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2012: The Year in Film
What Happened to Me in the Dark
By Jeffrey M. Anderson
2012 was a year like any other year. It was filled with good movies and bad movies. It had good movies that no one else liked, and bad movies that everyone liked. It had some controversial movies, and some movies that no one paid much attention to. It had some great animated movies, and some great documentaries, and some boring ones too. It had lots of sequels. It had movies based on novels, true stories, comic books, and other movies. It seemed as if there were no "original" ideas, but that's not true. Actors gave good performances and bad performances. Some broke through and some were washed up. Some said funny things in public and some had "buzz." But aside from all these things, these were the ten films that I loved most, followed by ten more that I felt couldn't do without an honorable mention.
10. Moonrise Kingdom
8. The Avengers
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
5. Killer Joe
4. The Deep Blue Sea
2. The Turin Horse
1. Zero Dark Thirty
My 10 Runners Up
The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard)
The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)
Girl Walk // All Day (Jacob Krupnick)
Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb)
Lincoln (Steven Spielberg)
The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne)
The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
Skyfall (Sam Mendes)
Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley)
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.
Act of Valor
The Cold Light of Day
House at the End of the Street
Last Ounce of Courage
The Lucky One
Nitro Circus: The Movie
Paranormal Activity 4
Playing for Keeps
This Means War
Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
Won't Back Down
Wrath of the Titans
That's all. Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and may 2013 be fruitful and fascinating for all of us. - JMA