They get chattier as they go...
In no order
2. The Avengers
3. Cabin in the Woods
4. Dark Knight Rises
6. Les Miserables
8. Moonrise Kingdom
9. Silver Linings Playbook
2012 wasn't very advantageous for me. I need to change that.
1. Django Unchained
2. The Master
No...scratch that. 1-10 is The Hobbit.
1. The Hobbit
2. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. The Avengers
5. Indie Game: The Movie
6. Looper / Prometheus (tie)
7. Men in Black 3
9. The Queen of Versailles
10. ParaNorman (minus the shitty dialogue)
1. Wu Xia
2. Miss Bala
3. The Avengers
4. Killing Them Softly
5. Zero Dark Thirty
6. Django Unchained
8. The Cabin in the Woods
9. Moonrise Kingdom
10. Silver Linings Playbook
Remember, I was making a "favorites" list.
2. Zero Dark Thirty
3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Anna Karenina
5. Holy Motors
6. Django Unchained
8. Deep Blue Sea
9. The Master
Sean Van Deuren
I liked these films this year:
1. The Master
2. Holy Motors
4. Moonrise Kingdom
6. Take This Waltz
7. Zero Dark Thirty
8. Margaret (Director's Cut)
9. This Is Not A Film
10. Django Unchained
Scout: And I take these are in random order?
Dan: Yeah, unfortunately. The Master's probably number 1. I love 'em all, so...that's that.
1. The Master
2. Zero Dark Thirty
3. Argo / Frankenweenie
4. Django Unchained
5. Silver Linings Playbook
7. Holy Motors
9. The Queen of Versailles
10. Moonrise Kingdom
So, Scout has asked me to make a list of my top ten favorite films of 2012 and I complied. Below are my favorite films of the year that had major releases in theatres. I’m sure that many people
will disagree with my choices but that’s fine with me. Also, please don’t mind my horrible writing skills; I am not a movie critic.
So here is my list in kind of an order but not really except for the top three.
Best Comedy – Pitch Perfect
To me, Pitch Perfect was the best comedy of the year for the sole reason that it made me laugh out loud obnoxiously more than any other film I saw this year. I already have a soft spot for Anna Kendrick and for people spontaneously bursting into song so there was almost no way that I wouldn’t love the film. I saw it in a packed theatre the week before it officially opened and I think everyone there had a great time. The fact that I loved it so much even with all the vomit just goes to show how great it is.
Best Animated Film – Wreck it Ralph
I really didn’t see that many animated films in theatres this year, but even if I didn’t hate Brave as much as I did I still think that Wreck it Ralph was the best animated film of the year. I have no desire to see Frankenweenie though which I know was a lot of people’s favorite. To me, Wreck it Ralph was a lot of fun. The characters were well developed, the script was great, and
the film balanced the humor in a way that wasn’t overbearing. For
a movie I didn’t even really want to see, I loved every minute of it. I even cried…though that doesn’t take much for me. Also, Paperman, which played beforehand, is my new favorite short and should get a special mention as well.
10. Moonrise Kingdom
Moonrise Kingdom will always be special to me because it was my first Wes Anderson film and I think that that is always a magical moment. I was so pleasantly surprised with this film. Going into it I didn’t know what to expect but five minutes in I was already in love. I always love amazing child actors and I was not disappointed. In fact, the entire cast did a wonderful job. The
plot was so simple and yet still got so much across. I really have no issues with the film at all.
9. Les Miserables
I have no idea how I managed to decide to put Les Mis all the way at number nine…part of me wants to move it higher…but alas here we are. Anywho, Les Mis lived up to almost all of my expectations. People can go on and on about Russell Crowe’s singing or Anne Hathaway ugly crying through her whole song but I don’t care. Yes, I had my own issues with the film, mainly the massacre that was one of my favorite songs ("Master of the House") and everything to do with Amanda Seyfried, but besides that I had almost zero complaints, at least not ones that were the
film’s fault and not the musical’s.
Looper!!! Now Looper was a film that I was super excited to see. How crazy was that film? So crazy! Sure, some of the time travel stuff didn’t make perfect logical sense and yes, the film missed out on some cool things that I thought they should have done, but all in all the film was great. I will happily watch anything with JGL in it to begin with and Bruce Willis also did a great job. Also, that kid? I have never wanted to both hug and destroy a child so much. And that scene that I don’t want to give away? Amazing. My biggest issue with the film: not enough Paul Dano. Actually made me really upset.
7. The Avengers
I think that everyone that knows me knows that The Avengers would make my list of the best films of the year. First of all, it is the first major film that I actually worked on…even if I don’t
get any credit since I was an intern. Also, I saw the film in theatres three times which shows its re-watchability. As someone who has read a lot of comics I obviously have my issues with the film in terms of things not being canon and certain things being Ultimates universe and other things not. It also makes me upset cause I know so many cool things they could have done. But I also know that Kevin (Feige) and Joss (Whedon) had wanted to make this film since before Kevin was the head of Marvel Studios and that they truly put their hearts and souls into the project so I can’t complain. I think it is a great film and also a great super hero film even if you have never seen one before.
6. The Dark Knight Rises
So I ended up putting TDKR above The Avengers…another choice that I am not sure I agree with but technically TDKR did have a much deeper impact on me. It was a film that I found to be so inspiring and also moved me deeply for hours afterwards and I love that after seeing a film. I don’t even know what to say about the film that everyone hasn’t already thought. Great script, great actors, the best ending I could have hoped for, and Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway and JGL in the same movie, all looking fabulous? What more could a gal want? Deshi basara!
Argo was a film that I decided to watch pretty much because I love Ben Affleck and I think he does good things. Also, I really liked the concept and it was just even better that it was true. For a movie where you pretty much know what is going to happen it still manages to keep the audience on the edge of their seat the entire time. The fact that even though I saw the movie two months after it came out the audience still all applauded when it ended and stayed till the end of the credits just goes to show what type of film it was.
4. Django Unchained
I love me some Tarantino. He has this thing he does with films and storytelling that is just amazing. After Inglorious Bastards I had pretty high expectations going into it…and also a fear that I wouldn’t even be able to watch half of it due to violence and blood. Sure the film had some issues with pacing and some scenes that I would have rather not been there but it was a really great film with some truly amazing performances. Definitely a must see.
3. Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook I think was the world making a large step in humanizing people with mental illness. This is another film with an all-star cast and a killer screenplay. Also, Jennifer Lawrence has the best outfits ever which for some reason was super important to me while I was watching the film. The characters were a bit too close to home for my personal tastes but I think that is will end up being one of my favorite films of all time.
2. Cabin in the Woods
Cabin in the Woods was my favorite film of the year for most of it. When you have been waiting literally years for a film to come out you are bound to have some pretty high expectations. Especially when it’s a Joss Whedon film. I was worried about this film because I have some major issues with gore and scary things and that is pretty much the premise of the movie but I somehow made it through by covering my eyes a lot. This is another film that can be easily ruined which I don’t want to do, but it is scary and hilarious all at the same time and definitely worth a few watches. Also, Tom Lenk just made the film for me. I love him so much.
1. Cloud Atlas
My favorite film of the year by far was Cloud Atlas. The score? Amazing. The acting? Amazing. The script? Amazing. Also, I have never had a crush on so many Hugo Weavings at one time. It is a fun film and you kind of get to play a game where you figure out who is playing who. Also, with the multiple plots there is something for everyone. I can’t even decide which my favorite
story was. I have already purchased the book; that is how much I just want to delve as deep as possible into the story. I know people disagree but I find the message to be very inspiring even if they do bash you over the head with it. It is also just a beautiful film the truly shows the types of things an actor can do. Are there issues with it? Of course. There are with all films. But to me the
issues were far outweighed by how amazing everything else was.
Killing Them Softly
Andrew Dominik's tiny crime film had it's sights set on the American Dream....and he nailed it. Dominik takes a fairly run of the mill crime film that could've wound up in the $5 bin at Walmart and uses both star power and his just off kilter view of the world to turn it into what I hope will become a classic American gangster picture. I don't think it'll be truly appreciated for a long time but I can only hope that when it does, I'll be there to see it.
Celebration DayIt's sad that it takes a band with Led Zeppelin's kind of clout and financial backing to get a true concert film released in theaters these days. As far as I'm concerned the genre is a dying art and when I heard that I had one night to get my ass to a theater to see this bad boy I knew I'd been given a mission from God. And I wasn't disappointed. Shot in beautiful definition and edited as ragged as Zeppelin's music, Celebration Day does two incredible things. It shows off just how old the members of this band have gotten since the last time anyone has been able to see them live, and more importantly, how wonderfully gifted they still are in the way of their musicianship. Watching Jimmy Page's 68 year old self sweat and grind his way through Zeppelin tunes while loving every second of it is what music is all about.
Whatever Spielberg's gotten himself into lately, I like it and I hope he stays on it. Last year's War Horse and now Lincoln show a very specific form that Spielberg's work is taking and its absolutely wonderful. The reason this film hits my list other than some great performances and overall top notch film making, is that the screenplay steers away from the traditional biopic and instead devotes the film's time to perhaps Lincoln's most incredible achievement: the passage of the 13th Amendment. Daniel Day Lewis Lincoln portrayal is scary good but the real success of the film lies in that fact that when the title character isn't on screen, the audience still has plenty of reason to stay engaged. The battle between parties in The House of Representatives made the film for me and I really had no idea I'd be getting that when I sat down to watch it.
Maybe my favorite film of the year. Rian Johnson's films all have a special place in my heart and his first real big budget picture is no exception. It's one of the few films this year that wasn't based on a book, a remake, or finishing up a series. It's completely original. And guess what? It's brilliant! Johnson's screenwriting never seems to take a back seat even when saddled with his first film that features heavy CGI and other effect shots. Early on he has one of his characters promise the audience that it is in fact a time travel story and that you shouldn't spend too much time attempting to make sense of the film's laws and structure. But it's an empty caution. The film makes perfect sense for the universe it exists in and it whets your appetite for its universe just enough. You don't necessarily need another film to explore more but there's plenty to think about outside of the main narrative when you leave the theater.
Wes Anderson's very specific style has never worked for a film better than Moonrise Kingdom. His color coded, straight up and down shooting style provides an added innocence to one of the best love stories I've ever seen. I don't even have that much to say on this film other than its an absolutely wonderful watch without a moment of dullness.
Probably the most contested film of the year. While most saw it as a narrative mess and a severe let down prequel in the Alien series, I saw it as an absolutely wonderful sci fi film. Amazing effects, a completely believable world, and one goddamn hell of a self surgery sequence had me madly in love with Ridley Scott's latest work. Using a number of great leading men/women and character actors help fill the void left by an over simplified screenplay and make the struggles of this hired crew utterly watchable. No idea if the planned sequel will ever rise out of the darkness but if it does, I'll be waiting. Final note: This film had one of the best trailers I've ever seen. Period.
The three recent Bond films have been a wonderful rebirth to a classic but dated film franchise. Skyfall grabbed Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins and set to work making one of the most off kilter and fabulous Bond films to date. FilmPunk's got a whole article devoted to this film and our opinions of it but I'll just say really quick that the biggest reason for me that this film succeeds is because its the first of the new Bond films that actually features a prominent and absolutely devilish villain. Javier Bardem raises the film out of the trenches and into a much more heavy handed and epic feeling spy film. My favorite of the series so far.
Django UnchainedI've never been less excited for a Tarantino film than I was for Django Unchained. I'm happy to say I was surprised at how good a time I had. Quentin does a great job of taking on something as difficult as slavery, bounty hunting, and mandingo fighting, and somehow keeping it fairly lighthearted even at the film's grimmest moments. Christoph Waltz was the main reason I was able to have such a good time throughout most of the film but Tarantino's new found love of obscene amounts of blood makes the few action sequences so goddamn awesome it'd be impossible to not leave with a smile on my face.
The Raid: Redemption
Gareth Evans brought the world an onslaught of martial arts fury in 2011 but typical of American distribution, we didn't receive it in any kind of viewing capacity until this year. But any viewing hindrance aside, this is one of if not the best martial arts film I've ever laid eyes on. The story is simple and the characters aren't going to blow your mind but if your experience is anything like mine, you'll get up from your seat at the end of the film and immediately have to sit down again due to the intense mental strain you just went through while watching these people beat the ever loving hell out of each other.
