POSTED ON JANUARY 2, 2013:
The Top 10 of 2012
The Hey, We're All Still Here Edition
You probably already know I hate lists. Since I didn't see Zero Dark Thirty and Safety Not Guaranteed, among a few others that have made many critics lists, to declaratively claim any one film as the best of the year is kind of bullshit. I could have missed some Turkish indie about discovering the Nature of the Universe through the spectator sport of competitive oil wrestling that might have blown my mind; and then I'd be wrong about the best film of the year.
I Do Declare. Leonardo DiCaprio plays an evilly charming plantation owner in the gloriously violent Django Unchained.
These choices are more like guidelines than facts or a ranking, since so few of the people who decide these things ever seem to totally agree. The Oscars rarely get it right, either. There's so little chance for retrospection and there is a sense of popularity contest to the whole affair that is awards season.
The thing to take away is that some of these movies might be the best thing you didn't know you loved, or that could touch you, make you laugh, or realign your perceptions -- either about movies, or yourself. That was my bar this year.
So, without further ado, and in no particular order, are the best--and worst--films of 2012 (that I've seen).
Beasts of the Southern Wild -- There is simply no way to convey the dream-like otherworld that is Beasts of the Southern Wild. You just have to see it for yourself.
Quvenzhané Wallis, a non-actor destroying in her first starring role, plays Hushpuppy, a 6-year old outcast living in "The Bathtub," a coastal islet of Louisiana, separated from civilization by a frontier levee. When the authorities decide their home isn't fit for humans, the residents resist.
Lucid direction from first-timer Benh Zeitlin, award-worthy acting, and the enigmatic narrative based on the play by Lucy Alibar conglomerate into a film that haunts with its mystical vision.
Django Unchained -- A new Quentin Tarantino flick is always a treat, but holy shit did he knock it out of the park with the anachronistic, revisionist, provocative, and funny Django Unchained.
Jamie Foxx is great as a freed slave who falls in with a German bounty hunter (a charming Christoph Waltz) to wreak revenge on human trafficking douchebags, while they mount a rescue mission of Django's wife from the clutches of a near-psychopathic Leonardo DiCaprio.
QT's love of mad scientist-like experimentation with genre tropes and cinematic style makes Django Unchained one of the most exciting entries in his bloody and entertaining oeuvre, and certainly of 2012.
Moonrise Kingdom -- Wes Anderson (with co-writer Roman Coppola) finally nails the tone that has described his films since 1998's Rushmore. Esoteric, blue-blooded, nor'easter folk, with their understated and left-field humor, elevate his most affecting visit to their quirky world yet, with Moonrise Kingdom.
Anderson's American (and French) New Wave sensibilities underscore his unique style, narratively and visually. Fun performances from Ed Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, and Bill Murray along with Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, as two adolescent lovers, emulsify into the best film Wes Anderson has made.
Looper -- Smart sci-fi concepts are already my catnip, much more when they are done this well. Rian Johnson's Looper is keenly thought out and invigoratingly geeky.
Anyone who has seen Brick knows Johnson is literate and interested in bending genre. What's also great is that he likes to hide his real -- and surprising -- stories within that genre, enticing audiences with a ready hook (be it time travelling hit men or a classic noir murder mystery set in a contemporary high school) that bait unsuspecting audiences into something bigger and better than they expected. He's the next Christopher Nolan and Terry Gilliam, rolled into one -- seriously.
Les Misérables -- Make me cry. That's all it takes to get me to love your movie. If you can elicit that kind of involuntary emotional response out of me then you're practically doing magic. It was Anne Hathaway, as she sings "I Dreamed a Dream" with the sheer emotional force of clashing icebergs, who forced the tears to come..
Bookended by Hugh Jackman's tour de force performance as Jean Viljean -- and with all their vocals recorded on set -- Les Miz is overloaded with ambition that astounds. Though director Tom Hopper's visual bombast becomes overwrought to the point of numbness, the overall package is so memorable and moving that its beauty outweighs Hooper's motivated missteps.
The Cabin in the Woods -- Another first time director, Drew Goddard -- who enjoys a creative nexus somewhere between J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg -- made the smartest, funniest and most devoted satire of horror tropes in this or pretty much any year. If I've seen a more perfectly tuned and entertaining film in 2012, I forgot what it was. Stock characters played against type go to a creepy cabin in the woods and discover they are the clichéd and doomed pawns of a system that works to keep God entertained, with brutally imaginative results.
