New releases are for suckers. While I love going to the movies, I don’t love having my mind made up for me by reviews and the opinions of the people around me. I don’t like to get caught up in the zeitgeist and lose agency in my own decision making process. Instead, I’d rather wait a while, let the dust settle and then go into a movie as an independent entity; a person ready to make up his own mind. For those reasons, this list is going to be somewhat atypical.
This is not a list of the best movies that were released in 2012. This is not a list that tells you what you should think and what movies you should put into your queue. This is a discussion of the movies that I most enjoyed watching over the course of this most recent calendar year and the reasons why. It’s a celebration of the community that grows over a story; the healing that can be derived from a narrative’s pain and the effortless joy of drinking some beers and wasting some time. In short, this is not a discussion of movies but a discussion of what makes the act of watching movies worthwhile.
Alright ,then. Let’s begin:
10) Jane Eyre
When you’re having some troubles or feeling down there’s not much better than Bronte, particularly this vision of this Bronte. The vibrant colours contrasting against the desolate scenery; the Earth-shattering power of emotion constrained by the expectations of the repressed; the love and hope struggling to coexist with the misery. On a particularly rough night this movie was as a balm unto my soul.
9) Bobby Fischer Against the World
This movie is a documentary about chess. Really, it’s a documentary about the best chess player in the history of the world and the conditions that allowed him to excel so fully but also to fall so completely. I watched it on a lazy Saturday in the sunlight. Unlike the ultimate fate of Bobby Fischer, it was beautiful.
I’ve covered in a prior column the subject of how I haven’t enjoyed Daniel Craig as James Bond. James Bond is a character built for wish fulfillment and doesn’t look pretty when brought under any sort of realistic or even quasi-realistic light. Skyfall breaks the brutal pattern established in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Skyfall is a movie that loves being a movie. And more than that, it loves being a James Bond movie. Ithas a grotesque and dastardly villain, a mammoth and labyrinthian plot, familiar, albeit newly envisioned, characters and even that amazing leather door in M’s office that always confounded me as a child. This is the movie that brought James Bond back from the brink of utter gloom.
More importantly than all of that, though, is the fact that Skyfall exceeded all of my expectations. It surprised me. I love it when movies do that.
7) The Campaign
There is only one reason that I love this movie, but that reason is so much more than enough:
This child is maybe the most perfect thing that has ever happened in the history of cinema and, for that, I love him.
6) I am Comic
My wife introduced me to the podcast You Had to be There this year. Shortly after that introduction my work sent me to Kenya for two weeks. I loaded my iPod with the entire backlog of You Had to be There episodes thinking that these podcasts would be a nice tether to the first world that I had grown up in. I had no idea how badly I was going to need that tether. Those two weeks in Kenya proved to be remarkably difficult, far more so than I had anticipated and I came to rely on those episodes and their hosts, Nikki Glaser and Sara Schaefer, during the many nights that I lay awake for hours upon hours uncomfortable, unhappy and unable to sleep.
My girl and I watched the documentary I am Comic shortly after I came back. We had no idea or had forgotten that Nikki Glaser would be in it, let alone that she would have significant amount of screen time. The doc itself is wonderful. It pulls back the curtain and lets us into a world that many of us have heard about but have rarely actually seen. It’s funny and insightful, balancing the poles of euphoria and pain a comic’s life spins around. I loved this movie. The fact that it featured someone who had just played a legitimate role in maintaining my mental stability during a very stressful period, someone who I had never met but still seemed like an old friend, only made it better.
5) China Town
I made it a goal to revisit important movies this year. China Town is such a complete realization of a genre that it essentially put a period on that genre as though it were a sentence and closed the whole damn thing off. It’s a movie that has totally mastered its language and talks circles around you every time you watch it. As far as detective fiction goes, and with me that’s a pretty long ways, China Town is perfect and perfect is pretty hard to beat.
4) Sleepwalk with Me
Through the sheer generosity of dumb luck my wife and I were able to see Mike Birbiglia perform at the Comedy Cellar in New York shortly before this movie was released. He was amazing and after the show was done we talked over drinks about how badly we wanted to see this movie that he had been talking about during his set. As the hype for the movie ramped up we read about it, listened to interviews about it and waited for it with anticipation. When we finally saw it, Sleepwalk with Me exceeded our expectations. With all of our hopes for this movie built up over the course of months we really set Mike Birbiglia up for a fall. We set him up to fall and he still stuck the landing. After years of rote indie dramadies and soulless mainstream sequels and adaptations, it’s enough to renew a spark of faith.
3) Wreck-It Ralph
My buddy was going through a real hard time and in the midst of his troubles, as children of the gaming generation, we decided to go out and catch this flick. We got dinner first, although really that was mostly him because he was coming straight to the theatre from work while I had time enough to go home and eat a sandwich. He ate chicken fingers while I just drank a coffee. We talked about boxing and work and never broached the subject of his recent trials.
He cried during the Paper-Man short that opened the movie, his 3D glasses gave him away, and then fell asleep during the film itself. We didn’t talk much after the movie ended, mostly just got in our cars and drove our separate ways into the night.
I loved the movie and I still don’t really know what he thought of it but that doesn’t really matter because we got to be together when he was in trouble and that meant at least as much to me as it may have for him.
2) The Avengers
I’ve been reading Avengers comics since Iron Man went crazy and the rest of the team had to go back in time to enlist a teenage, pre-crazy Iron Man to save the day. Then they all died and were reborn in a blue ball that Mr. Fantastic’s son Franklin carried around under his arm. That actually happened and because comics are sometimes ridiculous it lasted for a year. Anyway. Seeing this movie, directed by Joss Whedon, no less, was the realization of a dream that I never knew I had. Seeing it brought to life with humour, heart and a deft mix of action and character only elevated the experience. You would have to do some fairly fancy literary footwork to justify picking The Avengers as the best movie of the year but you would have to work just as hard to leave that movie wearing anything other than a smile.
1) Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx
A late summer night with my girl, a case of Pilsner and the undisputed king of Kung-Fu. That really is just about as good as it gets.
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