Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The Best Movies of 2012, Part 2

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Looper

Note: The first part of the list can be found here, along with an explanation of its many omissions.

5. Looper. As Rian Johnson’s online commentary for the movie makes clear, this is the ultimate rarity: a labor of love, developed over the course of a decade, that is immediately accessible and exciting, and which knows how to tell a complicated story in quick, economical strokes. The montage that follows one character’s life over three decades may be the year’s single most bravura sequence, and although Johnson isn’t quite as good at shooting action as he is at conceiving a twisty plot, that’s a minor flaw in an otherwise remarkably assured and singular movie. In a year in which Prometheus and John Carter confused effects with storytelling, this was a small masterpiece of grounded science fiction, and should stand as an example for many filmmakers to come.

Denzel Washington in Flight

4. Flight. In some ways, this was the movie that made me most hopeful for the future of Hollywood. It isn’t an independent film or the work of a visionary auteur: rather, it’s a solid mainstream picture, based on an ambitious original screenplay, with a major star and superb director willing to tackle thorny, uncomfortable issues of character and ethical choice. Above all, it’s a slick, entertaining movie for adults that puts technology at the service of a story that comes across as old-fashioned in its belief in narrative, performance, and big moral themes. The fact that it was brought in on a modest budget and enjoyed considerable popular and critical acclaim only underlines that this is the kind of movie that studios can, and should, be making all the time.

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

3. The Master. At this point, Paul Thomas Anderson has evolved into a director of such peculiar, hermetic intensity that it would almost be more surprising if he delivered a movie that wasn’t so elliptical, mysterious, and deeply strange. Yet for all its apparent shapelessness, it delivers more scenes, moments, and images that linger in my memory than any other movie I’ve seen all year, as rendered by Mihai Malăimare, Jr.’s gorgeous cinematography, which was scandalously denied an Oscar nomination. Anchoring it all is the ravaged presence of Joaquin Phoenix, who gives what I emphatically believe is the year’s best performance: secretive, violent, and tender, with an Easter Island face that speaks more eloquently than any dialogue ever could.

Life of Pi

2. Life of Pi. The year’s most technically astounding movie is bound to be diminished on the small screen, but its achievement goes far beyond the most lifelike special effects I’ve ever seen. As a director, Ang Lee is both hungry for new challenges and capable of doing almost anything, and he indulges in a great deal of delicious trickery—changing the aspect ratio, playing with the visual possibilities that 3D affords—without losing sight of the story’s underlying humanity. The ending is heartbreaking and inevitable, and cuts deeper than it seems at first glance: this isn’t just a love letter to the possibilities of digital filmmaking, but a meditation on the meaning and morality of storytelling itself.

Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises

1. The Dark Knight Rises. Take this, if you will, as the testimony of an avowed Christopher Nolan fanboy, but even after the inevitable backlash and nitpicking—which I don’t think is altogether warranted—I still think that this is the movie of the year. Much of its power is inseparable from the beauties of the IMAX format, which Nolan and his collaborators employ as it has never been used before, to tell the epic story of an entire city on a massive scale. Even on Blu-ray, however, its pleasures remain considerable: Bane’s voice still rumbles menacingly, and it has a more shapely, satisfying story than any of its predecessors, to the point where I’d argue that it’s a stronger picture than The Dark Knight—which makes it the best comic book movie ever made. And at a moment when superheroes seem to outnumber ordinary mortals at the multiplex, it’s an achievement that I suspect will only look better with time.

Written by nevalalee

January 23, 2013 at 9:50 am

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