J Hurtado's Top Ten Movie Memories Of 2012

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
This is it, ladies and gentlemen. 450+ films later, it is time to decide on a top ten of the year, not an easy task I assure you. I've seen a lot of great films this year, and that's made it difficult to whittle this list down to the arbitrarily agreed upon ten, however, I complied.

I try to mention this every year, but my top ten list is usually very different from everyone else's, not only my Twitch colleagues, but pretty much everyone else out there. I suspect that the main reason for that is the fact that I have little interest in compiling a list of the "best" films of the year. Quality is a very subjective metric when it comes to art. Therefore, I am declaring this list to be not a "best of" list, but a list of fondest memories. These are the films that have stuck with me, that I enjoyed, or that affected me in some way.

Also worth noting that with a single exception, this list is compiled of my favorites from outside of India. I have decided that since I really stepped up my Indian film viewing this year, that there should be a separate list for Indian features. It has been an incredibly strong year for India, and I thought they deserved a bit more attention.

On with the show!

jheega.jpg1. Eega
Because I make an effort not to judge films objectively (how boring is that?), the majority of this list is in random order. However, the exception is my number one film of the year, S.S. Rajamouli's revenge/reincarnation masterpiece, Eega. I predicted it would be my top film of 2012 halfway through the year and having seen it a couple of times since, it holds on firmly to that title. Rather than gush anew, here are a few words from my previous review(s) of this utterly original, unstoppably entertaining film that deserves all of the attention I can grant it.
Every time I thought I had a handle on Eega, it threw me for a loop in the best possible way. Eega is easily the most flat-out entertaining film I've seen this year, bar none, and I didn't understand more than half a dozen words of dialogue in the whole thing. It's that good. It's often said that the best filmmakers know how to show, not tell their stories, and if that's the criterion for master filmmakers, S.S. Rajamouli is someone you need to know about. Incredible action sequences, inventive storytelling, technical excellence, and laughs and gasps that just keep coming; Eega has it all.
jhzaya.jpgScabbard Samurai
Back in 2010, Matsumoto Hitoshi made my top ten list with his avant garde comedy, Symbol. He's back on the list in 2012 with a decidedly more conventional film, his low-key samurai comedy, Zaya Samurai (Scabbard Samurai). This latest film is a huge departure from the broad comedic strokes Matsumoto employed in his first two films, but he manages to create something truly evocative and emotional resonant, even with kind of a harebrained plot. The performances in the film are subtle and effective, the story is conventional yet engrossing, and Matsumoto's direction is remarkably restrained, making for a cinematic experience that left me swelling with emotion even as the credits ran.

Some may miss the zanier days of Matsumoto, though I can't imagine they're gone forever, but if this is what he have to look forward to I say bring it on. Scabbard Samurai is a film that gives a glimpse into the potential of an artist just finding his stride, and it is very exciting.

jhcabin.jpgCabin in the Woods
Cabin in the Woods is one of those mythical films that we never thought we'd see. Shot and completed in 2009, this Joss Whedon penned deconstruction of horror conventions finally saw the light of day in 2012, and it is fucking awesome. I was initially really turned off by the ridiculous amount of spoiler-phobia attached to the film, any twitter user will tell you that hardly an hour went by without SOMEONE shouting about not spoiling the film, but I eventually relented and managed to see the film unspoiled. While I'm glad I went in pretty much blind, I don't think that being "spoiled" ahead of time would have made the film any worse.

As clever as the exploration of horror tropes was, and as precise as Whedon's writing is, it wasn't the meta aspects of the film that landed it on my list, it was the fact that the film was just super fun. I'll not spoil it for those who are averse to that sort of thing, however, I think that the structure of the film (which is the biggest spoiler) was just really clever and allowed for some things we haven't seen before, specifically a third act explosion that was like manna from heaven for any horror fan. Rarely have I managed to have so much fun in so few minutes.

jhraid.jpegThe Raid: Redemption
Yeah, you probably saw this coming. The Raid is the shit. Best, most brutal martial arts action film in years. My guess is that this will be on a lot of other lists, and since we have about 97 reviews of the film on the site, I'll leave you to browse them.











jhplace.jpgThis Must Be the Place
This is the latest entry on my list, since I only saw it a few weeks ago. I've heard fantastic things about Paolo Sorrentino but I'd never managed to actually see one of his films, even though Il Divo is on my shelf at home. When I saw the first trailer for This Must Be the Place, I knew I couldn't miss it and I was correct. Sean Penn inhabits his Robert Smith-esque character completely, turning him from a potential laughing stock to a genuinely three dimensional character with a fragile emotional core. Strong supporting performances from Frances McDormand and a cameo from the always amazing Harry Dean Stanton only seal the deal. This Must Be the Place is the best film about a former goth rocker turning Nazi hunter you're ever likely to see, but it's so much more than that.