The Dark Knight Rises
A film with as much buildup as The Dark Knight Rises will have its fair share of detractors. "How could it possibly be as good as The Dark Knight" "Heath Ledger left too much of a mark on this film series to be outdone" etc. Nolan kept us all in the dark through nearly all of production. Actors were announced but their characters remained a mystery. Bane's voice became a crossfire level issue in day to day conversation among movie nerds and every truly wondered how, not if, Nolan would kill off Batman at the end of the film. Then it came out.
I'm definitely in the minority on this but Dark Knight Rises is, I feel, the finest of Nolan's Batman films. It exists on a scale so epic it cannot be denied. Tom Hardy steps in to try to follow Heath Ledger's brilliant performance and he's given only his eyes and shoulders to perform with. AND HE KNOCKS IT OUT OF THE FUCKING PARK. I won't argue with people. They'll like what they will. But The Dark Knight Rises lived up to every inch of the hype that the movie industry and myself as a lifelong Batman fan (batfan) could possibly create for it.
I'm at a point where I saw The Master so long ago that I've nearly forgotten about it. But after thinking about it for only a few seconds, a billion images and emotions begin to cloud my mind. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman should be pioneering the first tandem Oscar win for Best Actor. Their performances are the stuff of legend in this film. But it doesn't stop there. PT Anderson creates another amazingly visual piece to add to his unimpeachable filmography. Playing out like a great American novel, this film will force you to drive your fingernails into the grips of whatever your sitting in while watching it but at no point will you ask it to stop.
Zero Dark Thirty
Seeing this film felt like a true test of my moviegoer props. All I wanted was to see it before 2012 officially ended but that wasn't my luck. But seeing it 5 days into the next year ain't bad either. Kathryn Bigelow follows up The Hurt Locker with another trip into the Middle East. This time, to tell a much weightier story. She's rounded up a number of wonderful actors to come and play in her world, many of them only showing up for a scene or two. The film plays out as a procedural for it's majority but the interrogation scenes and the last 30 - 40 minutes of the film are really where it shines. Bigelow strips away any hope of this being an "America! Fuck Yeah!" film. Instead she shows the psychological damage that can occur when torture is being used to uncover information. Not just for the hostage, but almost more so for the questioner. And though the members of Seal Team 10 appear as total professionals, they do appear human in all the right ways. I was terrified for this film when I first heard about it. I had no hope for a Bin Laden chase film. But Bigelow does it justice. She puts a nice firm cap on the 11 year manhunt by humanizing both sides and forcing Americans to realize that even revenge isn't cut and dry.
Nothing makes me happier than the arduous task of having to whittle my choices down to 100 films. I saw so many films this and last year that deciding where to cut off can be next to impossible (I cheated mercilessly last year) and thank christ for the difficulty. All it means is that there were too many good films this year. Too many! Oh! What a lovely problem. There were certain films who had single elements or scenes that almost guaranteed them a spot here. Such perfect notes struck me this year that they deserve mention even if they were edged out by their peers. Who will ever forget the abortion in Prometheus (not to mention the lovelier than ever cinematography)? The soap eating in Perfect Sense. The scene in Oslo, August 31 where Anders Lie follows the patrons at a cafe home in his mind and imagines their lives in miniature all while overhearing conversation a table or two over - a feat of such splendor it steals the whole film. Michel Lonsdale's last stand at the pulpit in The Cardboard Village. The use of Ravel in Snows of Kilimanjaro. The many, many cathartic trigger pullings in God Bless America. The mesmerizing edit of the love scene in 4:44 The Last Day on Earth. The appearance of "Ziggy Stardust" in Chronicle before a titanic couple of fight scenes that made The Avengers (which is really a charming farce when you get down to it) feel safe and harmless by comparison. The plate smashing and a daring escape from a nursing home in Cloud Atlas. The otherworldly look of Hors Satan. The comparing of nude bodies in a communal shower in Take This Waltz and a brilliantly played edit of someone dealing with a break-up in their kitchen, both showing that indeed everything new becomes old. A high-stakes whiskey heist in The Angels' Share. Val Kilmer doing his Marlon Brando for a few beautiful seconds in Twixt. A coffee pot to the head kickstarts a cracking brawl in Haywire. The giddy highs of RZA living out of his childhood dreams in The Man With The Iron Fists, the best of which might be a man using his wife as a gun in the film's most memorable and certainly its most erotic dance/fight sequence. The unleashing of a million nightmares in Cabin in the Woods. The realization that Spike Lee still has it when the revelation derails the feel good climax that Red Hook Summer's been building to. Realizing Lee Daniels was remaking I Drink Your Blood midway through The Paperboy. The many heartwarming instances of outcasts bonding, including zombies realizing they're in more danger than anything with a pulse in Paranorman. A tepid discussion of traffic between Christopher Walken, Mia Farrow and the new in-laws in Dark Horse. A practically hallucinatory montage investigation that feels like a softer Paolo Sorrentino at work in the charmingly odd Footnote. LCD Soundsystem taking on Harry Nilsson's "Jump Into The Fire," what Blair Elliott rightly calls 'an inspired cover,' in their final concert. The remnants of a tar-and-feathering in Lawless and as Mike D'Angelo put it: "the hilariously ominous question “Have you met Howard?”" Almost too many count, but the standout is welling up when Richard Armitage finally comes around to Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And lastly that beautiful business with the pigeon from Amour. I'd include it on the list but I was in the wrong mindset entirely when I watched it and feel certain I didn't meet it head-on. Needs a few more viewings I'm afraid before I'll know whether I actively like the thing or, to quote Ian Holm in Alien, simply admire its purity.
What more could one ask for than a handful of moments so endearing? The 100 films on my list had to offer a handful of such moments to make it. 2011 was a great year for cinema and may go down as a personal favourite for its power to move and elate me. But 2012 was no slouch either...
1. Holy Motors and 2. The Deep Blue Sea
by Leos Carax by Terence Davis
Before I go any further, the number one spot on my list is essentially a tie. Deep Blue Sea and Holy Motors both hold places in my heart and in the life of cinema that are nearly identical. Both start their career in the 80s, using the most concentrated mises en scene to show us the darkest part of their souls and their love affair with cinema. Their first films in color, Mauvais Sang and Distant Voices, Still Lives are at once achingly romantic and hauntingly harsh. But both show an affinity for the form, for the proper use of celluloid. Just as Antonioni and Fellini discovered color, or indeed Hitchcock and Lang discovered sound, they weren't making films so much as imprinting desire and memory onto a canvas made of silver halide. They were performing acts of magic. And they've been doing it ever since. If we can call Davis' Liverpool trilogy his first 'feature' and pair it with Carax's Boy Meets Girl, we have their foundation, their black and whites that use the history of their respective countries histories (Nouvelle Vague and surrealism a la Epstein and Gremillon for Carax, kitchen sink/free cinema and stiff-upper lip post-war melodrama for Davies) and doing something wrong with them. This wasn't meant to diagnose a country's ills, just explain what it's like in their minds every night. After Mauvais and Distant Voices come their romantic masterpieces: Lovers on the Bridge and The Long Day Closes, the latter still the closest thing to perfection the cinema has ever produced. Then their troubled mid-period productions, Pola X, The Neon Bible and House of Mirth, which preempt long gaps in their filmography, much to our detriment. There were gasps from each of them, Carax's contribution to Tokyo! featuring one of the most brilliant steadicam shots ever undertaken and Davies' documentary about his hometown Of Time And The City. And finally they return to the movies, a little older, a little sadder, but no less flooring.
In the Cannes Film Festival in my head, Holy Motors could not have been denied the Palme d'Or. Stacked against the Haneke and with Nanni Morretti running the show (who'd just made his own film about aging and being unprepared for life's curveballs), there was no fucking way it could have come out on top, but it was this year's Tree of Life. But to everyone who knows, this is the film we'll remember. If I'm confused by anything it's not by its lack of official recognition, but by the overwhelming response. Weird, insane, bizarre, etc. etc. No review I encountered seemed to get the movie. Knowing what I know about Carax and having seen and loved his every film, it makes perfect sense. No one processed enough of what he said and did to prevent them from asking the same fucking questions in interviews. He gave away all the information he needed to. Not only does the film make sense, it's fucking heartbreaking. The thought of watching it again is almost a difficult proposition because every frame practically weeps as the stoic Carax, so ravaged by time's cruelties and coming too close to tragedy, seems unable to. Seeing him speak at the New York Film Festival, the man looked defeated and the post-film Q and A didn't help. Here, as ever, were the contents of his brain for us to see and people wanted answers. He didn't have it in him to spell it out any further. One suspects Juliet Binoche's absence from the film, replaced ably by Kylie Minogue in the film's first show-stopping climax, is because their feud has yet to die down. But if she were there, it would be almost impossible to watch. The disarming, jaunty Neil Hannon tune Minogue sings is arranged sunnily enough that it might be easy to gloss over its bleak lyrics. If this is autobiography, I'm glad Carax has kept mum. It's already more tragic than anything from a straight musical since maybe A Star Is Born. I'm just about in tears thinking about it. The film is many things, but firstly it's Carax's eulogy to celluloid. His industry won't permit him to shoot on 35mm anymore and so he looks back on what he's missing, what films made such effective and timeless use of it. Denis Lavant has to stand in for over a hundred years worth of history in front of a camera; not only is he up to the task, he makes it look easy. Here's what we miss when we turn off our cameras and everyone's a director; everything is cinema. Nothing is cinema. So Carax puts on a show no viewer could ever forget. He has the keys to the world, the island of the dead, to paraphrase the auteur, where his one-time leading man and woman, his cinematographer, and so many more now live. Holy Motors is an elegy, but more than that, it's Carax's mind and his love for film turned into an island for us to live in.
If Terence Davies has now said everything he can or cares to about the time and place of his childhood, he now wants to explore its roots and the ripple it caused. The Deep Blue Sea is set around the time that Davies was in his boyhood and I suspect that his heroine, Hester Collyer is just as taken with the romance that would have flooded into England after the war. Collyer, like Lily Bart and Mae Morgan before her, wish and hope for their lives to be narratives, to have through-lines and happy endings and search for them in vain. When they don't arrive, what have they got to console themselves? Horrid, unending reality. Hester is the first of Davies' characters to openly acknowledge her frustration at reality not meeting the expectations of the great romances she sees everywhere, in painting and literature ("it's hardly Sophocles," she offers of her situation) and one assumes, the cinema of Davies' childhood. It's never implied that she's seen the likes of Brief Encounter, but they're in her very DNA. Davies looks back with all the artifice he feels appropriate. When Hester finds the great lover she's dreamt of, their intimacy must be small and huge at once, cinematic in a way David Lean wouldn't have dared. And indeed it's the most ravishing that britishness has ever looked. The pale bodies of Tom Hiddleston and Rachel Weisz spinning forever, Hester's dreams realized once and once only. That's as close as she'll ever be allowed into the world of fiction; reality only ever touches those peaks once in a lifetime, she finds. Even if Davies can render her life as sumptuously as he's ever shot anything, including the cold, uninspiring marriage she flees. In fact, her stifling past gets perhaps the film's most moving moment: an impromptu morale-improving sing along to "Molly Malone" that sits comfortably next to Minogue's "Who Were We?" in Holy Motors. As far as moments that are both unquestionably definitively cinematic, yet somehow outside it all, they're untouchable. That's what these films and the greatest art always does. It's in its form and tied to it but works its way into your unconscious. You feel you've known those songs and those beautiful, languorous takes that Carax and Davies captured them in all your life. Love and death will always be on our minds, because first they were on theirs.
3. The Master
by Paul Thomas Anderson
Films aren't often cultural events and granted I'm so deep inside the culture that I don't know what the view from outside looks like, but The Master was an event. The reasons why the average joe knew about the film are so boring I won't go into them - you know why because everyone knows why. It was everywhere. What made it unmissable for us, the people on the ground, was the celluloid. Shot on 65mm, shown in 70mm, like it fucking should be. Or so says I, anyway. Maybe some filmmakers wouldn't know what to do with 65mm, and lord knows some have botched it, but it truly is a gateway to another part of our history. When Terrence Malick shot The New World in that loving and lovely format, I sure jumped for joy even if no one else did. It's how you do big. It's how you do epic. If the film feels huge even if its home is on the faces of its lead, its because it's on 65mm and because Paul Thomas Anderson is writing in dark, permanent ink. Here is our history, the ugliest parts with its gut out, its limbs jutting awkwardly like the creature Wilfred Brimley can't stop dissecting in The Thing. Joaquin Phoenix is nothing less than the failure of the American dream, as ugly as Sterling Hayden and Ralph Meeker are brooding and sexy. Here was the america of Act of Violence. No heroes, just victims and the people who want to help them, even if they bullshit the solution because they like feeling like they can help, like they're in charge. Watching The Master on 70mm in a palatial movie house in Lincoln Square, the kind they just seem to bulldoze today, was being transported to the same deep recesses of the American unconscious that its hero finds himself in. You can see it in the film exactly when our hero falls asleep in a theatre, one of a few moments of uncanny coincidence that take place in a quiet movie house this year, and someone brings him a wake-up call. "You can't hide. This isn't the past, this is waiting for you as soon as the movie's over." No one says it, but there it is. No one says anything directly, but the message is as clear as if it's sung right at you. Films should be events more often.
4. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The true mark of a great director is what he does with genre, for my money. Telling stories of ordinary people trapped by fate as he had in Three Monkeys, he was good, but a little inhibited, a little subdued. Give him a policier and watch the magic happen. Once Upon A Time is more of a dream, a vision, than a piece of storytelling. At first it appears to have much to tell you for a very definite purpose you're certain will arrive when he plans on it. Then you realize that this journey is changing you and the characters at once, and you don't ever want the sun to come up and end the hunt for a body that might not exist. The handsome, fascinating faces ultimately exist to do more than haunt you genially, but you wish they wouldn't. You don't want the night to end.
by Rian Johnson
Many people were unimpressed. Many couldn't believe it ended on a farm. Many compared it unfavorably to other films on the same theme. Speaking objectively, they're wrong. This is a film of such searing romanticism that its easy to miss that the ending has so much more to it than the simple act it appears to be. Rian Johnson, ever the prodigious world-builder, creates a busy, crowded and bleak modern life in the city for his character to get corrupted by, then draws him away from it all to realize what he's done with himself, what he's missed, what he will miss. Looper feels just old enough in its willingness to spend a few extra seconds with a character than movies tend to anymore. It also makes you feel the violence: if people are going to die, it's going to be terrifying, painful, and visceral. You will remember everything about it. That's how it should be. That's why the hero does what he does. That's why Looper is a better film than I think any of us realizes.
6. The Unspeakable Act
by Dan Sallitt
I don't want to spoil any of this lovely movie because it was so under-seen and I don't want to take away any of the impact of discovery that this film has to offer. I will say that due to its subject matter, every new scene is more thrilling than a heist or a gunfight because you have to know what happens. How in the world can anyone get through this? But Dan Sallitt knows exactly what he's doing. He keeps a vice-grip on the mise-en-scène and parses out only what will keep you from losing your mind with suspense and heartbreak. I was enjoying the film greatly, but then came the last scene set in the attic of its characters' house. Tallie Medal, the film's gloomy lovable hero, has a reaction to something that is among the most gutwrenching, honest thing I've ever seen. I know I've thought those exact words but never had the courage to say them. The tears were unavoidable, they were just a fact on my face. I saw myself not having the power to say what she does and Sallitt gave her that moment, and all the loss and confusion that comes with it. It may be a deliberately small film but The Unspeakable Act is earth-shaking.
by David Cronenberg
The film gets a lot right but not before a deliberate snafu. In the first shots inside sociopath/wunderkind Eric Packer's limousine, the green screen displaying manhattan whirring by out the window is bad. Real bad. Deliberately bad. It's fake. Why would Cronenberg do this? Later in the film they nail the effect and you totally buy the green screen windows as showing a real street, so why fuck up in the first scene? Because he wants you to feel safe, like the world of the limo is plastic, fake, untouchable. So that when a scene later he opens the door and steps onto a busy Manhattan street and penetrates the door of a cab parked in traffic next to him it feels like the purest magic. He might as well have walked off the screen and into the theatre, Purple Rose of Cairo-style. Cosmopolis is all about the the illusion of safety, that he is master of the universe that Packer has created for himself. He can simply conquer space and time because of the wealth he's amassed. We similarly think that a Cronenberg film, after the harmless and pastoral A Dangerous Method made us lower our guard for this film starring the world's most seen male face, will somehow not break in on our privacy. The safety of the studio, of our expectations, of our baggage, is not safety at all. Someone or something asymmetrical waits for all of us.
8. In Darkness
by Agnieszka Holland
Little more than passively admired on its tiny release, In Darkness seemed overshadowed by bigger, better things. I don't see how anyone could walk away not feeling moved from this harrowing work of beauty. Holland's work on TV seems to have given her a way with sprawling narratives with huge casts, as she invests everyone with believable motivation and even in the dark of a sewer, you know who everyone is. She spins this yarn with brutal efficiency and heartrending detail. Probably the most engrossing and exhausting film about the occupation of Poland since The Pianist. To me it stands right beside it as a story that spares no horrid truth and yet never fails for a moment as the most exhilarating cinema.
9. Perhaps Beauty Has Strengthened Our Resolve - Masao Adachi
by Philippe Grandrieux
I've spoken at length now about Philippe Grandrieux. With apologies to many of the other geniuses on this list (and boy christ are there a boatload!), Grandrieux is my favourite living director. The greatest. He does nothing short of turning the world into his psychological interior. We do more than watch, we share the dream that he puts on screen. Even if this will necessarily live as a minor work compared to his unrivaled fiction films (one does not lightly compare anything to Un Lac, which is little short of a 90 minute out-of-body experience), that does not for a moment undercut the endlessly intriguing story he tells with the simplest images, caught at an hour that no one would recognize as existing in a given day. The sun and the moon seem to have conspired to light Perhaps Beauty's opening sequence. That is the power of his cinema. The raw beauty of the images don't deter from the film's function as documentary, they merely merge the worlds of fact and fiction, by virtue of passing in front of his camera. He may have sacrificed his impulse to create from scratch in favor of a story of cinema and the way it touched one man's life, but this still seems to have dripped from his unconscious.
by Cate Shortland
Cate Shortland is a director who after only two films can be said to have not only a recognizable style, but a color scheme all her own. Like Somersault, her sensory feast of a debut, Lore is less a film than a slowly enveloping environment, experienced not simply with your eyes and ears, but your fingers and nose. Shortland remains one of the few filmmakers whose cinema registers on your skin, who can make you smell the things on screen. Lore is ostensibly the story of a girl having to deal with womanhood being thrust upon her, but it's also the story of Germany limping home to a prewar mindset after Hitler's death, and indeed it's among the most insightful and brutal looks at a wounded nation ever managed. It's on every extra's face, on the unspoken responses to the pictures of dead concentration camp internees plastered on public walls in ruined cities. It's in the way people lie because there's no such thing as truth. If I have a complaint it's in the constant reference to the natural surroundings of the admittedly flooringly gorgeous scenery. Whatever could be gained from establishing some piece of natural beauty is achieved with the presence of Lore's baby brother. If I have a favourite device, it's the way we're thrust into scenes in near total darkness, minutes behind the action we're being alerted to. Shortland manages to let us in on the nation's psyche by never allowing us to find our feet. Every day is a challenge for the people of a guilty, headless land and no stone is left unturned and finding out how one exists when the building blocks of your life vanish without a trace and the world is simply a long road with an uncertain destination.
11. Beyond The Hills
by Cristian Mungiu
I loved Mungiu already when I sat down in Alice Tully Hall to see his newest film. And I was enjoying this film, really loving and admiring his insight into unrequited feelings, twice removed. What he gets so perfectly is what can be contained in the need to embrace someone, what need feels like, and how when someone doesn't respond the way you need them to, the end of the world can't come soon enough. But then the action starts to rise and the girl who just needs to be embraced, is taken and held and shackled and the possibility that she'll be given the thing she needs becomes a more and more distant idea; soon it's impossible. I sat there wanting to tear my hair out, painfully experiencing that frustration and captivity as if firsthand. I could barely stand to watch. To date the most intense reaction to anything I've ever seen in a cinema.
by Miguel Gomes
Like The Descendants, Tabu is a film whose greatness surprises you midway through watching it. Like slowly realizing you've been holding someone's hand longer than you intended to, Tabu is suddenly the film everyone promised it would be. After an opening that plays like a moviehouse past-life regression, Tabu gets off to an unremarkable start. A woman is expecting company who never shows and as consolation to herself begins spending more time with an elderly neighbor. A tragedy brings a man out of the woodwork who is able to tell the old woman's story in full and this is where Tabu becomes magic. As others have observed Miguel Gomes essentially imagines a memory as if it were silent cinema. Not an uncommon device (a favourite is Roger Daltry remembering his courtship as The Gold Rush in Ken Russell's third or fourth-place masterpiece Lisztomania), but it's in the dreamy details that Gomes wins the day. The narrator's recollection of the story is wry and passionate and the land he remembers is familiar yet strange; it's the world of Murnau and Flaherty, but with a tragic mist settled over everything. It's a romance we all know, but it simply drifts by, as fatalistic and romantic as any classic noir, but foreign and distant. He relies on our memory of those silent classics to kick in when the story is told. Soon we're mixing the details of the story, which are purposely archetypal, with the vague sensation of watching silent cinema, and soon we're not simply watching, but collectively remembering something together. And what is celluloid but an attempt to capture memory forever? That feeling will last longer than the specifics of a love triangle under the hot sun.
by Yorgos Lanthimos
Yiorgos Lanthimos is a punk who becomes more dangerous the more you think about him. First of all he's got a host of disciples he's letting in the door so long as he's got his foot holding it open. Second of all, his films become all the more troubling when you realize how good they are, after the shock has worn off. Unlike Gaspar Noé or many of the New French Extremism set, Lanthimos' ambition allows him to craft modernist nightmares more in the vein of Antonioni or Joseph Losey. The beauty of his films transcends their deeply uncomfortable subject matter. His framing is practically surgical, like a crime scene photographer following unstable criminals around, waiting for a body. In Dogtooth, which has already become a classic, he had complete control over one family and the unlucky bastards who fall into their orbit. Here he leaves the house behind and recasts the world in his image. I'm tempted to treat the presence of Aggeliki Papoulia as a continuation of her character in Dogtooth's story; having found her way in the world, she fell in with a new set of charismatic sociopaths to guide her urge to be helpful and unique and necessary. Not out of the question, I think, but sure unencouraging given how little luck she has in this new world. Violent men with barely controlled rage who are a few polite gestures away from being pure id still hold sway over those who wish they were still innocents. Even the most broken souls can be vicious when threatened or questioned. Lanthimos gives them precious little peace in his world, and they protect their tenuous piece of mind with tooth and nail. Papoulia wants something more than that, to transgress even transgression, to be truly alive or something deeper than dead. Everyone else just wants a smile from whatever passes for a loved one as proof of their existence, nevermind if they mean it.
14. Moonrise Kingdom
by Wes Anderson
The whole movie and its appeal is in those blue-shadowed eyes staring through a pair of binoculars. First love with the most intense woman who ever turned 12. Sure it's funny, ornate (the ornatest), gorgeous, textured, constructively nostalgic and all the while pleasingly bleak in the way you've come to expect from Wes Anderson, but it's lasting appel can be found in those few minutes on the beach. A fantasia for young lovers. That's why this film will live forever: It gets those details a hundred percent right. No one will have had that moment to themselves, but everybody imagined it, and it's always like this. The freedom to be as close as possible.
15. Zero Dark Thirty
by Kathryn Bigelow
The memory of the debate over the film's merits vs. its political shockwaves is still as fresh as an hours old bruise, so I won't linger long on this title except to say that at no point did I believe I was watching a film that glorified anything it showed me. None of these people have intact pieces of mind, none can have fulfilling lives, none are the sort the rest of the world can empathize with. They torture, they kill, they never sleep, they're driven by revenge for a wrong they don't ever attempt to understand. As a sometime quaker I was never invested in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. An eye for three thousand eyes; nothing is ever going to justify what we did in/to the middle east looking for something to sate our nation-wide bloodlust. We killed thousands looking for one man. Tell me that's worth it. We never looked inwardly. In that respect Zero Dark Thirty is utterly believable. Beyond that, it's outrageously good filmmaking with maybe the finest cast ever assembled. Nothing may ever unseat Near Dark, but this is the closet Kathryn Bigelow's come to making a masterpiece since then.
