21 January 2013

Best of 2012

2012 started off so well. From the first 2013 film I saw (the not terrible Wahlberg picture Contraband) to the fabulous domestic summer run of Moonrise Kingdom, Magic Mike and End of Watch, I thought this could be an epic year. But there were long award season stretches when there was nothing I felt I had to see. I will save some suspense: the Best of 2011 list is deeper than this one. And, as that link reminds me, there's also no music video as fabulous as the face-melting "All of the Lights." I was supposed to chill out with Frank Ocean and The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar and go see inessential, didactic films from overrated directors: Lincoln, Django Unchained, Argo. Hard not to just read the Slant Magazine slams and save the $11.

(Two notable films have yet to reach these shores: I'm almost certain Miguel Gomes' Tabu would feature in the top 10 and Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse would have a good chance as well. But onwards...)

Best Supporting Actress: Redhead Division

I'm proud of the following actresses for overcoming their inherent ginger handicaps to persevere onscreen. Jessica Chastain classes up Lawless as a prospective femme fatale who turns out to be a den mother. My favorite lil scrapper Anna Kendrick is a nice match for Jake Gyllenhaal in End of Watch--her videotaped examination of her new beau's wallet is the best use of the camcorder gimmick in the film. To my eyes, Amy Adams stole thunder from her male leads with a Master-bating performance (too much? never!). She was believably on board with The Cause for billions of years. Leslie Mann is funny and legitimately frightening in This Is Forty, showing the lengths she'll go to in the name of self-improvement. And Isabelle Huppert receives her customary WTT Best Living Actress auto-nom for Amour--she slowplays a bewildered but respectful daughter, wisely staying away from the piano.

Best Supporting Actor: Bearded Division

As anyone walking past the Castro Starbucks has gathered, you're not a real man unless you've got a rugged beard. For my money, "El más macho" in 2012 was Tom Hardy in Lawless, whose sexy growling required so little lip movement it's possible that his beard was actually speaking. Hardy's Lawless brother, Jason Clarke, thickens his whiskers as an "enhanced interrogation" expert in Zero Dark Thirty. Perhaps the most telling moment is when, after everything else he's seen at black sites, his character is broken by the loss of his pet monkeys and packs it up (spoiler alert: when he's wearing a beard in ZDT he's being physically naughty and when he's not he's being politically naughty). Continuing Rian Johnson's penchant for showing powerful men running their shit from small rooms, there's the grizzled Jeff Daniels in Looper. I have high hopes for late-period Daniels--he's a big Detroit Tigers fan and his no nonsense Midwesterness helps that film. Okay Matthias Schoenaerts might be a lead in Rust & Bone but speaks about the same number of words as an average supporting actor. He makes for a compellingly bad parent and a pretty spectacular icebreaker. Finally, a round of applause to Bob Balaban, our hilarious guide to all things New Penzance Island.

(On to the best acting nods...these are different from most acting, which would feature Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master and Rachel Weiss in The Deep Blue Sea.)

Best Actresses

While his category is waiting for Isabelle Huppert in Sang-soo Hong's In Another Country, credit to her Amour momma, Emmanuelle Riva. She steps into the unenviable "Anne" role in a Haneke picture and gives a performance that would make Susanne Lothar proud. Rashida Jones does the near-impossible in Celeste and Jesse Forever--she creates a nuanced, believable female lead in a romantic comedy. Marion Cotillard earns a nomination for winning sub-categories like "best looking naked" and "most instructive leg tattoos" and "best performance in a film featuring a killer whale rage flashback." And let's not forget Quvenzhané Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild! Just kidding--let's try to forget her. She wasn't acting and that movie is a bottomless crock of shit made by distressed Levi-wearing white people for distressed Levi-wearing white people.

Best Actors

Denis Lavant. Next category.  Okay, shoutout to Channing Tatum--his remarkable physicality and surprising wit in Magic Mike (and, for that matter, in 21 Jump Street)--and Anders Danielsen Lie for making the inevitable compelling in Oslo, August 31. But they've got nothing on Lavant who is (at least) nine different people in Holy Motors. His scenery- and finger-chewing sequence as an Eva Mendes-snatching satyr is truly "beyond the environment". It's so great that it overtops the wondrous motion capture inter-species fuck and the sizzling Entracte, which I'm just going to suggest is the hottest accordion track ever laid down in a motion picture (though I invite other nominations). TROIS, DOUZE, MERDE!

Best Pictures

10. The Master - It's here begrudgingly but I think when I look back at this (no doubt from my desk as a New Yorker staff writer) I'll want to have record of the 2012 Paul Thomas Anderson film. When it comes to PTA I paraphrase a line from my favorite Fleetwood Mac song: with every film that goes between, I feel a little less. In a previous post comparing this to film #3, I admitted that I grade PTA on a capricious curve. He is still the most talented filmmaker on this list but the problem is I would take his films of the 90s over his films since.

