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The Best Films Of 2012...So Far

by The Playlist Staff
June 21, 2012 9:58 AM
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Bernie Photo

Richard Linklater has been through an uneven rough patch for his last few films, some good, and a few more not so memorable, but it's probably not a surprise that a story set in his home state of Texas would also mark a brilliant return to form for the director. Teaming up with old pals Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey -- who both give great, atypical performances -- “Bernie” is a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale about a small town mortician who enters an earnest relationship with the wealthiest (and meanest) widow in town, but winds up murdering her. Taking a conventional docu-drama approach actually does wonders for the film. Mixing interviews with real life locals with a sardonic narrative that would do the Coens proud (comparisons to “Fargo” are apt), the movie is a concise, quick-moving breeze, anchored by the impressive, dialed down, yet distinctly fey, mannered and oddball pitch Black brings to the title character. The murder actually doesn’t take place until halfway through the picture, allowing the audience to see why the townspeople were ready to forgive the otherwise generous, kind-hearted and sympathetic Bernie (and Black does a helluva job selling him). But it’s the cocky swagger of McConaughey -- playing a small town lawyer with the ego of a big city prosecutor -- that provides the counterweight to the idea that the confessed murderer should be let go. Linklater manages a tricky balance as well, never mocking the real life characters, but letting the outrageousness and absurdity speak all on its own. The result is his best work in years, a singular and unique comedy, where the laughs are often big and pleasurable (read our review).

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia"
After doing tiny, highly personal art films for a little over a decade, Nuri Bilge Ceylan threw a curveball with “Three Monkeys,” an Andrei Tarkovsky-thriller goulash that retained his love for human behavior while combining a meatier plot and a lurking, uncertain anxiety. Though with "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" he established a desire to make something a bit different, few could’ve surmised that his next flick would be a nearly three-hour ensemble epic, a slow-burn murder investigation that takes the police and the guilty party through the vast steppes of Anatolia. The collective slowly make their way through nowheresville to find and identify the victim’s remains, eventually having to rest at a nearby village before returning home for the necessary paperwork. Within the long, arduous journey are rather brilliant character moments that are at times humorous and touching; always adding another intricate layer to a character’s being. Despite no longer holding the cinematographer’s position, Ceylan’s photographic eye is still there: the film showcases some gorgeous environments bathed in natural light or, more astonishingly, entire sequences that are lit by just the headlights of the investigators’ vehicles. This approach gives everything a very organic feel, one which only compliments a story that is basically about society’s relationship with life and death. ‘Anatolia’ is a long one, but it's consistently rewarding throughout and eventually leads to one of the most poignant endings of this year (read our review).

The Turin Horse

"The Turin Horse"
Forlorn and harrowing, no, Bela Tarr's final offering wasn't very affable, and though his stuff never was, you'll find little of the enchantment or humor he displayed in past flicks such as "Werckmeister Harmonies" or "Satantango," respectively. Despite it all, no amount of misery keeps 'Turin' from being an astonishingly moving experience -- every meticulously crafted unbroken sequence (whether it be capturing a wind-battered woman gathering water from a near-exhausted well or an elderly man devouring a scalding potato with his fingers) captivates; the indelible black and white images attack along with a dedicated sound design to make every moment as impressionable as the last. Working with a barebones story -- a destitute family suffers greatly when their horse refuses meals and labor -- the Hungarian filmmaker is able to center in on the essence of poverty, bypassing condescending melodrama for the cold truth of hardship. The amount of power Tarr is able to channel through mundane actions such as cooking dinner or changing out of work clothes is astonishing -- who needs plot twists when the everyday routine is so affecting? But few, of course, are as skilled as this filmmaker, which makes “The Turin Horse” even sadder: that it is a curtain call for an extremely talented auteur. Thanks for the send off, Bela (read our review).

