This year seems to be passing us by remarkably quickly with more than half of the year already behind us. The staff at Film Misery has decided to reveal our top three movies of the year so far (not necessarily ranked) and we would also like to inquire about yours. We should note that we each wrote our lists up before seeing The Dark Knight Rises, so that movie will not appear on any of our lists.
QUESTION: What are the three best movies of 2012 so far?
Beasts of the Southern Wild
I enjoyed it well enough as I was watching it, but I have not stopped thinking about Benh Zeitlin’s Sundance smash-hit in the five weeks following the early screening I attended. A film of unbridled imagination and a sense of world-building rooted seamlessly between the fantastical and the real world, Beasts as a film is not easily categorized, and it could easily go down as the year’s most purely original movie. While we are dishing out superlatives, I should mention that the film also features the year’s most relentless, yet lovely, musical score (composed by Zeitlin and Dan Romer) and serves as a splendid showcase for its 6-year old star Quvenzané Wallis, who fully earns that now-trite “force of nature” accolade she’s been getting.
In a year littered with dismal mainstream offerings, this found-footage sleeper has proven the year’s most pleasant surprise. Directed and co-written by 26-year-old Josh Trank and Max Landis, Chronicle captures, with utmost plausibility, the sheer giddiness a teenaged boy might feel should he ever acquire a totally-for-real superpower. But the film also uses those familiar superhero tropes to explore the pathos inherent once those superpowers fall into the hands of a truly damaged individual. The film may be fantasy, but the strife depicted is utterly plausible and relatable. 2012 is already teeming with far bigger, more expensive superhero movies, yet Chronicle stands above the fray.
The Turin Horse
Belà Tarr’s reportedly final movie is still the only film of his that I have seen (Werckmeister Harmonies, his supposed masterpiece, has been sitting at home for the past two months). But I don’t think anybody needs to be familiar with the Hungarian director’s filmography in order to understand the potency both of his imagery and his ideas. Glacial in pacing and emotionally draining, be warned that this is inscrutable filmmaking at its most daunting. But it is also a beautiful-looking movie, a work whose portending will haunt and challenge all viewers patient enough give it a chance.
I will have to preface this that I have not seen Mirror Mirror or Beasts of the Southern Wild, two films that may or may not find themselves of high interest to me.
Of the films I have seen, Moonrise Kingdom was perhaps the most alarming and pleasant cinematic experience I have had thus far. While I like Wes Anderson’s blatantly quirky style well enough, none of his films have captured me as this one has. Before now, Rushmore was his strongest and most elusive feature. But even then, a lack of focus derailed the third act. The Royal Tenenbaums is fun, but ultimately far too blunt and American in how each character is given their obvious obstacle to overcome that could be predicted in the first five minutes. With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson finds the perfect balance for his awkwardness and charm, his hollywood hyperbole and thematic darkness, and for the first time ever, finds Pixar level precision.
Richard Linklater is one of the best American filmmakers these days. Yet his last two films, despite both being first tier Linklater, have gone largely unnoticed by the masses. And tragic too, because they both have the possibility to be well-liked by large groups. In 2009 it was Me and Orson Welles, and this year its Bernie. How the hell the reteaming of the duo behind School of Rock can’t drum up publicity is beyond me. Bernie tells the true story in part sincere documentary/mockumentary and part straight drama, of a nice young man in a small Texas town named Bernie, played by Jack Black. Bernie is over-the-top nice and positive. He works in a funeral home. He meets his match in a mean old hag (to put it subtly) played by Shirley MaClaine. Bernie is eventually driven to the worst of deeds in the most alarming true story of the year. Linklater followed the real court case on which the story is based for 13 years and appeared at the final trial in the audience. He has been meaning to make this film for many years. And now he has. Don’t miss it. It is a hilarious, but dark and intimate character study ala the Coen brothers. Jack Black delivers a layered, Oscar worthy performance.
Although The Avengers failed to strike me as a film of significance in any way, Joss Whedon’s earlier work, The Cabin in the Woods hit home hard with me. This is some kind of crazy genius. With separate subcollections for both zombie movies and slasher movies, within my greater full collection, this complete deconstruction of horror film struck me as a wonderful and wild ride, right up to the final frame. Whedon and co. made the bold choice of allowing the audience to see scientists experimenting on teenagers as the reason for the horrible torture they endure from the first frame. This allows the audience to shift back and forth between a completely creative world and a traditional way that immediately begins an association with basically all other horror film. In a weird way, this reminded me of Powell and Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death. By the end of the film, this one had strayed so far off the map of traditional cinematic bounds, that it was striking pure gold, regardless of what petty complaints the world may have with how it gets there. I loved it.
Going in to this movie it already had two strikes against it for me: 1) it was a member of the genre of found footage that has been a scourge to contemporary cinema and 2) it was a superhero movie, which I care a lot less about than most people. However, the writer/director team of Josh Trank and Max Landis do a spectacular job of making Chronicle one of the most honest depictions of super powers ever put to film. It’s not world-saving that these teenage boys resort to, but lifting girls skirts and pulling pranks on innocent strangers. However, the third act of the movie is what really seals it as one of the greatest superhero movies ever made with a finale that captures the zeitgeist perfectly. When the destruction begins, the public reacts by whipping out their smart phones and chronicling the terror while totally detached from the real violence that is occurring around them.
Steven Soderbergh is on somewhat of a role this year with the spectacular action movie Haywire that just missed my list and this surprising realist drama that I never saw coming. Soderbergh paints magnificent portraits with his camera that captures more than just the dialogue in the foreground. Perhaps his most amazing accomplishment, however, is the performances that he draws out of Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, who both deliver career bests with their turns as members of a male dance revue. Tatum exhibits a vulnerability that we have never seen from him before when he leaves the dance in the third act to visit a particular girl. McConaughey brings just the right amount of cartoonishness to his performance to make his character realistic, but also tragically real in his own way.
Wes Anderson is very hit or miss for some people, but for me his films are rarely off the mark. His latest movie might have been his most absurd yet, but it also may be his most hilarious. Edward Norton might be the best casting decision ever made for an Anderson film as the “golly gee” quality that he portrays is so perfect that it elevates the comedy in every scene he is in. In true Anderson style, however, he is not just a trope to laugh at, but a real person with regrets and disappointments as seen in the moment when the khaki scouts ask him one too many personal questions. There was so much happening in the movie (and dozens of references to other films) and I cannot wait to see it again.