Monday, January 21, 2013

The 25 Best Movies of 2012

2012 was an absolutely extraordinary year for movies. The hits just kept on comin', and in the spirit of that old saying, here's my top 25 for this past annum. And, by the way, you can listen to my comments and discussion of these movies on the latest episode of MOVIE GEEKS UNITED!, where you can also hear the very deserving, diverse top ten films of hosts Jamey Duvall and Jerry Dennis!  

1) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkey...Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Ceylan's otherworldly rumination on guilt and mystery captivated me like no other film this year. I saw it, yes, in 2011 at the New York Film Festival, but it only got a very limited release in January of 2012. Still, the film stuck in my head and just wouldn't let go. In its unforgettably night-cloaked first half, a band of police officers take two murder suspects on a trek through rural Anatolia, hoping that they will be able to remember where they buried a body. But the suspects were drunk during this criminal act, and each hillside looks like the next, and so the search doesn't go as smoothly as the police want. There's an ethereal overnight stop in a small village, where the authorities and the suspects catch a glimpse of an angel, and then the search continues. The second half of the film harshly illuminates the pasts of the investigators (led by Taner Birsel as a star prosecutor, Muhammet Uzuner as a contemplative coroner, and Yilmaz Erdogan as a tough police commissioner) and their main suspect (a chillingly quiet Firat Tanis), revealing fateful missteps that morphed into huge injustices, and even huger regrets. Hauntingly photographed in widescreen by Gokhan Tiryaki, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia wormed its way into my very soul, and--along with another great, as-yet-unreleased 2012 film, Yusim Ustaoglu's Araf/Somewhere In Between--revealed to me a whole new world of cinematic brilliance, located in an unlikely though clearly creatively unbound country called Turkey.

2) The Master (US...Paul Thomas Anderson)
Rarely can I remember a film falling so fast from grace. Met with excited anticipation, greeted with initial confused raves, and abandoned with utter contempt only a month later, Paul Thomas Anderson's superb character study left many viewers wondering "What happened?  But why?! The picture's quality and intent was crystal clear to me. Joaquin Phoenix delivered the performance of the year--I mean, James Dean-level brilliance--as Freddie Quell, a twisted, horndog, alcoholic war veteran who parlays his mastery of photography and chemistry into a friendship with Lancaster Dodd, a megalomaniacal cult leader played with equal grandeur by Philip Seymour Hoffman. This film seemed so simple: it was about the battle for Freddie's soul, and this is something Freddie is not going to give up so easily. What was wonderfully complex about The Master was that Lancaster Dodd's questionable brainwashing methods actually DO help Quell come to some sobering conclusions about himself. But this doesn't mean Quell owes Dodd his LIFE! (And this is where the film's main criticism of Scientology lies.) It remains, though, that The Master has profound feelings for both of its main characters (and deep suspicions about its most villainous presence, in the unlikely, chilly embodiment of Amy Adams as Dodd's imperious wife), and I think it has great respect for Lancaster and Freddie's friendship. But it also knows that Freddie has other fish to fry, and it generously let's him go about doing so (this is underlined in the film's gloriously carnal final scene). With another earth-rocking score from Jonny Greenwood and astounding 70mm photography from Mihai Malaimaire Jr. (I swear, I gasped when those reproductions of Freddie's 40s-era photographic set-ups flashed onto the big screen), The Master left my body and soul buzzing after seeing it, as if I'd imbibed some of Freddie's intoxicating jet fuel.

3) Oslo, August 31st (Norway...Joachim Trier) 
This constantly riveting dissection of depression and drug addiction surprised me with its love of life's simple beauty and its knowledge that some damage is just so intricately woven into one's psyche that no amount of concerted effort can repair it. Anders Danielson Lie, in one of the year's great acting shows, portrays the tentatively clean protagonist, and follows him as he's released from rehab, and goes about visiting friends and family, pining for the days before he'd lost his innocence. The screenplay--by Trier and Eskil Vogt--features some constantly intriguing dialogue, but the scenes that really stick with me are the ones Anders spends alone, observing the normal lives of others (in particular, a lovely but also somehow excruciating scene in a diner in which he longingly evesdrops on the conversations going on around him). Again and again, we see this obviously smart and emotional character experience and then throw away golden, life-affirming opportunities, and we wish we could shake some sense into him. But, as this remarkable and never preachy film convinces us, some things just aren't that simple.   

4) Margaret (US...Kenneth Lonergan)
Margaret is arguably the most emotionally devastating movie of 2012. Now, my first instinct is to divorce myself from its storied history, but I have to point out that this film has upended things for many movie lovers: it's a 2011 film, maybe, but it really hails from many years earlier (it was completed in 2007, when lead Anna Paquin was so much closer to the age she was playing here).  And it really DID get a theatrical release in 2011, but not in its complete form--the 2012 DVD saw the first release of Lonergan's complete 3-hour director's cut.  But time, and the film's release date, is not of the essence here. What IS important is the immensely honest portrayal of everything the movie contains. Paquin plays Lisa, a snotty, self-absorbed youth living in New York City with her actress mother (played perfectly by J. Smith Cameron). The film begins with a scene that is unforgettable: Lisa is trying to flag down a bus--driven by a blue-collar Mark Ruffalo--when her actions cause the driver to run down a pedestrian (played in a brilliant one-scene performance by Allison Janney). The results are a difficult peer into morals and personal flaws that put the viewer into untold territory all the way around. With peerless acting from a superlative cast that further includes Jean Reno, Jeanne Berlin (so nice to see her again), Matt Damon, Kenneth Lonergan, and Matthew Broderick, Margaret is a challenging, ridiculously rich, unforgiving examination of one young woman's realization that she's not the only person on Earth. I still think that its discussions about 9/11, the Jewish mindset, teenage sexuality, and its perusal of an unlikable lead character have resulted in it being a resolutely suppressed movie (and here I have to count the strangely nosy Harvey Weinstein as a villain). But do not diminish it, for Lonergan's sophomore effort (following 2000's You Can Count On Me) is absolutely essential viewing. 

