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Friday
Jan042013

Michael's Best of 2012

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?

Honorable Mentions...
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.

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Reader Comments (25)

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.

This! I keep jumping up and down and screaming and yet they brush off this very claim as wishful thinking. Rejection of THE MASTER is why we can't have nice things. It hurts to be honest, the score alone should be worshiped. Phoenix's performance will get young (straight) men into theater programs because they'll want to be Freddie Quell, the same way those students wanted to be Brando and De Niro.

Here's hoping the Academy recognizes THE MASTER outside the acting categories.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Thumbs up on "Moonrise Kingdom" as your number one. I sincerely hope it nabs a best picture nod. Please!

As much as I didn't warm up to "The Master" I do agree with your assertion that it will probably be better appreciated as the years pass. I'm just not fond of the Kubrick coldness that this film exhibited which we already seeped in "There Will Be Blood."

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRaul

Beautifully said and intelligent list.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Considering the number of top ten lists "The Master" is appearing on I can hardly how see the perception that "The Master" is critically unappreciated or ignored has become so prevalent. Sure its box office grosses aren't huge but are respectable if somewhat underwhelming (also my personal review of the film in a nutshell) and the Oscar buzz has died out a bit, but at last count it was named best film of the year by nearly twenty publications, more than "Zero Dark Thirty", "Amour", "Lincoln", "Argo" or any other film.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMel

@ Mel

Nobody outside the Cause (the Master devotees) gives the film the time of day. The just say it's a lesser movie from PTA.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Mel & 3rtful -- divisive might be a better word than underappreciated. Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite english language film director but even I am not sold on it. I'd list it among the "lesser' Anderson's without a moments notice.

MASTERPIECE
Boogie Nights
There Will Be Blood

GOODIES
Magnolia
Punch Drunk Love

LESSER
Hard Eight
The Master

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Mel - I think it's fair to say The Master has a much stronger chorus of detractors than any previous PT Anderson film. For the present I would estimate that those people enthusiastically supporting the film are outnumbered by those who fall somewhere between gruding respect and flat-out dismissal. To say nothing of the reception outside the critical bubble where it's a complete flop.

Raul and Brian Z - Thanks!

3rtful - I feel bad for all those acting teachers who will have to endure all those novices lurching their way through Freddie Quell monologues

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

@ Nathaniel

Blood is not a masterpiece. Its timid editor is to blame, removal of whole chucks of the movie, would actually strengthen the focus of the character being studied.

Nights could use a tightening too. Although, there's noting inherently incorrect about the completed film.

Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Master are a perfect impenetrable army and I can't imagine Inherent Vice being played straight. His instincts as a filmmaker will always have him aiming for the most inspired path, while I don't believe that helps an audience who would prefer is tastefulness with someone else's straight forward approach to narrative and pacing.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

@ Nathaniel

Blood is not a masterpiece. Its timid editor is to blame, removal of whole chucks of the movie, would actually strengthen the focus of the character being studied.

Nights could use a tightening too. Although, there's noting inherently incorrect about the completed film.

Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, and The Master are a perfect impenetrable army and I can't imagine Inherent Vice being played straight. His instincts as a filmmaker will always have him aiming for the most inspired path, while I don't believe that helps an audience who would prefer his tastefulness with someone else's straight forward approach to narrative and pacing.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

@ Michael C

I would love to be the physical room itself where all the misguided inspiration goes down just to see the spectrum of bad to incoherent.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

I think your comments about Amour are really brave. It's hard enough to go against consensus at all, let alone when consensus is surrounding a film that is made by a noted auteur and prize winner. So bravo to you for your comments. Love the Top 10.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTB

Pauline Kael once called 2001 'hypnotically boring'.

That's how I feel about 'The Master'.

Though there's something to be said about that, isn't there?

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

TB - Thanks so much. I struggled with it. I hugely respect Haneke and the film but ultimatelt it felt dishonest of me to list it in the top 10. More a dutiful showing of respect than actual love.

Side note: one of the highlights of 2012 for me was asking Haneke a question in person at the NY Film Festival. Brilliant gentleman.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

@Beau I totally agree with you on The MAster ... I was mesmerized by the 2 actors ... and that was about it!

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Yes to The Master! It is certainly somewhat alienating on viewing, but man does it stick with you. Best cinematography, best score, and best performance of the year.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Beau - I think I prefer the divided response The Master received to an overwhelmingly positive response. It really is the damnedest film and its been fascinating watching people try to wrap their mind around it regardless of where they land in the end.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

"...the power of QT's storytelling cannot be denied."

DENIED. There. ;-)

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Michael and I are on a very similar wavelength, only his list is missing Looper. :-)

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTim

Paul - Curses! Foiled again.

Ben - That's the main reason I think it's reputation will grow. It haunts you. Or at least it does me.

Tim - The quibble I have with Looper that makes it an also ran is that I wanted it to do more with the idea that a person could talk to himself. The diner scene was excellent but I thought it only scratched the surface of the potential of that idea. But otherwise I'm a big fan, as should be obvious from its inclusion here.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Unfortunately, the exact negative expectations that you had going into Lincoln accurately detail my entire experience with the film: shallow, forced, and cliched. I'm still scratching my head as to why the great majority of critics and viewers alike loved it so much. Perhaps the names involved? It will probably win best picture, and I will probably be as confused and disheartened as I was when Crash won in 2005. Other than that, great list.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrendan C.

1) Michael is a hottie

2) I kinda sat stone-faced through I Dreamed a Dream too, not gonna lie...

3) I loved Django too!

4) Definitely did NOT love Lincoln though

5) This makes me want to see Beasts and ZDT even more now

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip

I'll mention that I all-capital-letters LOVED "No" and am delighted to see it on your list here.

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmes

Ames -

It's always an iffy call on whether to include the foreign film contenders on the year they first screen or the year the receive their limited release. I say get out ahead of it. Better to get excited about it as an upcoming release than have it be an afterthought in early 2014. I did the same thing with Miss Bala last year.

I suspect a lot of critics take the opposite approach otherwise you would see it on lots more lists, because as you suggest, it is indeed awesome

January 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

MIchael -- you make a strong case. Maybe i should do that, too. but then i've always been so strict about release dates. it's a continually lose lose situation i fear when it comes to when to notice films. but god, I loved NO too. Easy top ten'er were i to include it as 2012.

January 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Loved seeing Moonrise at the top of this list. I am a Wes Anderson fanboy, defending even his least popular movies, but I must admit that Moonrise is head and shoulders ahead of his last few offerings. Glad to see it getting the attention it deserves. (Now time for a Best Pic nomination? Please?)

January 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterOwen

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