Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Top 5 Discoveries of 2012: Pre-2012 Movies

This is the sixth 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 see my 2012 movies list, click here. To see my apps list, click here. To better appreciate my approach to making these lists, please read the brief introduction to this series (posted here).

This is a companion piece to my list of the top five 2012 films. In this case, I am focusing on movies that I saw in 2012 but that were released in earlier years. As with my 2012 list, this list is less authoritative than I’d like it to be. I simply don’t have an easy or convenient way of determining what movies I saw in 2012. I can use my Netflix and IMDb ratings histories as guides, but not everything I’ve seen is recorded in one of these ways. So, the list below is liable to contain errors. Also, I’m not aiming to provide you with the absolute best pre-2012 films I saw in 2012. While these are all extremely good films, I’ve aimed to compile a well-rounded list. Possibly, there are one or two films not on the list that outshined one or two films that are on the list. So be it. And now, in no particular order, are my top 5 pre-2012 films that I saw, for the first time, in 2012.

1. Hugo (2011)

Hugo won five Academy Awards and was nominated for a total of eleven. The awards it picked up were largely technical (e.g. Best Sound Editing), but it was up for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Music, and then some. It was a worthy nominee, a fanciful family film oozing with fairy-tale-esque charm. In the movie, Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is a 12-year-old orphan boy who lives in a Paris train station, secretly maintaining the clocks and working on an automaton his deceased father had never successfully repaired. Assisting Hugo is Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), goddaughter of the cranky toymaker (Ben Kingsley) from whom Hugo steals mechanical parts. The magic and mystery unfold as Hugo and Isabelle bring the automaton to life, only to be left with further questions as to the purpose of its design. Directed by Martin Scorsese, Hugo is a beautiful picture, both visually and conceptually. Like the automaton in the film, Hugo is a hybrid of art and engineering, a tribute both to the wonder of the intellect and to the aesthetic of precision.

2. Higher Ground (2011)

Debuting at the January 2011 Sundance Film Festival, Higher Ground stars and is directed by Vera Farmiga, most notable for her role in the Oscar-nominated Up in the Air. Here, Farmiga plays Connie, a woman who interprets her survival of a major bus crash as an act of divine intervention. Several years after the accident, Connie and her husband Ethan are living with their children in a cult-like community of fundamentalist Christians. Devoted to her faith, Connie nevertheless wrestles to understand the relationship between piety and the expectations hoisted upon her by her idiosyncratic community. I’m a sucker for movies that deal (in a non-propagandizing way) with spirituality and faith. Higher Ground is an excellent instance of this. Anyone who has grown up or been immersed in a conservative religious environment will find something with which to identify in this film. Gender roles, orthodoxy, the tension between sexuality and purity—all of these issues are explored. The result is a thoughtful, reflective, and surprisingly balanced piece. Higher Ground is based upon a memoir by co-screenwriter Carolyn S. Briggs, and so those with a penchant for movies “based on a true story” will have extra incentive to see this film.

3. Between the Folds (2008)

Not every moviegoer appreciates documentaries, and it may seem that a documentary about origami has two strikes already against it. But you’d be wrong to think that Between the Folds is anything short of fascinating. There is more to find here than paper airplanes, boats, and cranes. What the skilled origamist can do just by folding a single sheet of paper is absolutely amazing. I promise that you will be surprised—nay, shocked—by at least one work of art featured in this film. What’s cool about Between the Folds is that it is not merely an onscreen art exhibition, but a foray into the theory and meaning of origami. The practice is examined from a variety of angles, from art to science to math. Each segment is equally illuminating. As I write this, Between the Folds is available for instant viewing on both Netflix and Amazon Prime. Clocking in at just under an hour, this documentary is well worth your time.

4. Apocalypto (2006)

Apocalypto was the last film Mel Gibson directed before earning his reputation as something of a nutcase. Following on the heels of The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto was yet another Gibson film of epic proportion. Set amidst the fall of the Mayan empire, the nearly two-and-a-half-hour film features Mayan actors speaking a Mayan language. The movie’s main character is Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), one of few survivors when his village is violently overtaken by a separate Mayan group. Taken to a nearby city, Jaguar Paw evades human sacrifice and ultimately escapes from his captors. He must then fight his way back to his village, where his pregnant wife and young son remain stuck in a deep pit that served as an impromptu hiding place during the initial attack. Apocalypto is not an easy film to watch. It features some of the most brutal violence I have ever seen in a movie—it is gory, realistic, and callous. But the film itself is a monumental achievement. It is a sobering look at humanity and at how vastly different one society can be from another. I dare say that watching Apocalypto is the closest I’ve come to experiencing genuine culture shock. I’m not well-traveled, but that’s saying quite a bit for a movie.

5. In a Better World (2010)

The Danish film In a Better World picked up the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film of 2010. The film revolves around two boys, Elias and Christian, who bond together as each suffers the hardships of young adulthood. Elias, whose parents are estranged, is relentlessly bullied at school. Christian, on the other hand, has recently lost his mother to cancer, a fact that fuels his resentment toward his father. Weak and defenseless, Elias welcomes Christian’s protective mentoring. All the while, Christian finds an outlet for his rage by acting out against Elias’ enemies. With violence among children being such a hot topic nowadays, In a Better World could easily have become exploitative or sensationalistic. Fortunately, it does not. It shows a surprising amount of restraint, even as the film becomes saturated in tension. How far will Christian’s retributive antics go? The audience is never sure, but Elias’ fascination with Christian is all too natural and believable to put viewers at ease with the thought that cooler minds will prevail. And that is the most jarring and terrifying aspect of the movie—it is not a far cry from reality at all. The film poignantly reminds us that nothing out of the ordinary is required for something extraordinarily awful to occur. While In a Better World is more of a drama than a thriller, its intensity will satisfy fans of either genre.

1 comment:

  1. I don't remember watching Between the Folds. Did you watch that without me? I guess I need to get catching up!