"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." (Gen. 1:27)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Not Another Top Ten List...

It's been a long time since I've posted here.

Too long, in fact.

Interestingly, my last post indicated an in-depth synopsis of TIFF 2012 was coming--and, believe me, it was intended.  I had a lot to say.  However, the week was tainted by a painful family tragedy that essentially killed my ability to think for a while.  I actually have a post that I began during that time that  explains a great deal.  Maybe I'll release it sometime.  (Besides which, my commitments to Hollywood Jesus have simply kept me too busy to revisit my personal site.)

Nonetheless, with the end of 2012 over and done, I've come up with the completely original idea of my Top 10 favourite films of the year.  I'm certain that this has never been done before and I'm even more sure that you will be amazed at the fact that ten films in a compiled list can speak so loudly.

Obviously, I'm kidding.  (In fact, the last thing the world needs is another Top 10 list.)

What's more, there are also huge holes in my comprehensive viewings right now.  The truth is that I've yet to see some of the most anticipated films of the year.  Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Life of Pi, Zero Dark Thirty, et al. are some of the titles that I have yet to see and so, admittedly, this list is unfairly compiled at this time.  As such, there's still a chance this list could be changed.  Still, I think it's a solid exercise in reflection over the year.

Most Overrated:  The Amazing Spiderman -- Kudos to director Marc Webb for generating some fabulous chemistry between his leads (Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone) but his heart clearly lies in independent filmmaking.  Webb excels at developing characters and building emotional tension but that's just not enough for a tentpole superhero pic like this.  Action set-pieces were lacking and a relatively bland villain holds the film back from greatness.  Ironically though, it's not that this film is bad.  It's not.  It is, however, unnecessary.  I believe it was the Toronto Star that stated that the greatest enemy to this film was 'time'.  This feels accurate to me.  With the well-received Raimi Spiderman films so recently in our memory, it's hard to simply retread the same ground so soon.  Still, this is not to say it's terrible.  Simply overrated.  (Possible Alternate:  The Hunger Games.  Yeah, I said it.)

Most Underrated:  Cloud Atlas -- Time Magazine went on record as saying this was the worst film of the year, placing above films such as (I kid you not) One for the Money and John Carter.  I simply don't agree.  Yes, the film is dense, heavily layered and difficult to penetrate but the script offers so much to say about the human condition and the nature of our development that it doesn't deserve to be written off.  The problem is that the film requires effort to understand that most aren't willing to put into their viewing experience.  This doesn't mean it's a bad film.  Quite the contrary, I think.  It becomes more compelling.  Not in my Top Ten but certainly does not deserve what it's gotten.

Top 10 Favourites of 2012:
10)  Prometheus -- The most dangerous science fiction is that which has something powerful to say.  Of course, this also means that it should know what it is that it wants to say.  This is the most difficult challenge to Ridley Scott's Prometheus.  The sheer scope and effort is impressive and the issues that it raises is definitely worth the effort, especially spiritually.  As such, I loved the film personally.  It engaged me in a way that not a lot of other films did this year.  Nonetheless, the problem I found was that it also didn't really seem to know where it landed on these issues--or what type of movie it was.  (Horror? Philosophy piece? Sci-Fi?)  That's not so much a criticism as it is an observation.  It certainly made the film divisive.  For every person who loved the philosophy and felt the gore was excessive, there was someone who felt the opposite.  Nonetheless, I confess that it was one of my most beloved films of the year to be sure.

9)  Chronicle -- The 'found-footage' film is most definitely a fad--and an increasingly tiresome one at that.  With that in mind, it's refreshing to see a film that breathes some new life into the genre.  This 'little' film didn't get much fanfare when it came out but it really does deserve your attention.  If you're a fan of the superhero film (arguably, another tired genre at this stage), this vision may be of particular interest as it manages to ground the content in a way that's almost relatable.  The story of three young men who begin to experience superpowers after encountering an alien meteorite, Chronicle examines what happens when great power is thrust upon someone that isn't a "billionaire playboy philanthropist".        With the exception of the third act--that gets a little too big in some ways--the film keeps the men human, despite their superhero tendencies, and examines the motivations that one wrestles with when power is thrust upon them.

8)  Safety Not Guaranteed -- This little sci-fi/drama/comedy probably isn't on many people's radar when it comes to their 'best-of' lists.  In fact, I'm not even sure that I know anyone else that's seen it.  Based on a real-life situation, the film follows a crew of reporters investigating an out-of-the-ordinary ad placed in 1997 in Backwoods Home Magazine:  "WANTED:  Someone to go back in time with me...  Must bring own weapons.  Safety not guaranteed."  The film is both fun and engaging, while grappling with issues such as coming to grips with our past and healing.