5) Searching for Sugar Man (Sweden/SouthAfrica/US...Malik Bendjelloul)
My introduction to this movie was unusual.  Of course, given that it was a hit at Sundance, I had heard of it before I had seen it. But, knowing that the music was essential to the story, I purchased the soundtrack weeks before I actually saw the film.Upon my first listen, I fell in love with Sixto Rodriguez's compositions. The Searching for Sugar Man soundtrack stayed on constant rotation for me for a month before I even saw the film. By that time, I was a fan who had NO idea what had really happened to this artist. When I finally saw the film, I was completely floored by the story.   Bendjelloul has crafted a beautiful tribute, first, to the fans who kept Rodriguez alive. There is a political element to the movie but, moreover, it's a recognition of both the bonding power of music, and of fandom--of what people who love an artist can do for the artist's life. The film is meticulously constructed as a mystery, with each progressive interview another chink in the cloaking chain. One of the year's best scenes has Rodriguez's producer marveling at the ironic misery in one of Rodriuez's songs, and then shaking his head in sadness, verklempt towards the tragedy that this man's work had all but been forgotten.I was moved to copious tears by the triumph of Searching for Sugar Man.   Really, I now look at it as a movie that his introduced me to a musician on the level of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and Elvis Costello. I will never forget the gift this movie, and the fans of South Africa, have given to me. Now, Sixto Rodriguez is an intricate part of my life.

6) Amour (Austria/Germany/France...Michael Haneke)
This is the most difficult subject to make a movie about, and that it emerges as the final word about said subject is something of a miracle. Haneke is already one of our most treasured living filmmakers, but here, in connection with his immutable leads Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Tritignant, he reaches the stratosphere in telling the story of this lifelong couple's final days together.  Amour fits in completely with his previous works, but it also connotes a more sentimental bent, to the point where its one act of chivalrous violence barely registers. It is a quiet, well-observed film, almost entirely centered in on one locale, and one class of people. Yet it is never anything less than paramount to who we all are, and who we don't want to be.

7) Zero Dark Thirty (US...Kathryn Bigelow)
Bigelow's film is the definition of immediacy. Especially in its stunning last 45 minutes, it feels like the thing we all wanted to see when it happened. Does that make it the revenge film of 2012?  Maybe. But what's wrong with that? Jessica Chastain's energetic performance as the world's collective vindictiveness makes each viewer's persona and political position at once strong, stupefying, frustrated, dogged. and essential. In this case, I do not care about the truthfulness of the story, because the film works perfectly as is is, thanks to Mark Boal's exemplary screenplay, which portrays torture as an act that is performed against its participant's own morals (here, I point to Jason Clarke's terrific supporting turn). Exquisitely filmed and edited, with a supremely balanced sense of politics and action, Zero Dark Thirty is a masterwork of process filmmaking.  

8) Compliance (US...Craig Zobel) 
The most controversial movie of the year, and with good reason. If you had seen it with an audience (as few did), you'd have felt the world rise and fall with each turn of its story. Ann Dowd delivered one of 2012's best performances, as a self-doubting fast-food manager who sadly participated in her own victimhood. Pat Healy is also sublime as the largely unseen voice of authority. Dreama Walker is magnificent as the real victim here, and the rest of the cast...well, let's just say this is the ensemble cast of the year. Writer/director Zobel wisely plays us in regards to our individual sense of perception and street smarts, and then turns us on our bald backsides. It's a movie that faces our fear of failure, and our randy willingness, in the dark of that, to take more drastic measures in order to ensure our own survival. If you have a problem with Compliance--with its wringing of women and, indeed, men--then you missed the point. And, by the way, it's based on not one, but 70 similar true stories. So, take that...and stop blaming the movie. 

9) Damsels in Distress (US...Whit Stillman)
I've never been a huge fan of Whit Stillman's movies; their cloistered erudite characters (with the exception of Stillman regular Chris Eigeman) always put me at arm's length. But Damsels in Distress had Stillman taking his characters' too-smart-for-their-own-benefit talk to absurd lengths.  Coupling this with their seriously misguided attempts to help others who are perceived as being "not good enough," the writer/director thereby crafted the comedy of the year, to my immense surprise. It helps that he had the wisdom to cast the always engaging and uber-intelligent Greta Gerwig as his seriously flawed but good-hearted heroine, and further had her supported by a lovely cast of ladies including Carrie McLemore, Analeigh Tipton, and (of special note) Megalyn Echikunwoke as the one with the suspicious British accent. This film might not be for everyone--the dialogue is dense and the acting style is absolutely strange. But it certainly worked for me. I mean, it even contained a couple of joyous musical sequences, one of which had me wanting to learn that international dance craze "The Samboca" all year long!     

10) Take This Waltz (Canada...Sarah Polley) 
Michelle Williams continues her rise as the movie industry's very best actress with her turn in this tense, fun, complicated study of a happily married woman who meets another man and falls powerfully in love with him. Sarah Polley (who was formidable as an actress, but who's now found her true calling as a writer/director) never demonizes the husband (played with surprising restraint by an excellent Seth Rogen), and she doesn't make the new guy (Luke Kirby) into some shining knight; he has flaws and weirdnesses, too. The film is aptly titled, because it dramatizes a tentative, extended dance towards a richer life for all (though not without regrets and racor), and it does so with a suitable source music score that results in two of the best scenes of the year: a ride on an indoor carnival wheel set to the Buggles' "Video Killed The Radio Star," and, most notably, a house party (which could have easily been a throwaway scene) that is energized by Feist's woefully unreleased cover of Leonard Cohen's "Closing Time" (this need to be released immediately; it could be a #1 hit). Ultimately, though, it's Williams' longing, pouting, passionate face that resonates as the film's most memorable feature.  She is a marvel.  

