|Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Ed Norton, and Bruce Willis in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.|
So here are my top five favorite movies from 2012. They are stories of love and loss and success and failure and are all told with some brand of beauty and simplicity and detail and truth. I loved every single one of these movies.
5. Wanderlust (Directed by David Wain; Starring Paul Rudd, Jennifer Aniston, Justin Theroux)
Years ago now, I saw probably one of the best comedies I've ever seen. Still to this day, I think about it all the time and try to watch it here and there. It got me through my first year of teaching. I would literally watch it three or four times a week just to keep my head about me and give me an escape. That movie is Wet Hot American Summer. Since then, David Wain, Michael Showalter and Co. have continued to make really solid comedies, including the hit Role Models. This one, the latest, ranks right up there with the best comedies of recent years. In Wanderlust, Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston play a stuffy New York couple, who, due to a downward spiral of unfortunate events, find themselves on the road out of the city, looking to start over somehow. They land in a Georgia hippie commune where free love abounds and an organic lifestyle becomes the spark to reignite this couple's marriage in many more ways than one. I won't spoil anything, but I will say that this movie contains a monologue by Paul Rudd that is the absolute funniest thing I've seen in a comedy since the stun-gun scene in The Hangover.
4. Life of Pi (Directed by Ang Lee; Starring Suraj Sharma)
A quote from, and nod to, Mr. Roger Ebert, the best film critic there ever was: "Ang Lee's Life of Pi is a miraculous achievement of storytelling and a landmark of visual mastery. Inspired by a worldwide best-seller that many readers must have assumed was unfilmable, it is a triumph over its difficulties. It is also a moving spiritual achievement, a movie whose title could have been shortened to 'life.'" I can't say it better, and I whole-heartedly agree. This is a stunningly beautiful masterpiece that unfolds as a story-within-a-story, touching on love and faith and hope and survival and the simple magic of storytelling itself. An Indian boy named Pi ends up on a lifeboat with a tiger named Richard Parker and does his absolute best to survive, while selflessly caring for a dangerous, wild animal. I felt alive during and after this movie. It is unbelievable.
It is also the only 3D experience I have in which the 3D glasses never got in the way and actually enhanced the movie.
3. Moonrise Kingdom (Directed by Wes Anderson: Starring Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, and Bob Balaban)
Moonrise Kingdom is the third great movie Wes Anderson has made. The other two are, of course, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. It tells the story of 12-year-olds in love on a small New England island town called New Penzance. Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Heyward) had met the year previous during a town school pageant. He, an orphaned Khaki scout, and she, an avid reader playing a raven in the play. We see this in flashback as they correspond and plan to meet and run away together. When they finally do, it is the most fresh and magical romance I've seen on screen in a long while.
It is incredibly ridiculous and funny as well. The cast of characters rivals The Royal Tenenbaums. Bruce Willis as Police Captain Sharp, tasked with leading the search party for the missing; Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as Mr. And Mrs. Bishop, Suzy's absent-in-plain-sight, attorney parents; Ed Norton as Scout Master Ward, the man guilted and motivated by his loss of a scout; Jason Schwartzman (in a brilliant cameo) as Cousin Ben, a Scout Master from a neighboring troop, who also officiates weddings; and Bob Balaban as the coolest movie Narrator of all-time. Anderson is able to use all his tricks and fill all the frames with his idiosyncratic details while, this time, maintaining a sweet, honest coming-of-age love story. It contains the truest young love scene since last years Terri. I couldn't believe I was seeing it.
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Directed by Behn Zeitlin; Starring Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry, Levy Easterly, and Lowell Landes)
Shortly after the credits had rolled and I had wiped the tears from my sobbing eyes, I read a few reviews on IMDB. One guy went on and on about how this movie glorified child abuse and alcoholism and blah-blah-blah. All I could think was: Man, did that guy miss the point or what!? Behn Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild is unlike anything I've ever seen at the movies. It plays like a shared dream between Terrence Malick and Maurice Sendak set in the Louisiana bayou. It is a sight to behold. Quvenzhane Wallis, at six-years-old, does more than any adult actor could ever dream of. The carries this brilliant labor of love on her shoulders and never misses a beat. The story is one of poor bayou people, who choose to live in a very dangerous swamp land they dub "The Bathtub." There is a storm coming, a flood looming, and these people, including Hush Puppy (Wallis) and her Daddy (Dwight Henry), choose to live a simple life. The trouble is that everything seems bent to destroy Hush Puppy's life. Her Daddy is sick and a bad alcoholic, her home is on the brink of being washed way, and a prehistoric beast just may be out there coming with the storm. Every minute of this movie offers something to think about and admire, and the last five touched me more than any new movie I've seen in years.
1. Silver Linings Playbook (Directed by David O. Russell; Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro, Jacki Weaver, and Chris Tucker)
If the last five minutes of this movie had been as true and powerful as that of my number two selection, I would rank Silver Linings Playbook with the finest movies ever made. There seems to be a large amount of criticism of the formulaic ending of this film. I, in no way, want that to deter you, and, honestly, I have no problem with it whatsoever. I laughed during this movie and felt things and related to the characters and felt like I knew them. That's what makes a great movie to me. Bradley Cooper plays Pat Solitano, a Philadelphia man just released from a mental health facility. He has horrible anger issues and panic attacks. He lost his job, his wife, his life, and now sees a chance to start over. He meets a young widow named Tiffany (the beautiful Jennifer Lawrence) and begins a friendship that is so odd and touching and wonderful that the supposed mis-steps in the end make no matter. I just love so many things about this film: the acting is top-notch (see all the Oscar nominations), the characters watch and love professional football, there is dancing, foul language, love, truth, fiction, regret, Led Zeppelin on the soundtrack, and a happy ending. I felt happy at the end. Isn't that what you're supposed to feel? Aren't "Hollywood endings" "OK" is what comes before is so entertaining and perfect? I think so, and this is, ultimately, the reason that Silver Linings Playbook is the best movie of 2012.