I guess if I had to pick out a theme found across my favorite films of 2012, it would be that most of the films here represent the unique voice of each of their directors, and are almost sort of a window into their hearts and minds. None of these movies could have been made better by a different director, and that’s what really makes them special.
I’ll try and keep my blurbs short for each film on my list this year, because you were just going to scroll through and look at the titles anyway, weren’t you? Hope you enjoy.
(10) "21 Jump Street"
(dir. Phil Lord & Chris Miller)
The first movie on my list was this total comedy surprise featuring one of the year’s biggest success stories: Channing Tatum. I had not seen any of his movies as of that point, but it quickly became apparent that he has pretty great comedic timing, completely holding his own next to Jonah Hill.
(9) "Django Unchained"
(dir. Quentin Tarantino)
Django is far from perfect as a film, with at least two or three glaring flaws (the editing, a couple of the performances). But this movie is so damn fun, that it becomes pretty easy to overlook its flaws and just enjoy it. One thing Tarantino has always been a master of is creating an undercurrent of tension in scenes of dialogue, and seeing Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio go toe-to-toe in a few of these types of scenes was a real treat.
(dir. Richard Linklater)
Jack Black gives the best performance of his career in this dark comedy (based on a true story), about an ambiguously gay funeral director from Carthage, Texas who commits a murder. Black does a great job of making the character so loveable that you take his side (like the town did) after things start going downhill for him. The interviews of real-life town folk who knew Black’s character provide some moments of outstanding comedy.
(7) "Silver Linings Playbook"
(dir. David O. Russell)
The second film in a row from David O. Russell that really had no right being as good as it was. In this romantic comedy he gets so-far career best performances from Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, and turns something that, in the hands of a lesser director, could have gone very poorly, into something very real and heartfelt. In his last two films, he now has directed SEVEN Oscar-nominated performances along with three Oscar wins. A dumbfounding statistic.
(6) "Moonrise Kingdom"
(dir. Wes Anderson)
I’m pretty hit-or-miss with Wes Anderson films, although I do always appreciate what he brings to the table even if it doesn’t totally work. Here, it totally works, as he was able to find material that completely suited his unmistakable quirky aesthetic. A fanciful and fun tale of young “love” that really took me back to what it’s like being an adolescent.
(5) "Beasts of the Southern Wild"
(dir. Benh Zeitlen)
The film that was this year’s token “little indie film that could” definitely lived up to the hype. It is, at once, a bizarrely surreal fantasy-adventure combined with a heartbreaking, almost documentary-like glance at the extreme poverty of the southern-Louisiana gulf, all anchored by one of the best child performances I’ve ever seen in Quvenzhane Wallis.
(4) "The Master"
(dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
A performance for the ages in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal as the leader of “The Cause,” an unpredictable and visceral performance from Joaquin Phoenix as a WWII Navy Vet, and some masterful directing from Paul Thomas Anderson all add up to show us a somewhat disheartening look at how human psychology can be exploited by modern religion, a thought that will leave audiences left feeling greatly unsatisfied but for me was an exercise in introspection.
(3) "Holy Motors"
(dir. Leos Carax)
I must disclaim that this is one of the three or four strangest, most messed up movies I’ve ever seen. So it’s not for everyone. Once you get past the strangeness of the premise (an actor going around in a limo all day and doing several different acting gigs: an old woman, a leprechaun, a mobster, etc.) you begin to see how rich the idea is: all the world’s a stage, and we go through it playing different parts; whether it’s as a father, a lover, a working man, or a friend. This one gestated in my mind after watching it more than any other film this year.
(2) "Lincoln" (dir. Steven Spielberg)
I’m the last person to go along with ideas when it comes to movies just because everyone else is saying it, which is why I wasn’t necessarily prepared to worship at the altar of Daniel Day-Lewis when I walked into the theater for Lincoln. I’ve never been so happy to have my skepticism vanquished. He was already arguably cinema’s greatest actor of the last 25 years, but with his performance as The Great Emancipator in this film, he might have also become America’s most beloved. The film was very good on many other counts, but replace DDL’s performance with an above-average one, and it probably falls off this list.
(dir. Michael Haneke)
No need to wax poetic again about this one, as I’ve already laid myself pretty bare about it here. I read a Woody Allen quote once about when directors begin working on a movie they know exactly what they want, but by the end of production they are just trying to get out alive even if they know it is terrible. Amour exemplifies the antithesis of this statement: from start to finish, it is possibly one of the most controlled pieces of cinema of the last decade. Rich, delicate, and vulnerable, it is a treasure I will not soon forget.