Friday, January 11, 2013

Top 5 Discoveries of 2012: 2012 Movies

This is the fourth official list in my “Top 5 Discoveries of 2012” series. To see my music list, click here. To see my television list, click here. To see my books list, click here. To better appreciate my approach to making these lists, please read the brief introduction to this series (posted here).

I watch a lot of movies. But for all the movies I watch, fairly few of them are seen in the theater. I see about a dozen movies in the theater per calendar year, and yet I probably watch an average of 3 to 4 movies per week. That makes it hard for me to narrow down my top five selections for the year, even if I include movies that were released prior to 2012. To give myself just a little bit of leeway, I’ve decided to post two movie lists. My first list—this one—will be only of movies that were released in 2012. In a forthcoming list, I will present my top five movies watched in 2012 but that were released in a previous year.

I feel I should mention that I have not seen several popular and/or critically acclaimed 2012 films. I’m eager to see Django Unchained, Lincoln, Silver Linings Playbook, and Les Miserables, all of which are still in theaters. Because I see so few films in theaters, most of the 2012 films I’ve seen were released earlier in the year. Add to that the fact that I don’t have an overly convenient way of looking back at what movies I watched during 2012. Taking these things into account, my list of top five discoveries in 2012 movies should be taken as less than definitive.

5. The Amazing Spider-Man
I was a fan of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, but Marc Webb’s series reboot is already proving itself superior. (Of course, Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 was pretty crappy, so that won’t be hard to outshine.) Andrew Garfield is a much more appealing Peter Parker than was Tobey Maguire. Whereas Maguire played Parker as a full-on dork, Garfield transforms him into a socially awkward but otherwise normal guy. I also love the angst that Garfield brings to the role, which imbues the Spider-Man persona with a kind of emotionally-about-to-lose-it-ness that I greatly enjoyed. It nicely underscores the cathartic nature of Parker’s vigilantism once he discovers he has superpowers. And, of course, there’s Emma Stone, who’s great in everything she does (quite unlike Kirsten Dunst, whom I realize played a different character in Raimi’s triology). All in all, I found The Amazing Spider-Man to be my personal favorite superhero movie of the year. Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises was good but not great, and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers was egregiously overrated. I’m excited to see where Webb’s series will go from here.

4. Looper
I wasn’t as smitten by Looper as many people seemed to be, but I definitely thought it was one of the better flicks of 2012. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is quickly proving himself to be one of the best actors Hollywood has to offer, and I’ve always liked Bruce Willis. Time travel is a timelessly fascinating subject, and the prospect of running into yourself (and facing the moral quandary of how you should treat yourself when you regard yourself as “other”) is teeming with existential food for thought. It’s a bit more of a stretch for me to accept Jeff Daniels (i.e. Dumb & Dumber’s Harry Dunne) as the leader of an organized crime ring. I was also taken aback by the film’s horror-like elements, which nudged it ever so slightly from being a sci-fi action flick to being more of a supernatural thriller. That didn’t resonate with me quite as much as it could have, but I thoroughly enjoyed the film and would recommend it to most.

3. The Hunger Games
I know some people will think I should be embarrassed by this, but I’m not. Jennifer Lawrence is awesome, the books were great, and the film is about as perfect a film adaptation as one could reasonably expect. No doubt, you’re better served reading the book first, but the movie stands quite strongly on its own. I consider The Hunger Games one of my top movie discoveries of 2012 because, like almost everything else nowadays, it’s going to be a series. Thankfully, we’re off to a very promising start. The first half of the film is especially good, taut with tension despite its shortcomings. The excellence doesn’t persist all the way to the film’s final frame, but I wasn’t anything less than pleased with the film as a whole.

2. Bernie
The most obscure movie on my list, Bernie is the true-life story of Bernie Tiede, an effeminate mortician in Carthage, Texas who befriended and ultimately murdered Marjorie Nugent, a well-to-do widow over forty years his senior. What may surprise you is that Bernie is a comedy, with none other than Jack Black playing the title role. It is also, sort of, a documentary. The film is supplemented with interview footage of actual Carthage residents who knew Bernie and Marjorie. These interviews provide some of the movie’s greatest comedic moments, with the townsfolk all but stealing the show from an impeccable Black. As Marjorie, Shirley MacLaine is pitch-perfect. The movie also stars Matthew McConaughey as Danny Buck, the district attorney whose prosecution of Bernie made history when Buck requested a change of venue—because Bernie was too well-liked by the Carthage community. This was the first time a change of venue had been requested in a criminal case due to a defendant’s likeability. As unique as the story that inspired it, Bernie is unlike any other film I’ve seen.

1. Argo
Argo is a masterpiece. I discussed the film a bit in a previous entry, wherein I concluded that God would indeed watch R-rated movies of this caliber. I mention this again here because it speaks to how good of a film Argo really is. It says something when a film leaves you wanting to discuss not so much the technical aspects of filmmaking, but the nature of humanity. Argo couldn’t have done this nearly so effectively if it were not technically brilliant, and yet that is overshadowed by the story itself. As a reminder, Argo is based on actual events surrounding the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-81. The best films achieve this—they are so excellently crafted that the inherently fabricated nature of the medium that is film becomes completely transparent, and all that we are left to see and remember and ponder are the people whose stories get told. This is true even when those stories are fictional, but of course, when the movie is based on actual events, it is all the more poignant. If I had one 2012 film that I could force everyone to watch, it would be Argo.

1 comment:

  1. I want everyone to see Argo and discuss it with me! I can't believe how often events like this come up and make me feel angry because of how disillusioned I have been by our country and the values I thought it stood for. This particular event feels especially impactful to me because I was born during it. I wish everyone would see it!