I find myself having to start this list with exactly the same caveat as last year’s: there are a number of movies, big and small, that can’t or won’t find their way onto this list because I haven’t yet seen them: everything from big year-end blockbusters, such as “Flight,” “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Killing Them Softly,” and “Django Unchained,” to smaller independent and foreign movies that I haven’t yet caught up with, including “The Imposter,” “Middle of Nowhere,” “The Loneliest Planet,” and “Monsieur Lazhar.”
In idiosyncratic order (i.e., neither hierarchical nor alphabetical):
1.“Anna Karenina”: I thought I’d grasp the nettle by putting what I saw as an unfashionable choice right up at the top, and then I saw it listed on a couple of other TOH contributors’ lists, including the titular Thompson herself. The combination of Joe Wright’s dizzyingly theatrical style and Tom Stoppard’s literate script – not to mention the lush sets and costumes – suited me right down to the ground, and I watched it with a smile on my face.
2. “Holy Motors”: I go up and down and back and forth with Carax. This time I was amazed, delighted, and enthralled – as well as occasionally irritated and perplexed. Love the way it looks, though I hate the way it makes Paris look. Seen it twice, will see it again.
3. “Cosmopolis”: I guess I’m in David Cronenberg’s pocket, as I am with Woody Allen, in the sense that I look forward to each new installment in his filmography and am never less than intrigued. Claustrophic, strange, compelling. Seen it once, want to see it again.
4. “The Deep Blue Sea”: Though I prefer several of Terence Davies’ other remarkably special and idiosyncratic movies, this one seemed small and perfect to me, in a lovely repressed “there’ll always be a England” mood.
5. “Parade’s End”: Not a movie, but a 5-hour miniseries caught on a smaller-than-TV-sized screen on a 16-hour flight that enthralled me from start to finish, based on a tetralogy of novels by Ford Madox Ford, and brilliantly enacted by Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, and Adelaide Clemens, as well as a number of excellent English actors in support. To be seen on HBO in 2013, and not to be missed.
6. “Haywire” and “Magic Mike”: One a kinetic action film that reminded me of the first time I saw “Enter the Dragon,” i.e. the mythmaking filmmaking around a charismatic martial arts figure, and the other an almost-completely-satisfactory new take on the movie musical – with a little sex in it.. I did wish for more completely choreographed dance routines, apparently available on the DVD – only Michael McCoughnahey seemed to get a number with a beginning, middle, and an end, cleverly placed at the very end of the film. I was hoping for something more the “The Bandwagon,” but I still liked what I got. Please, PLEASE, Mr.Soderbergh, do not retire from the movies. We love you.
7. “Stories We Tell”: by Sarah Polley, an amazing, moving, enthralling, true family saga, idiosyncratically told. I wouldn’t have known she had it in her from her fiction films.
8. “Multiple Visions: The Crazy Machine”: The worst title for the best movie about the brilliant cinematography of Mexican cinematographer Gabriel Figueroa, with thrilling montages of his best work interspersed with articulate and emotional testimonials about Figueroa’s influence on other world-famous cinematographers. I adored this movie even though I saw it in a version with Spanish subtitles, meaning that I only got the full impact of the English and French-speaking cinematographers. But Figueroa’s images, as brilliantly assembled by director Emilio Maille, can bring one to tears.
9. “The Clock” and “Final Cut, Ladies and Gentlemen”: two takes on the art of film assemblage, one 24 hours long, in which every clip is occurring in real time (i.e., if it’s 6 a.m. while you’re watching it, it’s 6 a.m. on screen), watched in one delirious gulp in Toronto; and a 78-minute-long witty assemblage of clips from 650 films and TV shows, made as an editing exercise in a Budapest film school, in which boy meets girl, dates girl, fights with girl, etc. A bravura sequence in which Rita Hayworth sings “Put the blame on Mame,” intercut with Dietrich, Madonna, Nicole Kidman, cut in such a way that all these women appear to be singing the same song, demands to be seen again, and I did: once on a smallish screen in Telluride, once on the largish screen in Morelia. Rights issues preclude me owning either of these essential filmic works of art for the moment. Alas. Here’s for fair use!
10. Raoul Walsh’s sun-dappled 1932 “Wild Girl,” set in Yosemite and shot with astonishing 3-D-like depth of field, and Manuel Mur Oti’s 1955 “Orgullo,” a European Western avant la letttre: A tip of the hat for the revivals and restorations that remind one just why we are in thrall to the second art – and that there are many more masterpieces out there, waiting to be rediscovered.
11. Can’t resist one more. “Miss Lovely,” by Ashim Ahluwalia, a grimy, tense, compelling look at the Grade-C horror-pornography Indian films of the 80s, with witty, believable locations, sets, costumes – a glimpse into a fascinating underbelly, and a reminder that great movies can pop up from anywhere and everywhere. I hear good things about his earlier documentary, “John and Jane.” Now to track it down.