So at this point I’ve seen four of the Best Picture Oscar nominees, plus a couple other multiple Oscar-nominees, and overall my thoughts on the top movies of 2012 is that this has been a year of ambitious movies that all fell substantially short of greatness. When compared against the last truly great Oscar field, the 2010 Best Picture array that included Inglourious Basterds, The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, District 9, Up, and Avatar, this year is a third-tier duplicate Michael Keaton of that field. With one (well, two if you count a non-Best Picture nominee) exception, all the Oscar-nominated movies I’ve seen have been “pretty good,” but not “great.”
That one exception is Argo, which I thought was a very tight, well-made and suspenseful political action thriller. When I first saw it this fall, I found it to be quite good and competently made but, as I’ve seen more of the critically exalted films of 2012, it has risen in my esteem by comparison. I doubt it will win, but this is my pick for the Best Picture of 2012.
Django Unchained was eminently entertaining when it was entertaining and tedious when it wasn’t. Looking back, this is actually par for the course for Tarantino and perhaps my expectations were too high after Inglourious Basterds, which I thought was about as perfectly tense and suspenseful a film as could be made, at least for an exploitation comedy. Django’s biggest asset is its comedy–really fucking funny–but it never reached the levels of menace and hair-trigger suspense as Inglourious Basterds. And it was 30 minutes too long. I don’t see Django winning anything except perhaps Original Screenplay.
I’m a sucker for musicals and Les Miserables is one of my absolute favorites. Although buoyed by incredible performances from Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Samantha Barks, as well as an innovative and beautiful set design, director Tom Hooper just couldn’t keep the damn camera still in a style of directing that a friend of mine described as “anti-musical.” The music was fantastic (Russell Crowe aside, although he wasn’t THAT bad), but I wanted more spectacle. A solid musical film, nothing more.
I disliked Zero Dark Thirty quite a bit, with the obvious exception of the amazingly shot sequence showing the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. Overall, the movie was everything I hated about The Hurt Locker without Hurt Locker’s humor and strong characters. Both movies are current events minstrelsy, pulpy entertainment masquerading as docudrama. Jessica Chastain was very good though.
Of the remaining nominees, I hope to see Lincoln and Silver Linings Playbook before the Oscars and will weigh-in if I can. I’m intrigued by Beasts of the Southern Wild but I think that’s going to have to be a DVD engagement. As far as The Life of Pi and Amour goes, well, perhaps we’ll run into each other in the proverbial Mens Room.
I also saw The Master, which was a beautifully-shot film in which virtually nothing happens. Joaquin Phoenix was good in it and both Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman were incredible. The Dark Knight Rises, surprisingly shut out of the awards in even the technical categories, started promisingly but became too muddy too quickly. Anne Hathaway and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were both unexpectedly good, however.
My favorite movie of 2012 was Moonrise Kingdom and I do hope that Wes Anderson takes home the screenplay Oscar, although he has to contend with Zero Dark Thirty’s Mark Boal and Tarantino, so it’s unlikely. A funny, heartfelt, and beautifully made little film that was Anderson’s best ever, in my opinion. Yes, even better than The Royal Tenenbaums.
Anybody else have thoughts on the films of 2012? Agree? Disagree? I’m curious to hear your opinions.