For a movie blogger, this is the most wonderful time of the year. It’s those magical weeks at the end of the calendar year when you get to sum it all up, break it all down and check your own list a few times. Because why should Santa get to have all the fun?
Here at Film School Rejects, we do this in the grandest of fashions, as part of our annual Year in Review. For a full week following Christmas, we run down the best and worst of the year. You may have noticed our 2012 Year in Review edition, which just so happens to be in full-force. While we’re not quite finished with lists and editorials, we have reached what is, at least for me, the most fun part of the Year in Review: the annual Staff Picks article.
It’s a tradition that began with our 2009 Staff Picks, which at that time included only 7 writers and a very mysterious not-pictured performance from Rob Hunter. It continued with the 2010 Staff Picks, an article that became evidence of the diverse group of writers we’d brought together that year. Including the part where Robert Fure named that film about internet porn one of the best. Last year, our 2011 Staff Picks article featured the largest and most diverse group of writers yet.
This year’s group further’s that notion of diversity and quality. Each member of our team was asked to choose and write about their five best films of the year. No two lists are the same from the list of hand-picked staffers below. We welcome newcomers such as Weekend Editor Christopher Campbell, columnists Caitlin Hughes and Daniel Walber and essayist Alex Huls to the fray. This is also the first year that yours truly has participated in the Staff Picks article. Instead of taking on my own full list, I handed the torch of naming the Best Movies of 2012 to our associate editor and most prolific critic Rob Hunter (now pictured). As ever, it’s a collection of picks that make me proud to be this site’s Publisher.
So without further ado, here is our favorite tradition: The Best Movies of 2012, according to the staff of Film School Rejects.
Zero Dark Thirty
As is evident from my own list, 2012 saw a number of great directors put their best foot forward. Chief among them is Kathryn Bigelow, who followed The Hurt Locker with a trip back to the Middle East and the obsessive chase that led to the War on Terror’s most prolific moment. But this fierce CIA procedural isn’t just about killing Osama bin Laden. It’s another intricately drawn, intensely focused character study of obsession and the special kind of person who refuses to let go of the task at hand, no matter the consequences. In this regard, Bigelow goes down the rabbit hole with another deeply engaging character study. And once again, we’ll follow her no matter how deep it goes.
The Raid: Redemption
Though it seems to have been pushed back due to its early year release, Gareth Evans’ hyper-intense actioner is still absolutely one of the most memorable in-theater experiences I had in 2012. From hallway brawls to several successive fight sequences that were nothing short of epic, The Raid delivers blood and brutality in spades, with style, in tight spaces.
Quentin Tarantino, like Katheryn Bigelow and Wes Anderson (see below), delivered one of his most entertaining works this year in the telling of his “spaghetti southern,” the love story/revenge fantasy of a freed slave trying to reconnect with his lost love. It doesn’t hurt that he’s flanked by two of 2012′s best supporting performances from Christoph Waltz and Leo DiCaprio. It doesn’t hurt one bit.
He’s just as quirky as he’s always been, but with this tale of two kids who run away together and find love in the wilderness, Wes Anderson sure seems happier than he’s ever been. His most optimistic, heart-warming film is also his most lively. And that’s saying a lot following Fantastic Mr. Fox.
The clear king of 2012 is the ultimate superhero team-up. Joss Whedon took the reigns of Marvel’s ambitious project and delivered something that was surprisingly fun on a massive scale. At every turn, The Avengers found new ways to be interesting and vibrant. And when it kicks into gear in the third act, the best you can hope to do is hold on for the ride.
Living abroad has made my movie-going light on the usual Awards Season fare, but that offers me a chance to highlight some incredible movies that will probably get knocked off of other lists by the likes of The Master and Zero Dark Thirty. Aujord’hui — the thoughtful contemplation on death in the context of a rich, colorful life — is definitely in that category. Writer/director Alain Gomis uses the last day of one man (Saul Williams) as a backdrop for every station we walk through, and the sequence where the man set to bury Satche performs the ceremony for him while he’s alive is one of the most poignant scenes of the whole year.
Piling on to our slow-but-steady flow of smart science fiction, Rian Johnson’s time-bending action noir turned Joseph Gordon-Levitt into Bruce Willis and Bruce Willis into a baby killer. It was the kind of genre goodness that delivered even more as a character study in dark heroism. Plus, it introduced the world to Kid Blue and a middle-aged man with disappearing limbs.
As if I need to add to the mountain of praise it’s getting. Sure, a profound drama is worth all the statue-form gold in the world, but it takes something really special to 1) reinvigorate the superhero world 2) juggle an ensemble made up of massive characters and massive egos and 3) provide the most entertainment of any flick this year.
The Cabin in the Woods
A Joss Whedon double-feature on the list this year. It’s been a big one for him, and even though Avengers was the moneymaker, the horror playground he co-wrote with director Drew Goddard earns some big twisty respect. It was a gift to slasher fans, and if anyone can make my wife enjoy a horror movie this much, they deserve a crappy gas station’s worth of exaltation.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Without much time to re-watch movies, especially new ones, it’s rare that I’ll check out a current release more than once. I’ve seen Jiro Dreams of Sushi three times. Few movies were as poetic in their shots, few were as dedicated to showcasing dedication, and few told one family’s story quite so endearingly. Quiet in its tone, contemplative in its execution, it was a movie befitting a man who has traded well more than half a century of life for expertise beyond expertise. It’s rare to be able to call yourself the best in the world at something, but Jiro Dreams of Sushi reverently and fascinatingly covered a true master all the while earning itself a masterful amount of respect. It’s also a testament to the immeasurable service that streaming provides. Jiro got a limited release in New York City, and it toured around some festivals, but it was out of reach for a ton of people (including me). That is, until it hit Netflix and spread like wildfire. Without a streaming service, this movie might have never found its audience, and fans like me might have never seen it. Thanks, technology, for introducing us to the greatest sushi chef on the planet. Now only if I could afford a reservation.