List: Top 30 Favorite Films of 2012 (#30-16)


Finally! Almost the end of the month and I’m shipping out the list of my thirty favorite films of the year. At the end of this and the next post, I will have a list of all the films I watched this year that were up for a spot. I always hate the idea of a Top Ten list. It seems far too exclusive and unfair to narrow down a year in film to only ten films. I like to celebrate the year with more love all around. Same goes for ‘best’. I prefer favorite. The films I did not get to see that I most would have liked to, but I really just maxed out on motivation towards the end, were Tabu, The Turin Horse, Goodbye First Love, Wreck-It-Ralph and Life of Pi among others. So! I present to you the first half of my 30 Favorite Films of 2012 list.

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30. Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow, USA)

The achievement of Zero Dark Thirty is its towing the line. By prioritizing painstaking scrupulousness, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal neither glorify nor condemn anything we see. The result is a complex procedural led by the single-minded Jessica Chastain that burrows in the grey.

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29. The Invisible War (Dick, USA)

The first of seven documentaries on here, The Invisible War sees Kirby Dick taking a mature step up from the addicting but intrusive This Film is Not Yet Rated. Here, he shines a light on the ongoing atrocities of sexual assault committed against women within the United States Armed Forces. Even worse than the trauma is the unconscionable treatment of victims who attempt to get justice. Between the women being told to ‘suck it up’, that it was their fault, getting discharged and their cases getting lost in very quick dead ends, you will find yourself crying and wringing your hands in fury up to the gods at the self-serving impartial justice system depicted.

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28. Girl Model (USA, Redmon & Sabin)

“Girl Model takes a cinema vérité approach, which just happens to be my favorite kind of documentary. It may have a distance that prevents a true excavation of the issue at hand, but the tip-of-the-iceberg strategy works better because of the narrow first-hand look that we do get. We don’t have to be geniuses to conclude that these are not regionally restricted issues and that the river runs deeper.”

“The Ashley Arbaugh figure is a fascinating one, not for the reasons she would hope for, making a living lying through her teeth to others and herself. What makes her even more of an oddity is the way she evidently thinks her present-day confessionals reek of honesty, when in fact they just read as an ever-contradicting headspace of self-justification. Hell, she can’t even face the cameras at any point in the film, always obliquely looking off into space, talking herself out of moral quandaries.”

My full review here: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/review-girl-model-2012-redmon-sabin/

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27. Beyond the Black Rainbow (Canada, Cosmatos)

The best executed pastiche piece these eyes have seen in a while. A head trip of the first order, this take-off of similarly demented sci-fi/horror sources from the minds of David Cronenberg and John Carpenter is destined for underground fame. Its plot is thin as a whistle, merely an excuse for a fuzzy wandering logic that feels like a combination of being half asleep and also on drugs. Mixing and matching monochromatic palettes and a meticulous sound design to get under your skin, this retro lo-fi mock-acid outing is one genre film that demands to be seen.

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26. Looper (USA, Johnson)

Rian Johnson’s third film sees a repairing of the director with now bona-fide star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This time, they take on sci-fi, using high concept to ask questions about cycles, or loops if you will, of violence, selfishness and stepping outside routine monotony to look at who we have become and the choices we make. While there are problems that emerged for me upon reflection, the unpredictability of most of the film was thrilling. It is a sensation that does not come around often, that sense of not knowing where a film is going. There are a couple of sequences that took me by such surprise that I felt like a kid in a candy store. There are moments when Looper had me gleaming. This and Beyond the Black Rainbow were the two sci-fi films of note this year.

Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/review-looper-2012-johnson/

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25. Farewell, My Queen (France, Jacquot)

Historical witness films can be really hit-or-miss. The key is that if the bogus ‘witness’ isn’t compelling, you are often left with history porn that only lights up when the icon of choice appears onscreen. Luckily, Lea Seydoux’s Madame Laborde fits the bill. It is hard to tell what is going on behind those doting saucers since she favors the colder side of demeanor and her absorbing ambiguity make her worthy. She is more than our gateway. With one foot dipped into Marie Antoinette’s quarters and the other one steeped into the whispers of massive impending change downstairs, the film covers all angles well without making too much explicit. What I love about Farewell, My Queen are little touches; the one costume that Seydoux wears, the fact that she ungracefully falls twice, the rat-infested conditions below, etc.  And Diane Kruger makes a great Marie.

