Way Too Indie’s Best Films of 2012 (So Far)
Now that we are half way through the year, the staff here at Way Too Indie has decided to come up with the Best Films of 2012…so far. There is a good chance our list could see some major changes when we do our Top 10 of the Year article. But it is also likely that some of the stronger films we listed here will end up on our article at the end of the year.
Dustin Jansick’s Picks
Obviously, it is tough to do a Best Films of the year post half way through the year as some of highly anticipated titles have not been released yet. In fact, we are just starting to get releases from films that showed at Toronto International Film Festival last year. I also want to give a shout out at a few films that may have made my list had I seen them in time, Beats of the Southern Wild, Alps, Sound of My Voice, and Safety Not Guaranteed.
Jeff, Who Lives At Home may not quite rank up there with the Duplass brother’s first feature The Puffy Chair but it would be tough to argue that it is not their most polished work to date. The film delivers a powerful message about believing that things in life happen for a reason but does so blurring the line between genuine and whimsical. It also balances a good amount of emotional scenes with comical ones making it a fun watch for just about anyone. For these reasons I list it as my favorite film of 2012 so far.
If my admiration for Mark Duplass is not apparent enough, I have mentioned it several times, including two films he is involved in on my list surely makes it clear. In Your Sister’s Sister he steps in front of the camera as the lead instead of behind as the director. The film takes an incredibly simple premise and makes it into an engrossing story thanks to the wonderful dialog and cast members. The most shocking part is the film was made in just 12 days.
Beyond the Black Rainbow should come with a warning sticker that says, “Caution: This film is not for everyone.” Aside from the opening and ending 10 minutes this film does not contain much a plot. In fact, the parts where they focus on the plot are actually the least pleasing as it is then when you noticed reality settling back in from the hypnotic trip in the alternate reality that you were on for the majority of the film. This is an experience that you are unlikely to be a part of for a few years’ to come.
Moonrise Kingdom would be my number one on a Best Ensemble Cast list of 2012 but is my fourth favorite overall film of the year thus far. The amazing cast includes more high profile actors than you can count on one hand; Billy Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, and Tilda Swinton. They all shine in Wes Anderson’s fantasy kingdom in which style trumps story. His characters and artful presentation have always been his strong points and Moonrise Kingdom does not deviate from that.
Roger Ebert has stated on several occasions that he does not believe video games to be an art medium which he has received a lot of backslash from people that disagree. While Indie Game: The Movie never mentions Ebert’s name, it does make it’s case that video games are an art medium from the very beginning. This well shot and edited documentary will likely inspire you even if you are not a hardcore gamer.
So far it looks like the quality of 2011’s films are still resonating throughout 2012. While I’m going by North American release dates for my list, everything on my list originally came out last year. That isn’t to say that 2012 films are stinkers though, so far there’s been a few impressive movies that didn’t make the list including The Raid: Redemption, The Cabin in the Woods and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory. I’ll let these 5 movies speak for themselves, the main purpose of this space to list the films I didn’t get to see before making this list. These include Take This Waltz, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Moonrise Kingdom, Cosmopolis, Damsels in Distress, Your Sister’s Sister, Bonsai, Sound of My Voice, Whores’ Glory, Goodbye First Love, Post Mortem, Jeff Who Lives At Home, Footnote and many more that don’t come to mind at the moment. With that out of the way, here are my five favorite films from this year.
Before watching The Turin Horse, Bela Tarr’s final film before going into retirement, I was disappointed that there would be no more movies by the director. After watching it, I felt like there wasn’t any need for Tarr to make another film since The Turin Horse covered everything. It goes to show how powerful Bela Tarr and cinematographer Fred Kelemen’s images and sounds are that people have described this film as the end of cinema. Following six days in the life of two farmers as their horse suddenly refuses to eat or move, Tarr presents their lives as a living hell of banality. We see the farmers go about their daily business repeatedly while the wind howls outside their home and the same music cue is used over and over again. As the movie slowly moves forward towards its apocalyptic ending, it begins to feel like everything in the film is slowly giving up and dying off, as if it can’t bear the crushing weight of despair that’s in every frame. By no means is The Turin Horse an easy watch, but it’s impossible to deny how powerful Bela Tarr’s vision is. Few films are able to make their audience feel like they’ve become a part of its world as well as The Turin Horse does, even if that world is the last place you would ever want to be. It’s a powerful ordeal if you’re up for the challenge, but if you’re able to make it through you’ll come out feeling stronger for it.
Paolo Sorrentino’s baffling road trip movie, about a retired rocker (Sean Penn) travelling across America to hunt down the Nazi who tortured his father, defies any expectations one would have about the film before actually seeing it. Sean Penn, looking like Robert Smith and talking like a little boy, manages to nail a role that could have easily become too annoying or too campy. Paolo Sorrentino visually matches Penn’s bizarre, gaudy role by throwing out stunning landscapes, beautifully composed framing and operatic crane shots like they’re candy. The combination of both elements might make people run screaming from the film (and judging by its reception at Cannes last year it already has) but if you ignore everything and just go with the movie it’s pure aesthetic bliss.
