With a fortnight now between us and 2012, I’ve had time to consider which films I liked in what I think was overall a weaker year for films than previous ones. Keeping in mind I’ve yet to see a few key films, here (in alphabetical order) are seven movies from last year that grabbed hold of me in some way:
The Avengers. How fun was this one? Sure, there was nearly too much going on and the villain was sub par, but this band-of-misfits story was popcorn fare at its most alchemic and thrilling. And though it’s a clear money-grabbing ploy, Marvel’s inter- and multi-film thread between the Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and Avengers movies thrills me to no end.
Les Misérables. I hear and understand all of your protestations, Les Mis Haters, but I still don’t care. This being my first experience with the show, I was thoroughly impressed by the simultaneous scope and intimacy in this hugely emotive (if occasionally uneven) epic. Seeing the stage version might change my mind, but right now I’m immensely satisfied with Hugh “The Dancing Wolverine” Jackman and his crooning compatriots.
Lincoln. Ever since this project was originally announced—way back when Liam Neeson was set to play Lincoln—I’ve followed every rumor and development, attempting along the way to telepathically convince Spielberg to stop wasting his time on dumb movies (Tintin and Indiana Jones 4 anyone?) and get to the good stuff. It finally worked, and once Daniel Day-Lewis signed on I knew it would be gold. Seeing those pre-release images of Day-Lewis in half and full Lincoln regalia brought on history-laced tears. My only complaint is that this wasn’t a miniseries; if John Adams can get the 8-hour treatment, why can’t the most documented and revered American figure ever?
Looper. Complaint up front: this seemed like two movies, with the first act feeling like a gritty, sci-fi noir with a great concept, and the second part morphing into a child-centered domestic drama. Despite this uneasy bifurcation, writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) deserves much adulation for crafting such a creative and emotional story, and for boosting Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s already burgeoning career.
The Master. Like other P.T. Anderson films, this was a confounding and compelling narrative that was won by its performances yet greatly supported by a rich production design and savory soundtrack. Casting either Philip Seymour Hoffman or Joaquin Phoenix will give any film a heavy dose of tortured gravitas, so having both of these men together, working at a high level, makes for an intense ride. Though rightly labeled as an enigma, it’s one of those movies that requires multiple viewings for a worthy commentary.
Oslo, August 31st. A Norwegian cinéma vérité-style film, this is an engaging portrait of a man in quiet despair who tries valiantly to get out of it. Roger Ebert said this film was “quietly, profoundly, one of the most observant and sympathetic films” he’s seen, one that spotlights a life of what must be constant brinksmanship and inner turmoil for the recovering drug addict main character. The choices he makes, or doesn’t make, are the same ones we all make in our own lives—if not about drugs, then about the other things that keep us captive.
Zero Dark Thirty. I consider this a “clinical” thriller, because it trimmed all superfluous frills and subplots for the sake of a clean and concise story (despite being 160 minutes). I second Jessica Chastain’s comments at the Golden Globes, which lauded her character as a strong, capable, independent woman who stands on her own—an unfortunate rarity in Hollywood. The debate surrounding the film is a good one to have; meanwhile, I enjoyed this second recent high-wire thriller from director Kathryn Bigelow.
A few of my other favorites: Argo, End of Watch, Flight, Frankenweenie, Moonrise Kingdom, Queen of Versailles, 21 Jump Street.