Ben Stark’s 2012 Year-End Favorites

 

EDIT: Here is my updated Top 10 of 2012. (12/17/2013)

It’s that time of year, folks! I have seen 59 movies released in 2012. Here are my ten favorites:

 


10. OSLO, AUGUST 31ST
A supremely sad and empathetic portrayal of drug addiction, this wonderfully directed Swedish film gives its lead character a measure of hope and solace as he chooses his ultimate path.

 

 


9. DREDD
A brutal, yet thoughtful, adaptation of a character that might not extend well into further films. Executive Producer and Screenwriter Alex Garland finds exactly the right core for a feature film based on the satirical 2000 AD comic book character, crafting a clever bit of dark sci-fi escapism without giving up soul.

 

 


8. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
A glorious return to Middle Earth and a bounding, exuberant adventure yarn, this is fan service at its best, and I’m so thankful it exists. Anyone attempting to pose as an objective assessor may as well stay home, because – like the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy before it – this is a meandering, exhilirating, indulgent treat for fans of Peter Jackson’s incredible cinematic portrayal of JRR Tolkien.

 

 


7. HAYWIRE
Wouldn’t it be great if every action movie made in the next five years was somehow forced to work within the limitations that Steven Soderbergh had in making HAYWIRE? Thanks to a lean, sharp script by THE LIMEY veteran Lem Dobbs, Soderbergh was able to push his heroine through a series of increasingly satisfying obstacles, culminating in what might be the best final line of the year.

 

 


6. THE AVENGERS
It’s hard for me not to consider Marvel’s cinematic universe as a kind of STAR WARS for the upcoming generation. The storytellers at Marvel have managed to bend the Hollywood assembly line to their whims, creating a clearly marketable and “synergetic” product, while at the same time telling an exciting, fun, and high-stakes tale. Joss Whedon deserves plenty of credit, but the foresight of the Marvel execs and the compliance of an excellent cast surely helped.

 

 


5. ZERO DARK THIRTY
This, along with a handful of other titles in my top five, is a perfect counter-argument to the claim that Hollywood is incapable of making smart, engaging entertainment for adults. Emotionally neutral, unrelentingly paced, and marvelously acted, ZERO DARK THIRTY is a homerun for a truly great screenwriter and a redeemed and renewed director.

 

 


4. LINCOLN
Would anyone have guessed that the film that was marketed as cringingly austere Oscar bait would turn out to arguably be the year’s best comedy? The effervescent charm of Tony Kushner’s script and Daniel Day-Lewis’ Abe Lincoln take center stage here, and yet Spielberg always manages to have his camera in the right place, at the right time, creating a handful of new classics in his long reel of “Spielbergian” moments.

 

 


3. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Told in broad strokes, Christopher Nolan’s story of upheaval and redemption takes recognizable elements of myth (revolution, maytyrdom, resurrection) and applies them to a pop icon. In THE DARK KNIGHT, which is quite possibly my favorite movie of the 2000’s decade, we got the ultimate Batman story. Here, we get a harsh deviation from expecations as the story of Bruce Wayne finds a definitive end. Maybe I shouldn’t intellectualize it too much, however: What we also get is a relentless, pounding thrillride that doesn’t let you breathe until the credits roll.

 

 

2. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA
This is a film that I was compelled to check out on blu ray because of its Cannes Grand Prix win and the recommendation of popular movie podcast Filmspotting. Being a long, meandering meditation on justice and, uh, sleep deprivation, it struck me at first as a nice, artful experiment. Then, a funny thing happened: I couldn’t get the film out of my mind for months. After checking it out again on Netflix Instant, its greatness calcified for me. Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan crafts an epic of introspection, combinging gorgeous cinematography with amazing sound design and a set of performances that perfectly convey the experience of a grinding, languid all-nighter. The movie’s beauty is skin-deep, but its intellgence crawls much further underneath.