11) Footnote (Israel...Joseph Cedar)
In telling the story of a aging Talmudic scholar who's been forgotten by the academia he so wishes to be a part of, Cedar's fast-moving and impressively designed movie cynically pokes holes in the petty concerns some savants cling to for fear of plunging back down into a reality that, day by day, diminishes their closely-held egotism. Footnote, with its monumental lead performances from Schlomo Bar-Aba as the abandoned father and Lior Ashkenazi as his successful son, is one of those movies that may look like exotic fruit to those not familiar with its world, but it's a fruit, when tasted, seems as if it possesses the flavors of the Earth.

12) Cloud Atlas (US/Germany/Hong Kong...Andy and Lara Wachowski, Tom Tykwer) 
The most ambitious movie of the year.  Also, the most misunderstood.   It's like a smart kid that no one really likes. Six stories, jumbled together dazzlingly, with a huge cast playing multiple roles, with tons of makeup and comedy and tragedy and a post-apocalyptic world...oh yeah...nothing can go wrong here. But here it is, in front of us, and if you were up for the ride, it was a helluva good time, especially on the big screen. Myself, I loved every single second of this movie about the connections we all share...even the seconds I DIDN'T quite love.

13) Holy Motors (France...Leos Carax)  
Cloud Atlas gets canned by many critics, while this equally wild mess of a movie about the connections we all share make a majority of top ten lists?   I don't get it.   Is it because it's in French?  Well, at any rate, Carax's movie--his first in over a decade, and reportedly his last--was tremendous fun to watch, mainly because you cannot possibly predict where it and its heroic lead, Denis Levant, are going to take us next. Beautifully produced from top to bottom, Holy Motors is really about the joy of watching all kinds of movies.

14) Beasts of the Southern Wild (US...Behn Zeitlin)
It took a bit of patience for me to get over my aversion to cinematographer Ben Richardson's shaky-cam, but by the 20-minute mark, I was fully invested in Zeitlin's debut feature, mainly because of his preternatural ability to select such remarkable non-actors for his lead roles (I accepted the shaky-cam, because we are on absolutely shaky ground here). Qu'venzhane Wallis, as the brave Hushpuppy, and Dwight Harris, as her strong-willed father, are two of the year's most remarkable performers, and certainly the most surprising. Add in Zeitlin's magic-tinged direction and a palpable sense of place and poetry, and the film becomes essential viewing.

15) Player Hating: A Love Story (US...Maggie Hadleigh-West)
This ultra-indie documentary, years in the making, finally got its first theatrical release in New York City this year, so I'm considering it a 2012 release. Hadleigh-West is dogged and determined in her efforts to follow rapper Half-A-Mill in his battle with the violent streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and with his own low economic status, in order to get his first CD out to the people. Along the way, this moving, energetic film captures both the camaraderie he shares with his crew, and the deadly jealousy of others. Player Hating: A Love Story becomes not only the greatest hip-hop movie I've ever seen, but also the best film about ghetto life made since the 1970s.

16) The Kid with a Bike (Belgium...Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne) 
The Dardenne Brothers continue their winning streak of detailed, humanistic tales with this examination of a neglected boy (Thomas Doret) and his tentative new relationship with a woman (the amazing Cecile De France) who finds in him someone to love.  Exceedingly simple, but with a surplus of overwhelming emotion. I wish I could say more, but this movie makes it simple to comment on, since it's so obviously great.

17) 5 Broken Cameras (Palestine...Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi)
The frustrating push-and-pull of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes to horrifying life with this remarkable documentary that follows director/cameraman Burnat as he obstinately films years of clashes, violence, protests, and tiny triumphs for the put-upon population of his village as Israeli settlers and soldiers literally move in for the kill (and the fact that co-director/editor Davidi is an Israeli really tells you something about that country's populace and opinions). Anyone who says that the situation in Palestine isn't akin to South Africa's Apartheid needs to see this movie, and then you will be put right. A real achievement, this.

18) Silver Linings Playbook (US...David O. Russell)
Just joyous moviemaking from one of our best writer/directors, David O. Russell, who works in tandem with a superb cast--Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Jacki Weaver, Chris Tucker, Anupham Kher and Julia Stiles--to bring us this story of depression, medication, competition, superstition and love. Brilliant dialogue throughout, and feel-good results, without the cornpone that often accompanies that phrase.

19) Bernie (US...Richard Linklater)
Texas-born writer/director Linklater brings his intimate knowledge of his home state to the fore with this forgiving retelling of a somehow gentle true crime case, with its main player being the most loved and respected member of Carthage, Texas. The film is skillful in never making its main character--played with heretofore unseen verve and compassion by Jack Black--the butt of jokes or hatred. Plus it sports the best use of documentary-style witness accounts (by both actors and non-actors) maybe since Warren Beatty's Reds back in 1981. Another wonderful, and daring, movie about the joys of being human.

20) Lincoln (US...Steven Spielberg) 
Well, I liked Lincoln but it took a while for me to get into its stately rhythm. I admired the screenplay, which I thought took great pains to approximate the language of the times, and of course, its chief asset is Daniel Day-Lewis, whose performance is so supreme that it's difficult to believe we're not looking through some time portal at the actual President and man. But there were certain notes of phoniness as the film begins, in both the scripting and the direction, that threw me off, and I kept wishing that the film was a bit quicker-paced. I also have a problem with period pieces that are done in this limited sort of brown palette, as if everything in the past is devoid of primary colors. Lincoln isn't drawn this way throughout, but it's certainly the case that its majority is rather limited, visually. However, by the 45-minute mark, I was all in, and Spielberg did a terrific job of maintaining suspense even with history as hindsight. Ultimately, Day-Lewis's lead is of such magnificent quality (as is so for the rest of the accomplished cast) that I could not abandon this film.

