The Academy Awards have been a personal addiction since I was about 13 years old. In my misguided youth, watching Hollywood's "night of nights" was about the stars, the hype, the fascination with the eternal, perpetual motion Hollywood machine and the extravagances and facades the Oscars paid homage to. With maturity comes a far more discerning taste.
These days I watch the Oscars for one reason only: an excuse to have too many glasses of Moët while screaming out loud at my TV about the plethora of great films ignored by the industry in favour of kissing each other's over publicized asses for films that, when the truth is told, aren't really all that great. Also, I kinda enjoy the mantra of "eat a damn cheeseburger already" that I repeat each time an underfed Hollywood actress, airbrushed to within an inch of her life, graces the red carpet and bats her three inch long falsie eyelashes at Ryan Seacrest's pompadour.
There's no doubt there are other true film buffs like myself who realize that the best in film is lost, year after year, to the latest top paid actor in his blockbuster yet entirely lacklustre performance in the big money maker, studio saver, production of the year.(Russell Crowe ain't got no right in a musical. No right at all). I'm not alone in my search for quality, quiet films that hover in one's psyche long after the end credits. There is comfort in that thought. And having watched 273 films over the course of 2012 (I said I was a film buff), I'm not afraid to share my opinion. I'm no Jay N' J, (I suggest you check out their Oscar picks, they are far more knowledgeable than I), but film is my passion, surpassed only by my love of great literature (that's another list). So, for the film lovers, here is my "anti-Academy Awards" list.
These are the 10 films that stuck with me over the course of 2012, accompanied by their trailers, when I could find them. There are a few surprises, a couple that are nominated (because occasionally the Oscars get it right - a broken clock is correct twice a day, after all) and a few films you have likely never heard of but if you're a true film buff, won't want to miss.
10. Jeff Who Lives At Home
This little film will change everything you think you know about Jason Segal. It's brilliantly written, adeptly acted and is one of those films that years from now you will turn to a friend and say "remember that great film Segal did? The one that was so non-Segal? That was a great little film." Quirky, surprising, funny with a subtle tone of sad, this film is a quiet delight. "Jeff" is Segal's "Punch Drunk Love". Only Adam Sandler fans will get that reference.
9. Moonrise Kingdom
I'm going on the record as saying Wes Anderson is getting screwed out of the credit he deserves for this gem. Yes, I'm as tired as anyone of Anderson's love affair with Bill Murray, who seems to be the Johnny Depp to Anderson's Tim Burton. Still, don't let that dissuade you. If there is one thing Anderson is a master at it's taking the shame out of being a misfit, finding the absolute glory in those who "don't belong" and making normalcy seem insane. This could be his best film to date. Even if you're not an Anderson fan, this film is worth your time.
8. Safety Not Guaranteed
What? You've never heard of this film? Of course you haven't. It's a small, independent film that will make you question what is believable, what defines sanity, why and who we trust and our personal barriers to faith. This is a not to be missed film with an amazing performance by its male lead. "Safety" will leave you perplexed but jumping to your feet with pure joy at it's climax.
7. The Invisible War
One of the films on my list that made it on the Oscar list, this film examines the secret underworld of the US military's culture of sexual brutality against women in the forces. It's not an easy viewing, but it's an important viewing that examines the misogynistic environment women who volunteer to put their lives on the line for their nation face.
6. Perks of Being a Wallflower
I didn't want to like this film. I really didn't. Angsty emo misfit teens? Bad 80's music glorified? What could there possibly be to like about this movie? In short - everything. Like Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" before it, "Wallflower" makes being an outcast not only cool, but something to strive for. Its depiction of social pariahs is laudable, and Ezra Miller's performance as an out homosexual in a relationship with a closeted "cool kid" will break your heart. Emma Watson's seething and insipid performance aside, this film is well worth the time spent just for Miller's breakthrough performance.
5. The Sound of My Voice
Spellbinding. There is no other way to describe this film. Every performance is perfection, the premise is without flaw and you'll find yourself lost between reality and cult-like belief by the film's midpoint. Perplexing, disturbing... accuse me of hyperbole but I can promise you this film will be a conversation you bring up with friends who've taken the time to see it.
I can count on one hand the number of films that have truly scared the bejeebies outta me: The Exorcist, The Omen (original), Silence of the Lambs (holy crap), Mothman (pretty sure I was ovulating that day because really, Mothman is horrible) and Insidious. Most horror films bore me to death - they lack originality and true scares. Insidious manages to provide both, and does so in an intelligent manner. Like a good scare? This is the film for you.
3. The Cabin In The Woods
There isn't much I could say about this film that the critics haven't already said in a raving fashion. The only "slasher flick" I've ever enjoyed as much as "Cabin" is the original "Saw". The premise of "Cabin" is so brilliant, the irony so spot on, the humour so perfect that this film survives even it's own incredibly weak ending. It's ironic. It's funny as hell. It's anything BUT scary. It is these things that make it worth your Friday night viewing. Plus, Bradley freaken Whitford. That is all.
2. The Sessions
Had you asked me what I thought of Helen Hunt prior to viewing The Sessions, I would've let loose with a long string of obscenities, interspersed with phrases like "are you kidding me?" and "how do YOU spell 'overrated'?" and "Twister. Enough said." The Sessions blew my impression of Hunt out of the water, and I couldn't be happier about it. Like "Sound of My Voice", every performance in this film is brilliant, but Hunt is a standout. Her portrayal of an emotionally detached sex surrogate is so damn courageous, so "non-Hollywood starlet" in its nature that the film is worth viewing just for that. She spends a great deal of this film naked, fully naked, full frontal nudity in very awkward and uncomfortable sexual situations in a movie that isn't about sex. I'd suggest you watch it just for her portrayal, but the film itself is a treasure. Plus: William H. Macey, people. WILLIAM H. MACEY. AS A PRIEST. This movie is on my "don't miss it" list.
Anyone who follows me online knows that I'm a documentary film buff - every Sunday in my home is "Documentary Sunday". I like to think of it as my way of staying informed, but truth be told it's more likely "Documentary Sunday" is my "hail Mary" against the TV crap I digest on a weekly basis. Regardless of that, "Bully" is, without a doubt, the most important film I saw during 2012. If you can watch this film without being moved, without reexamining who you are, how you treat others, what behaviour you model to your children and to your community, well... you're the owner of a dead soul. "Bully" changed how I engage online. It changed how I behave with my children. It changed my understanding of what bullying is and how we, as adults, encourage hostile and judgmental behaviour in our kids. You will not be unmoved when the end credits role. If you see but one film on my list, make that film "Bully". It's that important.
That's my list. But I'd love to hear what you watched this year that has stayed with you. Please make your recommendations in the comments section. I'm always looking for some new movie to sink my film buff chops into.