Best of 2012: Television & Movies

Hey everyone,

I’m back with another “Ultra Late” edition of Best of 2012 series. This time I cover the films and their episodic brethren television. Both had extremely strong years particularly TV which is fast becoming a ground brimming with creative concepts.

So without further ado, I’ll list out the best:

Television

While I still am lagging behind in a lot of notable TV series including Mad Men (which I hear had a great showing in 2012) and the ever-amazing British period drama Downton AbbeyI’ve been wary of my female friends talking about how Girls is the second coming of Jesus for women their age. I’ve also steered clear from The Walking Dead and Justified even if they supposedly had solid seasons this year.

Regardless, let me get on with the best TV series this year, purely on the merit of the episodes that were aired on TV in 2012.

Honorable Mention 

Homeland

The only reason why I bothered to mention the second season of this intelligence psychological drama was because it had extremely strong moments. While the source from which it was inspired (an Israeli docu-drama) ended with Season One, the second charted new territories and began remarkably. It peaked and then sharply fell into cliches to the point where it became ridiculous and cheesy. A season that could have easily broken into the Top 5 instead has to contend sitting out as an Honorable Mention.

Now, with the actual Top 5. Let’s do this:

5) Archer

"It's pretty hard to stay anonymous when you're the world's greatest secret agent"

“It’s pretty hard to stay anonymous when you’re the world’s greatest secret agent”

Sterling Archer & his gang of misfits were back with the best season of the adult-comedy ironic spy caper series. Filled with long-running gags (“You’re in the danger zone!” and “That’s how you get ants!“) and punchlines with memorable pop culture references and lines like “So once again you’re left with the middle class Irish man’s dilemma, do I eat the potato or do I let it ferment so I can drink it later?

Featuring two memorable episode-long cameos from Burt Reynolds and Bryan Cranston, Archer upped the ante in inane, sardonic humor with lots of awkward pauses, politically and racially incorrect one-liners (” Black astronaut!? That’s like killing a unicorn“) and generally chucking subtlety out of the window.

Highlight of the Season:

*after having hot sex with co-worker Pam*

Archer:Where did you learn all that stuff?
Pam: You know I grew up on a farm, right?
Archer: Really hoping that’s not relevant.

4) Game of Thrones

In a frenzied second season, Peter Dinklage stole the show as Tyrion Lannister

In a frenzied second season, Peter Dinklage stole the show as Tyrion Lannister

Continuing its brilliant adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s fantasy saga, the second season continued its continent-spanning narrative of different factions in Westeros all of them plotting revenge against one another in the quest for Iron Throne. It worked more subtly as newer characters were introduced and more supernatural elements began taking form with some tense scenes of political backstabbing.

It all builds up to the glorious “Blackwater” episode which will remain as a high-point example of what TV is capable of achieving in terms of large-scale battles and glorious effects despite smaller budgets compared to films.

Subtle variations were put by the show’s writers at various points to instill some of their own personal touches but the story which is a very solid and entertaining one remains true to the novels.

Highlight of the Season:

The Blackwater battle. The ridiculous amount of tension and the underlying irony of its outcome that it manages to carve out of the iconic battle and the mood of the people (particularly the women) when under siege. Brilliantly done, is all I could muster after it had ended.

3) Sherlock

Making legends -- one episode at a time

Making legends — one episode at a time

BBC’s modern retelling of the iconic detective earned them accolades last year and this year the Doctor Who writers reunite for the second season which sees them retell two of the classic mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. Considering this is a season of merely three episodes, it is ridiculous to see how much goodness they have packed in it.

The reimagining of Hound of the Baskervilles into a modern psychological horror is much in line with some of the psychological aspects of Conan Doyle’s novel. But it is the infamous “The Reichenbach Fall” mystery which sees Sherlock finally come face to face with his arch-nemesis Moriarty is what brings out this series’ genius. One of the most brilliant retelling of a century-old classic which stays true to the original but deviates accordingly in just the right ways. I was literally left speechless and breathless by the end of that episode.

Years later, this series will be viewed in adulation by fans of Sherlock old & new, just like it is now.

Highlight of the Season:

Difficult to choose among so many, but I’ll go with Sherlock coming to slow realization of exactly what Moriarty intended to do him and his image. Genius!

2) Louie

Hilarious, heartbreaking and tragically funny -- Louis C.K continues to observe life's odd realities through his eyes

Hilarious, heartbreaking and tragically funny — Louis C.K continues to observe life’s odd realities through his eyes

I refuse to call Louie a sitcom or a comedy series. It is more in line with cultural satire or a “slice-of-life” basically. This season takes more of a deviation from the need to make audiences regularly laugh in order to stage elaborate buildups that either hilariously break down into something ridiculously awkward or anti-climatic.