21) Magic Mike (US...Steven Soderburgh) 
I find Magic Mike to be Soderburgh's most ecstatic movie--I only wish that there could be made a female-driven stripping film that had so much verve, while remaining so compassionate. It's a well-photographed (by Soderburgh, under his "Peter Andrews" alter-ego) and tremendously good-hearted peer into another world, anchored by the appealing Channing Tatum, female lead Olivia Munn (who's really wonderful here), and a ridiculously charismatic supporting turn from Matthew McConaughey, who surely has to be considered the actor of the year, what with his showings here as well as in Bernie, The Paperboy, and Killer Joe.

22) Wreck-It Ralph (US...Rich Moore)
Utterly charming, this video-game-centric animated film (which owes much to Toy Story, obviously) takes aim at the present state of play worldwide, while also having a little fun with the whole notion of self-help and 12-step groups. Vibrantly paced and colored, with superlative voice work from John C. Reilly, Jane Lynch, and especially Sarah Silverman as Ralph's adorable foil Vennellope, I found myself forgiving the film's few third-act flaws and instead embracing the warm, unlikely friendship that's so central to its story.

23) The Grey (US...Joe Carnahan)
An unexpectedly vibrant examination of machismo, set inside something that feels like it will be your typical horror or action film, but turns out to be much more complex. This is Liam Neeson's very best performance (even including Schindler), and director Carnahan has him surrounded by a superb supporting cast (led by the amazing Frank Grillo). Exciting, smart, and gorgeously filmed.

24) Goodbye First Love (France...Mia Hansen-Love)
Writer/director Mia Hansen-Love follows up her excellent The Father of My Children with this just-the-facts examination of a first love's dissolution, crowned by a star-making lead performance by Lola Creton. Anyone who see this film will immediately flash back to their own first love experience, and find much in common with its deeply-felt content.

25) The Cabin in the Woods (US...Drew Goddard)  
A fantastic spoof of present-day horror movie cliches, with some of the heartiest laughs I experienced in 2012. Complete fun from beginning to end, if you are in the right mind. Thank you, Mr. Whedon, for this and for the nearly equally entertaining The Avengers. 

OF NOTE (and there are so many good movies here, it physically hurts me to leave them off my final list): After Lucia, Ai Weiwei: Never Forget, Anna Karinina, The Avengers, Celeste and Jesse Forever, The Central Park Five, Cloudburst, The Dark Knight Rises, The Deep Blue Sea, Detropia, Django Unchained, The Dogs of South Central, Flight, Frankenweenie, Game Change, The Gatekeepers, The Giant Mechanical Man, The Guilt Trip, Habemus Papum, Hatfields and McCoys, Haywire, Hope Springs, Ik Ben Echt Niet Bang! (I'm Never Afraid!), The Imposter, Jayne Mansfield's Car, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Killer Joe, Kon-Tiki, Last Words of the Holy Ghost, A Late Quartet, Paul Williams Still Alive, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, The Pirates: Band of Misfits, Pitch Perfect, Quartet, The Queen of Versailles, Return, The Sessions, Sleepwalk with Me, Skyfall, Stand Up Guys, West of Memphis, Whore's Glory, Your Sister's Sister

THE BEST SCENES OF 2012: The bus accident in Margaret; the tumbling of the apples in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia;  Gina Carano beating the stuffing out of Michael Fassbender in Haywire; Wreck-It Ralph meeting Vanellope on the candy tree in Wreck-It Ralph; the release of the monsters in The Cabin in the Woods; the Hulk shows Loki what for in The Avengers; Jean-Louis Tritignant with the pigeon in Amour; "A Slow Boat to China" in The Master; the carnival ride, set to "Video Killed the Radio Star," in Take This Waltz; the plane crash in Flight; Jennifer Lawrence's deconstruction of Robert De Niro's superstitions in Silver Linings Playbook; the eating of the crab in Beasts of the Southern Wild; the cloistered discussion of Jewish tracts, and university politics, in Footnote; the vibrantly-colored Singapore scene in Skyfall; "I am the president of the United States, clothed in immense power": Lincoln; the assault on the compound in Zero Dark Thirty; "I Wanna Know What Love Is" in Rock of Ages; our girl crawling towards her paramour as apology in Goodbye First Love; "I Dreamed a Dream" in Les Miserables; Samuel L. Jackson addressing the camera menacingly in Django Unchained; Katniss takes the stage for the first time in The Hunger Games; the therapist enjoying her most totally intimate moment with her client in The Sessions; Sixto Rodriguez first greets his legions of fans in Searching for Sugar Man; a joyous house party, scored by Feist's version of Leonard Cohen's "Closing Time," in Take This Waltz.

OVERRATED: Argo (a great story and script, poorly directed), The Impossible (disgusting exploitation, with Thai victims shoved over to the side) , The Intouchables (embarrassing sentiment from the French, who do not know how to do it), Les Miserables (horrible music, equally horrible direction, with Anne Hathaway its only savior), The Loneliest Planet (pretentious shoe-leather that should have been reduced to a 15-minute short), Moonrise Kingdom (a director's self-parody, well-designed, with little attention paid to its most emotionally important elements), Life of Pi (impressive score and effects, but all I really cared about was what happened to Richard Parker).

