From April to September, I do little besides watch Major League Baseball. On good days, I spend ten to twelve hours with the PS3 fired up on MLB.tv. On bad days, when there are no day games, five to seven. It is glorious and magnificent and sad.
Little known fact: there happen to be six other months of the year. I know, right? Mind blowing. And during these six months, I do little else besides watch movies. To be exact, and I will because I keep a Microsoft Word document detailing what I’ve watched, since the first week of October, I have watched 241 movies. Please don’t do the math to compute how many that is per day.
Here is a darn near complete list of the eighteen or so best movies from the most recent calendar year. That would be 2012 for all of you even more out of the loop than me. Don’t see your favorite? Comment. I like to argue almost as much as I like to watch movies and baseball.
So without further delay, here’s the list. I had done many more, but whittled it down to eighteen for brevity’s sake and because I only have so much free time. That last clause was as a blatant lie.
Watching “Compliance” was as an uncomfortable viewing as I have experienced in many months. This is independent film-making at its finest, features superb performances, most notably an Oscar-snubbed Ann Dowd, and sparks heated discussion afterwards. Going into the actual plot would do it a disservice, but the film offers an examination of a situation that makes viewers want to scream out in skepticism. That it all happened makes it even harder to believe.
I expected to hate this movie. And even after watching the hockey-centric comedy, I’m not sure where within its meager runtime my loathing transferred to something else, but it did. Thinking back on it, there were many elements that I didn’t care for—the tacked on romance subplot, Jay Baruchel in general—but something about it just worked. It’s funny, gives us original, fleshed out characters, and features a spot-on showing from the criminally underrated Liev Schreiber.
Close your eyes and listen to Jack Black as the titular character in this, and he sounds like he’s doing a poor impression of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Capote.” Open your eyes and he looks like a toad with a mustache. But I digress. “Bernie” was a fun, original distortion of the traditional tropes of a real-life crime film, and featured some of the cleverest editing of the year. Maybe not the best editing, mind you, but some of the cleverest. How dare you try and twist my words.
One of the best scenes of the year comes from “Flight” when, and cover your eyes if you would rather not know the plane crashes, the plane crashes. Seeing it on the big screen, with darkness surrounding me and a heavy set Asian woman’s breath on my neck, there were few tenser movie-going moments this year. And that was just the first twenty minutes. When the movie slows down, it is just as good, and were it not for a story-telling choice during the film’s later moments, this would be much, much higher on the list. I wanted to love it. Oh, how I wanted to love it. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be for me and “Flight.”
Though it has been taking home many prizes for being the top film of the year, “Argo” left me wanting… something. It was intense. Funny when it needed to be. And the climax was worthy of a few clinches of the arm rest. When it ended, I was sure I had just seen the best picture of 2012. And then it happened. I started to think back on it and all of the little techniques within that slyly worked to manipulate a viewer to feel a certain way. I’ll call this the ‘Ron Howard’ effect. Just because a movie hits all the right notes doesn’t mean it’s a song worth singing along with. I will watch it a second time later this month, and maybe my response will be more positive. Maybe I’ll overlook some of the editing tricks used to illicit tension. Or maybe I’ll become more jaded. Let’s call this the “Looper” effect. I’m betting on the latter.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an angel in my eyes. Even when she is sitting at rock bottom. And rest assured, in “Smashed,” her character is paying rent at that very site. And somehow, through her natural charisma as a performer or my undying passion for her dimpled cheeks, I rooted for her all the way on her path to recovery from alcoholism. This is a minor story told in a low-key fashion, but sometimes, that’s more than enough. Also, Miss Winstead got robbed of an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. But that’s a different story.
12: The Grey
From the trailer, this looked like nothing more than a generic action movie pitting men against wolves. As a big fan of wolves and a big hater of men, I was all set to avoid this due to having my rooting interests compromised. But director Joe Carnahan earned my good graces with the under-seen “Narc”, and I’m giddy as gravy he did because his latest film was way more than I could have anticipated. “The Grey” is not an action movie. It is something entirely different and deserves to be seen by an audience other than the one that gets off on ‘splosions and witty one liners after 'splosions.
No one likes people with more than them. For example, I hate this hobo that hangs out at Big Lots. The people who work at Big Lots hate the people running the company. The people running it hate the people running the bigger companies. And the C.E.O.’s of those bigger companies hate everyone. Due to this reason, “Arbitrage” does something I would have thought impossible. It makes one particular big wig C.E.O. as despicable as possible and, against the odds, also its hero. We actually root for him to get away with a multitude of crimes and deceptions. This is a rare phenomenon and only partly attributable to Richard Gere’s presence in the movie. #1980sdreamboat
I cannot say how long this movie is because I am too lazy to go look on the back of the blu ray and too lazier to google it. But I can say that for the first, oh, 95% of it, I was liking but not loving it. It was a quirky, fun little independent time travel comedy and nothing more. And then the end. I won’t say anything else about it except for no movie moment from this year generated the euphoria within me that the ending to this did, and that takes a certain special quality. It wasn’t necessarily what happened. In fact, the plot is really beside the point. I have seen it twice since that initial viewing, and while it didn’t quite have the same resonance as my first watch, it was still something special. “Safety Not Guaranteed” made me feel absolute joy, and all jokes aside, when a movie can do that, you’ve got something.
One of the quickest ways for a film to weasel onto my good side is through the use of long scenes. Call me a sucker, but I love them dearly. “Killer Joe” is essentially a filmed play, and while the performances can be a bit showy at times, it just works. The team behind it previously worked on “Bug”, another under-viewed gem, and here they are clearly having fun. Never before has a group of characters been so, so, so dumb. “Killer Joe” is violent, sexually explicit, and features the greatest fried chicken scene in film history. It also features a game performance from Matthew McCounaghey, who broke out in 2012 with four examples that he isn’t just a handsome Texan with a great butt.
