Films Seen in 2013 Round-Up: #164-174

164. Museum Hours (2013, Cohen)
A must-see of 2013. Forces us to consider snapshots of life the way we would a painting. It focuses on the neglected details of the everyday as well as the way we look at and consider art. The scarcity/non-existence of narrative allows Cohen to mold a free-form structure that becomes invigorating to watch. It also depicts a lived-in and cloudy portrait of Vienna with the kind of familiarity that dispels any touristy perspective. It gets far too pointed in its final scene but this was an absolute delight and one of my favorites of the year so far.


#165. Stories We Tell (2013, Polley)
I really admire Sarah Polley and how she uses exposure to investigate truths and tales. It was great to get to know her family and hear about their stories and experiences. But the film runs out of steam and Polley and her family spend far too much time talking and pontificating about the purpose of the documentary. Once was enough. Twice is pushing it. Twenty minutes of this? No. Just no! But perhaps most disappointing is the fact that this is Polley’s story and she refuses to incorporate her own perspective. That self-distancing kills so much of the impact.


166. The People Under the Stairs (1991, Craven)
I’ve never been too big on Wes Craven as a whole despite liking several of his films, particularly New Nightmare. The People Under the Stairs, a bizarre eccentricity within his filmography, is all over the map but damn if that isn’t what makes it a good time. Some misguided but well-meaning attempts at race commentary soon gives way to a cartoonishly horrific free-for-all where earnestness slips into comedy; it’s an ineffective yet devilishly fun concoction. Its main problem is that it does not take the story in enough directions. ‘Fool’ goes back into the house voluntarily; instead of this signaling an act that switches things up a bit, it redundantly puts both he and the audience back in the same situation.

90’s go-to kid Brandon Adams gains our sympathies but the real breadwinner of the endeavor is Wendy Robie who gives the drag performance of a lifetime (Owen Glieberman actually thought Robie was a female impersonator, something he wrongly included as fact in his 1991 pan). It’s also a joy to see Nadine and Big Ed Hurley onscreen together even if McGill’s similarly outlandish performance misses the mark. It feels like he’s auditioning to be a third crook in Home Alone, channeling Artie, the Strongest Man in the World two years before the fact.

#167. She (1935, Holden & Pichel)
At their worst, the earliest adventure films get trapped in the tropes they simultaneously establish. Merian C. Cooper, hot off of King Kong, tries to top himself with She. Working off an H. Rider Haggard novel, he moves the story to the Arctic and plays around with fusing the ancient and futuristic in its sense of spectacle and theme. While the spectacle of the piece is indeed accomplished, the overwhelming grandiosity of it locks in a static non-movement and lack of energy that appears right from the beginning. When the characters get to where they’re headed, the film shuts down right when it should be getting started. The acting, Nigel Bruce aside, is by-the-book to a fault (begone Randolph Scott (!) and Helen Mack who is basically a low-rent Lillian Roth). The story itself has potential but everything about the execution stultifies movement or entertainment in almost every way.

The one true highlight (besides the impressive effects work) is the costume for Helen Gahagan in the picture above, an outfit that clearly was taken and used in two years later for The Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

168. American Mary (2013, Soska Sisters)
Even though American Mary doesn’t know what to do with itself it entices and prods in equal measure. The tenuous story is held together by a non-judgmental fascination with the body modification community (reminding me of the way freeganism is depicted in The East), the dissociative emotionless aftermath of trauma, and an inquiring detective. Writing this in just two weeks to get it to Eli Roth might have something to do with its hodgepodge feel. But what holds this together is Katharine Isabelle, reminding me that she needs to be in everything; stat. It’s a dry and ambiguous performance which becomes more stunningly remote as the finale approaches.

#169. Blancanieves (2013, Berger)
A startling and evocative silent retelling of Snow White where the magic of the fairy tale is replaced with the magic of form. Berger wisely doesn’t restrict himself to loyally aligning with an authenticity to conventional silent filmmaking. Instead he uses it as an opportunity to blend the old (most notably a European silent sensibility) with the newly creative. The form also fits really nicely with the big broad strokes of fairy tales, allowing us to feel the heightened melodrama and emotion. Alfonso de Vilallonga’s score is perfect as is the entire cast. Maribel Verdu is gloriously over-the-top without ever losing the creepiness she brings to the role. Simple heroines tend to be difficult roles to fill. How to make us genuinely care? Macarena Garcia brings such a naturally radiant presence that you immediately root for her. That it struggles to be anything more than pleasantly diverting is a mite disappointing but it’s hard to complain when everything onscreen is wondrous even though it stops just short of dazzling.

#170. The Whole Town’s Talking (1935, Ford)
An underrated slice of comedy that fuses Capra with Little Caesar. This is in no large part due to the screenplay by Robert Riskin’s (co-written by Jo Swerling), who also wrote a great number of Capra classics. In fact, this script was sandwiched between his work on It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town! This is a must for Edward G. Robinson connoisseurs, myself included. He plays dual roles; the solitary and prompt bank teller Jones and Public Enemy #1 Killer Mannion. He puts inspired and subtle spins on each part with standout moments on both sides. Furthering the Capra connections, this is the film that established Jean Arthur’s archetypal no-nonsense dame. She is so natural here that it feels like the folks at Colombia found her on the street, put her in front of the camera, and told her to react to her surroundings. The film suffers from some tonal dissonance when it shifts to its second half. The first half has a lighter touch where the second seems to give way to the more criminal elements of the story, which by the way becomes quite convoluted by the end. Arthur also disappears at the hour mark, and with her goes a lot of the comedy. But this was such a welcome find and it’s got a killer Edward G. Robinson drunk scene; “Goodbye, slaves!”