GUILTY PLEASURES: 21 Jump Street, 4:44: Last Day on Earth, Hitchcock, The Hunger Games, The Raid: Redemption, Rock of Ages, Savages, This is 40

BLAH: Arbitrage, Barbara, Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best, The Clown, End of Watch, The Girl, God Bless America, Hysteria, Lawless, A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman, L!fe Happens, Lola Versus, Price Check, Prometheus, Promised Land, Robot and Frank, Seven Psychopaths, Trouble with the Curve

WORST FILMS: The Bay (crappy found-footage horror schlock from director Barry Levinson,  who should know better), Dark Horse (more human-hating dung from writer/director Solondz), The Dictator (deadly, pin-dropping unfunny schtick--in a straight-forwardly narrative form--from Sacha Baron Cohen), Hyde Park on Hudson (maybe the most unworkable movie of the year, with no sense of cohesion between its immanently uninteresting multiple stories), Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy (totally lazy Trainspotting ripoff, without the heart--which is saying something!), Killing Them Softly (a mess, and a complete drop-off from Andrew Dominink's previous work), Not Fade Away (David Chase's dull, clunky, narcissistic look at the 1960s, without the energy or insight that should've kicked our butts), Safety Not Guaranteed (sideways sci-fi with a fanboy's desire for love as icing; radically overpraised, with a jaw-droppingly ridiculous denouement), This Must Be The Place (the year's most humiliating lead performance by a major actor, Sean Penn, accompanied by a silly script), V/H/S (occasionally entertaining junk--though always ugly visually and emotionally--that finally makes all other terrible horror anthology movies look like Dead of Night)

BEST UNRELEASED MOVIES: Araf / Somewhere in Between, Basically Frightened: The Musical Madness of Col. Bruce Hampton, Frances Ha, In The Hive, Musical Chairs, Neighboring Sounds, Passion, Sweet Old World, Trash Dance, You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

FAVORITE NON-2012 MOVIES I DISCOVERED THIS YEAR: The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 70); Went the Day Well? (Alberto Cavalcanti, 42); Dark of the Sun (Jack Cardiff, 68); C'est La Vie (Diane Kurys, 90); Very Nice Very Nice (Arthur Lipsett, 61); Christo's Valley Curtain (Ellen Giffard, Albert and David Maysles, 74); Hiroshima (Koreyoshi Kurehara and Roger Spottiswoode, 95); Bullets or Ballots (William Keighley, 36); When The Wind Blows (Jimmy D. Murakami, 86); Downhill Racer (Michael Richie, 69); You're Gonna Miss Me (Keven McAlester, 2005); Fright Night (Craig Gillespie, 2011); Quicksand (Irving Pitchel, 50); The Naked Prey (Cornel Wilde, 66); 23 Skiddoo (Julian Biggs, 64); Elephant (Alan Clarke, 89); The World's Greatest Sinner (Timothy Carey, 62); Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jires, 70); The Street With No Name (William Keighley, 48); Theodora Goes Wild (Richard Boleslawski, 36); Demonlover (Olivier Assayas, 2002); Give 'em Hell Harry! (Steve Binder, 75); Blank City (Celine Danhier, 2010); Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown (Jim Reardon, 86)

BEST RE-DISCOVERED FILMS: The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 63); Harry and Tonto (Paul Mazursky, 74); Mother, Jugs and Speed (Peter Yates, 76); Since You Went Away (John Cromwell, 44); Deep Cover (Bill Duke, 92)

NEED TO SEE (last revised 12/13): The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Bachelorette, Barrymore, Being Flynn, The Color Wheel, The Five-Year Engagement, Middle of Nowhere, The Painting, The Rabbi's Cat, A Royal Affair, Ruby Sparks, Rust and Bone, Starlet, Tabu, This is Not a Film, War Witch

MY PERSONAL OSCARS FOR 2012:

BEST ENGLISH-LANGUAGE PICTURE: THE MASTER (followed by, in descending order): Zero Dark Thirty, Margaret, Compliance, Cloud Atlas, Damsels in Distress, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Take This Waltz, Silver Linings Playbook, Bernie


BEST NON-ENGLISH-LANGUAGE PICTURE: ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (followed by, in descending order): Oslo August 31st, Amour, Footnote, Holy Motors, The Kid with a Bike, 5 Broken Cameras, Goodbye First Love

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN (Malik Bendjelloul) (2nd: Player Hating: A Love Story (Maggie Hadleigh-West), followed by 5 Broken Cameras (Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi); The Invisible War (Kirby Dick); The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield); West of Memphis (Amy Berg) 

BEST DIRECTOR: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (2nd: Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master, followed by: Michael Haneke, Amour; Kathryn Bigelow, Zero Dark Thirty; Kenneth Lonergan, Margaret; Joachim Trier, Oslo August 31st

BEST ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix, THE MASTER (2nd: Anders Danielsen Lie, Oslo August 31st, followed by: Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master; Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln; Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour; Jack Black, Bernie

BEST ACTRESS: Anna Paquin, MARGARET (2nd: Ann Dowd, Compliance, followed by Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty; Emmanuelle Riva, Amour; Michelle Williams, Take This Waltz; Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Matthew McConaughey, MAGIC MIKE (2nd: Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained, followed by: Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook; Lior Ashkenazi, Footnote; Jim Broadbent, Cloud Atlas; Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: J. Smith Cameron, MARGARET (2nd: Amy Adams, The Master, followed by: Helen Hunt, The Sessions; Rosemary DeWitt, Your Sister's Sister; Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises; Jeanne Berlin, Margaret

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: Paul Thomas Anderson, THE MASTER (2nd: Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty, followed by Craig Zobel, Compliance; Michael Haneke, Amour; Ebruy Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Ercan Kasal, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia; Kenneth Lonergan, Margaret)

