So long, 2012, you were better than expected.
The Master by Paul Thomas Anderson
At 42, Paul Thomas Anderson is still cinema’s boy wonder. When Daniel Day Lewis won the academy award for best actor for There Will Be Blood, he thanked the mad mind that conjured such a monster of a film up. That is the level of greatness where P.T resides; he doesn’t make films for actors, they make films for him.
Freddie Quell, played by Joaquin Phoenix here, is 2012’s best character. He is a feral drunkard who is rootless and isolated, so much so he joins a cult headed by Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) that promises peace, love, and family. How much do we sacrifice for companionship? How much freedom do we give up for purpose? Are Dodd and Quell martyrs for sanity? Anderson understands the beauty of discussing film and encourages we take this one home with us and into conversations.
Amour by Michael Haneke
Michael Haneke is unflinching. He hasn’t gotten kinder with age, and rest assured this film is just as, if not more cruel than his other pictures. If he accepted sensitivity into this story of an old couple facing death together, it wouldn’t have been good. It would have been a worthless weepy. Amour is about the dull process of dying and the deterioration not only of the body and mind, but love.
Love weakens as we weaken, Haneke seems to say. The dying woman played by a mesmerizing Emmanuelle Riva pleas for death before her condition takes hold of whatever remains of what her husband (Jean-Louis Trintignant) once loved. After this, there is hardly anything left of a resembling person, or a previous life.
Django Unchained by Quentin Tarantino
I may love this out of bias for Quentin Tarantino. I love his movies, even against my better judgment at times (Death Proof). But when he makes something like this he reminds me just why I love him: he is a legit filmmaker. During the first half, I was worried I was simply infatuated with some good bloody buddy western fun, but when the killing duo of Christoph Waltz and Jamie Foxx enter Leonardo Dicaprio’s Candyland to rescue Kerry Washington from slavery bondage, the film becomes great.
This movie has insanely bloody shootouts, hilarious back and forth dialogue, and at core wonderful performances. If there is any weakness it is Tarantino’s awful cameo, but even then there are some laughs to be had. But it does make you think in more ways than one, even if it drives you mad. It is invaluable entertainment and all around fearless cinema.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Nuri Bilge Ceylan shoots landscapes in a way reminiscent of Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry. The film is a visual and emotional stunner, creating a depth in each frame and scene that is sorely missed as of late. Ceylan understands man’s relationship with himself and mortality. It takes place in such a wide yet suffocating land; one that seems to be an eternity in nothing. In a wrenching scene, a beautiful young girl kindly serves drinks to the characters. They stare at her in awe of her beauty, illuminated to perfection with candle light, and they also lament what a monumental waste of humanity she is. This world they inhabit can offer her nothing, but what about anywhere else, really?
The Turin Horse by Bela Tarr
It is not redundant to call the latest Bela Tarr film great. Tarr’s greatness in my eyes is more in what he stands for rather than the films themselves. Whether or not his swan-song is on the same level as his masterpiece Satantango, I am not yet sure, but The Turin Horse better encapsulates the end of celluloid more so than any film in memory, or maybe ever. Time claims all, wrapping each life and individual history in a blanket of darkness. This is heavy stuff, and if it isn’t the meteorite that killed film than it is certainly the end of a chapter in the story of film. We are done, but not really.
Zero Dark Thirty by Kathryn Bigelow
It is on the same level of journalism, intensity, and grip as David Fincher’s Zodiac. Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s latest is an unstoppable juggernaut of a film; a powerful, frustrating cubicle epic that electrifies and shakes from opening to close. By the end it asks more complex questions than if all the human and emotional sacrifice was worth it. Maya and company represent more than that; they represent a country fighting to reinforce belief in something that died long ago. Our country is both beautiful and sick. It is about the price we pay for freedom or to feel we still have morally redeemable values.
But still, we killed the fucker.
Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson
The best love story about kids in ages because it realizes that kids have no clue what love is quite yet. Like a great scene in here where the two runaways explore one another’s bodies, this is a learning experience. This whole island in which Wes Anderson’s latest piece of deliciousness takes place seems to be full of people who have forgotten, or never knew how, to articulate themselves. They simply move around until something feels right. No higher or lower grounds, just this. An oddly wonderful picture I didn’t want to end.
