By Matt Singer | Criticwire September 3, 2012 at 10:08AM
Q: As we head into award season, what's the one movie released between January and August that you hope isn't forgotten when it's time to pick the best films of the year?
The critics' answers:
"I hope critics and audiences don't forget about 'Oslo, August 31st.' It's a slow-burn of a movie, but it's so touching, heartfelt, and real that I found myself genuinely moved. Portraits of addiction have never been this good."
"I'd like to see award season show a little love to 'Chronicle,' Josh Trank's film about three teenage boys who receive telekinetic superpowers. The special effects were woven into the film's found-footage aesthetic well enough to be considered for an Oscar nomination, and although the cast of the movie was uneven as a whole, I thought Dane DeHaan's work to be among the best performances I've seen this year."
"It's not exactly awards fodder, but I was very fond of 'Jeff, Who Lives at Home."
"'The Raid: Redemption.' It would be a crime if this didn't get nominated for Best Cinematography or Best Film Editing. The Academy needs to create a 'Most Awesome Movie of the Year' category and give it to 'The Raid.' As a bonus, throw it in the Best Foreign Language Film pile. 'Sleepless Night' would also be an energetic contender for Best Foreign Language Film as well. As far as Best Picture goes, 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' is my number one pick. This is the most magical movie of the year. I go to film festivals to discover films like 'Beasts,' a brilliant and daring example of independent cinema."
"'It's the Earth, Not the Moon' is the greatest film with the smallest release this year, and is likely to go unmentioned on year-end wrap-ups just because people weren't able to see it. An expansively intimate documentary portrait of the Portuguese island of Corvo, director Goncalo Tocha weaves together the fading traditions of Corvo's past with its economically fraught present, presented with warmth, humor and a pervading sense of loss."
"Terence Davies' 'The Deep Blue Sea!' For its beautiful recreation of postwar London, its enormous emotions, and especially the tragic trio of performances at its center. It's rare to see a melodrama this bold and sensitive, or an actress who throws herself into it with the verve of Rachel Weisz, so don't let them be forgotten."
"I would say 'The Cabin in the Woods,' but as much as I loved that movie, I’m a realist: it’s never going to get any awards attention despite being wittier, more complex, and more entertaining than that other movie Joss Whedon was involved in this year. (Yeah, you heard me.) Instead, I’m going with another movie that likely won’t get much awards attention, but deserves it just as much and may receive a bit: 'The Grey.' I wasn’t expecting much from the director of 'The A-Team' and 'Smokin’ Aces,' and the idea of Liam Neeson fending off wolves in the wintry wilderness sounded silly. So I was surprised at how spare and blunt 'The Grey' was. Not only did Joe Carnahan emphasize the isolation the male characters feel after a particularly brutal plane crash through the stark cinematography, but Neeson and character actors Frank Grillo and Dermot Mulroney delivered seriously intense and powerful performances. 'The Grey' is one of my favorites of this year; I can only hope it’ll sneak into one or two awards ceremonies."
"When it comes to award season at the end of the year, it would be tragic if Wes Anderson’s 'Moonrise Kingdom' somehow got lost in the shadows of summer blockbusters like, say, Christopher Nolan’s humdrum 'The Dark Knight Rises' or the Oscar bait that typically comes in November and December. Not only is it the current best film of the year, but it is arguably Anderson’s greatest feat. Technically, stylistically, emotionally, thematically, 'Moonrise' marks the culmination of the young auteur’s career, exceeding the artistic eminence of his previous works. Through a story that parallels the Noah narrative of the Bible, Anderson realizes his signature aesthetic, specifically the spiritual element, and transforms prior threads into a more explicit, more transcendent vision."
"My pick would be one just released to little fanfare this month, 'Chicken with Plums,' from the 'Persepolis' duo of Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi. They brought wonders to the animation genre with their last effort and have returned with an astounding story of lost love that unfortunately seems to be completely overlooked. Perfecting their magical realism technique, with a mix of various kinds of animation, this is one of the most stimulating, visionary films of the year. And as a bonus on the documentary side, I'll recommend 'The Island President,' an enthralling look at fighting for your country when it could altogether disappear."
