Another Top 10 for 2012

Like Aren, I thought this was a fine year for filmmaking. Even with the mere forty or so new films (defined as films that had either a commercial or festival screening in 2012) I saw this year, it was hard to single out a top ten even though the top four were pretty much a lock. Singling out ten films is for me an exercise in highlighting films that pleased, thrilled, entertained, awed, and provoked. Some films do all of the above. The list of films that remains unseen by me is long, and includes The Kid with a Bike, Amour, Cosmopolis, The Turin Horse, Silver Linings Playbook, Flight, and Les Misérables among many others. Thus, this is no attempt at comprehensively making a statement about the year as a whole, but rather about me and my movie-going proclivities.

Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) travel American plotting revenge.

1.     Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino)

Quentin Tarantino made my favourite film of the year. It’s audacious and entertaining and also perhaps Tarantino’s most ethical film (and a fascinating companion piece to Inglourious Basterds). Filled with great performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Samuel L. Jackson, Django utilizes the film grammar of the Western to explode the myth of the genteel South.

Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward) plan their escape.

2.     Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)

Adolescents making sense of the adult world is something of a repeated theme in the films of Wes Anderson. On the island of New Penzance Sam and Suzy make their break with the foolishness of the adults in their lives; in adolescence one is able to embrace romantic ideals without the fear that comes with the knowledge of what happens if one fails. At turns giddily joyous and melancholic, Moonrise Kingdom continues Anderson’s run as one of the best American filmmakers working today.

Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) at the end of the war.

3.     The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

The other Anderson on the list, in his follow-up to There Will Be Blood (one of the best films of the last decade), managed to transcend “the Scientology” movie that everyone talked about him making. Instead, he ambitiously tackles the broken heart of America in the post-WWII era, and the twin drives of sex and religion through The Cause. The film continues to haunt me months after I saw it, particularly Joaquin Pheonix’s performance as Freddie Quell.

Bane (Tom Hardy) returns Gotham to "the people."

4.     The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)

 Christpher Nolan’s conclusion to his Batman trilogy was immensely satisfying for me. Nolan embraces bringing his part in the Batman story to a kind of conclusion. Some wonderful set pieces and thematic callbacks to Batman Begins, make this one of the best third films in a trilogy ever.

Who is the girl in the picture card?

5.     Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami)

 I saw this one at TIFF 2012, but it will likely get a wider release in 2013. Kiarostami continues his cinematic investigation of identity and relationships in this story set in contemporary Japan. As characters simulate various familial and romantic ties, the film is more than a game, but gets to the real stakes involved with the notion of intimacy.

What is Holy Motors?

 6.     Holy Motors (Leos Carax)

 Leos Carax also asks questions about the nature of performance in this bravura piece of filmmaking. Holy Motors is one of the most wild critical statements on cinema and seems to me to embrace the whole Godardian notion that the best way to critique a film is by making one. I would be remiss to mention that Denis Lavant gives one of the great performances of the year.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) returns to his roots.

7.     Skyfall (Sam Mendes)

 Believe the hype that Skyfall is one of the best Bond films ever, even if I haven’t forgotten that Casino Royale was as well. The pair of Danial Craig bond films are probably the best since the role was inhabited by Sean Connery. Skyfall is beautiful filmmaking and thrilling genre storytelling that appreciates the Bond mythos while pushing into new territory.

Arrietty faces up to the cat.

8.     The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi)

 Arrietty is the best children’s film of the year, not surprisingly coming from the unmatched Studio Ghibli. This retelling of the classic children’s book, The Borrowers, has some of the most imaginative sequences of the year as Arrietty and her father explore the house on a borrowing mission. In addition to the beautiful animation, the film has some of the best sound design I’ve experienced in simulating the how the world must sound if you are particularly small.

The Prometheus begins its descent into the atmosphere of LV-223

9.     Prometheus (Ridley Scott)

 No joke, Prometheus is one of the best-looking science fiction films I’ve ever seen. If you didn’t see it in 3D on the biggest screen possible, you missed out. Scott’s use of 3D is unparalleled in creating the effect of depth and immersion in an alien environment. And while it may not be enough for some, I feel that the form reflects the themes that Scott is exploring in this Lovecraftian tale, inspiring the sense of awe and horror.

Mallory Kane (Gina Carano) handily dismantles Aaron (Channing Tatum)

10.  Haywire (Steven Soderbergh) 

A few films could have taken this final spot on my list, but I wanted to highlight this gem from last winter. Soderbergh’s Haywire is a modest film, but it is one of the best action films I’ve seen in ages. Utilizing MMA star Gina Carano’s physicality, this has some of the best fight scenes as Soderbergh allows us to follow the fights through their own narrative logic as Carano dismantles a pretty impressive male supporting cast, including Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, and Antonio Banderas.

 Another dozen: Looper (Rian Johnson), Lincoln (Steven Spielberg), Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin), To the Wonder (Terrence Malick), Brave (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman), Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow), Bernie (Richard Linklater), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson), Night Across the Street (Raúl Ruiz), The Dictator (Larry Charles), Argo (Ben Affleck), The Grey (Joe Carnahan)