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt, OSLO AUGUST 31st (2nd: David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook, followed by Richard Linklater and Skip Hollandsworth, Bernie; Andy Wachowski, Lara Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, Cloud Atlas; Tony Kushner, Lincoln; Tracy Letts, Killer Joe)


CINEMATOGRAPHY: Mihai Malaimaire Jr., THE MASTER (2nd: Gokhan Tiryaki, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, followed by: Roger Deakins, Skyfall; John Toll and Frank Griebe, Cloud Atlas; Robert Richardson, Django Unchained; Grieg Fraser, Zero Dark Thirty)

ART DIRECTION: CLOUD ATLAS followed by Anna Karinina, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, Lincoln, Skyfall

COSTUME DESIGN: CLOUD ATLAS, followed by Moonrise Kingdom, The Master, Anna Karinina, Lincoln, Mirror Mirror


FILM EDITING: ZERO DARK THIRTY, followed by: Cloud Atlas, Compliance, The Master, Silver Linings Playbook, Skyfall

SOUND: DJANGO UNCHAINED, followed by Zero Dark Thirty, The Master, The Avengers, Skyfall, Flight


SCORE: Johnny Greenwood, THE MASTER (2nd: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer, Cloud Atlas, followed by Heather McIntosh, Compliance; Benh Zeitlin and Dan Rohmer, Beasts of the Southern Wild; Mike Suozzo, Damsels in Distress; Amit Poznansky, Footnote)

ORIGINAL SONG:
"Looking for a Sign" from JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME (music and lyrics by Beck Hansen) (2nd: "Metaphorical Blanket" from Any Day Now (music and lyrics by Rufus Wainwright); "Who Were We?" from Holy Motors (music by Neil Hannon, lyrics by Leos Carax and Neil Hannon); "Who Did That To You? from Django Unchained (music and lyrics by John Legend); "Before My Time" from Chasing Ice (music and lyrics by J. Ralph); "Anything Made of Paper" from West of Memphis (music and lyrics by Bill Carter and Ruth Ellsworth)) 

SPECIAL EFFECTS: CLOUD ATLAS followed by The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Life of Pi, Prometheus, The Impossible

HAIR AND MAKEUP: HOLY MOTORS, followed by Lincoln, Cloud Atlas, Rock of Ages, Django Unchained, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

ANIMATED FEATURE: WRECK-IT RALPH, followed by Frankenweenie, The Pirates: Band of Misfits


And, now...onto 2013!  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Canon, and The New Canon



I asked film expert extraordinaire Iain Stott if I could participate in his new project, which calls for a variety of participants to rank, according to their own personal taste, the recent entrants in the Sight and Sound critics' poll as to the top 100 films of all time.  The second and more difficult tier of Stott's challenge is for each participating film expert to posit 100 more films that they think should be entered into the canon, making for 200 films listed for each.   The website on which the tabulated results have been posted is called 100 Evenings Illuminated, and it already sports a parcel of very sharp photos from the Sight and Sound inductees.  NOTE: Due to my commitments to MOVIE GEEKS UNITED! and this website, I could not, to my disappointment, turn my tabulations in per Iain's deadline (as I've had to watch a lotta 2012 movies in order to catch up for our year-end wrap-up, due to drop on January 20th).  As a result, my results aren't included in the final tally; however, Iain has kindly included my ballot on the site as a late entry, and so I thank him for that.  Overall, though, I really wanted to bring some more attention to and respect for Iain's loving dedication to new ways of thinking about film history; the final list of all the films mentioned even once on the individual participants' ballots is REALLY something else (plus I love that, on my ballot, he highlighted the ones that were unique to my list).  FINALLY: as for this article, the big photographic payload is shunted towards the second half of the post.   Happy viewing! 

So here is my ranking of Sight and Sound's top 100: 