16. Wuthering Heights
by Andrea Arnold
It starts with Heathcliff banging his head against a wall until it bleeds. How can you not fall for this telling of Brontë? Haven't we heard this story, seen the Wyler? The Buñuel? Here's something else, even earthier and minimal than Fukunaga's Jane Eyre. Here we have only emotion, unbridled by language, and thus the story is new. Untold. Arnold continues to pare down her style, putting more emphasis on what a gesture can mean. Whether it's a glance or the rubbing of dirt into someone's hair. The most primal depiction of love and despair, walking hand in hand on a mist shrouded moor.
17. Two Gates of Sleep
by Alistair Banks Griffin
Watching this film proved an endlessly revelatory experience. First of all the film was crushingly simple and yet with each new image was both unspeakably gripping and resplendent. And the plot proved so threadbare, elemental, it felt like the death of man kind was being played out. If Kubrick had hung around between primitive mammal life and the star child, I'm certain he'd have found this story. A grueling, inexplicably frightening watch that nevertheless rewards every second by lingering on the perfectly sculpted faces of its leads, who seem to split from being one person in two bodies to something torn apart from within and without.
by Tim Burton
There's more of that irresistible cinephilia-as-plot here, and some breathtaking claymation, but the draw may be that this feels like Tim Burton dancing to his own beat rather than toning himself down to please another master. But frankly I make no bones about the fact that this is the story of a boy who wants his dog back. How am I supposed to resist that? Along with Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow, this is the best of Burton: a film about a kid with a dream just trying to find his place.
19. Killing Them Softly
by Andrew Dominik
I've already covered my love of the film's supertext/subtext, so I'll simply say this is one of the few films this year that I felt compelled to visit over and over again just to soak in its every scuzzy detail. The heist scene, when viewed fresh, is one of the best of its kind. The fact that Dominik and his cast still have lengthy careers ahead of them doing work of this caliber couldn't please me more.
20. Berberian Sound Studio
by Peter Strickland
If Amer is the meta-giallo concerned with what we see and how we process images and smemory, Berberian Sound Studio is its sister, concerned with how we hear and how that triggers the other senses. Anchored by Toby Jones, an actor who can and frequently does do anything, Peter Strickland pulls off an endlessly clever trick: his film is about the making of a giallo whose character enters into one of those downward spirals favored by Edwige Fenech, especially in All The Colors Of The Dark. Jones' soundman then undergoes one of his own, thanks not to the plot but the film. So in essence, a giallo turned inside out. And of course it's in the details of the movie making and in the little touches that drive Jones further and further over the edge, giving one of his finest performances to date. A film about filmmaking that takes on the characteristics of the film being made, which you never see one frame of. Like a spider impersonating a fly. Bava would approve.
21. The Hunter
by Rafi Pitts
This film is to Iran what Targets is to America, featuring both hallmarks of its best indigenous cinema and a plot device that acts as an evisceration of society to see how its dealt with. In both films someone stands atop a disused industrial building and begins shooting into traffic. In Targets it's a way to examine the disconnect that vanishes between fiction and reality and why guns ought not to be so commercially available. In The Hunter it plays out in the pared down style of the best and best known Iranian films (Kiarostami and Farhadi spring to mind) but with a severity that recalls Scorsese at his most calm. Here the device is used to illustrate the explosion of a man's anger with the system. Funny that a country with a famously repressive cultural climate should produce some of the most virulently anti-establishment works of art ever committed. And The Hunter's anger is palpable. When everyone has a gun and the system doesn't play fair, what does safety mean? Rafi Pitts' protagonist isn't unreasonable, he's just tired of a world that doesn't recognize his humanity. His act isn't necessarily even as simple as protest, it's just a guarantee that someone will have to look him in the eye and try to understand his situation, if only to convict him.
22. One Minute of Darkness
by Christoph Hochhäusler
The Dreileben trilogy was a fascinating and worthy experiment from three filmmakers adjacent to the New Berlin School. I won't rope them off into a movement I don't fully understand. I'll just say they've each got style you'd never confuse. All three earned a place on my list but the standout for me is sometime-critic Hochhäusler's look into the frayed existence of a convicted killer on the run. Hochhäusler doesn't ask you buy his guilt or innocence, in fact he makes a compelling case for both options. As a chase film, it's thrilling in its use of place: there are no boundaries he respects. Clearly he walked every hill and valley in the town of Dreileben and figured out the most beautiful route to have his fugitive hide out in. It's focus is deliberately narrow as he needed to leave some of the details to his co-directors takes on other sides of the period of time he spends on the lam. This is just a thorough examination of what being thought of as a criminal can do to you. Might living as a fugitive compel you to earn your outlaw status honestly? Blessedly, even with two films filling in some of the blanks, nothing is ever made 100% clear. A mystery that feels just as elusive as the crime its characters try so hard to solve and a masterwork of tonal control.
23. Patience (After Sebald)
by Grant Gee
To attempt to figure out why this film is such a glorious experience is counterproductive. It's an examination of a book made up of codes and keys. An attempted decoding more interested in proposing possible answers than definitively stating why the work is so effecting. It just is. The film's ambient explorations play out with enthusiasm but no one is in any hurry to determine the secret. It's beguiling questions are answer enough and this film is itself welcoming in the same way. A work of art about why works of art transcend form that happens to do the same. Sure, it's about W.G. Sebald's freeform travel guide and doubles as a companion piece, but it's a perfectly mystifying and enchanting work in its own right.
by Shinya Tsukamoto
Every fan of the depraved knows Tsukamoto by reputation, if not neccesarily because of a comprehensive look at his body of work. I'd be willing to bet there are just as many fans of Tetsuo: The Iron Man who've never seen any of his other work or indeed knew that two sequels existed as there are who think they've found the overarching narrative and meaning behind the trilogy his debut kicked off. No matter, what remains Tsukamoto's most endearing quality is his ability to make films like Kotoko which kick the shit out of whatever deems to delineate genres. He follows no rules about treatment of characters. Everything's fair game and in its own way it's that quality that makes this film as manipulative as any Spielberg film. Singer Cocco makes her big screen and writing debut as a new mother who can't stop seeing the most invasive hallucinations. This makes raising her child a task she is wildly unfit for, but try separating a mother from her child and see what happens. She eventually listens to her better angels (and the state) and gives her son to her more stable sister. Her first move as a free woman is to enter into a relationship with a too-devoted man played by the director. She takes advantage of his overeager advances as long as she can, but ultimately the world has crueler things in store for her. I won't give away the ending, except to say that it's as perfect as something so painful can be and I felt not even a little guilty about welling up at its final gesture. Not for the faint of heart, but by god is it worth seeing through.
25. The Color Wheel
by Alex Ross Perry
Unrelenting. That's the best way to describe Alex Ross Perry's The Color Wheel. It's hilarious once it finds its groove, but it's so bilious and acidic that you really aren't sure you should be laughing. And you keep wondering long after the script and the two deliberately unattractive performances from Perry and Carlen Altman have worn you down. And then you stop wondering because new unspoken walls of acceptable form are broken down every few minutes and you don't have the energy to remember what's allowed in American filmmaking. Can this still be called a comedy? It doesn't seem to care. I don't think I laughed harder all year. But what makes it something better than comedy is that the characters are invincible. They lay into each other with the most hurtful and scathing material they've got but don't seem phased; it's comedy of manners in Godmode. Perry's on his own out there. The world wouldn't know what to do with two of him.
26. Shit Year
by Cam Archer
Cam Archer is a European in an American's brain. Shit Year is 8½ by way of La Notte, but of course there's more at work here than that. Archer fuses a retro-futurism with a uniquely American (indeed unique to Hollywood) culture clash. It's so specific even in its comic abstraction and ticks that it must be autobiography. There's so much at work and so much rich symbolism tossed off with the casualty of half of a cigarette that could write your dissertation on it, or just nod along like it's jazz. And through it all there's Ellen Barkin, thoroughly past caring, draped over a shirtless statue of a boy who's all hers for the time being. There may no cooler film this year.
27. John Carter
by Andrew Stanton
The Andrew Sarris Lola Montès rule still applies here. With every passing month and especially with the phenomenally lazy and mean-spirited placement of this film on many 'worst-of' lists I grow more and more fond of this film. I was tempted to place this as my number one film of the year on principle, but that would have been just as reactionary as most critics have been. As punishment for this movie ending up on those bottom-of-the-year lists, I'm never going to watch that bullshit Beasts of the Southern Wild movie. Worst? Truly? Explain to me how this is even in the same ballpark as W.E. or Alex Cross. I beg you, because all I see are people kicking a film for spending beyond ordinary means to tell this tale in a way that will ensure it lasts longer than the first Lord of the Rings film, whose CGI effects are already laughable. And don't get me wrong, I like those movies - indeed The Hobbit was 101 if I'd allowed myself that (I've cheated quite enough for one year, I think) - I just think that John Carter is a better, more humane story with more to love about it. The filmmaking is more muscular and efficient, doing justice to a book that has been denied it for close to a hundred years. And so one of the most influential stories ever written in English is given a film of such majesty and awe-inspiring breadth, a film that fits in with the best Disney films from any era, and no one sees what a marvelous gift they've been given. This was the year that intelligence and care and craft dominated the biggest Hollywood tentpoles and for my money, this is the one that will age the best. Unbridled by cynicism and maintaining a dignified tone, it feels like an old-fashioned movie-going experience. I'll probably be the only one to compare it to The Master, but both films deliberately explore and exist in a different era of filmmaking and both feel like the kind of thing that would have sold out two-storey movie palaces back when they were the rule instead of the exception. John Carter will always be the movie that made me realize that anything can be realized on screen.
by Andrey Zvyagintsev
One of those things that's all about the telling, not the tale. Told in mesmeric long-takes, letting the story and theme become clear by what happens around and to our heroes, if they can be called that. It harkens to The Decalogue in content, setting and of the little compromises that we make to survive, the wrongs we're compelled to commit. Zvyagintsev captures surfaces with complete certainty and has found a renewed sense of purpose in the High & Low-esque juxtaposition of the slums and modern manses of contemporary Russia. And I couldn't do without mentioning that jaw-dropping one-take fight scene. That makes the film worth mentioning all by itself.
29. Miners' Hymns
by Bill Morrison
Bill Morrison is probably cinema's most important experimental historian. He's not interested in the narrative, per se, of whatever story he's decided to tell, but in making sure that the footage he's gotten his hands on tells a convincing story all its own. Though token settings are given, it's not at all important that we know specifically where or when the story takes place. It happened. It was the only way of life many people knew, living most of the day underground with crude machinery in order to emerge from the bowels of the earth and see their families. Thanks to the bracing, dirge-like Jóhann Jóhannsson score, Morrison manages a tone that ensures you never pity these people for having their hellish occupation, nor either will you ever forget them. This is what it looks like when we cut the earth open for our benefit. This was life.
by Justin Kurzel
The rule has long been that whatever you don't show is often far more effective than what you do. Snowtown has it both ways. When you know a man cuts up kangaroos to make a point that could have been made with a can of spraypaint or a phonecall, then you really don't have any trouble believing that he could be one of the most dangerous men in Australia, despite, or perhaps because of, his amiable exterior. Kurzel's camera thus finds horror lying at the end of a shot or a cut, but always counter to expectation. A series of photographs ought to then reveal what became of them. Instead we're left wondering. A scene featuring one young man taunting another escalates but not nearly enough that we're prepared for the rape that finishes the scene. It's not even that the camera doesn't flinch, it just didn't seem ready. The issue of complicity is as much in the grammar of the film as the script, and though I'd think twice before visiting Snowtown again, it is unmistakably the work of a budding master.
