Movies I Liked In 2012
Every year I reflect on the pop culture I enjoyed and put it in some sort of order. Here are my movie picks for 2012 (with the caveat that I haven’t seen a number of award-bait and prominent indie releases).
10. Searching For Sugar Man
One of the more inspiring documentaries I’ve seen, Searching For Sugar Man tells the improbable story of forgotten 60s singer-songwriter Rodriguez and his music’s prevalence in South African culture. The film tracks some fans as they investigate the man and rumors of his death and discover revelations that prove there can be second acts in life.
9. The Avengers
I’ve always been more of a DC than Marvel fan when it comes to superheroes, and of the Avengers roster, Iron Man is the only character whose movie I was really a fan of. So I wasn’t expecting too much from a team-up movie without my favorite Marvel characters (Spider-man and the Fantastic Four). That being said, the Avengers is a really solid, fun popcorn movie which balances good characterization with great whizbang visual effects.
8. 21 Jump Street
Speaking of low expectations, on the surface I wouldn’t have thought much about seeing a comedy based on an 80s TV show I never watched starring Jonah Hill. But looking at the director credits reveals Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the minds behind the underappreciated Clone High. The result is a genuinely funny film that includes some heart as well.
Director Rian Johnson’s prior films Brick and The Brothers Bloom were both excellent, so I had high hopes for the time travel exploration Looper. While I was initially turned off by what seemed to be a lot of excessive violence simply for the sake of style, the movie’s ultimate message of redemption and breaking the cycle surprised me and reframed the entire story in a new light. Plus, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are terrific.
Lincoln is the first Steven Spielberg movie since Catch Me If You Can that I really enjoyed. Instead of the decades-long scope of that film, Lincoln eschews typical biopic convention by focusing closely on just a few months of Abraham Lincoln’s life: those leading up to the Congressional vote on abolition. This focus gives great insight into the political process through Tony Kushner’s excellent script and wonderful performances by Daniel Day-Lewis and just about every character actor ever. It’s also a really funny movie and one that makes history come alive with just enough irreverence that it never becomes cloying.
Argo is easily one of the most entertaining I saw this year. With assured direction and superb storytelling skill, Ben Affleck finds both suspense and humor in the true story of a CIA mission during the Iran hostage crisis of the 70s.
4. Life Of Pi
One of my favorite novels becomes a visually stunning experience in the capable hands of Ang Lee. Using 3D technology as an artistic choice (much like Martin Scorsese’s Hugo) rather than a gimmick, he turns the movie screen into a canvas for breathtaking imagery. The story itself is faithful to the book and as a reflection of what faith means, even in dire circumstances, it brings religion to film in an inspirational and thoughtful way.
3. The Dark Knight Rises
The final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman series has massive scale, yet gives much of its time to character development rather than spectacle (though there is that as well). Anne Hathaway truly surprised me with her performance as Catwoman (the most accurate portrayal of that character I’ve seen onscreen) and Tom Hardy’s Bane was weird but effective. Nolan continues his streak of thinking man’s blockbusters and finds a way to tie all three of these movies into a cohesive whole with a very satisfying ending (even if it cribs a bit from one of my all time favorites, Good Will Hunting).
2. Les Misérables
I was skeptical but optimistic when the casting for this adaption of the musical version of Les Misérables was announced, but ultimately satisfied with the results (even Russell Crowe’s singing wasn’t bad – just not as strong as some of the other actors’). Some of director Tom Hooper’s stylistic choices (i.e. continuous takes, extreme close-ups) may be open to critique, but in my estimation they create a unique film experience rather than just a bland and unmemorable recording of the stage show (like Rent or Phantom of the Opera). I saw the musical again a couple months ago and can say that none of the story’s message of redemption, self-sacrifice and love has lost its impact on the way to the big screen.
1. Moonrise Kingdom
Having seen all of Wes Anderson’s films but never connecting with any of them (well, except for the humor of Fantastic Mr. Fox), I was pleasantly surprised by Moonrise Kingdom. For once the quirkiness and characters clicked for me, and the random darkness that seems to creep into Anderson’s oeuvre was minimal (a fight between boy scouts is less jarring than the warzone that pops up in Steve Zissou). As a portrait of young love and what it means to find someone who understands you, it’s very affecting. And the production design is as impeccably detailed as always.
Music I Liked In 2012
Every year I reflect on the pop culture I enjoyed and put it in some sort of order. Here are my music picks for 2012.
15. The Rocket Summer – Life Will Write The Words
Bryce Avery’s records almost serve as pep talks, both to himself and the listener, providing encouragement in the face of doubt and opposition via faith and perseverance. Life Will Write The Words continues the winning blueprint of past efforts like Do You Feel: bright pop rock infused with plenty of honesty.