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24. Gerhard Richter Painting (Germany, Belz)

“Gerhard Richter Painting explores the universality of creation and the individualistic relationships between artists and their visions, process and products. It confirms that these individualistic relationships belong only to the artist. As gratifying as the insight that Belz gets and gives us is, neither a witnessing camera, nor words from the creator himself can truly represent the process of creating. What Belz and her marvelous film assert is that it makes being a bystander to the process is no less meaningful, and that our own individual relationships and responses to any work of art are no less essential.”

Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/review-gerhard-richter-painting-2012-belz/

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23. 21 Jump Street (USA, Lord & Miller)

“21 Jump Street remains self-aware throughout, acknowledging its own lack of originality. But it never allows that one-joke gimmick to define the film; far from it. This is a mostly great comedy (and how few comedies can even be defined as ‘mostly great’ these days?) that thrives on being hilarious and sincere in equal measure. The rocky road the central friendship takes is clearly just as important to the filmmakers and actors as the laughs. Only time will tell, but I predict that Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum will go down as one of the best onscreen pairings of our time. Yep. I said it.”

Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/review-21-jump-street-2012-lord-miller/

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22. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (USA, Gelb)

Jiro, the elderly shokunin, has devoted his entire lengthy life to perfecting the art of sushi. While we will never get to taste it, David Gelb intoxicates us with the slippery and shiny just-so imagery of Jiro’s creations. More than just food porn, although it certainly is that, this is a look into someone who at eighty-five and better at his craft than anyone in the world. And he is still striving for perfection. His unwavering policy on life is something to behold. Insights into the pressure put on his sons, the process by which fish are chosen and more make this a must-see portraiture.

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21. Anna Karenina (UK, Wright)

I walked out of Anna Karenina just a little let down. I had just read the Tolstoy monolith and despite going in with an understanding that Cliff Notes were to be expected, the second half was streamlined even in the most basic sense and Knightley’s Anna felt like it was played a bit broad. Surely twenty more minutes to the length would have been doable.

Yet Anna Karenina stuck with me in a big way. Its meta-spectacle was the most visually entrancing of the year taking the theatricality of Russian aristocracy and literalizing it to the hilt. All the visual aspects from Jacqueline Durran’s costume design to Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography to Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer’s production design are flawless. The passion between Anna and Vronsky was palpable and handled beautifully as well as the juxtaposition of also-protagonist Levin. Jude Law and Matthew McFadyen are stand-outs. It is a majestic film and one I have the urge to get to know more than almost any other this year. It will leave you awe-struck.

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20. Compliance (USA, Zobel)

Compliance gets a lot of its mileage out of the ‘this really happened’ gimmick. And that mileage goes a long way. This is a tough and unpleasant watch and Craig Zobel leaves us with a resignedly depressing take on humanity as judged by this chamber piece. How did a prank call turn into sexual assault? Zobel ponders these questions while giving us a very matter-of-fact imagined version of the scenario playing out. The material is handled admirably. It is disturbing but never feels exploitative. Zobel knows how to frame his shots and when to cut so that it remains harrowing but never unnecessarily lingering. Ann Dowd and Dreama Walker have two of the toughest acting jobs of the year and both excel. The director takes the disbelief of the story as a narrowing challenge, using his script to try and get inside the heads of the people, environment and dynamics that came to be that day. Becky is outspoken against the orders of her cell phone being taken away early on but by the time we get to the end she is like a zombie, wholly resigned to the most heinous of acts. A voice over the phone had control over an entire room for a day for no other reason than falsely representing himself as an authority figure. A simple click would have ended the trauma. This really did happen.

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19. Skyfall (UK, Mendes)

And now for my favorite franchise film of the year; who knew I would ever become a fan of Bond? Bond is and never will be my thing. The sexual politics get old even in the most dated kitschy sense very quickly, and I have never seen drawn to the character. He’s a male fantasy after all. But with Casino Royale and now Skyfall, I find myself hooked. This one got almost everything right. Focusing on M made for a more engaging and stakes-ridden plot. Sam Mendes opens the film with a rousing multi-stage chase sequence. Javier Bardem, onscreen far too little, commands with his cubist-face. Ben Whishaw geeks the joint up with his tech savvy, glasses and cardigan. Adele’s theme song is a home-run. Last but not least is Roger Deakins and his cinematography, my favorite of the year outside of Mihai Malăimare, Jr. for The Master. I spent a decent chunk of this film with my jaw hanging open because of his imagery. In short, I can forgive that the draggy final act is a rip-off of Home Alone and the handling of Bérénice Marlohe for all the other riches.

