My Top Ten Movies for 2012–Reviewed, Not Necessarily New

Happy New Year–the Year of the Snake in 2013!  Most of all, I want to again thank all of you for your responses and comments, and for continuing to read my blog!

With 2012 coming to an end, I wanted to take a look back at the movie reviews I wrote this year.  When I counted the reviews I have written this year (=21), I wanted to see what would be my top ten favorites.  It wasn’t easy, especially for independent films.

This list is not ranked –only my top ten for 2012, grouped by genre.

INDIES and FOREIGN CINEMA

1) A Separation  (March 23 review)– An Iranian “Rashomon”, this cinematic masterpiece offers a rare view of ordinary Iranians–both affluent and struggling. Minor misunderstandings morph into a slow-motion nightmare that threatens to destroy everything and everyone in its path.

2) Jiro Dreams of Sushi  (April 29 review)– This documentary is much more than a movie about the perfect slab of sushi.  “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi” is a hauntingly elegant meditation on work, obsession, family, and the art of perfection, chronicling Jiro’s life as both an unparalleled success in the culinary world, and a loving yet complicated father.

3) Memory of a Killer (June 18 review)– With a fresh take on the revenge drama, this nail-biter transforms the hired assassin into a kind of moral hero: an aging killer with a conscience.   With an electrifying visual, almost palpable energy, “Memory of a Killer” is a highly original, disturbing and unforgettable thriller.

4) Scottsboro (July 10 review)– The history and analysis of this case deserves to be in every history book of 20th Century US civics. The landmark trial magnified rampant racism, denial of due process, and the continued North-South animosity that existed almost 70 years after the Civil War had ended.

5) Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (September 2 review)– The home-video footage of the explosive black waves surging towards the coastline of Sendai will render you speechless.  The scale and imagery are overwhelming. This superb film reveals healing wounds and healing people, even in times of disaster.

6) Between the Folds  (August 6 review)– The intersections between origami, mathematics, and science are manifested in a magical sleight-of-hand. I promise you–if you see “Between the Folds”, you will never look at origami, the same way ever again!

7) The Garden (December 3 review)– Juggling politics, race and religion as well as the rights of property ownership in a free-market society,  “The Garden” is an investigation into a complicated case of backroom dealings, racial tensions and the question of just who represents a community.

COMEDIES

8) Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  (June 30 review)– This charming movie, while a paean to the aging baby boomers who are cinephiles,  is also   a shout-out to chasing your dreams, regardless of age.  The hopeful message: it’s never too late to make things happen.

BIG STUDIO MOVIES:

Political and Sociological

9)  Iron Lady (January 12 review)– Meryl Streep’s award-winning performance is achingly honest in its interpretation of  Margaret Thatcher’s powerful intellect, motivations, even perhaps her unconscious.

10) Arbitrage (September 29 review) In this film we witness unrelenting evil and an underlying fear of capture, committed in the pursuit of money and glory.  No one is spared.  This is a morality tale–a tale of hell in a financial guise. Richard Gere gives a virtuoso performance as a man who has lost his way on Wall Street.

Honorable Mention in Action: 

11) Safe House  (February 21 review) Though this is first and foremost a guy’s action-packed blockbuster, there is something for the rest of us. What do people sacrifice in service to the government that others don’t know about and don’t care to know anything about?  Denzel Washington superbly plays the anti-hero in “Safe House” and retains his integrity!

 

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”–Not Just Another California Roll

This is a nuanced documentary about the 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. Ono is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inconspicuously located in a Tokyo subway station, where a sushi dinner starts at approximately $400 per person. Despite its humble appearance, Restaurant Jiro is the only sushi restaurant on the globe to receive the highly coveted 3-star Michelin rating.  Sushi lovers, some with great trepidation, make pilgrimage, calling months in advance for a seat at the ten-customer sushi bar.  Think French Laundry.

For most of his life Jiro (a sea-turtle face, worn with age and determination) has been mastering the art of making sushi, still striving for perfection in a distinctly Japanese fashion.  Leaving home as a 9-year-old boy to learn the art of sushi, not the skill or trade, Jiro’s life has been filled with long days, working from sunrise to past sunset.

This documentary is much more than a movie about the perfect slab of sushi.  At the heart of this film is Jiro’s relationship with his two sons, particularly the designated successor, his eldest son Yoshikazu, who is now over fifty years old.  Not dissimilar to succession in family-owned corporations or aristocracies, the heir-apparent may wait most of his adulthood to assume the helm of his successful father. 
 Takashi, the younger son, while still close to his father and older brother, has left to start his own  sushi bar elsewhere in Tokyo.  Yoshikazu waits.

In David Gelb’s “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, we are watching a man whose relationship with sushi wavers between love and madness. He is a perfectionist, never satisfied.  His apprentices can spend ten years learning how to create an egg omelet (tamago-sushi) that meets the fastidious expectations of Jiro or how to proficiently massage octopus for 45 minutes.

Jiro exists to make sushi. Sushi exists to be made by Jiro.  While viewing this film, I found myself drawn to the mystery of this man. Are there any unrealized wishes? Secret dreams? Regrets? If you find an occupation you love and spend your entire life working at it, is that enough?  Sushi seems to define Jiro, as an extension of himself.

While each delicate sushi gem is beautifully captured in mouthwatering detail, it is the subtext of the father-son relationship that is most riveting. The son is expected to succeed his father in the family business, after having learned the intricacies of the trade that only a father can pass on.  How does the son feel about his successful father? How can he meet his father’s expectations?

Gelb paints Jiro as an enigma—we learn almost nothing about his personal life as a father and husband,  only as a legendary sushi chef, creating some of the most delectable sushi in the world.  Sushi is not so simple. It takes a special genius to bring about the essence of what food has to offer, and like any other art form, takes years to master—with Jiro himself believing that he hasn’t found perfection in his work yet.

“Jiro Dreams Of Sushi” is a hauntingly elegant meditation on work, obsession, family, and the art of perfection, chronicling Jiro’s life as both an unparalleled success in the culinary world, and a loving yet complicated father.