When 2012 is all said and done, I'll have seen something like 350 films in the last twelve months. Most of those are new movies, a few are rewatched favorites; the rest are older titles I saw for the first time this year. I was invited by Brian Saur of the fine film blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks to pick my favorites of those 2012 film discoveries. Here's what I submitted, from least to most favorite.
The world of newspapers has completely changed since Michael Keaton played harried tabloid editor Henry Hackett in 1994's "The Paper." Still, something about the way Henry struggles to balance his job at the paper and his life with his pregnant wife (Marisa Tomei) really struck a chord with me (he wrote on the day after Christmas while his wife spent her vacation time doing stuff without him). Keaton is great (see below), tucked into an incredible ensemble that also includes Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, and Randy Quaid (also see below). Though it eventually succumbs to some overly theatrical plot twists, "The Paper"'s micro-detailed examination of the day-to-day life of journalists and their subjects makes it feel more like an independent film than something produced by mainstream Hollywood. In 2012, it looks like a perfect time capsule of the last great newspaper age (and, in some ways, a foreboding premonition of the dark times ahead).
4. Wake in Fright (1971)
Directed by Ted Kotcheff
Watch the Film on Blu-ray
This gritty psychological thriller about a man's descent into madness in the Australian outback was considered lost for decades, and only recently rediscovered and restored. It's a major find. En route to a Christmas holiday in Sydney, school teacher John Grant (Gary Bond) gambles away his life savings at a little outback outpost named Bundanyabba. With no money and no place to go, he's forced to depend on the kindness of the locals — who are more than happy to share their disturbingly ample supply of beer and to take him along on their kangaroo hunts. "Wake in Fright" is an unusual horror film, where the real monster is the supposedly "civilized" man amidst the boozy, unrefined natives. Canadian filmmaker Ted Kotcheff ("First Blood") shares his protagonist's outsider perspective on the curious world of "The Yabba," making him the perfect choice to capture its unique atmosphere of homoerotic machismo and near-terminal hospitality.
In a year when the Discovery and Endeavour space shuttles were decommissioned and retired, and the Mars Curiosity rover briefly captured the nation's imagination, "For All Mankind" was the ideal film to remind Americans just what we've lost with a dismantled space program — and what we could still gain by restoring it to its former glory. It's sort of an unofficial visual record of NASA's journeys to our closest celestial neighbor. Footage from various Apollo missions were edited together, along with astronauts' narration, to create a single, seamless narrative of a trip to the Moon and back: liftoff, orbit, lunar landing, buggy joyrides, splash down back on earth. The footage is nothing short of spectacular (and looks surprisingly impressive on The Criterion Collection's HD streaming print on Hulu Plus), and the thoughtful commentary from Michael Collins, Jim Lovell, and more gives viewers a unique perspective about our humble place in the universe. If this film was all the Apollo program ever bought us, it was worth the price one hundred times over.
A towering achievement in the field of batshit crazy moviemaking. A rock band named Dragon Sound that only plays songs about ninjas are targeted for assassination by — who else?? — ninjas. And not just any ninjas: motorcycle-riding, cocaine-dealing ninjas. Made with maximum sincerity and minimum technical skill by tae kwon do grandmaster Y.K. Kim and the students of his martial arts academy, "Miami Connection" is filled with poor acting, strange dialogue and hilarious continuity gaffes ("ORLANDO" reads a title card in front of a shot of the Coral Gables skyline). But just as Dragon Sound triumphs over their black-clad enemies, Kim and director Richard Park triumph over their lack of filmmaking talent with pure, unbridled enthusiasm and weirdly catchy pop tunes.
You don't need me to tell you this film is a masterpiece — I might be the last cinephile on earth to get around to watching this Akira Kurosawa stunner based on Shakespeare's "King Lear." It follows the rapid disintegration of a great Japanese warrior family felled by jealousy, greed, and one vindictive woman (Lady Kaeda, played, in an astonishingly ferocious performance, by Mieko Harada). "Ran" is epic Kurosawa: massive battle scenes with perfect clarity; frames boldly splashed with color provided by characters' vibrant costumes (and their equally vibrant blood); a large cast and their endless double crosses and treacheries. It's the work of a director at the absolute height of his powers, but close enough to the end of his career to relate to the story of an aging feudal lord who worries about what he will pass on to future generations. As legacies go, this one's not too shabby.
What was the best older movie you saw for the first time in 2012? Tell us in the comments section below.