It’s June and time for a mid-year countdown of the best movies of 2012. This is a pre-“Prometheus” list. With the release calendar favoring provocative blockbusters and prestige dramas towards the latter half of the year, it’s important to champion great films that kept us going January through May.
I salute you.
1) “The Hunger Games”
This movie left me with the kind of profound dread and soaring excitement I only thought existed in films directed by Christopher Nolan. Gary Ross broadens and deepens the world of Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novels, keeping Katniss’ journey central, but amplifying the sinister, deadly, and disturbingly familiar world around her. Little things like Caesar Flickerman’s Cheshire grin, the riot in District 11, and Haymitch’s disgust with the Capitol sink us into the doom and can be just as haunting as what happens in the arena.
Jennifer Lawrence excels as Katniss Everdeen, playing not only her steadfast strength, but also her growing awareness of her own power and feelings. Lawrence adds these shades of doubt, confidence, care, and resentment to each action in the arena, making her fantastic to watch. I would love to see her up for Best Actress again for Katniss.
2) “Friends With Kids”
Jennifer Westfeldt directs, writes, and stars in this hilarious comedy about the stages of relationships that come to define us. Jules and Jason (Adam Scott) are best friends who decide because of their single status and long history that they can and should have a baby together. At first things are wonderfully simple and happy, but as both enter relationships, while growing closer raising their son, complications threaten their friendship. I think “Friends With Kids” is the smartest comedy I’ve seen all year with so many laugh out loud moments, as well as a unique plot and vivid characters.
3) “21 Jump Street”
Yes, “21 Jump Street” is a complete gem. I’ve never been so entertained by the complete recitation of the Miranda Rights. Starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as incompetent cops sent undercover at a high school, “21 Jump Street” makes you laugh, but also makes you think about who you would be if given the chance to go back to high school. In moments hilarious and quite sad, Tatum and Hill exchange high school roles where the bully becomes the outcast and vice versa. Friendship, loyalty, and trying to forge an identity are great nuggets in this wonderful comedy.
4) “The Woman In Black”
This movie definitely scared me with the various horrors tormenting Daniel Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps in the creepy haunted mansion. The film uses silence to its advantage, luring Kipps into danger room by room, path by path. Sent to settle a straightforward estate deal, Kipps discovers his presence has opened a wound in the town, stirring a vengeful ghost that claims the lives of children. His own grief and fascination with the afterlife attracts him to the darkness and gives him a unique empathy with the female specter. After the final seat clawing scene of the film, you’re left thinking about how grief can live and act in its own interest: driving the people left behind to madness.
A Swedish film I highly recommend checking out. Starring “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo“‘s Noomi Rapace as a woman forced to deal with an abusive childhood when her mother re-emerges into her life. Rapace lets her character’s pain slowly simmer and seethe, making room for the audience to imagine the pain, anger, and sadness swimming in her wide eyes. Before her mother reappearance, Rapace’s character has built a great family with her husband and two bright girls. Thinking about her drunken father, the screaming and physical fights between her parents, and how she - as a small child- tried to hold this dysfunction together for her brother makes her unsteady and frightened. As if whatever made her parents destructive may come out and conquer her after all these years. “Beyond” explores how we may be able to move past the traumas of childhood, but the scars still live beneath our skin, never fully letting us go.
6) “The Deep Blue Sea”
This is like “The End of the Affair” meets “Blue Valentine.” Starring Rachel Weisz as Hester, a aristocratic housewife who finds long sought passion in reckless, hot-tempered Freddie, played by Tom Hiddleston. Freddie and Hester are capable of such tenderness, as they dance in an empty bar to Jo Stafford’s “You Belong to Me.” Yet, they also devour and destroy each other with Freddie’s volatile outbursts and Hester’s dreams of self-annihilation. I’ve never seen two people scream at each with such animosity and hatred as Weisz and Hiddleston do in their most desperate times. It’s a beautiful film, but a tough watch.
7) “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a simple parable made lovely and lasting by great performances by Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. I loved the majestic landscapes, the score, and sometimes poignant message of this film directed by Lasse Hallstrom. McGregor plays a straight laced scientist charged to bring fresh water fishing to the deserts of Yemen by a hopeful millionaire. McGregor skillfully plays his doubt and wonder, making his journey believable and enthralling. Emily Blunt brings a charm and leveled optimism, while Kristin Scott Thomas has a snappy wit and brassiness that grounds the film in the present. All around, a steady, entertaining film accessible to any viewer.