Thursday, July 12, 2012

Wanted: The best film of 2012

It's rare that I would get into July without having at least a good placeholder as my #1 movie of the year.

As you probably know, I rank the movies I see from a given calendar year as I see them. I've seen 20 of them from 2012 -- a fairly pathetic total, but remember, I moved last month -- and I have yet to see something that I think could at least be in contention for the #1 spot at the end of the year.

That's not to say that my current #1 -- Jeff, Who Lives at Home -- is not a very enjoyable movie. I have drunk the Duplass brothers Kool-Aid, and I'm a big fan of most of their work. But #1 for the year? I see it more as around #20, when all is said and done. Assuming that the second half of the year will provide more worthy candidates than the first half, as it always does.

This is part of the reason I'm going to see Beasts of the Southern Wild tonight, which will be my first trip to the theater in exactly four weeks and one day.

Not surprisingly, there's a ton of worthy summer fare that I haven't caught up on, some of which demands to be seen on the big screen in order to have its greatest impact. But right now, I'm not looking for another FX epic that will likely land somewhere around the middle of my list. I want greatness.

Will Beasts of the Southern Wild be great? I don't know. In fact, I don't know a whole lot about it, and I'm glad for that fact. So, don't say anything about it in my comments section, at least until tomorrow morning (or until you've seen it appear in my Most Recently Seen list on the right).

But if the festival buzz about it is any indication, it could be a contender for that #1 spot.

Coming into the movie with this mindset has made me realize that there's a certain something I look for in a potential #1. Usually, I don't go into a popcorn movie thinking it could be #1. I'd like to think that I'd give that popcorn movie the chance to be the best movie I see that year, but I also know that I'd be disappointed if I did end up crowning it as the best movie of the year. In other words, I'm kind of hoping The Dark Knight Rises does not knock my socks off. (Its much beloved predecessor was only my #15 movie of 2008, and I doubt this one will actually be better.)

So I definitely prefer it if this potential best movie is something independent, or at least with an independent mindset. You'll see that borne out in my choices for best film of the year from the last ten years. (I could go back further, but that would just be self-indulgent. Or, I should say, even more self-indulgent.)

Let's take a look:

2011 - A Separation
2010 - 127 Hours
2009 - Moon
2008 - The Wrestler
2007 - There Will Be Blood
2006 - Children of Men
2005 - Hustle & Flow
2004 - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2003 - Lost in Translation
2002 - Adaptation

There are a couple things these movies have in common. One is that they are mostly dramas. You could argue that a couple of these verge into comedic territory, but only slightly.

Another is that they are mostly not genre films. Moon is science fiction and Children of Men is post-apocalyptic, but neither of those genres are "heavy" genres -- and by that I mean that the genre does not heavily influence our expectations for the film, like a thriller, a noir or a romantic comedy would heavily influence our expectations. I'd argue that the genre classifications of Moon and Children of Men are actually a relatively small part of why I think they are so great.

Another thing they have in common is that most of these films has a big star -- a big male star in most cases. That's where Beasts of the Southern Wild seems to diverge from the others in terms of my usual criteria. The star of Beasts is a young girl with a name that's nearly impossible to pronounce on sight: Quvenzhane Wallis. I looked it up, and it's pronounced Qui-ven-ZHEN-ay. We'll all have to figure that one out if she becomes a household name.

However, the film's greater entrenchment within independent cinema than most of my yearly bests doesn't necessarily mean it wouldn't be a prime contender. Last year I discarded my predilections in order to crown A Separation as my favorite film. As this film was produced entirely within Iran, clearly it does not boast any world-famous performers -- nor anyone likely to become world famous anytime soon.

But this is a lot more speculation than I usually like to indulge in. Even writing a post like this places undue burdens on the movie I'm going to see tonight. Now I'll be watching it specifically with an eye for how great it might be, not just taking in what it actually is.

But what can I say. I've gotten to July 11th without seeing what I consider to be a great film in 2012. I'm starved. I'm looking for contenders, and I can't trick myself into thinking I'm not.

Sorry to disappoint you, but don't expect me to check back in tomorrow with my thoughts. After all, if this is going to be my favorite film of the year, I want to keep up the suspense for when I reveal that choice in January of 2013.

One thing is certain: It will just be nice to get back to the movie theater after a month's layoff.


Travis McClain said...

I have yet to really fall in love with anything in 2012. Admittedly, I've only seen a few new releases, but even if I expand that to include all 66 movies I've seen for the first time this year I have yet to entirely be wowed by any of them.

I've initially classified Battleship Potemkin and Summer Interlude as "Outstanding" on my knee-jerk running list, but even those aren't in my overall top echelon.

Nick Prigge said...

"Beasts" is my #1 so far. It blew my mind in such a way that I have yet to write anything about it. When you see it I think you will understand what I mean (even if it turns out you don't like it).

Don Handsome said...

sometimes that number one just steps up and bites you, right? I think the half way through the year mark is not the right time to even look at our rankings (so much more happens in the second half), so I'm not going to even bother to look at where things are falling for me. But I can tell you that a major contender for my #1 spot is The Cabin In The Woods which is a film that I would have envisioned as landing in the 30s. It may end up there yet, but I keep returning to it and thinking about it despite seeing prestige movies such as Beasts and Moonrise Kingdom as well.

My advice: stop looking for number one and let number one find you. You never know what will happen.

Lets talk about beasts when you're ready.