One of these years I’ll have my top ten list done before spring, but this is not that year. I put together another video for my list this year. So you can watch my list, read it, or both. As usual, I don’t include documentaries and I try to only include films theatrically released during the previous year. Enjoy!
Comforting thesis on love or human horror show? Either way it’s a remarkable achievement. It features two of the the year’s best performances. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva play an older couple struggling with the slow demise of the other. Haneke balances the emotions and the dissection perfectly.
An endurance test that won’t be for everyone. During one long night, a search party is led around the back roads of rural Turkey looking for a dead body. The procedural elements maintain an air of suspense while the rest of the film explores themes of guilt, truth, and human nature. Gorgeously shot. This is precision filmmaking.
Smart, funny, quotable, and easily rewatchable. Miller and Lord’s update of the undercover cops in high school TV show is better than it has any right to be. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill make a great odd couple, but Tatum is the breakout star. I had no idea he could be this good and now I want more.
Forget that crappy Stallone movie. This is a kick-ass film. The plot is slimmed down. Dredd and a rookie partner are trapped in a massive sky rise and must shoot their way to the top. Skull-crushing action ensues. It’s the kind of hard-R action film Paul Verhoeven used to make. Bloody but with purpose.
Spielberg goes subtle by letting the loquacious script and murderer’s row of actors take care of business. Daniel Day-Lewis is obviously amazing. The film gets to the heart of the man without needing to tell his whole story. Like War Horse, it may seem overly important and old-fashioned, but there’s nothing wrong with that when it’s this entertaining.
It’s ambitious, it’s overstuffed, it’s sloppy, it’s silly, it’s sentimental, and it may be a tad too obvious, but it works. Somehow it works. It’s 6 different stories, in 6 different genres, in 6 different times with many actors playing multiple parts across the cosmos. I’m sure I’m giving it points for degree of difficulty, but in the end this crazy train stayed on track and won me over.
Dallas: But I think I see a lotta lawbreakers up in this house tonight…
Channing Tatum had a good year. Here he plays a male stripper trying to break free while dealing with his protege and fostering a new romance. The stripping/dance numbers are more entertaining than most musicals. The man meat gyrates, yes, but these bodies in motion have grace too. The character study is balanced nicely with the thesis on capitalism. Soderbergh’s brilliant eye sees all and misses nothing.
Grandma: There’s nothing wrong with being scared Norman, so long as you don’t let it change who you are.
It begins as a simple riff on the “boy who sees ghosts” story, then the film becomes a zombie mystery before segueing into a witch parable. It switches gears without ever missing a beat. It’s funny, scary, and full of life. The film’s message is great and comes across without feeling preachy. It’s woven into the film’s fabric. The film is also a marvel of technical skill and innovation with a killer voice cast to boot.
Laura: My name is Laura Guerrero. I’m 23 years old. My dream is to represent the beautiful women of my state
A young woman auditions for a beauty pageant and gets way more than she bargained for. Before she has time to process what’s happening to her, she’s become a rag doll pawn in the middle of Mexico’s drug war. Part of it is bad luck, the rest is an angry yell against corruption and greed in an absurd world. The film questions where we place our values with a bullet to the head. Naranjo moves his camera with a skewed vantage but masterful control. It’s a beautiful shock to the system.
Django: I’m curious what makes you so curious.
Tarantino did it again. It may have been a little bumpier this time, but the man made another great movie. It’s full of memorable characters, moments, and dialogue. It’s all brought to life by a terrific ensemble with Christoph Waltz once again leading the charge. What doesn’t get said enough is how damn entertaining Tarantino makes his movies without allowing his audience to experience them passively. He’s engaging you with two barrelfuls of sugar. No small feat.
Sam: I love you but you don’t know what you’re talking about.
After his delightful masterpiece Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson continues his winning streak. Two pre-teen rebels in love find their own private paradise while an entire island goes mad searching for them. Anderson maintains his signature diorama visuals but this time they feel more vivid. There’s an extra texture that comes from the period setting. Everything is praiseworthy. You’ll fall in love with Sam and Suzy and then the film.
Marty: Ok, I’m drawing a line in the fucking sand. Do NOT read the Latin!
Because MGM went under this movie sat on the shelf a few years, but it was worth the wait. Sure it’s not really that scary, but I do not even remotely care. 5 friends take part in typical horror film tropes only to discover the tropes exist for a reason. It’s a hilarious autopsy on the genre but with real affection and understanding. The third act has the balls to follow the premise to its logical conclusion and I love it all the more for it. Plus, MERMAN!
L’accordéoniste: Trois, Douze, Merde!!!
This movie is insane, but unlike some art-house fare there is rhyme and reason. Denis Lavant plays a man going around in a white limo taking turns playing different parts. He’s an assassin, a father, some kind of monster and more. It’s weird…really weird. But if you can go with it you’ll be treated to dazzling images contemplating perception, performance, art, and life. A film that’s fun to be lost inside.
Ottway: Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.
A plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness and a small group of survivors, led by the incomparable Liam Neeson, must fend off the elements and a bloodthirsty pack of wolves. It’s a basic B-movie premise, but Carnahan treats it like it’s biblical. The execution is thrilling, smart, and visceral. The abstract dilemmas are made just as important as the tangible ones. Not only will you be scared of wolves leaping out of nowhere at any second, but you’ll cower at the thought of whether or not any of it matters.
Lancaster: If you figure a way to live without serving a master, any master, then let the rest of us know, will you? For you’d be the first person in the history of the world.
The acting in this movie is epic. Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams are tremendous. But they’re not just showing off. They’re servicing an intimate story about big themes told through a bigger lens. Phoenix plays a damaged WWII veteran being mentored by Hoffman’s charismatic jack of all trades. It’s a beautifully mounted production. The tone can be both melancholy and somehow supernatural. It resonates even without the expected exclamation point.
C.I.A. Director: We’re all smart, Jeremy
It’s a character study where we never learn anything about the main character. It’s a procedural where the whole world knows the ending. It’s a political lightning rod but no one can agree for which side. It’s the best movie of 2012. Jessica Chastain gives a master class in subtle acting as the C.I.A. agent leading the 10-year hunt for Bin Laden. It’s an important piece of work, sure, but that doesn’t begin to touch how good it is. The themes and ideas of the movie are mixed in brilliantly with heart-pounding action and excitement. It’s a non-stop descent into the dark side of recent history that refuses to be compromised. Brave, powerful, relentless, and vital filmmaking.
What were your favorite movies last year?