Here are my five favorite films from 2012. I’ll skip pass the ceremonious introductory paragraph and keep this short. These five, diverse films are the best I’ve seen all year. Admittedly, there are a collection of films I have yet to see, and they’re mentioned below first, but I feel these five films will stand the test of time. Sure, they may slip and slide a few ranks from moment to moment, year to year, but they stimulated me far more than any other films this year. They’re truly great. Without further ado…
Films I Missed Because I Got Lazy or Simply Couldn’t Find Them:
5. The Dark Knight Rises (Original Review)
The amount of hype attached to The Dark Knight Rises was immeasurable. After the release of The Dark Knight, a film that changed how the masses and critics treated comic book films, Christopher Nolan faced a mighty challenge in ending his Dark Knight trilogy. After seeing the film four times in theaters, as well as twice on Blu-ray, I can comfortably say Rises doesn’t match the thematic weight or narrative preciseness of its predecessor, but it’s an ambitious piece of filmmaking that finds Nolan expanding the expectations of comic book films once again. Much like his previous Batman installments, Nolan delivers a completely different film while maintaining his characters’ dimensions. Where The Dark Knight emulated a crime saga, Rises wears the veil of a war film with a city trembling in the hands of a masked terrorist. The action scenes pulsate, Hans Zimmer’s score is deafening, and Christopher Nolan ends his triumphant trilogy with a tale of redemption and rebirth that powerfully reverberates with each viewing.
4. The Master (Original Review)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master is a surreal, actor driven film that finds PTA cementing his status as one film’s greatest auteurs. Phenomenally captured by Mihai Malăimare, Jr., and boasting another monumental score from Jonny Greenwood, The Master examines a lost, disruptive soul seeking an anchor amidst the calamitous waves of a post-war world. One such soul is Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), a social heathen running on libido and makeshift alcoholic concoctions. Freddie finds intermittent grace by way of The Cause, a quasi-scientific faith-based group led by Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Within The Cause Freddie finds the support system he yearns for and sparks a love/hate relationship with the group’s fearless leader. Instead of being an indictment of religious factions or megalomania induced leaders, The Master is a hypnotic film that surreptitiously examines man’s inalienable nature, as well as the methods used to cage the beast from within. PTA’s exploration of man is episodic, but tying every scene together are towering performances that are at once frightening and empathetic. Through grand performances and hypnotic moments, The Master pervasively lingers on the mind.
3. Frankenweenie (Original Review)
Tim Burton films have evolved into hollow affairs. Burton’s socially demented characters still exist, but they rarely permeate. The last time I felt an emotional connection to a Burton film was in 2003 with the release of Big Fish. Finally, in the form of Frankenweenie, a gorgeous stop motion film, Burton drove a dagger through my heart. The story of a boy and the resurrection of his dog pierced my defenses and forced tears to well up in my eyes. Burton’s wild flair and macabre humor is certainly present, but his ability to understand the significance of a pet, especially on an alienated child, resonates deeply.Another haunting score from Danny Elfman,which elicits a great deal of emotion on its own accord, perfectly supplements Burton’s affection for his characters. For as sappy as Frankenweenie gets, it also hilariously pays homage to monster films of the past. From Bride of Frankenstein to Godzilla, Burton joyously embeds Frankenweenie with classic monster references. Undoubtedly, Frankenweenie is Burton’s epitaph for the films of his youth, but most importantly, it’s an ode to all the relationships that sustain in the face of death.
2. Django Unchained (Original Review)
Much like his last effort, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained finds Quentin Tarantino tackling an unscrupulous time in history with reckless abandon. This time his subject is America’s stained history with slavery. Taking place in the 1860’s, Django Unchained is a sweet love story encased in a spaghetti western shell. Featuring sweeping landscapes, rambunctious characters, and gallons upon gallons of blood, Tarantino entertains us by channeling the likes of Sergio Leone while maintaining his reputation as a dialog magician. Despite his flair and use of anachronistic music, Tarantino’s responsibility belongs to the times, and he simply refuses to white wash the savagery and inhumane behavior that defined America’s skin for cash business. It may come off as being too rough, but Tarantino refuses to detach us from the moment. Thankfully, Tarantino gives us a love story that carries us and his protagonist, Django (Jamie Foxx), through varying levels of hell. Tarantino’s romantic focus softens Django Unchained’s abrasive tone, demonstrating he has a beating heart underneath his stylistic carnage.
1. Zero Dark Thirty (Original Review)
Considering how much I have talked it up, Zero Dark Thirty’s place at number one was inevitable. Having seen the film three times already, I’m still mystified by its power. At once an intense thriller and an absorbing procedural drama, Zero Dark Thirty is a triumphant recreation of America’s hunt for Osama bin Laden. Even though bin Laden is the narrative’s biggest target, Kathryn Bigelow’s film broadly takes a look at the processes implemented in America’s continuous war on terror. Chasing bin Laden is CIA operative by the name of Maya (Jessica Chastain), an unshakable woman who verbally dissects terrorists. Chastain’s performance as Maya is mesmerizing as she perfectly personifies America’s lust for vengeance, as well as the anguish the country feels when a mass murderer flees for the better part of a decade. False starts and dead ends riddle Zero Dark Thirty, propelling Maya and us into a tailspin of obsession and desolation. Finally, once the big break we’re looking for surfaces, jubilation feverishly overcomes us. Our emancipation from bin Laden begins and ends when Bigelow follows Seal Team Six into the terrorist mastermind’s compound. Yet, for as euphoric as it is to see justice delivered, Bigelow and writer Mark Boal’s ambiguity allow us the space to measure the collateral damage in the wake of bin Laden’s death.