Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Taking On 2012: Top Films (Q2 Quarterly Review)

It's fairly easy to be critical of 2012 as a year in film thus far, I was earlier this year, mostly because many of the more exciting releases are so insanely back loaded that it seems like nothing has come out. And you know what? That's partially correct, but not entirely true. Sure in order to round out a complete list (mostly because so many foreign films I want to see haven't gotten releases in my neck of the woods yet) I needed to stretch some dates, but the end result I find to be fairly strong. Equally worthy of standing alongside the great year for songs and albums, at the very least.

Perhaps the most surprising development for 2012 in relation to the last few years is the presence of engaging comedies. There have been bad ones that were supposedly great while others that had every right to be terrible were surprisingly funny. It's been a long time since Superbad or Scott Pilgrim, and even if I've seen all the great comedy movies of the year (unlikely since Judd Apatow is holding off his latest for Christmas day) 2012 has been stronger than most years in recent memory. Yeah that's at the expense of drama, but the greats are yet to come.

So what did make the cut? Let us find out.

11. The Cabin In The Woods

Though most of the talk surrounding Joss Whedon this year has revolved around Marvel's The Avengers, in reality the best film he was associated with released earlier and even allowed Thor actor Chris Hemsworth the ability to showcase the talent that was restrained in his messy Marvel movie. The Cabin in the Woods is not a perfect film, and the more one prods at it the more it falls apart, but before it inevitably drops off of this list I would be remiss not to reward its audacity. Masquerading as a standard horror film this illusion is almost immediately shattered in the opening scene before eventually traveling to the most magical of worlds. I don't know if any film will be more traditionally 'fun' to watch this year.

10. Damsels In Distress

Whit Stillman's return to the cinema has thrown me for a continual loop since first seeing it, but as I recently caught up with Metropolitan I am starting to better come to terms with Damsels in Distress. Anchored by a quartet of amazing performances, Stillman's lovingly rendered (still skewered) tale of this fantasy liberal arts university where everyone is part oblivious and part charming is still hard for me to grapple with, but the heightened dialogue is compelling enough for me to realize that my tonal confusion is likely a personal flaw and not one of the film.

9. The Secret World Of Arrietty

This Miyazaki penned adaptation rang in the year for animated films, and despite needing to still catch up with many animated films from the US I find it hard to believe that many would seriously compete with Arrietty. I could  be wrong, but what Studio Ghibli's latest brought was stuffed with so much evocative imagery, lush wounds, and brimming with emotion that I find it hard to believe any film can compete, animated or otherwise.

8. Pina 3-D

Wim Wenders's latest, a 3-D documentary showcasing dance, directly confronts two of my biggest artistic aversions and results in one of the year's greatest examples of spectacle. While I tend to struggle embracing the world of dance, the way that Wenders using talking heads (or rather heads with talking in the background) to highlight the elements of dance in the world around use and exactly how to approach the works on display in the film was the perfect way to scaffold information. You don't need to be an expert to discuss or appreciate it, you just need to be a person.

7. Jeff, Who Lives At Home

While my admiration for this film has dropped in the months since my first viewing, the ideas it toys with are engaging enough to allow Helms and Segel to carry the majority of the film. If nothing else, those two central characters provide such an anchor for the film, such realized constructions of individuals, that its earnestness doesn't become overbearing. Yeah it breaks notably from the mumblecore genre with which the Duplass brothers are associated, but that's just how evolution works, right?

6. The Grey

Liam Neeson has become one of the more notable actors working in the action genre as of late, so the prospect of having him anchor a film where he gets to punch wolves seemed exciting enough in the way that a film like Taken is exciting. Less human traffic, more pissing on animals's rights. Yet I was surprised when the final result was an intense meditation on the origin of belief. Unlike another film that sloppily attempts to grapple with BIG QUESTIONS in Prometheus, The Grey makes these ideas a focal point by blending symbolism with reality for a mesh that meanders in all the right ways. We can never hope to confront certainty, because there's no way of certainly finding meaning in anything.

