2012 in the arts: Cinema
A rundown of 2012 films that were artistically adventurous and memorable
Posted: December 26, 2012
Some people expect films to be a mirror of life, so that, if the world might come to an end one glorious Dec. 21 and there was nothing left except films, life could somehow be rebuilt for the next lot of Earthlings based on the stories and traditions contained in these artifacts. That is, of course, ridiculous, and although every year has some big biopic lined up, released just in time for Academy Award consideration, these kinds of films are hardly the (only) reason we go to the movies.
We go to be entertained, and, while many viewers feel safe watching a film whose outlines they know from countless others, it is also rather exciting to watch something you know to be exceptional because it tells its story differently than almost any other.
This year, France made a splash with two miraculous films that are not at all alike. The first film was Les Intouchables (The Intouchables), about the very unsentimental and always surprising friendship that develops between a black ex-convict from the Parisian projects and the white, middle-aged and very rich quadriplegic he is tasked with taking care of. The other, scheduled for local release early in 2013, was Michael Haneke's most accomplished film to date, Amour, about a man in his 80s who takes care of his wife suffering from a sudden onset of Alzheimer's disease. The film is set almost entirely in their apartment.
Les Intouchables was loosely based on a true story, but the best biopic was the Ben Affleck-directed Argo, about the real-life adventure of a CIA operative who sneaks into Iran shortly after the 1979 Revoluton pretending to be a Hollywood executive who wants to make a science-fiction film on location in the country, but who is actually on a mission to rescue American diplomats from the Canadian ambassador's residence. The film is tense, balanced, funny and full of small details that constantly enrich the dramatic effect of these recreated events.
1. Les Intouchables (France)
3. The Descendants
4. 21 Jump Street
5. Seven Psychopaths (UK)
6. Ve stínu (ČR)
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
8. Life of Pi
10. The Amazing Spider-Man
1. The Expendables 2
4. American Reunion
5. The Iron Lady (UK)
The Descendants, about a Hawaiian father of two children coming to terms with his wife's fatal accident and many revelations along the way, was a very touching piece of cinema that showed what secrets there can be even on the paradise island that is the 50th state.
One film that was not shown at the cinemas here, but which got a DVD release in October, was 21 Jump Street, a laugh-a-minute yet sometimes very perceptive study of high school and the arbitrary division between outsiders and the cool gang. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum form the perfect team as they pretend to be brothers, but past events continue to affect their bonding in the present.
Another comedy that played more toward the postmodern crowd - although, by definition, the two terms are by no means exclusive - was the British film Seven Psychopaths. This step forward for In Bruges director Martin McDonagh gave Christopher Walken another opportunity to shine, put a rabbit in Tom Waits' arms, had Sam Rockwell laugh childishly but with a slightly deranged glint in his eye, and even provided Harry Dean Stanton his best role in years as a father whose quiet, ominous presence in the background sends shivers down your spine.
But the year also had its share of duds. Though none of them was as recklessly offensive as 2011's Hangover Part II, they were often just as mindless. The worst of the worst started sinking even before the opening credits rolled: The Expendables 2 had Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Willis, Jean-Claude van Damme, Dolph Lundgren and Chuck Norris, among many others, but the film sucked so much that it was akin to feeling one's brain shrink in the process of watching the onscreen chaos.
One the most disappointing films, one almost as bad as its central character, was the biopic about former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Iron Lady, which tried to depict her present-day senility by making the film itself fragmented and senile.
As we look forward to the latest batch to receive nominations for the big awards shows, it is heartening to notice how many spectacular films were released in the middle of the year, among them the truly original Beasts of the Southern Wild and the stunning, intelligent time-travel movie Looper.
André Crous can be reached at