Best films lists of 2012
— David Schloss
I’m considering films that showed in Cincinnati this past year, so here are my lists, in order of their playing here– a kind of top 20 playlist of films worth seeing. For the near future, Zero Dark Thirty, by Kathryn Bigelow, and Rust and Bone by Jacques Audiard, (The Prophet) which should come too late for 2012, are the ones I’m most waiting for.
A Dangerous.Method, dir. David Cronenberg (reviewed 2/12 Aeqai).
A Separation, dir. Ashgra Farhadi (reviewed in Aeqai).
White Material, dir, Clair Denis (reviewed in Aeqai).
Hadewijh, dir. Bruno Dumont (reviewed in Aeqai).
The Kid With the Bike, dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (reviewed in Aeqai).
Take This Waltz, dir. Sarah Polley (Away From Her), with Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, (poster still up at Esquire but likely never to open there—seen on Warner Cable On Demand). This is a truly tragic film from the clear perspective of an unsatisfied woman getting what she wants, she thinks, and the sacrifices and stakes in going for that. A keen sense of hope, disappointment, and loss of passion on a wise experiential level throughout..
The Sessions, dir. Ben Levin, with a most impressive set of risk-taking performances by the leads (John Hawkes, Helen Hunt). A stirring film of sex as love-making that helps save the soul of a lonely sensitive paralyzed polio victim, based on a real life story. Real, funny, very moving. Modest as a film, but the contents are powerful.
Lincoln, dir. Steven Speilberg. Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln is truly remarkable, and all the supporting players are, too, though in different styles. Some played broadly, some played sober. Credit Spielberg for direction and visuals. Fine Tony Kushner script. The nuanced portrait of a man of some principle engaged in realpolitik, and strong glimpses of his marriage, etc. The dignity with nary another side of all the blacks was an idealizing sentimental side of the film, considering the greater fullness in the leading white roles. Speilberg did that with the Jews in Schindler a LOT, too. I doubt the film followed Kearns’ book much, but script was a coherent whole, and generally quite excellent, too.
A Late Quartet, dir. Zilberman. With Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour-Hoffman, Catherine Keener. A remarkable intelligent, convincing insider’s view of a musical group at a level of sophistication in a cultivated NYC milieu, on one hand, and melodramatic conflict on the other, by a fine cast. It is an illuminating and touching revelation about the art making and performance process in their lives, throughout. The filmmaking is solid but timid; the personalities and the music very exciting.
Killing Them Softly, dir. Andrew Dominik. Brad Pitt is very fine as a hitman. The film is sometimes brutal, but first minutes were very funny to me: “She said after sex I want to kill myself.”. “Oh, they all say that,” etc. The Aussie stoner, and the on the nod heroin conversation scene, all the acting, James Gandolfini’s pathos and brutality combined as a man mourning his marriage while misbehaving egregiously. The middle management guy with a soft spot, who turns out to be a shark like everyone else. etc. Yes, pitiless but much more true than the usual, wittier and better directed, written acted than almost anything. Not the biggest themes but terrific for the genre, a a serious perspective on American cultural values: money.
Note: There were more spiritually meaningful films, but Killing Them Softly is close to my ideal of this kind of film–but then, its critique of economics and cold eyed realism trumps soft edged sentiment for me. An interesting comparison is The Sessions, which was much more stirring but much less interesting as film as art object. Its vision (like Lincoln) was in its content. This had content and style. The Assassination of Jesse James 2007 was the best American film of that year, I thought. I’m an auteurist insofar as I expected much from Andrew Dominik. This film is concise, demanding attention but completely logically resolved in all its themes at a very high level of style, script, performance.
Deep Blue Sea (reviewed in Aeqai) dir. Terrence Davies.
M. Lazhar, (reviewed in Aeqai) dir. Phillippe Falardeau. With Mohammad Felling. A school teacher and its children face traumas with touching humanity.
The Master, dir. Paul Th Anderson. At best, among the top ten—great performances by the three leads, esp Hoffman and Phoenix and Adams, but the film, once it establishes its very strange dramatic situation goes nowhere really: the personalities are totally compelling and captivating; their meanings are mysterious and ultimately incoherent. A problem throughout this director’s career: great set pieces but no overall perspective that illuminates the fireworks. Great scenes, but less meaningful satisfactions in the aggregate. Great photography in 70 mm.
Looper, dir, Rian Johnson. A pleasant surprise. Bruce Willis impersonated by Joseph Gordon Levitt (!), Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano all give memorable performances in this complicated time travel trope movie that gets more and more scintillating to the exciting and surprisingly complex moral ending.
[The Artist, really from 2011, but seen here in January. Charming film-style recreation and sweetly funny.]
Bernie, (reviewed ijn Aeqai) dir. Richard Linklater. Very funny at many times: Jack Black, Shirley Maclaine., Matthew McConnaghey and a cast of semi-documentary townspeople broadly spoof Texas mores.
Killer Joe, William Friedken, Over the top, lurid, heavy handed, silly, but often hilarious Southern Gothic.
The Details, A risky satire of suburbia that often, surreally, worked, Tobey McGuire, Laura Linney.
Silver Linings Playbook, dir. David O Russell. This film is an odd combination: psychological realism about the very dysfunctional household (including Robert de Niro as an OCD bookie) mixed with zany screwball comedy tropes in the spirit of Preston Sturges: crowded scenes with lots of energy, characters around the edges, etc. Great lively fun and also romantic and a story of healing—family relations and broken hearts. Such misunderstandings aren’t this comic usually in real life–but even as the Bradley Cooper character responded to the Jennifer Lawrence character, (this guy’s off his pills and is mended by dance lessons), I was rooting for them and the film and let slide its silly improbabilities–like entering the dance contest in the first place–for the charming value of much of its edgy zaniness and energy. In other words, plot mechanics, not psychology, ruled their actions. These “difficulties” were suspense for the obvious romantic denouement. I wish the romantic payoff was stronger, but Lawrence’s character wasn’t given as much consciousness on screen, alas: I liked her more than him.
Pina, dir. Wim Wenders (reviewed in Aeqai). Wonderful presentation in 3D of Nina Bausch’s world through choreography and the dancers whose lives are wrapped into her vision.
The House I Live In. Eugene Jarecki. Builds to an analysis of the destruction wreaked by the War on Drugs, not as polemic but a record of the grief and destruction it creates by corruption of the law and its multitudes of victims ground up by a racist profit-making prison “industry.” An indictment of a whole culture through the lens of the willful destruction of its underclass.