Though lackluster compared to the golden year of 2008; 2012 was still pretty good in general for movie buffs.
So these are twenty picks from the best I have seen. The list predominantly contains American films, and serves as a good reminder to spend more time watching a wider variety in 2013 for more balanced exposure.
No. 1 >>> THE MASTER
There is no debate that even though Michael Haneke’s Amour reflects social issues without compromising thematic eloquence, this film by Paul Thomas Anderson operates on a notch above most critically acclaimed films in 2012. Treatment and performances were rigorous and I like that it confronts taboos. In some ways; it can be seen as a synthesized study of trauma, an evolved version of Steve McQueen’s Shame — encompassing larger anecdotes that go beyond PTSD and sex addiction. It is executed with Kubrick-like precision — impeccably crafted and very, very carefully filmed.
With all the spotlight being thrown on Silver Linings Playbook; The Sessions and mental health climate in general, it baffles me why The Master is being overlooked in this year’s Academy Awards. Even its screenplay is omitted from a nomination in best original category.
No. 2 >>> AMOUR
Directed by: Michael Haneke. Starring: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Emmanuelle Riva, Isabelle Huppert
You probably need a touch of grey, and some life experience behind you to fully appreciate this. Amour is a heart-rending tale about the burning departure of romance in 21st century reality. By venturing into end-stage and the moments that come before “death do us part” using calm; objective framing, it values freedom in perspectives without sacrificing the film’s key narrative — visual poetry.
No. 3 >>> DJANGO UNCHAINED
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson
Innovative, gutsy and highly entertaining film making. Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay is the brilliant result of a good ear for rhythms of speech and a keen eye for metaphorical framing. That Django Unchained is loud with attitude, and comes with a torrent of protests by those with stiff-upper lips makes it even more likable and compelling.
No. 4 >>> LIFE OF PI
Directed by: Ang Lee. Starring: Suraj Sharma, Tiger, Irfan Khan
Snot-dribbling tears when Richard Parker enters the forest. Life of Pi is bitter-sweet, humorous, sensitive and incredibly charming.
No. 5 >>> TED
Directed by: Seth McFarlane. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, Seth MacFarlane
Politically incorrect, hilarious, slapstick fantasy about a boy who wishes his teddy bear to life. I have seen this twice and still don’t tire of it. Will be looking out for Seth McFarlane’s movies in the near future.
No. 6 >>> RUST AND BONE (DE ROUILLE ET D’OS)
Directed by: Jacques Audiard. Starring: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaerts
This film explores a wide range of human fragility and potential. The execution is prolific because it captures the protagonists’ transformation from downtrodden spirits, to lives soaring in full flight. In the process; Jacques Audiard bifurcates from two-dimensional narrative, towards a kind of voltaic energy and attitude that is conscious and alive.
No. 7 >>> FLIGHT (2012)
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis. Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood
Many films have explored virtue and redemption with utilitarian narratives, but few managed to do so without being cliché. Flight stands out with sleek cinematic language in an authentic way.
No. 8 >>> ZERO DARK THIRTY
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow. Starring: Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton
Popular misconceptions will have you believe that knowing how a story ends works against it; but this film operates outside political and social repertory. What it wants, is for you to savor the poignancy of the hunt.
No. 9 >>> NO (2012)
Directed by: Pablo Larraín. Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Alfredo Castro, Luis Gnecco, Antonia Zegers, Marcial Tagle; with historical archives featuring Jane Fonda, Richard Dreyfuss and Christopher Reeve
Although punctuated with flashes of humor and scathing wit, this Oscar nominee in foreign language category is an intense historical drama that works on a deeper level by finding resonance with universal emotions. Passion seeps through every frame, culminating in a mood most aptly expressed by Tchaikovsky’s valse sentimentale.
No. 10 >>> LINCOLN
Directed by: Steven Spielberg. Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones
Without highly skilled performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee-Jones; perhaps Lincoln would’ve been just another cookie cutter film catered to American audiences but somehow, the formula works — producing a measured and elegant portrayal of all events leading up to the thirteenth amendment. Both actors bring a vulnerable yet dignified quality to Abraham Lincoln and Thaddeus Stevens. The courtroom drama scene is highly impressionable and I’ve always liked watching stuff by Spielberg — hopefully Hollywood makes more historical dramas featuring thematic treatments shown in this film.