Persistently, it retains the critical eye that Louis C.K — the one man force behind this series casts on our society and it is almost like a tragic comedy of the life we are living. The man is ridiculously experimental as he delves into dream-like scenarios to show what a person intends to do (like clean up a seat in the subway so others can sit) but doesn’t do because it would feel odd (which is literally everyone of us)

It is this ability of Louie to reveal the naked truths of ours (at times literally) which makes me a massive fan. It isn’t for everyone but those who embrace the concept that this show holds will find something deeply satisfying and funny as we observe what this man observes through his eyes — inhabiting the same world as we do.

Highlight of the Season:

Best situation was from the Afghanistan war-camp focused episode titled “Duckling”

  • Louie’s daughters hide a duckling in his bags when he goes to Afghanistan for a war-camp performance. Enroute to one of the camps, his helicopter breaks down and while it’s repairing a bunch of armed gypsies meet them and hostility increases due to the language barrier (and prejudice/misconceptions) until the duckling — a source of irritation for Louie thus far escapes and in his attempt to catch it he stumbles and falls. Seeing a white man chasing a duckling clumsily makes everyone in both the groups laugh immediately resolving the hostility. A brilliant showcase of how comedy is universal and can break all barriers.

1) Breaking Bad

And it all comes down....

And it all falls apart….

Thus far in it’s four seasons, Breaking Bad had mostly been a crime drama of the highest caliber. Higher than The Sopranos, higher than even The Godfather (but that isn’t exactly an apt comparison).

Season 5 — it’s final season apparently rotated the platform into something the shocking cliffhanger hinted. The process of “breaking bad” was complete. The trials and scaling insurmountable challenges of the previous season had had its toll and Walt White had changed. In the first six of the eight episodes of the half season (the other half airs this May) the viewer is progressively shown a higher degree of detachment from the character they associated so much with. An intense psychological study of its key characters — each of which we’ve come to know so well in the previous four seasons, and how the base concepts of morality get convoluted in a landscape that cannot be defined anything other than Machiavellian.

However, the brilliance lies in the final two episodes of this half season where after scaling a mountain — Mount Everest or walking on the moon, you realize that the feeling is only temporary. When permanence settles in, you are going to be unsatisfied. Which is what leads to the decision Walter makes.

But the wheels of irony aren’t so simple. As the half-season ended on the simple but gut-wrenching note, we cannot help but envision an apocalyptic future for the final eight episodes of this incredibly powerful series.

Highlight of the Season:

This season? Every fucking episode. Period.

Movies

2012 was a strong year for movies and we had solid representation from all kinds. It included the big budget ambitious types (Life of Pi, Cloud Atlas) to the low-budget ambitious types (Beasts of the Southern Wild). From the internal turmoil (The Master) to the external (Argo). From the strength and resolve of one man(Lincoln) to the twisted symbolic routine of a shape-changing individual(Holy Motors). 2012 had everything for us.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • The Deep Blue Sea
  • Lincoln
  • Argo
  • Cloud Atlas

When the dust settled however, these movies emerged as the Top 5:

5) Holy Motors

Only the ridiculous makes absolute sense here

Only the ridiculous makes absolute sense here

I had heard about Leos Carax before but only in the passing. It wasn’t before I watched Holy Motors did I realize the breadth of absurdist sense this guy makes through his movies. There was no movie wilder and weirder in 2012 that resulted in as many WTF as “did someone put acid in my popcorn or soda?”

Narrated as a singular journey of a tycoon in his limousine as he meets his various appointments by transforming into a new role — not just cosmetically but personality wise as well. A bag lady, an acrobat, a reptilian alien, a sewer man who kidnaps Eva Mendes and eats her hair. Every sequence makes you gasp while it cleverly distracts you from the symbolic puzzle it hides underneath. Which is what Holy Motors is. A giant puzzle composed of smaller ones –each of which make the central picture a bit more clearer.

Born entirely from the left-field of French absurdist cinema, Holy Motors is a rare treat that enthralls more than it frustrates.
4) Life of Pi

Magic of the spiritual

Magic of the spiritual

I had merely done few book reads of Yann Martel’s Booker Prize winning fantasy novel but I immediately was enamored by Ang Lee’s representation. He manages to capture an idea that is so difficult to describe if it were written on paper but he manages to convey the idea with ease.

Which explains the commercial success this movie received and it kinda redeems my faith in humanity. It is a great example of using visual effects to enhance the viewing experience and the variety of interpretations it left behind is bound to stay with the viewer long after the movie is over — a telltale sign of a thoughtful movie.

3) Zero Dark Thirty

A decade of dedication with a positive outcome -- but at what cost?

A decade of dedication with a positive outcome — but at what cost?

When I went into Kathryn Bigelow’s intelligence-drama, I was well aware of the controversy it had sprung over its alleged “pro-torture” stance. I came out puzzled. I had absolutely loved the movie and in no way found that stance to be apparent. Instead, the movie merely highlights torture as a method used by intelligence agencies as a means to an end — one that has as much chance of failure (as the false info leading to attack on Riyadh) as of success.

