Top Ten of 2012, Part II

5. Lincoln

Lincoln_Day-Lewis_ImmensePower_JPG_C[1]I’ve never been more surprised by my peers’ reaction to a particular film than I have been with Lincoln. My recommendation to them came with the postscript that they might find it dry or boring, as I expected many of them to come back and complain of falling asleep at the film’s more theatrical presentation. Yet even after my prodding, not one of them admitted to growing tired of the film, a feat that speaks volumes to Lincoln’s ability to engross. Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is of course outstanding, in addition to an equally empowered supporting cast. Lincoln is easily Steven Spielberg’s best and most personal film in over a decade, and a fascinating look into a time when equality was desired, nay, desperately needed, in the face of a nation torn in two.

4. Argo

Affleck-Argo_thumb3Much has already been said of Affleck’s first real awards behemoth. Not only does it poke fun at the US government’s practical joke of a rescue operation, but it provides a serious, dramatic look at it too, an operation that still managed to save the lives of six Americans in need. As an actor, Affleck knows how to bring out the best in his cast, bringing an excellent script by Chris Terrio to life. It’s a great balance of art and entertainment that probably earned Affleck at least a Best Direction nomination. Next time for sure.

3. The Master

The-Master_thumb1I’ll be honest, I still don’t have a damn clue what much of The Master was all about. And yet, it is indisputably the work of mater director Paul Thomas-Anderson. If ever a filmmaker earned the title, “the Next Kubrick,” it’s him.

There’s more to the film than meets the eye for certain. We have a broken young soldier (Joaquin Phoenix) returning home after World War II, stumbling upon a mysterious scholar (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) who sets him up with a strange religion he dubs, “The Cause,” in an obvious riff on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. Is he crazy? A genius? Over the course of the film, we begin to question his methods. Even his son tells Phoenix’s character, “He’s making it up as he goes along.”

Rich in memorable imagery and boasting beautiful cinematography, The Master is one of the most layered experiences of the year. Paul Thomas-Anderson continues to be one of those rare filmmakers that regularly reaches into the ether and pulls out something spectacular.

2. Prometheus

Prometheus_Med_pod_11_12_12_thumb1What I hailed as Scott’s best film in the last decade turned out to be one of the most divisive movies of the year. I’m shocked, honestly; this is a bold, brilliant film filled with fascinating ideas, inspired design, and brilliant direction from a great filmmaker that hasn’t made a sci-fi movie in over a quarter of a century. No, it’s not the Alien movie most were expecting, but that’s part of what makes it so great – it’s evolutionary, using the template set forth by the 1979 film to tell a story with an even broader scope.

In my original review, I compared and contrasted both films, and honestly, I think I may prefer Prometheus a bit more. It has so much more to chew on, so much more story-based intrigue, than the mere “Thing From Another World” plot of the original. And that Medpod scene is outstandingly horrifying, another fascinating sexual/birth metaphor in the vein of the chestburster sequence of the original, that will be talked about for years to come.

Somehow I doubt a sequel will ever really get off the ground, what with the backlash, the film’s barely making back its budget domestically, Ridley Scott’s increasingly busy schedule, and unjustly reviled writer Damon Lindelof dropping out of the project. Still, great sci-fi these days is rare, and I wholeheartedly enjoyed seeing a master of the genre back doing what he does best. If you haven’t already, check your expectations at the door and prepare to experience the finest 3D epic since Avatar.

1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

bilbo-x-large_thumb1Not many filmmakers can take us on a journey quite like director Peter Jackson. An Unexpected Journey is his grand return to Middle-Earth, and a welcome return it is. This is a film that faced many, and I do mean many pitfalls before even a single frame was shot. MGM’s financial troubles, issues with the Tolkien estate, a lawsuit over Jackson’s compensation for Lord of the Rings, and filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro, a self-admitted non-fan of heroic fantasy with radically different ideas for the film, signing on, only to drop out after pre-production stalled. All these things and more might’ve proved disastrous for The Hobbit, and yet, Jackson and his team of incredible visionaries have once again brought the magic of JRR Tolkien’s creation to life, transporting us on a fantastic journey that I can happily commend as one of the best films of 2012.

Seeing An Unexpected Journey finally come to fruition was a thrill for so many reasons. On top of Peter Jackson and Co.’s colossal effort, evidenced by the film’s incredible music, direction, sound, makeup, acting, and digital effects, I loved seeing so many classic scenes from the book brought to life. I could write forever about the endless visual and thematic brilliance of these movies, but suffice to say, this is a beautiful looking, thoughtful, emotionally satisfying experience.

Let’s briefly touch on 48 frames per second, since I haven’t yet shared my thoughts on the subject. I’ll say this: it wasn’t not good, but I wouldn’t watch the film again in the format. I’m a traditionalist, and while I have no issue with 3D or IMAX, 24 fps has given film a distinct, defining look over the years. It may not be the most up-to-date presentational format, but it does establish a certain mood that one can only get watching a movie. The new look, which takes some getting used to when at first you perceive things to be moving faster, simply doesn’t enhance the story in any significant way. Not to mention, in some respects, even Bilbo’s comfy, cramped Hobbit hole which we first saw in Fellowship of the Ring over a decade ago feels somewhat alien in the new format. The Hobbit has the unenviable task of re-introducing and re-immersing us in the familiar world of Middle-Earth we saw over ten years ago. By changing the format, you’re changing the look of the whole movie, and creating an unnecessary barricade for viewers who just want to return to the fantasy of the universe.

Still, despite having a few more kinks than the director’s earlier Lord of the Rings trilogy, mostly stemming from the fact that this is part one of a completely unnecessary three-part epic (seriously, two films is more than enough), the film is still a grand epic, infinitely charming, that has earned every bit of its success. Jackson hasn’t lost a beat, and he’s once again created an epic that Tolkien himself would be very proud of.

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