Sure, I have opinions about what the best films of the past year are – and so does every other critic. If I think “Argo” should be on the list but not “The Avengers” – and you think “The Avengers” rocked but “Moonrise Kingdom” blew – well, everybody is entitled to their opinion. I can say I’m right and you’re wrong – and vice versa.
For example, I think two of the most critically overrated films of the year were “Holy Motors” and “The Master.” Paul Thomas Anderson’s maddeningly opaque film drew the same kind of rhapsodic reviews as Leos Carox’s bizarre, unwatchable mish-mash. The two of them topped Indiewire’s critics’ poll this year.
Instead of a 10-best list, I’ve decided to assemble a favorites’ list. They’re not necessarily the ones I thought were best, but the ones I enjoyed the most.
When you create a 10-best list, it’s an opinion that can be argued with. But a favorites’ list? You can argue with my taste – many do – but the fact that these films are my favorites? Forget it. Are you going to tell me they’re not?
These are the movies I’d recommend enthusiastically to people who are looking for something to see – or something to track down for home viewing. Some of them would, in fact, be on a 10-best list, if I put one together. But not necessarily.
So here, in no particular order, are my favorite films of 2012. There are 14 of them; some are great, some are guilty pleasures – but all of them are films that gave me a jolt in some way, or reminded me why I love watching movies for a living. Every once in a while, you see movies like these that wake you up, shake you up or just make you feel alive in an unexpected way. I’d happily watch them again and probably will.
“Not Fade Away”: OK, so I said in no particular order – but this is definitely my favorite movie of the year. Writer-director David Chase and collaborator Steven Van Zandt perfectly captured what it was to be a teen-ager with an awakening rock’n’roll dream at a moment when music changed the world. That could be any time – because every teen assumes the music of his adolescence is the most important in the world – but this movie happens to be set in the 1960s, when music did change things, or was at least part of the change. His unadorned story of a teen trying to use music as an outlet for his feelings and for his creative urge captures a specific moment in a way that feels universal. Funny, touching and ready to rock.
“God Bless America”: Here’s a movie that might not be on many Top-10 lists, except one for most lacerating and penetrating satire of American popular culture. Writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait unleashed this hilarious attack on the taste and intellect of the American public, focusing on the one reasonable man left in media-besotted America, who goes on a killing spree, eliminating every reality-show parasite thriving on the attention of the cable universe. Not a feel-good movie by any means, but Joel Murray and newcomer Tara Lynn Barr made a wonderfully mismatched pair of culture critics in this bloody, outrageous film.
“Argo”: Ben Affleck’s third film as a director was one of the year’s home runs, a studio-released movie that blended complicated politics, an array of characters and true story out of the recent past to create a thrilling piece of entertainment. Affleck casually mixed in bits of wild comedy (with a laidback Alan Arkin and John Goodman), but kept the second half focused on a nail-biting escape plot. Strong performances and lean filmmaking made this one of the year’s most enjoyable and satisfying films.
“Moonrise Kingdom”: Even casual moviegoers who encountered this astonishing trip to Wes Andersonland understood that they had just visited someplace magical. Anderson is not a filmmaker for all tastes, but if you’re on his wavelength, his latest film was as fulfilling as you would hope. And that was in service of a story about young love gone wild in 1960s’ New England. He had delightfully deadpan children to play these lovestruck almost-teens, and a wonderfully balanced crew of adults (Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray) to handle the rest of this emotionally astute little comedy.
“Searching for Sugar Man”: This was one of the year’s most touching and surprising documentaries, the story of fans of a once-in-a-lifetime artist, whose career legendarily ended with on-stage suicide. Or did it? Could a bootleg album that stirred a political movement in apartheid South Africa be the work of a singer-songwriter who disappeared from the music scene but kept on living his life as a working-class laborer? This was a fascinating examination of the ways popular music permeates a culture and a redemption tale of an artist’s second chance that will bring a lump to your throat.
