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Gabe Toro's Ten Best Films Of 2012

Features
by Gabe Toro
December 28, 2012 9:56 AM
28 Comments
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Wuthering Heights

4. This Is Not A Film
To watch in a bubble is not to watch at all: “This Is Not A Film” cannot be separated from the context of which it occurs, capturing the idle moments of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi as he awaits sentencing on his indecency charges. Trapped within his own head as much as he is under house arrest, he can’t help but plot movies in his living room, movies that eventually torture him, for he cannot realize those stories legally. The great subversion of “This Is Not A Film” should be taught in every school, the meaning of what it is to find yourself behind a camera, fighting edicts from the government while slyly adhering to them at the same time.

3. Wuthering Heights
He stumbles, head forward like an angered bull, head tilted to the side. His forehead smashes into the wall, several times, leaving a bloody stain. His body collapses to the ground. SMASH CUT to the dreamiest logo of the year: nostalgic, block-lettered “Wuthering Heights” standing still in a quiet sea of small white spots, as if it burns brightly, confidently, in the night. Few films can capture the sting of unrealized, demoralized true love, the unfocused hate that boils in your heart as a result, the callous thoughts one develops when their passions are unrealized. Andrea Arnold’s contemporary retelling of the tale is more than just an adaptation, but a powerful show of compassion towards Emily Bronte’s source material.

Moonrise Kingdom, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward
2. Moonrise Kingdom
How cruel it seems to lambast Wes Anderson for making “the same movie over and over again,” when he’s one of our last great humanist filmmakers. Anderson’s juvenile runaway romance boasts a swelling heart, not just between the young star-crossed lovers, but also within the tragically broken adults. As the children escape, the members of this small town reach out to take ownership of these discarded orphan outcasts to avoid allowing the cracks in their relationships to show. Though still fascinated with elaborate mise en scene and on-point soundtrack selections, Anderson’s cinematic ingenuity still has room for John McClane to make a particularly moviestar-ish last-minute save.

1. Holy Motors
Passion shoots through “Holy Motors” like steel through the barrel of a Magnum. It’s not a movie, it’s every movie, filtered through the malleable licorice that is Denis Lavant. Leos Carax’s peculiar, demented, deeply unforgettable funhouse ride never takes you to that expected place of insight, every scene alive with a thousand ideas, none of them settling on the thesis you’d expect. Like the limo that houses the multiple disguises of Mr. Oscar, “Holy Motors” is consistently turning in multiple directions, lawless and reckless. It is the year’s best movie, it is the year’s most movie movie. I didn’t have a better time during any two hour block this year.

The Standout Fare Of 2013: Noah Bambauch’s “Frances Ha,” Abbas Kiarostami’s “Like Someone In Love” and Olivier Assayas’ “Something In The Air” likely would have been top five finishers had they been released this year.

Hunger Games Jennifer Lawrence
Worst Movie Of The Year
There is never a shortage of junk every year, from big budget offal like “Battleship” to low brow crap like [insert this year’s Adam Sandler film] to embarrassingly narcissistic avant guard indie projects like “American Animal.” But it’s hard to ignore that, despite the apathetic passes given by most critics, not a single moment worked in Gary Ross’ numbskulled “The Hunger Games.” Each moment of this film, with its loaded kid vs. kid premise, showed promise. And scene by excruciating, poorly-directed scene, that promise was squandered by an ultra-literal capturing of the stilted prose of Suzanne Collins, one designed to nuke any opportunity for satire or humor in favor of the bloodlust of an audience that craves the hook of children murdering each other, but not to the point where it goes beyond bloodless PG-13 shaky-cam. It’s a movie for cowards, by cowards, mistaken as kid’s fodder, family entertainment for people who hate their families and, lucky for us, the first in a now-successful film franchise. The fact that we as a culture didn’t reject this garbage on principle makes me want to wretch.

