The Moviegoer: Memorable 2012 Moviegoing

Each week in The Moviegoer, Nick Olson examines new and upcoming films.

Confession: I love lists. I love making to-do lists, favorites lists, even grocery lists. All kinds of lists. I’m that person with a computer home screen filled with those little electronic notepad stickies–and my computer sits on a desk with various material notepad stickies populating the work space. List-making has two primary, interrelated functions that work relative to a given list topic: it’s a written order that establishes remembrance and, thus, denotes some form of significance. As such, it serves the personal purpose of functioning as a minor organizational marker in one’s life.

And, because I love films, I enjoy the time of year when I get to read everyone’s favorite films lists. It’s an invitation to get a glimpse at what a person found most moving, stimulating, entertaining, or some combination. Additionally, it’s an invitation to learn about new films that you might not have heard of, or that you might not have given a fair chance. I know for some people list-making can quickly turn into self-validation maneuvering, but, for me, it’s more about the joy that comes from discovering other people shared your enjoyment of a particular film–whether for similar or different reasons. It’s a much milder form of that wonderful experience of sharing laughs or cries or discoveries after coming out of a movie theater with a group of friends–like, say, after the midnight showing of The Avengers.

Film favorite list-making can also be a challenge in terms of how one organizes those experiences. Which is to say: how does one consider Sugar Man with Haneke? The Dark Knight with Ceylan? Arrietty with Lancaster Dodd? Documentaries with fictions? The best way I can describe my favorites list–and this recalls my initial thoughts on the nature of list-making–is to say that it’s constitutive of the most memorable films I saw in 2012. Some people hear “memorable” and assign to it a more objectively unforgettable quality in terms of its connotation. Which is to say, I suppose some people hear “memorable” and think Holy Motors should be number 1 on everyone’s list for this past year. But what’s memorable necessarily has a strong subjective dimension, and, hopefully, that which is subjectively memorable in the domain of moviegoing will have an inbuilt desire for the good, the true, and the beautiful–for holy moments of various stripes.

And that’s the spirit in which I offer my list. It is, on this day in February 2013, a marker by which I remember the moviegoing experiences from 2012 that, for varying reasons and to varying degree, had an impressive effect on me. I hope it’s a personal list that is informed by some level of appropriate discriminating taste, but I also offer it knowing that certain selections of mine shade more toward “personal favorite.” And I’m glad for this, for what fun would a list be in which one tried to figure out “the best” based on solely objective reasoning? I’m fairly certain that this isn’t even possible.

Two more prefatory notes. First, this is also necessarily a kind of recommendations list, but it’s hopefully obvious that it doesn’t function in a way so as to inherently recommend itself to every person. My appreciation is not your appreciation. And none of us shares the same interests or hopes for what viewing a film will be like or what we hope to have happen in the experience of viewing a particular film. And, let’s be honest, we don’t all share the same threshold for when something becomes offensive. There are certain films that I avoided this year–some of those choices might surprise you, and some probably wouldn’t–and I’m sure that for some of my readers it may be a good idea to avoid certain of my selections. This, too, is personal (for the most part it’s personal–I’m sure we could come up with some objective parameters, of course). And it’s a responsibility we each have. Secondly, this list isn’t set in stone. There are a handful of films that were high on my list to see (yes, I have a list for that, too) that I still haven’t had the chance to view. Further, a person’s favorite film one year may not be that person’s favorite film five years from now. Tastes change. Interests change. People change. Our appreciation for some films can either grow or diminish in our imaginations based on repeat viewings or simply distance.

There are films on this list that I could see falling out at some point, and perhaps more importantly, there are films not on this list, or on the outskirts, that I could see joining the fold eventually. And so over at Letterboxd–maybe the greatest thing that’s happened to film-loving list-makers–you can check in from time-to-time to see if I’ve updated my lists. But I hope more than anything else you might be encouraged here to dig into a film that you’ve not heard of or seen before, one that might not be recognized on Oscar night. Well, maybe there’s something else I hope just as much: I hope that you might find the simple pleasure of shared enjoyment–that essentially human desire rooted in the power of recognition.

