2012 Movies Worth Watching

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By Steven D. Greydanus

The movie year 2012 was disappointing. Nothing this past year has overwhelmed me like the previous year's transcendent Of Gods and Men. Few films have offered the blend of moral and artistic power of True Grit, Winter’s Bone, and The King’s Speech in 2010. Still, there are always films worth celebrating, even in an off year.


A number of my favorite films from 2012 are troubling depictions of the plight of children largely on their own, insufficiently cared for by the adults in their lives. Catholic writer and film critic Graham Greene said that a film should show the world both as it is and as it should be—and each of these films accomplishes this, in different ways. (In addition to the three films below, see also I Wish from last month’s Worth Watching.)


The Kid with a Bike, from Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, is easily my favorite of all the films I saw in 2012. (The Dardennes are the latest recipients of the Robert Bresson Prize, awarded by the Pontifical Councils for Culture and of Social Communications to filmmakers whose work illuminates the quest for spiritual meaning.)


The film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, tells the poignant story of a young boy named Cyril searching for his absent father. The gap between Cyril's primal need to believe in his father and the reality of who his father is sharply illuminated. Then, unexpectedly, something brings grace into Cyril’s life: In a world that only says “no” to him, someone inexplicably says “yes.” This is a movie that makes you believe in the power of goodness and challenges you to make a difference in someone’s life. (Teens and up)


In Moonrise Kingdom, offbeat filmmaker Wes Anderson brings his deadpan quirkiness to the affecting, amusing, sometimes painful story of a special connection between a pair of troubled 12-year-olds living on a remote New England island in the 1960s. Despite some troubling content, the film’s bittersweet sense of longing expresses a desire for a purer world, particularly in connection with marriage: the messiness of what it often is—and the purity of what it should be. (Adults)

Beasts of the Southern Wild, a boldly original film from first-time director Benh Zeitlin, depicts the harshness and beauty of life in a fictional Louisiana bayou community known as the Bathtub, as seen through the eyes of a young girl called Hushpuppy. The harsh brutality of this world is offset, though not denied, by its celebration of beauty, self-reliance, community, closeness to the earth, and celebration itself. (Adults)


Among Hollywood’s Oscar hopefuls this autumn, standouts include a pair of historical dramas centered on dramatic moments in American history—one far more momentous than the other.


Steven Spielberg’s masterful Lincoln is anchored by Daniel Day-Lewis’s transcendent recreation of our 16th president, but the film, set during the last few months of Lincoln’s life, is less a biopic than a savvy depiction of the political force to push through the thirteenth amendment to abolish slavery in the waning days of the Civil War. (Teens and up)


Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, is a terrific yarn about a bold operation to rescue six Americans in Tehran during the Iran hostage crisis—with the help of Canada and Hollywood. The film’s secret weapon is that it’s both a geopolitical thriller and a fond satire of Hollywood—overtly Hollywood circa 1979, but by implication the Hollywood of today as well. (Might be fine for older teens)


The year’s best summer blockbusters include a pair of supersized comic-book sagas. The Avengers, Joss Whedon’s superhero ensemble romp, brings “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” together on the big screen and pulls out all the fan-pleasing stops (teens and up), and The Dark Knight Rises brings Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed Batman trilogy to an epic finale. (Might be fine for older teens)


Finally, notable animated films include a trio of cartoons with memorable female protagonists and sympathetic parental figures.


Pixar’s Brave, the studio’s first fairy tale, slyly subverts the Disney princess mythos by forcing its heroine to recognize the selfishness of her headstrong actions and rediscover filial piety. (Older kids and up)

The Secret World of Arrietty is Studio Ghibli’s entrancing adaptation of the world of the Borrowers, with a winsome Borrower heroine, Arrietty, who has a special relationship with her father. (Kids and up)


Finally, don’t miss A Cat in Paris, a charming, Oscar-nominated caper film from France about a young girl whose widowed mother is a police officer and whose pet cat moonlights as the sidekick of a dashing cat burglar. (Older kids and up)


Note: All titles are currently available on US home video except The Kid with a Bike, Lincoln, and Argo.

Steven D. Greydanus

Steven D. Greydanus is the creator of DecentFilms.com and regularly appears in Catholic print, radio, and television. He is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Newark. He and his wife, Suzanne, have seven children.