Most Audacious Performance
Credit to Mads Brugger for doing Sacha Baron Cohen one more and playing his dandy blood diamond trader through scenarios that surely would have him killed, buried in an anonymous ditch, and fully disappeared. In “The Ambassador,” the mad Brugger reinvented himself as a Tom Wolfe-dressed ponce seeking to open a match factory in Africa, but secretly attempting to become an official consulate to better take advantage of his impoverished surroundings. “The Ambassador” is sickening, morally questionable cinema, never exactly clearing up exactly what’s at stake (one can guess that on-camera participants have just returned from a mid-afternoon murder), and Brugger’s attempts to reveal the cultural sickness on display is almost obscured by the fact that he’s literally tap-dancing inside a death trap.

The Paperboy Nicole Kidman
Future Cult Classic
In thirty years, when some go-for-broke company is searching for bizarre, forgotten contemporary films to show as a gag in some film festival, they’ll come upon a print of the sweat-soaked oddity “The Paperboy” and call it a day. Overheated to the point where smoke might as well be coming off the screen, this camp disaster student-directed by Lee Daniels is powered by a preposterous out-of-time sense of chaos that suggests a train constantly flying off a series of rails. Without any cohesion or sense of reason, “The Paperboy” unspools not unlike the way Klaus Kinski yelled. I cannot wait to purchase the DVD.

Our Savior
It’s true that while films have ceased to be a monoculture, the work of one person sometimes feel like it’s all that’s holding Hollywood together. Dame Megan Ellison put any movie-loving billionaire to shame this year by lending her resources and her Annapurna Pictures to “Lawless,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Killing Them Softly” and “The Master.” All four were idiosyncratic visions of a corrupt, dark America beset by enemies and bleeding money like a geyser, and all four were fascinating, personal statements from exceptionally skilled filmmakers. As a body of work, it makes the argument that the auteur theory could be extended to the role of certain producers. In swooping in like a guardian angel, Ellison made sure that these films could be made, allowing these topflight filmmakers the grace and dignity that goes with not having to beg the exec who greenlighted “Transformers 4: Hateyou” for a little extra cash to make something interesting. There are hundreds of movies that are released each year, but only a few brave souls have the power to lead us out of a bleak future of endless sequels, reboots and cartoons. Ms. Ellison is one of them.

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28 Comments

  • junkFX | January 9, 2013 12:23 PMReply

    Your comments on the Hunger Games are simply top notch! It's exactly what I've been saying, though yours is most definitely more eloquently structured. But yes, I agree, the movie was made for cowards by cowards. If the hook to draw people in is the Battle Royale-esque kids vs kids in an arena, don't cower down to the "we want a movie everyone can love" mentality. Make it how it should have been made. Don't talk brutality, show it. This isn't a book. It's a living, breathing art form. The movie was by far, way too gentle and way to weak. Want us to feel regret for our heroine in danger, show us the massacre unfold, give us fear. Tired of this Disney TV movie generation.

  • fatpie42 | January 2, 2013 1:21 PMReply

    So your top movie of the year is a movie-about-movies? All descriptions of "Holy Motors" have been very hard to understand. The synopsis sounds like it's a tribute to the well-known and extremely out-of-touch award ceremony. ("Mr. Oscar?" Seriously?) I don't doubt that you absolutely loved this film, but I can't understand how this tribute to cinema could do anything other than make you wish you were watching the films to which it pays tribute instead.

    Surprised that there was no mention of "A Royal Affair", even in the commentary after your list. Undoubtedly the best costume drama I have ever seen with Mads Mikkelsen providing what, for me, was the best performance of the year.

  • Mohammed | January 2, 2013 7:00 AMReply

    As one writer pointed out, Zero Dark Thirty can be compared to a film about slavery that doesn't focus on the immorality of human bondage, but on the sideshow that is if the cotton picking was successful or not. To say that there is a neutral stance on torture is to say that there is a moral argument for torture. No two ways about it. One can believe that, but at least have the guts to come out and say it. I can only imagine what the liberal critics would've said if Bigelow was a man and a conservative.

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:23 AMReply

    The

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:22 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:22 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:22 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:21 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:21 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:21 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • Gavin | January 2, 2013 3:20 AMReply

    The success of 'The Hunger Games' makes you want to 'wretch'? Surely it makes you want to retch? Or does liking it make you a wretch?

