by Jeremy Grossman
2012 has been one of the best years for films in recent memory. It is a bold statement to make, but it’s true. Unlike 2011, when America unanimously groaned at “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” receiving three Oscar nominations, 2012 had so many more films embraced by critics and audiences alike. Even the so-called “stinkers” of 2012, such as “John Carter,” have their share of defenders.
The reason for 2012′s success, it would seem, is the way that the films were unafraid to be themselves. Majorly divisive films, such as “Cloud Atlas,” “The Master” and “Les Misérables” could at least be praised for their strong unwillingness to be what others wanted them to be. Even the characters, such as Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games” or Django in “Django Unchained,” were unwilling to conform to society’s expectations of them.
In The Highlighter’s Top 10 Films of 2012, what each film has in common is an unwillingness to conform–whether it be from the directors, the characters, the actors or, most importantly, the viewers for embracing a film that truly means something to them. The list was ranked by over 50 different writers, contributors and members of Washington Square News’ film desk, and reflects a variety of diverse opinions. The only thing each writer has in common is simply that they enjoy going to the movies.
10. Silver Linings Playbook
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence’s Pat and Tiffany is the kind of couple that throws up all over the expectations of a typical romantic comedy. They are emotionally stinted and weird–he just came out of a mental institution, she was fired from her job for having sex with everybody in the office–and yet their weirdness combines to create one of the most realistic, compassionate relationships in years. Both Cooper and Lawrence (who has seen a breakout year that any actress would gouge their eyes out to have) show new levels of realism in their performances, and Robert De Niro even co-stars in what may be his first quality role since the ’90s. David O. Russell’s film is fun and quirky, in the best and least obnoxious way possible, and ends with a dance competition that is unlike any dance competition ever seen in a romantic comedy.
9. Les Misérables
Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel has been adapted into several different forms and translations, of course none quite as popular as the epic musical that came to the stage in 1980. Shockingly, the musical has only just now made its way to the big screen, and it has certainly received the royal treatment, featuring a production and cast of grand proportions that includes Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. Each character in “Misérables” is desperately struggling to create a better life for him or herself, and director Tom Hooper basks in close-ups that allow for the characters’ heartbreaks and struggles to be fully resonated to the audience. The characters may be miserable, but the film itself is a bravura entry in the genre of movie musicals.
8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
“And in that moment, I swear we are infinite,” declares Charlie Kelmeckis (Logan Lerman), in what shall be known as the most notable line from the film about a high school freshman’s coming-of-age in the early ’90s. Charlie’s life is forever changed upon meeting Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson, in her first major role post-Hermione), the types of friends that, simply put, change lives. Based on the widely popular novel by Stephen Chbosky, and directed by Chbosky himself, the film is enriched with sounds from The Smiths, David Bowie and Rocky Horror (to name just a few from the film’s diverse soundtrack), which all contribute to “Wallflower’s” sense of nostalgia for years gone by, and the precious moments that will soon become nothing but memories.
7. Django Unchained
If there was any doubt that Quentin Tarantino’s newest film would be anything less than a revenge-fueled, messy bloodbath of shockingly mortal levels, those doubts are immediately squashed in “Django’s” first few minutes. “Django” instills memories of Tarantino’s previous film, “Inglorious Basterds,” when a plethora of Nazis were brutally murdered in a glorious fire, but this time the setting is taken to the deep South, a few years before the Civil War, where the worst of slavery is alive and flourishing. Jamie Foxx stars as Django, a slave rescued by bounty hunter Dr. Schultz (Christoph Waltz), who sets on the mission of rescuing his enslaved wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) from an eccentric, but repulsively evil plantation owner (Leonardo DiCaprio). “Django” isn’t an easy film to watch, but that’s the point of any Tarantino film.
6. The Dark Knight Rises
When super hero films erupted in the past decade, no one could have possibly imagined the dark, gritty turn that Christopher Nolan would bring to the genre–and to the character of Batman–in his Dark Knight trilogy. The sad truth is that nothing could have topped the overwhelming quality of “The Dark Knight,” but Nolan’s final entry in the trilogy certainly makes an effort. Audiences are brought into an uglier, less hopeful Gotham City than they’ve ever seen before, with Tom Hardy’s Bane shedding light onto anarchy and complete abandonment of order. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is needed more than ever, and this time he is joined by the sexy, mischievous Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), an anti-hero for the ages. Nolan’s films never speak down to its audience, and “Rises” is no exception, revealing a tragically chaotic world that unfortunately mirrors our own.
