A great year for movies, especially with what came out overseas. I decided that their were 8 films that I considered to be leaps ahead of the rest, so instead of adding 2 to make an even 10 I give you write ups on 8 and two honorable mentions. There was only one film this year that I regret not being able to see before making this list which is Haneke’s Amour, but that is beyond my control.
- The Raid
#8 Argo I can firmly say that Ben Affleck is a very good director and has earned his way to respect with another great film. Argo is based on the events that took place at the American Embassy in Iran during the famous uprising in 1979. The lives of 6 American Embassy personal hangs in the balance as they hide out in the house of a Canadian diplomat, trying to avoid capture. Affleck plays the lead CIA agent in charge of extracting the 6 Americans from Iran and he devises a risky plan to go into Iran as a Canadian filmmaker and remove them undetected. This movie is another solid thriller that strings the tension along for long enough to keep the viewer engaged. It almost makes you forget some of the awful acting moments that we have seen from Mr. Affleck……….almost.
#7 Monsieur Lazhar An Algerian immigrant to Montreal is hired to teach a class that had recently lost a teacher to a suicide in her own classroom. Bachir Lazhar, a man struggling with his own issues from his past, uses the teaching as a way to bring innocence and comfort back to the children’s lives. What we see is a bunch of adults who think they know what is best for the children versus what the children actually need. We also see Bachir returning the classroom to a more traditional teaching setting which works counter to what everyone believes is right for them. It is a great examination of how far apart adults are from children when it comes to handling tragedy and what the appropriate actions are to help with the grieving. The troubled past of Bachir weaves its way into the plot and has devastating implications on everything that he has built up with the children and this unfolding tale is what makes this an great film.
#6 Lincoln Steven Spielberg has another great film under his belt, but we shouldn’t be surprised. Daniel Day Lewis plays a very convincing Abraham Lincoln who we see during his struggle to free the slaves in the south. This is not a fluff piece or a pat him on the back film, instead showing what he went through both in battle with his opposers and with the toll that it took on his family and home life. Spielberg is second to none when it comes to setting a period piece as every detail and every frame feels genuine. Even knowing the outcome of Lincoln’s life, the path that he took to do what he thought was the right thing, is a story worth watching. I only had one small complaint and it is with the amount of false endings, as it should have ended about 10 minutes before it actually did, but it won’t take away from a great historical drama.
#5 Oslo, August 31st This movie follows one day in the life of a recovering drug addict as he tries to sort through his life outside of his drug treatment center. The main character of Anders uses the opportunity of a job interview to return to Oslo and catch up with his family and friends. With each hour that rolls by we see how mentally troubled Anders is and some of the possible reasons that he became and addict. With each social interaction more of his internal struggles pour out and we see how his addiction has wrapped itself up inside his head and negatively impacted several parts of his life. The opening scene where Anders loads his pockets with rocks and walks into a lake is a brilliant set up for the emotional struggles that you will see throughout. This is a fictional movie but you have a hard time not thinking that this could have happened to anyone with a substance abuse problem.
#4 The Master Paul Thomas Anderson’s follow up to There Will Be Blood finds him dealing with difficult material, again. It has all of the things that we expect from his films: No clear answers, great shots and performances worthy of Oscars. Joaquin Phoenix plays Freddie Quell a veteran coming home to try to find his place in society, after World War II. He is a simpleton and is clearly suffering from P.T.S.D. and easily falls prey to the grand teachings of a local religious leader who is paving the way for a new religion or “The Cause”. You watch Freddie’s life unfold as the religion shifts and grows, yet he never finds his footing. You start to question the motivations of religious leader Lancaster Dodd (played by Philip Seymore Hoffman) and you begin to see cracks in “The Cause”. The supporting role of Peggy Dodd (Amy Adams) steals the show as you are left wondering if she is the one pulling the strings behind the scenes. There are not a lot of questions answered but this is a great “thinker” movie which will have you examining your own life arc.
#3 The Turin Horse A very difficult film to watch for the restless, The Turin Horse is an unflinching look at the life of a farmer and his daughter in the late 1800’s. It is said that in 1889, Friedrich Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse while traveling in Turin, Italy and he rushed to defend the horse in front of its owner. Some say that this led to Nietzsche’s insanity but this film is a fictional account of what might have happened to the horse. Yes that sounds a little far-fetched but it is fascinating movie built around simplicity and repetition. We see the father and daughter go about their daily routine for several days in a row and each day we see things from a different perspective as the world takes its toll on them. The fierce winds howling and blowing dirt and dust across the landscape is amazing cinematography. A lot of people will hate this film because of its deliberately slow pace and simple moments but past the surface is a beautiful, uncompromising film.
#2 Moonrise Kingdom I went back and forth between this and my #1 film trying to determine which one was my favorite of the year. Wes Anderson usually gets the leg up and this film is worthy of #1 slot so I don’t want to take anything away from it. I might as well call it 1b. This is very Wes Anderson from top to bottom with the whimsy, the feel good moments and surreal plot devices. The main difference in this film and his previous efforts is his attention to the details of love and relationships. The adults with their immature moments and the children with their mature relationships, it was great to see each interaction and the attention to dynamics. Once again Wes has created a world all of its own but has brought together a great cast and a great story that make you feel like it could be part of our landscape.
#1 Beasts Of The Southern Wild This movie is that special moment that keeps me coming back to the cinema. Hope, undercurrents of man’s delicate relationship with nature and a whole lot of smiles. The Bathtub is the very essence of basic survival, yet the residents live as if they haven’t a care in the world. Living there means that you aren’t stuck with the rigors of the daily work grind, instead you live in a makeshift house and surround yourself with good people. The relationship between Wink and his daughter Hushpuppy is so enthralling as he tries to raise her to fend for herself and what she really needs is love and support. I think we can all connect with the movie and how it breaks down human relationships along with the idea of living in a world where nothing matters except having great people to share it with. This movie is truly magical and warrants repeat viewings because of how great you feel when it is over with.