Post Mortem

"Post Mortem"
Reviving the '70s American filmmaker mindset that lay dormant for years, Pablo Larrain's sophomore outing, which finally made it to U.S. shores earlier this year, was a much more restrained and outright weird offering compared to his violent, unruly debut "Tony Manero." Whereas the latter involved a protagonist murdering and discoing his life away while the Pinochet regime raged on, "Post Mortem" shoves its hero into the middle of the conflict, as he is forced to deal with the dead bodies by the very same military that is causing them. Because of this, the film is much more engaging on a traditional level than its predecessor, with the horrors of the dictatorship pushed to the forefront. Alfredo Castro stars as Mario, a morgue transcriber who discovers love just around the corner in Nancy, a burlesque dancer and neighbor who catches his eye, and soon the two begin seeing one another. Unfortunately their love is put on hold once the tanks start rolling in, as her ties to the Communist Youth of Chile cause her to go into hiding. Just like any chivalrous sweetheart would do, Mario harbors his main squeeze until it all blows over. Larrain often keeps the audience at bay, constructing characters that act mysteriously but never randomly -- you won't see certain things coming (how we wish more films were like this), and while they're shocking, the train of thought is believable. And aside from the invigorating tone, lovable look, and restrained camera style, one of the greatest triumphs of the film is its offbeat humor -- a dry, surprising playfulness that pops up every so often that prevents the film from being overtly somber. Word from the Cannes front was that Larrain's "No," while a crowd-pleaser, had very little in common with his previous output. We'd be lying if we said we weren't looking forward to it, but on the other hand, it'd be a shame to see this fine aesthetic return to the grave (read our review).

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  • Jeff | August 1, 2012 2:24 PMReply

    I just saw "Take This Waltz" last night and oh my god was it atrocious. It was convoluted, disjointed, and meandering. My friends and I described it as "if David Lynch were to do a rom com/dramedy", using his usual Lynchian trademarks, but failed miserably on every level. I want my money back. That aside, most of this list is pretty solid. I like how the Playlist equally balances commercial, indie, and foreign films. Although "21 Jump Street" was one of if not THE worst film I've seen this year. I'm glad they brought up "Kill List", as that was one of the most diabolically clever movies I've seen of that genre in as far back as I can remember.

  • Richardo | June 26, 2012 1:15 AMReply

    Have never seen anything about Ava Duverney's Middle of Nowhere on here. Won Sundance Best Director and I finally saw at LAFF last week and it kinda knocked my socks off. That and All is Well and Sunkissed were really quite excellent. Saw all at LAFF.

  • bohmer | June 24, 2012 8:58 PMReply

    I'd put THE GREY and LAURENCE ANYWAYS in that list, both films are a bit flawed but so much refreshing and surprising.

  • Leonardo | June 23, 2012 4:57 PMReply

    Damn i have to wait till some of these get to my country, and other ones were arlready here but i dind't have money to go to the cinemas.

  • Alan | June 22, 2012 3:32 AMReply

    Thomas Doret should played Aaron Cross in 'The Bourne Legacy'. The CIA would never be able to catch this kid.

  • basilbeast | June 21, 2012 4:49 PMReply

    If you're going to stick Avengers in with this eclectic selection of visual fare, I'd add John Carter ( of Mars ).

  • basilbeast | June 21, 2012 8:43 PM

    Interesting, I had the same reaction to Avengers sharing space with your 20 best list. A glitzy cgi remake of "Master of the World" ( Vincent Price starring, in case you were unaware of it ) with a plot-line to answer my Top Question of the Cinematic Year, "Whatever are they gonna do with the Hulk?"

    But still, I'm happy that I made you happy, even for a brief fleeting moment.

  • Katie Walsh | June 21, 2012 7:26 PM


  • Tim | June 21, 2012 1:23 PMReply

    The best films out so far this year was "The Deep Blue Sea" (Rachel Weisz's performance was amazing) and "Moolight Kingtom". The rest of the year so far has been mediocre at best.

  • Lady in Waiting | June 21, 2012 1:52 PM

    Loved Rachel Weisz in Deep Blue Sea, her performance was actually better than the film itself but she kept you interested in it till the end. A Oscar worthy turn by her.

    P.S. I think you mean Moonrise Kingdom;)

  • ben | June 21, 2012 12:50 PMReply

    Hey, I loved the list. You got some really great films there. But in terms of documentaries, I thought "Indie Game" definitely should be mentioned. I found it to be one of the most fascinating and entertaining documentaries I have seen in quite sometime. I know it played in limited release but I really think it should be searched out for those who love documentaries.

