Shawn’s Best of Films: 2012

 

image courtesy of hitfix.com

Okay, it’s officially 2013 – I wanted to wait until the very last shadows of 2012 had passed before putting this up, A) because I’ve written up a number of ‘Best of’ lists here in the last week or two and B) because what better way to cap a year completely than by replacing the cork after it’s over and the taste has left your mouth. To me this final list will be a kind of lemon sorbet – a palette cleanser. After this 2012 – which was by no means a bad year – is gone forever and I move steadfastly onto something… new.

One thing I’d like to say right off the bat is that I was unable to schedule a time to see two films that I believe very well could have been on this list, and that’s Beasts of the Southern Wild and Lincoln. With Lincoln I’m fairly certain my not seeing it was at least partially, subconsciously on purpose. I believe I was kind of irrationally terrified that Daniel Day Lewis’ performance would unseat what was otherwise the best performance I saw all year – maybe the best one I’d seen in several years – and the one I was most excited by. That performance was courtesy of Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Whatever the reasons – real or imagined – these two films, Beasts and Lincoln, exist in a sort of limbo for me and will no doubt work their way into my vocabulary as historical post scripts for 2012, because below is the best I saw this year.

image courtesy of amazon.com

5) Chronicle – One thing you will notice with my list is that for whatever reason my brain tends to divide genre movies into a category all their own. Yes, I am completely aware that doing this makes me seem like a pretentious C U Next Tuesday, HOWEVER I do not mean to take anything away from genre films by doing this – au contrarie. I believe my tendency to perform this division is simply because for me genre filmmaking is tied more closely to my love of comics and horror, as if they are a separate world from regular cinema. Is that accurate? I don’t know. Does that make me an ass? Probably, but an ass so very much in love with comics and horror – you may have noticed it’s 90% of what I write about here – so I choose to make this division from a place of love. HOWEVER (again) in the case of Josh Trank and Max Landis’ Chronicle, a superhero movie that while borrowing certain aspects of superhero comics’ logic yet eschewing most of the pre-existing baggage that goes with that logic, Chronicle was one of only two movies – both released this year and on this list – I’ve seen that transcends the genre game and makes it into something else. Something outside of genre. Something I’d put in the realm of classic cinema, on a shelf next to my Ingmar Bergman’s and Kurosawas instead of next to my graphic novels and Evil Dead paraphernalia (again, not that that makes those things less of anything – it’s just two different worlds to me). The harsh realities and amazingly emotional character arcs in Chronicle completely blew me away, and all the superhero stuff, what little of it there was, was all accomplished with next to no superhero “flair”.

image courtesy of lillecomics.com

4) Django Unchained – I don’t think there’s a Quentin Tarantino film that I don’t at the very least like, if not love as I do most. And beginning with 2009’s Inglorious Basterds I believe as good as Mr. Tarantino’s films already were, they got better.

A lot better.

There are these interesting ‘Inbetween’ moments for auteurs that sometimes we can be privy to. Moments where, if you’re paying attention, you can literally see them mature before your eyes (what else with film though, eh?). I’ve always thought that for someone like David Fincher it was between 2002’s Panic Room and 2007’s Zodiac. Both are fantastic films, but beginning in Zodiac and traveling through The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network, Fincher dropped the slicks and tricks (which I LOVED but was fine seeing go by the wayside) for a more timeless, classic feel when it comes to composition and story. So too I believe with Mr. Taratino. The transition from the insane, almost cartoon-like approach of Kill Bill and Death Proof to the stately, stoic Basterds seemed to say, “Alright, now that all that’s out of my system, here’s one for the ages.” Django is no different. It is cold, harsh and beautiful filmmaking and amidst all the cries of the film being, *ahem* overly violent, I say it rises well above it blood. Granted that’d be gallons of blood, but then there’s gallons of substance here as well.

Django is a timeless Western, like any of the Man with No Name films, The Great Silence, or Deadwood. It’s history and fiction and love and hate; it’s the sewer our country was and the path we’d take to get to where we are today.

