Debate: Best Movie We Saw for the First Time in 2012

2012 has come and gone and it was quite a year for movies. Instead of focusing on just the movies that were released in 2012, Josh and I decided to do something a little different. This pseudo-debate is about the best movie each of us saw for the first time, regardless of said movie’s release date. Curiously, we both picked movies that were, in fact, released in 2012, however we each have a movie or two in our honorable mentions category from years past.

HARRISON’S PICKS

2012 was an amazing year for movies. There were a lot of quality new releases that reminded myself an others that creativity still exists in the world of cinema. Not only that, but it seemed like I kept catching up on one great movie after another that I had neglected to watch in previous years.

When I complied my raw list for the best movies I saw for the first time, it contained 40 entries. I’d say about half of them had serious contention for what I considered to be the ultimate best. In a week if you ask me this question again I’ll probably change my answer. But right now my gut says the best movie I saw was Looper.

LOOPER

What’s great about Rian Johnson’s Looper is that it’s not a movie that gets caught up trying to out clever it’s own clever idea. The time travel mechanic in the movie serves as a catalyst for a movie about the choices characters make. It’s not a movie with cardboard cutout characters who are only on screen so the filmmakers can showcase how smart their premise is.

Similarly, Looper is the rare type of genre picture that is not solely focused on the genre. It’s definitely a sci-fi movie. It’s definitely an action movie, but that’s not all it is in its DNA. Again, the main focus in Looper is on the characters portrayed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt.

In recent times it feels as if any sci-fi movie has to be a big budget space opera. While there are certain examples of those type of movies that are phenomenal, it seems as if the low key sci-fi movies have fallen by the wayside. Again, thanks to Looper we have a refreshing reminder of what a low key sci-fi movie can accomplish.

The movie does not present a world with spaceships, aliens, nanotechnology, or any other future tech so often found in sci-fi movies. However, when watching Looper, there is no question that it’s a movie set in the future.

The cast is phenomenal. Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis give amazing performances of the same character. But of course, due to the wonky nature that is time travel, they’re not quite the same character. The audience is given a glimpse into how a person’s desires and personality can change due to circumstances.

It’s also worth singling out Emily Blunt. This is a movie that does not dismiss or under utilize its actress. Blunt plays a crucial role in the movie that indirectly affects Willis’ character. There’s a sense of responsibility that runs through her performance.

Emily Blunt LooperThen there’s Pierce Gagnon who plays Cid. Gagnon gives one of the best child actor performances I’ve seen in a movie. The role he plays is sweet, menacing, curious, and funny all at once. The kid is like five. It’s incredible.

Looper is one of those movies you have to support. You have to celebrate it. It’s a genre picture that does not come across as immature. It’s one of those movies that reminds everyone that creativity and inventiveness is still alive in the Hollywood system.

The Oscar nominations just came out as I’m writing this. Looper didn’t recieve a single nomination. That’s okay though. Looper is going to go on to be one of those movies that people remember with a certain awe in their voice. The funny thing about Oscars is that everyone will remember the winners in the future, but a lot of the nominated movies will fall by the wayside. Meanwhile, movies like Looper will go on to be remembered for a long, long time. The people who determine the Oscar nominees might be wary of genre movies like Looper, but the audiences will give it a life for years to come.

Honorable Mentions

DRIVE

I see Drive as a kindred spirit to Looper. For many of the reasons I listed above that makes Looper great makes Drive great. It’s a genre movie that doesn’t settle for just being a genre movie. Ryan Gosling’s subdued performance and Albert Brooks’ explosive performance create a great yin yang for the movie.

It’s a retro cool thriller movie that both honors it’s ancestry and rises above it. Since 2007’s double feature Grindhouse there has been a revival of shocking, gory, exploitative movies. Drive isn’t a revival movies like that. It’s a revival of small, intimate crime thrillers. Much like how in the 60s there were an influx low budget horror flicks, the 80s were populated with low budget crime thrillers. Drive perfects that type of movie.

13 TZAMETI

I more or less stumbled upon this movie on accident. The fact that I knew nothing about the movie before popping it in directly leads to how much I liked it.

I implore you to do the same. This movie is one of those movies that reminded me how magical and thrilling and shocking films can be.

Just get the movie and start watching. A few caveats before you do so. If any of these seem like red flags it might not be the movie for you.

  1. It’s a French movie.
  2. It’s in black and white.
  3. The beginning is actually kind of slow. About 15-20 in is the big reveal and from that point on it is so intense I’m having a hard time picking out words to describe it.

-Harrison

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JOSH’S PICKS

I’ve never been very good at going to the movies and keeping up with film in the theater. My family was not small and we didn’t have a lot of expendable income to use on weekend trips to the local movie theater. That’s why Harrison and I opened up our usual best of 2012 to movies we saw. I only ventured to the movie theater a handful of times but when I saw this trailer from Leos Carax I knew I had to see it:

HOLY MOTORS

Holy motors is an amazing film. It combines scenes that intrigue, confuse, and ultimately entertain the audience. Leos Carax manages to make a postmodern masterpiece that revels in the “language of cinema,” and is equal parts an entertaining and confusing film. It’s a shame that hardly anybody will actually see this film due to its limited release, its complicated structure (or lack thereof), its French language, and its sometimes off-putting violence and sexual content, all of which will most likely scare away the average viewer. It’s a shame because I believe it’s the best film of 2012 (that I saw) and I recommend that you see it in 2013.

