This happens every year. I have cram viewing session where I watch as many movies as humanly possible. Make a list of all the ones that I should watch before making this list, and despite this mad sprint, I still haven't seen everything, i.e. Daniel Day-Lewis. But there is a cut-off point when a "Best of" list comes across as silly. I've certainly passed that point, but I'm sharing anyways
Here are my favorites from 2012:
10. Sleepwalk With Me. Based on his one-man Off-Broadway show, Sleepwalk With Me tells the story of aspiring comedian Mike Birbiglia who is in denial about the most important things in his life. Like his girlfriend of eight years. His career. And most of all, his REM Sleep Behavior Disorder.
The film is more than a great directorial debut from Birbiglia. It's the emergence of fresh comedic voice that's now reaching out to a larger audience. He has unique brand of dry, honest humor that embraces his unassuming sensibilities, and has the potential to reach Louis C.K. levels of popularity.
Sleepwalk weaves Birbiglia's struggles into his early work as a stand-up comic. Beginning with Cookie Monster jokes that hardly make a crowd laugh to his material that becomes more honest and personal. Confessing about his marriage fears and sleepwalking episodes. He becomes funnier. By the end, his stand-up routine is truly a cathartic release, and it culminates to this bittersweet, yet wholly satisfying ending.
09. The Master. The pre-release voyage that Paul Thomas Anderson's latest endured was a perplexing one. After reaching absurd levels of hype and anticipation, surprise screenings, and shattering art house records, we were left with very divisive opinions.
The film is a hypnotic journey that features two of the year's best performances in Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. The primary focus of The Master, is the relationship between these two characters, and watching them in the same room together is magnetizing. The character arc that Phoenix undergoes is never dull. In fact, it's often dark, I could watch him destroy a mall over and over again, and spontaneously funny. PTA was near the bottom of my "Directors That would use fart jokes" list, but he proved me wrong. He did it.
Despite the vague answer to what exactly is the point to this movie, PTA is still making some of the most interesting, challenging films out there today. The Master is no exception.
08. Django Unchained. After sprinkling spaghetti western influences throughout Quentin Tarantino's 20 year career, he finally took the genre head on. It should be no surprise to any Tarantino fans that although this his most straight-forward, linear film, it's also his most confident with a wicked sense of humor; best depicted by possibly the funniest scene to ever involve the Ku Klux Klan.
Tarantino mentioned in several interviews that perhaps Django would have been better suited as a novel prior the film. The final 30 minutes of the film feel choppy and screwy, with several false endings, but despite these shortcomings, it had my curiosity and attention the whole ride.
07. Holy Motors. Watching Leos Carax's Holy Motors was the most enthralling, bizarre movie-going experience of the year. An episodic journey where nothing is out of limits, the audience endures a motion-capture sex scene, a cheery musical interlude, and Eva Mendes and a naked troll.
There are multiple readings of this film, but I think Carax best illustrates his deconstruction of cinema in the musical section featuring Kylie Minogue who sings a somber ballad on a rooftop. The audience is absorbed in this moment, but several minutes in, Denis Lavant's character steps on an aluminum can, interrupting the song with a crunch. The audience snaps out of the moment, and is once again reminded that yes, you are watching a movie.
06. Safety Not Guaranteed. Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) is a recent college graduate who interns for a Seattle magazine and lives with her widower father (Jeff Garlin). She teams up with one of the magazine's veteran writers (Jake Johnson) to investigate a newspaper classified ad that reads: "Wanted. Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You'll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before."
On paper, this movie sounds like it would be an over-the-top, screwball comedy a la Hot Tub Time Machine, but it's actually an irresistibly charming, earnest film. The ending neither proves or disproves if time traveling is possible, but it's remarkably still satisfying. It also takes the prize for Best Line Involving Storm Troopers and Lasers.
05. Skyfall. I didn't expect to like the new James Bond movie as much as I did, but the this is the best Bond movie I've ever seen so far in my short lifetime. Skyfall smartly relies on classic spy movie cues. There are no intricate plots for world domination or nuclear warheads. Instead, it's a rather simple revenge story with a harrowing Javier Bardem, who once again proves that he can be terrifying with a terrible hairdo.
04. Argo. Ben Affleck's third directorial effort establishes his reputation as a highly-respected director. The movie plays out like a classical Hollywood thriller. Its commitment to realism, and representing the true story is so sharp. During the credits, you see that many of the shots from the film were recreations from iconic media during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Argo is truly a blue-collar film, never flashy, and effective at balancing tension and comedy with masterful precision. I dare you to find an airport scene that builds up to a more satisfying cathartic release.
03. Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson's delightfully twee film was the best romance story of the year, and it was between two pubescent newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. As expected, Moonrise is impeccably designed, and has the endearing charm of summer camp. Anyone who wasn't a Wes Anderson believer before more than likely wasn't converted by this one, but that's okay with the Wes Andersonites.
02. Beasts of the Southern Wild. The film's unique blend of magical realism, and uplifting spirit is a rare breed. The story is told like a fairy tale through the eyes of Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), a five-year old girl who lives with her father in the Bathtub - a Louisiana bayou community cuff off from the outside world by a levee.
What makes a great fairy tale is its ability to resonate with today's world. The Bathtub already looks very much Post-Katrina to the point of post-apocalyptic, but another storm is on the horizon. Like the Bathtub's inhabitants, Beasts operates on its own pulse, and it's unlike anything I've ever seen. The world director Benh Zeitlin creates feels vividly real, but at the same time, mythical and mysterious. If there is a story that's bigger than the film itself, it's Quvenzhané Wallis, who gives a performance that can bring an audiences to tears. She was a only five-years old during production, but her intensity, perseverance, and sweetness is so gripping. Her soul rivals those who have experienced much, much more. She wholeheartedly deserves that Oscar nomination.
01. Silver Linings Playbook. Someone must have told David O. Russell that the best parts of The Fighter were the scenes depicting a dysfunctional family in constant bickering. Silver Linings wonderfully ties together ballroom dancing, the Philadelphia Eagles, and mental illness like a screwball comedy zen master. This film's greatest achievement is its ability to spark hope and optimism in a world that seems to be built to drive people insane.
This is also may be the best ensemble cast this year. Jennifer Lawrence looks prettier than we've ever seen her before, yet she inhabits a scrappy punk spirit. Bradley Cooper walks the bi-polar tightrope admirably well, and this is the best we've seen from Robert DiNero since 1997's Jackie Brown (the criminally underrated Quentin Tarantino film).
The ending may be schmaltzy, but as Roger Ebert wrote in his review, "'Silver Linings Playbook' is so good, it could almost be a terrific old classic."