"I first saw Nuri Bilge Ceylan's 'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia' back in February, and after seeing it two more times since I still don't think I'll see a better movie this year. The existential crime drama is mesmerizing and mundane, about the fabulistic stories we tell and the ordinary lives we lead."
"'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' is the best documentary of the year so far and one of the most enjoyable times I've had at the movies in 2012. David Gelb's doc vividly captures the complexity and majesty of sushi chef Jiro Ono's craft while keeping the focus and heart of the story on Jiro's balance between his family, dreams, and relentless work ethic. This is a film about fathers and sons. The story of Jiro and his sons following closely in his shadow is profound and purely Japanese. While there is so much out there about the complexity of artists and dreams, 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' is a film that actually makes you believe your dreams are attainable."
"Given its long reign on the 'best film currently playing in theaters' list, I can't imagine I'll be the only critic to say 'Moonrise Kingdom' -- and given the expansion of the Best Picture category, I think it actually has a pretty good chance at a dark horse nod. I've always been a little lukewarm on Wes Anderson, but 'Moonrise Kingdom' is easily his most accomplished film to date. Anderson distills all of his favorite tropes and themes into a film that's much more coherent, both visually and thematically, than its predecessors, and draws stellar performances from 'Moonrise Kingdom''s many veteran actors, and from its two untested leads. I think that deserves a shot at Best Picture (and maybe, depending on how the rest of the year plays out, Best Director as well)."
"I'm gonna go ahead and assume that 'Moonrise Kingdom' will be remembered come year's end. Therefore, my choice would be Joe Carnahan's 'The Grey,' which came out all the way back in January. Badly mismarketed as a generic action picture, 'The Grey' is actually a profound mediation on life and death. It asks the provocative question: If you knew your demise was almost certain, would you fight anyway or simply throw in the towel? Anchored by an intense, emotional performance from Liam Neeson, the film never shies away from its uncomfortable subject matter, nor does it ever soft-pedal it. When 'The Grey' was over, I walked out of the theater, sat in my car, and just shook. I have no idea whether it will win any awards, or even be nominated. But I certainly hope that everyone voting for awards or making a best-of-the-year list will at least make sure they've seen it."
"The only three movies so far in 2012 that I've given 4-star reviews (a perfect score) to are 'The Cabin in the Woods,' 'The Dark Knight Rises,' 'Ruby Sparks,' all of which came out between January and August. Each has spent time as my #1 film of the year, but in the end I think the film I want remembered most when the best films of the year citations are doled out is 'Ruby Sparks.' No film has affected me in a stronger way than this one, with Zoe Kazan doing phenomenal work and Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris showing that they're not one hit wonders. I've mostly accepted that the award season will be unkind to most of my favorites this year, but if one could get a little bit of attention and remembrance it'd be 'Ruby Sparks.'"
"It has zero chance of being nominated come Oscar time, but Terence Davies' 'The Deep Blue Sea' deserves to be remembered as one of the best movies of the year. Not only is Rachel Weisz and the rest of the cast wonderful in it, but Davies brilliantly humanizes and redeems Terence Rattigan's rather pompous, maudlin source material by completely rethinking it: throwing out whole scenes and characters, writing new ones. Plus, it's one of the least stage-bound theatrical adaptations you'll ever see. A one-take flashback to the Blitz, in which frightened strangers huddle together in a darkened tube station while one of the men sings 'Molly Malone,' is the loveliest movie moment I've seen in ages."
