Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The 10 Best Films of 2012

This is it, the finale to my 2012 coverage.  2012 was an amazing year of film and it was by far the best year of film I've experienced since The Unicellular Review was born in 2009.  With that all said, only one thing remains, to name what I believe to be the 10 Best Films of 2012, counting down from my 10th favorite film, to what I believe to be the Best Film of 2012.

In all honesty, I could have easily expanded this to a Top 15, or even Top 20, there were that many movies that I liked this year, as it is, I actually felt as if I had to play like a real critic this year and weigh each film that I really liked against one another, and the 10 below are what I feel best represent the best films from 2012.  Every film in the top 10 received an A+ rating, and deservedly so, but what is number one?  Time to say goodbye to 2012 with the 10 Best Films of 2012:

10.  The Secret World of Arrietty

I have always had an affinity for hand drawn animation, and no animation studio on Earth does as fine a job as Studio Ghibli in Japan.  Released in America by Disney, The Secret World of Arrietty is a Japanese adaptation of the classic children's book, The Borrowers, about six centimeter tall people living in the walls and floorboards of homes, scavenging for food and supplies.  The animation in this film is lush and colorful, and the film itself is a joy from start to finish.  Written by Studio Ghibli co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki, the film features many Miyazaki trademarks:  a strong teenaged heroine, a mischievous sense of adventure, and a deeper thematic approach than most American animation.  The film deals with ideas such as childhood cancer and the looming specter of death, while also telling a gentle coming-of-age story.  While not as large scale as Ghibli films like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, The Secret World of Arrietty may be one of Studio Ghibli's better films they've ever made.

9.  Lincoln

The story goes that director Steven Spielberg had been wanting to make a film about Abraham Lincoln for the past 12 years, and in 2012 he finally got his chance with Daniel Day-Lewis playing Honest Abe, and the film was definitely worth the wait.  Spielberg is by far my favorite filmmaker of all-time, so anytime I get to see a new film from him, I'm ecstatic, but Lincoln was the first film he'd made since War of the Worlds in 2005 that I felt he had a passion for the story he was telling.  That's the best way to describe Lincoln, it's a passionate look at one of the most revered US Presidents to ever live, and yet it never idolizes Lincoln.  Spielberg and company show Lincoln as a real, flesh-and-blood human being, with flaws and all, but in so many ways, that is what makes me love Lincoln even more.  If you haven't seen Lincoln because you feel that in Spielberg's work he often beats viewers over the head with music and shot design to force sentimentality, then you aren't giving Lincoln a chance.  Here, Spielberg really shows restraint, utilizing very minimal music and lets the actors' performances dictate when he pushes the camera into their faces, rather than him trying to force an emotional response.  As a diehard Spielberg fan, this is a welcome return to form for the master, and for those who are on the fence about his works, give this one a chance.

8.  Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook was one of those films that I was skeptical could live up to all of the hype surrounding it.  So many critics praised it, and the film itself seemed to have won over the arthouse crowd, winning the Audience Award at the Toronto International Film Festival, however, I was not sure on this one till I finally saw it and was utterly moved by the experience.  In the film, actor Bradley Cooper portrays a bi-polar substitute teacher named Pat, who has just gotten out of a mental hospital, where he was sent because he beat the living daylights out of the man who had an affair with his wife.  Now, back in the care of his parents, portrayed by Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver, Pat sets out on a hilarious and heartfelt journey to try and win back his wife with the help of his new friend, Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence.  What makes this film so magical is the chemistry between the actors.  Every actor brought their A-game here and delivered an award's worthy performance.  Both Cooper and Lawrence are hilarious in their performances, but they also both dug down deep and bared all their emotions with no filters.  What you see is what you get with Cooper and Lawrence in this film, and there is a genuine spark between the two actors that can't really be described in words.  This is just an uplifting film that is quirky, dramatic, while also being laugh-out loud hilarious.