 

 


1. THE MASTER
Quite possibly the greatest reflection of the duality of male psychology since RAGING BULL, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest work is, in my estimation, his masterpiece. THE MASTER is a prescient look at mental health, a dense character study of a man incredibly portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix, and a visual marvel in its ability to wring psyche out of camerawork. Like TREE OF LIFE in 2011, this is a movie that demands conversation, numerous viewings, and reflection, all while being fundamentally cinematic. Freddie Quell cannot live on a page. He has to live, out loud and up close, in a movie.

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I’d be remiss not to mention one short film this year that I gave an A+ or 10/10: The latest short film from Pixar, LA LUNA. It’s a perfect little bit of visual storytelling and character exploration; very imaginative and sweet. Check it out if you get a chance.

There are a number of favorites that didn’t make the list. Some movies I would highly recommend, having given them 8/10 or higher on IMDB:

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
KILLING THEM SOFTLY
MOONRISE KINGDOM
EATING ALABAMA
LOOPER
DJANGO UNCHAINED
CLOUD ATLAS
THE RAID: REDEMPTION
SKYFALL
MAGIC MIKE
BERNIE
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN
GOON
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETY
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW
THE EXPENDABLES 2
THE BOURNE LEGACY
WANDERLUST

Here is a full list of all the 2012 releases I have seen.

http://www.imdb.com/rg/s/1/list/pL3N_v2QSZg/

As tradition dictates, here are my selections for favorites in various categories.

SCENE, SEQUENCE OR MOMENT
5. SKYFALL: Glass room espionage
4. DJANGO UNCHAINED: Calvin’s blow-up
3. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA: Prosecutor pops back into Doctor’s office
2. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES: Batman vs Bane I
1. THE MASTER: Freddie’s first processing

VISUAL EFFECTS
3. THE AVENGERS
2. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
1. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

SCORE
5. Alexandre Desplat, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
4. Paul Leonard-Morgan, DREDD
3. Alexandre Desplat, ZERO DARK THIRTY
2. Hans Zimmer, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
1. Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek & Tom Tykwer, CLOUD ATLAS

OVERALL DESIGN
3. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
2. THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
1. THE MASTER

CINEMATOGRAPHY
3. Wally Pfister, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
2. Roger Deakins, SKYFALL
1. Gökhan Tiryaki, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA

SCREENPLAY
3. Alex Garland, DREDD
2. Mark Boal, ZERO DARK THIRTY
1. Tony Kushner, LINCOLN

ENSEMBLE CAST
3. THE AVENGERS
2. LINCOLN
1. DJANGO UNCHAINED

PERFORMANCE
5. Yilmaz Erdogan, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA
4. Jessica Chastain, ZERO DARK THIRTY
3. Tom Hardy, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
2. Daniel Day-Lewis, LINCOLN
1. Joaquin Phoenix, THE MASTER

DIRECTING
5. Sam Mendes, SKYFALL
4. Christopher Nolan, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
3. Nuri Bilge Ceylan, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA
2. Steven Spielberg, LINCOLN
1. Paul Thomas Anderson, THE MASTER

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MOST ANTICIPATED FILMS OF 2013

10. A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD (John Moore)
9. MUD (Jeff Nichols)
8. THE WORLD’S END (Edgar Wright)
7. TO THE WONDER (Terrence Malick)
6. STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (JJ Abrams)
5. THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG (Peter Jackson)
4. SNOWPIERCER (Bong Joon-ho)
3. INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS (Joel & Ethan Coen)
2. MAN OF STEEL (Zack Snyder)
1. GRAVITY (Alfonso Cuaron)

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As always, thanks for reading! Remember, you can check out great discussions of many of these films by subscribing to Aspect Radio in iTunes or by hitting up our mainpage for Cinematrimony! You can follow the entire Film Nerds collective at Twitter, and you can find updates on my directing gigs here. We just shot a short film called FRANKENSTEIN’S MASTER that I’m very excited about.

Thanks again, and may God bless your trips to the theater in 2013!