2012 was a year to remember.
An exceptional and exceptionally diverse collection of film makers put together an array of movies that were, more often than not, pretty damn good. It’s years like this that remind a guy why he fell in love with film in the first place.
And with another year comes another Wertzies.
For this, my 3rd annual collection of the year’s Best Movie Stuff, I’ve added a few categories: Part One will include my picks for Best Visual Effects, and Part Three will feature a list of the year’s 10 Best Moments. Otherwise you can expect to see my favorite Screenplays, Directors, Actors & Actresses, the Most Overrated, and of course, the Best Movies of the Year*.
*Assume spoilers for any and all movies included.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The Runners Up
The Amazing Spider-Man
Visual Effects Supervisor : Jerome Chen
The Amazing Spider-Man is a fine film, but it’s truly in the comparison to the original trilogy where the effects stand out. I hesitate to say that Raimi’s trilogy will ever be truly obsolete, but the visual approach in Director Marc Webb’s rehash has pulled Spider-Man into the next generation of comic book movie action.
Visual Effects Supervisor : Stephane Ceretti
Showing our world in six distinct times in history—particularly when two of those timelines are many, many years hence from our own—required a skilled and measured approach in the visual effects department. Had the effects work been any less composed, Cloud Atlas‘s audience would have had a much harder time digging into the themes within the film. Lucky for us, the work here is never a distraction, and Cloud Atlas has ample room to breathe.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Visual Effects Supervisor : Joe Letteri
Peter Jackson and WETA seem thrilled to be returning to Middle Earth in The Hobbit. Not just because they’ve become an effects heavyweight and relish any opportunity to show off their work, but because The Hobbit is a tale with loads of new creatures to create. From the doltish trolls to the repulsive Goblin King and his barrage of minions, The Hobbit takes great joy in showing us things we’ve never seen before.
Life of Pi
Visual Effects Supervisor : Bill Westenhofer
Life of Pi is potentially the most visually beautiful film of 2012, as so much of its effects work is tied to its grander themes of life and death and the mysteries of the world we live in. It uses its effects subtly, and like any film that can maintain restraint, the work tends to be all the more powerful for it.
Visual Effects Supervisor : Erik Nash
No genre has pushed visual effects the way that comic book movies have, and The Avengers was far and away this past year’s most electrifying example of that trend. While the film isn’t purely a slugfest, it is balanced towards its remarkable action. Seeing the Avengers assemble on screen was a heart stopping moment for many fans, but seeing them—and the Hulk in particular—in such exacting detail was easily one of the year’s highlights.
Visual Effects Supervisor : Richard Stammers
All the films listed here took their audiences to miraculous places, but none quite so zealously as Prometheus. Ridley Scott’s epic didn’t hit all its marks, and could end up the most divisive film of 2012, but everyone can pretty much agree that the effects were mesmerizing. Both the scope and the quality of Scott and Effects Supervisor Richard Stammers’ world-building are essentially flawless, and collude to create a cinematic experience unlike anything else we saw this past year.
Alternates: Looper, The Cabin in the Woods, The Dark Knight Rises
The Runners Up
Screenplay by Joachim Trier & Eskil Vogt
Inspired by the novel, “Le feu Follet” by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle
With a balance between heavy, existential dialogue and long, thoughtful silences, the screenplay for Oslo, August 31st is sure to nab the attention of film students everywhere. Following a partially recovered drug addict over a 24-hour period, Oslo is a relentless character study and a frighteningly relatable story.
Screenplay by David O. Russell
Novel by Matthew Quick
David O. Russell is the kind of writer who likes to put his characters in a room together and see where they end up, often drawing on the intimacy of family to provoke them. Silver Linings Playbook blossoms in this “family-centric” mode, building to the sort of resolution that a lesser writer might present falsely, but here feels painfully, wonderfully honest.
Screenplay by Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola
What sets Moonrise Kingdom apart from Anderson and Coppola’s other screenplays is its focus on adolescence, specifically the earnest truths so often wrapped up within it, and so often ignored by “adults”. It’s burgeoning love is as true as any you’ve seen onscreen, and never diminished by its innocence. It seems that if anything, we could all learn a thing or two from the purity of sentimental love.
Screenplay by Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, & Tom Tykwer
Novel by David Mitchell
With its scale, Cloud Atlas would be an impressive piece of writing even if it had failed (which plenty believe to be the case). Instead it is a masterfully assembled nesting doll, built on the fortunes and hardships life has to offer, presenting a menagerie of unique characters and a collection of fully drawn worlds.