171. Alice Adams (1935, Stevens)
Katharine Hepburn is radiant here, a determined force of nature to be reckoned with. But her character is so exhausting, so misguided and overeager that we never break through her defense mechanisms. And when we do, all we see is that she’s in desperate need of re-prioritizing. The first act where Alice relentlessly tries to fit in with the upper class is heartbreaking and a tour-de-force. It’s painful to watch Hepburn as a ticking time bomb, smiling to keep the tears in. But when that gives way to the main plot, it’s an empty shell of a story. Alice talks so breathlessly and with such energy and lies that the film sidesteps conversational dialogue. This results in nearly everyone else reading as inert, none more than Fred MacMurray, a non-entity here, unable to make us feel or understand his infatuation with her. When dealing with flawed characters who eventually change you have to be invested in the character. I was not invested in Alice and therefore was not invested in the film.

#172. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971, Hancock)
A low-key psychological horror that is impressively less concerned about what’s actually happening and more concerned about getting inside Jessica’s (a wonderfully unhinged Zohra Lambert) head. Its use of sound is what stays with me, an in-the-moment use of voice-over as well as a sonic landscape where focus is left-of-center with drowned out elements. This fleshes out how Jessica gets lost in herself and forces us to experience it as well. They also shot the film 15 minutes from where I work in Connecticut which was crazy to see, particularly the Chester ferry at the beginning!

173. Christine (1983, Carpenter)
Forgive me, but I’m still on such a giddy high from this film. Christine is not a film I ever had much of an interest in seeing outside of the fact that John Carpenter was at the helm. A killer car movie? No thanks. Color me shocked; I fucking love Christine. It isn’t one of John Carpenter’s most acclaimed works and yet I actually prefer it over most if not all of his other films. To be clear, this isn’t a knock on anything else he’s done (although I’ll never understand the love for They Live; sue me). It just goes to show how taken in by this I was to the point where, as you can see, I’m a rambling mess about it.

Christine accomplishes the seemingly impossible in that it plays its ridiculous concept relatively straight when anyone else would have smartly taken a different tonal route. Apparently in the book, the spirit of the car’s previous owner is attached to it, explaining its power. Screenwriter Bill Phillips audaciously gets rid of that entire notion, suggesting in the first scene that the car was born evil. This abstraction is not only far more interesting, but it allows for Carpenter and Keith Gordon to push  the presence of a sexual connection between Artie and the car, an idea that is pushed just enough and is anything but laughable; it’s goddamn entrancing and completely fucked up. That moment (and music cue) when Artie says “Show me” sort of left me speechless.

Christine is only a horror film in name only. There is surprisingly little gore and it doesn’t try very hard to scare. A reason I love it so much is that it’s a horror film based in its characters. It’s about friendship, feeling out of place, change, the more frightening aspects of adolescence, the wedges that can be driven between friends. And the performances are spot-on. Keith Gordon plays up his initial nerdiness making his transformation that much more jarring. I immediately became enamored of John Stockwell’s endearing Dennis. Their friendship grounds the film, a pair cemented in a loyalty and unlikeliness that it smartly never comments on. Of course Alexandra Paul is barely a character but this isn’t exactly surprising. Nearly everyone from Roberts Blossoms to Robert Prosky to the high school bullies who must be at least 40; all spot-on.

Carpenter’s use of Panavision is full of expert touches (that shot above caused my jaw to drop) and his music cues are consistently effective. His camera is touchingly lyrical, roaming at the perfect moments. Dennis seeing Artie and Leigh at the football game is a favorite. And the use of 50’s and 60’s rock n’ roll is creepily otherwordly. You guys; I love pretty much everything about this to the point of unbridled gushing.

#174. The Dead Zone (1983, Cronenberg)
I always forget how much I love Christopher Walken and then performances like this remind me that he’s pretty much the greatest. And it’s a good thing Walken is here to hold down the fort because The Dead Zone personally disappointed. Definitely an important work within Cronenberg’s filmography re: working within a more traditional narrative/mainstream cinema but that doesn’t equate good. After watching this it’s clear why it as made into a TV show because the film itself feels like 4 or 5 potential episodes piled up next to each other. It has an episodic structure, using Walken’s character arc as the consistent throughline. Problem is that none of the separate stories are remotely fetching from the serial killer to the boy he tutors to Senator, etc. It’s all just sort of there and the film as a whole ended up feeling that way as a result.




List: Top 30 Favorite Films of 2012 (#15-1)

Here you go! My top 15 films of 2012. I hope everyone has enjoyed my year-in-review in list form.
Part One (#30-16):
Top 25 Performances and Top 10 Song Usages:
The Top Fives in 2012 Film:
What I’ll Remember About The Films of 2012: A Personal Sampling:
The 10 Worst Films I Saw:
10 of the Worst Film Posters:
Top 20 Film Posters:

This is Not a Film15. This is Not a Film (Iran, Panahi)

“The immediate affinity that we feel for Panahi somehow heightens this already heartbreaking human rights issue. He comes off as kind, mild, realistic and emotionally beaten down by his circumstances (though this work’s existence proves him as anything but). We immediately care for him, beyond the empathy inherent in the situation. To say this film should be seen is an understatement; it must be seen. This statement has been made many times in relation to this film but I make it again; if you care about cinema, about the right we have to tell stories and why we tell them, and about human rights, you must seek out This Is Not a Film.”

Full Review:

Rust and Bone

14. Rust and Bone (France, Audiard)

Can’t get enough Jacques Audiard. Another triumph from him which sees the French director known for combining auteur arthouse with genre backbone challenge himself with a ludicrous sounding plot. What would have been sentimental puddy in other hands becomes a raw and erotic character-driven story about the cold hard fact of physicality in all its damaging scarred forms.


13. The Secret World of Arrietty (Japan, Yonebayashi)

This is one of the Studio Ghibli films that falls into the category of relaxed. So many kids films today are bursting with structured story; places to go, people to see, villains to defeat and conflicts to be resolved. There is something about Ghibli films that, even when those plot elements are front and center, hardly ever seems in a hurry. We get a chance to take in the sights, sounds and characters; to breathe in their world for a little while. Most considered this to be minor Ghibli (based on its under-the-radar resonance), but its tranquility, reliably minute attention to everyday objects and the conflicting attitudes of its two young protagonists left me full of warmth and gratitude.


12. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (USA, Chbosky)

High school movies pretty much suck now. Let’s face it. I read ‘Perks’ several years ago and liked it enough despite wishing I had read it as an adolescent. Stephen Chobsky’s adaptation of his own novel threw me for a loop with its depiction of teenage angst with an honest light-shedding evocation. Logan Lerman is a revelation, taking a character that could have been portrayed as a typical shy kid and making his anxiety both palpable and justifiably crippling. Ezra Miller, in a complete 180 from his character in last year’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, continues to display his near-freakish amount of assured talent. Using the same soundtrack listed in the novel and keeping the early 90’s setting only makes things better. By the end I was crying quite freely and was feeling a lot at once. I was moved by the lived-in group dynamic of these friends as each went their separate way. I was thinking a lot of time past and regrets of my own. Finally, I was moved by how substantial Chbosky had made his own story.


11. The Imposter (UK, Layton)

“In the end, we return to Frederic Bourdin, whose manipulative scheming brought us into this mess with no answers. Ending with transfixing footage of a younger Bourdin dancing, as Layton inserts Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”, an image that visual representative of how bizarre these real-life events were. Yet it all starts with the actual disappearance of 13-year old Nicholas Barclay, a child whose unknowable fate looms over us. The Imposter is a stranger than fiction tale that will have you aghast on the edge-of-your-seat; it is truly mind-boggling to watch unfold.”

Full review:


10. Alps (Greece, Lanthimos)

My love affair with Giorgos Lanthimos continues. He’s offbeat and batshit nutty with his high concepts, interested in the inanity of details and ritual as an emotionless made-up structure. What happens when you break the rules, question what you’ve learned and been taught, construct your own reality? With his second feature Alps he looks at elaborate and hollow role-playing and the role grief plays in our lives. How far do simple factoids contribute to identity? What do memories mean to us? Does something as literal as meticulous reenactments ultimately mean the same thing as what remains in our heads? Lanthimos also wheels and deals in many off-kilter framing or scenes that can almost always exist as separate performance pieces that one cannot look away from. And if every film of his can please star Aggeliki Papoulia, this fan would be very grateful.

Sister Meier

9. Sister (Switzerland/France, Meier)

Earns its comparison to Dardenne Brothers, but this is entirely its own work. Ursula Meier’s second film (I’ll be sure to see her first) is a heartbreaking story dealing with an incredibly complex familial bond amidst the glacial whites of the ski resort and the murky brown-blues of the town below. Kacey Mottet Klein stuns. Between this and Farewell, My Queen, Lea Seydoux is one of my new favorite actresses.

How to Survive a Plague

8. How to Survive a Plague (USA, France)

One of the best magnanimous uses of archival footage to be seen in a documentary and an invaluably important film. ‘Plague’ recounts the long-term efforts and struggle of the ACT UP and TAG coalitions during the raging years of the AIDS epidemic. Based almost entirely around archival footage from throughout the years, a narrative unfolds that demonstrates their place in history but also functions as a blueprint of effective activism. You feel and see the desperation, frustration and looming death everywhere you look as the nation failed to take proper care or measure. Thankfully, the doc portrays the activists as human beings and not necessarily saints though they are unspeakably heroic. There were mistakes made and split factions and we get a sense of that as well. It covers many years within two hours and functions as a treasure-trove history capsule of what feels like an apocalypse for the minority that literally puts you in the center of it all.


7. Moonrise Kingdom (USA, Anderson)

“Taking on the children’s perspective also allows Anderson to indulge in the ways we expect him to. These include our titular slow-motion sequence, French New-Wavy touches, Bob Balaban’s narrator who deals in geographical factoids with a this-is-where-it-all-went-down resolve. One could go on and on and on. For example, what would a Wes Anderson movie be without something like Suzy carrying around a Francoise Hardy record in her suitcase?”

“Anderson and Coppola never confirm or deny the permanence of Sam and Suzy as a pair. They seem very likely to move onto other phases and people in their lives. It never dampens the occasion though because all that matters to the filmmakers is the ‘present’ moment and what matters to the characters within the timeframe of the film. Moonrise Kingdom is as enchanting as one of Suzy’s fantasy tales and a triumph both within the scope of Anderson’s career thus far and outside of it.”

Full Review:

The Kid with a BIke

6. The Kid with a Bike (Belgium/France/Italy, Dardenne Brothers)

Speaking of the Dardenne Brothers…I saw The Kid with a Bike in theaters back in March and its depiction of parental abandonment has since embedded itself in me. It gets a Criterion Collection release in February. Young Cyril just wants answers and for things to go back to the way they were, rejecting anything that isn’t what once was. He thinks he can get both from his dad (Jeremie Renier really has a knack for playing shitty fathers) but he can’t. He is fighting for a domestic haven that no longer exists, and seemingly never existed, but he is too young to see the hopelessness of his want. In Samantha the hairdresser Cyril has someone who has taken him under his wing, but he clings to the past and searches for an older male figure no matter who it is. The Kid with a Bike is about what it might take to newly ground a young boy stuck in an underpass of denial and indignation. Is Cecile de France’s Samantha up to the task?


5. It’s Such a Beautiful Day (2012, Hertzfeldt)

Terrence Malick with stick figures; this is often how Don Hertzfeldt’s existential trilogy of Everything will Be OK, I Am So Proud of You and It’s Such a Beautiful Day is described. They aren’t wrong. Us fans of the innovative animator had been waiting for this final installment and he delivers a profound wrap-up to a profound trilogy. The title here refers to all three which screened together as It’s Such a Beautiful Day. I don’t even know how to go about describing Hertzfeldt’s work here except that the man is making strides in animation experimentation that most can only dream of; and all on his own to boot. That Bill is an everyman only increases the universality of it. He is getting at something that you feel in your gut. Through the beauty, use of classical music, morbid humor, deadpan yet wandering narration and jumpy structure he is getting to the heart of something (yeah I’ll use the word yet again here) profound.