8: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Few movies are able to generate the full range of emotional responses from a viewer, but this little indie which could manages to do just that. There are scenes where even the most hardened of curmudgeons would smile. Scenes where even the most evil people in the world, podiatrists, would become outraged. Scenes where even the most robotic of robots would dry their eyes. At its heart, it is a coming of age story seen through the eyes of a poor, imaginative you girl. This also features one of the best scores of the year, and listening to hit has brought a smile to my goofy mug many mornings at the gym. Please don’t judge me. Everyone else already does.
The elements at work in “Silver Linings Playbook” shouldn’t work, but somehow, they do. At its heart, it is a romantic comedy in the most traditional sense. From the opening scene on, the end shouldn’t be unclear to anyone who has ever seen a movie before, but through the unconventional use of convention, “Silver Linings Playbook” rises above the customary trappings of the genre. Many of its detractors cite a dishonest use of mental illness, but any such claim is falling into the hand of the filmmakers. Yes, on the surface, *spoilers* love conquers all * but beneath the surface, hiding in the shadows like a pervert in a trench coat, there is far more on display.
Wes Anderson’s films have a certain quality to them, and for some, it is a taste left un-acquired. For me, however, his work is like rich, thick stew and I am just a thick slice of bread sopping up all that delicious, hearty goodness. My metaphors may be jumbled. Either way, this is Anderson at the top of his game, relying on a genuinely honest story that just so happens to be surrounded by thick layers of quirk and pretension. Ah, sweet, sweet pretension.
Upon my initial discussions surrounding “Django Unchained,” I’m sure I sounded fairly jaded. I am always quick to point out any and every flaw I have with a film, and while this one does have its fair share of flaws, it has oh so much working for it that they get washed away like bodies in the Hudson River. RIP Uncle Tito. The biggest gripe with the movie is that there was just so much of it. Tarantino’s long-time editor passed away before the completion of the film, and her replacement wasn’t able to work their magic in quite the same way. Within the two-and-a-half-plus runtime of this film is a two hour classic. That said, the version we’ve been given is pretty darned good. It’s a throwback to blaxploitation films and spaghetti westerns. Like hot dog chili on a pizza, it shouldn’t work. But man, does it ever.
Confession: director Paul Thomas Anderson is a personal favorite of mine. I’d like to think that he makes his movies just for me, but lets a larger audience experience it because he likes money. Unlike his previous efforts, however, “The Master” isn’t as easily digestible. It is tough to watch at times. Only one ticket was sold to my particular theatre screening, so I didn’t have the luxury of seeing how an audience reacted. If I had to guess, I’d imagine a raucous, popcorn scented orgy. But I digress. The Master is something rare in American cinema these days. A challenge. The plot doesn’t matter. The characters, their relationships, their choices– the things that are usually so obvious in movies are a mystery within “The Master.” It is chaotic and all the better for it.
3: Life of Pi
When I was in undergrad, I had the bad habit of reading. This isn’t to say that the reading itself was bad, but I would take a book with me to school early. An hour or so before my classes started, and I would sit on a bench and read. Many, many, many times, I didn’t stop until I had finished the book in one sitting, missing class in the process. One of the books I read during this time was “Life of Pi”, but it wasn’t in one sitting. You see, there came a moment when I was so overcome with emotion due to someone dicing onions near me that I was afraid of becoming a whimpering mass of machismo in front of a large audience. So I retreated to my car and finished. So my expectations entering “Life of Pi” were high, and while the movie didn’t recreate the experience I had with the book, it was an amazing achievement. Sadly, home viewing will never be able to replicate the jaw-dropping use of 3D seen on the big screen. Never before has a story about a boy, a wild animal, and a boat been this riveting. Imagine “Titanic” with Kate Winslet replaced by a bear. It is like that but not at all.
Near the end of “Cloud Atlas” is a moment so obvious but so unexpected that I hated myself for not seeing it coming and also was incredibly glad I was so naive. Many places have torn apart this film, and it would be easy to do so should one be inclined. It is over-indulgent. But it is also attempting something that has never, ever been attempted before, and while the converging stories don’t all have similar impact, there are enough little moments of bliss and grandeur within the film’s extended run-time to make it worthwhile to any viewer who is willing to go in with an open mind and patient enough to pay attention through what can feel like tedium. The movie may be long, but there is no tedium present. Every frame has a purpose. For four months up to the release of “Cloud Atlas”, I was dripping with anticipation. As the final credits rolled, I was not disappointed.
1: Zero Dark Thirty
Walking out of the theatre, I had mixed feelings of “Zero Dark Thirty.” But as the hours passed afterward, something strange happened. I ate a sandwich and forgot pickles. Weird. Oh, and something else, the movie didn’t leave my thoughts. And that is a good thing. Usually for me, after a movie ends, I enter into nit-pick mode, tearing it to shreds the way a dog would a head of cabbage while making coleslaw for a picnic. But in the case of “Zero Dark Thirty”, it was as if the movie had cast this spell on me. This isn’t a war movie in the same way that “Zodiac” wasn’t a crime drama. Both take apart the conventions of the genre and create something unique. This, like "Zodiac" is movie making at its finest.
There you have it folks. Feel free to comment away or text Catherine with vulgar derision. I am cool with either.
Also, I am not nearly as mean as I look. And for those who don’t know me, I look like Sylvester Stallone in “Demolition Man.” Fact.