The closer you get to number #1, the more exhilarating the movie was to me. These films were not only exhilarating, but ones that carried inside and obsessed me on an ongoing basis throughout the year. These are my eternal classics:
Best of 2012
1. Life of Pi – A rare film that actually has you contemplating so lucidly that it helps you cope with your own troubles and imagine solutions for the rest of your life. That’s what elevated awareness is all about, and either it surges you immediately or it will seep into you gradually over time. What can’t be denied is the immediate majesty of the film which can be seen as a parable for audiences of all ages. Irrfan Khan has a captivating majesty about him as the adult Pi looking back, but also wonderful is Suraj Sharma as the inquisitive teen destined for world travel with enriched perception and wisdom. When he’s shipwrecked in the Marianas Trenches of the Pacific, he must share a lifeboat with four animals including a Bengal Tiger. How does a human negotiate with zoo animals, parched at sea, economizing with food caught from the waters, and still keep his sanity intact? Marvelous and meditative, Ang Lee (“The Ice Storm,” “Brokeback Mountain”) has made a voluptuous 3D entertainment that blows the mind on all levels.
2. Take this Waltz – The biggest lie I told all year was that this was a chick flick. It’s too sad for most chicks to handle. The real audience, albeit a niche one, is for sensitive guys who like to understand more what women are thinking. Especially shy women whose voracious fantasies are latently tucked-in. Michelle Williams, in a phenomenal performance of an ordinary woman, has a mild and safe marriage with Seth Rogen (in a crass-free performance). A stranger flirts with her, the conversation gets graphic, and the subsequent get-togethers have promise of romantic liaisons. But this isn’t your average adultery affair movie. It considers the consuming guilt of even thinking of adultery. The last five minutes are the great visual sequence art of the year. Sarah Polley wrote and directed a masterpiece that is remarkable enough to be recognized more fully decades from now.
3. Searching for Sugar Man – One of the greatest stories God, yes God, has ever given us. Since it is a documentary, it is real, and it has to be among the most astonishing things that has happened to a person in the last 500 years on this Earth. Most recommendations should come with a grain of salt, you don’t need every film on this list. But I absolutely insist that you need this one, it is universal and recommended to everybody over the age of 15. Here’s where I’m supposed to tell you what it’s about, but really, the less you know going in the better. Read my original review if necessary. If you need a genre category, it’s either a music documentary or inspirational true story. Click here for review.
4. Amour (Austria) – Such a devastating experience that I would understand if you were not in the right time in your life to watch it. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are an octogenarian couple unprepared for the fate of old age. They have lived their whole lives healthy and abundantly comfortable. The wife suddenly has artery failure, which gradually incapacitates her. The husband tends to her with unbridled dedication. Others pass judgment, including their own daughter, that he is uncaring and incompetent. This married couple has been in love, and faithful, for decades and now the end is near. How well would you fare? Michael Haneke’s film exists to rip your heart out, but you are wizened by it, and even the word love, is given new meaning to contemplate.
5. Polisse (France) – Police movies are a dime a dozen, but how about one about the Child Protection Unit – a department that never gets to sound off? You get two dozen case studies – many of them so raw and spontaneous in their unfolding, not to mention irregular, that its episodes hit you like a ton of bricks. This is the best French film in more than a decade. Likely to earn respect at first, only to gather waves of adulation as the years go on. As for now, it has been irresponsibly overlooked by the critical majority. Maiwenn researched over several months by sitting on ride alongs, taking out real cops to dinner, interviewing them as well getting to know them on personal levels. It shows.
6. Bernie – Docudrama of the nicest guy ever to commit murder. Jack Black, in the performance of his career, plays the late 30-ish sexually ambiguous funeral home director who pairs up with his first girlfriend, a mean as hell 80-year old woman (Shirley MacClaine, cranky to the max). The nicest, err, intriguing thing about Richard Linklater’s film is getting to know the people of Carthage, Texas, most of them real residents, non-actors, with a fond recollection for the real Bernie Tiede. You couldn’t dream up a crime story this ironically endearing.
7. Samsara – Meditative wordless documentary by Ron Fricke (“Baraka”) filmed over five years, spread over twenty-five countries set to trance music. The title translates to “the circle of birth, death and rebirth.” We catch innumerable ways of life as it is on Earth now, the rarest cultures seen are the most captivating. Among the visuals are a gun-shaped coffin, prison “rehabilitation” dances in the Philippines and the biggest pig you’ve ever seen.
