I know what you’re thinking and no, that’s not a typo. I find that end-of-the-year lists are often sprung on us and due to a number of circumstances they’re not always as accurate as they could be. Sometimes you miss a movie in theaters and don’t have a chance to catch it before it comes time to post your Top 10 in late December. Other times a film that initially wowed you doesn’t seem as amazing with time. And occasionally you’ll just happen to catch a movie midway through the summer that you hadn’t even considered and be floored by it.
So this is why I’ve decided to post my Top 10 of 2012. Hindsight's 20/20 after all. And with much revision, I’ve come up with a radically different list from the one I crafted back in December of last year. Some films have stayed; some new films have been added. I still think that all the movies from my original Top 10 are excellent, but for various reasons they don’t stand out as much anymore, and space was needed for the films I felt were more deserving. So, before I go on too long, here are the best movies of last year.
10. Beasts of the Southern Wild
I’ve gone back and forth on Beasts since I saw it last summer, but in the end I can’t deny that it is a beautiful and moving fable, combining Greek myth with Louisiana folklore and creating a story told through the eyes of a five-year old that feels neither contrived nor corny. It’s visually magnificent, brilliantly acted, and probably the best debut feature since Steve McQueen’s Hunger.
This is probably the first time I’ve ever seen Jack Black disappear into a role and make me forget I’m watching Jack Black. Everybody has been fawning over Before Midnight lately, and while that film is excellent, this is the Linklater I love. The corny, experimental, slice-of-Texas stories he excels at. Shirley MacLaine delivers an outstanding late-career performance and Matthew McConaughey proves that he’s at his best when he’s at his sleaziest.
Writing this list I’m starting to realize I have a thing for quirky comedies about murder. Sightseers is the story of a couple vacationing across the English countryside, whose passive-aggressive nature leads them on a cross-country killing spree. Cut from the same cloth as The Honeymoon Killers, Sightseers manages to turn cold-blooded murder into a brilliant black comedy. Worth it alone for the scene where Alice Lowe writes a Dear John letter with an oversized novelty pencil.
7. Moonrise Kingdom
My original number one when I made my first list last December, but I’ve cooled a bit on the film since. Still, Moonrise Kingdom is another excellent film in a career full of them. It’s Anderson’s most emotionally honest film since The Royal Tenenbaums, and it’s certainly one of his best looking. Not right now, but in another year or two I’d like to revisit this movie and see if my opinion’s changed at all.
6. Django Unchained
If Inglourious Basterds was Tarantino making a Sergio Leone film, then Django Unchained is him making a Sergio Corbucci film. It’s raw, energetic, and able to switch between hilarious and gut-wrenching at a moment’s notice. One of the more daring films of the year and I have to give credit to Tarantino for not pulling a single punch.
5. Zero Dark Thirty
Of all the films I saw last year, this was the last one I expected to stay with me as much as it has. A haunting flick about the futility of revenge that doubles as historical drama. The final shot of the movie is maybe the best single film moment of 2012, encapsulating the empty-catharsis of a decade long search for justice. Bin Laden is dead, justice has been served, now what?
4. Berberian Sound Studio
The scariest part about going insane is that nobody is actually out to get you. A horror movie without monsters, only the paranoia and the dread. Toby Jones plays Gildeory, a Foley artist hired to work on an Italian giallo movie. Through the constant splatter of watermelons and the screams of actresses in sound booths, the aesthetics of horror are broken down to their most base elements. It’s spellbinding and ambiguous, and I’m still not sure I quite understand what it’s saying.
Every few years Steven Spielberg comes along and makes a masterpiece just to remind us that he’s Steven Spielberg. As much of a cliché as it is to claim Daniel Day-Lewis is the greatest living actor, his performance as Abraham Lincoln truly is worthy of being considered amongst the best in all of cinema. Instantly engaging, beautiful, and perfectly directed.
2. The Grey
Unfairly dismissed by those who saw the trailer and claimed it was “Taken with wolves,” The Grey is instead a painful and honest meditation on death. I wrote about it after my initial viewing and it’s only dug itself deeper into my mind since.
1. It’s Such a Beautiful Day
I included It’s Such a Beautiful Day on my list of my 50 Favorite Films this summer, and I don’t regret it. Never in my life did I think the man who made Rejected could make such an innovative, powerful piece of art. It’s gone largely unnoticed outside of Don Hertzfeldt’s cult following, and that’s just criminal. In a mere hour, Hertzfeldt captures the fleeting nature of life and the indescribable pain of desire, all with cartoon doodles. Without a doubt in my mind, it is the greatest film of the year.
BONUS: Sex House
Last year, The Onion began running several short miniseries on Youtube. Amongst the first of them was a mock reality show called Sex House, where “six sexy Americans” are put together in a house to have sex on national television. What starts as a cheesy reality show parody quickly turns into existential horror, blending The Real World with Sartre. As the housemates realize they’re trapped and being manipulated into having sex, they turn against their oppressors (the network executives) and realize their worth as human beings. And there’s frogs. Oh boy, are there frogs.
MY ORIGINAL TOP 10:
1. Moonrise Kingdom
2. The Invisible War
3. Django Unchained
4. The Grey
5. Beasts of the Southern Wild
9. Holy Motors
10. The Master