4. Oslo August 31st (Norway, Trier)

My top four this year are all on the same tier. I went back and forth, back and forth between what to put where and in the end, the rankings are even more arbitrary than usual.

“What makes Oslo stand apart from other ‘drug addiction’ films is that it is not about the struggle to stay clean. It is about what one is left with after the fact and questioning the point of continuing. Anders has money, friends, family, looks and talent. But when addiction comes to define and ruin, at the end of the day, what is left when a layer of disconnect invades him, his former haunts and his interactions with others? That ever-palpable ‘why bother’ and the honesty with which it ponders this question is what stood out for me most in Trier’s sophomore triumph.”

Full Review:


3. The Master (USA, Anderson)

Just to warn you, in case you haven’t figured it out, the top of my list follows the pack as far as many critics and film buffs go. Remarkably more divisive than anyone ever expected, The Master works for me because of how badly I itch to dig into its opaqueness. It explicitly juggles many themes in its post-war setting but its cyclical inconclusiveness has perplexed many. That inconclusiveness seems to be a statement within itself and it roots its wandering narrative into the push-pull dichotomous relationship between Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd. Entirely their own characters even as they represent two opposing abstractions of a whole, these two cock their heads and wonder about the other. What can he do for me? Can I fix him? Can he fix himself? There is a lot that Paul Thomas Anderson muses with his latest and while it feels more intrinsic than deliberate, that is the very thing that lends it an endless curiosity. At any stage of his career, Anderson’s films feel like nobody else’s from every standpoint. Where else will you ever see a performance like Joaquin Phoenix’s? I cherish everyone’s contributions to this work like the lucky recipient I am. Yes indeed, blind cultish worship is my drink of choice.

Holy Motors

2. Holy Motors (France/Germany, Carax)

Giddy. Holy Motors made me giddy like a kid in an ever-varied candy store. It manages to be everything at once, mixing and melding genres for brief interludes before moving onto the next. All of this is under the guise of the science-fiction world Carax creates that sees ‘Monsieur Oscar’ (Denis Lavant) taking on different personas over the course of one day. The film hovers over reality like a hawk, zeroing in for flashes before resuming its place in the fantastical ether. Its pretext reads as a statement on the nature of cinema itself but what makes Holy Motors the wonder it is is that it filters this statement in a way that never approaches self-seriousness. It alternates between tones that are touching, bonkers, gently sad, bonkers, morbidly funny and let’s not forget bonkers. There’s a moment towards the end that is the height of hilarity and simultaneous sadness, a genuinely shocking moment the likes of which I have never seen. I cannot get Holy Motors out of my head. It is deliriously entertaining at times, providing me with the rare thrill of having no idea where I’d be taken next.


1. Amour (Austria/France/Germany, Haneke)

When I first heard Michael Haneke’s next film was called Amour I laughed out loud. Was this a joke? Haneke? Love? Surely the title is ironic. But no. The Austrian provocateur matches his clinical and icy detachment to a compassionate and uncompromising story of the slow process of disintegration and death. This is a masterpiece and it is no hyperbole that it has etched itself into the essential canon in no time at all. It feels permanent. It feels vital. Films about old age are often saccharine. This is wholly unsentimental yet filled with feeling. This is a delicate beautiful script with impeccable framing. The low-key lighting houses these two in a comforting warmth as Anne drifts away. It has two performances for the ages. Brave doesn’t begin to cover the places Emmanuelle Riva goes.

Assuming we make it to old age, we’re all headed here folks. Whether you have your loved one supporting you or not. This is what the end is like. This is about seeing the person you’ve spent your life with slipping away from you in mind and body. This is about losing all dignity and sense of self. This is about seeing yourself become a wisp. This is about losing all control. But it is also about the love and devotion that goes hand in hand with the suffering.

This was the most difficult film I watched all year. Haneke’s eye makes for a brutal but honest and earnest viewing experience. I spent the last half hour in various states of hyperventilation. No, seriously. It gave me a minor panic attack. I was having trouble breathing. At a certain point it just overwhelms because it feels so definitive.

Films Seen This Year: Haywire, The Woman in Black, Gerhard Richter Painting, The Secret World of Arietty, Found Memories, 21 Jump Street, The Hunger Games, The Raid: Redemption, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, Miss Bala, Cabin in the Woods, The Imposter, 2 Days in New York, Wuthering Heights, Paul Williams Still Alive, Damsels in Distress, The Queen of Versailles, The Avengers, Beauty is Embarrassing, This is Not a Film, The Kid with a Bike, Take This Waltz, Polisse, Prometheus, The Grey, Headhunters, Brave, Moonrise Kingdom, The Intouchables, Chronicle, Mirror Mirror, The Deep Blue Sea, Bullhead, Shut Up and Play the Hits, John Carter, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunter, Oslo, August 31st, Bachelorette, The Moth Diaries, Bernie, Indie Game: The Movie, V/H/S, Side by Side, Kill List, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Attenberg, Snow White and the Huntsmen, God Bless America, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, The Master, Silent House, The Innkeepers, Dark Shadows, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Looper, Frankenweenie, ATM, The Tall Man, Argo, The Sound of My Voice, Girl Model, Seven Psychopaths, Red Lights, Klown, The Woman in the Fifth, Beyond the Black Rainbow, Michael, Pirates! Band of Misfits, The Girl, Cloud Atlas, Elena, Monsieur Lazhar, Holy Motors, Skyfall, Silver Linings Playbook, Anna Karenina, Lincoln, Marina Abromovic: The Artist is Present, Alps, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Cosmopolis, Sound of Noise, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Girl Walk//All Day, Your Sister’s Sister, The Invisible War, The Central Park Five, The Loneliest Planet, Killer Joe, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, A Royal Affair, Sleepwalk with Me, Compliance, Searching for Sugar Man, Farewell, My Queen, Sleep Tight, Barbara, The Paperboy, Dredd, Sister, Lawless, In Another Country, The Day He Arrives, Zero Dark Thirty, Rust and Bone, I Wish, Amour