"I would like to see 'The Snowtown Murders' (known simply as 'Snowtown' over here in the UK) receive some kind of awards recognition for direction (a stunning debut from Justin Kurzel) and a couple of the performances. It isn’t an exaggeration for say that Daniel Henshall’s portrayal of real-life mass serial killer John Bunting is one of the most fearsome characters in modern cinema. His young co-star Lucas Pittaway (who had never acted before the film) deserves a nod too. His transformation from a young, doughy Heath Ledger look-alike to a sickly, burned-out adult, emotionally deadened to the horrors around him, is truly remarkable. Sadly, the grim subject matter and sobering scenes of violence (although they are far from lurid) will almost certainly guarantee the film is overlooked during award season. That’s a shame as it’s without doubt the year’s most powerful and unsettling film."
"'Goon.' It sounds like a joke, but we need to give some love to the creative team that made a little-seen film about hockey bruisers into an entertaining feat. Seann William Scott and Liev Schreiber are way more interesting and entertaining as two tough guys who acknowledge their limitations in the world, and then beat the shit out of them. Plus it's rare we get Michael Dowse out of Canada, though this could be the excuse the rest of the world needs to catch up with his other odes to the north, 'Fubar' and the sequel 'Balls to the Wall.' And let's be fair, 'Goon' needs all the help it can get."
"'The Deep Blue Sea:' I think Terence Davies is an absolutely rapturous filmmaker and this is his most accessible work, with a very strong central performance from Rachel Weisz, gorgeous music, photography and editing, and a breathtaking command of tone, pace and flow. It's easily my favorite dramatic narrative film of the year, truly ravishing. And it did chump change at the boxoffice: $1.125M domestic."
"It's actually been a pretty great year so far. I can think of a solid top-10 list already. But the one I'm going with is 'Take This Waltz.' It's just so quiet and intimate, I fear it's the kind of movie that gets lost in the shuffle of splashier stuff. Sarah Polley displays such an impeccable eye for detail in only her second time directing and Michelle Williams is, as always, just lovely and vulnerable and perfect. And that martini scene -- holy crap -- it launches a whole new genre: Canadian erotica."
"'The Kid With A Bike' has been around for so long that it's tough to remember which year it, in fact, came out. That sort of makes sense with the film, which could exist in any decade (as long as you found that era's equivalent of video games used to seduce young minds). It's one of those movies that's so quiet that a slammed door makes you gasp. It sticks with you."
"The critical divide over 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' marks it as one of the must-see movies of the year, even if you don't come away thinking it's also one of the best (as I do). Unfortunately, the release pattern has been slow and very limited, at least to this point. Here's hoping it gets a big year-end push."
"I've been more or less beating the drum to the point of annoyance the entire year, but Steven Soderbergh's 'Haywire' struck me as truly one of the best films he's ever made. I know more people love the more topical and fun 'Magic Mike,' but 'Haywire' struck me as something very different from the usual Soderbergh routine. While his film is minimalist in terms of setting up its CIA revenge plot, Soderbergh is not interested in mythology the same way films like 'Drive' and 'The American' are. Instead, he's interested purely in style, and style as a medium for improvisation. He's constantly throwing in different stylistic elements -- especially in his use of color and shot distance. Much like a great jazz album, each scene has its own mood based on the filmic elements, and then Soderbergh seems to improvise within that structure (and the 'fight' scenes work almost like drum solos). Minor shout out to 'The Color Wheel,' because I can't stop thinking about it."
"I love me some K-Fry-C, so the film I'd most like to see get some awards love is 'Killer Joe.' Director William Friedkin and screenwriter Tracy Letts (adapting his play) offer up an absolutely brutal, cynical view of humanity, but it manages to be both disturbing and hilarious. Matthew McConaughey as the titular cop/hitman and Juno Temple as the naif deserve performance consideration, as do Letts and Friedkin for screenplay and direction."
