[Note: As of March 8, 2013, I’ve now added THE IMPOSTER to this list at the #6 spot, fittingly right next to COMPLIANCE, which means ZERO DARK THIRTY has now been kicked off to be an honorable mention].
Time to do a quick wrap-up of 2012, with the requisite top 10 list, some awards, some notable things, etc. I should say though that I only saw about 75 releases from 2012. So this isn’t some definitive “Best of 2012” list, because how can I know unless I’ve seen what 2012 has to offer? I haven’t. These will be my personal favorites from what I did manage to see, and I think I saw more than a typical amateur filmgoer, but less than a respectable critic. And that’s pretty much what I am as a person — more than an amateur, less than respectable.
What haven’t I seen? You name it — COSMOPOLIS, THE COLOR WHEEL, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA, THIS IS NOT A FILM, TABU, OSLO AUGUST 31, THE LONELIEST PLANET… there’s just a lot I didn’t quite catch up with (a few of those I have little excuse for, since they’re streaming on Netflix). I didn’t even see TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN PT. 2!
2012 TOP TEN
1. AMOUR — Michael Haneke has made one of my top 20 films of all time in 1997’s FUNNY GAMES, but I didn’t expect this latest one (based on the logline) to contend with the likes of that and CODE UNKNOWN as some of his finest work. This is just brilliant craftsmanship on every level, and while I have no wish to watch it again, its emotional impact was extraordinary.
2. THE KID WITH A BIKE — For some reason many critics downgraded the Dardennes’ latest film because it’s merely great and they expect greatness from the Dardennes. Sorry, that doesn’t cut it. This may be their best film — or at least just below L’ENFANT — with great performances, delicately natural direction, and keenly specific insights about human nature.
3. MOONRISE KINGDOM — Finally, not a French arthouse film! But it may as well be, given Wes Anderson’s existentialist dramedy and its mature look at tweens discovering the cruel ways of the world. I’m interested to see what a second viewing will unpack, because THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS (with which this film shares a lot) revealed quite a bit more upon further inspection.
4. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS — Good game, horror movies. It’s hard to take the genre seriously after director Drew Goddard and writer/producer Joss Whedon’s hilarious send-up peeled the curtain back. This thing has some bravura scenes in its first half, when it’s just aping a typical programmer, but finishes with an original, wildly imaginative bang. One of the most entertaining and intelligent films of the year.
5. COMPLIANCE — A divisive and provocative look at the ways our actions are motivated by factors outside our conscious control. It’s like a filmed version of David McRaney’s excellent psychology book You Are Not So Smart. Both a small-scale look at cognitive manipulation and a large-scale expose on American culture, Craig Zobel’s intense drama is unforgettable.
6. KILLING THEM SOFTLY — An endlessly interesting crime thriller is made even richer by its loud and confident parallels to capitalism. A lot of memorable sequences and performances in Andrew Dominik’s streamlined new noir, but the lingering effect is one of sadness and pessimism. I can always get behind that!
7. DJANGO UNCHAINED — No film in 2012, aside from AMOUR, had such a strong display of sheer craftsmanship, and I give a lot of credit to directors who can simply make a film like a filmmaker. There are many ways to argue that the strengths of this movie go deeper than its surface pleasures, but even if they didn’t — those pleasures are vast. Watching Tarantino at work puts the rest of Hollywood to shame.
8. THE MASTER — The one film on this list I want to see again with great urgency. As soon as it’s available for purchase on Blu-ray I’ll be there (I have all of PTA’s other films at the ready) and chances are it could climb steeply up this list. Its jagged structure and dense narrative pacing made for a troubling first viewing, but one which left a lot to chew on. And holy shit — Joaquin Phoenix!
9. TAKE THIS WALTZ — I haven’t seen AWAY FROM HER, Sarah Polley’s debut, but her sophomore film is so breezy, assured, and seductive that I instantly put it on my queue. Few scenes from 2012 are as memorable as the “What would you do to me?” scene, and that’s due in large part to Michelle Williams’s peerless work.
10. ZERO DARK THIRTY — I’ve heard stories from people who worked on the set that it was a difficult shoot for the crew, mostly because Bigelow never knew what she wanted, which made for extra stress and confusion. Coulda fooled me — this is a tightly wound thriller with enough weight to sink an aircraft carrier. What it lacks in character development it makes up for in visceral power.
Didn’t Quite Make The Cut — But See Them Anyway: KILLER JOE, FRIENDS WITH KIDS, IT’S SUCH A BEAUTIFUL DAY, MISS BALA
Flawed, But Underrated or Underseen — Give These Films a Chance: ROCK OF AGES, DARK HORSE, WANDERLUST, THE RAID: REDEMPTION, HOLY MOTORS, THIS IS 40, JACK REACHER
And now for my personal Oscars. I have no name for these awards. The Jokers? The PJH awards? The Zachs? Now taking suggestions…
Best Director — Michael Haneke, AMOUR
Best Actor — Joaquin Phoenix, THE MASTER
Best Actress — Michelle Williams, TAKE THIS WALTZ
Best Supporting Actor — Phil Hoffman, THE MASTER
Best Supporting Actress — Cody Horn, MAGIC MIKE
Best Screenplay — Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard, THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
You won’t see any Worst list from me for several reasons. I didn’t see most of the crap that came out because I don’t have to and I don’t want to. So aside from some pieces of dogshit I happened to see for one reason or another, my 10 Worst List would be the list of 10 movies I hoped or thought would be good enough for me to spend time watching the whole thing. Also, why be a hater. Also, why devote time to that stuff. Also, why rain on other people’s parades. If you liked LINCOLN, BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, or THE DEEP BLUE SEA (and almost everyone did), then that’s great — we go to the movies to enjoy them, so who am I to tell you not to enjoy them (even if they suck, haha).
So that’s that; please add comments to the comment section with anything I forgot, overlooked, got wrong, or otherwise. Or you can always find me on Twitter (@TwinCinema). Thanks for reading the inaugural year of the second life of Private Joker’s Head. Let’s see what 2013 brings us…