I don’t pretend to know what the best film of 2012 actually was (as though these things can be defined) and I’m not sure I even know that I had a favorite. This has been a peculiar year filled with interesting films. Even the standard Hollywood fair presented some wonderful journeys (Lincoln and Skyfall being standouts). That said, few films emerged as “instant classics” the way they have in other years. The 20 films below make up roughly 20% of the movies I saw, so it’s hard for me to believe there aren’t better ones out there. But these are the ones I found most compelling.
BEST PERFORMANCE: Jafar Panahi, This is Not a Film – I know it’s technically not a “performance” but, to my mind, the moment a camera goes on a little bit of acting happens. And a great performance conveys not only natural human behavior and entertaining character but an idea, a point, or statement. Great actors can parlay concepts with their very beings. In this case, Panahi is “actor” and documentarian. His turn here is a good bit of performance art about the unstoppable will of a filmmaker to do what he was born to do even in the face of oppression.
UNDERRATED: Killing Them Softly – The level of condescension that has surrounded this movie from seemingly intelligent people has been bewildering. Like The Master, Killing Them Softly carefully tells a story that’s as much about its surfaces as its plot.
OVERRATED: Looper & Moonrise Kingdom – I don’t really love the idea of calling films under- or overrated because how a person perceives art is his or her own exercise. I’m sure there’s a some validity to the claims of greatness about both of these pictures. However, I thought they were turkeys with hardly any redeeming qualities. But that’s just me.
WORST FILM: Les Misérables – Sure there are worse films. But pound for pound (taking intended audience, and reaction into account), nothing comes close to this stinker. An incoherent mess of a film with songs jammed against each other, seemingly telling a story that changes directions in a random place of its overlong second act. Held up only by one close-up displaying a fantastic actress singing, Les Miz will be the third in as many years to be an embarrassing Best Picture nominee (Blind Side & Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close being the others). For the record, I’d take Extremely Loud and Blind Side over this one any day.
BEST FILM: The Master – After some thought, The Master seemed the obvious choice of best film of the year. No movie was more challenging, confrontational, flawed, meaningful, angry, or altogether aggressive. Yet, no picture has made me more eager to return to it. No film has lived in me in quite the same way. As a one-off experience it’s suffocating in a way quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Paul Thomas Anderson has made an original picture that beats to its own internal consciousness. Most people were frustrated by it because it’s conceptually congruent but strangely uncommunicative. I haven’t come anywhere near understanding The Master yet, but I’m so determined to try that no other movie is on its level.
HONORABLE MENTIONS – Arbitrage, Amour, Killing Them Softly, Rust & Bone
Holy Motors (Dir. Leos Carax)
The Color Wheel (Dir. Alex Ross Perry)
War Witch (Dir. Kim Nguyen)
The Imposter (Dir. Bart Layton)
Reality (Dir. Matteo Garrone)
Bernie (Dir. Richard Linklater)
How to Survive a Plague (Dir. David France)
Deep Blue Sea (Dir. Terrance Davies)
Killer Joe (Dir. William Friedkin)
Whores’ Glory (Dir. Michael Glawogger)
Detachment (Dir. Tony Kaye)
Prometheus (Dir. Ridley Scott)
The Central Park Five (Dir. Sarah Burns + Ken Burns + David McMahan)
Middle of Nowhere (Dir. Ava DuVernay)
The Paperboy (Dir. Lee Daniels)
Oslo, August 31st (Dir. Joachim Trier)
Blood of my Blood (Dir. João Canijo)
Cosmopolis (Dir. David Cronenberg)
This is Not a Film (Dir. Jafar Panahi + Mojtaba Mirtahmasb)
The Master (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)