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 Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom”: A Day of Carnage

Nominated for a Best Documentary Academy Award this year “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” is also a powerful narrative as vibrant as any dramatic cinema, an extraordinary, mesmerizing tribute to the resilience of human nature.  More than an epitaph of mourning and loss, this film interviews ordinary residents whose philosophical attitudes toward the day of carnage are not easily dismissed.  Their amazing faces humanize this catastrophe of nature.

The ten-minutes of home-video taken from a hill overlooking the explosive black waves surging towards the coastline of Sendai will render you speechless.  No other photography matches what you will see here! The scale and imagery are overwhelming.

An elegy to both the victims and the healing of the survivors who carry their memories, the cherry blossom, an iconic symbol of Japanese culture and philosophy, resonates with healing their wounds.  Cherry blossom season begins in early spring.  Representing rebirth and renewal, these delicate flowers stand in for the transience of beauty and the fragility of life itself. However, the cinematic sonnet to the quiet beauty and power of nature is much more subtle and refined. The cherry blossom tree is imbued with power, dignity and courage:  Shinto values of nature’s spirit.  In interviews with the filmmaker, each Japanese survivor explains how the beautiful trees, although almost drowned in salt water, inspire the Sendai residents to survive and bloom again.

One man, consumed with grief for the death of his best friend, describes the unbearable experience of watching him die, saying that items can be replaced, but life cannot. Another elderly man, a cherry orchard master whose ancestors had supervised the orchards for over 300 years, explains that a nursery of cherry trees is “like raising children.   You think about them all the time, but you have to let them do what they want. As they get older (in a few hundred years) a spirit will inhabit them and they will develop their own identity.” The background soundtrack is a muted sacramental hymn, not unlike Gregorian chant, underscoring the spiritual attitude of the cherry orchard master for his botanical children.

“Nature has a terrible destructive power.  And nature also has a creative power.  Beauty and terror always exist in nature, but we forget the terror.”   Reiterating Shinto’s belief that all living things acquire a spirit, the philosophy  fascinates.

This superb film reveals healing wounds and healing people, even in times of disaster. Look for it on HBO since it is not yet available through Netflix.