8. Rampart – Woody Harrelson in the best performance of the year and one of the great performances you will ever see. As racist, malevolent and corrupt LAPD cop Dave Brown, the transfixed Harrelson is a ticking time bomb. The oddest detail is that his exes are sisters (Anne Heche, Cynthia Nixon), and that he lives next door to them. Brown is caught on tape beating a driver running from the scene of a crash, and he goes through the legal wrangling of getting back onto the force. That’s just the beginning of his self-destructive tailspin. True, I’m guilty of underrating it originally with a 3.5 star review.
9. The Master – I watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest sprawling avante-garde epic with cold, detached fascination. There was only so much you can love here, but months later it continues to haunt me. This is as well made as it can possibly be concerning this kind of flawed alpha and omega material. Philip Seymour Hoffman is the roly-poly huckster-intellectual who does a start-up religion in the early 1950’s. Joaquin Phoenix is the pupil-disciple that he attempts to educate… but never quite masters him. What good is a religion that lacks honest altruism? The great visuals, as well, mystify the mind and unnerve the soul.
10. The Dark Knight Rises – Everybody has something to say by now about the script flaws. But the visual symbolism is far too powerful to ignore. In this final chapter of the Batman saga, Gotham implodes from within not just because of villain Bane’s terrorizing, but because of the corrupt municipal forces that tumble over. This is what America will look like when legislature stops working. This was the first time in Christopher Nolan’s franchise that he integrated the batwing into the action, and he gave those scenes a mighty thrust. Nolan doesn’t just make movies, he makes symphonies.
11. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen – Talking, sophisticated romance with Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. Attractive people who flirt gently within social boundaries, building an intelligent rapport, chastely flirting, striving towards a first kiss and an “I Love You.” There are one or two mild acts of [thwarted] violence in deep conflicted Arab territory. Heartrending entertainment, nothing cold, a life-affirming message. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (“My Life as a Dog,” “Chocolat”) with a splendid eye for sea and tranquility.
12. Arbitrage – This is the best fictional crime plot scenario I’ve come across in awhile, with Richard Gere suave and dodgy as the prime suspect. Certainly it’s the best performance by him in over a decade. The cast has lots of depth, but particularly impressive are Susan Sarandon as the cautious wife and Tim Roth as the manipulative head detective. Amid the opulent atmosphere, subtle backstabbing between the filthy rich, this is a real thinking man’s thriller.
13. Haywire – Steven Soderbergh’s thriller revolves on a butt-kicking babe (Gina Carano), featuring the same kind of bone-crunching and solar plexus damage achieved by your average Jason Bourne flick. Yet somehow, with its twisty plot, it was too egghead for average audiences. If you’re a smarty-pants who likes action stuff done in a potent post-modernist style that crackles, too, then it’s for you.
14. Magic Mike – Another Steven Soderbergh film, this one a stripper movie for smart people, and the underline of it is about quick cash in a stagnant economy. Channing Tatum is the beefcake, Matthew McConaughey as the daddy-O club owner, Alex Pettyfer as the protégé. Cody Horn, as the brainy girl who challenges our hero’s worth, is the only weak link in the casting (Guys like Mike make mistakes, too). But still, the stage choreography is better than most multi-million dollar musicals.
15. Beasts of the Southern Wild – If you have ever wanted to see “The Wild Child” (1969), “Days of Heaven” (1978), “Shy People” (1987), “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006), “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts” (2006) and “Melancholia” (2011) rolled into one movie, it’s this one. I know, you’re exactly like me, you were hoping this would happen. If there’s anything else specific to admire, it’s the idea that Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Wallis) is self-empowered to accomplish more at 6-years old than most adults are ever able to do.
The Iran Job – Natural machismo point-guard Kevin Sheppard – a one-time NBA hopeful for the Atlanta Hawks – is appointed Team Captain for the A.S. Shizaz in the Iranian Super League in this stirring, surprising documentary. He doesn’t flirt with the women under burkas, three of them flirt with him. But what we’re really looking at is a hypocritical culture. Not the friendly people who are in it, but at a government. We grimace at a government that suppresses arts, sports and entertainment for one sex only. We like these people, and Kevin is an exceptional guide.