1. The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)

Plot nitpickers meet their match in the Dardennes: why is the hairdresser helping the kid with a bike? I concluded in our writers’ top ten list blurb for this film: “Perhaps some critics wouldn’t have considered this ‘minor Dardennes’ if we had been given more of a reason for Samantha’s love for Cyril.” My Filmwell colleague, Michael Leary, put it this way in his own list: “There is a great failure in this film to articulate the reason why a certain lady decides to take on the internal conflicts of a forgotten boy. That failure is a formal approximation of: grace. I appreciate the way the Dardenne brothers wreck cinema to preserve these perfect, transformative stories.” Me too.

The battle for Cyril’s abandoned soul is between a gracious hairdresser and a trouble-making, adolescent gangster, both offering the security (or the pretense of security) in helping him with his bike. But only for Samantha the hairdresser is love reason enough in itself for helping Cyril. Only she offers a new bike ride with new gears to keep the boy from peddling furiously only to go over the edge. Only she offers a love that never leaves nor forsakes.

(Oh, and be sure to see Steven D. Greydanus’s latest meditation on Bike).

2. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)

Wes Anderson’s latest works for me on every level. It features the director’s stylized, compassionate-but-dry humor, but here couched within a religious framework–specifically, Noye’s Fludde. Moonrise Kingdom retains Anderson’s classic primary colors, but what really colors this film–gives it a distinctive quality–is the Britten soundtrack. Flood judgment rises against those who foster animosity or indifference for the outcasts, but an Ark is prepared for those who are willing to be recreated in a reconciled community. Anderson’s preoccupation with childlike whimsy solidifies into an imperative: the adults ought to become like Sam and Suzy—childlike in its best connotation. If you can’t recognize the imperative to “become like little children,” well, “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

3. The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev)

Accompanied by a guide, an engaged couple goes backpacking in the mountains. The trip only has two or three narrative turns, but it’s the gestures before, in between, and after these few notable moments that give the film a significance to treasure. The gestures of intimate joy, of silent rift, and–perhaps–of restorational forgiveness are so palpably recognizable that words are, for the most part, rendered unnecessary. Communication is key, say the pre-marital counselors. Yes, and sometimes a certain touch, or retreat, communicates volumes. Learn love’s grammatical gestures and the structure of the marital story will be able to come together sensibly.

4. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

How do we deal with death’s enfolding cold and darkness? In part, we tell stories. Or, in some cases, it’s better put that we attempt to piece together the story. This is a narrative pursuit of truth–a light shining in the darkness. This–this essentially human, narrated longing–is what Ceylan captures so brilliantly. What makes this film a masterpiece? It’s that once upon a time a group of homicide investigators including a police chief, a doctor, a prosecutor, and suspects all go out in the middle of the dark night in search of the body–car lights flashing every which way, trying to piece together the evidence and make sense of the situation. Against this backdrop, the conversations range from yoghurt, to urination, to murder and ethics. But the background situation complements the foregrounded existential meanderings in a way that is memorably coherent. From what presuppositions should we narrate? Cold rationalism? Is their room for the emotional and spiritual? In the cold, dark night, the light of warm human faces are miraculous–particularly a young girl’s, a kind of image of innocence we’re all searching for. Ceylan says that, in the midst of the various ways we lie to ourselves to alleviate our situation, it’s the human faces that best present us with the truth.

5. Looper (Rian Johnson)

Frankly, I’ve only seen this film once, and I’m a tad nervous to see it a second time. Sitting in the theater, with my wife beside me, Looper was somehow one of the most affecting film experiences of the year, and it’s one that I’m afraid to have diminished, particularly in a genre that can be easily broken down. Here’s what I know: When the diner scene happened, I was hooked into Johnson’s dark sci-fi world. The becoming self, the parent-child dynamic, and the sense of intergenerational responsibility–all grounded in the time travel mechanism–just plain worked for me. When Johnson’s film transitioned from the grimy futuristic city to the traditional pastoral, I knew this was a film that wasn’t content to just be a competent genre exercise. And when a mother whispers to her son, “it’s ok, mommy is here,” changing the whole trajectory of his future self, well, I knew it was time to push away tears, go home, and hug my 18 month old boy. Milbank has me wishing better for Joe, but it’s not wholly bleak.

6. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow)

Bigelow grounds post-9/11 American anxieties in Maya’s (Jessica Chastain) procedural hunt for UBL. Will killing UBL alleviate the pressure? Are the means we take in pursuing that end justified? What do we make of the war on terror waged behind computer screens? War is about tradecraft now, and Bigelow’s largely absent political slanting is itself cinematic tradecraft. The hunt comes to quite a measured payoff (emphasis on measured), one that allows for admiration of the seal team while also refusing any celebratory kill shot. Instead, we’re left with a mixed sense of relief and disorientation, and asked to parse what’s been achieved and lost over the last decade. The pride we can take in being Americans is a morally complicated issue–one we need to pursue with dogged detection.

7. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)

What most struck me about this film was the lighting, which took on a phenomenal effect in rendering each scene like a brilliant portrait. And that’s how Spielberg’s restrained (well, restrained by Spielbergian standards) vision of the 16th President takes shape. It’s a series of vignettes organized around the passing of the 13th amendment in an attempt to sketch a historicity with refined dramatic effect. Each scene features dimmed indoor lighting and soft indistinct colors that, when coupled with a ray of natural light from a large window or the orange glow from a fireplace, highlights the faces of each of its characters. More specifically, it lends a majestic feel to facial expressions. And, in a film that operates as a political thriller, achieving tension and anticipation via sustained rhetorical arguments and paused, introspective gazes, the natural light-portrait effect lends these moments an added gravitas that’s unmistakable without ever being obtrusive. The voice of reason becomes a source of light in a time of darkness. And Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance looks all the more iconic for it.

8. The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)

If there’s a film in the top ten that feels like a shameful confession, it’s probably this one, and I might even confess that this one appears here from a perspective shaded with more emphasis on “personal favorite.” It feels like Nolan has fallen on hard times in some critical circles. So here’s my confession: I watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight right before seeing the final installment in IMAX, and The Dark Knight Rises was not only quite satisfying, but, for this moviegoer, it just might be the best of the three. Where Ledger’s Joker left a gaping hole in his chilling second act performance, Selina Kyle and John Blake anchor the Caped Crusader and fill the gap with a fulfilling third act centered around justice for the orphan and truth having its day. Batman fighting in broad daylight is probably the film’s defining image. At some point, I may write a long-read appreciation (defense?) of this trilogy, but in the meantime here’s a recipe of reading: a cup of Bordwell, a tablespoon of this Nolan interview in Film Comment, and a pinch of Dargis. Mix well.

9. The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi)

Life of Pi was an astonishing visual experience–one of a handful of 3D films that have worked for me as 3D films. Yet, I think my favorite visual/aural moviegoing experience this year was The Secret World of Arrietty. Going borrowing with Arrietty and her father was a breathtaking adventure. Rappelling into the kitchen–where sugar cubes fit in backpacks and the ticking of a clock is booming insistence–becomes an entry point into a new world of perspective. It’s a formal flourish that complements well the film’s empathetic themes. The two main characters come to recognize each other’s need for respective home renovation.

10. Sinister (Scott Derrickson)

Ellison’s temptations hit home. I just finished my first full calendar year writing for this site and began contributing to a few other places in recent months. Lately, I understand Ellison’s consuming temptation to want to be Famous True Crime Novelist. Granted, I haven’t given myself over to it like he has. I don’t have a drinking problem, and I haven’t allowed fleeting ambitions to consume me, but, to some degree, I do get it. With a young family–married almost three years with a two year old–I’m in the midst of a new time in my life when prioritizing is paramount. If I’m honest, pursuing dreams and goals and work has at times hindered me from being the more actively present husband and father that I ought to be. Sinister has me seeing the bigger picture with wide eyes. I don’t want to be the man who is eating away at the foundation of his family with inordinate career-pursuing selfishness. The images resulting from the Bughullian impulse are a truly horrifying sight. Consider Derrickson’s film a holy warning construed as righteous expletive, and consider me haunted for the good.