No. 11 >>> SKYFALL
Directed by: Sam Mendes. Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes
There was a lot of hype surrounding Skyfall when it first screened; now that I’ve finally seen it, I find it entertaining for a bond action film. This latest installment in the franchise has a large improvement compared to Quantum of Solace — featuring a post-modern twist to classic bond in terms of dramatic conflict and stereotypical bond girls
No. 12 >>> THE GREY
Directed by: Joe Carnahan. Starring: Liam Neeson, Wolves
After their plane crashes in Alaska, six oil workers are led by a skilled huntsman to survival, but a pack of merciless wolves haunts their every step. This is the best horror and survivalist flick to emerge in 2012.
No. 13 >>> THE IMPOSTER
Directed by: Bart Layton. Starring: Frédéric Bourdin as himself, Adam O’Brien, Carey Gibson as herself
A bizarre true story about highly skilled con artist Frédéric Bourdin; and why he successfully impersonated Texan boy, 13 year old Nicholas Barclay. Bourdin fooled the rest of the world and Barclay’s own family by claiming he was kidnapped by the US military and transported to Spain. This is a riveting thriller that concluded in a chilling and unpredictable ending —
No. 14 >>> THE RAID: REDEMPTION
Directed by: Gareth Evans. Starring: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy
Electrifying fight choreography, soundtrack, and a minimalistic plot has taken this Indonesian martial arts flick to a whole new level of cool within the action film genre. I enjoyed watching Iko Uwais clad in SWAT gear dish out Silat moves repeatedly on the heinous and parang wielding drug overlords. Quentin Tarantino and Louis Leterrier would be inspired by this bullet-fest of utter violence.
No. 15 >>> ARBITRAGE
Directed by Nicholas Jarecki. Also Starring: Susan Sarandon, Brit Marling
Charming hedge fund magnate, Robert Miller is about to sell his business empire for a large profit. But unbeknownst to his daughter, the firm has a trail of “creative accounting” done to mitigate investment losses. Miller scrambles to stall the truth before a profitable buyout and things take a serious nosedive when his mistress is killed in a car accident with him. This is a return to form for Richard Gere — an entertaining film that flips like a John Grisham thriller.
No. 16 >>> OSLO, 31. AUGUST
Directed by Joachim Trier. Starring: Anders Danielsen Lie
Everything takes place within a day in the life of Anders; a young recovering drug addict who takes a brief leave from the treatment center to interview for a job and catch up with old friends in Oslo. This is probably one of the best films exploring the subject of nihilism without turning into a melodramatic pity party. Notable scenes in the coffee shop and Ander’s parent’s home were poignant, and impeccably portrayed.
No. 17 >>> SHAME
Directed by Steve McQueen. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan
No one likes confronting taboos, that’s the problem. When unspeakable truths are left to fester, they rot and abuse even the most frigid of souls. Sex addiction is a condition illustrated through pathological rituals in this haunting British drama about an advertising executive living in New York. Psychological torture depicted at its finest.
No. 18 >>> THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins
This terrifying comedy about five friends taking a break at a remote cabin in the woods. Even though its story-line made very little sense and the humor was American slapstick, director Drew Godard still managed to pull off a highly entertaining mash up and tribute to the horror genre.
No. 19 >>> HEADHUNTERS (HODEJEGERNE)
Starring: Aksel Hennie, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Synnøve Macody Lund
An accomplished headhunter risks everything to obtain a valuable painting owned by a former mercenary in this Norwegian action thriller by Morten Tyldum. It s probably the most underrated foreign film released in mainstream theaters last year. A badly cut trailer further misrepresented the core elements in its story.
No. 20 >>> MOONRISE KINGDOM
Starring: Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bruce Willis
Two under-aged outcasts elope and marry in this film by Wes Anderson. It has a peculiar and fuzzy charm — part anomalous, part innocent, that will gently tickle your heartstrings when the final frame fades to black.