TOH! Top Tens of 2012 (UPDATED)

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by TOH!
December 20, 2012 12:26 PM
12 Comments
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"Beyond the Hills"
BETH HANNA

1. "Beyond the Hills” – Cristian Mungiu

Cristian Mungiu’s autumnal epic of an orthodox nunnery in rural Romania, and the outsider who intrudes it, is damning and gorgeous. An uncompromising critique of superstition as institutional malevolence.

2. “The Grey”  – Joe Carnahan

Joe Carnahan’s millennial “Deliverance” floored me, not least because it’s a mainstream movie unafraid to be relentlessly bleak. Liam Neeson’s performance is dedicated and hard-as nails to the bitter end, and the CGI wolves who stalk the film are viscerally terrifying.

3. “Perfect Sense” – David Mackenzie

This poetic, sexy and very sad apocalypse film played for a week at the Santa Monica 4-Plex before disappearing from theaters. A brilliantly matched Ewan McGregor and Eva Green play prickly cynics who fall in love as an epidemic of sensory loss sweeps the globe.

4. “Sister” – Ursula Meier

Ursula Meier’s fairytale of a sparkling ski resort at the top of a mountain and the forgotten young woman and child who live in unromanticized poverty at its base. The film’s resonant last shot of two souls passing on a ski lift communicates the complex, wretched yet inextricable bonds of family.

5. “Django Unchained” – Quentin Tarantino

I sometimes find Tarantino’s films overly clever and referential, but this Spaghetti Southern has the genuine feel of Sergio Leone lifted from the grave. Christoph Waltz’ hilarious, charismatic turn as Dr. King Schultz is a revelation in an already very strong ensemble cast.

6. “Amour” – Michael Haneke

Immaculate direction and stunning, energetic performances from octogenarian French legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. Haneke’s unsentimental, clinical style is a perfect match for a story that in other hands could turn sappy.

7. “Ginger & Rosa” – Sally Potter

A beautiful, intensely personal portrait of two British teen girls coming of age as the Cuban Missile Crisis looms like the Grim Reaper over the world. 14-year-old Elle Fanning’s turn as a budding artist and revolutionary is superb.

8. “In the Shadow” – David Ondricek

The Czech Oscar entry is a gorgeously rendered neo-noir and policier, which at once recalls the aesthetic of “Miller’s Crossing” and the shot-to-shot elegance of a fine graphic novel.

9. “Zero Dark Thirty” – Kathryn Bigelow

An investigative epic, a ghost hunt, and a steady trek through the dark that, at 157 minutes, never loses its momentum. I admire Jessica Chastain’s unwieldy performance, and Bigelow’s refusal to give us a pat sense of resolution.

10. “Stories We Tell” – Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley’s documentary unearthing family secrets and lies is melancholic, funny and even suspenseful. She shows a knack for the form, and for playing with it in a way that questions the dubiousness of memory, bias and loyalty.

'Lincoln'
MATT BRENNAN

1. (tie) "Beasts of the Southern Wild" and "Life of Pi" :

A first-place tie is a cop out, I know. But these two films — deeply felt, thematically resonant, drop-dead gorgeous — fit together as two halves of the same whole, impossible to pry apart. At the heart of each is a young castaway beset by beasts, storms, and spirits. Stumbling but brave, their return from exile registers as the rebirth of the world, nothing short of miraculous.

3. "Lincoln"

It isn't the perfect tale of slavery's end, but Steven Spielberg's historical drama, aided by Daniel-Day Lewis' extraordinary performance in the title role, moves beyond heroism to highlight Lincoln's tenacious pragmatism. Powerful, controlled, and murkily beautiful, it is attuned to our troubled politics in the way of few movies, past or present.

4."Francine"

Almost wordless, Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky's bleak, finely observed independent stars the amazing Melissa Leo as an ex-convict trembling back into society. Walking the line between American Dream and American nightmare, it is not only the story of a woman tasting life anew — it's an oblique, pained portrait of the real lives of "the 47 percent."

5. "The Master"

If Paul Thomas Anderson's deeply misanthropic epic is about the life of a cult, the cult isn't Scientology — it's unthinking patriotism. As perhaps the strangest entry in his four-film revisionist history of the twentieth century, "The Master" may meander and wobble, but it is an ambitious, beautifully wrought rejection of the master narrative of postwar America. Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams comprise the best ensemble of the year.

6. "Argo"

Tense and timely, an electric blend of "The Parallax View" and "Day for Night," Ben Affleck's tale of Hollywood magic during the Iran hostage crisis (from Chris Terrio's Oscar-worthy script) builds to a brilliant climax. It's a compelling reminder that the fantasy of the movies knows no borders.