5. Dark Shadows

I wrote extensively about Tim Burton's latest film upon release, and going back I still stand by everything I said about the film. The script is weak, but Burton manages to strike enough o fa balance between tones and visually constructs such an interesting film that it renews my faith in his hand. There's a mood to the film that simply cannot be found anywhere else. And it's entertaining, so there's that.

4. Indie Game: The Movie

In a list of personal preferences, this perhaps exists as the most personal. An insight to the harsh world of game development, coming to a head on consoles this generation, by examining four of the most prominent minds behind massively successful independent games, is constantly fascinating. Though it does not break the mold in terms of storytelling, the movie's ability to shine a light on the names and faces that have made three of this generations most iconic downloadable titles (Braid, Super Meat Boy, and Fez) is an amazing entry point in to a world that would otherwise remain uncharted for many. And ultimately that's what documentaries can do best.

3. Tim And Eric's Billion Dollar Movie

Remember when I said it has been a good year for comedy? This is the part of the list where comedies and quasi-comedies begin taking over. Despite my new found appreciation of Tim and Eric's production company (been a huge year for Dr. Steve Brule and Eric Andre) I have never loved their solo work. But damn if they don't nail it here. Like Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters before it, the latest [adultswim] property to hit the big screen actually fills out the time quite nicely. At times it feels like a series of sketches, but given the destructo-humor of the creators this fragmentation only adds to the brilliant insanity.

2. Tiny Furniture

With the release of Girls it becomes hard to continue to include Lena Dunham's (technically) 2012 film on this list, and given the development she has made as a storyteller in the time between the very limited theatrical run of Tiny Furniture and debut of Girls it seems like I should just direct most of my praise to her more expansive work. However, Dunham's dialogue and insight are quite sharp here, and ultimately where would we be without the magic of Nietzschean Cowboy?

1. Moonrise Kingdom

This pick should not some as much of a surprise after the praise I heaped upon Wes Anderson's latest film only a month ago, but it can't hurt to reiterate the wonder captured in Moonrise Kingdom. For a film to work emotionally is one thing, but for it to be so technically complete and thematically realized at the same time elevates its to a work of brilliance. Like all the other films on this list it is not perfect, most notably many of the older ensemble members are underwhelming especially in comparison to the young leads, but this culminating point of Wes Anderson's filmmaking career is quite easily the best film I have seen so far this year.

And as usual here are the remaining films I've seen in a ranked order so we can all see what just barely missed the cut and which films severely disappointed me:

12. Titanic 3-D
13. That's My Boy
14. A Dangerous Method
15. The Amazing Spider-Man
16. Brave
17. Ted
18. Safety Not Guaranteed
19. Prometheus
20. Marvel's The Avengers
21. Radio Rebel
22. Fenemies
23. 21 Jump Street
24.Men in Black 3
25. The Hunger Games
26. A Separation
27. American Reunion
28. Friends With Kids

Did I miss anything? Criminally over or underrate something? Let me know in comments! That about does it for this edition of the Quarterly Review, look forward to re-evaluations in October.


Comments are welcome and, for anyone with a literary mind, I encourage checking out my poetry blog filled with all original works for your reading pleasure.

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© 2012 Richard James Thorne


  1. My list, so far:

    The not-so-good:

    15. Chronicle
    14. Prometheus

    The good:

    13. Unhappy Country
    12. The Announcement (TV)
    11. Bernie
    10. The Hunger Games
    9. Friends with Kids
    8. Le Havre
    7. Jeff, Who Lives At Home
    6. Grandma, a Thousand Times
    5. 21 Jump Street
    4. Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey
    3. The Interrupters
    2. Tomboy
    1. A Separation

    1. Really feel a strong need to catch up with Le Havre. There are a couple other hold overs from last year that I need to make a more concerted effort to watch as well.

      Actually, I think my 'To Watch' list dwarfs my watched list.