I will warn you that if you watch the trailer and Penn's voice irks you, it's there the whole film, so be warned. I think it's worth the effort, obviously.

jhholy.jpgHoly Motors
This is the first of only two films from this year's Fantastic Fest to make my list. If I were a more organized writer, this would probably have topped my list, but I'm not, so let me say here that Holy Motors is my top non-Indian film of 2012. When I saw the film screened at Fantastic Fest, I vividly recall walking out of the darkened theater not having any idea what I'd just seen, but feeling incredibly exhilarated by it, and that's a very rare feeling. Leos Carax's meditation on identity/cinema/masks/performance/love/life of whatever you got out of it is a truly unique and incomparable film. Rarely has an avant garde film such as this made such an impression on the critical world at large, but for once I agree with them. Holy Motors is an amazing, once in a lifetime achievement for both Carax and his chameleonesque muse, Denis Lavant. Wow.

jhcombat.jpgCombat Girls
This is the other Fantastic Fest film on my list. Combat Girls is a film that affected me deeply because I saw a piece of myself in it. No, I'm not a white supremacist (I don't think they'd have me), but I understand that anger that becomes this kind of dogmatism. I wrote a lot about this one, and I'm proud of what I wrote, so here's a snip:
To make a list of things that Combat Girls does well would be an intimidating task. Between all of the Nazi imagery, there are a lot of chances for the characters to breathe and for their stories to be told. You see the breakdown of the families, you see the alienation between daughter and mother or daughter and stepfather, you see the realizations that these girls mean less to their chosen partners than they think, and you see how it stings. Every moment in the film where these Nazis are congregated, we are given more and more evidence of just how crude they are. The atonal, simplistic hate rock playing in a car stereo, the senseless destruction of a crash pad during a Nazi party, the ridiculous combat drills in the middle of nowhere to prepare for a war that will never come. It all serves as a way to see these people through eyes that are gradually clearing, Marisa's eyes, and her evolution is right there in front of you.

As an adolescent, I was impelled toward a destructive lifestyle. Fortunately, rather than becoming a cartoon of a punk rocker, I became an intellectual, kind of. I still believe in all of those things that I did when I was 15. I still hate the way the government treats me, I still question authority and have an irrational aversion to cops, I still like my music loud, fast, and angry, but at the end of the day, I'm also a father, a writer, and a human. You lose all of those things when you commit yourself to a life of hatred and antagonism. You can't be for anything if you're too busy being against everything. That's the lesson that Marisa learns, and it's one that everyone needs to hear once in a while.
jhcasa.jpgCasa de mi Padre
This won't likely make any other lists, but this is MY list, so fuck it! Casa de mi Padre is amazing and among the craziest films to hit screens across the country this year. A financial disaster, the film nevertheless manages to capture the beauty, melodrama, and ridiculousness of the telenovelas that have entertained and enraptured Latin American TV audiences for generations. Here's what I wrote when the film hit home video:
When the first teaser for Matt Piedmont's Spanish language comedy, Casa de mi Padre, appeared online, I was simultaneously baffled and exciting. Will Ferrell is an actor who has had a lot of mainstream success, but who doesn't get a whole lot of respect in the process. The fact that he was willing and able to headline a film in a language he doesn't speak and that he manages to pull it off so remarkably well is proof of his bravery if nothing else. However, Casa de mi Padre is more than simply an extended joke, it is an avant garde masterpiece that tears apart the already outre world of the Spanish telenovela and reassembles it as a feature length tribute to the best and worst of Mexican trash culture.
jhbeauty.jpgAn Oversimplification of Her Beauty
Terence Nance's An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is a film I should've hated, but I didn't. A non-linear sort-of documentary about the dissolution and resolution of numerous relationships that really spoke to me. I reviewed the film for the Dallas International Film Festival this year, and this is what I had to say when it was fresher in my mind:
Terence Nance's An Oversimplification of Her Beauty teeters precariously on the border between unbearably pretentious and brazenly original. With a film as potentially divisive as this one, I often fall on the side of condemnation, branding pretentious films as full of shit and guilty of self-indulgent fart smelling. However, thankfully, Her Beauty never tips into that nebulous wasteland of the too artsy for it's own good. The film's saving grace is very simple, it all hits home. Behind the circular timeline, repetitive voiceover, and avant garde narrative devices, there is truth, which goes a long way.
jhfather.jpgFather's Day
From one extreme to the other is not a long a journey as you might think. The capper of my 2012 top ten is Astron-6's epic feature, Father's Day. I've been an Astron-6 groupie for a while, and now I'm glad I've hitched my wagon to this troupe, because Father's Day confirms everything I'd suspected. They are geniuses. I've reviewed the film twice now, so further ass-licking is probably not necessary, but here's another clip from my previous reviews:
Typically, even in my most effusive reviews, I'll point out a few flaws, just to show that I'm not a shill for anyone, but I'm having a hard time coming up with anything this time. The first time I saw this film back in February at the historic Texas Theatre, the crowd was small, and not terribly emotive. I think that this made the film feel a little longer than it needed to be at 99 minutes, however, seeing the film with an appreciative audience made it absolutely fly by. An argument could be made regarding the necessity of certain scenes in the film, however, attempting to edit a film like Father's Day for pacing is a kind of missing the point. The humor is all in the extra bits. I appreciated every joke all over again, and they all landed with the audience exactly as they were meant to. This film is a giant success for the Astron-6 team.
Around the Internet:
  • mightyjoeyoung

    "Therefore, I am declaring this list to be not a "best of" list, but a list of fondest memories. These are the films that have stuck with me, that I enjoyed, or that affected me in some way. "

    It seems to contain a lot of your own personal choices, Mr Hurtado.

    "Combat Girls
    This is the other Fantastic Fest film on my list."
    Yeah that´s one film I want to see, among others on this list.
    Nice list, thanks Mr Hurtado.

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