31. Tender Son: The Frankenstein Project
by Kornél Mundruczó
Every year Cannes has a runt. Two years ago it was this, of which I could barely find a review, let alone a good one. Word on the street was this was a barely-there slog best avoided. Thank god I'm attracted to disaster. Certainly there were things that could overstay their welcome - the director playing the most obnoxiously grating version of himself he can imagine rides the ragged edge of too much - but I was hypnotized by this almost accidentally touching exploration of fatherhood. As it opens the doors and windows to the harsh Hungarian winter and lets the snowy exterior overwhelm the cityscape, the dialogue and machinations recede into the background and something personal and universal emerges. Who doesn't hide from something in their past? What father thinks they've done everything right? The director's vanity becomes tragic without so much a word spoken in his defense. It veers close to Dumontian abstraction, but what I think might hold it together is the look on Rudolf Frecska's face. As the monster in this re-imagining of Frankenstein, the look of guilt and sorrow is always there on his face, reminding us of why the Shelley story worked in the first place. Did he become a monster through his upbringing, or was he born (made) one? Either way it's out of his hands. The only person who could understand is his maker, who's right there with him as they journey into the frozen unknown, even if neither of them can help him now.
by Ben Rivers
I'm one of the world's biggest proponents of slow cinema and Two Years has to be called a new classic in the 'genre.' From the instantly riveting first shot, Rivers engages in a patient dissection of a man's life through the little actions that he repeats season after season, capturing life as no one else could because he was there for all of it and found the truth in existing, one uncertain second after another.
by Matteo Garrone
Garrone's style is one of the finest in contemporary cinema and it served his last film, Gomorrah, so well that I firmly believe it will be remembered as one of the best films of all time. Here he lets the long takes get in the way of efficiency, but his thesis and Fellini-esque flourishes more than make up for it. The film is an altogether more pleasant experience than Gomorrah, but its ideas are no less incendiary and dangerous. He films with such immediacy that you don't see the big picture even when it's right in front of you - the underlying idea was buried so well that almost no one noticed. To date, I think only Mike D'Angelo got it, and frankly I'm not at all surprised he hid it so well. Making a film that equates religion with reality TV is clever, certainly, and insulting to the indoctrinated, but in Italy it's practically treason. That takes balls. Thank God no one knew what he was up to.
34. Beats Being Dead
by Christian Petzold
For me, this was the best Petzold I saw this year. Barbara seems almost pointless, like a quota quickie, by comparison. When he's trying to say something, it's like he forgets to. But taking the least essential point of view in the Dreileben trilogy, he does wonders. Following an on-again-off-again courtship that happens concurrently to the murder investigation at the center of One Minute of Darkness, Petzold translates the agony of regret onto the screen with the seriousness of a heart attack. That a horror film appears to linger just outside the margins give it further shading. His chief concern is displaying the fallout from impetuousness and reprisal. Even the coda, which has indeed drifted in from another movie, drives this point home. Where Hochhäusler used the town of Dreileben as the site of a giant game of cat and mouse (or hide-and-seek), Petzold uses its every inch to display in actuality the distance between two characters, mentally and physically.
35. Silver Linings Playbook
by David O. Russell
The film is a touch old-fashioned in its definition of coping with mental illness, but I do take David O. Russell at his word when he says that he made this for his son, to prove that something like Bi-Polar disorder doesn't mean giving up the promise of a wonderful life as depicted in movies. And who in the world can resist a movie of such shaggy dog nature that ends in not only a crowd-pleasing big finish, but in the context of a dance-off complete with tap dancing and a come-from-nowhere White Stripes song? I said it then and I'll say it again: if I'm going to be manipulated, I'd like it to always be like this.
by Ben Affleck
There is much to love about Argo, but the the highest compliment I can think to pay the movie (on top of simply bowing before its cast of unrivaled character actors) is that I knew how it ended and I was still gripping the edge of my fucking chair. Ben Affleck appears to just be getting better at this.
37. The Woman In Black
by James Watkins
As much an effective scare manufacturer as it is a film about how horror movies work; a master class in filming scares. It has a number of splendidly handled moments that transcend mere shock value - a child who swallowed the wrong chemical gets the film's best scene. And through it all is Daniel Radcliff and Ciarán Hinds trading words in an elegantly underplayed rhythm. It has the feel of classic Hammer Horror, of which this can be said to be the official rebirth, but the emotional underpinnings of Merchant Ivory or Jane Campion. But make no mistake, it's fucking terrifying, which is exactly how it should be.
38. Whores' Glory
by Michael Glawogger
You have to love a film that deliberately pisses on documentary ethics and puts PJ Harvey over footage of women actually selling their bodies in real time. Glawogger's cool view of reality is such that he views everything as if it were the stuff of great cinema. The lingering impression is that if the world didn't tie itself into such abysmal knots then it wouldn't so easily become worth filming. Prostitution here isn't a crime, it's shit luck. His fight is with societies that let this happen. How could it be possible for someone like him to bring in his camera and hang out for months, getting the inner workings on camera for the world to see. And the final insult: this movie won't change a fucking thing. To the man who treats these women with more respect than anyone else in their lives, as subjects worthy of their own film, I say: for the love of god don't ever stop making films.
by Ralph Fiennes
The good folks at wittertainment (hello to Jason Isaacs) have a rubric for interviews: Guests can be as apathetic as Ralph Fiennes talking about the Harry Potter films, or as infectiously enthusiastic as Ralph Fiennes talking about Coriolanus. The man could hardly contain his excitement at talking about this film; it was his passion project, the one film he had to make because no one else would. I'm glad it's taken this long for someone to do it because trying to imagine anyone's face but Fiennes, covered in blood, blue eyes glowing from inside a mask of ash, smoke and hate, as the embodiment of Shakespeare's most vicious hero. He'd been in the play before, knew it back to front. He and John Logan even pulled off the seemingly impossible, if precedent is any indication: making a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare that keeps the language intact and doesn't strangle you with cloying self-awareness. This film has the ruthlessness that the roster of talent involved suggests: director of photography on The Hurt Locker, star of 300, writer of Gladiator and the 21st century's most ubiquitous screen villain in front and behind the camera. The story boils down to a simple, frightening concept: we do evil things because we know nothing else. Coriolanus is good at waging war; why would we live any other way when society makes it impossible? The sumptuously bleak ending spells out the tragedy of war with a whimper and a bang. Fiennes may not have any other passion projects in his backlog, but I seriously hope he steps behind the camera once more. He knows what he's doing there.
40. A Royal Affair
by Nicolaj Arcel
If Andrzej Wajda had made Danton as a tragic romance rather than an exhaustive and exhausting recreation, I wager it'd come out feeling an awful lot like A Royal Affair. Arcel has a heft to his direction that even as he's hitting familiar beats (Could this story have ended any other way?) they feel freshly downbeat and intoxicating. Maybe this once, history will be kind to lovers and utopians alike. As full of life as a story this oppressive can be, Arcel takes a well-worn idea and dresses it to stun.
41. Killer Joe
by William Friedkin
William Friedkin has nothing to prove. He hasn't since the mid 80s. By that time he'd made some of the finest American films of all time. He kept trying because that's what great artists do. He hit a rough patch with a few bright spots in there, but he didn't really find a new diction worthy of his talent and time when he found the work of Tracy Letts. Bug was a warped wonder, a Philip Ridley film at 100 mph, a chamber piece of sweaty intensity that slowly works on you the way it's damaged hero worms his way into the brain of an unsuspecting woman. Now comes Killer Joe, a film that, thanks to advance warning, felt positively dangerous. If the National League of Decency still existed, it would be for a film like this that thrives on the sizzle of sin. Not to sell it short: many wrote this off as a checklist of bad behavior, but I see it simply as a story that has to be told at a very high volume. Letts' characters have left the carcass of their moral compass in the rearview, so Friedkin doesn't bother condemning them. We don't have time for that as he and Letts have us on a very tight schedule. And that's precisely why the film's worst (read: most extremely violent and sexual) moments work for me. These people are on borrowed time and want to spend no more time in each other's company than is neccesary. They'd rather suffer fate's cruelest jokes than stay in their current situation. So when they beat the shit out of someone, or force a poor woman to suck off a piece of fried chicken, it's because they don't speak any other language. Thankfully, Friedkin speaks their language fluently. Their conversation is a guilty-pleasure to rival all others, replete with sight gags, blue-ribbon deadpan humour and a boogie man to rival Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter or Cape Fear.
42. Damsels in Distress
by Whit Stillman
This is an even bigger victory than if it had simply been a hilariously surreal comedy. It's also the first Whit Stillman film I've outright loved. Here he abandons all ironic distance and dives headfirst into sympathy and love for his characters. He's also picked up a thing or two about craft from watching Renoir, or so says the poster that show up on apartment walls throughout. His bizarro university comes to magnificent life as his girls (who each turn in fabulous performances replete with pathos and expert comic timing) navigate the pitfalls of the campus experience. But let's not stray away from the most important thing - this is the best writing of Stillman's career.
43. Miss Bala
by Gerardo Naranjo
It wasn't until someone compared this film to The Red And The White that it became more than a typically great Mexican crime film. This was the only indigenous film about drug policy that needs to be seen. Both sides are largely identical violent mobs and everyone else is a casualty.
44. The Dark Knight Rises
by Christopher Nolan
When a film is difficult to read, it leads to a lot of very furious hand-wringing. The tendancy is to simply close the matter before the debate gets any further out of control. If a critic claims to have found the answer to a film and it looks bad, he'll call it a day and wait to say "I told you so." The honeymoon ended about a week into The Dark Knight Rises release. Soon the politics were too dubious to support and the film was called a failure as anything other than scale and momentum. Here's my final word on the film's politics: Bane promises Gotham a world in which the Occupy movement is the rule of law. I'd go for that over, say, the Bush administrations torture-first, prove-it-was-necessary-later non-ethics. If I thought I wouldn't have to be in debt the rest of my life and a guy with a nuclear bomb was insisting on anarchy, you betcha I'd consider overthrowing the government. Or at the very least smashing a store-front or two before decency kicked in. You promise someone a revolution, they'll listen. So of course it's a lie; he doesn't want down-is-up Marxist government, he just wants to blow up a crime-ridden den of iniquity. The police happily die fighting the militia who lied to the people who pay taxes, because they were lying about the place of government services (the police, but also libraries and mail delivery). They don't hold a grudge, they just want to save lives - I may fear the police, but I buy that's why a good many of them got into the line of work. So, it's basically pro-New Deal Democracy. Maybe not as revolutionary as I'd have liked, but I'm happy it's not crypto-fascist nonsense like Red Dawn or The Expendables. As for the rest of it, I just don't understand the arguments. This might still fall just shy of Inception as sleek cinematic pleasure cruises through the impossible go (I fucking love that movie), but this film is unforgettably cinematic. I was never confused, I was never bored, and if anyone has logic quibbles, this is always a pretty good answer to any quandary: he's batman.
45. Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists
by Peter Lord
As any Aardman fan will tell you, when you watch one of their films, anything can happen. That was clearly the prime directive in writing Pirates! because that spirit comes seeping through the narrative like water through a wicker basket. In the first five minutes there is a splendid gag, it's up there in the still I chose, that lets you know that if ever the film sags under the weight of incredulity or if the characters veer too far into unlike-ability to move the plot along, the writers are there to make sure you never notice. For a long while there is a joke worth memorizing every thirty seconds, delivered in the enthusiastic tradition of Monty Python and Graham Linehan and of course, past Aardman efforts. As usual the animation is spellbinding, every detail as perfect as you could want it to be, if you ever stop laughing long enough to pay attention.
by Steven Spielberg
Continuing a John Ford kick that I hope never ends, Spielberg finds life and flaws in a period and a man many people would like to read as black and white. I don't know that it fully beats Young Mr. Lincoln in its simplicity and warmth but even as a fable that was a pretty straight-up hagiography. Lincoln is a living-breathing look at politics from every imaginable angle. Daniel Day-Lewis deserves every plaudit you can throw at him, as does heart-melting Tommy Lee Jones, but I think what the film should be most applauded for is the Jackie Earle Haley performance. To play the vice-president of the confederacy, symbolically the closest thing the film has to a villain, Spielberg hired the ugliest man in show business, but he's still a human being who knows he has what amounts to a small country depending on his actions. That the civil war wasn't about slavery isn't contested here; what is is the idea that all men who believe in evil concepts are evil. Let's not forget that the first film about Lincoln was by D.W. Griffith, without whom we wouldn't have modern cinema. And yet the man's politics were abhorrent at best. Lincoln doesn't hide the truth, but like the best of Spielberg it just looks for the humanity buried beneath it.
