Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012: No End in Sight

A Look Back at Our Favorite Indies

The year 2012 not only failed to end with the prophesied apocalypse, but now we get to relive it continuously on the small screen with three months of endless, and endlessly televised, award shows. As with most awards, the results will be based on true mastery of the medium, the politics of the awarding institution and the publicity savvy of the film's representatives.

But no matter what the pundits say, some things remain true. First, all of the nominees will by most measures be deserving of the top award. As it's often said, "it's truly an honor to be nominated."

Second, some truly deserving films will be overlooked. That's where politics and publicity have the most impact.

Third and foremost, it doesn't really matter which films come out on top. Ultimately the best films are those that speak to you. It always comes down to the story and how it's executed, and what it means to you.

With that in mind, and take it for what it's worth, here are our contributors' lists of their top five favorite American independent films of 2012...


1. Moonrise Kingdom - This is my favorite in a growing list of fun, quirky, humorous and touching stories from filmmaker Wes Anderson. A topnotch cast, Anderson's superbly engaging method of visual storytelling, and a period storyline that brought back memories of youth, gave me the most fun I had at the movies all year. Although adult themes run throughout the story, Anderson grabbed me with his take on the imagination of youthful innocence in conflict with growing awareness of a scary adult world.

2. The Master - I admit that this is a movie for actors and eggheads, the former for some of the best casting of the year and Joaquin Phoenix's award-worthy performance, and the latter for one of the best films ever made that addresses that age-old human question, "what is the purpose of my existence?" The story was a truly ambitious undertaking, and I believe that filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson achieved something nearly impossible. Many viewers left the film scratching their heads and complaining that they didn't understand it. I believe I did get it, and all I can say is "wow!"

3. Silver Linings Playbook - We look back with horror and revulsion to the way people with physical disabilities were hidden away and forgotten in times long past. I believe that future generations will look back on our time with equal revulsion to the way we mindlessly drug, ignore and imprison the mentally ill. This is a funny and relentlessly entertaining romantic comedy, with a heavyweight back story that flies below the radar. Laugh it up, feel good and recognize the reality.

4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Filmmaker Stephen Chbosky effectively adapts his own coming-of-age novel in a film that captures both the exhilarating highs and the devastating emotional lows of the teen years. This is a story where laughs derive from the recognition of difficult truths, and not from the sexual thrills and cheap bathroom humor of most films in this genre. Chbosky proves that there is still much material to be mined in the daily struggles of ordinary young people. The best is yet to come.

5. Beasts of the Southern Wild - Okay, I admit to rooting for the Louisiana home team, and that this is not the best-crafted movie of the year by any stretch, but there's a reason the film continues to show up on a lot of best-of-the-year lists. It always comes down to a good story, and Benh Zeitlan's magical blending of fantasy and gritty reality give us a compelling tale of humanity in the most challenging of circumstances. These are real people, including the non-actors who played the leads.


1. The Cabin in the Woods - A horror movie tops my list on a site supporting the best in indie film? You betcha. Writer/director Drew Goddard (along with co-writer Joss Whedon) provided one of the most joyous and wonderful film-going experiences this year. Once this story of college-aged co-eds hits its stride, the film unfolds perfectly with a nod and a wink to the viewer, while playing with and against typical horror conventions and stereotypes. The film is more of a comedy, but the over-the-top and beyond, bloody third act should quench the thirst of most horror fans.

2. Silver Linings Playbook - When Pat (Bradley Cooper) moves back with his parents, he's committed to getting his life on track after a short stint in the mental hospital. After he meets recently widowed Tiffany (in an award-worthy performance by Jennifer Lawrence), the two use each other as a coping mechanism. Robert De Niro returns to the screen in a powerful role as Pat's father. The care and craft of David O. Russell's script never panders to those with mental disabilities and has one of the most uplifting and crowd-pleasing finales.

3. Compliance - I reviewed this under-the-radar movie earlier this year during its limited theatrical run. To be fair, the film will polarize audiences with the stupidity and choices of some of the characters, but it is inspired by real accounts from across the United States. That makes it all the more chilling. After limited support from the distributor, Ann Dowd recently sent out screeners to Oscar voters in hopes of landing a much-deserved nomination for her role as the fast food restaurant manager who complies with authority without question.

4. Cloud Atlas - Some might not consider this an indie, as it had a big ad campaign and was released by the main arm of Warner Bros, but this film from Tim Tykwer and the Wachowskis was independently financed and produced to the tune of one-hundred million dollars. It has to be one of the most ambitious indie films to date, tackling a novel with multiple storylines and timelines that all intersect flawlessly. While many viewers have been turned off and confused by the constant intercutting between all the storylines, as opposed to the more linear structure of the novel, the film captures how little moments can affect the world for generations to come.

5. Ruby Sparks - After making a splash back in 2006 with their indie darling, Little Miss Sunshine, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris mark their return as a directing duo. The titular character, Ruby, has some of the most manic swings of any young starlet on-screen this year. To go from the pixie dream girl to her creator's worst nightmare in a flash, Zoe Kazan created a character with multiple layers and flaws. The relationship, played by real-life lovers Kazan and Paul Dano, is pitch-perfect. Many creative minds would love to control their future and destiny, but as Dano's character quickly finds, that power could end up being one's worst nightmare.

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