An Amazing Year In Cinema
Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando
2012 could easily be one of the most distinguished years in film. There were great performances from a variety of talented actresses, amazing achievements in independent cinema, and overall a lot of originality among directors. Unlike 2011, when there were very few documentaries that made critics' lists, 2012 has an overabundance of terrific ones. There were a number of great foreign films, and a surprising amount of great American movies as well. In short, this year offered variety. It was the year where, dare I say, anyone with any particular type of movie taste could wind up loving a film that has made the critics' consensus list. My choices are by no means meant to be permanent, as ranking movies is part of the fun in creating a list. They simply reflect how I feel at this point in time about the year that was.
10. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
This documentary came out early in the year, but never left my mind as not only a terrific portrait of perfecting one's craft, but a great philosophy about life in general. Jiro embodies the idea that perfection is always just a day away. Despite being a world-renowned sushi chef, he believes he can strive to do better. To us, he's already achieved perfection, but to him each day is another chance to work even harder. It's inspiring, engaging, and a terrific portrait of Japanese culture in general.
9. The Grey
Another film that came out early in the year that I'm sure many people have forgotten about is a story of man against nature, The Grey. Liam Neeson gives a stellar performance as John Ottway, a man who protects oil workers in Alaska from wolves. When the plane that he and the other workers are on goes down in a snowstorm from hell, he and the other survivors must find a way to make it out of the wilderness safely as they are pursued by wolves and other obstacles nature has in store for them. It sounds like a standard survival film, which some have argued it is, but for me it's so much more than that. This is the first film I've seen in awhile that takes death as seriously as it does. These men, who at first seem like the last people in the world you would ever care about, are characters who actually matter. We're invested in their survival and the more we learn about each one of them, the more we can't help but care.
Here's a movie that is so wonderfully entertaining and suspenseful, you're unlikely to believe it came from Ben Affleck. This is a guy who, just a few short years ago, was written off by virtually everyone (including myself) but who has managed to cement himself in American culture as one of the true talents in the directing category. The way he marries these two very distinct tones - Hollywood farce and historical thriller - is brilliant and seamless. You wouldn't think a film about The Iran Hostage Crisis could, at times, be this funny, and yet it is. It also pulls off the trick of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats during its climactic ending, despite already knowing what happened in real life.
I make no apologies for loving this installment of the James Bond franchise. For me this was the film the franchise needed to get people reinvested in the character. It is beautifully shot by Roger Deakins, well executed by director Sam Mendes, and, quite simply, a lot of fun. I enjoyed M's more involved role in the film, as well as Bond's struggle to regain his humanity. I was quite moved by its ending and look forward to where the next film in the series takes the character.
A return to form in many ways for director Steven Spielberg, Lincoln is one of the most important films of the year. Daniel Day-Lewis is virtually and audibly unrecognizable as our 16th president, and he manages to show us a human being rather than just the ideal figure Lincoln has always been remembered as. This is a film that shows the audience the beauty of democracy and level of commitment it takes to get something like the 13th Amendment passed in the House of Representatives. It's inspiring, never dull, and one of the many films that would not have been what it was without Spielberg at the helm.
5. Silver Linings Playbook
It's nice to know that critics and audiences still have a place in their hearts for sentimental films. In my review, I compared Silver Linings Playbook to the work of Frank Capra, a director whom many write off as corny. Silver Linings, while at times dark and brutally honest, veers into Capra-esque territory in the best of ways without making the audience roll their eyes. This is the first film in many years to be nominated in all the major categories, which is a testament to everyone involved with it: Director David O. Russell is at his finest; Bradley Cooper has finally received a role and the recognition he's always been deserving of; Jennifer Lawrence continues to amaze me with her talents, this time pulling off being a widow despite her young age; and Robert De Niro has not been this good in years. It's a film that fondly reminds us of the classic screwball romantic comedies while also taking a truthful look at mental disorder. You wouldn't think all of this could be in one movie, but Silver Linings Playbook manages all the mania of love, loss, family turmoil and reconciliation quite nicely.
4. Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson is a filmmaker who at times can feel like too much style without enough substance. With Moonrise Kingdom, however, he manages to find a middle ground, giving us an original tale with a lot of heart. The two lead performers, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as Sam and Suzy, respectively, are perfect, and together with Anderson manage to beautifully capture what it's like to be young and in love, and not taken seriously because of your age. This is one of the most original, heartwarming movies I've ever seen and the film Anderson has been toward throughout his career.
3. Searching For Sugar Man
The most uplifting film of the year happens to be a documentary rooted in Detroit. Unfolding like a murder mystery, Searching For Sugar Man tells the story of Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit musician who did not get recognized for his talent in the music industry until thirty years after his first two albums failed to sell in the U.S. The entire time however, and unbeknownst to Rodriguez, he had a Beatles-like status in Cape Town, South Africa, due to his anti-establishment lyrics during The Apartheid. Not since Man on Wire has a documentary been everything that I love about the magic and power of movies. At one moment you're on the edge of your seat because the intrigue of the mystery keeps building, the next you're in shock because of what that mystery reveals. You're saddened by everything this musician went through, seemingly for nothing, until finally, he's given the praise he's always been deserving of. It's an amazing film and one of the few that makes me proud to say that I'm born and raised in Michigan.
Emotionally devastating, but a beautiful representation of what it means to truly love someone, Michael Haneke's Amour tells the story of Georges and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and an amazing Emmanuelle Riva), an elderly couple who's love and marriage is put to the test when Anne suffers a stroke, leaving Georges as her primary caregiver. As Anne continues to decline, Georges does all he can to be there for her. Some people have asked why anyone would want to see such a sad movie, but the answer is simple: loving someone is perhaps most important when one approaches the end of his or her life. We've all seen so many movies about two people meeting and falling in love, or about a marriage struggling to reignite the once strong spark, but I don't think anyone has seen a film like this.
1. Holy Motors
Hands down, this is the most original film I've seen all year. Directed by Leos Carax, Holy Motors involves a man (Denis Lavant) who is driven by taxi all around Paris for nine, what he calls, "appointments". Each appointment involves this man putting on a different disguise and acting out some scenario. Each scenario is different, stranger than the last, and seems to fall into a separate genre of filmmaking all together. Before our eyes, it seems, Carax is redefining what it means to make movies. I have truly never seen anything like this film. It left me speechless, in the best of ways, and excited for the possibilities that filmmakers like Carax can bring to telling unbelievably original stories.