Saturday, January 19, 2013

Best of 2012: Runners-Up

My top ten favorite films of 2012 are underway, but first a few favorites that missed the cut:

AMOUR- Michael Haneke's unflinchingly tender film about an elderly couple at the twilight of their lives features two of the most aching and moving performances of the year from cinematic legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva.  That the film is presented through the unsentimental prism and a masterful touch isn't the surprising part considering Haneke's reputation, but that the film compliments the filmmaker's famously chilly persona whilst simultaneously being his most moving and indelible personal film is.  What's left is a heartbreaking chamber piece that's hard to shake and mercifully alive in creating two astonishing characters and their loving and wrenching battle with time.

ARGO- Ben Affleck's crisply entertaining docudrama of the outrageous mission to save young Americans during the Iranian Hostage Crisis is a tale so incredible not to be true.  Intelligently written by Chris Terrio, Argo is big, immense Hollywood drama in the truest sense, harkening back to glory days of 1970s while remaining quintessential entertainment.  Affleck, in his third time in the directors chair keeps a sturdy hand, maintaining the potent mixture of gloss and reality that evolves in a third act that ranks as one of the strongest and nerviest of the year.  Hyperbole aside, he gets better and more assured with each outing.

BULLY- One of the most emotional bits of candid filmmaking of the past year as director Lee Hirsch followed the various fates of five youngsters in an analysis of bullying in schools.  A film that should required viewing for any parent, teacher and school administrator, it's a avid document that the kids aren't all right, and the rules of the game of changed, while the age-old adage of "kids will be kids" remains the same.  While certainly not the most graceful or lyrically made of documentaries, Bully is first and foremost an emotional wake-up call, a solemn reminder of years past, and looming fears of the future. 

CABIN IN THE WOODS- Drew Goddard's insanely clever meta horror show, aided with a script co-written by Joss Whedon, was the best B-movie ride of 2012-- a twisty and enticing unraveling and subversive display of wit and showmanship.  A horror flick playing on the tracks of both parody and homage with a gleeful sense of humor and menacing pace of terror-- it's perhaps the best episode never aired of The Twilight Zone, as it extracts the archetypes and past times of the horror staple, upending it with a zest and control.  The delirious and diabolical conclusion ranks as one of the nuttiest and niftiest slights of hands in modern horror filmmaking.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES- How exactly does one top the infinite mighty force that was 2008's The Dark Knight.  Director Christopher Nolan opts smartly by not trying to out master a film that succumbed to legend before it even released, instead drawing on the very strengths, dignities and nervy intensity in which he has brought to the franchise.  Enveloping politics, controversy, and even grappling with a tragedy that befell the film on it's opening night, Nolan's final act may forever have the stink of unfortunate reality attached to it, but the film nonetheless remains a grandly entertaining, intensely thrilling and slick piece of franchise filmmaking at its finest, one forever entombed in the pop cultural lexicon where as a whole it's legend will be appreciated as it should.

JEFF, WHO LIVES AT HOME- Perhaps 2012's most underrated film.  A Homeric odyssey re-imagined as an indie slacker tale.  Sadly released without much conviction and left to near rust, Jeff, Who Lives at Home, from the Duplass Brothers deserved better and far more richer returns as it maneuvered through an improbable, but utterly hopeful, day of chance and circumstance as seen through the eyes of it's sad man-child leading character, played with a perfect mixture of flightiness and inquisitiveness by Jason Segal.  The great surprise from this quietly playful comedy-drama was how it movingly sneaks into your heart with the slightest of fanfare.

THE KID WITH A BIKE- The latest bit of European miserablism, coming from the finest to offer such in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid with a Bike, sensitively, indelibly and movingly tells a story of young child, wonderfully played by newcomer Thomas Doret, troubled and abandoned until a kind hairdresser, played by Cecile de France, takes him in.  Disparaging in its anguishing honesty and presented plainly but emphatically without cloying sentiment nor sermonizing, The Kid with the Bike serves as some of the best of refined and restrained cinema to grace screens in 2012.

PARANORMAN- The wizards of Laika Animation, the same that brought us the wonderfully rich view of lonely childhood in 2009's Coraline do the very same with ParaNorman, an unsuspecting stop motion riff on monster movie channeled into a clever and incisive coming of age tale of a lost young boy with a peculiar gift.  The great gleeful surprise of ParaNorman is its generosity of humor (the film features quite possibly the most hopefully positive gay joke in cinematic history-- perhaps an easy feat), richness of animation and wonderfully lived-in characterization of a lonely, smart as a whip young man whose peculiarities in the end save the day.

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK- Like David O. Russell's last work, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook works because of the manic, varying acting styles of its wonderful ensemble cast, all jelling to one another into a jazzy, nutty, swooning vibe.  Invariably, and perhaps stupidly reduced as depression-induced romantic comedy, one with an improbable dance sequence finale to boot, there's knocks that Silver Linings Playbook may and perhaps should be dismissed as an idiosyncratic as mere frivolity.  But there's such a buoyancy and vibrancy to the performances, headlined by a never better Bradley Cooper and a radiant Jennifer Lawrence that bellies any fuzziness and marks a wonderfully calibrated piece of work.

YOUR SISTER'S SISTER- Unassuming would be a perfect word to describe Your Sister's Sister, a deftly nimble performance piece indie drama that takes place nearly exclusively in a rustic cabin populated by three actors, all of whom are at the top of their game.  Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemarie DeWitt mark an incredible triptych in Lynn Shelton's incisive and sensitively written talk-fest.  In the spirit of quiet offerings, Your Sister's Sister was the loudest attraction in barely noticed art house movie houses in all of the summer of 2012.  

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