7.  Zero Dark Thirty 

Another film that I was super skeptical about before seeing it.  So many critics were hailing it as the film of 2012, and you know what, Zero Dark Thirty truly is one of the finer films of 2012.  The film tells the 10 year long journey by the CIA to find Osama Bin Laden, culminating in the famous night raid on Bin Laden's compound from 2011.  While we'll never probably know how accurate most of this film is, seeing as how none of the real CIA agents are ever mentioned by their real names and they are forbidden to speak on it, what the film presents is a deep look at the War on Terror and the hunt for Bin Laden, illuminating many facets of the hunt that I never knew before.  Not to mention, the film is far more emotionally rewarding than I ever imagined possible, given its subject matter.  Not only is the film often tense and suspenseful, as it is in the night raid, but the film places the audience in the shoes of CIA analyst, Maya, played with fierce determination by Jessica Chastain.  In so doing, we see and feel every event through Maya's point-of-view.  When she is shaken by observing torture for the first time, or when she bursts into tears after the death of Bin Laden, we as the audience feel all that she feels, and are pondering the same question as Maya.  Now what?

6.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was like a dream come true as a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth.  For ten years, fans have waited for The Hobbit to hit the silver screen.  At times it looked like it would never happen, but The Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson, finally made the first part of a planned trilogy, and it was everything I could have hoped for.  Not only was the film a welcome return to the world and characters of Middle Earth, it expanded further on the mythology and expanded even upon Tolkien's original text.  Using the appendices of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson and company filled in all of the blanks that Tolkien never described in The Hobbit, which was written 20 years prior to The Lord of the Rings.  The film uses the backstory information to flesh out two-dimensional characters into three-dimensional beings, while also laying the seeds for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, making the story of The Hobbit more like a real prequel, rather than a separate adventure.  However, even though the film noticeably takes place in the same Middle Earth as The Lord of the Rings trilogy did, the film is much lighter, funnier, more adventurous and child-like, like the book.  The more innocent tone may be why I loved this film so much.  It felt as if it was a traditional adventure story that you might be read right before bedtime, and I don't think you could ask for any more from this film.  I cannot wait for the sequel hitting theaters this December.

5.  Wreck-It Ralph 

I was utterly charmed by this Disney animation about a video game bad guy who wanted to become a hero.  Wreck-It Ralph featured a great message for kids, but it was also flat-out hilarious with some genuine emotion underneath.  However, what really made this film stand so tall was the cast of eccentric, yet lovable characters.  From Ralph, all the way to go-kart driver, Vanellope, the characters were all fresh and original, putting new spins on the classic Disney hero and princess dichotomy.  Not to mention, as a lifelong video game fan, this film was just so much fun to watch.  There were so many little nods in the film, placed there purely for gamers, making jabs at classic video game cliches, as well as featuring cameos from video game characters like Q-bert and Sonic the Hedgehog, prompting me to watch the background almost as much as the foreground to see which characters were in there.  No other film in 2012 was as funny as Wreck-It Ralph, and no other animated film was quite as enjoyable or emotionally rewarding as it was also.

4.  Skyfall

In 2012, the cinematic James Bond turned 50 with the release of the 23rd Bond film, Skyfall.   Skyfall once more starred Daniel Craig as 007, and what made Skyfall such a remarkable Bond film was that it was sort of an anti-Bond film in concept.  The film starts with James Bond being shot, believed to be dead, only to return to action with an injury that keeps him from performing his typical super heroics for the rest of the film.  So for starters, the film portrayed Bond more so as a real human being and not as a superhero, but it also delved deeper into Bond's unexplored past than any Bond film before it.  In the past, it always seemed as if the producers simply wanted to leave the questions of where Bond came from a mystery, but here they return to the original Ian Fleming novels and boldly go where no Bond film has dared go before, detailing 007's childhood.  However, here was the true brilliance of Skyfall, and why it is one of the best films of 2012, while the filmgoers seemed to have set out to make an anti-Bond film, in the process they made the most Bond-like Bond film since the Pierce Brosnan-era.  Javier Bardem shows up as flamboyant cyber terrorist, Silva, who may just be one of the finer Bond villains in 007 history, and shooting the film in exotic locales with two of the more traditional-styled Bond girls since Die Another Day, made the film feel like Bond.  In essence, Skyfall was the have your cake and eat it too, Bond film.  It satisfied the inner 7-year-old who wants to see all the things that makes James Bond, James Bond, while giving more food for thought and deeper characterizations to please the film enthusiast looking for actual complexity to the story and characters.