11. Bernie (Richard Linklater)

Jack Black, dressed in funeral director garb with his black hair slicked back, singing “Love Lifted Me” is quintessential comedic horror. But scarier still is a town of people who could so easily get taken with a charismatic, religious imposter that his murder trial needs to be moved to a different town for fear that he might not be found guilty. Linklater nearly seamlessly synthesizes documentary and fiction into a filmic oral history in which the locals become an essential character who is both mysterious and revealing. Mysterious, because none of them seem to really know Bernie in a way that would provide a comforting insight into his murderous deed; revealing, because Bernie’s mode of endearing himself to the people has a remoteness about it–a certain kind of distance in which manipulation has space to operate. Bernie getting arrested while giving a crock of a motivational speech to Little Leaguers is one of the best moments of the year.

12. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

I am probably the most conflicted about Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest. An eventual second viewing could catapult this film to the top three of this list or it could be banished from list-making lore. My hunch is that The Master belongs somewhere in my top ten. Anderson’s film is too simultaneously bewildering and insightful about things ranging from lascivious individualism to how misplaced desire leads us to be mastered falsely. As I think about Freddie and Lancaster side-by-side freaking out in jail cells, or the two of them hugging each other to the ground with awkward hilarity, I’m beginning to think it’s likely that I’m editing the order of this list as you’re reading this.

13. The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield)

Shout out to Ken Morefield for recommending this film to anyone who had ears to hear. It’s easily my favorite documentary of the year, and, as you can see, one of my favorite films of the year. Imagine Greenfield documenting the Siegels–a tycoon family of the vacation real estate world–when, rather suddenly, the economic collapse happens. In the aftermath of the burst bubble are countless clarifying shots, including carts full of needless stuff at Wal-Mart. But Greenfield’s approach refuses the scapegoat impulse, and instead asks each of us to consider our means and our ends. Which is to say, we’re left wondering if the American Dream is, in the end, an unfinished, uninhabitable house.

14. Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

My unpublished notes on Zvyagintsev’s meditative noir thriller revolve around televisions as an essential fixture in the film’s mise-en-scène. There are class issues at stake here, but the relationships in Vladmir’s family and Elena’s family share a certain intimate distance perpetuated by preoccupation with televisions in separate rooms. Zvyagintsev’s long-take approach, particularly when Elena sets a plan in motion to secure her son’s family’s financial future, haunted me for days. Elena’s desperation has an ironically discomforting fulfillment. Channel-surfing has never been this macabre.

15. The Central Park Five (Ken and Sarah Burns, David McMahon)

This documentary wrecked me. It unpacks the infamous 1989 case of five black and latino teenagers who were convicted of brutally raping a white woman in Central Park. The outrage at the heinous crime was understandable. But what if instead of truly desiring justice, what we really want sometimes is instant relief from injustice’s daunting pressures? The public puts pressure on the media. The media puts pressure on the detectives. The detectives put pressure on some teenagers. We need a guilty party now, because we need relief now. But imagine years later when a serial rapist comes out and confesses the crime. And, suddenly, “relief” meant wrongfully accused teenagers in prison for 6-13 years. Our scapegoating impulse can devour the innocent, and seems to have a hankering for minorities. Pass around Girard. Get to know the Final Scapegoat. God help us.

16. Brave (Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, Steve Purcell)

Brave isn’t that far behind Arrietty on my 2012 best animated films list. In fact, on a recent second viewing, the distance has shortened considerably. In the theater, the Scottish Kingdom of DunBroch–with its majestic castle, enchanted forest, and nostalgia-infused medieval culture–evokes the kind of imaginative marvel I’ve come to expect from Pixar. In the comfort of my home, a second viewing showed that what initially seemed like too-much-going-on is perhaps more coherent than I first imagined. This is one of the great mother-daughter tales in a categorization that has too few entries. And any coming-of-age adventure that manages to resist self-determining freedom as the highest order of goodness gets my stamp of approval. One more Overstreet piece, and I think I’ll be a true believer.