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18. Cabin in the Woods (USA, Goddard)

“To simply label Cabin in the Woods as meta is reductive. The film works on several different levels, fully committing to its ideas with an admirable audacity. It carries a fondness for its underdeveloped characters; an immediate deviation from the norm. It refuses to conform; every time you think it has, director/writer Goddard and producer/writer Whedon have another trick up their sleeves. Every cliché it takes on serves the film’s larger purpose. It places an additional layer of onlookers/stakeholders who are central to the story (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford, and the incomparable Amy Acker) between us and the victims, forcing the audience to dissect how we interact with horror films and what we really get out of them. It does all of this without the false sense of superiority Michael Haneke insists on seeping into every frame of Funny Games (huge fan of the director though I am, as this list will later reveal). Goddard and Whedon fully implicate themselves into the genuine curiosities the film ponders.”

Full Review: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/review-cabin-in-the-woods-2012-goddard/

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17. Your Sister’s Sister (USA, Shelton)

Watching Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt sit around and talk, fight, spar and banter with each other is a cherished delights of this year. I bought, and more importantly felt, that Duplass and Blunt were best friends and that Blunt and DeWitt were sisters. They had a rare lived-in quality. This is a fresh indie that, save for a guitar-strumming montage towards the end of people contemplating LIFE, had me at hello. Or rather, it had me at the moment when Duplass’ Jack cuts into Mike Birbiglia’s speech at the one-year anniversary of his brother’s death. Meanwhile, DeWitt manages to somehow sell a really appalling decision her character makes and all three actors give exceptional performances.

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16. ParaNorman (USA, Butler & Fell)

Visuals that excel in the details, a snappy pacing and a cast of characters that feels instantly familiar, even iconic. ParaNorman is one of the best times I had watching a film this year. It reeks of imagination and hits high notes of all kinds throughout. The animation is top-notch, an always morphing scape of ideas and the depiction of the supernatural. The Judge Hopkins character alone; you feel the centuries of regret within him through the character design and voicework. The villain ends up having a bittersweet backstory with no easy solutions. The group dynamic of the main characters is so fun that I wanted to spend hours watching them get into risky situations. Or better yet, a TV series! I kid you not; the connection was that instantaneous. And of course, Jon Brion’s reliably wonderful score.

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

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Review: Looper (2012, Johnson)


With three films under his belt, it’s clear that Rian Johnson loves to tinker with genre form, structure, presentation and expectations. With 2005’s Brick, an audaciously bold vision of Hammett-style noir set in the emptied outskirts of high school suburbia, Johnson presented two tried and true genres and welded them together to create something that had not been done before. It was a concept that could have and should have fallen to pieces for, well, pick a reason. But it didn’t. His third film Looper sees a repairing of the director with now bona-fide star Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This time, they take on sci-fi, using high concept to ask questions about cycles, or loops if you will, of violence, selfishness and stepping outside routine monotony to look at who we have become and the choices we make.

Looper gets the world-setting out of the way in its first act with expositional narration delivered by Levitt with grade-school lesson preciseness. The basics are this; the year is 2044. Time travel has not been invented yet but it will have been in 30 years only to be immediately outlawed. Since circumstances make it impossible to get rid of a body in the future, the criminal underworld send those they want gone back to 2044 to be killed by ‘loopers’.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper. He spends his days executing, taking drugs that are administered via eye drops and partying at the club that his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) owns. Being a looper means you make serious change, which from the looks of things, cannot be said for the greater populace. He is saving up to go to France. Lately, contracts are increasingly being terminated as loopers are being forced to kill their older selves, thereby “closing the loop”. This means they get a ginormous payday, an early retirement and the knowledge that they have 30 more years until they bite the dust.

The story kicks into gear when Bruce Willis, playing the older Joe, is sent back but escapes with a questionable agenda of his own. The younger Joe has to track down his eventual self so he can save face with Abe and his goons who are now after him.

