This was a difficult year for me, as amidst a host of personal problems and big changes I was often disappointed in the films that were released. But there were a few glimmers of beauty that shone through the murk of big budget flops and insipid independent releases. Here are the films that, for me, are 2012's most interesting, most beautiful and most significant, as well as snippets from my reviews throughout the year.
Looking forward to the potential and mystery that a new year holds, and wishing you a wonderful film-watching experience in the coming months.
"'Skyfall' is beautiful and brilliant, blunt and precise, wielding violence, contemplation and excellence in equal measure. The kind of movie that holds your rapt attention and makes you glad you went and saw it, which is a rarity these days, to be sure. 'Skyfall' is wonderful, everything a Bond film should be — meditations on purpose almost always overruled by a more pressing, immediate need for action on the part of our hero."
"[Director Lauren] Greenfield has made a compassionate film that still packs a punch. I know this sounds impossible, but the Siegels are the family next door, simply on an enormous scale that we're unused to. Greenfield had an immense win with the 2008 market crash, and yes that's a callous thing to say, but it's true. Following an exorbitantly rich family around was interesting, but when their entire way of life became threatened midway through the process, Greenfield had a truly fascinating movie on her hands.
"'The Queen of Versailles' is aptly named, as Jackie and her family face a sudden fall, one they never anticipated occurring. They learn to make due with less, and slowly hope to rebuild their lives back to a former glory, but something intrinsic has been lost. The outcome is still unknown, as Versailles itself sits empty, half-completed, waiting for the return of plenty."
Another powerful ensemble acting piece that features some of the strongest actors working today, "A Late Quartet" is fascinating.
"One can't help but think about how this film will appeal to such a small subset of people — definitely a movie for the NPR set, not necessarily for those who love the big blockbusters of summer. But fall is here, and as our world continues to tussle and struggle over which direction our country will go, with natural disasters and everyday life crowding in on the edges of our consciousness, perhaps the time for quiet contemplation draws near. Zilberman sidesteps many larger pressing questions regarding the importance of art, instead presenting these lives, rather than cataclysmic ideas, as worthy of consideration. Despite a vague sense of self-importance, 'A Late Quartet' remains intelligent and interesting, offering us plenty for contemplation, though this contemplation may not last longer than a sonata or two."
Director Wes Anderson brought us one of the most beautiful and charming films of the year, with fresh-faced new talent (Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward) and more seasoned actors (Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand) bringing to life a gentle tale of romance in the '60s. Though Anderson's films are often criticized for their stylization, "Moonrise Kingdom" may be a wonderful crystallization of Anderson's ideals, placing the action squarely in the '60s, which he loves so dearly, and starring children instead of adults acting as children. The world of film would be a bleaker place without Anderson, and "Moonrise Kingdom" is a stunning, stylish addition to 2012.
One of the most unique animated films in years showcases an entirely different style of stop motion animation and the importance of family, even in abnormal situations.
"'ParaNorman' is a powerful piece of filmmaking, elegantly and perfectly tying together every element, from the stunning stop-motion animation to the spooky and original storyline and beyond. When a film like this starts out strong, so often it can lose steam midway through or completely bungle a singular aspect near the end. From the first few moments of 'ParaNorman,' it became apparent that this film was exceptional, worthy of trust that both the journey and destination would be enjoyable, and it absolutely did not disappoint."
"Our delusions run deep, often right down the core of our being, and love causes us to fall into lunacies we can't even imagine. We find ourselves doing deranged things out of a misplaced sense of love or devotion, and drifting into a fugue state of rationalizing poor decisions made for seemingly great reasons. 'Silver Linings Playbook' carefully walks the line between reminding us of our own relentless obsessions and distancing us enough from the action to see the crazy that is ever so evident before us. A character drama for people who can handle being spoken to as adults, with a hefty dose of honesty."
Lyrical and beautiful as a poem half remembered, director Andrea Arnold's vision of the 19th century novel is moving and spare.
"For those who have never read the book, it will matter little as Arnold has taken care to develop an easily understood world and a felt story apart from the bleak novel. Arnold, along with cinematographer Robbie Ryan, is particularly gifted at evoking a strong and all-consuming sense of place, filling the screen with gorgeous, vibrant images and the sounds that go along with them -- whistling winds, clanging pots and pans; every scene seems to evolve through the main striking images then the smaller details that memory grasps hold of, on down to the microscopic moments of color, texture and sound that must be experienced."
From director Steven Spielberg comes a powerful and compelling piece of filmmaking that showcases no ego, only strong work from a host of veteran actors. Watching an ensemble piece as powerful as this was as effective as a time machine for bringing the realism and rancor of the Civil War close to home. Lincoln (Daniel Day-Lewis) struggles against a host of problems, and though we know the outcome of the war, the stakes are never higher as freedom is born in America through bitter battle and harsh losses. Profound, moving and obsessively well-done.
The kind of spirited film they just don't make anymore, filled with a riveting, high-stakes story and beautiful editing and visuals. Director Ben Affleck is growing more confident in his abilities and it shows.
"'Argo' is a movie that will happily please a wide swath of the population, captivating and realistic, moving and intricate, broad and simple enough, and tinged with the thrill of reality. Whenever you base something on a true story you run the risk of failing to include some important detail, some small matter, but 'Argo' feels wonderfully full, complete with the details and tension that elevate a great script and premise into something more — a fantastic film."
A stirring drama with heart that appeals to a wide variety of people. This film represents so much of what's occurring in America -- even now, with the old pitted against the new, with progress learning to work hand in hand with tradition. Writers and lead actors John Krasinski and Matt Damon have crafted a wonderful film that explores the opportunistic world of natural gas fracking.
"'Promised Land' has a few flaws, but the ones that it does have can be mostly overlooked. There's a few moments that may rub you the wrong way, a plot point or two that either fails to really move the story forward or simply makes no sense at all. But all of that is boorish nitpicking for what is really a wonderful film that will appeal to a diverse audience, if they can get past the sigh-inducing political nature of natural gas drilling as a concept and accept a warm and vivacious character-driven drama with moments of lighthearted beauty throughout. With strong performances all around, "Promised Land" is compelling and riveting, captivating without being preachy, and idealistic without resorting to nauseating sentimentality."