A lover looks back in a bifurcated mystical tale of memory, loss, lust and POV perception that has no care for the tyranny of the conventional three-act structure. In chapter one, she is old, senile, dying; distrustful of her African maid named Santa. She recalls an illicit lover on her deathbed and then passes away. In chapter two, a ghostly disembodied voice (the man in question) narrates their fateful, star-crossed love and lustful adultery in what amounts to a charcoal black-and-white silent-era movie set in colonial Africa. Dream-like, potently passionate, ephemeral and desperately melancholic. Swooning with a romance that can never be.
05. “Zero Dark Thirty”
This movie is not pro-torture,
you stupid shithead. This movie is not pro-torture, you stupid shithead. This movie is not pro-torture, you stupid shithead. One woman’s grueling and unwavering obsession with one thread of a clue leads to the capture and death of one of the world’s most notorious terrorists. Punishing, relentless and unflinching. Jessica Chastain for Wife of The United States. Kathryn Bigelow can be the First Lady.
Recreational cruelty and inert boredom is a strong and often hilarious facade for the lonely, lost and unfulfilled. Rick Alverson’s provocative meditation of the white American male at his worst is a twistedly funny and disturbing generational cry for help -- stunted assholes desperately in search of something that makes them feel alive. So inured to comfort and numbed by lack of responsibility, these aging hipsters have become indifferent, reckless and callous jerks without purpose. They mask their lack of direction with drunken heartless pranks on innocent people, but simmering underneath their misguided rage is a particularly forsaken soul (Tim Heidecker) truly unable to connect. Oft misunderstood as an examination of the hipster elite by people with low self-esteem who use hipster as a catch-all derogatory term for what they don’t understand, “The Comedy” is the year’s best American-made movie. Deeply infantile, intensely stupid, offensive and just plain wrong, these characters are an ugly challenge that’s far more than meets the eye. I only wish I could have seen this brilliant picture at Sundance instead of in November so I could have been screaming about it all year long. Apologies Mr. Alverson, Heidecker, Wareheim and Murphy.
03. “Holy Motors”
A mysterious fever dream segmented into nine passages channeled from a strange chameleon man -- the CEO of the absurd and nonsensical in what is just a typically atypical day at the office. A Chaplin-esque monster movie with a gorgeous broad, a 3D-like sex dance between two latex creatures, a thrilling French accordion musical interlude, a quaint monkey family moment of peace, and a tragically romantic musical (with Divine Comedy help) that ends by suicide and sounds as if it was plucked out of “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” None of this hilarious, curious, maddening madness makes a lick of sense. Thank goodness. And you hadn’t let Leos Carax make a film in thirteen years? Monsters.
A wanderlusting magpie is eternally, unceasingly unhappy and distracted. Her chicken-loving husband a soft, likable teddy bear with perhaps too few dynamic and shiny parts. She crosses paths with a fox that lives in her sensuously photographed and sweltering little corner of Toronto. They flirt, they wander, and soon give themselves over to a carnality that becomes everyone’s undoing. Margot (another terrific Michelle Williams performance), the magpie, endlessly restless, ends up, once more, tragically and heartbreaking unfulfilled at everyone’s expense. It’s a devastating film about the desperation in trying to fill the emptiness inside. Marked by its sumptuous lens of melancholy, regret and illusory mutual attraction, its wistful music and its forlorn tone, “Take This Waltz” is bold, lush, sublime, and never takes the easy route. It’s full of risks filmmakers would rather not take. Nudity is shown as unremarkable and bromidic. A blissful romantic ride is abruptly stopped by the reality of the garish lights coming on. Maddening, irrational characters make monstrously selfish decisions in the name of a deluded happiness. Time spans in a swinging-for-the-fences montage. A despondent husband’s final monologue is dumped in favor of his reactions; sobbing tears and laughs of resignation. Sarah Polley’s drama is a woozy, painfully honest fairy tale that’s often unpleasant and never gives viewers the safe resolutions they crave, but goddamn is its uncompromising, messy tough love something worth celebrating. No time to get into Polley’s stupendous family documentary “Stories We Tell,” which blurs the lines between fact and fiction so well, the evocative nature of “truth” is realized as subjective, relative, fleeting as memory you half-remembered. It’s wonderful.
Beauty and the Beast meet in seaside, southern France. She, a killer whale trainer, loses her legs in a freak accident. He, a brute of a fighter, grunts in monosyllables, steals, and fucks what he can while poorly raising a child as a mostly absent single father. Together, the two characters’ polar opposite magneticism attracts. He, an emotionally cut-off animal, learns to love. She, a shell of a person, regains the will to live. In between the beatings, the lies, the betrayals and the sex, there’s evocative and poetic bruises, scars, tears, blood and wounds that take a psychic, emotional and physical toll on the characters and viewer. It's grim, punishing and utterly romantic. In the hands of Jacques Audiard, a Katy Perry song becomes the most transformative moment of the year.
The rest of the list 14-22/Other films I loved that didn’t quite make the above list/are part of the above list/I lost the energy to write about in full because the list would become too long
“Life of Pi” (dazzling 3D from a visual master, deeply soulful and spiritual), “Ruby Sparks” (moving, poignant, inventive, comical), “Silver Linings Playbook” (intoxicating, yawn at the backlash), “The Dark Knight Rises” (gripping, epic, awe-inspiring ending), “Nobody Walks” (moody, dream-like, difficult in a good way), “Magic Mike” (funny, entertaining and soulful), “Killer Joe” (deliciously wicked), “Dark Horse” (funny and enigmatic with a curiously burrowing ending), and “Starlet” (promising debut).
