I'll be quite honest, I still haven't seen everything I have wanted to see, but in 2012, every movie that I have wanted to see thus far has been exceptional. The old list read like this:
8. Cabin in the Woods
7. Moonrise Kingdom
6. The Dark Knight Rises
5. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Anna Karenina
3. Django Unchained
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
I just recently purchased Zero Dark Thirty for the second viewing and Life of Pi for its first. I hate that I'm sick, but it has given me the ability to call out of work and watch movies (including The Best of the Best, but cheesy Karate movies aside....) and both of these two movies are knockouts.
Zero Dark Thirty needed that second viewing from me. It's such a dense movie and its very heavy. The few light-hearted moments last for mere seconds and they total again, seconds, out of a 160 minute long movie. But that second viewing had me more hooked than the first time. It elevated the movie's power. It's a long line of information leading up to a payoff that ends in a way that perfectly capture's Maya's emotions as everything she dedicated her life to comes to an end.
Life of Pi on the other hand is a different kind of movie altogether. It's a fantastic tale of survival that leaves what actually happened up to the viewer. It is my belief that there are at the very least three different interpretations. The following section with the *** marks will be spoilers. They will also end with *** marks to cue you in when the spoilers end. Read beyond here at your own risk but don't say I didn't warn you.
Life of Pi is like a poem in cinematic form. It's beautiful and yet seemingly dark at the same time. The first thing to keep in mind is that Pi Patel believes in multiple religions and that there is no one true religion. He is a Hindu, a Christian and a Muslim. But he does make the claim that he will tell a story that will make us believe in God. Keep in mind, God, not a particular religion or its interpretation of God.
The first tale told is the one we believe to be what we are told first-hand, that Pi survives on the ocean with Richard Parker, the adult Bengal Tiger, and he finds a carnivorous island where he attempts to survive while witnessing some miraculous (and visually wonderful) things on his way to the shores of Mexico. In this one we see the tale as it is presented to us. Both fantastic and unique. On the carnivorous island, Pi makes mention of how Richard Parker and the meerkats each scurried to hide from what the island did at night, and was change the fresh water into acid. He witnesses the beautiful glow of it all and is compelled to open a bud, where he discovers a human tooth. It is this sign that makes him believe he must carry on even if he could survive on this island, his fate would be no different than that of the man who was shipwrecked before him. And he endures as Richard Parker leaves in the jungle. In this version we are led to believe that despite God taking everything away from Pi, he has not abandoned him and guides him to where he can survive. That he shows him the island is carnivorous and so on.
The second tale is the one where we hear the alternate story that Pi told the Japanese men when they told him they simply do not believe his tale with the animals. So he tells them one where each animal is replaced by a human. The Hyena was the mean cook, the Zebra with a broken leg was the friendly Japanese sailor with a broken leg now, Pi's mother was the orangutan and Pi himself was the Tiger. A story of cannibalism and tragedy that was masked by the whimsy of a boy lost at sea with a tiger. The Hyena killed the Zebra for sustenance, and he tells how the cook began to eat the man after he stopped using his remains for bait. Then days afterwards as Pi's mother and the cook fought after he attacked Pi, he stabbed her in a rage. This like when Pi witnessed the primate swing at the hyena and he cheered on. But once the hyena killed her, that was when the tiger appeared and killed it without a struggle. And Pi tells of how the cook put up no resistance as he killed him and then with the "evil" brought out in him, used him for sustenance as well as he remained out at sea. It's a darker tale and an ending that forced some to cry when they chose to embrace it. It is also how Richard Parker is revealed only after the murders that we can be led to believe that Pi himself was the tiger.
The third ending is that Richard Parker was God. He taught Pi what it would take to survive alone on the ocean. He toughened him and showed him what must be done in order to continue living. That hope must not be lost at any time. Richard Parker never ends the relationship with Pi. He never tells him that He is done with him and leaves. He simply continues on, never ending His relationship with Pi.
And these three endings will determine how you feel about Pi's tears as he is saved by the Mexicans on their shore. He said he cried not because Richard Parker left him, but how he left him and how unceremoniously so. That he never even turned to end, with his eyes, their relationship. That he simply continued to exist.
In the first interpretation of the ending we see him saying goodbye to the only company he has had for 227 days out on the sea. And so there is an attachment to the only friend he had.
In the second interpretation of the ending we see him seeing the monster in him leave now that he joins society again.
In the third interpretation we see God continue to exist. Because God would never simply end a relationship in this life. He would not say he is done. He would continue to exist and just as he watched over Pi, he would continue to exist.
Life of Pi is a marvelous movie, a visual marvel that plays out like a poem in cinematic form. Whether you believe one of these interpretations or have another is actually of little concern to me. The movie is about belief, and while I heard people I know who watched it with me discuss which ending they believed to be the correct one I remained silent. They never saw the third interpretation that I did. They tried to make sense of something that is not explained to them. But what I saw was a multilayered masterpiece that sent a message of belief out. Deciding which interpretation is real, misses the point of the story entirely. It's as stupid as trying to discuss whether or not Cobb is in the real world or the dream world in Inception, that discussion disgraces his character arc. What we see in Life of Pi is a message of belief. You can choose to believe what you want, but they are all ultimately correct, similar to how Pi tells how there is no one true religion and so he practices many. Whether you come out believing in the existence of God or not is up to your own belief.
The revised list of top 2012 movies in ranked order for now:
9. Cabin in the Woods
8. Moonrise Kingdom
7. The Dark Knight Rises
6. Anna Karenina
5. Django Unchained
4. Life of Pi
3. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Beasts of the Southern Wild
It's becoming increasingly difficult to rank the top 6. With movies like Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook, The Master and Lincoln left to watch as well as a rescreening of Django Unchained I think I may eventually just do an unranked list. That top 6 is leagues ahead of the bottom four and there is a solid chance that these four movies I have yet to watch will quickly replace the bottom four, as each of them have been pushed back as I've caught up on more and more 2012 releases.
Argo has remained by far my personal favorite film in years and it simply does everything a major Hollywood movie should. But the surreal Beasts, the gritty Zero Dark, the poetic Pi, the satirical Django and the artful Anna Karenina are all just superb movies.
Some of this could use some trimming and cleaning up, but I'm too sick to bother. Take it in all its clumsy glory and enjoy it!