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.
I still refuse to spoil The Cabin in the Woods for the uninitiated, so all I will say about the plot is that it’s a very funny horror movie rife with clever genre deconstruction. It’s the kind of movie you want other movies in the genre to emulate. The script is also a great example of why the three-act structure works so well. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and don’t learn anything more about it before you watch it.
One day, the limitations of stop-motion animation met a studio called Laika. The next day, only Laika and film called Coraline were left standing over the shattered remains of these aforementioned limitations. Sometime after that, Laika made Paranorman, a film which made this reviewer laugh and cry in copious amounts; I trust the film will do the same to you. Aside from the animation wizardry constantly on display, this is a brave children’s film that treats its young target audience like adults. The story realistically comments on the nature of evil, and doesn’t shy away from the fact that bad things can happen to good people. The film communicates these themes with zombies (h*ll yes!) and wraps it all up in a massively entertaining and uplifting package that no one should miss.
I didn’t catch this one until recently, and I’m really glad I did. Bernie is about one of the nicest guys you’d ever have the good fortune to meet. One day, he kills someone. The prosecuting attorney prepares his case, but he’s unable to find anyone in town willing to convict Bernie because they all love him and hate the woman he killed.
Did I mention this is a true story?
Richard Linklater directs Bernie as part biopic, part documentary. The film blends event reenactments starring Jack Black, Matthew McConauhey, and Shirley MacLaine with interviews of people who knew the real Bernie. Black in particular gives what is easily the best, most subtle performance of his career. Bernie is funny, bizarre, and a clever meditation on morality and what makes someone good or evil.
2. Moonrise Kingdom
The mise-en-scene in Moonrise Kingdom is incredible. Every shot is like peering into a pop-up storybook brought to life, populated with charmingly bizarre people and their very real problems. Tone-wise this is Wes Anderson at his best, with his trademark quirkiness and childlike whimsy belying the intense disappointment fueling so many of the film’s characters. Additionally, this is the best ensemble cast of the year; Bill Murray, Ed Norton, and Frances McDormand all bring their A-game as the adults, while newcomers Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman create adorable chemistry as pre-teen runaways. This is the kind of movie that lifts your spirits for days after you watch it.
1. The Avengers
I’m going to get flak for this, and I don’t care. Think of how difficult making The Avengers had to be. Writer/director Joss Whedon and producer Kevin Feige had to bring together nine major characters from across five different films, make them all relevant, and give them all their own arc. And The Avengers doesn’t just pull everything off – it triumphs with style, wit, and emotional weight. The structure of the script puts everyone where they need to be the way only Joss Whedon can, allowing them all time to shine.
And just because a character’s emotional arc is resolved by punching a space whale in the face doesn’t mean it’s not art. Art connects with people, and since The Avengers came out I can see its effect almost everywhere. Everyone I know has picked their favorite Avenger, or favorite moment from the film. The internet has been flooded with memes that don’t make fun of the film, but celebrate it. When I bring my case of DVDs to parties, this is the movie everyone wants to watch. The film isn’t just some 5-year marketing experiment that paid off; it’s an expertly crafted film that tapped into something everyone wanted to see: a group of human beings (and one human-ish Norse god) overcoming their own flaws to bombastically save the world. That narrative makes The Avengers my favorite film of the year.
Now bring on 2013!