47. The Comedy
by Rick Alverson
I was cautiously tolerating The Comedy, aware that this scathingly inappropriate would at some point show its hand or take a turn for the unforgivable, until the day in the park. Tim and Eric, who appear further down the list in their own capacity, come with their own set of rules. So I was attempting to sort out the perimeters of this exercise in horrendousness when suddenly the film lurches to a standstill to show its hand. The characters, who we've observed behaving horribly to anyone unlucky enough to enter their orbit and to one another, mostly through harsher words than the situation can support, are in a park in Brooklyn playing basketball and riding bikes. William Basinski's "Disintegration Loops" begin droning behind it all like conducted whale song. Then the ring leader of these men just watches his friends for a split second that feels like an eternity - this is all their lives can be when they aren't drinking and taking the piss out of each other. This is what their privilege buys them. As he rides home on his bike, flanked by these friends, you can almost imagine him plotting out the events of the movie that follow. He's a child looking for boundaries because he was never set any. It's telling that his father's in a coma: he's hoping, verging on actively encouraging someone to shake him from his anxiety and paralysis. If his father dies any hope of his growing up vanishes and he slowly becomes sadder and sadder until this becomes a tragedy on the scale of Phaedra or Antigone. These people are everywhere and more are born everyday to parents who simply don't know how to raise them. When everything that could be taken seriously can so easily become a joke, what's the point of living for anything? Thus The Comedy becomes a suicide note in motion.
by Craig Zobel
In a single cut and a shot of feet, you realize you're watching the most frightening movie of the year. Zobel's style is pleasingly unshowy in the early goings, but his claws come out when the story enters what should be the realms of the unreal. Instead it's horrible, horrible fact and he never shies away. Ann Dowd gives maybe the best performance this year; she and Zobel diagnose the insidious sickness inherent in believing in the American Dream and doing what you're told.
by Guy Maddin
Guy Maddin has made films that often seem to consist of subtextual references to arcane texts only he knows about and cinema is richer for it. But this time he seemed to be adapting an illustrated guide to Freudian thought. In Keyhole Jason Patric, who frankly couldn't be a better choice for a Cagney-esque gangster if he played it straight, is used to delightfully counterintuitive effect as he half-dances through a recreation of an apocalyptically bad night in his life, trying to win his wife and former peace back by reconstructing his state of mind. One of Maddin's funniest and most charming films to date and a giddy return to genre taxidermy, turning the gangster film into an uproarious passion play stuck in a continuous feedback loop.
50. Crazy Horse
by Fred Wiseman
Fred Wiseman's films are always enjoyably directed. Even if all he does is place his camera in the best and most interesting possible spot in an environment and give you a moment you could never have seen first-hand, he's got to be the best observational doc maker still living and he practically invented the form. So we can forgive an old man picking an almost completely uninteresting subject because it interested him: a (apparently) world-famous nude revue. Essentially the smutty flipside of La Danse, his film about the Paris Opera Ballet, Crazy Horse shows the ins and outs of such an operation. They are of course fascinating in their banality, but the best scene (featured in the still above), is when he captures the routine that most resembles the most alluring B-cinema. Women's silhouettes projected on bright colored bricks of fabric? Pure cinema. Ted V. Mikels and Russ Meyer would have applauded heartily. I just never want to hear the club's theme song ever again.
51. Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present
by Jeff Dupre and Matthew Akers
This is a fascinating look into an artist's process, but it's got something powerful in store for viewers. Just as anyone would be hard pressed to describe just what it is that made them burst into tears sitting across from Marina Abramović, it's hard to put your finger on why watching it is such a profoundly heavy experience. For me the film becomes something other than documentary when Abramović's ex-husband, with whom she used to share every project, sits in front of her, her first taker. It's a moment of unimaginable tenderness and suddenly everything that they've done with their lives makes the most wonderful sense.
52. This Must Be The Place
by Paolo Sorrentino
Because there's nothing I love more than breaking with a critical concensus (I believe six people liked this movie), I'll go ahead and call this film an essential text about American cinema. Movies by foreigners working in this great bloated land of ours used to be things of unimaginable strangeness. Wenders came here to bury Nicholas Ray and stayed to reunite Harry Dean Stanton (playing James Dean) and Nastassja Kinsky (playing Natalie Wood). Barbet Schroeder came to bring Charles Bukowski back to life. Wong Kar-Wai came to make the sort of thing he'd been stealing from all these years, making a sort of hazy, uncertain ouroboros. Paolo Sorrentino, like Fritz Lang before him, has Nazis on the brain. Here he sends Sean Penn (playing Cure frontman Robert Smith, with a hint of guest star and composer David Byrne) on a quest to cure his ennui and save his marriage by finding the Nazi who humiliated his father and ruined his life. I take this as a bit of an in-joke - in europe you can only make real movies about Nazis. Americans made Ilsa She Wolf of the SS and Inglourious Basterds. Even the characters in Iron Sky speak english. Feeling as oddly conceived as Byrne's own directing effort True Stories, This Must Be The Place is truly a foreign look at a country that at times couldn't be more alien. Sorrentino takes great pleasure in recreating the plastic Norman Rockwell side of suburbia as well as the sprawling desert that so captivated Wenders and Peter Watkins and Dumont and so many before them. This country may have a lot to offer, a void that stares long back at you, but before any of that, it's an endlessly film-able landscape with a lotta contradictions just waiting to be stripped naked and paraded around.
53. Lines of Wellington
by Valeria Sarmiento
The world was robbed a singular talent when Raúl Ruiz finally tired of mortality and ambled out of our lives. As with everything in his films, I attribute this event Ruiz himself making a decision. What stranger journey could he take a character than through to the afterlife? That would have made a hell of a film. His final official film feels more like a proper farewell, or so I'm told. I only got to see the first film made in his absence, directed by his wife of many, many years Valeria Sarmiento. Many said it felt insubstantial, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say its negative reaction was simply critics trying to cope with the loss of a beautiful soul. I couldn't have wished for a more pleasant and dark experience. Wellington drops in on a rogue's gallery on either side of the French-Portuguese conflict in 1810, a loping moral diary, a map of suffering and compromise. Sarmiento does her utmost to remain faithful to her late husband's style and acquits herself beautifully. It doesn't feel overly morbid or fawning, just another splendidly told tale that I think the man himself would have loved to see to the end.
54. Anna Karenina
by Joe Wright
The first film Joe Wright appears to have made for himself, Anna Karenina is a middle finger at the very idea of a stodgy, stagy historical drama. Closer in spirit to Peter Greenaway than any BBC miniseries, Anna holds up the limits of adaptation up for its audience to become aware of, while it dances its way from one scene to the next, giving the impression that this tragedy must go on forever, and so too must the process of re-doing classics simply because we can (look out for Mike Newell's Great Expectations later this year). Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard treat the characters, the source material and the idea of adaptation as animals in a gilded cage; they can move around and this gives them the illusion of freedom. Only Jude Law's Karenin seems to understand that the feeling of being released from bonds that accompanies falling in love is a phantom. It too will be replaced with disappointment and incarceration. The inmates dance, play sweet music and inhabit many roles, but their prison/stage is always there, like the customs of high society. A decadent futurist object as rapturous as it is terrifying.
55. Après Mai
by Olivier Assayas
The perfect companion piece to Jacques Rivette's many-hour opus Out 1 about post-68 malaise. Rather than a snapshot, this is a months-long travelogue that charts the waxing and waning fortunes and political ambitions of a group of student protestors who take their revolutionary fervor a step too far. Laying low and avoiding detection leads them down a path that's at once a microcosm of Europe in the early 70s but an utterly convincing look at the way passion can transcend a medium or avenue. This gets the details perfectly right, even if it takes a long, winding road to get there. And where's there? The set of The Land That Time Forgot. What's more important, making a difference in the world or in the lives of the individual seeking escape from the world that won't change? It's sort of like choosing between Carol Combes and Lola Créton, isn't it? Assayas, ever the level-headed observer, gets to have it both ways. As usual, he asks the question and arrives at the answers, but won't pick one for you. That's why I'll always watch his movies, even if he loses his politics and just makes movies about nazis and dinosaurs.
by Nadav Lapid
The style in which Policeman is presented is deceptive; sort of like Tony Manero, it uses its drawn-out choreography and deliberate, patient cinematogrphy as a way to pull the rug from a complacent audience. But whereas Tony Manero does this once in the beginning to prepare you to be unprepared for the unspeakable crimes his protagonist will commit, Policeman goes about this in reverse. Nadav Lapid is nothing more than an observer to both sides of a conflict, split neatly down the middle of the film, until suddenly turns the lights out on you and objectivity is gone. Fact-finding is over: you have to pick a side. You were watching people with ideological differences. Now you're a witness to something bigger and meaner and systematic. As much as I love Julia Loktev's approach to this formal practice in The Loneliest Planet - she puts the perspective change smack in the middle of the film - I think that putting it at the end is perfect. You leave wanting to know what you just saw and how you feel. The ramifications of the last minute of the movie leave you with another film's worth of reflection to do.
57. Hello I Must Be Going
by Todd Luiso
The wheel isn't reinvented. Narratives are not rethought from the inside out. The story is familiar, the beats are hit, the ending won't especially shock you. It's well-told, certainly, very competently directed and handsomely shot and there's a lot of funny dialogue and the characters are very grounded in traits and situations that feel at times too real for the distance usually provided by American indie film. It relies heavily on a soundtrack by Laura Veirs that it doesn't need. This film makes my list really for one reason only. Melanie Lynskey as Amy, the divorcee living with her parents. I've seen no performance like this before in a film that cannot contain it. It would take someone like The Archers (she fuses June Duprez' girlish sexuality and Wendy Hiller's indefatigability, though in contrast each trait is of the bridled variety), Fellini or Paul Thomas Anderson to construct a film that could meet the sheer hugeness of Lynskey at her career best (certainly since Heavenly Creatures). She evokes a whole film's worth of pathos in single line readings, she swears better than anyone else, she's too lovable to let the reality of her situation ever register as pathetic, her insecurities actually bring out sympathy instead of frustration, she looks and carries herself exactly like she needs to in order to make every scene work, she is too good for this very fine film. Of course that isn't fair: the film puts her in perfect situations that allow her to so gracefully react to social discomfort and failure. Her performance is of such lived-in, accomplished naturalism that you can see her past embarrassments and defeats in just the amount of time it takes her to answer questions. In a year with many fine Jessica Chastain performances, Ann Dowd in Compliance, Emmanuelle Riva in Amour, a whole host of seriously great child actors making completely assured debuts, go-for-broke turns by Cocco and Keigo Kasuya, three films with Rosemarie Dewitt in a lead role and Rachel Weisz as Hester Collyer, Lynskey's performance is the best by a comfortable margin. The only problem is figuring out how she can top this, if anyone will ever give her the lead in anything again. She's too good for everything.
58. Hanezu No Tsuki
by Naomi Kawase
It's all in the telling. I couldn't quite place my finger on why this lilting, buddhist romance so charmed me (and the print I watched was horrible), but I do know that while it was on, I felt at ease, at one with the world the characters inhabit, wanting to live alongside them. A devastating third act isn't even quite enough to break the spell. This was a small dose of nirvana that never stoops to pretend the world is perfect. It just finds perfection in the gutting of the human spirit as part of the natural order.
59. Just The Wind
by Bence Fliegauf
A movie that gains considerable strength and power in hindsight, it nevertheless enchants as it transpires. Just The Wind is about survival and what that means in a world so violent and uncertain as this, but most importantly, it's about survival as incidentally achieved. Bence Fliegauf takes his camera off the tripod he used so effectively in sci-fi chiller Womb and gets as close to his characters' every move, expression and word as he can. No one will tell this story if he doesn't, and as we discover, everything the Romanian family say and do is precious because they were very nearly a statistic, as open to the randomness of racism and murderous rage at imaginary boundaries and markers. Fliegauf takes a great interest in the unruliness of passersby; people who could so easily become an angry mob with the right words whispered in their ear. He sees what it takes to make it through a day when you're different from everyone else. And he knows that sometimes that isn't even close to enough for some people. For his willfully diffuse narrative and his characters being as perfidious and cowardly as they sometimes come across, he still believes in their humanity and sympathizes with nearly every character on screen. It would get exhausting but that's his point. When you realize the conclusion he was building to, the film becomes too heartbreaking for a repeat watch. His message is a good one to live by: make everything count.
60. A Burning Hot Summer
by Philippe Garrel
Part of Philippe Garrel's appeal will always be that undefinable something else. Call it cool or ennui, but he has a way of making nothing into something and then back again as if by sleight of hand. When Godard stopped making movies and started making political crosswords, Garrel picked up where he left off and he's been there ever since chronicling doomed lovers and the idle rich with a painterly eye. An opening shot of a starkly naked Monica Belluci sets the tone and feel of this simmering exercise. Casting his Adonis-like son once more as a troubled anti-hero, he looks deeply into the eyes of the spoiled to see if he recognizes humanity behind the blank stare. He captures their head-games and disappointments with a furious precision, best exemplified in a dance sequence that seems beholden to neither story nor character. Like much else in the world of Garrel's dark universe it simply had to happen that way.
