My 2012 Top Ten List
It seems ironic and more than a little redeeming that around this same time last year, I ran my mouth off about 2011 being one of the worst quality years for filmmaking in some time. Well, the gods of cinema seem to have answered my prayers, for I don’t think I could have asked for a more diverse and memorable year. Just working on this list is a treat, and I hope so will reading it.
Without further adieu, let’s start with this year’s runners-up:
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
While living up to its predecessor was a bit too much to ask for, Nolan’s final chapter is still a head above any other comic book film in this year, or really any other. The new characters are sharp, the villains are brutal and the epic tale’s message is as poignant as ever.
Written and Directed by
Provocative, wrenching and more than a little infuriating. These three elements are orchestrated in “War” to the highest degree. While it may lack an even keel in some of its arguments, let’s face it, when it comes to the film’s topics, it really doesn’t need one.
Directed by Wes Anderson
Written by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Anderson’s latest storybook film is puppy love like we’ve never seen it before. It’s heartfelt and imaginative, along with everything else you’d expect from this filmmaker, who even I’m ready to admit is reaching a level of auteurism. Maybe his best film yet.
Directed by Jacques Audiard
Written by Jacques Audiard and Thomas Bidegain
Speaking of auteurism, Jacques Audiard has proven that he is going to be a force to be reckoned with. His sophomore effort is an extensively cohesive success on all fronts of technical achievement, while also showcasing a tour-de-force by Marion Cotillard.
Written and Directed by
Perhaps it’s a bit formulaic, but the prominent themes of love and relationships, as well as the therapeutic nature of sexual connection, make this movie stand out in the crowd. Yet, the true power of the film lies in the heartfelt and endearing performances by Helen Hunt and the always remarkable John Hawkes.
Now on to the finalists. The following selection represents what I believe to be the best that the past year has had to offer. This is my top ten list of 2012:
Directed by Ben Affleck
Written by Chris Terrio
I’ll admit that this film has dropped a bit in my eyes due to the level of over-appreciation that it has garnered through the last leg of the awards season. Nevertheless, this is an old-school political thriller that deserves to be seen. A lot of work was put in to making the film look and feel like the time it came from, much like “Munich” and “Boogie Nights,” which acts to bolster its integrity. Though, past the suspense and human drama, it’s the movie’s wonderful sense of humor that makes it a jack of all trades. Is Ben Affleck the filmmaker of the year? No. However, this film culminates a phenomenal journey from a Hollywood joke to a force to be reckoned with. The man has completely reinvented himself in ways that few have been able to pull off and has truly crafted one of the year’s best films. Bravo, Ben.
9. “The Imposter”
It may not be the most important documentary of the year, or have a lot to say about where we are as a country or a people. Yet, what this real-life drama has on its side is some of the most pulse-pounding suspense of any other film, documentary or narrative, to be released this year. Drawing much inspiration from the ground-breaking re-enactments of Errol Morris’ “The Thin Blue Line”, while also incorporating fresh techniques of voiceover manipulation and incendiary interviews, this movie works hard to thrill its audience as much as it informs. And even as it digs into the darkest corners of all of it’s questionable human subjects, the movie manages to throw a lot of accusations without pinning the viewer’s mind down on either side of what in the film still remains a mystery. Without question, my favorite documentary of the year.
8. “The Cabin in the Woods”
When I spoke of the great cinematic diversity that 2012’s contribution had to offer, “Cabin” comes pretty close to hitting the nail on the head. Genre filmmaking had some true high points this year (as highlighted by the next few entries in this list), but this one is something extra special due to its nature. To find the last time a straight-up horror film ended up in my top ten list, you’d have to go all the way back to “The Blair Witch Project” in 1999 or “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991. Yet, to call this a run-of-the-mill horror film is an insult to its core, for what we have here is a stroke of blazing originality. It takes every preconceived notion of the genre, from the characters, plot, style and setting, and turns them completely on their heads. All the while, the omnipotent commentary by controllers Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford is perhaps the most enjoyable dialogue you’ll listen to this year. Horror fans deserve this film, while the movie, merits the respect of just about everyone else.
7. “Les Miserables”
Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by Alain Boublil, Herbert Kretzmer, William Nicholson and Claude-Michel Schonberg
One of the biggest struggles I’ve had this year is trying to decide whether my adoration for “Les Miserables” is primarily generated from the film’s quality, or an overabundance of sentimentality from my time performing in this production during high school. In the end, I’ve decided that I ultimately just don’t care, because there’s more than enough evidence to prove the former. In my mind, this is the best adaptation of a Broadway musical since “Cabaret.” The technical achievements (production design, makeup, costumes and cinematography) of translating the story from stage to screen are all exemplary. Samantha Barks and Hugh Jackman bring a lot of life to their characters, while Anne Hathaway and Eddie Redmayne absolutely own the screen. Most surprisingly, director Tom Hooper has gone from being my “public enemy number one” two years ago to surely finding a slot in my Best Director slate. His stylistic decisions of on-set sound recording and extended close-ups on the solors were sure to be highly criticized, but in my opinion, paid off in spades.
