By Matt Singer | Criticwire December 17, 2012 at 12:25PM
After the Iranian government banned Jafar Panahi from writing or directing any more films, he responded by "not" making this one -- in which he hangs out in his apartment (under house arrest) and reads excerpts from a script (about a woman trapped in an apartment) that was rejected by Iranian censors (his court ruling didn't explicitly mention a prohibition on performing screenplays). The result is not just a great act of civil disobedience but a brilliant work of art.
Social strictures about spoilers kept writers from talking about the full cleverness of this meta horror flick. It worked as a classical tale of horny teens getting ripped apart by vicious zombie rednecks (The Buckners!), and as a canny examination of the psychological underpinnings beneath our desire to watch scary movies. Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins aren't just two dudes trapped inside a tedious corporate bureaucracy. They're stand-ins for co-writers Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard, serving bloodthirsty masters while trading Whedonesque quips.
Pundits boiling down this film's depiction of the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden to a simple on/off, yes/no, glorification/rejection of torture miss the point of its deliberate ambiguity and complexity. In the short term, I'm sure many journalists will continue to accuse "Zero Dark Thirty" of inaccuracy and immorality. In the long run, I suspect Kathryn Bigelow's portrait of ten world-changing years will come to be seen as an exceedingly faithful representation of the terrible price our nation paid for peace of mind.
Photographed by Mihai Malaimare Jr. in gorgeous 70mm, the near-extinct celluloid format traditionally reserved for only the most expansive of widescreen epics, "The Master" was the unlikeliest of intimate character dramas. It offered much more than a tawdry tell-all about the origins of Scientology -- although "tawdry tell-all" is actually a pretty accurate description of the "processing" technique practiced by cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as he fires questions at the animalistic Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) in an attempt to unlock his full psychic potential. For viewers, the processing continued long after "The Master" ended; few movies in 2012 left so much tantalizing food for thought.
The best film of the year, and the best encapsulation of the year in film. For better and for worse, this is cinema circa 2012, from the sad end of celluloid to the endless possibilities of digital. Denis Lavant gives the best eleven performances of the year as Oscar, a man who travels through Paris adopting the roles of nearly all of its inhabitants. Back in September, I called "Holy Motors" the best dream you'll ever have without falling asleep. Three months later, I still don't want to wake up.