7)  Much Ado About Nothing -- Admittedly, this is a bit of a cheat.  Not receiving a wide-release until June of 2013, my wife and I were fortunate enough to attend the world premiere at TIFF this past September.  Written, directed and scored by Joss Whedon, this modern day retelling of Shakespeare's play is nothing short of brilliant.  Not only is it genuinely funny and well-acted, it actually presents the material in a way that makes it accessible to the average viewer.  There's also an emphasis on light and dark that offers much to discuss afterwards as well.  What's most remarkable?  It was filmed in Whedon's home (!) over a mere two weeks (!!!) -- in fact, the entire production took a scant four weeks from script stage to completion.  It was, without a doubt, one of the best cinematic experiences I had all year.  June 7th, 2013 for wide release, btw...

6)  Les Miserables --  This is a film that hasn't appeared on any Top Ten lists that I've seen thus far.  I'm a little surprised by that.  Yes, I understand the criticisms--especially Tom Hoopers face-focused directing--but there is so much good in this film that it needs to be recognized.  Hathaway is an all-but lock on the Supporting Actress Oscar next month.  Jackman is solid as Jean Valjean.  Russell Crowe isn't horrible (as I expected he would be).  Even Bora... I mean Sacha Baron Cohen manages to do his job.  In addition, the themes of grace and redemption that penetrate the story are potentially life-changing as well.  Without question, the most moving cinematic experience I've had this year.

5)  The Avengers -- Many will be surprised how 'low' this is on my Top Ten.  Hear me out.  Absolutely shattering box office records left, right and centre, The Avengers was a fantastic superhero film with much to discuss theologically as well.  (Start with 1 Corinthians 12 and go from there...)  BUT... it's not a perfect film.  The first act drags a little and the third is a little 'super-epic' in some ways.  Don't get me wrong.  I love the film.  Without a doubt, I had a blast.  Still, as great as it is, I don't think it can be much higher on this list given the strength of the competition this year.

4)  The Dark Knight Rises -- This will forever be compared to The Avengers as if they're somehow incompatible.  In truth, they're very different films.  No, it doesn't quite live up to The Dark Knight but that's really a testament to Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker.  Nevertheless, Rises is one of the more intelligent films of the year--and that's saying a lot for a tentpole.  It has an incredibly ambitious scope to it both in scale and in its ethical themes.  No, it's not without it's problems.  However, I give it a higher rating than Avengers simply because it offered so much more than just being 'a ride'.

3)  Looper -- I don't think I can think of a film that surprised me more this year than Looper.  Yes, the premise looked intriguing and the presence of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis gives it street cred... but I was not prepared for the film's quality and intensity.  The time travel genre has been done to death, making it extremely difficult to bring anything new to the genre.  Despite borrowing plot points from multiple sci-fi films, Looper manages to break the mold by weaving a story around deeper issues, rather than merely action set pieces.  Without flinching, Looper becomes a morality play that causes you to empathize with both points of view.  It's raw, gritty and simply excellent.

2)  Monsieur Lahzar -- Similar to Much Ado, this is also a bit of a cheat.  Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film (Canada) this past year, it technically was released in 2011.  However, it didn't receive a wide release until April so I decided to count it.  In fact, my list would be incomplete without it.  Taking place in Montreal, this film tells the story of an immigrant substitute teacher who steps into a grade school classroom following the suicide of their homeroom teacher.  There is a strong sense of commitment to the broken while grappling with one's own brokenness as well.  Directed by the creator of Incendies, Lahzar is complex and moving in a way that most films simply do not accomplish.  Without question, one of the finest films that I've seen in a very long time.

1)  Argo -- In truth, I simply don't think I could select any other film than Argo as my number one film for 2012.  Yes, there are others I haven't seen but this was simply filmmaking at it's best.  I heard someone recently describe Affleck as a man who "has made three films but directs like he's made twenty".  I completely agree.  I honestly can't believe I'm saying this but Ben Affleck has quickly become one of our premiere storytellers.  By leaving behind films like "Daredevil" and "Sum of All Fears" and focusing on direction, Affleck has shown that he actually does better behind the camera than in front of it.  His acting has improved but, really, he shines in telling stories.  What's more with Exodus-ian themes of redemption and sacrifice (yes, with Affleck playing Moses), the film offers a great deal of subtext that is worth our time and effort.  Although I've yet to see Zero Dark Thirty, don't count this film out yet come Oscar time.

Honorable Mentions:  End of Watch; SkyfallThe Grey

What do you think?  Please feel free to make comments and share your favourite film experiences of the year as well.