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Top 10 Films of 2012 (Read 2440 times)
Feb 6th, 2013 at 1:35pm

L.A. Connection   Offline
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SF Rocks

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Here's my list, how about yours?

TOP 10 movies of 2012

As always, there are still a passel of movies I still haven’t gotten around to, but, I don’t want to drag this out ‘til mid-summer like I did last year! Heck, just the other night I saw this terrific Chilean film NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT that might have made last year’s Top 10 list (recount?). So, this my Top 10 list as of the end of January 2013. Bonus, because of a 5 way tie, I decided to just go to Eleven (and then some)!

10. OSLO, AUGUST 31 – Norway.  Joachim Trier’s haunting tone poem about a day in the life of a recovering drug addict uses the camera and sound in such a way that the minimal dialogue almost fades to the background.

9. THE IMPOSTER. Great Britain. Bart Layton’s documentary is from the - It had to be true, because you wouldn’t believe it if it was fiction  - school. A 13 year old boy goes missing in Texas, and, impossibly, is discovered in Spain three years later. But, is he really the Texas teen?  Layton interweaves interviews with the Texas family and the missing teen with dramatic recreations of the events. How much you enjoy the film may depend on how you feel about these recreations done a la Errol Morris. Engrossing.

8. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA. Turkey. Nuri B. Ceylan’s tale of a long night in earthly hell as a team of local police try to trace down the suspects in a murder. Rarely has a procedural seemed so intensely real, with an almost total lack of “Hollywood” scripting. The epilogue is a bit anti-climactic, but the night-time drive will stay with you long after seeing it. I also highly recommend Ceylan’s CLIMATES.

7. MONSIEUR LAZHAR. Canada (French dialogue). Philippe Falardeau’s Oscar-nominated drama about an Algerian teacher in Montreal avoids the mushy clichés that have become the norm for classroom dramas. Actor Mohamed Fellag invokes honor, strength and a form of innocence. The film approaches challenging issues without always supplying easy answers.

6. FOOTNOTE – Israel. Joseph Cedar’s offbeat tale of Father and Son scholars in Jerusalem who are competing for the same government prize. It sounds dull (after all, philosophical discussions of the Talmud isn’t exactly the most obvious plot fodder), but it’s done with wit, intelligence and insight into family relationships, academia and bureaucracy.

5. KID WITH A BIKE. Belgium. The Dardenne brothers (most certainly NOT to be confused with the Coens) have been making some of the most touching but unsentimental dramas for the past two decades. BIKE can almost be read as a spiritual sequel to their 2005 film L’ENFANT with Bruno in that film having grown up, but still having problems adjusting to parenthood. Indeed, actor Jeremie Renier plays the dad in both films (here, the character is named Guy). The focus here is wider ranging than L’ENFANT as it involves not only Guy and the “kid”, but, also a sympathetic hairdresser (Cecile De France) who takes in the troubled kid. As in most Dardenne films, not much “happens”, but it reveals a lot about human nature.

4. BARBARA. Germany. Surprisingly overlooked as an Oscar nominee (though it was submitted), Christian Petzold’s Cold War drama could almost be looked at as a counterpart to the brilliant LIVES OF OTHERS from a few years ago. BARBARA isn’t as searing, for it takes a quieter, “smaller” look at the final years of the Iron Curtain in East Germany, but it is no less effective.  Petzold’s muse, Nina Hoss, plays Barbara and director and actress refuse to make the character easily likeable or noble. The film also does a brilliant job in showing an oppressive regime without resorting to grand flourishes, just the drudgery of its crushing ever-presence. What makes the tale so haunting is the knowledge that just a few years later, the Berlin Wall would come down, making all the suffering that much more needless.