List: Top 30 Fall Films to See (September-December)

We are two weeks into the Fall Movie Season; that lovely time of year when theaters are crowded with anticipated releases big and small. I have to admit that there are not a ton of films I’m dying to see these last several months of the year. My Top 30 is a strong group indeed, but this is the first year in a long time where I didn’t have about 45 films clamming for a spot on the Top 30. To put it simply, several of the bigger fall releases I’m feeling ambivalent towards. These include Flight, Promised Land, The Impossible, Les Miserables, Life of Pi, Hyde Park on Hudson and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I’m really looking forward to On the Road, Therese Raquin, Skyfall, Frankenweenie, Detropia, This is 40 and The Sessions but not enough to earn them a spot on the list.

If all of those highly anticipated films do not appear on this list, the question begs; what does? These are the 30 films I am most looking forward to. What are yours?

30. Barbara (Germany)
Synopsis: A doctor working in 1980s East Germany finds herself banished to a small country hospital.

Germany’s official submission for this year’s Oscars. I have yet to see a film directed by Christian Petzhold although I always meant to see Jerichow. I’m always going to be a sucker for films set in East Germany.

29. Lincoln
As the Civil War nears its end, President Abraham Lincoln clashes with members of his cabinet over the issue of abolishing slavery.

The recently released trailer for Lincoln felt admittedly stuffy and anticlimactic. But I have faith in this film, despite the actors playing historical dress-up vibe and not caring about Spielberg’s 2011 one-two punch of War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin. But look at this cast! Look at it! Daniel Day-Lewis appears in one film every few years, so any opportunity to see him on screen must be seized immediately. Especially since his last film role was the start-to-finish miscalculation known as Nine.

28. Dredd 3D
In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.

Out of nowhere, Dredd 3D is getting really solid notices. Like, ridiculously solid review. In a world where the film industry deals in remakes and comic book adaptations as a daily ritual, I don’t think anyone had this on their radar. For the countless middling forgettable release and anticipatory disappointments, there aren’t as many ‘where did this come from’ surprises. Alex Garland wrote the screenplay, whose credits include Never Let Me Go, Sunshine and 28 Days Later. Color me intrigued. But if the notices are to be believed, this is more than worth checking out.

Bonus: Olivia Thirlby sporting blonde hair while kicking ass and taking names.

27. Sister (France)
Synopsis: A drama set at a Swiss ski resort and centered on a boy who supports his sister by stealing from wealthy guests.

This sibling drama doesn’t seem to fit too comfortably into any easy box (outside of the aforementioned ‘sibling drama’) which is what draws me to it.  Lea Seydoux continues to stamp her presence as a French arthouse bombshell with her second release of the year after Farewell, My Queen.

26. Smashed
Synopsis: A married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of alcohol gets their relationship put to the test when the wife decides to get sober.

I have had my eye on Mary Elizabeth Winstead for a while now. Forget Scott Pilgrim. We’re talking the days of Final Destination 3, Death Proof and Black Christmas. Yes that’s right; Black Christmas. Last year she got a starring role in the remake of The Thing, walking away with all of her dignity in a film as forgettable and rote as they come. I think what most people are excited about in regards to Smashed, is Winstead finally gets a chance to show us what she’s got. And by all accounts, it was worth the wait.

Bonus: Aaron Paul, people. Aaron Paul. Aaron Paul: that is all.

25. How to Survive a Plague
Synopsis: The story of two coalitions — ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) — whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.

This documentary has the subject matter and the kind of upcoming exposure to really get some attention. It looks like the type of inspiring impassioned history lesson that I look for in this type of doc.

24. Killing Them Softly
Synopsis: Jackie Cogan is a professional enforcer who investigates a heist that went down during a mob-protected poker game.

I have to admit that the trailer for this left me really underwhelmed and relatively uninterested in the story. However, the pairing of director Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt has me salivating for this. Considering that The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is in my top 10 of the 2000’s, you best believe this earned a spot.

23. Argo
Synopsis: As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA ‘exfiltration’ specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador.

Ben Affleck’s first two films managed to impress me enough without bowling me over. But it’s clear the man’s got a sure and efficient directorial hand. The cast, the based on a true story concept and 70’s period detail are all promising, not to mention its warm reception on the festival circuit.

22. Zero Dark Thirty
Synopsis: A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osams Bin Laden after the 9/11 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy SEAL Team 6 in May, 2011.

Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker, chronicling the hunt and kill of Osama Bin Laden. I can’t wait to see how the film depicts its subject matter and how functionally rooted in factual reconstruction it is.

21. The Other Dream Team
Synopsis: The incredible story of the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team, whose athletes struggled under Soviet rule, became symbols of Lithuania’s independence movement, and – with help from the Grateful Dead – triumphed at the Barcelona Olympics.

Been hearing a lot about this documentary (one of only 3 on this list since the majority of documentaries come out during the Spring and Summer months). This is a truly fascinating subject, ripe for potential exploration, and it looks genuinely educational and uplifting to boot.

20. Sleep Tight (Spain)
Synopsis: An embittered concierge at a Barcelona apartment building plots to make one happy-go-lucky resident completely miserable in this psychological thriller from [REC] and [REC 2] co-screenwriter/co-director Jaume Balaguero.

I feel pretty confident that this is going to be a reliable, solid slice of horror. It looks like the kind of low-key, suspense ratcheting creepfest that focuses on its antagonist over other characters. And Spanish directors certainly know how to deliver the scares: The Orphanage, The Devil’s Backbone, REC, The Others and last year’s The Last Circus to name a few obvious examples.

19. V/H/S (seen)
Synopsis: When a group of misfits is hired by an unknown third party to burglarize a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they discover more found footage than they bargained for.

