I say it every year, but this time I mean it “what a shite year for movies”. I honestly don’t know what the problem is anymore because it’s not just Hollywood, even the independent films were lacking this year. Are there no good scripts out there? Is the creative talent pool running dry? Have we run out of things to say?
Overall I didn’t see as many movies as I should have in 2012 and so far 2013’s movie-going outlook appears to be slim as well. Of the movies I did see I don’t recall being blown away by anything. A good litmus test of how much impact a movie has made with me is whether I decide that I need to own it on home video or not and there were precious few movies in 2012 that I felt met that criteria. Even among my Top 5 there are few I feel I need to own although I’d certainly be interested in seeing them all again.
Brilliant casting, brilliant script, brilliant directing; Argo hit all the right marks. This is a film that could have been plodding and arduous or extremely overwrought, but Affleck and crew found the perfect pitch with which to make this story feel both historically accurate and dramatically compelling. The final half hour of this film was the most tense I’ve felt in a movie theater in quite some time and I loved every minute of it. I’m glad that Affleck recently confirmed that he is not planning on running for senate anytime soon, because as a director I think he’s really coming into his own if Argo is any indication.
2. The Cabin in the Woods
I’m not one of those Joss Whedon apologists. I love Firefly, but Buffy never did it for me and Dollhouse (while I enjoyed it) fell flat in many respects. I say this so you understand that I can view Whedon’s work objectively unlike say ... Bruce Willis, who can do no wrong in my eyes. When it comes to horror I’m more a fan of the meta aspects than I am the genre tropes. I like Romero’s work because of his social commentary. I like Evil Dead 2 and From Dusk Till Dawn because of their gratuitous, almost satirical gore and genre exploitation. The Cabin in the Woods is the ultimate meta horror film, but if it were just the script that served to sell it then it wouldn’t have worked. Instead, every aspect of this movie comes together like clockwork in order to sell the story and serve the meta-narrative with a payoff that is totally worth the price of admission.
3. Wreck-It Ralph
Based on several of the critic’s reviews of this film I have to assume that if you don’t have a history with or affinity arcade gaming then much of this film’s charm misses the mark. As someone with an extensive gaming background, this movie hit the sweet spot for me both in terms of subject, art direction, script, and acting. Yes, the cameo’s and inside jokes were clever and entertaining, but I felt the film did a great job of being more than just gamer kitsch and in telling a classic tale in a modern trapping of overcoming adversity while being true to oneself.
The trailers for this film almost ruined it for me. It really wasn’t the film’s fault either, rather it was the fact of there having been several “moody teenagers with super powers” movies over the last few years that were nothing more than excuses to hook young, beautiful actors up to wires and try to catch a crossover dude-brah and comic geek audience. It wasn’t until I looked past the “yo bro, I can fly!” surface layer of Chronicle that I realized there was something of substance there. While this isn’t a complex movie and the found footage/faux documentary style (while appropriate) was stretched to the limits of believability, the message and the execution remains un-muddled and works in the film’s favor. The end result is a distilled, but successful version of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira a modern classic using super powers as a metaphor for adolescence and the difficulties of responsibility associated with becoming an adult.
5. The Master
Out of all the films that I saw in 2012 this is the one that I’ve probably thought about the most after leaving the theater. This is a heavy, layered piece of art that is worthy of both discussion and repeated viewing. The Master is what an art house film should be. This is the kind of movie that asks a lot of the audience both while they are in the theater and after they leave. Most audiences don’t like to have to work that hard for a film and for those people there is still a compelling narrative, expertly acted and directed, although somewhat cryptic in its resolution. For the braver moviegoer, The Master rewards deeper inspection and dissection and provides a wealth of detail and subtext to be explored.