I think 2012 will be remembered as the year that featured such a wide assortment of exceptionally rich, thought-provoking, provocative, challenging and simply highly entertaining films. Perhaps it might just be my imagination but I really can't recall a recent time when a year had so many quality films in all genres of cinema to choose from. That is something to truly celebrate and here's hoping that 2013 could possibly top that.
So, here are my selections of favorite films of 2012, in no particular order:
"ZERO DARK THIRTY"
Ignore all of the nonsense about boycotting this because of the film's alleged implication that torture is what helped lead to taking out Osama bin Ladin, "Zero Dark Thirty" is a powerfully fascinating and complex thriller. Director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter, Mark Boal knew that this story would be controversial, challenging and disturbing but that is why it's so important as it sheds some much needed light on the difficult and morally ambiguous techniques used to achieve the final results. Oscar-nominated, Jessica Chastain heads an impressive cast and it's one film that should not be missed.
"SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK"
"Silver Linings Playbook" is writer/director David O. Russell's delightfully offbeat idea of a romantic-comedy. Pat (Bradley Cooper) has just been released from a mental heath facility to the care of his parents (Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver), determined to win back his ex-wife after a violent "misunderstanding". He meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), a young widow and recovering sexual compulsive who promises to help him get back with his wife if he enters a dance contest with her. This hilariously sharp film has received plenty of well-deserved accolades including eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture.
"LIFE OF PI"
Ang Lee has made a wildly diverse collection of films ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon", "Sense & Sensibility", "The Ice Storm", "Brokeback Mountain") during his career with great success and "Life of Pi" has proven, once and for all, that this great filmmaker can do absolutely anything he sets his mind to. He has taken a potentially unfilmable best-selling novel about a young boy (Suraj Sharma) who is shipwrecked and trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger and crafted one of the most touching and visually stunning films of this year. He has also brilliantly shown how 3D and computer-generated images can actually be used for dramas in an way that is not distracting and can be quite effective and moving.
"KEEP THE LIGHTS ON"
The semi-autobiographical film, "Keep The Lights On" by writer/director, Ira Sachs is about a Danish filmmaker (Thure Lindhardt) living in New York struggling to maintain his relationship with a closeted literary lawyer (Zachary Booth) who has a drug problem that is spiraling out of control. A tough look at a complicated love story that is, at times, shocking but honest and quite poignant.
"MIDDLE OF NOWHERE"
Writer/director, Ava DuVernay won the directing prize at last year's Sundance Film Festival for this low-budgeted, little-seen gem, "Middle of Nowhere". The film tells the story of a wife (in a breakthrough performance by Emayatzy Corinealdi) who has put her life on hold while her husband serves time in prison. She soon must decide whether to simply continue waiting or begin her own journey of self-discovery. Let's hope this wonderful film will lead to more opportunities for the filmmaker as well as Ms Corinealdi
"BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD"
Set in a Louisiana bayou, "Beasts of The Southern Wild" tells a magical tale about a little girl named Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) and her dying father, Wink (Dwight Henry) as they prepare for a major storm approaching that could wash away their ramshackle home. "Beasts" has collected top prizes at several film festivals including Cannes and Sundance while recently receiving four Oscar nominations including Best Picture. First-time filmmaker Benh Zeitlin has managed to make a passionate and mesmerizing film on a small budget while using non-professional actors and getting some amazing performances from Mr. Henry and the then, six-year old Ms Wallis who has become the youngest performer ever to receive an Academy Award nomination.
The latest by Quentin Tarantino, "Django Unchained" is a deranged, ultra-violent, revenge fantasy involving slavery that has to be seen to believe. Jamie Foxx plays the title character, a slave who is freed by a German bounty hunter (Oscar nominee, Christoph Waltz) in exchange for helping him track down some wanted men. Together they set about freeing Django's wife (Kerry Washington) from the clutches of a slave owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) but the head house slave (Samuel L. Jackson) complicates the matter. It features everything that we expect and admire in a Tarantino film; clever dialogue, quirky humor, strong performances and plenty of gushing blood.
"THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER"
Based on his popular novel, Stephen Chbosky has written and directed the film version of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower". The story follows Charlie (Logan Lerman), a shy freshman starting high school when he meets two seniors, Sam (Emma Watson) and her gay stepbrother, Patrick (Ezra Miller) who changes his life by introducing him to sex, drugs, and friendship. It's a shame this did not get a wider release as it's exceptionally well-made and these young actors are perfect, delivering heartfelt performances. This film touched me deeply as it took me back to those tough and scary times of being a confused teenager.
The raunchy humor of Seth MacFarlane is certainly an acquired taste but for his first feature film, "Ted", he's found a way to make it appealing to a wide audience. The story of a boy who wishes that his teddy bear would come to life, which he does but the talking bear becomes a foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, trouble-maker. Ted stands in the way of the kid, now an adult (Mark Wahlberg) from growing up and settling down with his girlfriend (Mila Kunis). What I really liked about this very funny comedy is that there was an actual sweetness to be found in between all of the smutty jokes.
"THE AVENGERS", "THE DARK KNIGHT RISES', "SKYFALL"
This year had several highly entertaining popcorn flicks that delivered all of thrilling action that is expected yet offered thoughtful storytelling and solid acting without sacrificing any of the fun. "The Avengers" assembles a group of super-heroes (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, etc.), who had great success on their own, as they come together to (surprise, surprise) save the world, "The Dark Knight Rises" is the final chapter of the Batman trilogy that is a spectacular conclusion to Christopher Nolan's highly popular vision of the classic hero and Academy-Award winning director ("American Beauty"), Sam Mendes brought a fresh approach to James Bond in "Skyfall" (which also happens to be in the fiftieth year of the character's cinematic debut) and making this impressive film the most critically and commercially successful in the history of the series.
"HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE", "BULLY", "CAROL CHANNING: LARGER THAN LIFE", "DIANA VREELAND: THE EYE HAS TO TRAVEL", "MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT"
There were plenty of fascinating documentaries out over the past year and these were some of my favorites: "How To Survive a Plague" plays as a reminder that before AIDS became a manageable disease, it was a certain death sentence. This documentary by David France details that the only reason this changed was due to relentless battle of the ACTUP activists demanding the U.S. government do something. "Bully" brings much needed attention to the problem of bullying in U.S. schools while trying to figure out a way to end it. These three films highlights the lives of some true originals; "Carol Channing; Larger Than Life" focuses on the still-working ninety-two year old musical theater legend, "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel" is about the life of the highly influential Vogue magazine fashion editor and "Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present" tells about the Serbian performance artist who uses her body as her art.
Honorable Mention: "Amour", "Anna Karenina", "Arbitrage", "Argo", "Brave", "Flight", "Jeff Who Lives At Home", "Lincoln", "Rust & Bone", "Salmon Fishing in The Yemen", "The Sessions"