I’ve already seen this one but this is where it would have been placed. Horror anthologies are always worth a watch and these directors take the stylistic experimentation that videotapes inherently offer, with its glitchy worn-down visuals and static white noise, and channel it through the possibilities of the genre. That alone makes this worth watching. For all the mediocrity of the stories themselves and the fevered gender-based discussion it has incited, V/H/S has a DIY aesthetic that makes its mark.

18. Keep the Lights On
Synopsis: In Manhattan, filmmaker Erik bonds with closeted lawyer Paul after a fling. As their relationship becomes one fueled by highs, lows, and dysfunctional patterns, Erik struggles to negotiate his own boundaries while being true to himself.

This looks emotional and moving with strong lead performances. It has been impressing audiences since Sundance.

17. Bachelorette (seen)
Synopsis: Three friends are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman they used to ridicule back in high school.

Another film on the list I have already seen, this is where Leslye Headland’s self-adapted mean streak of a comedy would have been placed.

16. Sinister
Synopsis: Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.

Since premiering at SXSW in March, I have heard nothing but good things about this one. Good horror films that get wide releases are far and few between, but this looks like it will garner Insidious levels of attention with the buzz I’ve been hearing.

15. Silver Linings Playbook
Synopsis: After a stint in a mental institution, former teacher Pat Solitano moves back in with his parents and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Things get more challenging when Pat meets Tiffany, a mysterious girl with problems of her own.

Winning the Audience Award at Toronto today is a huge signifier as to how this film will be received. The trailer didn’t do much to impress, looking too by-the-book with empty quirk thrown in. But all signs point to David O. Russell having a huge hit on his hands post-The Fighter. Russell is one of my favorite directors working today so I cannot wait to see him working in the comedic realm again.

14. Girl Model
Synopsis: A documentary on the modeling industry’s ‘supply chain’ between Siberia, Japan, and the U.S., told through the experiences of the scouts, agencies, and a 13-year-old model.

The second of two documentaries on this list, Girl Model looks like a chilling and illuminating look at the international modeling industry.

13. Seven Psychopaths
A struggling screenwriter inadvertently becomes entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.

Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to In Bruges reunites him with Colin Farrell as well as Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell, both of whom starred in his play “A Beheading in Spokane”. McDonagh a master of the kind of dialogue that knows it’s clever, a Snatch-like trait that I usually veer towards not liking. Somehow he pulls this style off with aplomb and if it’s anywhere near as good as In Bruges, we are in for a treat. Oh, and Tom Waits people. Tom. Waits.

12. Wreck-It-Ralph
Summary: A video game villain wants to be a hero and sets out to fulfill his dream, but his quest brings havoc to the whole arcade where he lives.

This is the only children’s film I really can’t wait to see this Fall. The trailer had me full-on cracking up in a way no trailer has in ages and it has got a golden goose of a high concept. Add in the voice work of John C. Reilly at the helm and the smorgasbord of video game references and this looks like a guaranteed winner.

11. Looper
Synopsis: In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past, where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.

A brainy sci-fi headed by Rian Johnson? The amount of hype going into this one is considerable, but it looks like it will live up to expectations. I’m a huge fan of Brick and Johnson has directed two of the best “Breaking Bad” episodes in existence (“Fly” and “Fifty-One” respectively). So to see him get the opportunity to headline a considerably mounted genre film with its own world and rules is sure to impress. It is already well on its way to its own spot in the pantheon of great sci-fi flicks.

10. Wuthering Heights (Seen)
Synopsis: A poor boy of unknown origins is rescued from poverty and taken in by the Earnshaw family where he develops an intense relationship with his young foster sister, Cathy. Based on the classic novel by Emily Bronte.

I got the opportunity to see this at the Independent Film Festival of Boston and this is where Andrea Arnold’s adaptation would have been placed had I not seen it. It would have been one of my favorite 2012 films had the last hour not been entirely unbearable. Here is my review:

9. Django Unchained
Synopsis: With the help of his mentor, a slave-turned-bounty hunter sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner.

I realize that it looks like Quentin Tarantino’s latest gets a pretty low spot. Surely this is Top 5 material, right? Well, while I’m sure this is going to be fantastic, I’m also feeling ready for the director to do something else besides revenge across different genres. But this promises memorable characters, references galore and the type of crackling two-person dialogue scenes we love from him. I think I’m most interested to see how Leonardo DiCaprio fares in one of the auteur’s films and as a villain at that. It’s a much-needed and refreshing step out of his comfort zone.

8. Perks of Being a Wallflower
Synopsis: An introvert freshman is taken under the wings of two seniors who welcome him to the real world.

I’ve had high hopes, really high hopes for this, for a long long time. A lot of us have been waiting forever to see if Stephen Chbosky seminal coming-of-age novel was ever going to be adapted, and lo and behold, the day is almost upon us. It has a remarkable trio of actors in the lead roles. I am particularly amped for Ezra Miller, who quickly climbed his way onto my list of favorite young actors. There hasn’t been a memorable high school flick in a while. And this soundtrack, which takes from the book, is to die for. To. Die. For. The fact that Galaxie 500’s “Tugboat” is going to be in this film is a fact that single-handedly earns ‘Perks’ a spot on the list.

7. A Royal Affair (Denmark)
Synopsis: A young queen, who is married to an insane king, falls secretly in love with her physician – and together they start a revolution that changes a nation forever.

This is shaping up to be a great year for Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. He won Best Actor at Cannes for The Hunt (which will hopefully get a Spring release for 2013), he is set to star in a TV series as Hannibal Lecter and he received excellent notices in the very well-received historical drama A Royal Affair. This looks like an intriguing much better-than-average historical drama that is right up my alley. It also stars Alicia Vikander, a young actress to watch out for who also will appear in Anna Karenina.

6. Rust and Bone (France)
Synopsis: Put in charge of his young son, Ali leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Ali’s bond with Stephanie, a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident.

