The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

January 28, 2013

My Top 10 list, plus a few more

By Roger Thomas for the SNAP

Monday, January 28, 2013 — All the big film critics who go to the early screenings did their lists weeks ago. I, of course, have to wait for some of the best films to open at a “theater near you.” In most cases that means Charlotte. But after just a couple of weeks, I feel fairly confident that this is my list.  

There were 29 films nominated at least once by the Academy in the 19 competitive categories. This excludes the Documentary, Short Subject and Foreign Film categories because few of these are shown in our area and these films compete differently than the other 19 categories.  

Of the 29 films that were nominated for at least one Oscar, I have currently seen 27 of them. “Chasing Ice” and “Amour” have not opened in Charlotte. So I have considered most of the films the Academy members think are the best, and a few of their choices also made my list.

First, here are a few films that could have made the list, and all are something really special: “Anna Kare-nina,” “Bully,” “Chron-icle,” “The Impossible,” “Les Misérables,” “Life of Pi,” “Ruby Sparks” and “Safety Not Guaranteed.”

No. 10 — “Zero Dark Thirty” — Five Oscar nominations including Best Picture. This is the film I waited to see because it did not open until 11 days into 2013. The buzz and early awards made me even more anxious. The film is strong in many ways, but I think the one thing that impressed me the most is the focus on one woman. It is her story. What was it like to spend years trying to locate Osama Bin Laden?

The film offers a glimpse of the real life determination, and that is a very compelling thing to watch. Think you already know the story? See the film. And as for the controversy, it is a movie; I, for one, am OK if they embellished some elements for dramatic purposes.   

No. 9 — “Looper” — No nominations for this time travel tale starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Gordon-Levitt is the only actor I believe who shows up in two films on the list; the other film is “Lincoln.” There have been many movies that raise conflicts between the present and the future and the potential of traveling between the two. Few films of recent memory have raised such thought-provoking issues and clever twists. “Looper” makes my list because I cannot quit thinking about it.

No. 8 — “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” — No film moved me more in 2012 (in this case to tears every time I watch it) than “Odd Life.” It also took me on an unexpected journey, and that is always a welcomed experience at the cinema. I do not want to know where I am going when I am being lead by a gifted director and screenwriter like Peter Hedges.

“Odd Life” is a small film, the smallest on my list and I suppose I have rewarded the larger achievements more, so this film ends up at number eight. That still makes it better than the 80 or so other films I saw this year. It should have been nominated for at least Musical Score and Screenplay but it failed to get any attention from the Academy.

No. 7 — “Django Unchained” — Yes, it is a very violent film. However, it is also a film that tells a powerful story of love, friendship and the brutal injustice of 19th century slavery. Only Quentin Tarantino could make a film that uses wit to boldly proclaim not just slavery but all racism to be both tragic and worthy of ridicule. As history, it might be questionable, as social commentary, it is a masterpiece. The Academy seemed to agree giving “Django” five nominations including Best Picture.

No. 6 — “Cloud Atlas” — I went into the theater planning to not like this nearly three-hour, multiple-plotlines movie from the directors of the “Matrix” series and the director of “Run, Lola, Run.”

As I wrote earlier this year, about an hour in I realized something, I loved all six of the stories which were playing out on the screen. In fact, I was so enthralled with the film, I resented when the focus shifted to a different story. Why this film did not receive multiple Oscar nods, I do not know.

No. 5 — “Bernie” — I described it to many as the “best comedy I have seen in years.” One other comedy ranks higher on my list, but it is a romantic comedy and that is really a completely separate genre. “Bernie” is a full-blown, outrageous comedy based on a true story of murder in a small town. That alone should inspire you to run to the video store. Why the Academy did not shower this film with Oscars, I do not know.

No. 4 – “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” – Not one single Oscar nod. Poignant, beautiful, often times hilarious, this story of aging, lost love, new love, declining health and loss of purpose are all demonstrated in a film that soars above so much that filled the cinema this past summer.

At the end of June I declared it to be the Best Film of the First Half of the Year. Six months later, it is still my fourth favorite film. The motion picture that is “Marigold Hotel” can best be summed up by a single line of dialogue from the film: “The light. Colors. Smiles. All life is here.”

No. 3 ­– “Lincoln” – Many will say it belongs at the top of the list. The Academy gave it 12 nominations so they certainly like it. It is a beautifully written, acted and directed film. I personally would hand it Oscars for Adapted Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor and Music Score. Perhaps a few others as well.

The film tells a powerful story that needed to be told in such an elegant way. Thank you Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner.

No. 2 – “Silver Linings Playbook” – The best romantic comedy of the second decade of the 21st Century.  “500 Days of Summer” is still the best of this century, thus far. Smart, witty, wise and deeply emotional.  

Beautifully dramatized receiving four acting nominations that puts it in the company of “Network,” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The ending is a little contrived, but by then, one does not care because this journey has been so uniquely special.

No. 1 – “Argo” – When I first saw it, I proclaimed it to be the best film of 2012 and I never saw anything that could change my mind. Funny, thrilling and beautifully executed. The fact that the story is true makes it all the more powerful. Seven Oscar nominations but no Best Director nod for Ben Affleck makes if difficult to win the Best Picture Oscar.

However, I was glad to see that the Golden Globes and the Broadcast Film Critics agreed with me. Two brilliant films about the Middle East this year, and this one is by far the best.  

Ranking movies is a very subjective thing. Another day, I might shift one or two of these, but I will not change my mind on one thing: each of these films are truly something special.