Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Top 25 Films of 2012

It startled my wife when I uttered the words "this really has been a pretty good year for films". But the truth is something unexpected happened in 2012. Could it be that cinema decided to push back against television's stranglehold on quality adult content? Could it be folks in the industry wanted to feel what it was like to be proud of their product? Who knows. Whatever the reason, 2012 ended up ironically signaling rebirth and not apocalypse.

It's hard for me not to see things like the firing of longtime Fox honcho Tom Rothman (famous for his "screw-awards-we-want-hits" approach) as the sign of some kind of sea change. Maybe a few people have finally begun to accept that movies have to be more than product if they are to take hold of the public's imagination. For once, the end of a year has me optimistic.

1. Holy Motors - France - Leos Carax
2. Amour - Austria/France/Germany - Michael Haneke
3. Moonrise Kingdom - USA - Wes Anderson
4. Looper - USA/China - Rian Johnson
5. Magic Mike - USA - Steven Soderbergh
6. Bernie - USA - Richard Linklater
7. Cosmopolis - Canada - David Cronenberg
8. Damsels In Distress - USA - Whit Stillman
9. Wuthering Heights - UK - Andrea Arnold
10. The Invisible War - USA - Kirby Dick
11. The Central Park Five - USA - Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
12. Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present - USA - Matthew Akers, Jeff Dupre
13. Jiro Dreams of Sushi - USA - David Gelb
14. Skyfall - USA/UK - Sam Mendes
15. Killer Joe - USA - William Friedkin
16. The Grey - USA - Joe Carnahan
17. Once Upon A Time in Anatolia - Turkey - Nuri Bilge Ceylan
18. Oslo, August 31st - Norway - Joachim Trier
19. Killing Them Softly - USA - Andrew Dominik
20. Middle of Nowhere - USA - Ava DuVernay
21. The Deep Blue Sea - UK - Terence Davies
22. Zero Dark Thirty - USA - Kathryn Bigelow
23. Post Tenebras Lux - Mexico - Carlos Reygadas
24. 2 Days in New York - USA - Julie Delpy
25. Take This Waltz - Canada - Sarah Polley

The High Watermark Special Award of Merit: The Avengers - USA - Joss Whedon
This film represents the beginning of a new epoch in the comic book film. This is the first film to equal the large scope that is a hallmark of the comic book medium and the characters weren't lost in the shuffle. I'm not sure the comic book film can top this, and attempting to do so may be its downfall.

Comeback of the Year: the Academy ratio
As 16x9 frames come to dominate our lives via tablets, HD TVs and smartphones, an intrepid band of filmmakers (including Andrea Arnold, Kelly Reichardt, Carlos Reygadas) have reclaimed the discarded squarish frame to tell their stories in such a way that the 1.37:1 aspect ratio has almost become synonymous with quality filmmaking.

Revival of the Year: Wake in Fright - 1971 - Australia - Ted Kotcheff
I haven't quite shaken this film since I saw it. Essentially it's a male answer to the "gyno-psycho-horror" sub-genre (e.g, Repulsion, Persona, 3 Women, Images). I'll never quite look at Australia the same way. Bravo to Cinefamily for extending the film's Los Angeles run.

The David O. Selznick Producing Award: Megan Ellison
Only time will tell if this daughter of privilege's gambit (1. find good filmmakers, 2. give them money, 3. let them make the movie they want their way) will break or expand her fortune. But I'm not her accountant so I don't care. In one year she's bankrolled some of 2012's most interesting and lauded films.

The Howard Hawks Directing Award: Steven Soderbergh
As he winds down his farewell tour to filmmaking, Soderbergh offered up two films that no one will nominate him for. And yet, the fight scenes in Haywire and the dance scenes in Magic Mike really sum up the kinds of challenges that separate good directors from bad. This kind of unsung craftsmanship and versatility strikes me as uniquely Hawksian, and in a way, classically American.

The Nestor Almendros Color Cinematography Award: Roger Deakins, B.S.C., A.S.C.
Skyfall was the best looking major release in recent memory. And because awards are often an opportunity for the mediocre to take revenge on their betters, Deakins has yet to win a statue from the Academy. This is shameful.

The Gianni Di Venanzo Black & White Cinematography Award: Fred Keleman
The Turin Horse (directed by Bela Tarr, he claims it is his final film) is ravishing. Not in the Bertolucci-Storaro school of beautiful cinematography by any means, Keleman's gorgeous camerawork lend a stark beauty to desolate space that is breathtaking. Since Tarr has denied us a narrative in any conventional sense, Keleman's imagery is truly the star of the film.

The Alan Robbe-Grillet Screenwriting Award: David Cronenberg
The WGA would sooner renounce three act structure than give Cosmopolis (based on the novel by Don DeLillo)a heady film of ideas, a nod. So I will. We tend to think of him as either an auteur or a director, but Cronenberg has always been one of the best screenwriters on the planet in my view. His wit and sense of language is literary in the best sense of the word, he eschews cliche and gets that screenwriting is a visual endeavor as much as any other discipline in the moviemaking process.

Best Performances (in no particular order)
1. Matthew McConaughey (Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Bernie)
2. Jack Black (Bernie)
3. Robert DeNiro (Silver Linings Playbook)
4. Denzel Washington (Flight)
5. Bradley Cooper (Silver Linings Playbook)
6. Omari Hardwick (Middle of Nowhere)
7. Samuel L. Jackson (Django Unchained)
8. Javier Bardem (Skyfall)
9. Denis Lavant (Holy Motors)
10. Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln)

1. Emmanuelle Riva (Amour)
2. Shirley MacLaine (Bernie)
3. Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook)
4. Emayatzy Corinealdi (Middle of Nowhere)
5. Lorraine Toussaint (Middle of Nowhere)
6. Sally Field (Lincoln)
7. Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty)
8. Michelle Williams (Take This Waltz)
9. Rachel Weisz (The Deep Blue Sea)
10. Amy Adams (The Master)

Acting Purple Hearts (for great performances that outstrip the films they're in):
Clarke Peters (Red Hook Summer)
Carmen Ejogo (Sparkle)

Snubs (i.e, I saw them, I just didn't like them):
The Dark Knight Rises, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Master, Django Unchained, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey