Vittorio Carli’s Best Films of 2012
I know this is long overdue, but this is my final (ha ha ha) version of my best films of 2012 list. It took a bit longer than usual this year because I am not in the Chicago Film Critics Association anymore, so I did not have access to screeners.
Overall it’s been a magnificent year for film. If you have seen many of the critic’s top 10 lists there is very little universal agreement for the best films. That’s because there are so many masterpieces or near masterpieces that were released this year (I’m still trying to see them all.) In most years any of my top 20 could have been in my top 5. Anyway, here’s my top 20 films of the 2012 (a few were released earlier in New York) in order of quality, ,but I could and probably will change my mind next week.
There are not too many documentaries on the list, but the sad truth is I only saw about 4 0r 5 this year (I usually see around 10 a year), so there are some conspicuously absent docs (such as “Searching for Sugar Man”) which might have made the list.
1.) Moonrise Kingdom-Delightful and beautifully developed absurdist dramady about an alienated boy scout and an anti-social young girl who decide to celebrate their love by living in the woods together. The ensuing manhunt (or is that boy and girl hunt) is extremely ridiculous (as is almost everything in the film) and somehow it all ends up being very life affirming. The plot is nothing great, but the film is perfectly directed and almost every little event resonates. This may be Wes Anderson’s most perfect fully realized film, and it’s the only feature that made me forget I existed (it made me achieve the visual equivalent of flow.)
2.) Holy Motors-The avant-garde French director, Leos “Lovers on the Bridge,” Denis Lavant proves his genius by playing/becoming nine different characters including an assassin hired to kill himself, and a leading man who plays in a romantic scene with the Austrailian pop singer/ bubblegum goddess Kylie Minogue. The director, Leos Carax came roaring back after a 13 year absence, and he shows that he has lost none of his subversive brilliance. In French with English sub-titles
3.) A Separation-A disturbing and emotional volatile film from Iran about a separating couple going through a divorce. She wants to go off and get a job and he wants to stay where he is and care for his ailing dad. Neither partner is completely sympathetic and the movie gets more and more morally ambiguous as it goes along. In Persian with English sub-titles.
4.) Margaret- Ann (“True Blood”) Paquin plays a young woman who witnesses and helps cause a traffic accident. Her desire to do the right thing may bring about the downfall of an innocent family. Tremendously powerful and well-acted. This film was originally supposed to be released in 2007, but the film company and director could not agree on which cut to release so it finally came out in New York in 2011 and Chicago in 2012.
5.) Prometheus-Morally ambiguous prequel to “Alien” concerns a group of people that travel into space to meet the creator(s) of human kind he/they do not quite conform to most people’s preconceptions about God. Noomi Rapaci (from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) is marvelous playing a sensitive young woman that resists everything she sees in order to keep her faith, and Michael Fessbender (proving once again why he is one of the most promising young actors in Hollywood) evokes John Hurt with his performance as an android.
6.) Django Unchained-Tarantino’s homage to the spaghetti westerns and the ‘70s anti westerns is violent, borderline offensive and vulgar, but it’s also the most exhilarating and visually enticing film of the year. Jamie Fox is a heroic former slave who seeks help from a bounty hunter to find his lost love.
7.) The Sessions-A paralyzed poet wants to experience physical intimacy so he hires a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt of all people), and she tries not to become too emotionally involved with him. A very special and wonderfully acted exploration of complicated emotion.
8.) Jeff Who Lives at Home- Funny and somewhat inspirational film about a pot smoking loser who goes on a quest to find meaning that begins with someone calling his house accidently.
9.) The Master-Dense and powerful film about a guru who simultaneously helps and exploits his patients. Like all of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, it probably needs to be seen more than once to be fully appreciated.
10.) Lincoln-Daniel Day Lewis gives a marvelous and convincing performance as a president who navigates America’s history during the nation’s trying Civil War era. The film focuses on the wheeling and dealing that went on behind the scenes that ended slavery, so it ends up being specific yet universal
11.) Chico and Rita- Historical love story about the struggles of couple to stay together in the jazz scene. This wonderful Cuban animated musical puts all of this year’s higher profile Pixar and Disney films to shame. In Spanish with English sub-titles.
