Alex Stephenson The Best movies of 2012

I don’t feel confident declaring this year a good or bad year for movies. I mean, I liked more things than I disliked, so that means it was at least a decent year, or it means I’m not critical enough about most movies. But there was nothing that jumped out as a truly great film released this year; there are two that seem like they might eventually be remembered as such, but nothing that immediately made me want to quit my job and watch it on a loop. The best movies of 2012 were less obvious than the best movies of 2011, however, which means a combination of two things.

1) We’re only going to have to look harder for good movies as blockbuster culture continues to grow.

2) That same culture has limited the types of films that can actually get made with any sort of budget, so the smart filmmakers have been forced to find away to put their ideas into more commercially viable films.

Blockbusters have gotten more interesting over the past decade; ambitions have risen. One only needs to look at Twilight and The Hunger Games to know that, while neither is a particularly good film, at least the latter is attempting to say something. We’re getting a more and more homogeneous Hollywood, but under the surface of those movies is less so. I suppose we’ll find out in 2013 if that’s a good thing or not.

But at least 2012 didn’t suck, guys.

The films below are listed in no particular order, save the last two.

Honourable partial mentions!

The cinematography in Skyfall was bonkers. BONKERS! I have spoken so excitedly and so frequently about this to basically anybody who will listen that it barely needs to be repeated, but it’s that good. Using the excuse of the big blockbuster film, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins go all out with seemingly every conceivable lighting idea they can come up with. Any other film’s attempt at these over the top visual representations of the film’s ideas would be overbearing and annoying, but Skyfall makes it work precisely because it knows exactly what type of movie it is.

Similarly, the score in Beasts of the Southern Wild is wonderful. People have called it overbearing, which it probably is, and compared the way it is used liberally throughout the film to the worst Steven Spielberg/John Williams moments, which it might be. But it’s simply good music, and indicative of why Beasts can work so well with the right audience; it’s a very Spielbergian, very sappy film, that does things just differently enough that you don’t realize how old school it is. I loved Beasts partially because I was willing to look past its problematic romanticizing of poverty and enjoy the ride, but mostly because of those triumphant horns.

Take This Waltz was a movie I liked, but did not love. I found it had just as many problems as it did good ideas. But it’s best moment might be my favourite moment in any movie this year. Toward the middle of the film, Michelle Williams is on an amusement park ride, while The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star plays in the background. In the film, Williams’ is going through a transition of sorts, and the use of one of the song both about, and the symbol of, a transition from one way of life to another is clever. Combined with the visuals of the scene, Williams’ performance, and the rest of the film leading up to it, it was one of my favourite moments in film this year.

Margaret technically wasn’t released in 2012, but since it was supposed to be released in 2007 and wasn’t until 2011, I’m comfortable including it here. There’s not much else to say but “see this movie.” It’s probably the best teen movie ever made, despite never once feeling like a teen movie at all. The lead character, Anna Paquin, faces ethical question upon ethical question leading up to her revelation at the end of the film. It’s simply great.

Looper/The Dark Knight Rises

I have a hard time justifying including The Dark Knight Rises on this list, just as I have a hard time leaving Looper off of it. Looper is a movie that, while watching it and thinking about it, is a perfectly constructed, perfectly written film. The acting is stellar, Rian Johnson is one of the most interesting visual stylists currently in Hollywood, and the way the film comes together is gorgeous. But something about it doesn’t hit me in the chest, and possibly never will. The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, does, with oh so many Bane gut punches being delivered by Hans Zimmer’s score. But I see all of the criticisms people have with the script of this movie, and I agree with most of them. The only proposed theme the movie actually cogently gets across is that the collective is more powerful than an individual, and that the concept of the great American individual is false. This is the thing the whole trilogy builds up to, and it knocks it out of the park. And while all the other stuff is garbled together and never properly conveyed, making a superhero trilogy about devaluing the work of a superhero is too cool to not love. Plus, there are multiple scenes in this film that are examples of perfect blockbuster filmmaking, which rarely happens. I can’t imagine a day where I won’t be emotionally invested in Bruce Wayne climbing out of the giant visual metaphor that is the underground prison, or a day when I don’t get excited when Batman first appears in the motorcycle chase. I know Looper is a much better movie – one that I think will eventually be remembered as a capital G great movie – but at least for now I’m far more attached to The Dark Knight Rises.

