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!

 

The Garden–Harvest of Justice?

A 2009 Academy Award nominee for best documentary, “The Garden” is a powerful cinematic essay focusing in on the political and social battle over the largest community garden in the U.S, a vibrant 14 acre garden, in South Central Los Angeles. The origin of the 14 acres came from a defunct plan to build a municipal incinerator.  The city of Los Angeles seized by eminent domain a 14-acre site occupied by warehouses in South Central LA in 1986. The purchase price was $5 million.   From the ashes of the 1992 Rodney King riots, arose a lush garden of vegetables, blossoming trees, and fruit orchards offered by the local government as a therapeutic means of healing the wounds from the destruction to their blighted neighborhood.  Growing their own food, The Garden created community, an oasis in the midst of grim impoverished circumstances. The gardeners who cultivated little plots of land were mostly Mexican-Americans; some were African-Americans. All of them depended on the produce they grew for their food and as a source of additional income. The garden, above all, became a symbol of hope, their garden of Eden.

But then nothing involving the government is ever that simple. Seventeen years later, the incinerator was never built so the city sold the land back to the original owner. The price was about the same as in 1986. The deal was kept secret – until eviction notices went out in late 2003 to the 347 families who had been using the land for almost two decades. Why was the land sold to a wealthy developer for millions less than fair-market value? Why was the transaction done in a closed-door session of the LA City Council? Why has it never been made public?

In 2004, the gardeners received a notice to vacate, and The Garden captures the resulting two-year court battle and the impending threat of bulldozers ready to plow and level twenty-foot trees to rubble.  The Garden follows the plight of the farmers, from the tilled soil to the polished marble of City Hall.  Their plight became a celebrated cause–with Darryl Hanna, Danny Glover, Joan Baez, Martin Sheen, other celebrities, and the Annenberg Foundation supporting them.

Juggling politics, race and religion (opposing the gardeners are an African-American activist and a Jewish developer), as well as the rights of property ownership in a free-market society,  “The Garden” raises as many questions as it presents possible solutions.   When it comes to fighting city hall, nothing is ever simple.  “The Garden” is  an investigation into a complicated case of backroom dealings, racial tensions and the question of just who represents a community.