61. The Loneliest Planet
by Julia Loktev
A sort of pre-honeymoon vacation becomes the site of trauma whose consequences are at once instantaneous and will have ripples doing untold damage years and years from now. One of the most incisive looks at the deterioration of communication between loved ones ever imagined. Loktev is one of the keenest observers of relationships alive.
62. The Raid: Redemption
by Gareth Huw Evans
I've been in a constant dialogue with myself since this film opened. Do I love this for any reason beyond the inhumanly great fight scenes? Well, yes, obviously, or like Haywire, it would have been a footnote. The composition borrows liberally from the John Carpenter handbook but since when is that a bad thing? The characters seem thinly drawn, but as long as we're talking source material, do you know much about your typical American action hero? Ryan Gosling's character spends more downtime earning humanity points in Drive, but when the credits roll we know more about Iko Uwais' SWAT team survivor than we do about the driver. You could claim it wants for ambition, but all that means is that they covered their low-budget exceptionally well; it's B-Movie mechanics earn it major stripes. And then there's the sheer physicality of the performances. This isn't fighting so much as contact dancing and it's far more complicated than anything in Haywire. So if it more than an ass-kicking delivery system? I like to think so, but you know what? This is one case where I'll happily take 90 minutes of action over all other narrative concerns, because it so happens that The Raid has some of the most lovingly planned and executed ass-kickings in the history of kicking ass.
63. The Grey
by Joe Carnahan
Sure it's not half as smart as it thinks it is, but the grainy photography and doom-laden procedural elements make it unimaginably watchable. Liam Neeson actually getting to be Irish helps this thing's charisma plenty. It's basically a Michael Mann film with no injustice worth fighting and only god to get revenge on.
64. Burning Man
by Jonathan Teplitzky
A broiling portrait of the anger that comes after years of thinking you can get away with absolutely anything. Teplitzky catches his protagonist, played by Matthew Goode at his horrific best as a man who's all id all the time, at his worst and then slowly eats away at his timeline until his decency and vulnerability have no place to hide.
65. Kill List
by Ben Wheatley
A horror film with the horrific impact of documentary or surveillance. To say more is to court spoilers. It does narrative curlicues that are extremely odd and satisfying.
66. Sound of Noise
by Ola Simonsson
There isn't much to this film beyond its death-defying musical numbers and the adorably determined look on the faces of its leads but believe me that's enough. You'll never see another film like this.
67. Ace Attorney
by Takashi Miike
Range, with regard to a director, might be most simply defined by watching this video game adaptation back-to-back with the other Miike film on this list, his remake of Harakiri. The relative pacing, humour, plot, performance style and overall ambition could not be less similar, yet, they're both unmistakably the work of their director. There's the black, brown and grey in the color scheme, the framing, the anti-establishment narrative, the reliance on flashback, the theme of fatherhood, and of course, as has been true since his earliest films, his love of framing huge groups of well-dressed men. And what I think I love most about Miike is that though I was expecting this to be too esoteric and queer for words, it was one of the most flat-out enjoyable films of the year. Hilarious, touching and with a proper, multi-layered mystery that's never diminished by keeping the hairstyles from the source video game intact. This is a high-wire act of tonal shifts and comic timing, and as usual, he nails it. Maybe some day I'll stop being surprised everytime he produces a minor masterpiece.
68. The Hunter
by Daniel Nettheim
A very streamlined journey into the heart of darkness, which means we get the paranoia, fear, desperation and epiphany quicker than usual, but that isn't really a complaint. Willem Dafoe is, as usual, an able guide into the abyss. Like the animal at the heart of the film, The Hunter is fast, beautiful and dangerous. Get too close and it will do you harm. But that's why we took the journey in the first place, isn't it?
69. Goodbye, First Love
by Mia Hansen-Løve
70. Jayne Mansfield's Car
by Billy Bob Thornton
Along with Dustin Lance Black's ill-fated Virginia, Jayne Mansfield's Car seems destined be faintly remembered as a bad experiment rather than vital American moviemaking. Billy Bob Thornton was after something different than most independent movies. Many people will tell you it wasn't worth it, but any film willing to fail this spectacularly has to be listened to. His grammar's a little rusty after a decade away from the viewfinder, but by christ he knows how to direct a performance out of his actors. Ray Stevenson is the best he's ever been, Robert Patrick finally gets to add dimensionality to his stock character type, Robert Duvall and John Hurt get to play off each other. Kevin Bacon plays shockingly well against type and every woman in the film takes a character who could be window-dressing in most films and give them 360 degrees of motivation and a whole lifetime communicated in pauses. Ron Fucking White does a good job. For a fan of character actors, I could ask for nothing more. Nevermind that the film got around to working on my heartstrings too, even if it cuts a few corners here and there.
by Aleksandr Sokurov
Sokurov had already turned some of history's greatest monsters, Hitler, Lenin and Hirohito (sadly he's yet to make a film about Jimmy Carter), men who attained mythic status in life, into the stuff of horrible, murky reality. So when it came time to work with actual myth, Sokurov had a new set of challenges. The story of Faust and Mephistopheles is already pretty sobering stuff, how do you improve upon that? How can you outdo the frightening splendor of Murnau's original take, or the bawdy voluptuousness of Richard Burton's version, his only film as director. Those seem born of their creators most base and imperative impulses. How could Sokurov best them? There is the sense of his bringing it down to earth and mucking around in the filthy reality of the time period it was conceived in, but more than that he makes you truly understand two things about the story: what Faust was escaping by entering into a pact with the devil, and how supremely not worth it that is. The world Sokurov builds for his Faust is crawling with stunning grotesques, and as the man who cuts up the dead for research he knows better than anyone how horrid life can be. But what he fails to see is that beauty does exist if he'd just try earning it. Instead his empirical cutting of the world into pieces leads him to think that there is no greater privilege than to be above it all, in essence taking himself out of the running to earn the beauty hidden all around him (a scene in a sauna makes this abundantly clear). So when he's given the world's most perfect object (Isolda Dychauk, who, if she wanted to have the perfect career, would never make another film again to preserve her mystique - not that I don't want her illuminating whole films with just her smile) he doesn't even seem to notice. He's much more bound to the world than he knows. But the real masterstroke here, and it suffers in execution for obvious reasons, is that the hell he's condemned to isn't horrible, in fact it's quite picturesque. The only real issue is that it's endlessly frustrating and thanks to the devil himself who's followed him there, it's really annoying. In summarizing the way this film plays out moment-to-moment, I'm reminded of Ben Sachs' quote about Miike's Izo: "Even admirers say it seems to last for days."
72. War Witch
by Kim Nguyen
After watching this, my mother asked me if it was a documentary. Which really ought to speak to how horrifyingly real it all strikes you. There's some magnificent scrapes with magical realism but largely this thing is horribly, beautifully real, tethered to the earth through some unreal performances by children and preteens.
by Sam Mendes
Of course it wouldn't be possible without the much enjoyed Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (which I love more everytime I think about it as a rehash of the way Hollywood used to make oddities when hamstrung by poor fortune and outright disaster), but this may be the best James Bond film (lord knows I'm a staunch Goldfinger fan, even if largely the whole franchise does little for me). Thank Roger Deakins and a house in Scotland.
by Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg
The story's public record but even still I don't want to spoil it. All I want is to say that as old-fashioned as the narrative is, it's handled with depthless aplomb and visual splash. This is solid filmmaking that can make any story seem substantial. My hats off and though it doesn't stand a Norwegian's chance in Peru of winning that foreign language Oscar, it's got my vote anyway.
75. Seven Psychopaths
by Martin McDonagh
Martin McDonagh's scriptwriting flaws are exacerbated by loosening his focus and expanding his cast, but his bloody charm and wit remain radiant, his stories of fate-bound violent men still plenty seductive. Sam Rockwell's hapless lunatic is the headline here, and he's not seemed this alive since The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford, which is one of the finest pieces of screen acting in history. McDonagh and his players are beholden to no one, so the film has a thrilling anything-can-happen quality to it that never dulls. It's a little on-the-nose at times but it's blackly hilarious and impossible to look away from.
76. The Tall Man
by Pascal Laughier
I hated Laughier's last film so much I was ready to skip this entirely. I can't even say what made me change my mind - I'm a compulsive eater, what can I say? So I sat down and started watching and after a breathless prologue and a distracting opening title sequence, I was hooked. I then watched a supernatural horror film turn into a Wicker Man-style town-with-a-secret movie and then again into a cultish murder spree and finally into a moral fable I've spent more time chewing than anything else in contemporary horror this past year. I've considered its central question before and not come to any successful conclusion. Laughier has no answers, just a question asked with such gymnastic narrative maneuvering and improbably maintained tonal shifts that even if you leave feeling uncertain, you will most certainly feel satisfied by the remarkable piece of work you just sat through. All in all, I'm glad extreme cinema has had its day in the sun and been replaced by a more contemplative approach to genre.
77. Laurence Anyways
by Xavier Dolan
I want so badly to hate Xavier Dolan, to find him show-offy and vacuous and unnecessary. But I don't because he isn't. He's a vital voice in contemporary Canadian cinema and I can't wait for his next film, whatever in the world it is. Jealous as I am of his success while I founder, I cannot and will not deny his talent. The case could be made the film is too long, I just happen to disagree. It's simply that some truly breathtaking coups-de-cinema lie in wait between scenes that only seem less successful by comparison. It may not have the fiery style of Les Amours Imaginaires, but it does have an actress in Suzanne Clément who bests all three of the leads in his last film. Even as she's in a reactive role, she almost walks off with the whole film. And considering she's up against a gigantic Melvil Poupaud in drag, that's no mean feat. Godspeed, Xavier.
78. Tim And Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim
First things first: I laughed hysterically from end to end as I typically do when these guys pick up cameras. Humour being subjective, let's address the many outraged responses to this movie. Even the most cursory glance at their body of work would have prepared them somewhat for what happens here. And more often than not lip-service was paid to the idea that the film was in 'poor taste'. What many people will never get is that Heidecker and Wareheim exist to feed this country what it once happily served itself and then forgot about. If the scatological humour, extreme and purposely fake gore and deliberately unfunny jokes irk, then how and why did their obvious sources become so wildly famous? Tim and Eric would not be neccesary or so widely loved if there weren't channels devoted to infomercials, Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider vehicles, the Saw franchise or films by Michael Bay and Tony Scott, the lattermost recently canonized by a whole host of film critics who routinely dismiss Christopher Nolan. Crucially Will Ferrell uses a few minutes of his cameo to insist that Tim and Eric watch Top Gun with him, not once but twice. And then you remember that that film was one of the most successful and beloved films of the 80s. That's why we need Tim and Eric. As long as there are films like Act of Valor and A Haunted House, we'll always need them. Nevermind that they happen to be two of the funniest people currently working in any medium.
by Koji Wakamatsu
I await with no little sadness the hour and some that will constitute watching Wakamatsu's last film when I get my hands on it. He was one of the Japan's most engaged and righteously furious artists, whose camera never made an empty promise. He attacked the foundations of the country's tradition of quality, like the recently passed Oshima, another irreplaceable giant. Their silence has proven deafening; Japanese society now has more freedom to revise history and remain quiet about its continuing wrong. Before he was ripped from life, Wakamatsu went after the silence reserved for the country's disastrous entrance into World War II in Caterpillar. Using a legless and brain damaged veteran as a stand-in for the whole of Japan following the war, he gets at the incessant hypocrisy that constituted the post-war years. An unceasingly tough watch and featuring two brilliant lead performances that lasts just long enough to infuriate every imaginable viewer.
80. On The Road
by Walter Salles
People who loved the book hated the movie. People who were expecting Walter Salles to do more than the book hated the movie. Me, smack in the middle, didn't give a good goddamn about the book and think that Salles is one of our best middle-brow filmmakers who has a great eye for road movies. So I was impressed by its slowly unfurling elements: dynamite cinematography, a primo colour scheme, luscious production design, more great performances than I knew what to do with (Garret Hedlund in particular a revelation), and a pace that lets you soak in what this country used to look like. This is what it would have been like to be in Kerouac's backseat; can't blame Salles for getting that much right, even if you don't in the end want to ride with him.
by Sion Sono
I urged many people to see Sion Sono's truly bonkers response to the tsunami instead of seeing the new Twilight film. I was pissing up a rope, but I think the comparison's important. In both films, teenagers wrestle with the premise of their lives ending before they're old enough to legally drink and/or becoming obsessed with someone who seems incapable of returning or even understanding affection. Taking the idea of a manic pixie dream girl to the bitter ends of logic, Himizu follows Keiko who becomes obsessed with meaning something in the life of her school crush Sumida, who's too busy trying to stand up to one father figure after another, all stand-ins for a Japense government that won't shut down its Nuclear power plant that will kill everyone in the country the next time a tsunami hits. But as he learns with each new beating, the house always fucking wins. Keiko has not only to ingratiate herself into Sumida's increasingly desperate circumstances, she has to fundamentally change him and get rid of his urge to commit suicide by cop. It hurts in a good way.