1) 2001: A Space Odyssey (US/UK...Stanley Kubrick, 68)
2) Fanny And Alexander (Sweden...Ingmar Bergman, 84)
3) Touch Of Evil (US...Orson Welles, 58)
4) The Godfather (US...Francis Ford Coppola, 72)
5) The 400 Blows (France...François Truffaut, 59)
6) The Passion of Joan of Arc (Germany...Carl Th. Dreyer, 27)
7) City Lights (US...Charlie Chaplin, 31)
8) Citizen Kane (US...Orson Welles, 41)  
9) Rear Window (US...Alfred Hitchcock, 54)
10) Lawrence Of Arabia (US/UK...David Lean, 62)
11) The Godfather Part II (US...Francis Ford Coppola, 74)
12) Playtime (France...Jacques Tati, 67)
13) Man with a Movie Camera (Russia...Dziga Vertov, 29)
14) The Magnificent Ambersons (US...Orson Welles, 42)
15) Some Like It Hot (US...Billy Wilder, 59)
16) Nashville (US...Robert Altman, 75)
17) Mulholland Dr. (US...David Lynch, 2001)
18) Taxi Driver (US...Martin Scorsese, 76)
19) Psycho (US...Alfred Hitchcock, 60)
20) 8 ½ (Italy...Federico Fellini, 63)
21) Persona (Sweden...Ingmar Bergman, 66)
22) Seven Samurai (Japan...Akira Kurosawa, 54)
23) The Night Of The Hunter (US...Charles Laughton, 55)
24) Wild Strawberries (Sweden...Ingmar Bergman, 57)
25) Blue Velvet (US...David Lynch, 86)
26) The Wild Bunch (US...Sam Peckinpah, 69) 
27) A Matter Of Life And Death (UK...Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger, 46)
28) The Searchers (US...John Ford, 56)
29) Sunset Blvd. (US...Billy Wilder, 50)
30) Apocalypse Now (US...Francis Ford Coppola, 79)
31) Once Upon A Time In The West (Italy...Sergio Leone, 68)
32) Sunrise: a Song for Two Humans (US...F.W. Murnau, 27)
33) Au hasard Balthazar (France...Robert Bresson, 66)
34) Battleship Potemkin (Russia...Sergei Eisenstein, 25)
35) Sherlock Jr. (US...Buster Keaton, 24)
36) Madame de… (France...Max Ophuls, 53)
37) Pierrot le Fou (France...Jean-Luc Godard, 65)
38) The Seventh Seal (Sweden...Ingmar Bergman, 57)
39) Singin’ in the Rain (US...Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, 51)
40) The Colour Of Pomegranates (Russia...Sergai Parajanov, 68)
41) Chinatown (US...Roman Polanski, 74)
42) Aguirre, The Wrath Of God (Germany...Werner Herzog, 72)
43) Raging Bull (US...Martin Scorsese, 80)
44) Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles (Belgium...Chantal Akerman, 75)
45) The General (US...Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, 26)
46) North By Northwest (US...Alfred Hitchcock, 59)
47) Barry Lyndon (US/UK...Stanley Kubrick, 75)
48) Rio Bravo (US...Howard Hawks, 58)
49) La Grande Illusion (France...Jean Renoir, 37)
50) Tokyo Story (Japan...Yasujiro Ozu, 53)
51) Vertigo (US...Alfred Hitchcock, 58)
52) Blade Runner (US...Ridley Scott, 82)
53) Metropolis (Germany...Fritz Lang, 27)
54) Modern Times (US...Charlie Chaplin, 36)
55) A Man Escaped (France...Robert Bresson, 56)
56) Rashomon (Japan...Akira Kurosawa, 50)
57) M (Germany...Fritz Lang, 31)
58) La Jetée (France...Chris Marker, 62)
59) Le Mépris (France...Jean-Luc Godard, 63)
60) L’Atalante (France...Jean Vigo, 34)
61) Andrei Rublev (Russia...Andrei Tarkovsky, 66)
62) Late Spring (Japan...Yasujiro Ozu, 49)
63) Bicycle Thieves (Italy...Vittoria De Sica, 48)
64) The Battle of Algiers (Italy...Gillo Pontecorvo, 66)
65) Breathless (France...Jean-Luc Godard, 60)
66) The Leopard (Italy...Luchino Visconti, 63)
67) Ordet (Denmark...Carl Th. Dreyer, 55)
68) In the Mood for Love (Hong Kong...Wong Kar-Wai, 2000)
69) Les Enfants du Paradis (France...Marcel Carne, 45)
70) The Third Man (US/UK...Carol Reed, 49)
71) Un Chien Andalou (Spain...Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali, 28)
72) Imitation Of Life (US...Douglas Sirk, 59)
73) L’eclisse (Italy...Michelangelo Antonioni, 62)
74) L’avventura (Italy...Michelangelo Antonioni, 60)
75) Beau Travail (France...Claire Denis, 98)
76) La Dolce Vita (Italy...Federico Fellini, 60)
77) Casablanca (US...Michael Curtiz, 42)
78) Shoah (France/Poland...Claude Lanzmann, 85)
79) Sansho Dayu (Japan...Kenji Mizoguchi, 54)
80) Pickpocket (France...Robert Bresson, 59)
81) La Règle du Jeu (France...Jean Renoir, 39)

Now I must be honest: these are the 19 films out of the 100 that I have only seen partially or not at all (mostly because they are difficult to find, or because I'm lazy, or both).  Of course, it would be disingenuous of me to rank these, so I have them in the order they appear on the original list.  So, I guess I have some great movies ahead of me...what a relief! 

82) Mirror (Russia...Andrei Tarkovsky, 74)
83) Stalker (Russia...Andrei Tarkovsky, 79)
84) Sátántangó (Hungary...Béla Tarr, 94)
85) Journey to Italy (Italy...Roberto Rossellini, 54)
86) Pather Panchali (India...Satyajit Ray, 55)
87) Gertrud (Denmark...Carl Th. Dreyer, 64)
88) Close-Up (Iran...Abbas Kiarostami, 90)
89) Histoire(s) du cinéma (France...Jean-Luc Godard, 98)
90) Ugetsu Monogatari (Japan...Kenji Mizoguchi, 53)
91) La Maman et la Putain (France...Jean Eustache, 73)
92) Intolerance (US...D.W. Griffith, 16)
93) Sans Soleil (France...Chris Marker, 82)
94) The Spirit Of The Beehive (Spain...Victor Erice, 73)
95) Greed (US...Erich Von Stroheim, 25)
96) A Brighter Summer Day (Taiwan...Edward Yang, 91)
97) Partie de Campagne (France...Jean Renoir, 36)
98) The Life and Death Of Colonel Blimp (UK...Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger, 43)
99) Touki-Bouki (Hungary/Senegal...Djibril Diop Mambety, 73)
100) A One And A Two (Taiwan...Edward Yang, 2000)

Now for my list of the 100 films that I think should be canonized.  Now this...for this, I took the top choices from each of my MASTER LISTS, and reduced them down to 100 titles.   This was much more difficult...and painful...than I expected it to be.  Plus, the accumulation of the photos was daunting, indeed.  But I did it:

1) It's A Wonderful Life (US...Frank Capra, 46)

2) Annie Hall (US...Woody Allen, 77)

3) Paths of Glory (US...Stanley Kubrick, 57)

4) All That Jazz (US...Bob Fosse, 79) 

5) Ikiru (Japan...Akira Kurosawa, 52)

6) Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (UK/US...Stanley Kubrick, 64)

7) Stagecoach (US...John Ford, 39)

8) Breaking the Waves (Denmark/UK...Lars Von Trier, 96)

9) Eraserhead (US...David Lynch, 77)

