This is a list of the ten movies released this year that I enjoyed the most. I still haven’t seen some movies that have a high chance of making it into this list, e.g. Moonrise Kingdom, Amour, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Beasts of the Southern Wild, so this is in no way definitive. There’s the end of the year list to make up for that. Anyway, I’m also looking forward to hear what you think of these movies and your top movies of 2012 are, so leave a comment.
Note: Release dates for the movies are based on Rotten Tomatoes.
This Indonesian movie is quite possibly the best action film I’ve seen in recent memory. A labyrinthine apartment block is the setting for a drug bust that pit Jakarta’s elite policemen with its most brutal crime lord. As they climb up each floor, the action becomes more frenetic, but so does the beauty of its violence. The Raid: Redemption features impressive martial arts choreography that borrows a lot of its moves from Silat, a popular Indonesian fighting style that is fluid and graceful but also disarmingly brutal. I was pleasantly surprised by the movie’s admirable simplicity in terms of plot and its willingness to highlight the crashes, bangs and intense bone-breaking sequences that made it completely electrifying.
This story about a day in the life of a recovering heroin addict named Anders is never intrusive; we passively watch him as he wanders in the city, unearthing his old demons and confronting the roots of his addiction. Oslo, August 31st has a preternatural sense of time and space, an awareness of the memories and dreams attached to the urban milieu that he inhabits. We are made to invest in the character, on whether or not he’ll relapse and survive his encounters with the people he’s forsaken because of his addiction. The haunting, bleak beauty of Oslo shines in contrast to Anders’ melancholic soul. This movie is a journey, a meditation, a cityscape and ultimately, a moving work of art.
This documentary about developers of indie games is full of heart. Indie Game: The Movie reveals the passion and love that these motley group of geeks put into the production of their video games, showing that the process that they go through isn’t that much different from those of other artists. The sleepless nights, the anxiety over the gaming public’s acceptance of their products, the personal and financial problems that are littered along the way…this movie brilliantly connects the intimate lives of these gamers to the broader issues facing the industry in which they operate.
Steven Soderbergh’s smaller release this year features MMA Fighter Gina Carano as Mallory Kane, a government operative who was double crossed and left for dead by someone in the agency she works for. What follows is a revenge flick ala Kill Bill as Mallory tries to uncover who’s behind this treachery. Haywire’s supporting cast consisting of Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor and Michael Douglas is a veritable list of men that she smacks around in order to find the truth. And in the process, Soderbergh shows us that even with a much smaller budget and less ambitious plot, the stuff he releases is still better than a majority of the movies that come out nowadays.
Studio Ghibili’s latest feature isn’t as magical as its previous releases, but The Secret World of Arrietty still lives up to the high quality that the studio is known for. Based on the novel The Borrowers, the movie maintains a wistful, dreamlike atmosphere in the exquisitely animated minute world that Arrietty lives in. There’s a palpable spirit of flight and adventure as Arrietty tries to protect her family from the evil humans, but the film also has a tender soul in the story of friendship it tells and genteel textures it paints. This is a sophisticated fairy tale told in the most sentimental way.
Take This Waltz ‘s lush, colorful palette hides the heartbreaking decisions that its characters are forced to make. Once again, Michelle Williams turns in a gutsy performance that is likely to be forgotten come awards season, just like what happened with Meek’s Cutoff last year. As a lonely woman trapped in a soulless marriage, she is confronted with the choice on whether or not to leave her committed husband for her more passionate, sensual neighbor. Her follow-up to 2006’s Away from Her, Sarah Polley continues to show her ability to shoot surreal images that are as moving as they are magical.
This movie has been met with a lot of negative reviews from critics, but that did not stop me from adoring the grand visuals and the spooky mood of Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi film. Prometheus is a masterclass in suspense and atmosphere, offering some of the most visually grotesque scenes in recent mainstream cinema. Yes at times Scott tries too hard to create some sort of metaphysical or religious significance to his film, but that is easily forgivable given the stunning performances and his artful direction.
The second documentary to make this list is Marley, a biographic film that presents an oral history of Bob Marley’s life and music. His transformative melodies and lyrics are contextualized and nuanced to the experiences that shaped his politics and musical sensibilities, and in the process we get a glimpse of the nitty-gritties of Jamaican and Rastafarian culture. Previously unreleased archival footage of his concerts are interspersed with interviews of his family and the people who closely worked with him. Without a doubt, this is the most definitive film on his life and works.
The best blockbuster released this year, The Avengers is a tightly written and deftly produced popcorn movie that features an ensemble of brooding superheroes that need to learn how to work together in order to save the world. The script has all the wit and verve of Joss Whedon, and the set pieces and action sequences are visually dazzling, reflecting the impressively massive scale and ambition that oozes from every pore of this film. Though at times it can get a bit dragging, the movie still has high entertainment value and will be considered one of the classics of the superhero genre.
I took some liberties by including this made-for-TV movie, but Game Change was one of the more entertaining movies that I caught this year. The film focuses on Sarah Palin, played brilliantly by Julianne Moore, and how the Republican party thrust her into the frenzied elections of 2008. It ambiguously portrays her character: at times she is humanized and represented as a puppet used by the GOP to steal the election away from Obama, but then she is also rendered as manipulative and egotistic. In any case, whether or not this movie is accurate and whether or not it gave John McCain an easy pass, it is a must-see for Moore’s performance and the way it relived one of the most exciting votes in contemporary American history.