12.) Silver Linings Playbook- this quirky love story of a recovering mental patient that begins to fall for an eccentric woman while he’s stalking his ex-wife. The talented ensemble cast helps elevate the film, but Jennifer Lawrence's unforgettable performance is the undeniable center of the film.
13.) Argo- Interesting, engaging and suspenseful film about a group of American government officials that try to escape Iran by posing as a film crew. Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck are standouts in a top notch cast, and I was beginning to suspect that Affleck would never do another good film (his last decent feature was about a hundred years ago).
14.) The Impossible-Naomi Watts (in one of the year’s best performances) plays a traumatized mother who tries to survive long enough to find her family after a tsunami. The dazzling visual and audio effects never fail to amaze.
15.) Zero Dark Thirty-This film is technically impressive and well directed (by the first female best director winner, Kathryn Bigelow), but the film bothered me because it made me think torture is okay.
16.) Bernie-Jack Black is a polite, efficient funeral director who marries a rich, elderly woman (Shirley McLane) who psychologically mistreats him. No actor this year has resisted typecasting or taken a bigger risk than Jack Black did in this role.
17.) Beauty is Embarrassing-Life affirming and compulsively watchable documentary about the eccentric visual artist/puppeteer Wayne White, who worked on “Pee Wee’s Playhouse,” a ground breaking Smashing Pumpkins’ video and many word paintings.
18.) Rust and Bone-Engaging and well developed French drama about a cage fighter who falls for a woman who loses some of her limbs. In French with English sub-titles.
19.) Cabin in the Woods-The fine script(co-written by Joss Whedon) elevates this metahorror film above of the rest of the year’s scary movies.
20.) Amour- Dramatically powerful, heart breaking and depressing film about a man who cares for his wife as her life fades away. Featuring one of the most horrific and unexpected dream sequences ever. This is not quite up the standard of the director’s (Michael Haneke) earlier “Cache” or “Piano Teacher,” but I might have been in the wrong mood to see it. In French with English sub-titles.
Honorable mentions: The Avengers, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Cosmopolis, Farewell My Queen, The Hunter, Killer Joe, Killing them Softly, Marley, The Paper Boy, Premium Rush, 17 Girls, This is Not a Film
Best actor-Jack Black reached new levels of complexity playing the title character in “Bernie,” barely edging out Daniel Day Lewis’s marvelous portrayal of “Lincoln.”
Best actress-Jennifer Lawrence was completely convincing and quirkably likeable in the eccentric “Silver Lining Playbook.” In her best scene she holds her own with Robert De Niro.
Best supporting actor-Christ Waltz chewed up the scenery in his second brilliant performance in a Tarantino movie. He was the best part of “Django Unchained.”
Best supporting actress-Helen Hunt might make you forever forget “Mad about You” with her portrayal of a compassionate yet cold sex surrogate in “The Sessions.”
Most courageous performances-She got panned and attacked for it, but Nicole Kidman was terrific as a trailer trash femme fatale in the “The Paper Boy,” and John Cusack was also impressive as her demented, sociopathic husband. I could never imagine either of them playing these parts so well.
Best soundtrack- Howard shore (pun Intended) did a good job scoring “Cosmopolis,” along with the Canadian band “Metric,” but I’m still trying to decide if the film is a trash or a great work of art. Perhaps it’s both.
Worst films of the year-“To Rome with Love”- Woody Allen has dropped quite a few clunkers on us in the last few decades, but this catastrophic film may represent a new low for him. There is not a shred of interesting dialog in the film, and the relationships are utterly unbelievable, but worse of all it squanders the formidable talents of Robert (“Life is Beautiful”) Benigni.
“John Carter” was a slow moving, expensive and monotonous bomb, and I loved the Edgar Rice Burroughs short stories that they based the film on. “Poe” was a wrong-headed attempt to turn the author into a Sherlock Holmes like character, and I always thought I was watching John Cusack not Poe.
Vittorio Carli no longer reviews films for any newspapers on this planet, but his film commentary can be found some Saturday afternoons on the Chicago radio station WZRD (88.3). Thanks Cathleen.