Not all of the top films of 2012 are big-budget, and high-profile. Indeed, quite a few are low-budget. They are independently produced American films, or they are foreign language titles. And so here is a sampling of some of the year’s outstanding under-the-radar titles.
JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, written and directed by Mark and Jay Duplass, is a fresh, satisfying tale of the title character, a thirtysomething man who does not have a job, has not dated since high school and, as the title says, lives under the roof of his widowed mother. What makes Jeff an intriguing character is his approach to life, his determination to follow his own path, the manner in which he goes about accomplishing this, and the manner in which the Duplass brothers present him within the framework of the story.
THE DEEP BLUE SEA, written and directed by Terence Davies from the 1952 Terence Rattigan play, movingly explores the psyche of a woman, well-played by Rachel Weisz, to whom being in love is the only reason for living. But what does one do if being in love is one-sided, if the love you feel for another is not reciprocated? THE DEEP BLUE SEA is stimulating fare and, with meticulous detail, Davies beautifully reconstructs the ambience of post-World War II England.
Two of the year’s top foreign language films center on characters at the opposite end of the age spectrum. MONSIEUR LAZHAR, written and directed by Philippe Falardeau and set in Montreal, is the tale of an Algerian immigrant who is seeking political asylum. He hires on as a schoolteacher-- and the woman he is replacing has committed suicide by hanging herself in her classroom while her charges are outside playing in the schoolyard. The title character is a kindhearted man and, as its story unfolds, MONSIEUR LAZHAR potently stresses the importance of real human connection in a world that is overrun by bureaucracy, hypocrisy, and tragedy. It is must-see viewing for every parent, every teacher, every school board member, and every school administrator.
Then there is AMOUR, written and directed by Michael Haneke, which features French screen legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as elderly retired music teachers who are deeply in love. The scenario concerns what happens when one of them falls ill-- and suffice to say that, when you are in your eighties and you are struck by illness, your predicament will be anything but fleeting. To be sure, AMOUR is a difficult film. But it is provocative-- and this may be said for just about all of Michael Haneke’s work.
Films like JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME, THE DEEP BLUE SEA, MONSIEUR LAZHAR, and AMOUR are not the kind of non-mainstream fare that will be gobbled up by the mall movie houses. But the only movies that deserve to be seen are not the Hollywood blockbusters or the latest Judd Apatow comedy.
With this in mind, I must cite the Spectrum movie theater in Albany, my preferred art house cinema. Venues like the Spectrum-- as well as Proctors Theater in Schenectady, which currently is offering an extended series featuring some of the greatest American movies of all time-- deserve to be strongly supported by all movie lovers.
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.
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