The Top Ten of 2012, with the Worthy 25 as Well

So, here it is — and while I’m taking part in MSN Movies’ Top Ten listing, I also thought I’d put some links and my whole list here. Nothing is in order after movie #1, really, and the ‘Worthy 25′ is not some too-kind day-care-style distribution of good news but, rather, a firm set of proofs to the idea that yes, 2012 was a great year for movies.

1. Zero Dark Thirty

“Stark and tough and smart, “Zero Dark Thirty” is a masterwork from a master filmmaker, a truly exceptional work that combines the questions and qualms so often found in the grey areas of the real world with the kind of storytelling and art so rarely found in the shared darkness of the movie theater.”

– from my Box Office Magazine review.

2. Holy Motors

‘Carax has made more of a dream than a story or a film, but it’s a dream about stories (the ones we tell people we love, the ones we tell ourselves) and about films (the ones in our hearts and our heads). Funny and heartbreaking, brilliant and bizarre, “Holy Motors ” is one of the best films of this year and a wholly unique work mixing compassion, chaos and comedy to startle us into seeing and celebrating how improbably lovely and sad our improbable lives on this unlikely planet are.”

– from my MSN Movies Review

3. Rust and Bone

“Love, they say, conquers all. If you think about it, that’s as much a warning as a promise, and “Rust and Bone” understands how life means pain, and how life can make pain into something more, if you let it. Everyone in Rust and Bone is wounded, and no one has a relationship predestined to end with hugs in time for the credits. In an Oscar season full of films offering sepia-toned homework, the lovably “mentally ill,” and singing revolutionaries facing down baritone bourgeois, a movie as flinty and superb as “Rust and Bone” stands alone as the real deal. Honest but never cruel, and striving for redemption while showing what agonizing work that takes, “Rust and Bone” is a must-see drama that will reward moviegoers who are both smart enough to seek it out and grown-up enough to take it.”

– from my Box Office review

4. Django Unchained

“Like a blood-soaked Blazing Saddles, “Django Unchained” is a critique based in love, a celebration that understands what’s worth condemnation. “Django Unchained” isn’t just a product of how the young Tarantino watched a thousand Westerns and came to understand what was in them—it’s also a product of how the young Tarantino watched a thousand Westerns and came to question what wasn’t in them. The morality (or lack of thereof) of slavery and murder runs through the film, and Tarantino’s observations cut deep.”

– from my Box Office Review

5. How to Survive a Plague

No review, but let me say this: In a year when the spectacle of “Les Miserables” is being considered for Oscar consideration — not necessarily undeservingly — I still found this documentary about the organized struggle against AIDS the most moving, inspiring and touching story of revolution in the streets in the name of love I saw this year. A masterwork.

6. Beasts of the Southern Wild

“William Carlos Williams said that “the pure products of America go crazy,” and much of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” speaks to that observation, from the drinking and the stubborn refusal to leave The Bathtub to the meat and murder of daily life there. (At one point, an informal teacher for the community’s feral and filthy children dumps out a bucket of crawfish and exclaims “Meat. I’m meat, you’re meat … everything is meat.”) When the end comes — death and despair and hope and healing in one bitter and beautiful celebration — Hushpuppy explains that one of the things her father taught her was how, “You have to take care of things smaller and sweeter than you are.” There’s no heaven promised or present here — a bright, blaring sign makes a blunt joke to that effect — but our small heroine notes that “one day, the children of the future will know … that there was a girl named Hushpuppy, and she lived in The Bathtub with her daddy.” “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is as unique as it is uneven, as unforgettable as it is uncomfortable, and trembles with the energy, bravura and passion of director Zeitlin, his cast and his crew like some rough animal snorting and stamping with horrible wonder and the possibility of both loss and understanding.”

– from my Sundance review for The Playlist

7. Take this Waltz

“And yet, “Take this Waltz” is also, for lack of a better words, infuriating and troubling — not because of what it gets ‘wrong,’ but because the things it gets right are buried under your skin like a splinter you can’t dislodge, tearing at the nerves and flesh. Critic Carina Chocano recently wrote a New York Times Magazine piece on how what the cinema needs, perhaps, are fewer “strong” female characters and more real female characters; this film serves as a demonstration of that idea. William’s Margo is deeply flawed, perhaps irredeemably broken, capable of monstrous selfishness in the search for happiness — and human, and as worthy of happiness as anyone. As we are. And Polley isn’t afraid of sex, nor is she banal enough to think it cures all ills, or that it can’t be used as a weapon. (Polley gets the sad fact only people who’ve been in ugly and protracted breakups know: Nothing could ever be more intimate than denying someone intimacy.)

