Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Archive for January 22nd, 2013

The Best Movies of 2012, Part 1

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The Raid: Redemption

Note: For an explanation of some of this list’s more glaring omissions, please see here.

10. The Raid: Redemption. In a year in which the issue of media violence returned to dominate the national conversation, this was the most violent movie of all, with more than an hour and a half of the most graphic combat and bloodshed imaginable. Yet it’s curiously thrilling, a member of a long line of martial-arts movies that space out scenes of bonecrunching combat with the regularity of dance numbers in a musical. At times, it’s more exhausting than exhilarating, with huge reserves of energy and invention devoted to the barest of B-movie storylines, but it still finds time for displays of old-fashioned charisma—in the form of future superstar Iko Uwais—and even a cops and gangsters plot with a few satisfying payoffs. There’s an American remake on the horizon, but I’ll only see it if they cast all the principal parts with the stars of The Departed.

The opening titles of Skyfall

9. Skyfall. It isn’t quite on the same level as Casino Royale, which remains the best of all the Bond movies, but director Sam Mendes still manages to assemble the most striking series of images around the idea of Bond that the series has ever seen. Its major weakness is its villain, who is introduced in memorable fashion but whose plan turns out to be depressingly uninteresting, and it fumbles a number of big moments, notably the revelation of Naomie Harris’s true identity. Still, this is a big, satisfying entertainment that finally completes the most protracted reboot in recent cinematic history, and even as it ties a bow on the franchise, it honors its past, thanks in large part to its dynamite opening credits and theme song, which I find myself humming on a daily basis.

Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman in Moonrise Kingdom

8. Moonrise Kingdom. One of Wes Anderson’s greatest strengths has always been his insight into the inner life of children—or of adults who behave like overgrown kids—and in twelve-year-old Sam and Suzy, he’s finally found the perfect pair he’s been seeking for his entire career. None of the adults, aside from Bob Balaban’s narrator, are drawn with the same level of vividness or affection, but perhaps it doesn’t matter: I see myself in these kids, and it’s clear that Anderson does as well. As always, his work is lavish with gags and visual puns, but what sticks with you is its tone of melancholy sweetness, and I won’t soon forget the image of those three brothers, in their pajamas, gathered around a Fisher Price turntable to listen to The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. (It also has my favorite line reading of the year: “Where’s my record player?”)

Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker, and Bradley Whitford in The Cabin in the Woods

7. The Cabin in the Woods. Of the two films from Joss Whedon’s miracle year, I suspect that this one will last the longest, since it’s the kind of movie that seems destined to be rediscovered by successive generations of passionate fans. It’s a savage deconstruction of slasher clichés—and arguably pursues the “zombie redneck torture family” trope a bit too monotonously—but also a love letter to the possibility of film, and reminds us how timid most movies really are. Above all, as a film that needs to be seen with as little advance knowledge as possible, it’s a short object lesson on the nature of surprise, and on how mechanical shocks have largely taken the place of the real thing. It’s likely to become a movie, like Psycho or Citizen Kane, in which the twists have passed into cultural currency, so if it’s still unspoiled for you, you owe it to yourself to see it now.

Wreck-It Ralph

6. Wreck-It Ralph. Far more than the wretched Brave, which is a movie I dislike all the more as time goes on, of all recent animated films, this is the one that makes me hopeful about the future of the medium. It’s an unabashedly mainstream movie, designed to appeal to all quadrants, with jokes that alternate between ingenious and obvious, but it’s also fun, colorful, tremendously appealing, and blessed with a script that keeps surprising us on the levels of both plot and character. Like Toy Story or Who Framed Roger Rabbit, it takes a premise that could easily have turned into a commercial for itself and transforms it into something touching, weird, and undefinable. And it’s even better when paired with the wonderful short Paperman, which blends traditional and computer animation with a sense of grace that points the way forward for an entire art form.

Tomorrow: My top five movies of the year.

Written by nevalalee

January 22, 2013 at 9:50 am

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Written by nevalalee

January 22, 2013 at 7:30 am

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