Freed from the shackles of WWII, a drunken navy miscreant loses his sense of purpose when no longer at sea. Directionless and perpetually inebriated, the rascally degenerate crosses paths with a Master curious enough to tame the savage beast. Attempting to use him for his cause he sees... Self-recognition? Or have they met somewhere before? Briefly housetrained, the restless creature soon reverts to his feral ways. Years later in a dream, he asks for forgiveness. But the Master is no longer interested in owning the leash. PTA’s most mysterious film.
“Keep The Lights On,” “Neighboring Sounds,” “A Royal Affair” (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard guy should have also been in our Breakout Performances of 2012 piece), “The Forgiveness Of Blood” (already Criterion approved with good reason), “Shut Up and Play the Hits,” “Compliance” (captivatingly ugly),“2 Days In New York” (hilariously neurotic, Julie Delpy is clearly the heir apparent to Woody Allen), “Cosmopolis,” “Side By Side,” “Argo,” “The Turin Horse” (Goodnight, Mr. Tarr you sweet prince of the bleak and wretched), “Once Upon A Time In Anatolia” (in many ways mesmerizing and beautiful, but for me, ultimately more in a cerebral way than in a moving, emotional one), “Goodbye Love” (Mia Hansen-Love clearly watches the films of her husband Olivier Assayas; a spiritual cousin to his last 3-4 pictures), “Elena,” “Francine” (great non-judgemental direction; Melissa Leo is terrific), "Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,” "Alps," “The Loneliest Planet,” "The Kid With The Bike" and pretty much every film in our 11 Films You May Not Have Seen list.
More To Keep An Eye On in 2013
“Una Noche” (Tribeca highlight, what happened with a release date?), "Frances Ha" (Noah Baumbach’s enchanting New York fairy tale), "At Any Price" (Ramin Bahrani’s uneven, but nevertheless completely engaging “Crimes & Misdemeanors” in the American heartland).
Movies I admired more than actively loved
“The Master,” “This Is Not A Film” (strong civil disobedience), “Killing Them Softly” (too heavy handed, with incongruent, inconsistent stylization, terrific performances though; what if Richard Jenkins had starred?), “Amour” (punishing and poignant, but not as moving as I had hoped).
Michael Andrews’ “Jeff Who Lives At Home” (he’s criminally underrated), Nick Urata’s score for “Ruby Sparks” (beautiful and heartrending, maybe my fave of the year), “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (anthemic, celebratory, overwhelmingly burst-into-tear inducing), Hans Zimmer’s “The Dark Knight Rises” (typically thrilling and towering), Howard Shore and Metric - “Cosmopolis” (sinisterly futuristic; we overlooked by accident), the soundtrack to “The Comedy” (poignantly wistful soul), the soundtrack to “Take This Waltz,” “Rust & Bone,” “Nobody Walks” and “Keep The Lights On” (an excellent soundtrack of forlorn Arthur Russell songs that we regrettably failed to mention at length in our music piece).
Worst Films of the Year (more discussed here)
“Battleship,” “Hick” (loathsome indie), “Bachelorette,” “Friends With Kids” (brutally shallow and counterfeit rom-coms pretending to have an edge).
“Rust & Bone” -- “Firework” - Katy Perry (stunning)
“Frances Ha” - “Modern Love” - David Bowie (effervescent and intoxicating)
“The Master” -- “Slow Boat To China” (heartbreaking)
“Wuthering Heights” (big Andrea Arnold fan, but so much excruciating wind, mud and rain and wind, mud and rain, wind, mud and rain. Punishing with little reprieve), "Looper" (the second half, or last 30 minutes is terrific, but the true heart of the story enters far too late into the story for me), "Prometheus" (great cast, mostly a dud of a movie and a lot of it in the writing).
“Smashed” (OK, I mean, I liked some of it a lot, including the music, the score, and the performances, but it ended so abruptly and so soon, I was expecting half of another movie)
Actively Disliked/Underwhelmed By
“Django Unchained” (ugh)
“Friends With Kids”
“Save The Date”
Final Parting Shot
I’m not sure I quite relate to “best” anymore since it’s all just so subjective. One could state that “Zero Dark Thirty” is the best film of the year and I may not argue, but it’s not my favorite, do you know what I mean? My favorites tend to move me and resonate with me long after the film experience is over, after also having me in the moment. They tend to be, at least this year, somewhat, uneven, imperfect and scrappy. “Lincoln” and “The Master” are considered “the best” by many, but both of those films while interesting and admirable (though more so the latter), neither of them moved me much. That’s a big part of my criteria. Something that’s soulful always really resonates with me too, even if it’s a bit messy. I can’t expect you to feel the same about these movies because you’re not me. But maybe some of you will recognize something in each of them that moved you too. And yeah, I broke my cardinal rule and wrote about some films coming out 2013; I can’t help it, they were such a major part of my 2012 experience. Such is life. Thanks for reading in 2012. Hope to find you here again next year.