2012 saw a number of big budget blockbusters produced with high production values and strong directors at the helm. It also saw really innovative low budget features gain rave reviews with specific mentions of strong direction. With so many strong films, it should have been no surprise when the Academy Awards went squirrely with their nominees. "Squirrely" is an oversimplification of the issue as the five nominees are strong choices; there were just a few other consistently rallied behind directors that missed the cut in the end. Here are my Best Directors of 2012. An asterisk indicates a VOD/home video release.
- Darren Lynn Bousman, The Devil's Carnival*
- Panos Cosmatos, Beyond the Black Rainbow*
- David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis
- Bobcat Goldthwait, God Bless America*
- Stephen Spielberg, Lincoln
- Gary Ross, The Hunger Games
6: Leos Carax, Holy Motors
Holy Motors is clearly the work of a director with a vision. Leos Carax takes control of a very strange, sprawling story--almost an anthology of stories--and pushes the tone whatever way it needs to go for the sake of the screenplay. The film contains, among others, a very realistic monster story, a heart-breaking goodbye on a man's death bed, and a bloody pair of mob hits. It is Carax's control of the material and his cast that lets Holy Motors work as well as it does.
5: Rich Moore, Wreck-It Ralph
What Rich Moore brings to Wreck-It Ralph is a keen critical eye. This is a film that easily could have isolated a wide possible audience with retro video game references. Instead, Wreck-It Ralph is a very sweet, entertaining, and--most important of all--accessible story about finding your place in the world and becoming the best version of you possible. The staging and action of the film are strong and the voice actors even stronger.
4: Joss Whedon, The Avengers
Joss Whedon pulled off a very hard task with The Avengers. It fell on him to mesh together the tones of four very different films--Iron Man 2, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor. The result is a superhero epic that might be the best superhero film so far. The story becomes a very internalized struggle within a team of unlikely companions and explodes into an extraordinary action climax with emotional resonance. Sometimes funny, other times serious, Whedon found just the right approach to make The Avengers work.
3: Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty
The reason Zero Dark Thirty is compelling as it is without a clearly developed protagonist is Kathryn Bigelow's direction. Her handheld approach to the long hunt for Osama bin Laden is the perfect way to create a sense of immediacy. We feel like we're watching something we shouldn't see. It's an unobtrusive approach that allows the actors to explore the material like they're not being watched at all. It creates a more grounded world that reflects the frustration many have felt in America over the War on Terror and Osama bin Laden's whereabouts.
2: Lorene Scafaria, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a bold film with a bold director. Lorene Scafaria pushes most of her cast to do ridiculous things in every scene while Steve Carrel and Keira Knightley play everything straight and honest. It results in beautifully unhinged scenes like all the employees at a terrible chain restaurant, wasted out of their minds, trying to start an inappropriate birthday celebration when Dodge and Penny just want to have some comfort food in peace. The discordant tone is the key to unlocking Seeking a Friend for the End of the World and Scafaria handles it with great style and ease.
1: Benh Zietlan, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Benh Zietlan created a beautiful fantasy film on a very low budget with a cast of mostly non-actors. The cast is so inexperienced that his actors were disqualified from the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Yet, Zietlan coaxes out really beautiful and honest performances out of them, especially the young girls of the Bathtub. Every moment in the final cut serves the overall story and theme in a way that makes a very simple story something far grander than it probably should be.
So those are my top directors of 2012. Who were your favorites? Sound off below.