So long, 2012…sorry that whole apocalypse thing didn’t work out. As we look back on the closing year, one thing that becomes inescapably clear is that Hollywood’s predilection for adapting established properties and developing recognizable brands is only growing. That’s not to say every adaptation is bad — some of the best films of the year were based on previous written work. However, when it comes to cinema, there is no substitute for a fantastic original idea.
To honor the movies the fresh concepts that slipped into the mix this year, not based on novels, comic books, or, heaven forbid, board games, here are our picks for best original films of 2012:
If there is one artist who represents the living embodiment of originality, it’s Wes Anderson. That’s not to say that the celebrated writer/director doesn’t have a distinctive style that underscores his work, but each and every filmic experience he crafts is unlike any other. With Moonrise Kingdom, Anderson assembled a cast that included both new collaborators and familiar veterans to build a 50s era fairy tale around the inherent wonder of falling in love for the first time. The cinematography, true to form with an Anderson film, was a superb mix of dreamlike fantasy landscapes and lovingly nostalgic slice of Americana.
Science-fiction is the genre that affords the most opportunity for creativity and innovative storytelling. Unfortunately, too often the original ideas are woefully overshadowed by remakes and otherwise creatively bereft white noise. Rian Johnson is a filmmaker who has always made bold and interesting choices; from his high school film noir Brick to his wildly imaginative conman flick The Brothers Bloom. With Looper, Johnson takes on the daunting task of working with time travel mechanics as he tells the story of a hitman who kills those sent back from the future. The hitman is conflicted when his older self appears as his latest target. Looper’s brilliance is in the fact that its character study, coupled again with a film noir tinge, is compelling enough to negate any quibbles we might normally have over the logistics of temporal displacement.
It has gotten to the point wherein if you’ve seen one studio horror film, sadly, you’ve pretty much seen them all. The dearth of originality in horror is usually far more frightening than the tired monsters and madmen that are routinely rehashed and trotted back out time and time again. Enter The Cabin in the Woods. The directorial debut of Drew Goddard, and co-written by Joss Whedon, The Cabin in the Woods is a masterful deconstruction and re-contextualizing of every conceivable horror trope. It doesn’t note the conventions, it challenges the viewer to consider why they exist in the first place. If you need more proof that the horror genre is in trouble, as brilliant as is Cabin, the movie sat on a shelf for several years. Thank goodness we got several more Saws and Paranormal Activities in the meantime, right?
Animated films are not immune to falling into ruts. In fact, more so than any other type of film, they can be tempted to pander to their target audience; using the younger demographic as an excuse for lowered standards of quality. This could also explain why so many uninspired animated film franchises crop up. This is one reason Chris Butler and Sam Fell’s ParaNorman was so exceptional. It not only shied away from the typical talking animal fare with fleeting pop culture references, but it also made some daring choices designed to challenge its young viewership. It offered emotional resonance and balanced comedy with intense, dark content that actually confronts kids with the concepts of dying and loss. Couple all of this with several gorgeous styles of animation and the fact that one of its chief characters is gay, without any big fuss made over it, and it’s not difficult to see why ParaNorman is one of the more ingenious family films in recent memory.
As original properties go, Chronicle is a triumph on multiple fronts. Directed by relative newcomer Josh Trank and written by Max Landis, son of Animal House’s John Landis, it tells the story of three high school boys who suddenly come into possession of telekinetic superpowers; their stories captured through the lens of one the character’s personal videocamera. Chronicle may not have been based on any comic book, but it took a fresh new perspective on the idea of the villain origin story. Not only that, but Chronicle also introduced a total game-changer for the ever-growing found footage trend. With his telekinetic powers, our protagonist/antagonist was able to manipulate his camera in such a way as to allow for the benefits of the first-person point of view without becoming hindered by the gimmick.
[Photo Credit: Sony Pictures]
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