"I was initially going to answer with something like 'The Turin Horse,' 'The Kid With a Bike,' or 'Goodbye First Love,' but I'm confident those films will remain on the minds of critics for a while. So I present a fourway tie: 'Damsels in Distress,' Whit Stillman's ode to the necessity of order, the emptiness of style, and the idiosyncrasies of human behavior; 'The Innkeepers,' because it's the first horror film I've seen that successfully harvests its scares from an inward source; 'Wanderlust,' because a) the apparent goofiness of David Wain's social and political observations -- not unlike that of Stillman's -- artfully belies a profound, humanistic truth and b) it's really funny; and 'The Deep Blue Sea,' because even a lesser Terrence Davies film is better than just about anyone else's best film."
"David Makenzie's 'Perfect Sense,' a sublime and invigorating sci-fi melodrama about two lovers (Ewan McGregor and Eva Green) whose conflicted relationship becomes a hopeful microcosm for the world at large during a catastrophic pandemic. Both epic-feeling and acutely tender."
"I'm not sure it's at risk of being forgotten as much as being intentionally ignored, but I would love to see 'Kill List' get a little attention. It really is a pretty fantastic atmospheric thriller that deserves some praise. Unfortunately it doesn't really fit into the cinematic mold that the Academy seems to prefer. The good news is that it's pretty much guaranteed to be in my top 5 of 2012. And really, that's just as good."
"Oh yeah... Nuri Bilge Ceylan's 'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,' Frederick Wiseman's 'Crazy Horse' and Béla Tarr's 'The Turin Horse' all came out in January and February, huh? Those are all considerable films indeed... but I wonder how 'forgotten' they will be by the end of the year considering how internationally renowned all three of those filmmakers are. So I'll instead highlight 'The City Dark,' a documentary about light pollution that is marked by director Ian Chaney's refreshing intelligence and thoughtfulness toward the subject; Cheney even dares to introduce cosmic and philosophical angles to the issue, suggesting the kind of sense of mystery about the world we may be losing if we 'lose the night,' so to speak. (Plus, it's quite beautifully shot, and it has a groovy score by Fishermen Three & Ben Fries.) It received a week-long theatrical release here in New York at IFC Center and recently played on PBS; it's worth seeking out for sure."
"It's always a bit tricky to answer 'best of the year so far' questions since movies with few exceptions open at different times depending on where you live. The movie that has made the strongest impression on me this year is 'We Need To Talk About Kevin,' which opened in Sweden in February. But since it's been touring festivals since last autumn, most people regard it as a 2011 movie. So my choice will be 'This is Not a Film,' which I watched in November last year, but was released in U.S. in 2012. I had low expectations considering the circumstances. How much can you achieve using home video equipment shooting in your apartment since you're not allowed to go anywhere? It took me completely by surprise how funny, thoughtful, and touching it was, an excellent film about filmmaking. It goes far beyond being a brave political act (which it also is)."
"'The Dark Knight Rises.' While some may question whether it is one of the year's best, personally I think it is easily one of the cinematic achievements of the year, with arguably the year's best acting ensemble (Christian Bale, Joseph-Gordon Levitt, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard and Anne Hathaway) and some of the year's best directed sequences of action and tension. For many of my generation (I'm seventeen years old) this was a historic moviegoing moment. In fact if Oscar voters had an average age of eighteen rather than eighty, 'The Dark Knight Rises' would probably be among the first remembered. In terms of Oscar recognition, it won't score any nominations outside of technicals. My main concern is that it will be forgotten for the wrong reasons and remembered for the wrong things."
"I rarely see a movie twice in theaters (especially after a press screening), but Benh Zeitlin's 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' was so visually enchanting, I had to see it three times. It's not the type of film that typically gets picked up by Academy voters, but I'm sure it will pick up other awards -- at least an Independent Spirit award. Moreover, I suspect it will top many critics end-of-year lists (mine included)."
"'Bernie' featured some of the best work of the careers of Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey and writer-director Richard Linklater, not to mention it had a unique take on a crime story. You oddly felt giddy after it was over. In a sane world it would make everybody's ten best list and garner seven major Oscar nominations."