  • anonymous | January 1, 2013 11:50 PMReply

    Hunger Games had its flaws but its not even close to being among the worst movies of the year.

  • Markunator | December 30, 2012 2:37 PMReply

    Sorry, Mr. Toro, but you don't get to decide what we as a society should condemn. You only get to decide what YOU condemn.

  • sp | December 28, 2012 7:18 PMReply

    Thank goodness for Megan Ellison , but I didn't care for The Master. Seriously, Gabe you loved Universal Soldier ?! Wow !

  • Winston | December 28, 2012 2:06 PMReply

    Let's see. The majority of critics liked the Hunger games. Millions of fans liked it. I liked it. Gabe didn't like it. To each his own.

  • [A] | December 30, 2012 1:38 PM

    Kids these days..

  • Iz | December 29, 2012 2:35 PM

    The Hunger Games was boring as shit. I couldn't keep it on and complained about the $1.30 I wasted on RedBoxing it. Big yawn to that one.

  • Tim | December 28, 2012 2:53 PM

    how is this a response? as if assessing films was a matter of tallying up the thumbs up and thumbs down and calling it a day. rotten tomatoes' legacy at work, i suppose. what a shame.

  • RNL | December 28, 2012 1:56 PMReply

    "The moral discussion that’s been keeping politicians and oblivious bloggers awake at night amusingly reveals that those who believe movies “endorse” something seem to put them on a higher plane than people who actually understand films. “Zero Dark Thirty” is an experience of suffocating intensity, a victory as unhappy and disorienting to viewers with nuance and human concern as it is enthralling for rah-rah morons. Credit Kathryn Bigelow for allowing the film to work on two levels; for the rest of us, it’s the year’s most tense and upsetting thriller, and for those without vision, let it be the broken beacon that guides them down the incorrect road." - Hahahaha! You pretentious wanker. The idea that the "people who actually understand films" are the people who aren't concerned by the ideological content and political significance of films is fucking hilarious.

  • Marko | December 28, 2012 12:15 PMReply

    Apparently Gabe ignored the comment in the Paperboy review on this site that anybody who endorses The Paperboy as some sort of "so bad it's good" classic should not be trusted about any question of judgment for a long time .

  • OMG | December 28, 2012 12:30 PM

    Damn. James said it in his review so it must be unilaterally true. Huh, wow.

  • spassky | December 28, 2012 11:03 AMReply

    "There are hundreds of movies that are released each year, but only a few brave souls have the power to lead us out of a bleak future of endless sequels, reboots and cartoons. Ms. Ellison is one of them."

    Hm. I greatly admire what Ms. Ellison is doing, but this simply isn't true. Only Zero Dark 30 looks to make any profit out of those four films, and subsequently Ellison has been doing what seem to be some desperate moves to obtain franchise money -- i.e. buying the rights to the completely lifeless brand of "Terminator"

  • Oliver Dwight | December 28, 2012 3:54 PM

    Needing to 'obtain money' ?... Does your hobby make money?

    Shame on you guys for not understanding what the word 'billionaire' means.

    Carry on Annapirna... you deserve the accolades. Making movies because you want to, and not for the bottom line.

  • Edward D | December 28, 2012 11:41 AM

    Agree. I also find the endless blowjobs to Annapurna pretty boring.

  • Kelly | December 28, 2012 10:56 AMReply

    "those who believe movies “endorse” something seem to put them on a higher plane than people who actually understand films." - Nothing condescending about THAT statement.... Honestly, some critics are so pretentious it's shocking.

  • Joshua | December 28, 2012 10:37 AMReply

    Did you review Beyond the Hills? It was by far my favorite film of the year. I was wondering why it didn't make your list?

  • Joshua | December 28, 2012 11:14 AM

    Ok. That makes sense now. I saw it at a festival this year. Throws ya off.

  • Rodrigo | December 28, 2012 10:49 AM

    Beyond The Hills is technically a 2013 release. Most of us are going by 2012.

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