2012 - Best Films

Better late than never, eh?  In no particular order, a few films I'm still living/grappling/conversing with from 2012.  As is often the trouble with lists such as these, some selections fail to neatly fall into the strict chronology of having been released in 2012, just as some of the selections in my 2011 list (Pina, Into the Abyss, Turin Horse, Anatolia) weren't officially released until later.  Looking back on last year's post, I realize I haven't yet caught up with every film I was anticipating might cause some displacement in the ranks (do we ever really "catch up"?), so I will eventually add to that "Catch Up" list here, as well as include some I've already covered on ECSTATIC in my "2012 - So Far" posting from mid-point last year; most notably, Lynn Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin.  

Ramsay's meditation on motherhood and the repercussions of school violence may not necessarily be at the very top of my list, but it is a remarkable leap forward for the director (currently in the news for being a "no-show" on the production of Jane Got a Gun, slated to feature Natalie Portman and Jude Law), as well as an important part of the continuing evolution of female film roles, fiercely led this year by the dense and risky performance work of Tilda Swinton.  2012 was marked by a unique breadth of work by women (and girls) that has certainly stood out, including the amazing work of Amy Adams in The Master, Anne Marsen in Girl Walk: All Day, Quvenzhane Wallis in Beast of the Southern Wild, and Edith Scob, Kylie Minogue, and Eva Mendes in Holy Motors.  And, I would be remiss not to mention the remarkable women of Television from this year:  Lena Dunham in Girls, Anna Gunn and Betsy Brandt in Breaking Bad, and Laura Dern in Enlightened.  The writing, pacing, and cinematography involved in these shows has taken the continuing TV-evolution of the last decade to a new level of crossbreeding the art of television with some serious film making sensibilities.  Not since the Golden Age of live tele-plays has there been so much potential and life on the small screen.

Breaking Bad
Speaking of Laura Dern, I also want to make note of her brief but memorable appearance in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master, the only film for me this year that could appropriately begin this list, and which I assume will be one of the most oft viewed entries for me in years to come.  Without further ado...

The Best of 2012:

The Master directed by Paul Thomas Anderson's

Another remarkable achievement for Anderson, showing a maturity of craft--especially in its complex and subtle resolution--that may even surpass his extraordinary 2007 film There Will Be Blood.  Perhaps the second installment of an "American 20th Century" trilogy, The Master shows us Anderson, Pheonix, and Hoffman at the peak of there craft, transcending reductive readings of the film that may want to contain it as either a Scientology expose, or a tale of latent male desire.  Of course, all of those elements are there, but the truth of this masterpiece is that it radiates so much more.

Holy Motors directed by Leos Carax

I was blissfully unaware of the idea or shape of Leos Carax's new film Holy Motors going in, which is exactly how I suggest experiencing this exuberant and madly inspired ode to cinema, performance, and the absurd.  Other films this year contained some superb humor (Cabin in the Woods comes to mind), but few that allowed me to laugh with such a sense of surprise and wonder.  Holy Motors might be written off by some as more ineffective meta-cinematic muscle-flexing (meta-bation, as I've heard it recently coined), or as simply too weird for its own good.  For me, it fell nothing short of a reminder of what I love most about movies: the ability of the medium to surprise, confound, contort, and simply amaze.

The Rest of the Best:

Moonrise Kingdom directed by Wes Anderson

Girl Walk//All Day directed by Jacob Krupnick

We Need To Talk About Kevin directed by Lynn Ramsay

Django Unchained directed by Quentin Tarantino

Cabin in the Woods directed by Joss Whedon

Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning directed by John Hyams

The Future directed by Miranda July

Beyond the Black Rainbow directed by Panos Cosmatos

Honorable Mentions:  Guy Maddin's Keyhole, David O. Russel's Silver Linings Playbook, Lauren Greenfield's The Queen of Versailles, Colin Trevorrow's Safety Not Guaranteed, David Gelb's Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Giorgos Lanthimos' Alps, Rian Johnson's Looper, Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk With Me, Johnathan Demme's Neil Young Journeys, Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths, James Marsh's Project Nim, Alison Klayman's Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, and Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild.

The Queen of Versailles
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Project Nim
Fragments or Greatness in 2012:  Michael Shannon's inspired portrayal of crooked cop Bobby Monday in Premium Rush; Daniel Day Lewis and James Spader's ability to emerge unscathed from the wreckage produced by the head on collision between Tony Kushner and Steven Spielberg that is Lincoln; the early scenes involving Michael Fassbender's "David," and the Noomi Rapace alien abortion scene in Prometheus; Cinematographer Greig Fraser's use of New Orleans, and James Gandolfini's triumphant character work as "Mickey" in Andrew Dominik's unfortunately overstated Killing Them Softly; the insane finale of Peter Berg's Battleship (not to mention the scriptwriter's dedication to actually weaving elements of the board game into the plot!); the wonderfully grotesque bodies of Chris Butler and Sam Fell's Paranorman; the successful bits of the "Creepshow-meets-the-digital-age" short compilation V/H/S; Juliette Binoche's "entrance" in David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis;  the production design of the Total Recall remake; Werner Herzog in Jack Reacher; all of the performances in Killer Joe; Roger Deakin's cinematography in Sam Mendes' Skyfall.

Biggest Disappointments:  John Hillcoat's Lawless; Andrew Dominik's Killing Them Softly; Oliver Stone's Savages; David Wain's Wanderlust; Jay Roach's The Campaign; The Duplass Brothers Jeff, Who Lives at Home; Jason Moore's Pitch Perfect, and Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises.

The "Catch Up" List:  Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi's Five Broken Cameras; Matt Piedmont's Casa de mi Padre; Andrew Stanton's John Carter; the Wachowski's Cloud Atlas; Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus; Joachim Trier's Oslo, August 31; Steven Soderbergh's Magic MikeMalik Bendjelloul's Searching for Sugarman; Michael Haneke's Amour; Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty.

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