82. Not Fade Away
by David Chase
Faulting Not Fade Away for not telling a cohesive story I feel is to rather miss the point. Like one of David Chase's TV series compressed into two hours, it deals with epochal shifts in relationships and culture and how both things shape a group of young men and women, unprepared to grow up when the world suddenly thrusts upon them the idea of suspended adolescence in the form of superstardom. Any artist can sympathize. I don't know that it earns its gonzo ending, but it's a journey whose every scene is a new destination. Soundtrack ain't half bad either.
83. The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
by Marie Losier
A slight narrative, a love story told through archival footage but it achieves something major. When I was told what the film and their relationship 'did' to them, I was a little shocked. It just didn't sound healthy, let alone the stuff of great romance. But this film made me feel that surgically altering yourself to resemble your loved one, to be a third entity entirely whose personality consists only of your love for each other, was not only normal, but among the most romantic things I'd ever heard. This was a love so big it couldn't be contained in one body. What could be lovelier?
by Ron Fricke
I have a confession: collage/essay films like this don't bring out the best in me. The images here are some of the best ever recorded, but I didn't go out of my way to decipher them. I decided to treat like like a soul-bruising vacation and enjoyed myself greatly. Apologies to Ron Fricke, who did such a marvelous job imbuing every cut and angle with meaning. I let you down, Ron, but don't stop on my account. You're one of the greats.
85. Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai
by Takashi Miike
Though quite clearly a remake of Masaki Kobayashi's 1963 masterpiece, it's really a loving tribute to his body of work, which was a winding tale of suffering endured with dignity. Here he stacks the decks against his hero even further by having him enter the lion's den knowing even more that the audience does not in the source. This isn't a samurai film, this is greek tragedy as Japanese melodrama. Miike's made a career of unearthing the darkest recesses of the soul. By quite a margin, this is his darkest film. This does for Miike what A Time To Love And A Time To Die did for Douglas Sirk.
86. This Is Not A Film
by Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb
The film is simple by necessity and almost too tragic to watch. Take away a man's ability to express himself, he'll always find a way. I was never more thankful that phones come with cameras - even if Panahi knows that that's no way to make a film.
87. Three Days Till Christmas
by Radu Gabrea
I was one of a lucky few who got to see this in the states, so far as I've been able to determine. Radu Gabrea and his lead actress were in person to discuss their prickly experiment in docu-drama. Begun as a play based on first-hand accounts, Three Days Till Christmas combines testimony from the soldiers assigned to protecting Nicolae Ceauşescu, the communist head of state and his wife Elena, the deputy prime minister, and a recreation of their last few days before they were tried and executed by a less-than-totally-legal court. The story has so many fascinating aspects that inform the action, and Constantin Cojocaru and Victoria Cocias do such a fabulous job playing the unremittingly dour despots (hilarious, touching, apoplectic) that though you sometimes wish someone would kill them just so they'd stop being quite so miserable to everyone around them (especially those who are trying to help them) but when it comes time to put them on trial, you're pulled in a dozen directions and politics aside, you feel for them. This movie isn't the full story, but it's a crucial insight into a few of its players. A sort of Romanian Downfall with a wicked sense of humour, Three Days questions the polemical account of the revolution and gives its villains a face and a voice.
88. Sleepless Night
by Frédéric Jardin
89. Magic Mike
by Steven Soderbergh
A story of recession told through sweat and nightly seduction. Soderbergh goes admirably low-key in the specifics and just depressing enough in the environs where his hero bides his time to keep you hoping for something better. But of course, not depressing enough that you don't quite enjoy the goings on. Nobody stands out, and that's the point. Everyone's no one here. Just body parts to be gleefully detached from the brains that move them by a crowd of eager women and everyone of us who bought a ticket. "Can you touch this...?" If you happen to buy the love story and economic subtext, as I did, you'll have an even better time.
90. What Is This Film Called Love?
by Mark Cousins
Mark Cousins may be the most enigmatic and forward thinking film critic out there, the rare man who gets out there and makes something of his belief in the power of cinema. Here he's feeling more introspective than global. Finding himself in the footsteps of Eisenstein, he writes him a letter using pro-sumer digital and a quiff to match the man's. Cousins discovers some profound things without looking and makes much better, less heretical use of Bernard Herrmann's theme from Vertigo than The Artist. And in this instance it actually has a fucking point. This is Cousins naked before us, with nothing to clothe him but the way he views the world through cinema. The reveals mostly belong to Mark and I'm glad to be along for the gentle ride with him, but I give him credit for transcribing the thought process of the cinephile. It's one of the best glimpses into that mindset I've ever heard. Maybe the best.
91. Livide: Blood of the Ballerinas
by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo
Suspiria on a tight budget and shot in digital. Maury and Bustillo have a little ways to go before they make a horror classic, but they're showing great, queasy progress.
92. Don't Follow Me Around
by Dominik Graf
A fast-talking tangent in the Dreileben trilogy, full of games and flirtations that are so heady, codified and quick that becoming tangled in the lines of digression becomes part of the exercise. Dominik Graf fills the labyrinthine home of his protagonists with such circular talking and thought and then lets angelic muse Jeanette Hain navigate it all like Alice trained in behavioral science psychoanalyzing every creature down the rabbit hole. Best of all - the outcome of her journey has already been determined as she sees 10 moves ahead of everyone else.
by Richard Linklater
The spirits of Errol Morris and Werner Herzog came out to play for Bernie, for which I've yet to read a better description than 'docuwhatsit.' An examination of a crime in no big hurry to make its point, Bernie spins a yarn about a murder everyone knew about and yet no one cared. It's fascinating even as it seems designed to provoke nothing more than bemusement and incredulity. Richard Linklater makes films that like to hang out with you on their front porch and Bernie may be the most inviting of all his Texas set films to date. The film's best moment is a small one: one of the old women who clung to the murderer of the title and who still won't give up thinking he's a good soul despite having shot someone roughly her age, has come to visit Black's small-town dandy in prison and have a genial conversation like they used to have before he was sent to the big house. She warns Bernie that he should be careful as she's heard places like this can be dangerous. Black's eyebrows (his greatest weapon) arch furiously and he offers the touchingly sarcastic reply "ya think?" And therein lies the secret of Bernie: even when he's putting you down, he means well and you stilll love him. Props must be given to Matthew McConaughey for his turn as a beige peacock who's just as hammy as the man he's trying to put behind bars.
94. The Taste of Money
by Im Sang-Soo
Another runt of the Cannes competition litter. If The Paperboy hadn't been outright hated, the stand-out film maudit of the fest would have been the latest Im Sang-Soo. As usual Im's placed his Greek tragedy in the shiniest buildings in South Korea, and he's got a chip on his shoulder about the rich, even more angry than the one he had when he turned minor classic The Housemaid into an acrid screed against the powerful. That didn't go over so well. So like the Body Double to that film's Dressed to Kill, along comes The Taste of Money, which even casts a film critic as one of its villains. This time the hero is even more impotent against the puppeteers who control him, even as he gathers one piece of damning evidence after another. In the end all he has to show for it are corpses he has to ferry back to poorer parts of the world. For money I couldn't tell you why I find Im's latest so appealing; call him my De Palma. These points have been made before and better, but there's something else at work here that keeps me coming back for more.
95. The Woman In The Fifth
by Pawel Pawlikoski
Pawel Pawlikoski has a lifetime pass thanks to his unspeakably moving My Summer of Love, which has the honor of being the film that introduced the world (and myself) to Nathalie Press and Emily Blunt. His style remains subdued in the near-thriller The Woman In The Fifth and his ambition has cooled slightly. He's just out to do something different with the airport paperback style thriller and its conventions. He shoots with confident understanding of surfaces and how they're inherently deceptive. The further his hero moves outside of the shitty squalid motel he's hiding in, the more danger he finds himself in. Ethan Hawke is perfectly cast; he seems to relish playing just smart enough. Like the rest of the film, he puts on a much surer face, a much slicker countenance than his desperate author ought to. All he's got over the encroaching danger is that he's a little smarter than the people he owes...until he isn't.
96. Century of Birthing
by Lav Diaz
Six hours is a longtime to ask someone to sit still so it's a good thing there are vast and innumerable pleasures waiting for the patient viewer in Century of Birthing. Using films-within-films was a popular device this year and I think that though the framing story isn't without good moments, like Tabu, it's in cinema and memory that the real beauty lies. The lead character in Century, a director, is evidently as big a fan of Slow Cinema as Lav Diaz, as the best shots in the imaginary film he's making involve long processions and glittering landscapes. Watching a strange parade march through the surf on 16mm, I realized there was something to the idea of a six hour movie as I could have watched that for six hours. It eventually comes to a suitably relentless conclusion that's both sad and hopeful, but the point of a film like this isn't the destination, but the long, hot journey.
97. The Zone
by Joe Swanberg
Another of Swanberg's singular looks at the artistic process, recasting his friends in his dream remake of both Teorema and Stalker using one of his own films and all the baggage they come with as the setting. It's about as meta as it gets and I love watching Joe pull back and reveal layers that shed characteristically fascinating light on what he's already shown us and what it actually means.
98. differently, La Molussia and Buenas Noches, España
by Nicolas Rey by Raya Martin
Two films about imagined landscapes, one from a novel, the other from inside a TV. Martin and Rey look for truths about our world by imagining others, largely by recasting images from modern Europe that look alien and alone. Their cameras navigate landscapes, deliberately small and curious about what's happened to lands that should seem familiar and welcoming. A fascinating idea: should our countries so easily be cast as dystopian hellscapes? What have we done to deserve this?
99. Casa De Mi Padre and Grabbers
by Matt Piedmont by Jon Wright
Well, sure, yeah this is another cop-out in a list full of 'em. What can I say? I'm a cheating bastard. When the offerings are this good, how can I not be? Now Casa and Grabbers haven't got much in common other than genre subversion and a shit ton of laughs between them, but then, need there be anything else? I believe I laughed an equal amount if that helps make my case. In Casa Matt Piedmont and Will Ferrell went through great lengths to not only replicate the feel of a bygone era's most bizarre production line telenovela, the same thing Black Dynamite did for blaxploitation films. But that doesn't tell half the story. There's the inspired stunt casting of two of Mexico's greatest actors as the smooth villain and the phlegmatic brother of the hero, both second-tier to Will Ferrell, who speaks first grade Spanish and is a sixteenth as attractive as anyone else on screen, including Pedro Armendáriz. There are the sublime touches like the rounding out of a dinner party with mannquins or the camera and crew reflected in a pair of mirror shades. But really what won me over was Diego Luna and a hand-rolled cigarette. You'll have to watch it and see what I mean. Grabbers has a bit more heart and finds that and quite a bit of humour in alcoholism and the awkward remove its victims have from the rest of the world (I lamentably missed Smashed this year, which I imagine would make for an intriguing double bill). A town in Ireland is over-run by decapitating aliens who won't eat you if you get super drunk. What do you need, a roadmap? In turns acidic and huggable, the film doesn't shy away from the violence you need in a UK monster movie (Salvage, Wild Country and the minor classic Isolation spring to mind as points of origin), deftly mixing practical effects and CGI but best of all it's hilarious to boot.
by Will Lovelace, Dylan Southern?
The film Shut Up & Play The Hits was an incredibly unattractive wallow that I could have lived without. It rises to ecstatic highs and then makes us cry with Murphy as he considers life without them. The concert that forms the better part of the movie, which you can and should watch isolated on its own, is one of the best concert documentaries since The Last Waltz. Staggering, electric and alive. I don't know if the directors of Shut Up, Lovelace and Southern, were responsible for the cut of this concert, but if they did, I forgive them for the staggering pointlessness of the film. The concert speaks louder than anything else.