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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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