Silver Linings Playbook by David O. Russell
This emotionally resonate film should have been the worst film of the year. A romantic comedy about mental illness and lives wasted? Get outta here with that! But David O. Russell shut me up. This is a sitcom, but a fearless and brave one. It accepts the depression and, in a way, hopelessness of these characters but allows them to search for happiness. It is beautiful in how it allows the damaged leads, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, to be their damaged selves. The characters exist more, they breath more, and I wanted to see them find happiness with each other. How this worked is beyond me; a perfect storm.
Flight by Robert Zemeckis
The great Denzel Washington may give the performance of his career in this rather upsetting examination of alcoholism. It is hardly a courtroom thriller about the fallout of a plane crash, but about if the man who piloted it can keep his act together.
Oslo, August 31st by Joachim Trier
This is a ghost story. Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) can be seen and touched, but no longer really exists. Like The Master, our breathing is only confirmed by the presence of others, and nobody quite frankly gives a shit about this recovering drug addict who has just gotten out of rehab for a job interview. The end becomes inevitable, yet we still dread. I wanted this man to evaporate in the final frame, but there he lays. He won’t be found most likely. You hear the world sigh.
Honorable mentions (11-20, alphabetical order)
Argo by Ben Affleck
This is the film to put Affleck on the pedestal of great living filmmakers. That isn’t to say The Town or Gone Baby Gone weren’t successes in of themselves, but Argo is that terrific Hollywood movie that leaves you feeling good in many ways; both exhilarated once more by the medium and that it stands up for the greater good.
Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin
As far as debut features go, this is pretty freaking amazing. Not to mention it gave us Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy, one of the great overall performances of 2012.
Bernie by Richard Linklater
I’ve seen this three times and love it more and more. Just a satisfying comedy with a great turn by Jack Black.
Cloud Atlas by Tom Tykwer and The Wachowskis
It isn’t the masterpiece I was expecting, but the turnout was still stunning for the most part. Ambitious, exciting, and something I really want to watch again.
Lincoln by Steven Spielberg
A great history lesson in the shape and form of history itself. It doesn’t simply recreate Abraham Lincoln (which in of itself is a triumph on the part of a masterly Daniel Day Lewis), but it recreates the time and place. This is the cinematic equivalent of a time machine, which is what makes its 2 1/2 length both bearable and appetizing for more. I can understand people not liking it, but this is such a respectable feat I don’t see how it can be hated. Not to say it is an impeccable motion picture (it has holes), but it stands for something right and wants to entice the viewer rather than mess with it like Spielberg’s last feature. I’m more than happy to have him and company return to form.
Monsieur Lazhar by Philippe Falardeau
A very moving, very honest motion picture that should be taken to heart.
The Deep Blue Sea by Terence Davies
A near unforgettable, painterly exploration of the deepest realms of misery with a mesmerizing Rachel Weisz at her best.
The Grey by Joe Carnahan
The biggest mis-advertisement in recent movie memory. I’m sure you’ve heard this a billion times, but this is not Liam Neeson vs. big ass cg wolves. It is a deeper, more thoughtful, heartbreaking exploration of the will to live when it is being ripped away from you unexpectedly.
The Kid with a Bike by The Dardennes
Another Dardenne masterpiece centered on amorality and abandonment. Not to mention it has a great conclusion.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
An awesome coming of age story that grips our hearts with the characters. It is a mini cinematic revolution and a great example of artistic freedom when an author can adapt his own material.
Top 5 First Discoveries
Landscape in the Mist by Theodoros Angelopoulos
Sansho the Bailiff by Kenji Mizoguchi
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp by Powell and Pressburger
Satantango by Bela Tarr
L’Avventura by Michelangelo Antonioni
Biggest Disappointment: The Dark Knight Rises by Christopher Nolan
I can’t recall a movie causing more massive disillusionment.
Worst film of the year: John Carter
It broke my spirit. I’m not one to search out the worst movies of the year, but this was excruciating.
I don’t get what the hooplah is all about: Cabin in the Woods
Is it a Joss Whedon thing or have I just not seen enough horror movies?
Good, but not great: Life of Pi
Too pathetic to hate: Project X
It is harmful movie, but I can’t will myself to despise it. I get some morbid enjoyment out of seeing natural selection in the form of ignorance…
Screw the theater audience: Looper and Life of Pi
The audiences I saw these films with were unbelievable. Really, really unbelievable.
I don’t see what all the hate is about: Les MiserablesRead less