17. Skyfall (Sam Mendes)

Skyfall may not be as good as Casino Royale, but don’t let that distinction deceive you: this is one of the best Bond films I’ve seen, and it solidifies Daniel Craig’s place in the 007 pantheon. Mendes has done a nice job here, but it’s obvious that he owes a great deal to his cinematographer, Roger Deakins. You’ll know it when you see the high-rise sequence. But what I most love about this Bond–and Deakins is involved here, too–is how he’s so often in the shadows. This is an uncharacteristically intimate look at Bond the person, and it’s rightfully a dark one (you need to read Leary on this point). Plus, few actors do deranged better than Javier Bardem–just try to withstand his frame of entrance without getting squirmy.

18. The Avengers (Joss Whedon)

Hands down, Whedon’s superhero triumph is the most fun I had at the movie theater this year. And, largely, it’s due to the fact that it was one of the most felt communal experiences I had at the theater this year. We laughed, we cheered, and we gasped with glee. This is the pinnacle of midnight showing bliss. It’s cute that Iron Man becomes more like the Captain, but it’s ultimately forgettable. I’m more interested in the way Whedon is able to make room to stage all of these larger-than-life personalities, and then deliver delightful fanboy moments with seemingly unrivaled persistence. The moral take-home isn’t Stark’s character arc, but Whedon’s evident self-awareness throughout the film that This Isn’t All That Serious. Is there an article up on MUBI yet about how Whedon is able to compose grandiose spectacle with this deft a touch?

19. Anna Karenina (Joe Wright)

Move in close. Here’s my confession for #10-20: In Anna Karenina, when Lily responds with gracious care to her new husband Levin’s anxious reassurances about his troubled brother unexpectedly inhabiting the home they’ve just arrived at together–it reverberates in the film and resonated with me in a way that nothing in Les Misérables quite accomplished. It’s also the kind of distinguishing moment that sets this apart from The Deep Blue Sea–probably the superior film in most ways formal. Some have complained that Levin and Lily didn’t get enough screen time when compared with Tolstoy’s novel, but it sure felt to me like quality subverted quantity in this instance–intermittent breaths of fresh air enough to relieve the claustrophobic passions besetting Anna and Vronsky. Wright’s imaginative all-present stage approach is really interesting. I need a second viewing to decide if it works as well as I think it does. The presence of opera glasses–first for wandering eyes, then for social judgment–dominates many scenes with a sense of zoomed-in thrill and paranoid posturing.

20. Argo (Ben Affleck)

In recent weeks, Argo has become the whipping boy for Oscars-loathing. And upon its release, it received a lot of criticism for supposedly being unfairly patriotic (or something). I’ve decided to make a fake movie about how some of these hatchet criticisms are either too harsh or flat-out missing the point. While they’re watching my fake movie, I hope to exfiltrate Argo away from the whipping station. Then, when we’re safe at home–off the radar of the pre-Oscars critical landscape–maybe it will by then be clear that Affleck has intentionally narrow purposes.

He’s more concerned with the humorous, fictive imagination at work in constructing the heroic plot than with the unsavory international relations which made the rescue necessary in the first place. So for instance, within this purview, Affleck isn’t dehumanizing Iranians by resisting subtitles so much as he’s humanizing the tension of the situation itself by highlighting the sense in which “Argo’s”  crew–the six American diplomats–would have felt alien and scared (we’re told that only one or two of them speak the language). Beneath the 70′s realism that Affleck’s film achieves are wise cracks about the inherent fakery of movies in general and Hollywood movies in particular–probably most embodied by the self-obvious tension a particular scene invokes when a hokey fight scene is being filmed, threatening to derail a real life catharsis with an artificial conflict. Affleck’s film isn’t about international politics in the governmental sense–that’s for another film. Rather, it is about the more general “politics” of exfiltration: We are all citizens in need of rescue, hoping to return home.

21. Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg)

A first viewing of Cronenberg’s dystopian sci-fi fantasy about capitalism qua excess left me disoriented, but increasingly intrigued and growing with admiration. The next day I decided to return to it and wound up with 2300 words shaped by my interest in the formal repetition of Eric and Elise’s meetings. That their marriage has a fantastical quality in Cosmopolis’s inverted world is an entry point in considering the significance of the film’s unconventional narrative. The solipsistic soul flattens out potential narrative horizons until the only sensible end is (the threat of) a shot to the head from the Ignored Other.

22. Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier)

This is a properly difficult film, for it captures the frightening prospect of suicide with a compassionate, but unflinching touch. The film’s opening scene will grip you and have you engrossed for the film’s duration, which is tightly managed. Because the film is framed by Anders’s struggle for life, each conversation in the film becomes an edge-of-your-seat encounter. The film becomes something I think I’ll be returning to and writing about in the future near the very end. There’s an emphasis that says Anders’s suicidal self had become a map of dead-ends–it’s why he had to get out of Oslo. Some of the hazy point-of-view shots usher in the idea that his sense of direction has become unfathomable. I feel like Durkheim is relevant here. I might be underrating this sobering film.

23. The Deep Blue Sea (Terrence Davies)

I remember finishing this film overwhelmed with the sense that Davies is probably one of the best directors alive and that Rachel Weisz is probably one of my favorite actresses working. Even if the source material feels dried up, somehow Davies’s craft is able to have you totally engrossed, as if you’ve never encountered an emotionally/sexually stifled wife in a story in your life. If the dramatic situation is contrived, none of the proceedings in Davies’s retelling feel the least bit artificial. The post-war setting lends the film an overriding anxiety; tension-filled pauses emphasize social-psychological burden; fluttering cigarette smoke adds stress to dark, muted rooms; that old strain between passion and reason is displayed on faces equally bewildered and irritated.

Davies’s film stakes its claim to refined style in the opening credit sequence: in a shaky, foreboding voice, Weisz reads a suicide note that she’s written to the man she’s having an affair with. In the background, we can hear rain falling and an incessant, ticking clock. Are they the final ticks? The unquestionable star here is Rachel Weisz as the anxious lead, Hester. In a film that begins with a suicide attempt and works backwards in flashbacks to depict the intimate, daily circumstances that help facilitate it, Weisz wears despair heartrendingly well. Levin and Lily aside, I feel like a second viewing could catapult this ahead of Anna Karenina–maybe even into the top ten.

24. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)

I’m certain that a good bit of this celebrated film went over my head. While intrigued, I struggled to come to grips with what Carax was up to here. In a film that resists neat summation, I think the scene that I found most helpful, and which in a way oriented me to the rest of the film, is the one when Oscar converses with a higher-up about why he still performs. Oscar suggests that it’s for the same reason he began: for the beauty of the act. Told that they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Oscar notably laments a rhetorical question: are there no more beholders? At times befuddled, I felt like all I could say was that this film was a sight to behold. Maybe that’s part of the point–couched within a lament of sorts.

25. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr)

It’s not all that hard to believe that von Trier’s grandiosity has been outdone by the persistence of scalding hot potatoes. Melancholia is like the new atheist to Turin Horse‘s Portable Nietzsche. The former really wants to convert you; the latter is too caught up going insane under the quiet, burdensome weight of a grinding existence slowly wheeling toward death.

26. Chronicle (Josh Trank)

This film got lost a bit during the 1st quarter time of year where films go to die an agonizing death, but Trank showed himself a fully capable director by offering a compelling little film that charted some new territory in a crowded genre. The ways in which he uses found-footage to chronicle Andrew Detmer’s descent into villainy is especially interesting. While Detmer’s camera starts as a barrier between himself and the cruel otherness of the world, it transitions into a barrier that also prevents him from being transparent enough to feel embarrassed around newfound friends and trust that they will still love him. Throw in some subtle commentary on social media qua narcissism and you’ve got a film that remains, several months later, a remarkable and unexpected delight.

27. The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard)

Goddard’s meta-slasher slashes the voyeur by turning the one-way mirror inside out so that all manner of mockery and horror is unleashed on those who would take pleasure in sexualized blood-spill. The film comes a little too close to having its cake and eating it, too. But, for the most part, it’s a parodic homage that nods to the “dead teenager movies”– then stabs them in the back.

28. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb)

This is a fascinating story about one man’s cultivation of a world class sushi restaurant. Gelb’s documentary most struck me as a multifaceted look at the art of preparation. It’s not only about the preparation that goes into cultivating one of the world’s finest sushi restaurants; it’s also about the preparation that Jiro didn’t receive from his father; it’s about the ways Jiro did and didn’t follow his father in preparing his sons. At its heart, the documentary suggests that dreams are best achieved when couched within repetition, discipline, and tradition; but there’s also quite an underlying suggestion that priorities must factor into preparation’s equation.

29 & 30. Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul) & The Imposter (Bart Layton)

I couple these together not because I can’t decide, nor because each of these documentaries do not warrant discussion unique to themselves. But, presently, it strikes me as most interesting that both of these documentaries are adept at drawing the viewer in through unfolding True Life Mysteries that are stranger than fiction. Except these feel more authentic than, say, Catfish.

Ten More Films (alphabetical order): Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman), Haywire (Steven Soderbergh), The Hobbit (Peter Jackson), The Hunger Games (Gary Ross), Les Misérables (Tom Hooper), Life of Pi (Ang Lee), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky), Ruby Sparks (Valerie Faris, Jonathan Dayton), Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow), Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley)

Two Films that Frustrated: Django Unchained (Quentin Tarnatino) and Amour (Michael Haneke) are two of the most frustrating films I saw this year–and, at times, the most excellent. Tarantino is still a master at making you feel like you’re at one of the most entertaining movies you’ve seen. Haneke’s direction is, in some ways, the most compelling that I saw this year. Both films are brimming with outstanding performances. Yet, I have this inescapable sense with both films that I’m being manipulated, and in a way that, given the moral seriousness of the issues that these two films deal with, makes me uncomfortable. I don’t at all mean this as a judgment upon these films’ ardent supporters. In fact, I’ll probably revisit these out of the respect I have for much of what’s going on in each of them and how this renders me conflicted. But I’ll say that my hopes aren’t high for a change of heart. Particularly for the Tarantino.

2012 Films I Still Hope to See that Could Change this List: This is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi), Barbara (Christian Petzold), Tabu (Miguel Gomes), Sister (John Parish), Seven Psychopaths (Martin McDonagh), End of Watch (David Ayer), Planet of Snail (Yi Seung-jun), Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold), Let the Bullets Fly (Jiang Wen), Frankenweenie (Tim Burton), Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Lorene Scafaria), Margaret Extended Cut (Kenneth Lonergan)

About Nick Olson

Nick Olson (Associate Editor) loves the Triune God, his family, the arts, and culture. In 2010, he graduated with his MA in English from Liberty University. He now resides in central PA with his wife, Eliza, and their young son. When he’s not reading, watching films, grading papers, or enjoying his backyard, he’s plotting in hopes to pursue a PhD in American Literature with socio-philosophical emphases. He takes a James Hunter-approach to culture: affirmation and antithesis, but always in love. He watches the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NBA, and thinks that Colbert is often right, but always funny. Nick strives to live day-to-day in the eschatological Light that is the hope of the resurrected Christ. He’s written for Filmwell, Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Think Christian, Curator, and Literature & Belief.
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  • Amber

    Bernie! I’m so glad you included this – it was hilarious, in the worst (best?) kind of way. The first five minutes alone (Bernie explaining how to lay out a dead body) make the film worth it.

    And I love what you have to say about Moonrise Kingdom, Looper, and Lincoln — interesting how they’re so “portrait-like.” Watching all of these, I felt as if there were several moments (actually, pretty much ALL of MK) that I could have taking a still-shot of and hung in my house as some gorgeous, moving, or fascinating picture. Such good films.

    Good work, Olson. As a fellow list-making-lover, I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this for movie recommendations.

    ps. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World won’t change your list (not in my humble opinion). Some good moments, but overall … “eh” best sums up how I felt at the end.

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/tag/the-moviegoer/ Nick O.

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Amber! Those three films you mentioned definitely had a great visual style about them. And, yeah, BERNIE worked awfully well.

    Let me know when you tackle some of the other films on the list!

  • http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com yankeegospelgirl

    My favorite film of the year was _The Impossible_, hands down. Second favorite would be _The Kid With a Bike_. If you haven’t seen _The Impossible_ yet, I highly recommend it. See my review here:

    http://southerngospelyankee.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/my-favorite-movie-of-2012/


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