It’s been one of the best years since I started as a film critic, though I am annoyingly aware that a lot of you didn’t get a chance to see most of these movies while I personally, gluttonously had a hard time narrowing them down to just 10. Theatrical exhibition is dying; Netflix and video on demand are the future, and as projection standards in cinemas continue to plummet, I can no longer say that I blame anyone for staying home.
But there should maybe still be a place for a picture as adorable as Moonrise Kingdom, defiantly shot on Super 16mm and reveling in its own Instagram aesthetic? Or how about the stand-up-and-cheer crowd-pleasing moment near the end of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, which turned sneaky Congressional abolitionists into The Bad News Bears? Forget about the (stupid) torture controversy: I twice saw rooms full of jaded critics reduced to white-knuckle panic attacks during Zero Dark Thirty by sheer virtue of Kathryn Bigelow’s craft.
I apologize, once again, for laughing myself sick during William Friedkin’s disgustingly comic Killer Joe. (A couple of colleauges said they had more fun watching me watch the movie than they did sitting through the film itself.) Ditto for David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, which transformed Don DeLillo’s rambling monologues into a stream-of-consciousness State of the Union, all about the economy and fucking.
Leos Carax’s Holy Motors similarly regarded a sleek stretch limo on an endless journey, but this one leapfrogged from scene to scene with such vivacity and melancholy, it was impossible to know which end was up. I also loved the droll, existential dread of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, driving aimlessly though the hinterlands all night attempting to crack a crime that has already been solved. When morning finally arrives, it’s an awful bitch for everybody.
Accordingly, the stentorian, almost hermetically sealed frames of Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st are so brutal and unforgiving that I had to walk around in the snow for a little while once the movie was over. Not every picture needs a crowd, and I was hiding from friends when this one was over.
Finally, a word for Jafar Panahi’s This is Not a Film, shot on a camcorder and smuggled out of Iran on a flashdrive inside a cake: It’s a surreptitious contemplation of life, art and the spaces inbetween. This is the kind of thing—and the kind of year—that makes me proud to do what I do. (Sean Burns)
SEAN BURNS’ TOP 10 FILMS OF 2012
1. Moonrise Kingdom
3. Zero Dark Thirty
4. Killer Joe
5. Oslo, August 31st
7. Holy Motors
8. The Master
9. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
10. This Is Not a Film
2012 was the first year in memory in which I didn’t fall punch-drunk in love with a single movie theatrically released in the United States. And yet my Top 10 was still a pain to put together, forcing me to snub films about which I feel strongly: The Master, Zero Dark Thirty, Tabu, The Turin Horse, Django Unchained, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Magic Mike, Haywire, The Kid with a Bike, Miss Bala, Lincoln, Looper—even, for less respectable reasons, The Paperboy.
It’s hard to suss out themes and ideas and images in such little space. And yet, they’re there, bouncing off one another. The main notion shared by several on my list, as it happens, is cloistered existences—a familiar mode in an age in which people, holed up in front of electronics, can choose the news they want to hear and filter out the rest. And so Damsels in Distress, Whit Stillman’s belated return to film, finds retro conservative collegiates quipping and creating dances without abandon. The Comedy, in which Tim Heidecker’s bored Williamsburg asshole is an asshole to everyone, concerns a character who never leaves his protected, moneyed bubble, even when tempted, because he doesn’t have to.
There are cracks in the veneer, though. In David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, billionaire Robert Pattinson (brilliant, actually) acts like a malfunctioning robot in a world that no longer makes sense. Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, as with his other films, concerns a heavily stylized world regularly rocked by melancholy and failure. The Loneliest Planet strands two lovers in Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains, discovering hell can, hopefully only temporarily, be each other. By contrast, Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea entraps a woman (Rachel Weisz) without love. And then there’s Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who’s under house arrest. On a flash drive hidden in a birthday cake, he snuck out of his country This Is Not a Film, which was one.
Death loomed large this year, though it’s an accident that two of the starkest films on the subject emerged. Animator Don Hertzfeldt’s It’s Such a Beautiful Day contemplates a stick figure’s mind crumbling spectacularly amidst a fatal disease. And The Grey—aka the “Liam Neeson fucks up wolves” movie—is actually a brutal nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw existentialist diatribe in which doomed characters struggle to find ideal exits. Of course, if you need a reminder of the vitality of life, look no further than Leos Carax’s delightfully bugfuck (although periodically insanely sad) Holy Motors. Its accordion “Entr’acte” is the best quickie pick-me-up of the year. (Matt Prigge)
MATT PRIGGE'S TOP 10 FILMS OF 2012
1. It’s Such a Beautiful Day
2. The Comedy
4. Moonrise Kingdom
5. The Loneliest Planet
6. The Deep Blue Sea
7. The Grey
8. Damsels in Distress
9. This Is Not a Film
10. Holy Motors