I feel like I say this every year, but 2012 wasn’t exactly the best year in movies.
To be honest, I had trouble picking my top 10. There didn’t seem to be any clear frontrunners. I’ll stand behind every movie on my list as being a great one, but I don’t have the same gushy sense of joy about my list that I usually do.
The great Mos Def (that’s right) once described hip-hop as a reflection of the society that breeds it and not “some monster living in the hills.” It’s the same deal with cinema, always has been. Looking at the vast majority of new releases, it seems we are all a bit lost and more than a little down. Even the good movies seem to agree. This year bleak was beautiful, the beautiful bleak.
Here are the 10 films that I feel either best avoided that, or did it the best: (Please note: there are films that haven’t come out yet, such as Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty, that could have likely made the list. Alas I do not have the privilege of attending film festivals or getting screeners.)
10. Silver Linings Playbook
In the midst of all the doom and gloom this year, Silver Linings Playbook showed you can make a romantic, happy-ending Hollywood movie and do so in an intelligent and highly enjoyable manner. Plus Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence exude the stuff from which movie stars are made.
9. Life of Pi
Life of Pi is pure movie magic. Ang Lee’s wonderful adaptation of a book loved by everyone in the world but me is a visual wonder that dazzles while it delights. With perhaps the best use of 3D in a movie yet, Pi’s tale of a lifeboat, a tiger and the existence of God is a lush, loving smile of a film, something we needed this year.
8. Take This Waltz
Sarah Polley should be declared Canada’s greatest treasure and just get it over with. This has been her year up here, with both this film and her personal doc Stories We Tell coming out, and she deserves it. Take This Waltz is absolutely heartbreaking, but it’s also honest and, in its honesty, beautiful.
Prometheus gets my exalted title of greatest flawed masterpiece of the year. With this Alien series prequel Ridley Scott showed all the new kids how great filmmaking, filmmaking with ambition and purpose, is done. Even with its flaws, Prometheus offered one hell of an enthralling, eyes-wide-with-wonder experience.
6. The Amazing Spider-Man
At least one film on the list had to be the result of a childlike joyful time at the movies. None did that better than this reboot of a movie only 10 years old, of all things. Many will disagree with this choice, but with killer 3D (that crane sequence was astounding), great movie-star performances and a commitment to doing formula right, the film was, well, amazing.
5. The Grey
In the midst of winter darkness, The Grey felt like the most honest movie I had seen all through those cold months. Sure it was marketed by showing Liam Neeson lining up to punch a wolf in the face, but The Grey was a thriller of an adventure movie that never sugarcoated its overarching subject: death.
4. The Deep Blue Sea
The Deep Blue Sea is probably the most breathlessly dramatic and emotionally gripping film of the year. Invoking a tone of repressed emotion, the movie tells its sad, troubled tale of divorce and adultery with the sort of calm, steady, subtle beauty that only the English manage so well.
3. Oslo, August 31
Speaking of bleak, Oslo, August 31 is a riveting look at addiction, within the context of a generation, and a city, struggling with the disappointments and struggle of maturity. Intensely crafted and acted, it is a hard film to watch at times, but there is poignancy to be found in its main character’s troubled view of a world he can’t understand and yet can no longer escape.
I’m a Denzel fan, but mainly in that I like watching him yell at people and being all Denzel. He does a little of that here but it’s also the performance of the year and a career. With its mature look at alcoholism wrapped in the story of a plane crash, Flight was both one of the most entertaining movies of the year and one of the most touching.
In the midst of all this cinematic misery nothing sounded worse than another doe-eyed smaltz fest from Steven Spielberg, especially with the travesty called War Horse fresh in my mind. But I’ll be damned if old Stevie didn’t pull out a surprise and turn in the most compelling, well-wrought, and yet non-insultingly inspiring movie of the year. Lincoln reminded me that society can, at times, and with a full recognition of its complexities and shortcomings, come together to do something wonderful and important.