Written and Directed by
There are a lot of fine points that can contribute to a successful science fiction venture, ranging from story, characters, realism and scope. “Looper” takes all of these in stride, while also creating the most important element of all: a finely toned and realized atmosphere. The setting in this film is as entertaining as it is terrifying, while never leaving the realm of plausibility. Aside from that, “Looper” is a truly mesmerizing, if not completely mind-blowing experience. Time travel is without a doubt one of the most difficult plot points for a filmmaker because it will always be put under the harshest microscope of scrutiny. And yet Rian Johnson covers all of his bases, while still bringing much to the table that audiences have likely never seen before. His vision from concept, to page, to production, is one that most veteran writer/directors could never pull off with this much gravitas. I’m hoping that what we’ve seen from him so far is only the opening salvo.
5. “Silver Linings Playbook”
I’ve seen so much guff, lately, labeling this film as the Academy’s token “rom-com” selection. Yet, the movie is really so much more. I don’t think you could put a label on it if you tried. However, upon further reflection I see it as a film adaptation of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, cycling through the physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and finally self-actualization. It’s a film about rediscovering yourself in the face of losing everything and escaping what we all seem to fear above all: being alone. However, philosophical reasoning aside, “Playbook” is also a showcase for all the talent involved. David O’Russell has never been more at the top of his game. Bradley Cooper has taken a huge step forward in his career. Robert De Niro delivers his best performance in decades. And, of course, Jennifer Lawrence, who’s age I still cannot comprehend, for she acts with a level of intelligence and instinct of someone who’s been in the business for longer than she’s been alive.
4. “The Master”
Written and Directed by
Paul Thomas Anderson
Back in film school, I can’t describe how much the term auteur was used characterize a truly visionary talent, in regard to such artists as Federico Fellini, Francois Truffaut or Robert Altman, and it seems that the world of cinema is running short of them. Well, in the current film climate, auteur isn’t something to just be thrown around, but if one filmmaker seems to hold the right qualities, it would have to be Paul Thomas Anderson. Every work he crafts is one of such singular talent, molded to a style that seems to reach a new pinnacle with every film he makes. Now, that’s not to say “The Master” is his finest film, but it’s effectiveness, efficiency and thought-provoking nature are absolutely undeniable. The film explores both the misguided gullibility of one man and the indescribable power of another, while always reminding us that both of them are inherently human, nothing more and nothing less. However, despite all the credit Anderson deserves for this, the film’s finest trait is a jaw-dropping performance by Joaquin Phoenix, perhaps the finest turn by any performer this year.
This year has seen a lot career-best achievements, by performers, directors and artisans, alike. However, of all of those accomplishments, Michael Haneke’s “Amour” stands out the most to me for a number of reasons. For one, I have had a particular disdain for much of the man’s body of work (with the exception of “The White Ribbon”). Haneke has always had a strong penchant for avoiding sentimentality in any way, shape or form. Therefore, a movie all about love isn’t something one would expect from him. However, with “Amour” he somehow crafts an immensely emotional film, without ever drawing a tear from the audience. Watching Jean Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva hold on to their love for each other in the face of such inescapable tragedy is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences you’re likely to endure in a theater. However, the tears don’t start to run until the retrospect, when the film’s themes begin to change your own lookout on life and love. This is a movie that you keep feeling long after the credits roll.
2. “Zero Dark Thirty”
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Written by Mark Boal
The year’s critical darling is that for one reason: it’s really that good. Kathryn Bigelow had a lot to prove with this film. She had to cast aside the notion that her historic Oscar win three years ago was more than just a fluke, and also that this film was not just making “The Hurt Locker” all over again. Both of these notions have been serviced and surpassed. I’d go as far as to say that “Zero Dark Thirty” surpasses its predecessor on nearly every level. What we have here is a well-oiled machine by a director whose skills are at the top of their game and could not have been more suited to the challenge. Mark Boal’s script is a tightly-wound piece of narrative journalism. Jessica Chastain gives a patient and controlled performance in the lead role of Maya. As a thriller, the film ranks among the greatest of all time, and as an allegory to the current political and social climate, it’s a near-masterpiece.
I still remember the day that I first heard about this project, nearly eight years ago while “Munich” was making its awards circuit. Since then, the film has cycled through writers, actors and more than a fair share of rumors. Yet all the while, the dream remained: a”Lincoln” biopic directed by Steven Spielberg. Now that it has finally arrived, the dream has been fulfilled and I have trouble imagining it being any better. The man who I would easily put in the running for the title of greatest director of all time has successfully captured the president’s incomparable nobility, while never forgetting the man’s own flawed human condition.
In such a fine year for film, this one stands above the rest on so many levels. The extraordinary ensemble cast shines, with standouts by Sally Field, James Spader, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Hal Holbrook, and Tommy Lee Jones in a blistering performance that easily ranks as the finest of his long career. Tony Kushner’s screenplay makes the impossible possible by taking the equivalent of a 150 year-old CSPAN stream and turning it into some of the most entertaining and insightful dialogue you’ll ever listen to. From Janusz Kaminski’s gorgeous lighting to Rick Carter’s impeccably detailed production design, the crew has created a pitch-perfect period atmosphere that’s never anything less than an totally immersive. Daniel Day-Lewis BECAME the beloved president. There’s almost no denying this. However, at the eye of the storm is the incomparable director who will never cease to surprise and amaze us. Lincoln’s story will always live on in American history, and this stunning tribute will endure alongside it.