5. Cloud Atlas
“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” It is this line that rings throughout the unfathomably ambitious science fiction epic from directors Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, and it is up to each viewer to decide what exactly that line means. With three different directors at the helm, “Atlas” transcends any sort of traditional narrative, taking audiences into six completely different stories and worlds–including, but not limited to, San Francisco in 1973, modern day England and a post-apocalyptic Earth. The film’s complexity is further deepened by a cast of actors who take on multiple roles and identities, with many of them unrecognizable in body-altering makeup and costumes. Is “Atlas” a story of reincarnation, karma or something entirely different? The film is plush with mystery, and invitation to return again.
4. The Avengers
Joss Whedon knew exactly what the fans wanted, and he delivered. Despite abandoning any sort of realism–or perhaps because of it–”The Avengers” is a thoroughly entertaining, non-stop ride of fanboy pleasure (which is, impressively, Whedon’s second film this year that accomplishes such a feat). Bringing together the most iconic faces of the Marvel universe, including Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth), as well as bringing in new faces such as Mark Ruffalo as The Hulk, “The Avengers” is like the most exciting Thanksgiving dinner in history. Fitting a surprising amount of character development and relationship building into the film’s 143-minute length, Whedon proves he knows these characters as one would know their own best friends, and has forever gained the trust of audiences everywhere.
Ben Affleck’s latest directorial endeavor is, all together, a love letter to cinema, the United States and even Canada, too. Based on the Iran hostage crisis of 1979, “Argo” shows that behind every great movie is an even greater tale of real human triumph, when the CIA leads a mission to rescue six trapped U.S. diplomats in Iran, posing as a Canadian film crew scouting for locations. No matter the country, an appreciation for grand, fantastic stories is universal, and for that reason alone is the crew of the fake science fiction film “Argo” able to make it in and out of Iran alive. With a powerful cast that includes Affleck in the lead, as well as Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin and John Goodman, “Argo” is proof that the best stories are the ones that are come from reality; there’s no reason the real world can’t have all the suspense of an action flick.
2. Moonrise Kingdom
It is only fitting that Wes Anderson’s latest creation was one of the most popular films of the summer, as “Moonrise Kingdom” encapsulates the endless possibilities of the season, where fantasy is indistinguishable from reality, children do as they please and worries are nonexistent. Despite taking place in 1965, the emotions and style of “Moonrise” should be familiar to anyone who once found hours of entertainment from running through a field of grass. Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward star as Sam and Suzy, young lovers who run away from their summer camp and home, respectively, and whose journey is stinted by stoic adults, including a social services worker (Tilda Swinton) who simply goes by the name Social Services. Anderson’s unique style of direction is not for everybody, but “Moonrise” is something special–it’s relatable.
In a year full of super heroes, it’s easy to forget that one of mankind’s greatest heroes was not a butt-kicking man in tights, but rather a gentle, soft-spoken man in a top hat. What makes Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” such a powerful film is not the way that it captures history (although it certainly does that, thanks to a flawlessly researched script by Tony Kushner and a mirror image portrayal from Daniel Day-Lewis), but in the way it acknowledges our present and future. It would be a mistake to simply view “Lincoln” as a history lesson, when everything it exhibits–a man’s respect for his people, and the confidence that they will come to treat all Americans the way they deserve to be treated–has never been more relevant. Take your pick for what modern issue you think “Lincoln” is symbolizing; any way, you’d be correct.
Jeremy Grossman is film editor. Email him at email@example.com.
“Argo” – thedailybeast.com
“The Avengers” – theweeklings.com
“Cloud Atlas” – studiobriefing.net
“The Dark Knight Rises” – telegraph.co.uk
“Django Unchained” – rottentomatoes.com
“Les Misérables” – sheknows.com
“Lincoln” – buzzsugar.com
“Moonrise Kingdom” – sojo.net
“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” – upcoming-movies.com
“Silver Linings Playbook” – timeoutchicago.com