"While the question isn’t directly about the Oscars, I would like to recognize one film that I hope isn’t overlooked in the feature documentary category, and that is Jessica Yu’s 'Last Call at the Oasis.' It’s one of the most enjoyable and thorough issue docs in years, and coming from the makers of past nominees 'Food Inc.' and 'An Inconvenient Truth' I’m surprised it wasn’t given more of a push during its limited release. More generally, I hope that the other best docs of the year, namely 'This Is Not a Film,' 'The Imposter' and 'The Queen of Versailles,' find their way to many end-of-year lists and awards ceremonies."
"Without a doubt, director Joe Carnahan's 'The Grey.' I cannot shake this film, and don't want to -- I gushed about it before its January release and my feelings have only intensified. It's not, as marketed, a movie about Liam Neeson punching wolves -- it's a deeply affecting meditation on accepting death, rapped in the ragged garb of a survival story. It may seem like a slight premise -- a group of oil drillers stranded when their plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, hunted by wolves and battling the elements -- but there's so much more bubbling beneath. Neeson is just spectacular in this film; gritty and physical and level-headed while also deeply haunted and at times surprisingly fragile. Frank Grillo also turns in a surprising and memorable performance (remember him in 'Warrior?' This guy is the truth. I'd like to see him in all the things). And the bleak landscape is gorgeously realized by director of photography Masanobu Takayanagi -- heck, he even makes the gore seem poetic. Any awards for this magnificent film would be well-deserved: Carnahan's direction, Neeson and/or Grillo's performances, Takayanagi's cinematography or even the decisive, emotive editing by Roger Barton and Jason Hellman. This is one of those movies people will discover and savor for years to come; it has all the trappings of being a masterpiece in the rear view. Hindsight is 20/20, but there's still time -- anyone who gives 'The Grey' one watch would agree that it deserves some major accolades."
"Strictly in terms of things that are likely to be forgotten come end-of-the-year best-of list time, I have to go with 'Goon.' It's the best and least affected performance Sean William Scott's ever given, Liev Schreiber is mesmerizing, and the movie manages to have its cake and eat it too in terms of being at once completely charming and harrowingly bleak. Just for that last paradox alone it belongs on best-of lists, and at least an honorable mention come year's end."
"It already feels as though I'm fighting a bit of a battle by backing John Hillcoat's 'Lawless' as my favorite American film of the year thus far, so I'm not particularly hopeful for its inclusion in lists elsewhere when it comes to looking back on 2012. I'll also throw in mentions of my other favorites so far, Miguel Gomes' 'Tabu' and Victor Kossakovsky's '¡Vivan las Antipodas!' which due to exposure more than anything probably won't make as much of a dent as they ought to."
"Definitely 'Your Sister’s Sister.' It was a reminder that a film can be wildly sensory and immersive without big explosions in surround sound and 3-D. I went in trepidatious and came out enamored. I also hope 'Haywire' gets some love, and internationally, Valerie Donzelli’s 'Declaration of War.'"
"It looks like I will be singing the praises of 'Once Upon a Time in Anatolia' two years in a row, and I am perfectly fine with that. The film opened in its native Turkey just under a year ago, and was my top pick for 2011. Having opened in early 2012 in the U.S., it is already being lauded by a number of critics (like J. Hoberman), and I couldn't be happier. It is a magnificent piece of work. I have seen it five times already this year, and I keep watching for different details. It's a glorious film, and I hope more people will remember it."
"Not that year-end awards remotely matter, but it is always nice when a little justice is done. This winter, nothing would make me happier than to see someone, somewhere remember Seann William Scott's outstanding work in Michael Dowse's 'Goon.' Particularly with the near certainty of a prolonged NHL lockout. A brother can dream."
The Best Movie Currently In Theaters on September 3, 2012:
The Most Popular Response: "Cosmopolis," "Moonrise Kingdom" (tie.)
Other Movies Receiving Multiple Votes: "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Compliance," "Killer Joe," "Ruby Sparks," "Sleepwalk With Me."