As usual, I don’t like to frame my year-end round-up as a “best of” list. It’s about my favorites, the movies that hit me the hardest, made me beg for more, or got me excited about the magic of the movies in some form or fashion. There were even two movies this year that got me back into the theater for second servings... and thirds... and even a fourth helping.
While it might sound somber, all of the movies on my (short) list this year deal with the themes of fate and mortality. Everybody likes the occasional slice-of-life movie, the kind that’s easy to relate to, the kind that offers solace in knowing one is not alone in facing life’s sundry challenges. At the top of my list are two such slice-of-life art house flicks and they set those themes of fate and mortality against a backdrop of high adventure and the classic ticking time bomb.
After 50 years of James Bond movies, the franchise hit an “all time high,” to pinch a lyric from Octopussy ‘s theme song. Commercially, Skyfall proved more popular than the finale of the Twilight saga and, even when adjusted for inflation, it currently ranks as the second most successful flick in Bond history (behind only Thunderball, according to MI6-HQ.com). That’s impressive. But what’s really impressive is how director Sam Mendes filled Skyfall with soul and unusual depth as Bond grappled with his own relevance and stunted physical endurance. The theme of “the old ways are the best” set in a high-tech, Internet-driven, nothing-is-secret world that still has to contend with off-the-grid underground terrorism was fantastic. Bond considers “resurrection” as a hobby and so should this franchise; it’s certainly had its share of ups and downs (take that as a Bond-like double entendre if you please). I saw Skyfall twice in IMAX, then I had to take off on my own European adventure wherein Bond was omnipresent. Even while leaving the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, a youngster, perhaps 10 years old, could be heard singing Adele’s Skyfall theme song.
Christopher Nolan pulled it off. He successfully completed the Bruce Wayne story. Sure, the ending leaves things wide open for more movies in some shape or fashion, but the reality is that in most cases the ending of one story is simply the beginning of another. I saw it four times in IMAX.
It’s not quite pitch perfect, but it still worked its magic. Heart strings are tugged as Fantine dreams her dream and Jean Valjean brings Marius home.
Steven Spielberg finally brought his movie about Abraham Lincoln to the big screen, with Daniel Day-Lewis in the starring role instead of Liam Neeson. I described it as a salve to help heal all the political wounds of today’s economic- and entitlement-driven politics even as it reminds the world that politics in America have always been a little on the nutty side and often not above board.
5. Ruby Sparks
Ah. A genuine art house movie, and a romantic comedy at that. Maybe “mortality” itself isn’t quite on the itinerary, but Ruby Sparks certainly puts a fresh spin on the fragility of love and happiness.
I’m including this one as the token animated feature to accompany the Bond, the comic book, the musical, the period piece, and the romantic comedy. The theme of mortality? Check. And, with its black-and-white stop-motion animation, it could be argued it also proves “the old ways are the best.” With Frankenweenie, Tim Burton redeemed himself after stinking up theaters with his rather ghastly adaptation of Dark Shadows earlier in the year.
Okay. So in 2012, IMAX was my art house.
Sure, there were many other good movies in 2012, but I’ll file them under “the rest of the best.” The Avengers was fun, but the climactic battle in New York City was weak. Middle Earth doesn’t get me terribly excited, even at 48 frames per second. I stand behind my take that Ted is junk. And there are several movies enjoying Oscar buzz that, quite honestly, I simply haven’t had the time or the opportunity to see — yet.
Regardless, to come to the end of 2012 (and not the end of the world) with a list of six movies that, in my book, qualify as best in class — that’s a mighty darn good year at the movies.