Google+ Cinema Viewfinder: Best of 2012: The 14 Best Films of the Year

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Best of 2012: The 14 Best Films of the Year

by Tony Dayoub

Sorry I'm running my "Best of" list a bit late this time. Normally, I like to post it before Oscar nominations are announced. However, in my defense, the Oscar calendar is running far earlier than normal. Plus, as you may know, my wife and I opened a bake shop this year. Understandably, that took away a considerable amount of my moviewatching time. Notable films I didn't see are far greater in number than in past years, so I won't bore you with the lengthy list. What that means, though, is that if I don't address a film you expected to see listed, it likely means I just didn't see it. As usual, leave a comment with your thoughts on my selections or simply to propose some of your own.

1. (tie) Holy Motors, director Leos Carax and The Master, director Paul Thomas Anderson - You can read my review of The Master here. But in short, it's a singular achievement in American film. And it's a shame that it wasn't nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in a year when even the undeserving Silver Linings Playbook got a nod.

Holy Motors is one that I'll admit was difficult to take on so I neglected to write it up. But it is a thing of beauty: nine loosely connected stories anchored by actor Denis Levant, all of which display the breadth of cinema's narrative forms when taken in together. From comic to horrific to poignant, Holy Motors is a love letter to cinema from a filmmaker that seems more haunted by than grateful of the effect movies have had on his life.

3. Amour, dir. Michael Haneke - Review here. This end-of-life drama is a tough one for even a devoted moviewatcher to sit through. But it yields rewards for any who have ever been captivated by veteran actors Jean-Louis Trintignant (The Conformist) and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima, mon amour), who both prove that age has not diminished their talents one whit.

4. Jiro Dreams of Sushi, dir. David Gelb and Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap, dirs. Ice-T and Andy Baybutt - Review for Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap here. These two documentaries don't look like they share anything in common. But they are both about the creative process and the need to bring what is in your head to life with exacting perfectionism.

6. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir zamanlar Anadolu'da), dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan - Review here. Like Ceylan's other films, this is a haunting film which lulls you into a disquieting trance, holding you in its grip until its final moments. But never before has he done it so deftly.

7. Killer Joe, dir. William Friedkin - Review here. At 77, Friedkin is still adept at using shock moments to enhance, not sensationalize, what might otherwise be a typical genre film. The movie's gonzo finale makes you wonder, what ever happened to the kind of adult film that wasn't necessarily labelled as such simply for being pornographic?

8. Luck, Created by David Milch and Michael Mann- Review of the pilot here. Yes, this is actually a 9-episode HBO series (cancelled too soon) about horse-racing. But the long form afforded Milch and Mann to slowly build a world with its own sense of place, language and codes of behavior, something theatrical films often aspire to but successfully achieve only rarely. Frustrating as it may be to get with its odd rhythm and jargon, if you're patient with it you'll be rewarded.

9. Zero Dark Thirty, dir. Kathryn Bigelow - Review here. Used by extremists both at the left and right of the political spectrum, those with a moderate temperament will find that this film is clearly not supporting torture as an effective intelligence tool. What it does is bemoan the extent to which America sullied itself (and still does today) in protecting its citizens at any cost.

10. Skyfall, dir. Sam Mendes - Review here. The best Bond film since 1964's Goldfinger. Many might not find that to be such a notable achievement. But consider this: it's the 23rd installment of a family-run movie franchise whose previous entries have always proven to be inspired technically, at least. Now, here's one with an ambitious story to boot.

11. This is 40, dir. Judd Apatow - Review here. What do these rich white people have to complain about... blah-blah-blah. It's too long for a comedy... blah-blah-blech. Who does that director think he is, always sticking his wife and kids in the movie... groooaaaan. You know what? Leslie Mann is sexy AND funny, finally coming into her own here. The film is funny for nearly every moment of its 134-minute running time. And if you can't relate to the "first-world problems" of the characters I'm sure there's other comedies out there for you. All I know is it rang true for me and my wife (forty-something parents of two) at just about every turn, and that's all you can ask from a comedy.

