Two of the year’s very best films-- and these are must-see items-- are arriving in movie theaters at the tail-end of 2012. They are Quentin Tarantino’s DJANGO UNCHAINED and Kathryn Bigelow’s ZERO DARK THIRTY, and they are as different as TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and a Hope-and-Crosby road picture. But DJANGO UNCHAINED and ZERO DARK THIRTY are not the only must-see films released during the year. Some also are big-budget items that feature A-list directors and major stars. Others are more modest independent titles or foreign films.
Here is a brief survey of some of the year’s very best high-profile films. What separates them from DJANGO UNCHAINED and ZERO DARK THIRTY is that they came to movie theaters before the final week of the year.
THE MASTER, directed and scripted by Paul Thomas Anderson, is a mind-massaging epic, set in the years immediately after World War II. In THE MASTER, Anderson explores the need for certain power-hungry individuals to control the minds and bodies of others, and the need for others who are troubled and vulnerable to be controlled.
The endlessly stimulating CLOUD ATLAS, directed and scripted by Tom Tykwer and Lana and Andy Wachowski, features a wide array of characters, many of whom are played by the same actors often in heavy make-up, and is set in different places and time periods. At its core, CLOUD ATLAS offers insight into the human condition, exploring the manner in which people have been enslaved across the centuries. It reflects on the meaning of freedom and the idea that those who are deprived of it only will have the barest inkling of what it truly is.
LINCOLN, directed by Steven Spielberg and scripted by Tony Kushner, highlights the efforts of Abraham Lincoln to push through, against massive opposition, passage of the 13th Amendment, which would abolish slavery. Its scenario stresses how, a century-and-a-half ago, it was unusual and daring for a white man-- even a U.S. president-- to openly declare that black men and white men are equal. When it comes to race relations, America has come a long way since the time of Lincoln. Yet it seems to me that there still are those in our society who resent this equal opportunity. So even though LINCOLN is set in America’s past, the content of this stirring film is as relevant as ever.
THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, directed by Christopher Nolan and scripted by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, is a rarity: big-budget eye candy that is intelligently rendered, with a bevy of fascinating, multi-dimensional characters. And the tragic events in that Colorado movie theater back in July, where THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was screening, has nothing whatsoever to do with this film’s content.
Finally, if I had to cite the very best film of the year, my choice would be ARGO, directed by and starring Ben Affleck and scripted by Chris Terrio. ARGO is the based-on-fact account of the rescue from Iran of six Americans who seek refuge in the Canadian embassy in Tehran in the wake of the 1979 hostage crisis. Thrillers rarely get more thrilling and, as actors who become filmmakers go, Ben Affleck is fast becoming his generation’s Clint Eastwood.
Rob Edelman teaches film history at the University at Albany. He has written several books on film and television, and is an associate editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie and Video Guide.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of this station or its management.