Honorable Mentions: Argo; The Hunger Games; Flight; Silver Linings Playbook; Looper; Hope Springs; Killer Joe; Zero Dark Thirty; Union Square; The Queen of Versailles; Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted; West of Memphis; Oslo August 31st (Norway); Cabin in the Woods; The Avengers
Best Actor: Woody Harrelson in “Rampart.” Runner-up: Denzel Washington for “Flight.”
Best Actress: Michelle Williams in “Take This Waltz.” Runner-up: Emmanuelle Riva in “Amour” (Austria).
Best Supporting Actor: Matthew McConaughey in “Magic Mike.” Runner-up: Philip Seymour Hoffman in “The Master.”
Best Supporting Actress: Shirley MacClaine in “Bernie.” Runner-up: Helen Hunt in “The Sessions.”
Best Cumulative Work: Woody Harrelson in “Rampart,” “The Hunger Games” and “Seven Psychopaths”
Best Overlooked Performance by an Actress: Mira Sorvino in “Union Square”
Best Overlooked Performance by an Actor: Samuel L. Jackson in “Django Unchained”
Best Cinematography: “Life of Pi” (Pic Upper Left) and “Take This Waltz” (Pic Upper Right)
Best Music Score: “Life of Pi” by Mychael Danna
Most Surprising Good Film of the Year: “The Grey”
Most Impersonating Robert DeNiro performance: Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master”
Best Male Performance of a Hateful Character: Matthew McConaughey in “Killer Joe” (Pic Upper Left)
Best Female Performance of a Hateful Character: Shirley MacClaine in “Bernie” (Pic Upper Right)
Most Terrifying Movie: “Cabin in the Woods”
Most Terrifying Movie Runner-Up: “The Hunger Games.” Really, it’s terrifying. Or are we all that desensitized by now?
Best Children’s Film: “Magadascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (Above)
Best Natural Special Effect: The Tibetan sand drawing in “Samsara”
Best Special Effects: “The Avengers”
Best Artistic Use of Black & White: Steven Soderbergh employs black & white in the flashback scenes in “Haywire”
Best Montage: The Shanghai sequence in “Looper” (Pic Upper Left)
Best Musical Interlude: Firemen strut on-stage in “Magic Mike” (Pic Upper Right)
Best Nude Scene: Backstage in “Magic Mike”
Best Sex Scene: “Take This Waltz”
Sexiest Girl of the Year: Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook”
Most Talented Sexy Girl of the Year: Jennifer Lawrence in “Silver Linings Playbook”
Worst Slacked-Jawed Moron: Adam Sandler in “That’s My Boy”
Worst Dialogue: “Friends with Kids,” words by Jennifer Westfeldt
Worst Actress: Jennifer Westfeldt in “Friends with Kids.” Runner-Up: Kate Beckinsale in “Total Recall.”
Worst Actor: Mathieu Demy in “Americano” (France). Runner-Up: Adam Sandler in “That’s My Boy.”
Worst Films of the Year:
1. Bachelorette – If you like Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan and Rebel Wilson, then this cheap and lewd “Bridesmaids” rip-off prompts you to hate them all by the time this bitchfest is over.
2. Americano (France) – The French can be rotten, too. Frenchman goes to America, then to Mexico, to meet a stripper he must “save.” Mathieu Demy is the schlep, Salma Hayek is the stripper and moonlight hooker. An embarrassingly phony art film travesty.
3. Dredd 3D – Putrid futuristic sci-fi that had me begging for not more bloodshed (please no more!), but for an exit to fresh air. Lysol the screen, please.
4. A Thousand Words – Eddie Murphy loses his vocabulary and we suffer all the more. Every other character annoys us with their words.
5. Butter – Jennifer Garner is far from cute, she’s a malicious mom in this toothless satire of American nuclear family hypocrisy.
6. The Apparition – Supernatural horror without a pulse. The wallpaper is more interesting than the evil spirits. Ashley Greene is at least nice to look at.
8. The Devil Inside – These boring “Exorcist” knock-offs continue year after year. Actually, they’re coming month after month now.
9. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – Steve Carell and Keira Knightley might have been up to the task. But writer/director Lorene Scafaria sure wasn’t.
10. Girl in Progress – Coming of age girl needs a new mother, and apparently a psychiatrist. Definitely not as uplifting or encouraging as the poster promised.
- Check out the Best of 2011
- Check out the Best of 2010
- Check out the Best of 2009
- Check out the Best of 2008