Though I thought 2011 was a better year as a whole for film, this year was far from a bad one. I haven’t yet been able to see plenty of big ones: Amour, Zero Dark Thirty, Berberian Sound Studio, Sister, This is Not a Film.
Several big ones that were technically released this year made my 2011 list including Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, The Kid with a Bike and The Turin Horse. I should note that Anatolia topped my list last year and had I included it for 2012 it would have topped it again.
So, that being said, here we go:
10. Holy Motors. I’m not entirely sure how to describe this film, but I do know that three scenes won’t go away: the long sequence in the building that leads to the roof, the deathbed scene, and the stabbing in the warehouse. It’s funny and sad at once and, like The Master, will probably be much higher on my list when I look back at this in the future.
9. Sound of my Voice. A really simple film that I loved, partially because of how simple it is. First time director Zal Batmanglij does a whole lot with very little and turns a premise that could be easily corny into something haunting.
8. Moonrise Kingdom. I probably like this film just as much as my other Anderson favorite, The Royal Tenenbaums. It’s such a great fusion of detailed costume and production design, visual and dialogue humor that both really work (that trampoline moment is hysterical!) and sweet characters. It’s one of my favorite recent Ed Norton performances.
7. Barbara. I was only introduced to Christian Petzold a few years ago, but he’s already become one of my favorite current directors. Barbara couldn’t seem simpler. A woman wants to leave East Germany. But in Petzold’s hands it becomes a slow burner with moments of beauty and ugliness. The person I sat next to when watching this film said it felt predictable. If that’s true then you’re basing your assumption on a Hollywood narrative and no German tradition.
6. Compliance. Craig Zobel’s film is probably more frustrating than Beyond the Hills, but accusations of exploitation are over-exaggerated and not thought out. Zobel is, in fact, careful not to demonize anyone, shows a cool touch, and carefully observes a microcosm of human behavior and power balance.
5. The Master. I haven’t been able to get this film out of my head, which I think is a really great thing. Truly phenomenal performances. I read a negative review awhile back that criticized PTA for shooting 70mm only to stick to mostly shot-reverse shot. That reviewer must have overlooked much of the cinematography of the film, which is impeccable (by Mihai Malaimare Jr). There’s something so mysterious about PTA’s films, and this one is no exception. I bet when I look back on this year I regret that I didn’t place this one higher.
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild. This film would be great if Quvenzhane Wallis’ performance was the only reason to like it. It’s that good of a turn. Luckily there’s a lot more going on here.
3. Argo. I haven’t had this much fun in a relatively big budget thriller in the theaters in awhile. The last 20 minutes of Argo manage to be tense despite the fact that I knew the outcome. That’s directing!
2. Tabu. An unexpected poem, Miguel Gomes’ film references Murnau’s 1931 masterpiece but is a film all its own. Its strange rhythm and voiceover recall de Oliveira’s films. There’s something fascinating about the inevitable story of love and doom, framed and shot beautifully with sound that feels as tangible as the image.
1. Beyond the Hills. Cristian Mungiu’s film is another one (like The Master) that’s going to stick with me. Talking about sound design – this is my vote (maybe, strangely, alongside Killing Them Softly) for best sound of the year. It’s so effective and has a great jump moment that will leave any audience member feeling foolish. The two leads give enormous performances. It’s a film that can be frustrating but is very rewarding with some reflection.
Best of the Rest:
Alps. Just wrote about this one the other day. Wacky, weird and affecting metaphorical film from Gioros Lanthimos of Dogtooth fame.
Killer Joe. What a ridiculous climax! This movie is off the wall and has maybe Matthew McConaughey’s best performance ever.
Looper. I’ve got a lot of problems with the second half of the film, but it’s fun as hell. Good to see an original sci-fi concept play out well on a large budget.
End of Watch. The script is full of weak moments, but it’s the first time I’ve been blown away by Jake Gyllenhaal. Michael Pena is just as good. Their relationship as two good-guy cops is worth the watch alone.
The Dark Knight Rises. Some weak performances mar an otherwise fine conclusion to a damn ambitious trilogy. Tom Hardy can act.
The Loneliest Planet. I’ll probably blog on this one soon. It’s way too long, but it has one moment that is good enough to make the whole film worthwhile.
Snowtown Murders. Grim and grisly, but beautifully shot. Daniel Henshall should be getting more hype.
Rust and Bone. Not my favorite Audiard, but strong nonetheless. Anyone that can make a concept work that must have read something like, “paraplegic whale trainer meets homeless street fighter” has got something going on. The ending moment on the ice is fantastic.
The 11 Best Films I Saw in 2012 not made in 2012
11. Sorceror (Friedkin, 1977)
10. Joy House (Clement, 1964)
9. Hukkle (Palfi, 2002)
8. Incendies (Villeneuve, 2010)
7. The Bad and the Beautiful (Minnelli, 1952)
6. A Separation (Farhadi, 2011)
5. Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Brooks, 1977)
4. Aurora (Puiu, 2010)
3. Another Woman (Allen, 1988)
2. Up Tight! (Dassin, 1968)
1. World on a Wire (Fassbinder, 1973)