Films that I saw in 2012 that I really loved:
Pariah is, I think, the best film that I saw in the year. The line Alike says, toward the end of the film — “I’m not running; I’m choosing.” — still stands out to me as one of the most simple, and yet powerful, lines I’ve seen delivered in a film the last number of years. In many ways, the film caught me off guard. I knew that it was going to be a queer coming of age story, and it touched on most of the standard tropes of that kind of story. But it was so slice-of-life-y that when the trope-y moments arrive, they just cut to the bone.
The Gatekeepers — which I saw at the festival — was an amazingly good documentary that interviews the 6 most recent still-living heads of the Israeli Shin Bet agency. The director gets them all to talk about their views of the Israeli-Palestine conflict and, given their jobs, what they have to say is really quite eye opening.
I also really enjoyed Take Shelter. In many ways, it follows a well-tread formula: man is having dreams of the end of the world. Are they real, or is he having a breakdown? I thought that this film did an interesting job keeping you guessing about which of those outcomes was going to be shown as “real.” (I haven’t really gone to look for it, but I’d be interested in any critique of how the film treats mental illness) A big part of what worked for me in the film was the dialog. There was something very real-seeming and fresh about the dialog and the delivery of that dialog.
At the same time I saw Take Shelter, I saw another film where the dialog really stuck with me: Margaret. I didn’t think there was much to the story, but the dialog really stood out. Very different than Take Shelter which was sparse and withheld — here, Anna Paquin shows how a smart teenager can use eloquent sentences to build emotional walls. It feels strange to enjoy a film for something as elementary as dialog, but there it is.
A positively creepy film was We Need to Talk About Kevin: emotionally brutal, but powerful. I will probably watch anything that Tilda Swinton is in but man that’s a hard movie.
I was also pleasantly surprised by The Grey — at one level, a relatively common struggle-for-survival after a plane crash story, but one which used that story structure as a backdrop to explore an atheist worldview. I think that my appreciation for this film probably relies a great deal on the fact that I had low, low expectations of the film going in. Liam Neeson, in particular, has picked some real stinker scripts in past years.
I think that same strategy — having low or no expectations — also lead me to quite enjoy Take this Waltz. I passed it by several times (’cause of Seth Rogan), but finally talked myself into watching the trailer on Apple TV and then almost-immediately giving it a try. It’s a “did you ever have to make up your mind?” relationship story. Does our heroine stay with the existing relationship, or pursue the new relationship? (Again, no poly allowed). I liked that the existing relationship in the movie wasn’t shown to be flawed in a way that was plot-convenient. It’s a much rawer “somebody is going to get hurt” scenario. But while I’m thinking about that film, I should probably mention The Deep Blue Sea which did a much better job with a similar theme. Also, it had more to say, I think. Deep Blue Sea is a much slower film, but I’m comfortable with slowness in movies.
In terms of big budget films, I quite liked The Hunger Games. I expected to adore The Dark Knight Rises, but only liked it. I enjoyed the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. And I liked The Avengers. It’s funny: I liked The Hunger Games so much more than The Avengers. In many ways, The Hunger Games feels like a rough film — it has that odd pacing that I think happens when books are made into films without adapting to the constraints of the film format. I also think it flubbed some of its most interesting themes. But I liked the story it was telling — I liked what it had to say. By contrast, The Avengers is almost pitch-perfect movie-making (although I think the final battle feels a touch weird). The battle on the helicarrier is riveting, good action, nice sense of urgency and threat. But what does the film really have to say? (Other than that Tony and Bruce should just get a room already…)
I don’t think I caught many out-and-out stinkers this year, although I was bitterly disappointed in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close — mostly because I really loved Stephen Daldry’s two recent offerings: The Hours and The Reader. Extremely Loud was a sobering disappointment.
Films I haven’t yet seen, but am looking forward to: Anna Karenina, Looper, and Flight (I don’t know why that last one piques my interest so much, but it’s hard to go too far wrong with Denzel).