The film starts with the man entering a limo not unlike another 2012 film, David Cronenberg’s, Cosmopolis. Unlike Cosmopolis, there is no the narrative, no plot, no cohesive story to unite the scenes that take place inside and outside the limousine with the exceptions of their position in the film and the omnipresence of the films lead actor Denis Lavant. Lavant, who transforms himself from businessman to dying man to beggar to vicious-homeless troll, gives an amazing multifaceted performance. Quite simply the film is magical. Check out these scenes from the film and try and fit them together:


Most fans of on-screen entertainment are turning to TV for their major fix and I can’t say I blame them because TV is experiencing a golden age right now. TV finally discovered what was good at: serialized, character driven drama and comedies taking over the cable networks and influencing network television as we speak. Film can’t compete with that it’s just not possible temporally, Film only has two maybe three hours to do what TV can do in 8-16 hours including commercials. This doesn’t make film inferior, just different. This film has returned film to its roots by bringing the focus on the medium’s strenghts – spectacle and communal experiences. Holy Motors abandons narrative, mostly and embraces a vignette approach. Where TV can use its breadth to delve deeper, Holy Motors uses its brevity to veil deeper meaning. This film is an intellectual exercise that is enhanced by the collective viewing experience. The film also embraces the artifice of cinema embracing the makeup the long shot and the musical number. All of these things are enhanced by the silver screen. Carax describes the film as a science fiction film that is about a lifetime: “It’s about experience, the experience of being alive. In one day, if it succeeds, you supposed to see all the feelings and emotions that you usually experience in a lifetime.”

The one resignation I have about Holy Motors is the fact that Carax was not able to afford to use film stock instead opting (surrendering) to digital for cost reasons. It doesn’t and won’t affect the film for most viewers but knowing how strongly he has advocated celluloid filmmaking in the past, I know it wasn’t the film makers true intention. Holy motors is not for everyone so I’ve included two other films that I thoroughly enjoyed this year.

MOONRISE KINGDOM

A close second for me is Moonrise Kingdom which is another magical film. It’s probably Anderson’s best work and one in which his style finally works totally in support of the film. The whimsy ingrained in Anderson’s filmmaking makes sense in this preadolescent Romeo and Juliet.

TAKE SHELTER

Take Shelter is my other pick and is a fascinating film about the disconnect between prophecy and mental illness. Quite possibly it features the best performance of the year, which will go completely unrecognized by the year-end awards. Shannon plays a man afflicted with terrible dreams and visions who also has a family history of mental illness. He struggles with whether or not to trust his own mind. Also fans of the Man of Steel trailer should check out Michael Shannon who will play General Zod this year.

What was your favorite movie you saw for the first time in 2012? Comment below!

Watch This Movie: Killer Joe (2011)

Part of the fun of being a (fledgling) critic is getting to be a sort of cultural ambassador to get the word out about movies that may have flown under people’s radar.

Killer Joe is a movie that should be seen by more people. Now, Killer Joe isn’t some homemade movie made by someone in their garage. It’s a movie directed by William Friedkin, starring Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch, and Gina Gerson (among other established actors).

The reason why the movie hasn’t been seen by many is because it initially received an NC-17 rating. Getting an NC-17 rating is a bit of a kiss of death for movies. Many theaters refuse to carry movies with that rating. According to Box Office Mojo, the movie was only released in 75 theaters across the country. In any case, the movie is now on DVD and Blu Ray and is available for audiences to watch it.

Killer Joe is a violent, dirty, somewhat hard-to-stomach noir. Instead of a city, the movie takes place primarily in a poverty stricken part of Texas. The main characters live in a trailer. They shop at thrift stores for clothes.

The movie begins with Emile Hersch’s character begging his father (Thomas Haden Church) for money. Hersch is in trouble with a local criminal organization. When he realizes his father doesn’t have to money to help him out, Hersch gets the idea to hire a cop who moonlights as a hitman to kill his own mother. Hersch’s mother has a life insurance policy. Soon Hersch has convinced his father, step-mother, and sister to go along with his plan.

The hitman they hire is the titular Killer Joe, played by Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey’s skills as an actor have been called into question over the course of his career. This is obviously because he primarily works in romantic comedy movies. However, in this film it’s like watching another person entirely. He does the thing all actors strive to do, he gets lost in the role and makes the audience forget they’re watching a person act in a fictional story.

Killer Joe recalls past neo-noirs like Winter’s Bone and Red Rock West. It’s clear that Friedkin and writer Tracy Letts (adapting his own play) are knowledgeable and respectful of the noir genre. What they’ve done is create a new type of noir that blends old tropes with new levels of violence and disturbing content.

This is a movie that should not be missed. (Don’t get me wrong, the movie definitely earns its NC-17 rating.)

-Harrison