This being the latest from Jacques Audiard (A Prophet and Read My Lips) with a reportedly stellar lead performance by Marion Cotillard gives this a very high anticipatory spot. Cotillard has been relegated to pretty thankless roles since catapulting to the Hollywood A-List. It’ll be nice to see her in a meaty lead once again.

5. Holy Motors (France)
Synopsis: From dawn to dusk, a few hours in the life of Monsieur Oscar, a shadowy character who journeys from one life to the next. He is, in turn, captain of industry, assassin, beggar, monster, family man…

All I heard during this year’s Cannes coverage was Holy Motors, Holy Motors, Holy Motors (well, that and a certain other film to appear on this list shortly). By all accounts, this is a surreal whackadoo head trip in the best way possible. It seems well on its way to earning a cult status and I intend on checking it out the moment it comes near me.

4. Cloud Atlas
Synopsis: An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.

What will likely be the most divisive film to come out this season, I for one am counting down the days until this film gets released. The 6-minute trailer is a thing of beauty, bringing tears to my hypersensitive eyes. We can attribute a lot of this to the inspired use of M83’s brilliant “Outro”.  And I am over halfway through David Mitchell’s novel as we speak.

The way I see it, whether the film turns out to be a disaster or a triumph (or both at the same time), these filmmakers are going for it. The Wackowski’s and Tom Tykwer have together tackled what is widely thought to be an unadaptable novel (more so than most novels given the unadaptable label). It’s weaving six stories in one film, all in different time periods, with the same actors with the tired old theme of interconnectedness. No matter what the outcome, the film will be discussed for years to come. Without having seen it and going on gut instinct, it feels like the type of film that will possibly be reassessed for the positive as decades pass. As you can see, I’m preparing myself for the bashing to come. I can already see that Cloud Atlas is going to bring out the worst in the blogosphere, Prometheus-style. But no matter what the outcome, this is going to be an ambitious, epic and challenging work that nobody can fully write off. It may end up becoming a flop, but it sure as hell will go down swinging.

Ridiculous Bonus: Bae Doona, one of my very favorite actresses working today is going to get some serious international exposure here as Sonmi-451.

3. Amour (Austria)
Synopsis: Georges and Anne are in their eighties. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, who is also a musician, lives abroad with her family. One day, Anne has an attack. The couple’s bond of love is severely tested.

New Micheal Haneke. That not enough for you? It won the Palme D’Or. That still not enough for you? Haneke regular, and my favorite actress, Isabelle Huppert appears. Want more? This is Haneke doing a tearjerker about the elderly with two lead performances that supposedly devastate. My common sense tells me that Amour is going to stomp out my soul. Part of me has been mentally preparing myself for this film since this year’s Cannes.

2. Anna Karenina
Synopsis: Set in late-19th-century Russia high-society, the aristocrat Anna Karenina enters into a life-changing affair with the affluent Count Vronsky.

Another film that is sure to divide. Joe Wright’s decision to set the Tolstoy adaptation on a stage and to use theatrical stylization is sure to distract some. But frankly, if all we are left with are the visuals evident in the trailer, this will still likely land a spot on my favorites for the year. The costumes, production design and overall look of the trailer is sickening. Joe Wright is one of my favorite directors working today. He pushes himself into challenging and creative directions that breathe new life into familiar tales. Wright reteaming with Keira Knightley, surely one of modern cinema’s most rewarding director/star collaborations, is always thrilling. The way his camera illuminates this woman (who is already stunning to begin with) is beyond my ability to comprehend. We’ve got a screenplay by the great Tom Stoppard, cinematography by the great Seamus McGarvey, music by the great Dario Marianelli and costume design by the great Jacqueline Durran. So basically what it comes down to is that lots of great people are involved in this. I plan on reading this monster of a novel before the film comes out. Now that’s anticipation for you.

1. The Master
Synopsis: A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future – until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.

I honestly feel like I don’t even need to put reasons here. It’s at the top of everyone’s list. Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite working director. It’s been 5 years since his last film. This was very close to not getting financed. It’s a near miracle we even get to see this. His films engage me more than any other director. They make me feel things that are unrepeatable, unfamiliar and challenging. His films are dense, complex, elusive, pretentious and indefinably uncomfortable.  I live for his films. And on Friday I will finally be seeing his latest in 70mm. Oh, and welcome back to Joaquin Phoenix. It’s been too long. And if the trailers are any indication, this performance is one for the books.

List: Top 30 Most Anticipated Films (January to April 2012)

The early months of the year are usually pretty empty when it comes to quality studio releases. But luckily for us cinephiles, the early months are jam-packed with smaller releases of long-awaited international fare and smaller indie flicks finally getting their release dates. January through April becomes an exciting time for films despite the assumption that there is nothing out there to see. Additionally, there are always several big releases that surprise with their quality, seemingly coming out of nowhere (and those that don’t come out of nowhere with solid reception such as The Grey and Haywire) with a release that could have only come during this time of the year. I think we can agree that Chronicle fits that slot. I usually have some kind of interest in the majority of releases, whether it be for genuine interest or for guilty pleasure reasons. I’m pretty surprised that my 30 is this jam-packed.I can’t think of a more internationally eclectic group of films that have ever made up one of my Anticipated Films list (and I’ve been doing these 3 times a year since 2006). I’ve got films represented in the 30 alone from the UK, Greece, Albania, Chile, Mexico, Poland, Norway, France, Japan, Turkey, Belgium, Israel, Iran, Indonesia, Austria and Australia!

A lot of the films that did not make the cut I am very excited to see. For example, I think the comedic duo of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street looks inspired; yes I said it, inspired. Though Norwegian Wood was a book I felt would have been more meaningful to me if I read it as a teenager, I’m very interested in seeing its adaptation, and with Rinko Kikuchi no less. Just how much of a disaster will Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance be? I don’t know, but I want to see the insane end result with the Crank directors at the helm. Whether is be a passing interest (‘yeah I guess I’ll see through Netflix someday) or an active one, there’s obviously a lot coming out that looks in some way intriguing. Here are the 30 that made the cut, in order, with very short bullet point reasons.