9. This Is 40 - The film that made me laugh hardest (or at least most recently (apologies to Ted)). In the month's leading up to its release I commented that this was a most-desirable sequel, a surprising understanding of filmmaker and studio on what what was really good in Knocked Up. With Katherine Heigl blessedly removed, there's more room for the great ensemble: Iris & Maude Apatow, Albert Brooks, Megan Fox, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Charlyne Yi (who makes a great meth-Gollum). Not to mention Lena Dunham, as "Princess Labia."

8. Wuthering Heights - I'm higher on this one than most. Andrea Arnold, particularly in the first half, hammers home the all-enveloping elemental terror that's the real takeaway of the best Brontë novel. My affection for this dark, isolated, almost wordless cinematic struggle helps explain why I'm also looking forward to The Turin Horse.  

7. Cabin in the Woods - What a fun little package--95 minutes long, bursting with lust, violence, monsters and winking asides. Joss Whedon produced and co-wrote, Drew Goddard directed a horror film that's both an affront to and celebration of the genre. So it's hard to reconcile that Mr. Whedon is also responsible for the inconceivable bloat of The Avengers, a film well within the same fanboy-appeasing parade of wasted afternoons as The Dark Knight Rises: More Christopher Nolan Exposition and The Hobbit Part I: Give MGM All Your Fucking Money & Time, Nerds.

6. Oslo, August 31 - This one rather surprised me, as I found Reprise overpraised and Joachim Trier a little glib in his depiction of young writers. I do not think that any more. And if you flip through Paris Review #203 you can see Trier is now kind of a big deal. What sticks with me is the way Anders behaves as this writer would, a half-step removed from everyone else, observing all the time.

5. Amour - Michael Haneke's camera is as eviscerating as ever but, not unlike Lars von Trier's Melancholia, this film is made with a new foundation of compassion under a depressing surface. After the prologue, Amour is confined to the increasingly claustrophobic apartment where Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (ought to be Oscar-winner Emmanuelle Riva) have grown old. With the the outside world only glimpsed through curtains, Haneke lenses a masterful sequence of closeups on the landscape paintings the couple has hung on their drab walls. It's a fine way (that I would have never imagined) to lift the suffocating mood of that flat, however temporarily. Just before the climax of the film I thought of the Didion line "we tell ourselves stories in order to live." Then it surprised me how well the sentence works if you change the last word to die.

4. Magic Mike - The Drive of 2012, the most fun to be had in theaters, whooping it up with the Cock-Rocking Kings of Tampa. Mike is a hero for our age and I think Tatum might be due even more credit than he's received. How can Steven Soderbergh walk away from directing when it's this much fun? He again finds remarkable chemistry between his leads--as Clooney and J. Lo were helpless against their attraction in Out of Sight, so is Cody Horn (and her scorching hot sternness) worn down by the appeals of C-Tates. I'm breathless with anticipation for Magic Mike 2, in which Mike's handcrafted furniture business fails (because it's all unspeakably ugly) and he's forced back on to the stage...I can hear Ginuwine's "Pony" even now.

3. End of Watch - Earlier this year I praised the unshakable brotherhood between Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña. The intimate chop-busting from the comfort of their squad car diverges nicely from the fragmentary, unknown world of the street gangs and cartels outside their windows. It's shocking how quickly two smart guys are in over their heads. I have hopes that the director, David Ayer, might make more films with the same urgency, perhaps drawing out more of the cartel connections to the LA streets he shoots so well.

2. Holy Motors - Leos Carax made an action thriller I can stand behind (more so than Battleship even). From the moment I saw the director himself on screen, waking up in the birch-wallpapered room of my dreams, I knew we were on to something big. While the peak of astonishment arrives early in the film, in an underground Dionysian tableau, the shocks don't stop until the credits roll. Denis Lavant's protagonist carries method acting to extremes that would make Daniel Day-Lewis take pause. The impish but immense Lavant delivers a great line, directed at all of us non-actors: "your punishment is to be you." Holy Motors requires a second viewing before I can give it the full WTT treatment--I spent too much time in the theater slack-jawed and dumbly staring.

1. Moonrise Kingdom - After what is already an illustrious career, Wes Anderson found an even deeper reserve with Moonrise Kingdom. This blog is already enough of a gushing Wesgasm so I won't add much here. When the trailer hit, I thought this might be reaching too far, with the overt Pierrou le fou-ishness. But this film matches the Godard and the gifts continue--Wes has given us a gorgeous illustrated script. It makes me want to build a kingdom.