This was my first year as a fully-enrolled film student. Sometimes I worry becoming a filmmaker will make it harder to enjoy movies as a filmgoer. Thankfully, I haven’t become a bitter old quite hack yet; there were some movies I got really excited about this past year. So without further ado, here are ten of of my favorite films of 2012.
10. Ruby Sparks
Calvin, a lonely author, writes a story about the girl of his dreams who somehow steps off the page into the real world. Starring Zoe Kazan, who also stars as the titular love interest, wholly captures the search for the perfect someone while intelligently exploring what would happen if that person were suddenly a reality. You won’t find standard romance here though, as Ruby Sparks is much more like a modern fairytale version of (500) Days of Summer, with both films warning of the danger of confusing romantic ideals with actual people. The film also doesn’t shy away from the creepier implications of its Pygmalion-esque plot, but Kazan’s balanced script and Dano’s likable performance keep Calvin in our sympathies.
9. Beasts of the Southern Wild
When I finished Beasts of the Southern Wild, it was like waking up from a dream. In this dream, I was led by a child through a half-real, half-mythic landscape which resembled a Louisiana bayou. The film, from narration to cinematography, is executed from the viewpoint of a child. Adult movies about kids always have the danger of feeling artificial, but Benh Zeitlin manages to tell authentic story about a strong little girl trying to find her place in the world. See the film not only for its trancelike narrative and cinematography, but also for the revelatory performance by Quvenzhané Wallis – she was just 7-years-old when Beasts was shot.
Blending genres is a tricky business. Sometimes the mixture isn’t right – too much action, not enough comedy – and sometimes the mixture is Chronicle. Josh Trank’s film takes the components of found-footage horror, a superhero origin story, a teen drama, and Shakespearean tragedy and lumps them all together in a product not only succeeds, but soars. Anyone watching closely will also appreciate the clever ways Chronicle uses superhero tropes to escape the technical limitations of the found-footage style.
I’m also still trying to figure out how director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis created such superhero-sized set pieces with only a $15 million budget.
7. Wreck-It Ralph
Bravo, Disney: you’ve created the first unquestionably good video game movie. By taking a fervent devotion to faithfully representing video game culture and applying that commitment in equal force to character development, Disney has succeeded where others have failed. Additionally, the voice acting is just top-notch; John C. Reilly, Jack McBrayer, and even Sarah Silverman (this is honestly the first time in any medium that I haven’t hated her performance) are all excellent. After Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph, Disney’s non-Pixar CG films are really on a roll.
Whoever’s in charge of the Halo movie this week, take notes.
6. Sleepwalk With Me
This was an adorable little indie movie. Written, directed, and starring stand-up comic Mike Birbiglia, the movie is very impressive for someone who had little to no prior background in film. The semi-autobiographical plot concerns Birbiglia trepidatiously beginning his stand-up career, his 10-plus-year relationship with his college sweetheart, and his increasing troubles with sleepwalking. The film manages the tricky task of becoming more serious and more hilarious as it nears the end, exploring the necessity of being true to yourself while facing the cost of following your dreams. It’s very enjoyable, and probably the most life-affirming film on this list.