A side note: When I list the synopsis as a reason, I should be clear that this is an element of interest with all these choices (clearly), but that the films where I cite synopsis as a reason means it particularly stands out even more so than the films I did not put it in for.

30. In Darkness

Why? New Agnieszka Holland films are a rarity.

29. Chronicle

Why? For someone pretty sick of superhero films, this sounds like a nice change of pace that seems to embrace the inherent and realistic selfishness of people. The warm reception solidifies its spot.

28. Bernie

Why? Richard Linklater, synopsis and Jack Black doing something I am actually interested in that does not include voicing an animated panda.

27. The Hunter

Why? Willem Dafoe, synopsis. While not the biggest fan of Sleeping Beauty, I love Julia Leigh’s ideas and want to see a work of hers adapted for the screen by someone more capable of filming it than Leigh herself.

26. Friends with Kids

Why? The cast which includes Kristen Wiig, Adam Scott, Maya Rudolph and the delectable Jon Hamm. Only concern is Westfeldt as lead; not really a commanding presence but we shall see. Plus, it’s her project so she has every right to place herself front-and-center.

25. The Kid with a Bike

Why? Dardenne Brothers, acclaim build-up since Cannes, Cecile de France and Jeremie Renier.

24. Post Mortem

Why? Synopsis. Although I haven’t seen Tony Manero, I know of its acclaim and that Pablo Larrain is one to watch judging by the formers praise.

23. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Why? It’s placement on countless 2011 film lists from those who had seen it, its universal acclaim

22. The Innkeepers

Why? Ti West’s follow-up to The House of the Devil, been making the rounds since SXSW premiere last March, divisive opinions have me further intrigued (although I don’t know the specifics; a new-years resolution is to read less about a film’s reception before seeing it. Nothing really beyond basic critical reaction is my goal)

21. The Woman in Black

Why? Daniel Radcliffe’s first onscreen post-Potter role, Hammer Films output, looks like an entirely old-fashioned ghost story relying on atmosphere which pulls me in, James Watkins (director of Eden Lake which I failed to get to this past October, but who I assume is a director with some kind of credibility)

20. Footnote

Why? Synopsis, critical reception

19. Haywire (seen)

Why? Building a film around a female MMA retiree for the sole purpose of exhibiting her physical skills, Steveb Soderbergh, ensemble cast

18. The Secret World of Arietty

Why? Studio Ghibli

17. The Forgiveness of Blood

Why? Synopsis, Joshua Marston’s nine-year after-the-fact follow-up to Maria Full of Grace

16. The Deep Blue Sea

Why? Terence Davies, months and months of festival buzz build-up, based on a Terence Rattigan play, Tom Hiddleston

15. Attenberg

Why? The endless comparisons (both favorable and unfavorable) to Dogtooth, hearing about this film for the year and a half since its first festival premiere and having wanted to see it way back then.

14. Miss Bala

Why? Synopsis, critical reception

13. Michael

Why? Festival acclaim, made by Haneke’s casting director, intrigued by use of controversial subject matter

12. Cabin in the Woods

Why? Joss Whedon’s involvement, finally getting released after years of sitting on the shelf, Amy Acker, synopsis, genre

11. Headhunters

Why? Festival buzz, while I don’t pay much heed to IMDB scores, when something has a 7.5 from 5,000 votes I take notice, based on a Jo Nesbo novel whose novels I haven’t read but is very well-renowned meaning this is assumedly based on solid source material, Nikolas Coster-Waldau is the Norwegian Josh Holloway (and also the luscious Jaime Lannister).

10. Bully (documentary)

Why? Extremely important and timely subject matter that needs exploration and at the very least addressing in all forms including the documentary medium.

9. Bullhead

Why? Synopsis, buzz, critical reception

8. Crazy Horse (documentary)

Why? Two words; Frederick. Wiseman.

7. This is Not a Film (documentary)

Why? I shouldn’t even have to give reasons here. If the fact that this is absolutely necessary to see does not slam you over the film once you’ve got the proper context for its existence, then I just don’t want to know you.

6. The Raid

Why? Been wanting to drown my eyeballs in this since its reaction at Toronto and subsequent trailer release, exactly the kind of genre flick I anticipate

5. Snowtown

Why? Yet another film I’ve been waiting to see for quite some time (tracking back at the very least to Toronto; see this is why this time of year is awesome, because all these festival films I’ve been waiting to see for months finally get released), synopsis, acclaim

4. Sound of My Voice

Why? Synopsis, the first of two collaborative efforts (each of slightly different sorts) between Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij whose upcoming similarly cult-infiltration based The East is one of my very highly anticipated upcoming films, early buzz.

3. Damsels in Distress

Why? Whit Stillman’s first film in an incomprehensible 14 years. Enough said.

2. Kill List

Why? Since hearing about this from last years SXSW this has been at the top of my highly anticipated films, all-over-the-map critical reaction, hush-hush “Don’t read anything about it, just go see it” comments

1. The Hunger Games

Why? Not at all sorry to break it to you folks, but I’m a “Hunger Games” fan, which clearly means I am more excited about this than anything else coming out through April. With Gary Ross at the helm and Billy Ray being a screenplay contributor (not to mention the quality of the images and footage seen thus far), you can bet I’m counting down the days for this. And I feel bad for anybody willing to immediately write it off.

The rest (in alphabetical order):

21 Jump Street
4:44 Last Day on Earth
Being Flynn
Black Butterflies
Casa de mi Padre
Chico and Rita
Darling Companion
Declaration of War
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
House at the End of the Street
Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
John Carter
Mirror Mirror
Movie 43
Natural Selection
Norwegian Wood
On the Ice
Perfect Sense
Pirates! Band of Misfits
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Silent House
The Decoy Bride
The Five-Year Engagement
The Front Line
The Grey
The Moth Diaries
The Raven
The Salt of Life
The Turin Horse
Thin Ice