The near-future Johnson creates is shrouded in big-picture ambiguity and is brought to life by minutiae and the immersion into an underground subset of life in 2044. The technology has progressed but has a tinkered rusty old-world feel to it. The gadgetry and panoramic views that can potentially drown out other sci-fi is smartly nowhere to be seen, mostly because the budget does not support it. Looper keeps small-scale dystopia in check throughout, throwing expectations out the window by having the second half set far removed from what we commonly think of as sci-fi settings. In fact, it comes to feel more like a ‘protecting the ranch’ kind of Western.

The marketing for Looper reminded me of the marketing for Brave. Both decided to focus on the basic ideas, and exclusively cover the first third to first half of their products. There were audience members who are thrown by the turns each film takes. Frankly, we need more marketing of this kind. While there are problems that emerged for me upon reflection, the unpredictability of most of the film was thrilling. It is a sensation that does not come around often, that sense of not knowing where a film is going. There are a couple of sequences that took me by such surprise that I felt like a kid in a candy store. There are moments when Looper had me gleaming. Most of this can be attributed to the non-formulaic storytelling, but some of it can be credited to how the film was sold to the public. It is proof that we rely far too much on what we see from trailers and that trailers have for the most part lost the art of intrigue. I hope more marketing campaigns take this route in the future.

Johnson and Levitt have gone on record talking about the cycle of violence the film comments on. It humanizes the concept by pointing out that at the center of violence in the abstract, you have people making decisions. What is this catalyst and how can it be changed? What drives a sense of responsibility? Would our actions be unrecognizable to our former selves? Johnson successfully walks that fine line between indulging in onscreen violence without it compromising what he is trying to say.

Johnson’s cinematic eye consistently excites me, particularly in the way he uses the horizontal streak of the frame for maximum effect. By using widescreen to have multiple planes of movement happening at once, he utilizes back and forth stationary panning to follow the action as opposed to a more traditional cutting technique. This touch can be seen quite a lot in Brick as well. He calls attention to the different ways action can be shot and cut by having the scene where Willis escapes Levitt shown twice. The first time the camera is right up with the action, employing point-of-view shots and expected cutting choices. The second time we see the scene the camera is placed far away and the awkwardness of the scuffle is caught and even played for laughs. It’s a delightful moment that calls attention to how thoroughly formal elements dictate how we perceive what happens onscreen.

The hiccups in Looper feel more marked because it gets so much so right. This is one of the best films I have seen this year, and certainly a sci-fi flick for the books, but it cannot make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

The older version of Joe, played by Willis, faces a surprising antihero-based dilemma. The groundwork is laid for a captivating older Joe and Willis brings what he can to the table. But the script increasingly treats him like a lazy subplot presence as opposed to a co-lead who is facing very tough decisions, confronting the fact of what he is willing to do at a chance for self-preservation. His role starts out strong; the diner scene between him and Levitt is probably the film’s highlight and I would have sopped up the glory of that scene more had I known it would sadly be the two actors’ only significant time onscreen together. Then older Joe is quickly demoted to provide a forcibly injected pacing jolt and to try and justify the existence of Piper Perabo’s wholly disposable character.

The ideas introduced are carried through to the end, but the character focus shifts too dramatically. Despite always keeping the younger Joe’s arc in eyesight, the central focus of Emily Blunt’s Sarah and Pierce Gagnon’s Cid (both doing fabulous work) cannot help but take away from the impact of the younger Joe’s conscience building. Sarah is introduced with a nice touch that immediately pushes her into a level past ‘love interest’ (a category I’d argue she does not fit in the first place). Johnson gives her perspective and right off the bat she becomes a character with feelings, motivations and backstory in her own right. If only the film could have succeeded at keeping Joe’s arc in the foreground throughout all of this.

The climax highlights how the two Joe’s become a footnote in their own film. The telekinetic piece of the Looper world puzzle (10% of the population has TK…?) is the only bit to feel out of place, and yet it becomes central to the story. Joe steps into a story bigger than him and the addicting dichotomy between the two Joe’s becomes underexplored. While I love the jagged curveball that Looper throws at us, Johnson struggles to keep what was introduced at the beginning in focus and the centrality of the two Joe’s, especially Willis, is somewhat compromised as a result. These shortcomings, while notable, do not change the fact that Looper remains an invigorating genre-affirming piece of science-fiction.

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
Synopsis:
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
Synopsis:
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
Synopsis:
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: https://cinenthusiast.wordpress.com/2012/05/01/review-wuthering-heights-2012-arnold-iffboston-2012/

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.