by David Feltman
In full disclosure, some of these movies came out last year. “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” “The Artist” and “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” all had festival releases in 2011 but they didn’t get a wide release until this year. Likewise, “The Raid: Redemption” was released in Indonesia in 2011 but didn’t reach American theaters until this year, so I’m counting them for 2012…so there.
Easily my favorite movie of the year. Using magical realism, “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is a story of a post-Katrina like crisis as shown through the eyes of a child. It’s amazing that a first time director and a cast of non-actors could turn out one of the year’s most powerful and inventive films.
Spielberg’s newest film treads a fine line between Oscar-bait and Oscar-worthy, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Daniel Day-Lewis and Tommy Lee Jones should go home with little gold trophies. Only a master director like Spielberg could take a dry procedural story about historical legislation and imbue it with so much suspense and emotion.
“Wreck-It Ralph” may have had bigger stars and better press, but “Brave” has a bigger heart and a better story. The film keeps its focus keenly on the mother-daughter relationship of the main characters while creating the strongest and most interesting princess in the Disney line up.
James Bond has long been the coolest action role on celluloid, but he’s always been pretty shallow. Most action movie protagonists at least have a divorce or a dead partner to drive them forward, but Bond has had little more than women and martinis until Daniel Craig took on the role. Craig’s Bond in “Skyfall” is physically and emotionally damaged character struggling with old age and an existential crisis.
“Cabin in the Woods”
It’s not often you can describe a horror film as a witty meta-critique of voyeuristic violence in film (well there is “Psycho” and “Peeping Tom” and “REC” and “Blue Velvet” but this one’s really good too, ok). As the title suggests, Joss Whedon eschews horror clichés and archetypes by subverting them into ingenious plot devices.
“The Raid: Redemption”
“One ruthless crime lord. Twenty elite cops. Thirty floors of chaos.” The tagline is all the plot you need to know about this one. This Indonesian movie is better than “Dredd,” “Expendables 2” and every other action film Hollywood put out this year.
Reviving the art of silent film while simultaneously shattering its conventions, “The Artist” is a novel piece of cinema that delights in toying with audience expectations. The film is occasionally too clever for its own good, but the uniformly strong performances from the cast overshadow any minor shortcomings from the script.
“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”
This touching documentary could have just as easily been about a writer, a painter or a musician instead of a sushi chef. The titular Jiro is so dedicated to his craft that even at 85-year-old his biggest joy is to come into work every day and create perfect pieces of sushi.
“Indie Game: The Movie”
Regardless of what Rodger Ebert says, videogames can be every bit as artistic as a movie. “Indie Game” follows three independent game designers facing the realties of success and the possibilities of complete failure after pouring their souls into their work. Their individual journeys are alternately gratifying and soul crushing as they try to earn a living making more personal games outside of the major game studios.
“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”
A two-and-a-half hour movie where almost nothing happens doesn’t sound very compelling. And honestly, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” is a slow damn movie. Yet even in its slowest moments, the beautiful cinematography keeps the audience drawn in. The Turkish drama is about a group of policemen searching for an unmarked grave in the countryside. But like “Waiting for Godot” and the more contemporary “Jarhead,” the film takes on a symbolic context as the characters grapple with their own mortality.
And in case you’re interested, “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” “Indie Game: The Movie,” “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” and “The Artist” are all available on Netflix instant streaming.
Movies I’m sure are awesome and should be on this list, but I just haven’t seen yet
“This is Not a Film”
“Life of Pi”