12. Lincoln, dir. Steven Spielberg - Review here. The performances of a stellar cast led by Daniel Day-Lewis interpret a script by Tony Kushner (based, in part, on a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin) that is somehow able to speak directly to the unique challenges faced by America's 16th President while articulating how it applies to those faced by the 44th. That's a lot of topics for a film to juggle, and sometimes it feels like an overreach. But Spielberg succeeds by narrowing the film's focus to Lincoln's final months, a smart move.

13. Argo, dir. Ben Affleck - Review here. Unlike Lincoln, Argo is pretty thin. What I mean to say is that it's really not about anything other than what it's about, a well-executed exfiltration of six Americans from Iran at its most tumultuous. But Affleck executes the suspenseful story so expertly—keeping the movie's multiple locations and unwieldy cast straight in the viewers minds—that this thriller deserves all of the accolades it has received.

14. The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo), dirs. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne - Review here. On the other hand, a film should also be recognized for telling a small story with utmost simplicity. And the Dardennes accomplish that easily with this film about a neglected boy who finds a mother figure in the form of the lovely Cécile De France.

Honorable Mention: Anna Karenina, Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story, Compliance, The Flat, How to Survive a Plague, The Imposter, The Invisible War, Life of Pi, Looper, Magic Mike, Moonrise Kingdom, ParaNorman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Prometheus, Red Hook Summer, Rise of the Guardians, The Secret World of Arriety, Sinister, Turn Me On, Dammit!, The Turin Horse

Most Overrated: Les Miserables, Silver Linings Playbook

Most Underrated: Dark Shadows, John Carter, The Three Stooges

Best Unreleased Films of 2012: Berberian Sound Studio, Passion

Breakthrough Actor of the Year: Scoot McNairy (Argo, Killing Them Softly, Promised Land)

Breakthrough Actress of the Year: Juno Temple (The Dark Knight Rises, Jack and Diane, Killer Joe)


Kevyn Knox said...

Gotta admit, I was not all that thrilled by Lincoln, Argo or Skyfall. Love that you mentioned Juno Temple. The first time I remember seeing her was in Kaboom and Cracks in 2011, but this year, especially with that performance in Killer Joe, she is, as they say, da bomb. I also like that you too consider John Carter to be underrated.

Tony Dayoub said...

Yep, it was KILLER JOE that sold me on Temple. Thanks for stopping by, Kevyn.

Aden Jordan said...

Great list, Tony. I'm pleased you included 'Killer Joe'. Most critics I came across who reviewed the film accused Friedkin of overdoing the violence and grossness, but it was both intentional and necessary to make the film feel more like a movie and less like a play. The entire cast is great too, and I'm disappointed that the good work by M. Mc, Gershon, Haden Church, Temple, and Hirsch has been very overlooked in both best of the year lists and awards.

Tony Dayoub said...

You hit it right on, Aden. Note that despite being listed 7th, it is my number two American narrative film. That should tell you something.

Paul Kell said...

Couldn't disagree more about The Master. Saw Ceylan's Anatolia at Cannes and loved it, but that was 2011, no? Hated the phoney Hollywood ending of Argo, could barely stay awake through Lincoln and liked Amour despite having much bigger expectations for it (simply because of Haneke's name). Need to see Kid on a Bike (in my queue) and agree with you wholeheartedly on Silver Linings.

Tony Dayoub said...


Though I too saw ANATOLIA in 2011, I go by official release dates not festival showings.

As for ARGO, the "phony Hollywood"-ness of its ending felt well earned given the movie's smooth shifts between the real-life rescue drama and the "let's put on a show" caper, both "directed" by Affleck's ex-filtration expert. That ending is where it all intersects.

Thanks for commenting.

Paul Kell said...

that's where it gets confusing: anatolia was released in europe in 2011, but not until early january 2012 in the US. it would definitely be in my top 10 for 2012, but i suppose these crossovers releases kind of screw a handful of films from deserving nods, doesn't it? is there a standard we can refer to since i know a few of my picks are also technically 2011 films (oslo, in particular).