Joachim Trier’s devastating masterpiece may seem nihilistic at first glance, but its opening and closing shots show that this is only one person’s story out of millions in Oslo. Where Oslo, August 31 excels is how well it explains the state of its central character. A recovering addict at 34 years old, Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie in one of the best performances of the year) feels that starting over from scratch isn’t even worth the effort since it won’t benefit him in any substantial way. As he makes his way across town bumping into old friends, we can understand his pain as he feels incapable of having anything resembling the seemingly normal lives of the people around him. By the time we arrive at his family home (shown to be in as much disarray as his mental state), it’s obvious that the film’s conclusion is more inevitable than surprising. The fact that Trier is able to convey all of this while making it look effortless only shows how skilled of a director he is.
An act of protest, a dangerous risk, a dissection of filmmaking itself, portrait of a man who’s about to lose everything. This is Not a Film is all of these things and more, an effort by Jafar Panahi to keep making films even while under house arrest awaiting a 6 year prison sentence. Running at a scant 75 minutes, This is Not a Film is one of the most engrossing things to come out in 2012. Anyone who calls themselves a fan of cinema should consider this required viewing.
Terence Davies shows the destructive side of love in The Deep Blue Sea, one of the most beautiful movies of the year. The core cast of Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale do a great job with Davies’ screenplay (an adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play of the same name) but it’s Davies’ movie through and through. Every shot is bursting with a romantic, warm look that feels like Davies is unleashing everything he’s been holding back over his 12 year hiatus from narrative filmmaking. The Deep Blue Sea is a welcome comeback and hopefully Davies will keep making films sooner rather than later.
Picking my top five was not a hard task. I had a fairly good idea of what was ultimately going to end up on my list. The Grey for the longest time was on my list and in the end, it barely missed. I saw a lot of other films that really could’ve made it if it wasn’t for a last minute influx of great movies (I actually had a great day a couple weeks ago where I saw three terrific films in one day). That doesn’t happen often. My fifth spot was where The Grey was actually going to end up, but ultimately my heart picked a film I enjoyed over one that was probably better all around. That happens sometimes.
Joachim Trier’s powerful film about a recovering drug addict on a 24 hour outing through a beautiful but lonely Oslo, Norway is by far the year’s best film. The man walks the city with friends as he ponders what his life is worth. The film is gut wrenching in moments with scenes of unbelievable power. Trier’s direction is perfect and the acting by lead Anders Danielsen Lie is sublime. Lie is able to show more emotions through body language than with actual dialogue and at times it is scary how real his performance is. This film will knock your socks off.
There are a ton of road trip movies out there. But none of them are like Paolo Sorrentino’s film, which has us following a retired rock star played by Sean Penn who journeys across America to find the ex-Nazi who humiliated his father during World War II. Funny, quirky and at times sad, This Must Be the Place is an odd journey into the identity of a man. The film is superbly directed by Sorrentino and Sean Penn nails the part of Cheyenne, the Goth rock star out for revenge. A film as unique as this is not to be missed.
I’ve been singing the praises of Scandinavian filmmaking for a few months now and to me Headhunters by Morton Tyldum is one of the best. A corporate headhunter spends his free time as an art thief, often stealing from clients he is trying to hire! One such client happens to be a former mercenary who used to specialize in human tracking. What follows is an intense and brutal chase across Norway. The film masquerades as a black comedy at times but never crosses the line completely. You will get lost in how fun this film is.
I’ve seen a lot of slow burners in my day, but Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film about men on a stubborn search for a dead body takes the cake. The film is painfully slow at times, but in the end is immensely rewarding. If you were to pause the film at practically any moment and took a snapshot you would have yourself one hell of a shot. Ceylan’s background is in photography and every single second of this film shows it. Few audiences will be able to stay with the film’s staggering 155 minute runtime, but those who do will likely find a cop procedural that turns out to be a whole lot more than just a search for a body.
Now THIS is an action movie. The Raid begins with a young man training in the early morning before saying goodbye to his pregnant wife before he is thrust into the fight of his life. He is a part of a SWAT team that invades a building in the projects in the massive city of Jakarta. Their goal is to take down a sadistic drug lord who controls the building. While things go smoothly at first, the film soon turns into a tale of survival as the SWAT team is forced to fight their way out of the building after the drug lord puts a huge bounty on their heads. Be forewarned. The Raid is extremely violent. But the film is highly efficient, inventive and never boring. Most action films are throwaways, full of clichés and boring action scenes. The Raid is one hell of a film.