Richard Jenkins is hilarious, and the entire cast is game, while Joss Whedon's script is a love letter to horror nerds and neophytes alike. Tequila is my lady!
Argo -- Ben Affleck is a better director than an actor. That is a compliment to both of his talents. After his explosive heist film, The Town, Affleck sets his sights on historical drama with a weird twist: the nearly untold story of how a CIA operative, Tony Mendez (A subtle 'Fleck) successfully rescued six American's from the boiling cauldron of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis -- posing as a Canadian film crew out to make a sci-fi movie in exotic Persia. Movies about movies are rarely so rooted in life beyond movies.
Perfectly realized period design, an invigorating script, wise casting, and a great directorial balance between humor, humanity, and suspense make history's forgone conclusion, and Argo, both immediate and miraculously suspenseful.
Lincoln -- Speaking of history's forgone conclusions being rendered immediate and suspenseful (hey, if Titanic could do it ...), Steven Spielberg crafts a loving and expertly told portrait of our most revered president and his quest to abolish slavery -- working the other end of Django's blood and bullets ethos to chronicle the deal-making and arm-twisting that went into the passage of the 13th Amendment.
Using Tony Kushner's exhaustively researched and amazingly light-hearted script as a springboard for Daniel Day-Lewis's performance (one, among a couple, that is deserving of the hype), Spielberg makes quite clear why he is an American master and cinematic icon, hitting on all cylinders here, whose relevance will never fade.
Cloud Atlas -- Almost nobody saw it, which is amazing considering the creators' fan base and the mint of money behind its sprawling and beautiful production. It boggles the mind to think about the giant-size, Wachowski balls it took to adapt David Mitchell's sextuplet of nested narratives, spanning a thousand years into an independently-produced, linear film that somehow never confuses the audience while maintaining a good pace -- using 3-hours like every minute counts.
Long Live the Revolution. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll sing along with Amanda Seyfried and the rest of the cast of the spectacular new adaptation of Les Miserables.
Reprising actors take on different roles in different eras as Cloud Atlas composes character leitmotifs against the fantastic backdrop of the soul's interconnectedness across boundless eternity. A little like Life of Pi, except actually good.
Your Sister's Sister -- I love walking into a movie with little expectation (in a bad mood even) and walking out by the end feeling transported and happy. That's exactly what Your Sister's Sister did. Lynn Shelton, directing Mark Duplass, Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt to Woody Allen levels of character-driven life, crafts a beautifully organic, unexpectedly tangible and warmly funny film.
Duplass, DeWitt and Blunt are engaging, charming and real as a guy caught between his roiling emotions for his friend and her sister, when he convalesces with them at a remote cabin after the death of his brother. Shelton's deft hand with characters, storytelling,and tone mix a potion that cures even a bad case of life sucks.
The Honorably Mentioned:
The Raid: Redemption was un-fucking-believable; Silver Linings Playbook is a gratifying, unconventional rom-com with transcendent performances (from DeNiro, no less!)and direction from David O. Russell; Beyond the Black Rainbow is the best, trippy '80s movie that didn't exist; Killer Joe cements Tracy Letts' greatness and William Friedkin's relevance; Margaret is the most underrated, unnoticed film of the year; Seven Psychopaths is a close second, but funnier; Skyfall is the best Bond movie ever; Anna Karenina re-invents an oft-told Tolstoy with vibrant direction; The Grey is simply badass on four legs and Holy Motors is still the weirdest movie of 2012.
These Movies Sucked So Don't Say I Didn't Warn You:
American Reunion - How did this happen? I still don't know.
Battleship 3D -- If this ever sounded like a good idea to you, stop reading me.
4:44 Last Day on Earth -- Had me actively wishing the world really would end.
Savages -- "I had orgasms. He had wargasms." Seriously, hilariously awful.
The Lorax -- This was product-tied to car commercials. Even if the flick wasn't stupid pabulum, the clueless cynicism of using a pro-environmentalist story to sell Mazdas was kind of mind boggling.
Happy New Year, Tulsa. Go to the movies.
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