And it’s fun as all hell.

image courtesy of http://media.theiapolis.com/

3) The Dark Knight Rises – The second film alluded to above as transcending the wonderful world of genre, I’m hard-pressed to find another movie this year (or last for that matter) that had me so absolutely riveted the entire time it was on-screen. A lot of people really dislike this movie and my theory there is that if you’re a die hard bat-fan, well, Christopher Nolan has essentially found a way to make a Batman movie with very little Batman, so you’re probably not one of the people that liked this. For myself, the act of taking a superhero – especially one as ubiquitous as Batman – and sheering him down so that the man beneath the mask is the real protagonist of the film and the costume is an afterthought – a special effect if you will – is a grandiose achievement indeed. That has never been done before, and perhaps will never be done in cinema better. Sure, there’s tons of comic material that paved the way for this, from Frank Miller’s Year One or Dark Knight Returns to Grant Morrison’s lastest run, but to actually get a major studio to go through with making something like this, that’s amazing and it’s what Nolan’s wonderful other two Bat-Films had been leading up to. After Heath Ledger passed I seriously worried for the third and final installment of this series. It seemed so obvious to me that the second movie was really just a lead-in to another Joker-based film (they were, after all, life  mates once Rachel was removed from the picture and the Bruce Wayne persona seemingly with her by the end of The Dark Knight). Well, whether what we ended up with was planned all along or the genius of reinvention, Nolan’s third and final Batman film was an amazing cinematic experience, a breath-taking, nerve-wracking assault on all I thought I knew about super heroes and a timeless transcendence of what a genre piece can be.

image courtesy of amazon.com

2) The Master – As I mentioned above, Joaquin Phoenix really stole the show for me this year as far as acting goes. And the film he did it in was Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, a historically fascinating character sketch of a man fresh from the maw of the world of WWII and searching. Searching for what? ANYTHING. Anything to give his new life meaning after the war stripped him of his old life. Through various approaches with the “opportunity” the end of the war was said to have made for him back in his country, and the failed attempts to reconnect with the people he knew before this man, Freddie Quell played by Phoenix, finally does find something. Something to give his life meaning. Something to once again put his body and soul to the test for. And that something is The Cause, a new-age philosophy created by another man who is also searching for something, though something of a decidedly different nature. This man, Lancaster Dodd – portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman – is both the exact opposite of the America Freddie represents, and therein we have  canvas that allows PTA to paint a power struggle for the ages. The Master was sublime, beautifully-crafted and as much a joy to watch as Anderson’s 2007 MASTERPIECE  There Will Be Blood – which stands as one of my top ten films of all time.

image courtesy of imdb.com

1) Argo – Insofar as one who has never met the subject of his statement can say, I am overcome with pride and respect for Ben Affleck. I don’t love everything the man does as an actor. Not because of his presence per se but more because he has done a lot of stuff I just would never be interested in seeing. However, regardless of the vehicle Affleck always turns in a good performance (I’m looking at you Daredevil). When he made the shift to director I became more interested in what made him tick. In retrospect it appeared to me that Affleck had been maneuvering in this direction for some time and none of us had realized it. He’d spent the nineties and the oughts as a kind of cinematic journeyman, and after twenty years of immersion in other peoples’ stories, now here was what he had to say. His first two films behind the chair were good, but with Argo Affleck perfected his game. I went into this film expecting to like it, but what I came away with was a wonderfully taught, classic cinema experience that was as well-rounded as it was enjoyable and as perfectly constructed as anything I’d seen and loved in my lifetime. Argo is perfectly crafted from the sets, the camera work, story, acting. EVERYTHING. And with its potboiler climax it was also pristinely wonderful to experience on the big screen and then talk about for days and weeks afterward.

Alright, that’s a wrap on 2012. Onward to a hopefully even better year!!!

Shawn C Baker

Shawn C Baker

Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.

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