  • gerty | June 21, 2012 12:36 PMReply

    for me the best was jeff who lives at home so far, i did enjoy some others as well but they didnt exactly stood out. cant wait to see monrise kingdom and pretty much anything else from my most anticipated list. personally i think 2012 has been pretty bad for movies so far but the second half will probably make it one of the best years in recent history.

  • AS | June 21, 2012 12:04 PMReply

    At this point in the year there isn't much to choose from but The Deep Blue Sea is by far the best so far.

  • Brian | June 21, 2012 11:45 AMReply

    Out of curiosity, what are we considering 'Kill List' at this juncture? 2011 or 2012?

  • Brian | June 21, 2012 12:04 PM

    Thanks. I'm working on my own list and it's one of those border oddities.

  • The Playlist | June 21, 2012 11:52 AM

    Yeah, Kill List is technically 2012 so technically should be on this list somewhere. We'll likely amend soon. thanks for this Brian. Most of us saw it in 2011 and I guess we unfortunately forgot about it.

  • Oogle monster | June 21, 2012 11:29 AMReply

    Moonrise Kingdom ftw! Also, Take this Waltz- while I can defend it to a certain degree (the cinematography and score are splendid and Rogen gives a commendable performance)- Michelle Williams is essentially playing Cindy from Blue Valentine with an awful wig, chubbier face, and hipster meets farmers market clothing. I say this as a big big big fan of Williams, Polley and especially Blue Valentine. It’s an extension of her character in BV… transplanted to Canada. I’d say go see it to watch Rogen play the straight-laced guy (and he has a few funny zingers as well) but there isn’t much to it other than the fact that you want to slap Williams’ character in the face for being sullen ALL THE TIME.

  • Cribbster | June 21, 2012 11:25 AMReply

    I would have included "Goon" and HBO's "Game Change" over "The Deep Blue Sea" and "Safety Not Guaranteed."

    I might need to see "Deep Blue Sea" again (I was really disappointed), but I'm positive "Safety Not Guaranteed" is only slightly better than mediocre. It's not terribly funny, and the film really only becomes about whether the guy can travel through time. The filmmakers try to distract you from that with a bunch of shallow character stuff, but it's an aggressively mediocre movie, I think.

  • bonzob | June 21, 2012 11:50 AM

    On the one hand, I really liked Goon, and agree it could have received a mention here. Sweet, funny, strong performances, hugely entertaining.

    On the other hand, I completely disagree on Safety Not Guaranteed. I found it very funny, I don't think it's ever really about "whether the guy can travel through time," and the character work was solid for a movie of this sort -- far from shallow.

  • matt | June 21, 2012 10:26 AMReply

    no love for Oslo, August 31?

  • Mike | June 21, 2012 8:53 PM

    Totally agree on this one.

  • Rodrigo | June 21, 2012 10:54 AM

    Yeah, personally I have yet to see it, but I'm a huge fan of "Reprise" so it's possible it could end up on my year-end list.

  • Oliver Lyttelton | June 21, 2012 10:30 AM

    Oh, shit, good point. It was in my Top 10 last year, I'd forgotten it finally got a U.S. release. Not sure how many others on staff saw it: I know Kevin did, but was a bit cooler on it than me.

  • Monica | June 21, 2012 10:09 AMReply

    Great list, except forThe Avengers was a stupid blockbuster. Script full of holes and horrible performances.

  • Andy | June 21, 2012 12:05 PM

    And the critics that gave it 93 percent positive in Rotten Tomatoes are stupid, too. In that case, you should replace them, man. Or you could make a movie with the performances less "horrible" than the performances of The Avengers. If you can, I'll watch your movie and enjoy it!
    Hope you're not a Batman's fan that hates everything about Marvel.

  • bonzob2000 | June 21, 2012 10:44 AM

    Wrong. Horrible performances, seriously?

    Also, did I miss it, or is there no mention of Headhunters? And I think I liked it more than most of the Playlist, but I thought Bullhead deserved a mention.

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