My Favorite Films of 2012

by: Mariann Devlin

2012_beasts_of_the_southern_wild

I had a fantastic time watching movies this year, and as I wrote this list I realized that all of my favorite films of 2012 took a similar approach- an acknowledgement of films, genres and ideas past.

What was it about our recent history that brought forth such movies in 2012? Are we suddenly realizing that our creative present is bound to the past? Are we also excited about the possibilities of raising up something new? I think so!

6. Cabin In The Woods

Walking into the theater, I expected Cabin In the Woods to be something phantasmal and sinister, akin to a Guillermo Del Toro horror film, but instead- and to my delight- what I got was a laugh-fest shared with friends. The outrageous sacrifice of a group of dumb 20-somethings to… well… its a secret… was a tribute to horror films from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Hellraiser, and ultimately, literature’s weird fiction genre. For those of uswho appreciate cosmic horror, Cabin In the Woods presents an apocalypse worth celebrating. In fact, I’m throwing a small viewing party of Cabin In the Woods on Blu-Ray this week at my house.

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild

When I watched the director’s short work Glory At Sea, the 25-minute film that BOTSW was based on, I cried. And by “cried,” I mean, I turned my face into my friend’s pillow and wept like someone killed (or more like, resurrected) Jesus. Watch it, and you’ll understand what I mean by resurrection. And hope, and salvation, and all that good stuff.

Anyway, this is a review of the film that came after, so here it goes. While some complained that the imagery and symbolism was too overpowering, I appreciated the alternative fable that BOTSW beautifully sets forth. The heroic journey portrayed in the film, in which young ones “comes of age” only when they reconcile the dark forces within themselves, is one we’re all familiar with in films from Harry Potter to Star Wars. But BOTSW delivers this spiritual journey, set in motion by a real catastrophic event- Hurricane Katrina- and the protagonist is a small black girl named Hushpuppy (played by the incredible Quvenzhané Wallis) who must tame the wild beast within in the midst of immense loss. It’s a perspective we’ve all been waiting for.

4. Dark Knight Rises

Like many liberals, I shit-talked this movie when it came out, and it was only through the thoughtful judgments of a couple friends- including one Occupier- that I felt an urge to watch it again in theaters. It’s been a painful process for me, but I’ve come around to the idea that Christopher Nolan, while still more clumsy and overwrought than I’d like, has some pretty interesting ideas. He’s no Alan Moore (and I’d argue that a Moore-esque postmodern political critique is what he’s aiming for in DNK) but he gets an A+ for effort. The controversial scenes, reminiscent of a violent clash between left-wing protesters and police officers, seem less of a conservative backlash against Occupy and more of an opportunity to debate the terms and conditions for varying expressions of power. I could be wrong, of course, but that’s what’s so great about Dark Knight Rises. It produced an important, public conversation about the limits of revolution- or at least, the images of revolution- when we all needed it.

3. Prometheus

As a non-believer, I was also unsure about Prometheus when I first saw it. What was up with all that Christian imagery? The cross necklace, the miraculous Christmas birth? I didn’t dislike the film, as I had Dark Knight Rises, but I was uncomfortable with the moral vision of Ridley Scott, who seemed to be favoring Dr. Shaw’s (played by Noomi Rapace) religious faith over the robot David’s (Michael Fassbender) amoral rationalism. She was, after all, the hero whose faith-based interest in our human origins moves the whole film forward. Upon a second viewing, however, I found that both approaches appear to be necessary in any quest for understanding our human origins. That, coupled with the mythic allusions to figures ranging from Prometheus (duh) to Osiris to the Virgin Mary, and you’ve got the Perfect Mariann Movie.

2. Holy Motors

Holy Motors is one of those films that’s hard to describe, so I had little idea what I was in for when I watched it at Music Box this fall. It’s another homage, this time to French cinema, but the plot- in which a man’s unending occupation sends him throughout the city, performing different roles- reminds us of the performance aspect of all of our lives. It’s a funny and sometimes touching film, but underneath the satire is a sense of tragedy, a sense of fatigue and loss of self that comes from being a person whose life is informed by roles- and by a script whose author can’t be found. The film begins with the protagonist emerging from his bed and entering, through a door in his room, a theater- and its the only scene which grounds him in any origin. At least, until he returns to a similar setting as a different character- a dying one- later on in the film.

It’s a hard film to swallow, but there’s a reason why critics were blown away by its imagery- so fantastic and schizophrenic that you just can’t box it in.

1. Seven Psychopaths

Here I thought Seven Psychopaths was going to be some banal, mildly entertaining heist film, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Seven Psychopaths is my favorite film of 2012, and I invited almost every I know to a second viewing of it. Whether you’re someone who just wants a good laugh, or a feminist cultural critic, I guarantee that you will appreciate Seven Psychopaths as fully as I did. Okay, maybe not, because I really loved this movie more than I can ever describe. But I’ll try to.

As someone who is sensitive to the way women and violence are portrayed in action films, I was not expecting Seven Psychopaths to be about those very subjects. It explores, with good humor, our narratives on violence, which often exclude the voices of women and African-Americans and only sustains the cycle of violence (one which may or may not be interrupted by pacificism). But fortunately, as someone who also sees movies to be entertained, it’s a film that is just fucking hilarious, in a loony, violent and slapstick way that is pretty appealing to average movie-goer. How this movie entered the mind of writer and director Martin McDonagh, I don’t know, but I’d like to shake his hand and thank him for creating what is now one of my favorite films ever.

Colin Farrell plays Marty (as in “Martin,” get it?), a screenwriter who longs to create something different, something beyond guns and sexy, one-dimensional female victims. He wants to write a film about pacificism, but one that will still be a hit with the public. The result is a film about a Quaker psychopath- inspired by a real-life Quaker psychopath played by Christopher Walken- called Seven Psychopaths. Whoa. Whoa.

It’s rare for a movie to be so meta, without being- as Sam Rockwell’s psychopathic idiot character puts it stupidly- some pretentious and artsy French film. (You know, something like Holy Motors. How I love those!) Or a mere parody, for that matter. Seven Psychopaths manages to take itself and its ethics on violence seriously, without diminishing its comedy. It has one of the most moving dream sequences about war and non-violence I’ve seen recently, which is quickly diffused (and enhanced!) by calculated hilarity. And it takes the victimization and exclusion of women, particularly black women, seriously too- without pretending like its not a film written by a white guy. Despite all the zaniness, and blood, and boobs, McDonagh keeps it real.

See it, my friends. See it and love it.

Those were my favorite films of 2012, all films which reminded me that when you walk into a theater you gotta leave your expectations at the door. Some films immediately pleased and gratified me (Seven Psychopaths, Cabin in the Woods, Holy Motors, Beasts of the Southern Wild), while others required a second viewing for me to acknowledge their worth (Prometheus, Dark Knight Rises). Either way, all of these movies- whether celebrating great films before them, or re-imagining certain important themes in our cultural consciousness- gave me some serious food for thought in the most unexpected ways. Now, I can’t wait for what the films of 2013 will bring.

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