10) Salesman (US...Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerlin, 69)

11) Sullivan's Travels (US...Preston Sturges, 41)

12) Goodfellas (US...Martin Scorsese, 90)

13) The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (US...John Huston, 48)

14) Targets (US...Peter Bogdanovich, 68)

15) Nights of Cabiria (Italy...Federico Fellini, 57)

16) One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (US...Milos Forman, 75)

17) A Little Romance (France/US...George Roy Hill, 79)

18) Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmuller, 76)

19) Duck Soup (US...Leo McCarey, 33)

20) Stop Making Sense (US...Jonathan Demme and Talking Heads, 84)

21) The New World (US...Terrence Malick, 2005)

22) The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (Italy...Sergio Leone, 66)

23) Napoleon (France...Abel Gance, 27) 

24) Jean De Florette (France...Claude Berri, 87)

25) The Exterminating Angel (Spain...Luis Bunuel, 62)

26) Great Expectations (UK...David Lean, 46)

27) Sherman's March (US...Ross McElwee, 86)  

28) West Side Story (US...Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins, 61)

29) Gone With The Wind (US...Victor Fleming/David O. Selznick et al., 39)

30) Bambi (US...David Hand, James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Graham Heid, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Norman Wright, Walt Disney, 42)

31) Umberto D (Italy...Vittorio De Sica, 52) 

32) Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (US...Frank Capra, 39)

33) Manhattan (US...Woody Allen, 79) 

34) What's Opera, Doc? (US...Chuck Jones, 57)

35) Pulp Fiction (US...Quentin Tarantino, 94)

36) The Naked Spur (US...Anthony Mann, 53)

37) Shadow of a Doubt (US...Alfred Hitchcock, 43) 

38) Das Boot (TV or film version) (Germany...Wolfgang Petersen, 83)

39) Network (US...Sidney Lumet, 76)

40) Blow Up (UK....Michelangelo Antonioni, 66)

41) Unforgiven (US...Clint Eastwood, 92)

42) Vampyr (Denmark...Carl Th. Dreyer, 32)

43) The Last Picture Show (US...Peter Bogdanovich, 71)

44) Titicut Follies (US...Frederick Wiseman, 67)

45) Reds (US...Warren Beatty, 81)

46) A Woman Under the Influence (US...John Cassavetes, 74)

47) The Exorcist (US...William Friedkin, 73)

48) Ride The High Country (US...Sam Peckinpah, 62)

49) Life is Sweet (UK...Mike Leigh, 91)

50) Do The Right Thing (US...Spike Lee, 89) 

51) Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (US...Mike Nichols, 66)

52) Brazil (UK...Terry Gilliam, 85)

53) Kiss Me, Deadly (US...Robert Aldrich, 55)

54) Ran (Japan...Akira Kurosawa, 85)

55) The Set-Up (US...Robert Wise, 49)

  56) Eyes Wide Shut (US/UK...Stanley Kubrick, 99)

57) Frankenstein (US...James Whale, 31)

58) Mothlight (US...Stan Brakhage, 63) 

59) Chilly Scenes of Winter (US...Joan Micklin Silver, 81)

60) The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (US...Andrew Dominick, 2007)

61) Repulsion (UK...Roman Polanski, 65)

62) O Lucky Man! (UK...Lindsay Anderson, 73)

63) A Hard Day's Night (UK...Richard Lester, 64)

64) Once Upon A Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011) 

65) Twelve Angry Men (US...Sidney Lumet, 57)

66) Winchester '73 (US...Anthony Mann, 50)

67) The Innocents (UK...Jack Clayton, 61)

68) Three Colors: Blue (France/Poland...Krzysztof Kieslowski, 93)

69) Best Boy (US...Ira Wohl, 79)

70) Culloden (UK...Peter Watkins, 64)

71) The Tale of the Fox (France...Wladyslaw and Irene Starewicz, 30)

72) Intolerance (D.W. Griffith, 16) 

73) Local Hero (Scotland...Bill Forsyth, 82)

74) Close Encounters of the Third Kind (US...Steven Spielberg, 77)

75) Breaking Away (US...Peter Yates, 79)

76) Time Indefinite (US...Ross McElwee, 93)

77) Alien (UK/US...Ridley Scott, 79) 

78) Pennies from Heaven (US...Herbert Ross, 81)

79) Toy Story (US...John Lasseter, 95)

80) Night of the Living Dead (US...George A. Romero, 68) 

81) The Unbearable Lightness of Being (US...Philip Kaufman, 88)

82) The Big Lebowski (US...Joel and Ethan Coen, 98)

83) Badlands (US...Terrence Malick, 73)

84) Raiders of the Lost Ark (US...Steven Spielberg, 81)

85) I Am Cuba (Russia/Cuba...Mikhail Kalatozov, 64)

86) Frank Film (US...Frank and Caroline Morris, 73)

87) The Gods of Times Square (US...Richard Sandler, 99)

88) Topsy-Turvy (UK...Mike Leigh, 99)

89) The Music Man (US...Morton De Costa, 62)

90) Crumb (US...Terry Zwigoff, 94)

 91) Days of Heaven (US...Terrence Malick, 78)

92) Gertie the Dinosaur (US...Windsor McKay, 14) 


93) The Thin Blue Line (US...Errol Morris, 88)

94) Alexander Nevsky (Russia...Sergei Eisenstein, Dmitri Vasilyev, 38) 

95) My Darling Clementine (US...John Ford, 46)  

96) Midnight Cowboy (US...John Schlesinger, 69)

97) 'Round Midnight (France/US...Bertrand Tavernier, 86)

98) Gimme Shelter (US...Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerlin, 71)

99) The Empire Strikes Back (US...Irvin Kershner, 80)

100) Modern Romance (US...Albert Brooks, 81)