The year's biggest hit, sure, but also an incredible exercise in ensemble casts and camaraderie. With The Avengers
(sometimes called Marvel's The Avengers
) Joss Whedon managed to seamlessly bond great actors with much poorer ones, while simultaneously delivering some seamless, uncluttered action (in a time when shaky-cam seems to rule the day). But best of all, he snuck in a theme about military paranoia and the stockpiling of weapons against possible threats (not even actual
threats... just possible
ones)... only this time the weapons are human. It's one of the darkest messages ever inserted into a summer blockbuster.
7. The Innkeepers
Ti West is the best maker of horror films today. With The Innkeepers
and The House of the Devil
, he has re-invented the rhythms of horror, changing the beats and creating fresh suspense. Best of all, his pace allows for great characters to emerge, such as Sara Paxton's Claire (West includes a scene of her taking out the trash that isn't necessary for the movie but adds delightful layers to her character). But is it scary? Yes, it is. I held my breath, and I jumped, but I didn't know when I would do it.
6. This Is Not a Film
Iranian director Jafar Panahi is currently under arrest and slapped with a 20 year-ban on making films. To be sure, This Is Not a Film
is not as satisfying as one of Panahi's polished films (The White Balloon
, The Circle
, Crimson Gold
, etc.), but it's great in a different way: as an act of political, personal, and artistic defiance. And, yet, as angry and haphazard as it may come across, it eventually veers into some sly moments of unexpected beauty.
5. Killer Joe
William Friedkin, apparently refreshed and recharged over 40 years after winning the Oscar for The French Connection
, made the crime film of the year, out-Tarantino-ing even Tarantino. Working for the second time with playwright Tracy Letts -- the first was the equally great Bug
-- Friedkin made Killer Joe
into a constantly surprising, twisty tale that was as much about environment, the sights and sounds of it, as it was the characters or their actions.
4. The Deep Blue Sea
In an awards season full of disease-of-the-week movies, disaster movies, biopics and true stories, Rachel Weisz gave the most genuine, emotionally open performance of the year, very simply as a normal woman who falls in love with the wrong man. Veteran English filmmaker Terence Davies, who also made one of the best movies of the 1980s with Distant Voices, Still Lives
, gave The Deep Blue Sea
an intensely personal touch, never shying away from anything: agony, anticipation, or euphoria.
Critics of David Cronenberg's great film mainly complained that it didn't quite properly represent the Don DeLillo novel. But they missed what remained. Cosmopolis
is an amazing odyssey through New York in a limo that constantly wrestled with Cronenberg's major theme: the way we try to outthink our bodies. A surprising coda (which critics also complained about) demonstrated the "beauty of the lopsided," which is an idea that -- more so than anything in The Master
-- I'd like to keep thinking about next year.
2. The Turin Horse
That Bela Tarr is one of the world's greatest living filmmakers and that The Turin Horse
was announced as his final film probably should have registered more in the film world than it did. It's perhaps even chillier than the other four Tarr films I've seen to date, but it wrestles with some extraordinary ideas, faith and nature, while settling into a daily routine in a world both mundane and absolutely frightening. It's a movie that affects you on a level far deeper than intellect or emotions; it simply hypnotizes you and carries you away.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
The film of the year didn't get here because of its politics, or its lack of politics, or its subject matter, or its level of so-called "importance." It's here because director Kathryn Bigelow tackled the material as it deserved to be tackled, gray, ambiguous, and confounding. She uses her "B" movie skills to make Zero Dark Thirty
exciting, but lets the dark side creep through. She's the only living director that understands how violence can be both alluring and repellent. She deserves to make a film every year.
My 10 Runners Up
My general rule for these year-end lists is not "how important was it?" but rather, "would I want to see it again?" Thus, here are 10 extras that I will mostly likely be adding to my library at some point.
The Great Performances
Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea.
I was never the greatest Weisz fan, and I was vehemently against her winning an Oscar for the terrible The Constant Gardener, but here she is throwing aside all the junk, finding something true and painfully naked within, and transferring it to the screen. It's a performance that aches and breathes.
Jack Black in Bernie.
It was always apparent, from High Fidelity and School of Rock if nothing else, that Black was amazingly talented, and in Bernie, he gets his perfect role, and his greatest challenge, and he executes it with effortless precision.
Matthew McConaughey in Bernie, Killer Joe, and Magic Mike.
Not long ago, he was in a league with Gerard Butler, but, in a comeback of cosmic proportions, he finally proved that he not only had the stuff to be a great character actor, but also possibly a true movie star. To prove it, 2012 was the year I learned how to spell his name without having to look it up. Note: McConaughey was also in The Paperboy this year, but three out of four ain't bad.
Bill Murray in Hyde Park on Hudson.
Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln.
Two presidential performances, two very different approaches, both great. Murray blends President Franklin D. Roosevelt with his own persona, becoming an affable guy who works the room, while Day-Lewis diligently immersed himself in the role of Abe Lincoln, disappearing completely. Who's to say that one method is better than the other?
Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln.
In a movie populated with great character actors, Jones stood out, somehow adapting his rocky, clipped delivery to the very wordy, period screenplay; it helps that his character has the most satisfying arc, but his organic performance is even more appealing than Day-Lewis's.
Scarlett Johansson in Hitchcock.
It might be easier to play an old-time Hollywood actress with larger personalities, but Janet Leigh was such a simple, girl-next-door type, sexy in a quiet way, and Johansson perfectly captured that elusive, mysterious quality. As with all of her great performances, it was so subtle that she did not get credit for how good her work was.
Sara Paxton in The Innkeepers.
Paxton was set-dressing in a few loser horror films until Ti West cast her here and let her shine; she gets moments outside the confines of the plot to show her true personality, and her blend of curiosity, perkiness, and self-effacing sadness is a huge part of this superior genre effort.
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty.
She's the all-important entry point into this material, which could have been tough and impenetrable. It helps that she's lovely, but it's the way that she throws her guard up and keeps it up for painfully long periods. Then, when it comes down, it's truly breathtaking.
Brit Marling, Sound of My Voice.
Of course, she wrote her own part, and that's impressive, but she had to play it as well. In this low-budget quasi-sci-fi film, the role required magnetism, presence, and calm control, and Marling had it all.
Denis Lavant, Holy Motors.
The concrete-faced Lavant has always had an element of fearlessness, operating outside of the world of regular movies, but here he gives perhaps his tour-de-force performance, as an actor's actor. It's a collection of audition tapes, all of which Lavant knocks out of the park, and creates something eternally moving and intriguing.
Amy Adams, Trouble with the Curve.
She's getting lots of award buzz for simply being in The Master, but she's not at her best there. It's here, in this popcorn melodrama, opposite Clint Eastwood, that she really gets to stretch and show her stuff. She stands her ground with Eastwood, suppresses pain with bluster, and just about everything else under the sun.
The Year's Worst
I saw plenty of movies I did not like this year, and many of them were award contenders (Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Impossible, Les Misérables, On the Road, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Rust and Bone, etc.) or would-be blockbusters (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Battleship, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, Underworld Awakening, etc.) but I've decided to make my list of the absolute trash, the most rotten of the rotten.