Premium Rush

Yeah, I said it. This movie’s so much fun it’s almost unbelievable. That said, if you go in expecting an actual movie, then you will probably not enjoy it. But if you have some Doritos and a Mountain Dew that need consuming, and you think it will take you 91 minutes to do so, this is the movie for it. No movie in 2012 was more fun, and no villain was more gleefully crazy than Michael Shannon’s gloriously-named Bobby Monday. Everybody in this movie knows exactly what it is - a fun movie and nothing more - and they play it appropriately.

 

Chronicle

This film was surprisingly great, albeit likely for reasons that were unintended. The certainly-intended premise of the film involved showing teenagers learning how to deal with their newfound superpowers, and the film tackles this in a surprisingly realistic sort of way. The idea of shooting the movie as a found footage film makes it more interesting and visceral, as does one loophole that allows the filmmaker to use a variety of different angles no other found footage film could do without demolishing its own rules. As an action film, and as a teen film, Chronicle works, and as a drama it works even better. 

Released in the wake of a number of teen suicides, and eight months before Amanda Todd’s suicide, Chronicle depicts a bullied teen turning into a villain. The scenes with Dane DeHaan early in the film are unsettling, and once he gets his superpowers, he begins to self-identify himself with apex predators. The implication of the film is that DeHaan was always going to hurt somebody, but his superpowers simply made it possible to hurt others instead of himself. As bullying continues to be a hot-button topic, Chronicle will remain an interesting, prescient film, one that does some things better than any teen drama before it.

21 Jump Street

Similarly to Chronicle, 21 Jump Street tackles the teen film’s tropes in a new way, but the latter uses these tropes to mine for comedy, in what is likely the funniest comedy of the year. The film uses the idea of it’s not-that-old characters going back to high school in a way that depicts how much the age gap has grown as technology has. The film is summed up most easily when Jonah Hill outlines how all the things that made him a nerd five years ago in high school would have made him the coolest person in school today. It’s a small idea, but it’s a smart one, and that the film is so fucking funny only helps add to this. While it’s toying with action movie tropes in the second half is less fun, it’s still much better than average, and both Hill and Channing Tatum remain good enough that the film never feels less than really, really funny.

The Master

Similar to Looper, I know this is a great movie that will age well. I loved watching it, and look forward to watching it again on Blu-Ray. Like Looper, it tackles an idea that will never not be interesting, and an idea that will never go away. The idea of being on the outside looking in is far more important to this film than the much more publicized idea of Scientology, which is good, as that is a significantly more universal and interesting idea. It seems likely to me that, in ten years, The Master will be remembered as the best film of 2012, and I will have no problems with that. But this year at least, I liked two films better, if only because I value contrarianism.

Ruby Sparks

 

I have yet to meet somebody who has also seen this movie, and that depresses me immensely. In a world where Zooey Deschanel and other Manic Pixie Dream Girls are so well-liked and fawned over by males, this movie is a really enjoyable deconstruction of how horrible the process of actually dating that type of girl might be. Eventually, you’ll grow tired of everybody, and the dream will fade away, leaving you only with the annoying pixie aspects, and somebody that’s totally fucking manic. The film’s climax is likely the most exciting typing scene since All the Presidents Men, and directors Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton bring great style to a very interesting script by co-star Zoe Kazan. While some men who write their films like to imagine their romantic interest to be some magical ball of perfection, Kazan writes her film in a way that makes her that character, and then continues to pick apart why that idea can be so damaging.

The Cabin in the Woods

Aside from 21 Jump Street and Celeste and Jesse Forever, this movie might be the hardest I laughed all year. Its deconstruction of the horror genre is not in any way subtle, but it’s enjoyable in every way. Plus, any film that features Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins hanging out together and delivering dialogue that could only be described as “Whedonesque” is a movie that’s worth seeing. But while the movie begins to turn into a more standard horror film, its playing with long-held ideas remains ever present and humourous, while also becoming interesting. This is a horror movie that is pro-drugs, seems to put across the idea that watching horror films makes us bad people, and in the end, Cabin in the Woods is anti-humanity. Which is crazy, dark, and entertaining in a way no other film was this year.

 

 

 

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