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It's that time of year, and we will indeed have plenty of lists for you here on HitFix. Greg Ellwood ran his ten favorite films of 2012 yesterday, we're working on a collective "worst of" list, and I've got at least three end of the year articles coming in the days ahead. For now, though, it's time for the big one, the main list, the top ten.
I love that our amazing video team (Michiel Thomas and James Jhun don't get nearly enough credit for all the outstanding work they do for us each and every day, and at this time of the year in particular, they are working around the clock to get everything ready) puts these together as video pieces for us. It's a great way to take one last fond look at the ten films that defined 2012 for me, the movies that most directly spoke to my experience, my tastes.
There are films on this list that I have had heated arguments about this year, movies that have polarized viewers in some cases. As always, the rules for an appearance on this list are simple: it has to be a new movie that I saw in 2012. Some of these were festival films, some of them had massive wide releases, and all of them made an impression on me. If they haven't played your area yet, please don't get upset about it and yell at me. Just consider it a heads up, something to keep an eye out for in the near future.
If I wrote a full review, I've linked to it, and if I didn't, then I probably should, right?
Let's count this down backwards. You can read the full text here that appears in the video, or you can just press play and bask in my golden tones.
10. "This Is 40"
Pete and Debbie are far closer to my real-life experience than the swoony Celeste and Jesse, Richard Linklater's romantic repeaters in his "Before" series.
That's exactly why I want Judd Apatow to periodically check in on this couple, first introduced in "Knocked Up," now front and center in a film that deals with aging, family, fidelity, the changing economic dynamics of the 21st century, nostalgia, and the almost-crippling anxiety that can be generated by the simple daily act of trying to be a husband, a father, a wife, a mother.
Sure, the lifestyle they lead is one that many audiences would see as aspirational, affluent, but in the middle of the night, when you've shaken the foundations of the most important relationship in your life, none of that matters.
Pain is pain, and Apatow has a knack for looking directly at what hurts, then shaking loose a laugh. That can sting, but I find it bracing and ultimately cathartic, and I think Apatow's most personal film is also his best.
9. "Moonrise Kingdom"
Wes Anderson's latest takes a sweet, gentle look at the way we make the families we want, especially when our own families fail us. There are two great lead performances by Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the two runaway kids whose romance kicks off a flurry of adult panic as a storm rolls into a small island community. The film certainly shows many of Anderson's typical signatures, but the script, which Anderson co-wrote with Roman Coppola, is lyrical and lovely, rich and shot through with a serious sadness, and it may be the most heartfelt thing Anderson has done since "Rushmore."
Particularly compelling is the performance by Bruce Willis, especially when set next to his work in "Looper." That movie took advantage of his action hero persona to establish him as a damaged tough guy haunted by the choices he's made, but my own personal favorite Willis roles are the ones where he plays emotionally stunted, and this one's a doozy. What surprised me is the way this one gradually turns up the emotion, so slowly that by the time the cast ends up perched on a church steeple in the middle of a hurricane, it is shocking how much it all feels like it matters.
People may criticize Wes Anderson for such a recognizable visual style, but I would argue that voice is one of the most important things in filmmaking, and in this particular instance, Anderson's perfectly on pitch, and the result is one of his most rewatchable efforts so far.
Rian Johnson's time travel story of a young hitman played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt coming face to face with his older self, played by a bruised Bruce Willis, looks like a simple genre exercise on the surface. Ultimately, it asks one big question: are monsters born or made? And in grappling with the answer, Johnson reveals just how loaded the question truly is.
Gordon-Levitt, one of the most exciting young actors working, proves that he can carry a film this tricky with his work here, and Willis is very strong in what is a fairly brief amount of onscreen time. What pushed the film from very good to great, though, is the work by Emily Blunt as Sara, a young mother desperate to protect her young son Cid, played by a powerful young performer named Pierce Gagnon. This is one of the best little kid performances in recent memory, scary and sweet and sincere, and the film's various narrative twists and turns all serve to illustrate just how scary it can be to have a kid who is out of control, and just what a toll it takes on a parent when they cannot help their child on their own.
Filled with great performances, richly imagined, "Looper" takes an incredibly high concept and uses it to touch on something very human and true… our need to protect our children, and just how fragile and important the trust between a parent and a child can be.
7. "Silver Linings Playbook"
Matthew Quick's novel has been adapted into a conventionally structured film that soars based on the uncommon chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, both of them playing damaged characters looking for the release of basic human connection.
Like last year's "Warrior," this is a movie that adheres closely to a Hollywood formula, giving it life by virtue of great performances and smart, specific filmmaking. David O. Russell seems to be finally be fulfilling all of his early promise each time he makes a new film, and there is such an unruly, untamed sense of real life spilling over in every frame of this one that by the time it turns the loss of a contest into an emotional triumph, he and his cast have earned whatever emotional release the film evokes. Cooper has been building to this performance for a while, and he is especially good opposite Robert De Niro, fully awake for the first time in over a decade. It is Lawrence who emerges from this one a fully-realized movie star, though. She makes us believe that these broken souls might somehow drag one another into something like a normal life.