During 2012, I looked at different types of films that were barely on my radar. There were so many intriguing choices that it would be impossible to describe all the exciting discoveries. Even so, I've listed five examples of movies that really surprised me in 2012. They come from the 12 marathons that I tackled on a variety of subjects, including specific genres, filmmakers, and picks from readers. There's also one entry from my monthly List of Shame series, which could have filled these selections. I'm not calling these the best five movies that I watched for this blog. Instead, these are lesser-known gems that weren't obvious choices for catching up with the classics. I've had a great time checking out these movies and have a long list of suggestions to tackle in 2013. I can't wait to get started!
5. The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)
In March, I realized that a jaunt into the fantasy genre was long past due. The result was the Once Upon a Time marathon, which didn't include the strongest collection of movies. The exception was Lotte Reiniger's stunning animated work for The Adventures of Prince Achmed. Originally released in 1926, this remains one of the most unique examples from the genre. Reiniger uses a style called silhouette animation to depict Achmed's journey. He encounters Aladdin and his magic lamp, falls in love with a princess, and saves her from demons. This silent film might be a tough sell, but I highly encourage that you check it out. It's amazing to note how much they accomplished more than 85 years ago. The frame-by-frame silhouettes required precise attention to detail and show masterful artistry.
4. Devils on the Doorstep (2000)
One of the most enjoyable marathons happened last summer when I tackled eight picks from readers. Castor from Anomalous Material recommended China's Devils on the Doorstep, a film that had completely escaped my attention. The mix of dark comedy, stunning tragedy, and a biting look at war makes it one of the most original movies from that genre. Director Wen Jiang does a great job keeping the story light and then pulls the rug out from under us. A perfect example is the party scene, where the Japanese soldiers and Chinese villagers are having fun and forgetting about the conflict. Jiang uses subtle hints to show that Captain Inokichi Sakatsuka (Kenya Sawada) is slowly losing his cool. When the gala erupts into a violent massacre, it's shocking because of the drastic tonal shift. This is just one of many reasons to seek out this movie, which deserves a lot more attention from cinephiles.
3. Wild Strawberries (1957)
Inspired by the need to catch up on classics and pushed by the efforts of other bloggers, I decided to extend my List of Shame marathon into a monthly series. There were so many amazing films in this group, including Solaris and Once Upon a Time in the West. Those movies could fit in this spot, but they weren't as surprising because there was so much acclaim. I didn't expect as much from Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, which made it even more enjoyable. The story of the 78-year-old Dr. Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) reflecting back on his life sounded pretty dull, but that was far from the case. The themes of guilt, love, fear, and death are so universal that it's nearly impossible not to be drawn into this tale. Bergman's surreal dream sequences also keep us on our toes and cleverly depict Isak's greatest fears. If you're looking to delve into Bergman's work, I'd start your journey here.
2. Fallen Angels (1995)
Easily one of my favorite experiences this year was digging into nearly the entire career of Wong Kar Wai over the summer. I was so mesmerized by In the Mood for Love that it was a necessity to check out more films. Starting with Days of Being Wild, I worked my way through his career and even checked out his foray into America with My Blueberry Nights. None of them was more surprising than Fallen Angels, which I knew nothing about before watching it. This tale of young loners searching for any type of connection is one of his most striking visual feasts, which is saying a lot. He throws the camera right into the middle of the scenes, which creates a great sense of chaos. Supported by a perfectly themed soundtrack and full of energy, this film is mesmerizing from start to finish.
1. Gomorrah (2008)
In August, I designed the International Gangsters marathon to finally catch up with A Prophet and Animal Kingdom. While those were both strong films, neither had the impact of Matteo Garrone's ambitious look at the devastating effects of the Comorra. Set in Naples, Gomorrah uses five interlocking stories to paint a vivid picture of this brutal environment. The culture of strikes and retaliation has few signs of ending in the near future. Garrone avoids preaching and simply depicts the many ways that the crime syndicate can wreck a community. Young kids are used and then tossed aside by veteran killers protecting their way of life. The handheld shooting style puts us right inside as we experience hell on Earth. I can't think of another movie that stuck with me longer this year.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about this list of my blog discoveries from the past year. You should also check out past Top 5 Lists if you've missed them.