Before Nathaniel's Top Ten drops over the next few days he has invited TFE correspondents to share their own best of 2012 lists. I confess up front that I have not yet managed to catch Tabu, Oslo August 31 or Middle of Nowhere, but then all lists are a work in progress, aren't they?
Richard Linklater's Bernie featured the enduringly weird paring of Shirley MacLaine and Jack Black in addition to a unceasingly funny peanuts gallery of small town Texans arguing that murder really isn't all that bad. Lauren Greenfield's Queen of Versailles is the perfect film for the moment with subjects that make the cast of Marie Antoinette seem admirably self-aware and thrifty. Walter Salles's On the Road is a bracing jolt of life that is being seriously undersold by critics. Looper does the sci-fi genre proud with its thoroughly imagined script that piles on the surprises well beyond the big hook. And finally, Amour should rightly be near the top of this list based strictly on filmmaking skill, but there was something about its unremitting bleakness that felt incomplete to me. I can't help asking "Is that all there is?" even as the film itself calmly repeated "Yes. It is." over and over.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 ... after the jump
10) Django Unchained – Coverage of Tarantino latest may focus disproportionally on his button-pushing elements, or on playing a game of spot the reference, but the surface distractions can’t obscure his almost unmatched ability among living screenwriters to create characters and dialogue that capture an audience. Even if this film feels vaguely unfinished in parts – Sally Menke you are missed –once again the power of QT's storytelling cannot be denied.
9) The Comedy – As merciless in its own way as Haneke’s Amour. Rick Alverson’s film takes a particularly awful specimen of the chubby, aging, privileged, irony-spewing Williamsburg-dwelling asshole variety, and proceeds to pin him down to be dissected for ninety-plus excruciating minutes. The Comedy doesn’t invite sympathy for its unbearable protagonist, but it does extend him a small helping of pity and goes so far as to offer hope that some glimmer of redemption could somehow reach this utterly worthless human being. Tim Heidecker is fearless in the lead.
8) Zero Dark Thirty – The list of things Kathryn Bigelow gets right in Zero Dark Thirty is too long to catalogue here so I will merely point out her masterful managing of tone throughout. Late in the film one of the soldiers lets out a celebratory “Woo!” and it could not feel more out of place. This is not a victory lap, but a sober, clear-eyed retracing of our steps to how we get to where we are, as well as a long sad exhale as we wonder where we go from here.
7) No – The astounding and funny true story of how a brutal dictator was brought low by the hackiest of advertising techniques. Pablo Larrain’s No details how flash gets results where substance fails and dares to suggest that the ends can justify the means. I couldn’t stop seeing No reflected in every political news story of 2012.
6) Holy Motors – It feels almost pointless to write about this one, since what words can come close to capturing the hypnotic wonderment of witnessing Denis Lavant’s cracked journey through a series of identities over a single day in Paris? I will simply say that if you don’t watch it you are depriving yourself of one of the most indelible experiences the movies have offered up in quite some time. The accordion scene alone can replenish the spirit enough to get through a Summer's worth of terrible movies. [Full Review]
5) Lincoln – My hopes were not high heading into Lincoln. I feared some unwieldy combination of the shallowness of War Horse, the forced uplift of Amistad and the scattershot storytelling of Munich with some creaky biopic clichés ladeled generously over top. What I got was Spielberg’s best film in decades. A rigorously intelligent look at the real men behind the historical myths and an all too relevant examination of the way progress can emerge from the ugliest of political hornets' nests.
4) The Master –As it happened to Vertigo and Barry Lyndon before it, the coming decades will see the critical consensus shift, transforming The Master from a respectable misfire to the great director’s misunderstood magnum opus. Just you watch.
3) It’s Such a Beautiful Day – Far and away the animated film of the year. Hertzfeldt combines the three shorts he’s spent the last decade single-handedly animating into a feature film greater than the sum of its parts. A mindblowing, often-hilarious journey into beauty of the mundane and the mysteries of the way we funny humans experience the world. To quote my original review: Who would have guessed that the guy who amassed a cult following animating talking bananas and smiling fluff-balls that bleed out their ass would emerge as animation’s answer to Terrence Malick?
2) Beasts of the Southern Wild– I sat stone-faced through “I Dreamed a Dream”. I held it together through the most painful stretches of Amour. Yet there was something about Hushpuppy, steely resolve on her face, marching back home to face life at its most painful that reduced me to a helpless man-puddle. What a thrilling journey. What a joyous, original vision. What a wonderful, wonderful film.
1) Moonrise Kingdom – I’ve seen the film twice more since I first detailed the scope of this film’s greatness in this post and my appreciation for it has only grown deeper. Truth is truth no matter what the package it comes in, and for all the artificiality of Wes Anderson’s style, the world he creates beats with the heart of real pain and sincere longing. Of all 2012’s films this is the one I’m confident I’ll still be enjoying years from now.