2012 left with me so much to say that I had to divide it up into three parts. Today are my top 11-20 movies, tomorrow will be 6-10 and we’ll finish up on Thursday with my top five of the year.
As always, this is a list of my favorite movies of the year, not the best. If you want to tell me how wrong I am, that’s what Twitter is for.
20. The Avengers
If nothing else, the Avengers shows us that to be a really good superhero movie, you don’t have to be really dark. Also it shows us that they don’t have to be really dark to make a billion dollars. Now if only Joss Whedon would use that money for good. (i.e. getting Firefly back on the air)
What drew people to this movie? Was it the subject matter? (Abraham Lincoln) The director? (Steven Spielberg) The marketing? (it’s your patriotic duty to watch this!) It’s something I’ve puzzled over since seeing it. These are the kind of dramas that most people try to avoid (rightfully so, I might add).
This movie did a lot right (limiting the scope to the 13th amendment, all the casting) and did some other things wrong (too much talking about taking action and too little actually taking action). I love the way that this film portrayed Lincoln as a master politician and the way it actually showed him making those deals, but man, is that for the most part, really, really dull. I realize the Catch-22 this puts the film in (hooray for portraying boring things, boo for those things being boring!), but even if the fundamental point of your picture is really good, it may need to be tweaked to be palatable.
18. The Dark Knight Rises
This was a spectacular ending to arguably one of the greatest trilogies of all time, but I can’t help fighting the feeling that not only did it not need to be made, but also that Nolan didn’t want to make it. The Dark Knight concluded with what felt like the end of Batman’s arc; that truly being a hero is doing what needs to be done, no matter the personal cost.
Where was the Dark Knight Rises supposed to go from there? Not only did it subvert the themes of the first two movies (Batman sacrificing himself for the greater good), it actually ended up right back where the Dark Knight ended. Only this time it only appeared that he sacrificed himself because, boom, he’d fixed the auto-pilot on the Batplane and escaped unharmed. If Batman Begins and the Dark Knight told us that sacrifice is necessary to evoke real and meaningful change, what did the Dark Knight Rises tell us?
This doesn’t make the Dark Knight Rises a bad movie; on the contrary, it’s an incredibly good movie. But, it does mean that it’s not a great movie. Great movies have something to say that sets them apart from their piers and predecessors.
17. The Master
You ever have something that you can’t quite figure out and you’re not quite sure whether or not you like it, but months or maybe even years later, it clicks with you?
I think this movie is about father/son relationships. Or it may be about masculinity and the way we treat our post-war troops. Or maybe it’s about God and how we as humans do our best to subvert Him every chance we get. It may be about something that Paul Thomas Anderson had for breakfast ten months ago.
I can’t quite figure the Master out. I’m not sure whether or not I like it. What I do know is that it created this visceral feeling that I can’t quite put into words. Sometimes with art we worry too much about understanding it or trying to figure out what it’s trying to say. Maybe instead of trying to say something, art is trying to get you to feel something. Something you don’t quite understand. And maybe that’s the point.
16. The Hunger Games
How far away is our society from putting children on TV to do things that we know are bad for them and then watch it under the guise of entertainment?
Adapted from an (excellent) short film by Burton in the 80s, Frankenweenie feels like the logical realization of the story. How do you encourage people to push the limits while simultaneously warning them of where that may lead? You’ll hear a lot of people say that our modern society has an aversion to science, but is it science we have the aversion to or is it fear of what we may find with science? If Frankenweenie stopped there it would have been an interesting exercise in the question. But what elevates it is its core belief in meaningful relationships and the distance we go to sustain them.
14. Life of Pi
Faith and science get bad raps because people often misconstrue both. Faith is believing something to be true without evidence; science is a method for proving things to be true. Both have their places, but they’re not mutually exclusive: things I have faith in can potentially be proven by science. This isn’t controversial stuff.
What is controversial is when we get into stuff that science can’t prove. People equate science with truth. That’s wrong. Science is a method for proving something true, not truth in and of itself. Faith and science aren’t at odds; they’re two different ways of coming to truth.
It’s fairly evident where science is more useful than faith, but where does faith become more useful than science? When truth is subjective or unknowable.
Which of Pi’s two stories is true? Neither. They’re fictional stories within a fictional narrative. They’re subjective and unknowable; which is true isn’t important to the point. What’s important is the lesson you learn from them. Do you choose to believe that a boy could survive for 200 days on the ocean? Or do you choose to believe otherwise?
Does neither of them being true lessen their impact? Of course not. Stories aren’t there to convince us they’re true, they’re there to offer us insight into the way our own lives work.
We as humans do what we need to survive. If surviving means believing in something good in which there’s no evidence, don’t let anyone tell you to believe differently. Just as you can’t prove it, no one can disprove it.
13. Holy Motors
Sometimes you watch the movie and sometimes the movie watches you.
12. Silver Linings Playbook
If you’ve seen this movie, before reading on, come up with a sentence synopsis in your head.
What did you come up with?
Is it about two people falling in love? Or is it about two mentally-ill people learning to cope with their diseases? There’s strong cases for either (or both), but only one of those stories is resolved. This is often the case with romantic comedies; we’re left to believe that a happy ending cures all the ills that have been set up in the previous hour and a half. That’s more than fine for films that aren’t trying to realistically portray things, but it’s not for films that are.
All of that being said, I enjoyed it. The performances were great; the directing was great; and while it may not make thematic sense, it sure as hell made emotional sense.
The biggest achievement here is that Affleck realized the sensationalized story (CIA hires Hollywood to make a fake movie to save hostages!) would tell itself, and that his focus can be on the actual and emotional situation of the hostages. Looking back at this, it’s obviously the way to go. But, I’m not sure lesser filmmakers could have resisted the allure of such an original story, which would have come at the expense of the human situation. If that had happened, Argo would have still been a good movie, but instead it’s a great one.
Check back tomorrow for my top 10-6 films of the year!