Before you think this all sounds dour and sour, though, also know that there are moments of laughter and joy here. Rogen subsumes his good humor into a performance — Lou, a cookbook writer, knows full well what his chicken-centered work-in-progress is doing to his life and diet — and there’s also a note of play here (even as it feeds into Polley’s theme of permanent adolescence and immaturity extending into our adult relationships); when Williams and Kirby taunt each other as ‘gaylords’ it’s horrible, real, immature and funny. And the films’ use of music — from a raucous party-scene Feist cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time,” to a montage set to the Cohen song the film takes its title from depicting a relationship in fast-forward, hot sex and warm affection cooling to calm domesticity and freezing into half-aware snuggling while TV-watching — is excellent, with the exception of a pop-song from the past, used in two scenes, too good and brilliant and thematically appropriate and trashily perfect to name. Suffice it to say that Polley can find the pathos behind an ’80s one-hit wonder and turn that song’s dimwit chorus into an elegy on how time’s arrow moves only in one direction.”

– from my Tiff 2011 review for The Playlist

8. Compliance

“Compliance” makes no attempt to hide the turn of its plot, and the film doesn’t hinge upon it, either: “Officer Daniels” is a fraud, but even as a voice over the phone he can get Sandra and Becky to obey — and when Sandra’s boyfriend Evan (Bill Camp) is recruited to watch Becky, things get far worse. (Some have found the film clammily exploitative; after reading up on the depravities and indignities of the actual case, I can assure you Zobel actually shows a remarkable amount of restraint.) “Compliance” evokes nothing less than Kafka’s “The Trial,” where Josef K. is accused of unnamed charges so firmly and fiercely by the apparatus of the state that even he begins to doubt his innocence. But “Compliance” is about far more than the timeless and universal worry — and, in many cases, hope — that we will have to submit to a higher authority.”

– from my MSN Movies review

9. Kill List

“New from director Ben Wheatley of “Down Terrace,” “Kill List” is one of those rare films where if anyone tries to tell you more than adjectives, just punch them. Full of surprises — and an incredible sense of dread — “Kill List” starts as an ex-soldier takes a freelance contract that’s highly illegal and that leads to terrifying consequences.”

— From my 2011 SXSW roundup at MSN.

10. Safety Not Guaranteed

“Yet the sub-plots and the jokes always work towards and speak to the film’s points about how we live and how we should live, about how we can see our past looking backwards but have to still peer at the unseeable future, how it may be better to live and be crazy than wrap one’s self in a straightjacket of sanity. And “Safety Not Guaranteed” — a caution that could be said about life just as much as it could be said about time travel — also manages to out-think, out-feel and out-write the majority of big Hollywood romantic comedies by actually showing us, and actually letting us enjoy, the process by which you understand Kenneth and Darius might find something in each other.

Plaza is best-known for her sardonic office assistant on “Parks and Recreation,” yet while Darius is cut from similar dark-shaded cloth, Plaza also gets to do some very nice, very subtle and silent acting as Darius opens up a little. Duplass — more physically funky and playful than he’s ever been, shoulder-rolling and shooting to prepare for “when the heat’s hot” — flips gracefully from bizarre conspiracies to sincere intimacies, tech talk to crazy action, managing to be neither Doc Brown, Dr. Who or Travis Bickle while lightly evoking all three”

– from my MSN review

… As for The worthy 25, well, they’re not Top Ten level-stuff — but I do believe you’re denying yourself the pleasures 2012 offered at the movies if you didn’t see them. So, for your consideration:

11. Moonrise Kingdom
12. Bullhead
13. Sleepless Night
14. The House I Live In
15. Sound of My Voice
16. Cloud Atlas
17. Amour
18. Wreck-It Ralph
19. The Hunger Games
20. Damsels in Distress
21. Oslo August 31
22. Middle of Nowhere
23. The Kid with the Bike
24. Looper
25. Miss Bala
26. Argo
27. Ruby Sparks
28. Haywire/Magic Mike
29. Cabin in the Woods
30. The Law in these Parts
31. Battleship
32. The Grey
33. Hello, I Must be Going
34. Wuthering Heights
35. Carre Blanc

Happy and safe holidays to you all,


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