First let me mention that this is not a list of the “best films of 2012”. It is however a list of my favourite 10 films of the year. I missed many potentially great films during the year, and beyond that, would never claim to know objectively what the best films of the year are. These films are the ones that I enjoyed the most. These are the films that inspired me, or scared me, or affected me the most emotionally.
Just like every year before it, 2012 was a year of disappointment, surprise and great cinema. This list reflects what I found surprising, exciting and great.
10. Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson is a filmmaker stuck in his ways, and that is not always a bad thing. His style is distinct and assured. This leads to him often repeating himself, both thematically and stylistically. That said, when he manages to say something new, his films are brilliant. His latest film, Moonrise Kingdom tells the somewhat familiar story of two precocious kids in love and on the run. Anderson manages to keep the film fresh, however, with a wonderful adventure, fantastic performances, and possibly his most authentically emotional film yet.
Scott Derrickson’s Sinister might be a rather silly horror film, and yet I felt it deserved a spot in my Top 10. While not the most pleasant film experience I’ve had this year, it was certainly one of the most intense. What makes Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill’s script great is that it not only gives you a family that you care about, but a reason for them to stay in the potentially haunted house. Combining effective jump-scares with an incredibly unsettling atmosphere, Sinister is one of the scariest films I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
8. Django Unchained
I am not ashamed to admit that I have never liked Quentin Tarantino. His films just do not work for me. The dialogue and style usually rubs me the wrong way. And yet I still fully understand why he is such an important figure in film, and why so many love his work. With Tarantino’s latest effort Django Unchained, I now have a personal understanding of why film fans worship at his feet. Tarantino’s epic tribute to the spaghetti-western is a beautifully shot, acted and scored film that is occasionally hurt by some of his more self-indulgent directorial choices, such as a particularly distracting cameo. And while those hurt the film, the overall experience outweighs his few bizarre choices.
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Behn Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild is about as impressive a debut as you could possibly hope for. It is also a film that is clearly a first feature. Zeitlin is at once naive and confident in his directorial choices, delivering one of the freshest pieces of cinema this year. Told from the perspective of 6-year old Hushpuppy, the film tells the story of the fictional Bathtub, a part of America in danger of being washed away by a flood. Even if it weren’t for the great cinematography, editing and supporting characters, the power of Quvenzhane Wallis’ performance as Hushpuppy makes the film worth seeing.
6. Magic Mike
The marketing for Magic Mike was both frustrating and genius. It made the film a solid hit, but made some skeptical of the film’s quality. Steven Soderbergh’s name should have convinced any cynical audience members that the film was more than the trailers were selling. Soderbergh presents a realistic, funny and often-depressing look at the life of an aging male stripper, based on the experience of the film’s star Channing Tatum. It is a small film, but one that shows just how much Soderbergh has perfected his cinematic approach.
5. The Comedy
While I laughed throughout Rick Alverson’s The Comedy, I was never sure if I should feel bad for doing so. The film follows Swanson, an aging hipster played with great authenticity by Tim Heidecker, as he wastes his time and his family’s money. No character in the film is likeable, and it is to Alverson’s credit that this never becomes an issue. The film meanders and is mostly improvised, and yet it is exceptionally fascinating as you wonder just how awful these characters can become. I was shocked by how much I enjoyed the film, finding it both hilarious and depressingly honest.
4. Stories We Tell
Sarah Polley followed her directorial debut Away From Her with two of this year’s best films, Take This Waltz and Stories We Tell. Both films are incredibly personal and honest films showcasing the downfalls of love. It was Stories We Tell, her documentary about her mother and discovery of her potential biological father that ended up being the stronger of the two. It is not new for filmmakers to depict their feelings, fears and memories on screen, yet it is still shocking and refreshing to see someone willing to open themselves up so entirely to their audience. Stories We Tell is a heartbreaking and beautiful film that is never self-indulgent, but simply honest.
3. Wuthering Heights
Andrea Arnold first caught my attention with her exceptional 2009 film Fish Tank. Her depiction of an angry young girl living in an English estate floored me with its authenticity. To my surprise, her adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic Wuthering Heights was just as authentic and brutal. Arnold’s adaptation sets itself apart for many reasons; most controversially being the fact she cast two Black actors in the role of Heathcliff. However, more importantly, the film changes what it means to be a British costume drama. Instead of being cold and lavish, the film is intensely emotional and brutal. Arnold’s Wuthering Heights was this year’s biggest surprise. From the first beautiful frame of her film, Arnold had my attention, ultimately leaving me emotionally drained.
2. The Master
Much attention was given to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master due to the misleading reports that the film would tell the story of the Church of Scientology. Instead, the film focusses on two men, played incredibly by Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, as they become increasingly obsessed with each other. While this more personal story may have disappointed some, it was epic in its own way. Few filmmakers are as confident as Anderson, and it shows. Each shot, cut and performance is perfect. In a year when many critics announced the “death of cinema”, Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master singlehandedly proves that claim wrong.
1. John Carter
No other film this year gave me as much joy as Andrew Stanton’s much-maligned adventure epic John Carter. The disaster that was its marketing and release was unfortunate, however, the film itself is fantastic. As a huge fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter series of books, I was both incredibly excited and worried sitting down for my first viewing of Stanton’s adaptation. Since that day on March 7th, I have seen the film eight times. Stanton’s power as a Pixar director is not lost here, as he brings just as much filmmaking skill and heart to his first live-action effort. Andrew Stanton’s John Carter may never get a sequel, and did not receive the positive attention it deserved. However, I am certain in the years to come, it will become a classic.