3.  The Amazing Spider-Man

Sony boldly rebooted the Spider-Man franchise only a decade after the original Spider-Man was released in 2002.  I'll be honest, I didn't hold much hope for The Amazing Spider-Man before it was released, primarily because I was such a fan of the Tobey Maguire films and none of the trailers showed what ultimately made this film just as good as the others, it's beating heart.  I could go on to say how The Amazing Spider-Man actually delved deeper into the character of Peter Parker than the other films did, but what really sold me on this film after seeing it was how emotionally potent it was, and that was because of the pitch perfect cast.  Andrew Garfield was Peter Parker, there's no other way to put it.  He had the sarcasm, the wit and the charm, and what more can be said about the chemistry between Emma Stone and Garfield, as Gwen Stacy and Spider-Man, respectively.  This film just felt like the Spider-Man comic books to me.  Big scale action with a human heart beneath all of the epicness, lending the film an operatic quality.  Director Marc Webb and his cast and crew just all understood the material and it shows as you watch the film and are genuinely surprised at how they cleverly retell pieces of Spider-Man's origin while still delivering the chill inducing moments of awesomeness that one expects from a spectacle such as this.  A job well done.

2.  The Hunger Games

I feel I have already written an entire book about The Hunger Games by this point, but I'll just say this, The Hunger Games was a pitch perfect adaptation of Suzanne Collins' young adult novel.  The way director Gary Ross and his cast and crew brought to life Collins' world was simply amazing, and in many ways, better than its literary counterpart.  The filmmakers fleshed out the events of the story, imagining things that weren't in the book to make the film play better as a film.  The entire book is told from Katniss's point-of-view, therefore explaining why things are happening because we can read her thoughts, but film does not have that luxury, and so they created scenes to detail why Katniss thought those things in the book.  I'll be honest, I was at first put off the first time I saw the film due to this, and due to the simpler nature of some of the character relationships, in order to make them easier to understand, but in doing all of this, it made the film its own entity and made it stronger than it would have been had it told the story verbatim.  I now fully appreciate all that Ross and company did, and I absolutely love this film and find it suspenseful and thought provoking, but above all, I love the characters and that is what keeps me coming back to it, time and time again.

1.  The Avengers

No other film this year was as perfect as The Avengers.  This film was the culmination of four years worth of promises, with all of the little teases that had been sprinkled throughout the Marvel films since the first Iron Man in 2008 coming to fruition.  The Avengers delivered on all its promise and then went one step further.  In some ways I feel it's like the superhero version of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai.  Earth is in danger from a bandit, or in this case, a celestial villain named Loki, and the only way to save Earth is for a group of the Earth's mightiest heroes to unite and fight together as one to save the day.  Like Kurosawa's film, these heroes don't necessarily get along at first, but through their common goals they learn to fight as one and by the end, they become a team.  But seriously, does this film really require so much in depth analysis?  Things go boom, Tony Stark has more snappy one-liners than ever before, and the joy of seeing Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, and Thor, onscreen together, all acting as if they stepped out of the comic books, is the greatest treat of it all.  Here's the best way to sum up how I feel about The Avengers.  I feel the same way after watching The Avengers as I do after I watch the original 1977 Star Wars.  I truly feel that The Avengers is a classic and may just be the only film on this list remembered fifty years down the road.


And that is it for 2012!  What a year of film.  All I have to say 2013, is that you have some awfully big shoes to fill.  Bring on Superman and some more Middle Earth, I'm ready.

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