“Haywire”: I won’t even call this a guilty pleasure because I feel no guilt in enjoying and admiring Steven Soderbergh’s gritty, stripped-down spy story, starring the explosive former mixed-martial-arts star Gina Corano. Soderbergh took Lem Dobbs’ chopped-up plot and reassembled it as a series of exciting action setpieces, with Corano dishing it out to everyone from Channing Tatum to Michael Fassbender to Ewan McGregor. She’s the definition of bad ass. Soderbergh wastes neither energy nor motion in telling this tough little tale of crosses, double-crosses and beyond.
“Footnote”: Israel’s foreign-film Oscar entry this past year, this film by Joseph Cedar was a puzzle wrapped inside a wonderfully pinched tale of fathers, sons, family love and familial jealousy. The story of a father who accidentally is given an award meant for his son created uncomfortable laughs with its edgy depiction of a work-obsessed academic who can’t understand why his approach of pure scholarship isn’t as acclaimed as his son’s more populist take on the same material. The ultimate uncomfortable-family comedy.
“How to Survive a Plague”: David France’s documentary showed the birth of ACT-UP and its fight to force the U.S. government and its scientific and medical branches to find a cure and develop new medicine for AIDS more quickly. Using footage shot by the activists themselves (at the birth of the home camcorder in the 1980s), France pieced together this valiant battle – in the face of indifference and even opposition – to be taken seriously as a force for change. The film pinpoints heroes – men and women who acted selflessly and courageously to wrest public attention to the rapidly escalating problem AIDS represented. It is bravura filmmaking about a moment when citizens seized the reins of their own healthcare.
“The Cabin in the Woods”: Sorry, I won’t cop to guilty-pleasure status for this film either, one of the year’s most juicily irreverent and inventive. Ostensibly a horror movie, this debut by director Drew Goddard, co-written by Joss Whedon, turned the genre inside out. Even as it plugged into and utilized a variety of modern-horror tropes, it acknowledged the formula it was using, broke the fourth wall and took it to another level – perhaps even another dimension.
“The Raid: Redemption”: Don’t ask me the exact details of what goes on in this blend of inner-city shoot-’em-up and martial-arts smackdown – but that’s sort of beside the point in this breathtakingly exciting film from director Gareth Huw Evans. A team of cops go hunting a crimelord in a massive apartment complex – and get locked in by the gangster, who then sets everyone else in the building on the cops’ tail. But there’s much, much more.
“The Intouchables”: One of the most popular films ever released in France, this uplifting comedy-drama should be an Oscar contender. And if there were any justice, its stars, Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet would be best-actor nominees. Here’s a movie that unashamedly makes you laugh and cry in a story of the triumph of friendship by a pair of societal outsiders.
“Any Day Now”: Speaking of societal outsiders, how about gay couples who want to become adoptive parents? It’s still illegal in some of these United States – and the issue is at the center of this film that stars Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt, in a true story about two men who tried to adopt an unwanted teen with Down syndrome. It’s an underdog independent film that has won a handful of audience awards at a variety of film festivals – and it was one of my favorites this year.
“The Sessions”: Helen Hunt and John Hawkes were a perfectly matched pair in this movingly funny true story. Hawkes plays a journalist, paralyzed by polio, who decides in his 30s that he wants to lose his virginity. Hunt plays the sexual surrogate who takes him on as a patient. They both make discoveries, in this gentle and often amusing story of the most basic human need: to be loved.
“Killing Them Softly”: Vilified by Cinemascore with one of the few Fs from an audience, this adaptation of a George V. Higgins novel was badly marketed, sold as an action movie. In fact, it’s a thoughtful crime drama with wit and pathos, provided by a cast that included a well-utilized Brad Pitt, an Oscar-worthy James Gandolfini, and a delightfully jittery Richard Jenkins. See it for its rich dialogue and its tense rhythms and you’ll find a lot to like.Print This Post