Screenplay by Mark Boal
Mark Boal’s screenplay for Zero Dark Thirty provides us with one of the more remarkable female characters ever written, which is in and of itself no small feat. But it’s the film’s scope that truly impresses. Covering a series of variable locations and nearly a decade in time, Dark is an emotionally exhaustive trial for its heroine, and a deeply satisfying journey for its audience.
Screenplay by Paul Thomas Anderson
Paul Thomas Anderson the Writer has always been interested in the space between people. The characters within his films are his first priority, sculpted with a voracious attention to detail that goes well past what most writers are capable of, and once molded, PT sets these characters at each other with little regard for comfort or familiarity. And if this is the writer Anderson is, then The Master is the most PT Anderson film we’ve seen, giving the brunt of its time over to two fascinatingly complex characters and their convoluted, karmic kinship. It is a character study in two parts, an emotionally-exhaustive romance, and an episodic journey tale all at once.
Alternates: Lincoln, The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Grey, Looper
The Runners Up
Wes Anderson – Moonrise Kingdom
The most frustrating fallacy surrounding Wes Anderson is the idea that his films are weighted towards style. Critics can sometimes miss the forest for the trees with Anderson, ignoring or simply neglecting the beautifully melancholic axioms his stories are built on. In Moonrise he evokes the lonerism of childhood and the perfection of first love, and wraps it all up in the familiar nostalgia of the Anderson tableau.
Joss Whedon – The Avengers
Joss Whedon’s work in The Avengers is equivalent to watching someone juggle a mess of flaming torches while reciting Shakespeare and shouting orders at a bunch of other people who are also juggling flaming torches. With a cupboard of characters vying for screen time, Whedon deftly keeps you in their stories while constantly pushing towards the film’s incredible climax. Though no one will ever acknowledge it (besides me), this has to be one of the most challenging projects a director has ever undertaken, and Joss Whedon made it look easy.
Kathryn Bigelow – Zero Dark Thirty
What makes Kathryn Bigelow such an impressive director is her restraint. In Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty Bigelow’s goal seems to be a heightened sense of reality; a stark contrast to the standard dramatized approach. Though her films can bring a rawness that may stick uncomfortably in the mind, these moments never feel disingenuous. Telling stories about terrible—and terribly true—things requires a measured hand and a good deal of empathy. It seems that Bigelow has both in abundance.
Benh Zeitlin – Beasts of the Southern Wild
I can’t think of a debut feature as impressive as Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild. I really can’t. There’s something about the film that feels destined, as if it flowed forth into the nether because it couldn’t not exist. I suppose that’s hyperbolic, but Beasts is wonderfully ethereal in a way that inspires hyperbole. And even if the whole thing doesn’t work for you, Zeitlin still deserves ample praise for his ability to direct the (at the time) 6-year-old Quvenshané Wallis, whose performance is a bit of a masterpiece in and of itself.
Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, & Tom Tykwer – Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas is an exercise in directorial ambition. It is a film of tremendous scale, both physical and emotional, and it is this immenseness of scope that frustrated some viewers. For many Cloud Atlas was too big to sustain itself, collapsing under the weight of its sundry people, places, and themes. But if you can handle the ponderousness, the earnestness of the Wachowskis’ and Tykwer’s emotional epic, then you’ll find a film not only fantastically well-directed, but gorgeously moving.
Paul Thomas Anderson – The Master
You can’t really call yourself a film lover and not adore Paul Thomas Anderson. Since the late 90s Anderson has been one of the most important voices in cinema, creating films with intricate, timeless characters that force us to explore the complexity of human nature. In The Master, Anderson brings together two of the most dynamically engaging characters ever put to film, pitting them simultaneously against each other and against everyone else. While his ability to pull the most out of his actors is a known quantity (see Tom Cruise in Magnolia), The Master reveals PT’s overpowering fixation with the intricacies of relationships, and the power struggles therein. More episodic than any film he’s made thus far, The Master is a fascinating addition to the oeuvre, and a first-rate film from one of the greatest living directors.
Alternates: Steven Spielberg – Lincoln, David O. Russell – Silver Linings Playbook, Tom Hooper – Les Miserables, Christopher Nolan – The Dark Knight Rises, Ben Affleck – Argo, Joe Carnahan – The Grey