch to approach something real and ultimately human.
Searching for Sugar ManThis documentary is a more recent addition to the list, since I didn't get to see it in the theaters. It also bumped the excellent French film, Rust and Bone, off the list. What is Searching for Sugar Man? It's the story of Rodriguez, a poet and singer living in Detroit. Though extremely talented, when Rodriguez released a couple of albums in the early 70s, he got completely passed over. The albums didn't sell and Rodriguez went back to working in construction, his talent supposedly silenced. Yet, all the while, he was gaining tremendous popularity in South Africa. Though no one there knew anything about him, his songs spoke to those suffering beneath the oppressive South African government and he became, according to many in the country, as big as the Beatles. The film is punctuated by and ultimately successful because of Rodriguez's haunting music, which is woven throughout. I loved this movie. Even if you think no one cares, you should still sing. You never know. Even if you never find out, your song could be the exact thing someone needs.
Zero Dark ThirtyAn immersing examination of the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. This film has been controversial and, given the topics within, that was probably unavoidable. In my opinion, Zero Dark Thirty is balanced in its exploration of how torture was utilized during this time. It presents information and allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions regarding morality vs. effectiveness. What else does it do well? It manages to build tension within a story where the viewer already knows the outcome. It makes the mundane fascinating and the fascinating mundane, but, that of course makes it fascinating again... Best of all? It captures the complexity of emotions surrounding the entire ordeal, the way it makes us face who we have become as a country and question how these events define us. So yeah. In my opinion, it's a very good movie.
There you have it! My top ten of the year. However, I'm horrible at picking favorites, so I don't know which one I actually liked best. What do you think? Who should take the grand prize? Let me know your thoughts on any of these films and feel free to post your own favorites of 2012 below. Yay movies!