14. Abandoned Pools – Sublime Currency
The musical project of Tommy Walter (which may be best known for the theme song for the short-lived MTV series Clone High of the early 2000s) has released just three albums over the past decade. The latest wait proved worth it for Sublime Currencies, where pop smarts meet moments of hopeful earnestness and authenticity (some tracks were written in the wake of a failed pregnancy). From the title track’s Queen-sized bombast to the quiet beauty of the penultimate “From Long Sleep” and all points in between, the record delivers.
13. Passion Pit – Gossamer
Passion Pit’s second LP picks up right where Manners left off, with upbeat melodies rising above electronic beats. While Michael Angelakos’ bipolar disorder lends gravity to much of the album’s lyrical content, the sing-a-long choruses then become moments of sheer catharsis and a way to fight through pain and uncertainty.
12. Sucré – A Minor Bird
Eisley’s Stacy Dupree, her husband Darren King of MuteMath and friend Jeremy Larson combine forces on a dreamy album that recalls Feist and Goldfrapp, among others. Stacy’s vocals are just as pristine and arresting as on her band’s material, but the production gives them even more room to breathe.
11. Dave Matthews Band – Away From The World
There are moments on Away From The World that are difficult to listen to because the longing and heartbreak are so palpable. (Hopefully Dave’s digging up past experiences and the content isn’t a reflection of his marriage.) A more introspective and quieter record than prior DMB releases, it’s raw, honest, and in its way, quite beautiful, from the opener “Broken Things” to the call-to-action “Gaucho” to the intimate romance of “Snow Outside.”
10. Anberlin – Vital / Anchor & Braille – The Quiet Life
Stephen Christian had a busy year, releasing both a new Anberlin album of straightforward rock and a second album of more introspective material as Anchor & Braille. Themes of faith, love and loss run rampant on both records – solid affairs from start-to-finish that reflect the diversity of artistic talent running through Christian’s veins.
9. The Big Pink – Future This
Where this UK duo’s debut was steeped in a haze of 90s guitar fuzz, their follow-up album favors clarity in its beats, riffs and vocals without losing any edge. The lyrics this time around are more inspirational too, especially on lead track “Stay Gold.” The band’s set at Lollapalooza this summer was electrifying; a highlight of that weekend for sure.
8. A.C. Newman – Shut Down the Streets
The latest solo album by the New Pornographers’ Carl Newman is his richest yet, with warm, gauzy production and harmonies not dissimilar from his band. While his lyrics remain mostly oblique, there are decipherable moments of humor (“There’s Money In New Wave”) and sincerity (“Shut Down The Streets,” which deals with his mother’s death) here.
7. fun. – Some Nights
What a year for fun. I would’ve never guessed that this little indie-pop-band-that-could would have blown up this year, but then, I never really understand the music charts. I do understand this album, though. Building on the hooks and confessional lyrics of their debut Aim and Ignite and adding in hip-hop production values and beats, the pop smarts of Some Nights are unimpeachable. I couldn’t be happier for the band.
6. The Shins – Port Of Morrow
After taking several years for side projects, James Mercer relaunched The Shins with an almost entirely new lineup in 2012. Fortunately for fans, Port Of Morrow is just as catchy and layered as the rest of the band’s discography.
5. Freelance Whales – Diluvia
The second album by Freelance Whales may not be as immediately accessible as their debut, but repeat listens pay dividends as depth and beauty reveal themselves throughout each song. What it all adds up to is a whole that is ultimately more meaningful than Weathervanes and the majority of indie pop records out there.
4. Metric – Synthetica
Whether or not frontwoman Emily Haines can still justify her self-doubt after the mainstream success of Fantasies is debatable, but if it keeps fueling honest and vulnerable material like that which fills Synthetica, I’m fine with it. These synth-rock anthems have more on their mind than beat and melody, with lyrics addressing insecurity and purpose (“Breathing Underwater,” “Dreams So Real”). And there’s a fine cameo by Lou Reed on “The Wanderlust.”
3. Of Monsters and Men – My Head Is An Animal
In a year of folksy sing-along pop (i.e. Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros), I favored the debut by Iceland’s Of Monsters And Men. The hooks are large as is the talent of these kids. Having a chance to see them play the intimate Double Door over Lollapalooza weekend was a live music highlight of the year.
2. Lord Huron – Lonesome Dreams
Ben Schneider’s first full-length album proves to be every bit as accomplished as his terrific EPs. Taking the open spaces of the great American West as inspiration, the songs’ driving percussion and airy vocals conjure imagery of vast, beautiful and desolate landscapes.
1. Paper Route – The Peace of Wild Things
Despite the departure of a band member and record label issues, the sophomore LP from Nashville’s Paper Route proved to be even more expansive and cohesive than 2009’s Absence. If the album tells a story, its songs of love and heartbreak reach their cathartic climax on “Rabbit Holes,” where “a woman plays a villain, a magician and a monument.” Then the elegiac “Calm My Soul” restores hope of purpose to the protagonist through a sincere plea to God.
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