7. "Your Sister's Sister"

Funny, good-natured, and unassuming, Lynn Shelton's story of an unexpected love triangle finds its rhythm between the beats; its pauses are more important than its punchlines. With Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt prove once again that they're the most charming, versatile performers in the business.

8. "Bernie"

Jack Black, never better, stars as the eponymous undertaker and small-town Texas hero in Richard Linklater's genre-blurring black comedy/confidence game, but it's the hilarious interviews with Carthage's coarse real-life citizens that make it so distinctive. They're a macabre, rollicking Greek chorus, and the film a gleefully unsettling surprise.

9. "Silver Linings Playbook"

It isn't the most innovative romantic comedy you'll ever see, but "Playbook" is a bighearted, winsome beauty, and it had me at hello. Jennifer Lawrence, turning her unstable young widow into a vivacious heroine, gives a good, old-fashioned star turn.

10. "Moonrise Kingdom"

Two kids in love's first blush, running away from storms literal and familial, are at the center of Wes Anderson's most recent piece of American Gothic. If the film's symbolism is a bit too on-the-nose, its blissful, bucolic aesthetic is still a dreamlike rendering of youth's possibilities.

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12 Comments

  • Austin | December 28, 2012 9:47 PMReply

    Great lists! I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought TDKR has received undeserved praise.

  • raprap | December 28, 2012 1:39 PMReply

    AMOUR for me was the best film this year. Hands down.

  • Simon Paiva | December 26, 2012 7:06 PMReply

    Ok, I just need to say something here. I've been trough all the lists and I see that The Hobbit was not mentioned in any of them, not even as an " honorable mention", and I find that to be quite unnaceptable. Anyone with knowledge of Tolkien's book knew months prior to seing the film, that it was not going to be like LOTR, it's a different story, different aproach at times. But I didn't think the movie was dissapointing. It's Peter Jackson's return to Middle Earth after nine years, that alone for me made the movie the biggest cinematic event of the year. And it didnt made it into any of these lists? and movies like: Hunger Games, Premium Rush and Cabin in the Woods did? Seriously???

  • LeZee | December 21, 2012 7:53 AMReply

    Really good specially Top5

  • JAB | December 19, 2012 8:23 PMReply

    After revisiting "The Dark Knight Rises" & getting some distance from it on a 32" Blu-Ray TV screen after having 1st catching it on IMAX this summer, I think this film maybe even better than "The Dark Knight" & will go down as the most under-appreciated movie in an "awards season" since Michael Mann's crime classic "Heat". How long is Christopher Nolan going to have to wait for his Oscar?
    (I loved "Lincoln" & "Argo" & really enjoyed "John Carter" & "Flight". Haven't seen "Zero..." yet, but I'm big fan of Kathryn Bigelow.)

  • JAB | December 19, 2012 8:23 PMReply

    After revisiting "The Dark Knight Rises" & getting some distance from it on a 32" Blu-Ray TV screen after having 1st catching it on IMAX this summer, I think this film maybe even better than "The Dark Knight" & will go down as the most under-appreciated movie in an "awards season" since Michael Mann's crime classic "Heat". How long is Christopher Nolan going to have to wait for his Oscar?
    (I loved "Lincoln" & "Argo" & really enjoyed "John Carter" & "Flight". Haven't seen "Zero..." yet, but I'm big fan of Kathryn Bigelow.)

  • Steve G | December 16, 2012 9:47 PMReply

    Is a list from Meredith Brody forthcoming?

  • eurocheese | December 15, 2012 9:13 PMReply

    Love all the lists and loved hearing Anne's comments on the podcast. It's been such a wonderful year for movies. In other years I've ended up passionately defending the one or two I really like, but this year there is so much to love. I'm hoping Jan/Feb just serve as catch up time to watch all the great films we had in 2012. We need more years where a slew of great directors make top tier work and we all walk away liking them more!

  • John | December 15, 2012 6:34 PMReply

    I think I like Jacob Combs list best. No critic would probably put it in their top 10 list for the year, but I had a hell of a good time watching the Avengers. A few good movies (like the Master and Lincoln) I still haven't gotten around to seeing yet.

  • brian fantana | December 14, 2012 11:14 PMReply

    so BEASTS is a better film than either DARK KNIGHT RISES or SKYFALL - seriously??? the absence of serious film criticism in this country is stunning (but then again not surprising given this blogger's history)

  • Sara | December 18, 2012 12:40 PM

    Dude... TDKR was bad... I mean... when you really think about it... I can see that was a bad film

  • turner | December 16, 2012 11:37 AM

    @Brian-Beasts is an original piece of work and deserves mention here. Batman and James Bond are well executed rehash.

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