3. DEEP BLUE SEA. Great Britain. Terence Davies is one of the most underappreciated treasures of the world cinema. Although he is still very much a current filmmaker, his films seem to exist in almost a time-warp for his best work not only is set primarily in the past, but, also feel very much OF the past. So, it’s a perfect match for Davies to adapt Terrence Rattigan’s 1952 play about forbidden love for he evokes the period effortlessly. Rachel Weisz gives perhaps the year’s best performance as the distraught Hester. The films photography and music capture a time and a place where such melodrama could take place. Pay close attention to the opening and closing shots of the film - exquisitely done.

2. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD. Behn Zeitlin’s low budget wonder should win the Oscar for Best Picture, but won’t (the nomination is the “award” and all that B.S.). What’s ironic to me about all the critics who seemed to want to take the “plot” literally is that those scenes which are most realistic (the rescue & recovery sequence) are actually the weakest in the film. It’s best to just let the phantasmagorical tale weave its magic as it washes over you. Savor in the imagery and snatches of memory and moments in time. I’m from the - kids are like trained animals school - as far as giving children awards, but, I have to admit that Quvenzhané Wallis is a force of nature who drives the film. A debut feature so formidable, it may be difficult for Zeitlin to overcome. We’ll see about that, but experience BEASTS for now.

1. SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN. Sweden/Great Britain.  Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary has been dismissed by many as just being “enjoyable” and “likeable” (as if those attributes aren’t worthy of praise). But, the story of Sixto Rodriguez unfolds first as a mystery as an unknown American musician who’s two albums end up in cut-out bins in the states somehow ends up as huge hits across the planet in South Africa. The mystery deepens in that pre-internet era when rumors of Rodriguez’ death lead to a search to see who he is or was. Then, the film’s focus turns to the heartwarming tale of the re-discovery of the man behind the music. The moment when Rodriquez again takes center-stage is the most thrilling I saw all year. But, the film isn’t just a true-life fairy tale. It shows the fickle nature of fame and celebrity. The idea that success in life cannot just be measured by what the outside world thinks. The film’s apparent big reveal has, of course, taken on a life of it’s own with all the 60 Minutes and Letterman show appearances. But, there is much more to the film.

My number ELEVEN picks below. Others that just missed the Top 10, but could just have easily made the cut on another day include SKYFALL (one of the best Bonds, which ironically might have worked better if it weren’t a Bond flick!);  SAMSARA (visually stunning Doc which while shot in 70MM was never shown in that format – talk about short-sighted); LOOPER (the year’s best Sci-Fi film, but, could have used a little more plot coherence and less-ridiculous eye-brows) and THE GREEN WAVE (partly animated Doc about the Iranian Green Revolution of 2010).

Number 11: (tie) ARGO, ZERO DARK THIRTY, LINCOLN, LIFE OF PI & AMOUR. All 5 of these Oscar Best Picture nominees are about equal in my book. All are fine, but have a significant flaw that keeps them out of my Top 10. On another day, I might rank them differently, but this is where I sit today. One of the other Best Picture nominees stands clearly above the crowd and it’ll turn up higher on this list. SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is ok, but not worthy of the praise it has gotten. LES MISERABLES was mainly for fans of the stage production – there were so few good songs! DJANGO is another idiotic genre mash-up that worships at the altar of “Cool”.
11A: ARGO – Highly enjoyable, but, the ending so strays from what really happened that it must be dinged.
11B: ZERO DARK THIRTY – The ending is a vivid recreation of the Bin Laden raid, but, Jessica Chastain’s performance didn’t have the ring of authority the part requires. She grows on you, but, never quite convinces.
11C: LINCOLN – In some ways, it is the drab history lesson critics say, but, Daniel Day Lewis breathes life in the dusky reaches of the past.
11D: LIFE OF PI – One of the few films that uses 3D well, but the wrap-around story is so weak and baldly expository that it hampers the enjoyment of the adventure tale at the core. Not to mention that the religious allegory may or may not work depending on one’s faith, or lack thereof.
11E: AMOUR – Austria (French dialogue). It wouldn’t have lessened the film if Director Michael Haneke (a notorious scold) had shown a bit more of a human touch and some of the directorial verve he’s demonstrated in the past, in fact, it would have made it that much more devastating.
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