What is masterful about this movie is it has zero action scenes except the final 20 minutes during the assault on Bin Laden’s “fortress”. This is a proper intelligence-drama where the tension lies in whether the lead the characters have found leads to anything fruitful. This is some grade-A genius Bigelow is creating of late, first with the palpable tension of disarming a bomb in The Hurt Locker but ZDT’s subtle attempts at tension are a lot more effective.

It also succeeds as a character study on how a persistent resolve to catch one man led to success but only left her hollow and broken from inside. Maya is wonderfully acted by Jessica Chastain (who’s probably my fave actress after this and Tree of Life) whose passivity may have cost her a potential Oscar win.

2) The Master

The torment of a man

The torment of a man

Another of my favourites’ which got snubbed by the Oscars featured a powerful performance by Joaquin Phoenix and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the central two characters. Led to an existential search for his purpose in life as a war veteran, Freddy played by Phoenix starts questioning the very principles of the man he looked up to.

Brilliantly directed scenes that portray Freddie’s internal turmoil are among the strong points of this movie. An American classic which slowly grows on you, The Master is bound to be a favourite for many but movies like these don’t win Oscars, antagonistic lead actors or not.

1) Moonrise Kingdom

The age of innocence

The age of innocence

Wes Anderson’s adventure set in the magical world of remote Rhode Island was a mystical and endearing look into the inimitable optimism early adolescence often brought to us. Amid confusing hormones, building angst and a world that fails to understand you, our two leads strike a distant connection and plan to elope together and build their own “Moonrise Kingdom”.

Like a typical Wes Anderson movie, the kids hold wisdom beyond their tender age and the adults move around jaded with their lives. Between these two lies Edward Norton’s cub scout master whose naivete keeps him from getting jaded but he can also no longer remain optimistic about what visions he once saw.

The film is a precious gem for the nostalgia-loving buffs and it is shot with brilliant cinematography (shame on you Academy for not even nominating it!) that it will make you leave the burdens of your daily life and book a ticket to Prudence Island,RI.

—–

That is all for this time.

This series shall culminate next time with “Games” so until then

C ya

Ansh

Discussion

  1. I’ve had an interest in Archer and Louie for quite some time but haven’t had the chance to bring motivation in doing so. Will keep both in mind for future reference.

    As for your movie choices, I watched 3 of them, Life of Pi being the more recent one. Lincoln was good due to its dialogue-engaging experience, and enjoyed Daniel Day-Lewis’s performance of him. I definitely loved Moonrise due to its surrealistic atmosphere (and cinematography as well), beating out Chronicle as my favorite film of that year. Life of Pi, I’ve been in limbo over how I felt about it. I loved the film’s qualities that make a film a film (visuals, music, etc.) and despite that I liked it but not in the sense that it’s “the best thing ever”. A rarity that a movie did that for me, lol.

    Lastly, I still plan on seeing Argo, Cloud Atlas, Holy Waters and The Master (never heard of these two until having read this), and Zero Dark Thirty. I’ll look into the other films you recommended me via Twitter as well. Other than that, looking forward to the next part of your 2012 blog.

    Dan J Stine
  2. I’ll have to check out Holy Motors. I have to say that I hated Moonrise Kingdom; I wish Owen Wilson would start co-writing movies again because that is when Anderson is at his best.

    Minishdriveby
    1. I haven’t watched Seven Psychopaths although its brand of British comedy does seem like the kind I might enjoy.

      I think Moonrise Kingdom ended up being my fave Wes Anderson movie. Technically it was definitely his most superior work thus far.

      lightnarcissus
  3. Don’t you think Chastain’s performance was forced and doesn’t seem as strong as it was hyped in the media besides there was not even slightest of character development, I couldn’t relate to her character, with such a long length we at least deserve to know why she was even hired directly from the high school?

    Ajinkya Pokharkar
    1. I don’t believe it was hyped and certainly the absence of character development was perhaps *the* reason why her situation was so tragic at the end. She had put so much of her into pursuing Osama through all those years, that when it was all over, she honestly looked listless and confused on where she stands now. The tears she shed in the plane as she was leaving back to her country were more for her than for anyone else.

      I think character development is overrated when you see there have been some great actors over the years who have done great roles in absence of it. They simply adorn a static personality for a static situation. The notion of “people change over time” is a valid one but not so when you see how much Chastain’s character had delved herself into her work, never giving time for personal development.

      She did a good job mostly because ambivalence and passivity are more difficult to portray than Jennifer Lawrence’s typically badass Tiffany. In contrast to Lawrence, Chastain had very few moments to shine and she nailed them when she got them.

      lightnarcissus
      1. Yep that’s what I’m talking about (*first paragraph); we know why she sheds tears, but we don’t know why she’s so obsessed with Osama, there we needed character development, the film was more of a documentary. That’s the difference between Argo and ZDT.. no character development! Apart from that the movie technically was better than anything in the last year. P.S. even considering this point I still think Chastain did a better job than Lawrence!

        Ajinkya Pokharkar

Have Something to Say?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *