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Cinema 2012: Best & Worst - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Cinema 2012: Best & Worst
There's a fair chance the movie Zero Dark Thirty would have been on this list, had I been given a chance to see it by the end of this year. Instead, it's on a bunch of other "best of 2012" lists even though it's not opening nationally until January 11. But I'm not bitter.

If it's good enough, I guess it'll just have to end up on my 2013 list. This happens with one or two movies every year, after all, since the assholes in Hollywood think there's no world outside Los Angeles or New York. At least, not when it comes to lovers or quality movies.

This year is no exception: there are two movies on this list that are technically "2011" films because they opened elsewhere last year, thereby qualifying them for the last, rather than the next, Academy Awards. I've been told more than once that I should wait to make my top ten list until the end of January, just so I could have seen all the movies the critics who actually get paid for this have seen. But, then I'd be the only one waiting that long to make this list, which is supposed to come at the end of the year, not the beginning. And why should I wait, when everyone else has done this a month beforehand? That's bullshit!

I'm a Seattle movie-goer, anyway. I don't live in New York or Los Angeles. So, let's get on with it: these are the movies that had the greatest impact on me in the year 2012.

The Best -- or, at least, My Favorites

beasts of the southern wild 10. Beasts of the Southern Wild A-

Okay, so actually, I did not fall head-over-heels in love with this movie like just about every other critic in the world did. That's sort of my own fault: I read several gushing reviews, then went to the movie expecting a damn near life-altering experience. My expectations were way too high. But, then I compared it to everything else I saw this year, and objectively, it was still better than most. It really is an affecting, and arresting, story of a five-year-old girl (an incredible Quvenzhané Wallis) and her alcoholic father (Louisiana baker Dwight Henry) facing down storms and floods in their vividly realized -- and imaginatively stylized -- squalid corner of the world. The fact that non-professional actors were used makes it all the more impressive.

What I said then: There really is something about that little girl, that Quvenzhané Wallis. She has an almost mesmerizing quality. And it's her quality that makes you feel like this is the telling of how Hushpuppy will one day become a singularly strong woman.

les miserables 9. Les Misérables A-

This one got in under the wire: I only saw it two days ago, the last review I wrote for 2012. It made a big impact, and will be remembered for some time. This is the rare movie that lives up to its claims of breaking new ground: all the actors sang their lines live during filming, and the risk paid off considerably. Only occasionally awkward, this movie is always absorbing, and packs an emotional wallop. Also, the music is beautiful, and so are the voices of each and every actor. Even Russell Crowe!

What I said then: This is arguably the greatest leap forward in the history of movie musicals. Fore the first time, the actors are acting, rather than lip syncing.

the master 8. The Master A-

Here is one of those love-it-or-hate-it movies. P.T. Anderson has been one of the most talented working directors for the past fifteen years, and his talents are poured into this movie. The question is whether the talents, in this particular package, are ripe for consumption. It's practically impossible to make an emotional connection with this movie, it's so detached in its presentation. But it's also challenging in all the right ways, with beautiful cinematography, and some of the best performances of the year, by Philip Seymour Hoffman as a cult leader and Juaquin Phoenix as his acolyte. When I saw this movie I wasn't quite sure how much I liked it, but I still think about it, and I suppose that tells you something.

What I said then: There's a nearly impenetrable denseness in whatever P.T. Anderson has to say. I still can't quite articulate what that is. I can only say that he says it beautifully, and sometimes that's all you need.

bernie 7. Bernie A-

This would be the year's best comedy, and a unique construct: a fiction-ish movie based on the real-life murder of millionaire Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine) by her much younger companion Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), peppered with actual interviews with townspeople who knew the real couple. There's also a goofy looking Matthew McConaughey, completely disappearing in the role of a laywer in pursuit. This has been a big year for McConaughey, and this is the best of his many recent movies. But it's Jack Black who truly shines here, for once displaying a nuanced acting ability with an understated performance as a quiet oddball in a comedy. He makes you believe a murderer can be a nice guy -- or rather, that a nice guy could be a murderer. The townspeople, all of whom hated Marjorie, certainly have a jaw-dropping capacity for forgiveness in this case.

What I said then: How it ends isn't the point so much as how a guy like Bernie could end up in the predicament he was in -- and how his community responded. This is a guy so well liked that even fairly wide-spread suspicion that he was gay (with no apparent concrete proof) has no effect on his popularity. And Jack Black sells the hell out of it.

a separation 6. A Separation A-

If you think you've seen every movie about divorce, then you haven't seen A Separation. This one is set in Iran, and comes with all the cultural trappings of the Muslim context. And there is also defies expectations and stereotypes: this couple is quite modern, all things considered, and the husband is not a bad man. It's easy for Americans to jump to the conclusion that in such a misogynist religion, all men are monsters. But in this case, both the man and the woman are the victims of institutionalized religion. And, underneath it all, their struggles in their relationship are surprisingly familiar and universal.

What I said then: Witer-director Asghar Farhadi infuses the story with details about how Islam presents challenges under these circumstances, but it never quite feels like a statement about Islam. It’s just a really compelling story that happens to be about Muslim people.

pina 5. Pina A

The first of two movies I saw in 2012 for which the use of 3-D was actually justified and well-executed. Who knew that could possibly be the case for a documentary? But this is no ordinary documentary: this is basically a feature-length montage of dance performances of the late Pina Bausch's choreography. The marriage of these dances to the 3-D technology is truly transporting, in a way that neither a regular documentary or seeing it live possibly could be. One would be hard pressed to find a better way to honor such an accomplished and talented choreographer. The only downside is that the ability to see it this way was so short-lived; watching this on DVD can't possibly be as good.

What I said then: It's a series of vignettes featuring dances performed by people, of widely disparate generations, who worked with German choreographer Pina Bausch. They are by turns bemusing and stunning, otherworldly and gorgeous.

How to Survive a Plague 4. How to Survive a Plague A

But here we find, hands down, the best documentary of 2012: a look at the front lines in the early fight against HIV and AIDS, featuring extensive footage of events with deep historical significance. Many documentaries are made with the goal of changing the world. This one is itself a documentation of people changing the world, and it is truly inspiring to behold, as well as thrilling and heartbreaking. A massive amount of sacrifice went into this fight, and this is one movie that makes you feel it.

What I said then: This movie should be required viewing. It should be part of public school curriculum.

your sister's sister 3. Your Sister's Sister A

This is probably the least-seen movie on this list. It's too bad. You can help remedy that: rent it now. There's no grand spectacle here; it's a small but thoroughly satisfying drama about a man (local Seattle actor Jack Duplass), his best friend (Emily Blunt), and her lesbian sister (Rosemarie DeWitt), all spending a pseudo-impromptu weekend in a cabin on an Island in the Puget Sound. A sort of love triangle ensues, but not in the ways you would expect. This is a movie that subverts expectations and then ends perfectly.

What I said then: Three people talking in the woods? How great could that be? Pretty damn great, actually. I left the theatre thinking about how much I loved it.

the other son 2. The Other Son A

Here come those Muslims again! Only this time, they bring along the Jews too: this is the story of switched babies in Israel, resulting in a born-Jew being raised Muslim and a born-Muslim being raised a Jew. Sounds stupid, contrived and preachy, right? It's none of the above. The concept is presented plausibly, and so are the emotional struggles between the two families once they discover what's happened. Joseph (Jules Sitruk) is discovered to have a different blood type from either of his parents after a blood test for compulsory military service. For Jews. Which Joseph is not. But Yacine (Mehdi Dehbi) is. Inevitably, they meet, and they form a friendship that likely would never otherwise happen, with pretty lackadaisical attitudes compared to those of their respective families. This could easily get overcomplicated but thanks to a tightly polished script, it's both straightforward and persistently compelling.

What I said then: I can't think of anything wrong with The Other Son. This is just a good, solid movie with a great, thought-provoking and entertaining, very original story.

life of pi 1. Life of Pi A

The second, and best, use of 3-D on my 2012 list. In terms of unusually great use of the technology, this is this year's Hugo -- which was last year's best movie. Ang Lee uses his 3-D cameras to make what is easily one of the best literary adaptations I've ever seen. Surely this movie also works in 2-D, but not to the same effect, what with all the vividly imaginative renderings of Pi's experiences, most of them lost at seat in a boat with a zoo tiger. Best of all, even though in the end the very existence of the tiger is called into question, this movie has a singular respect for animal behavior without anthropomorphism. It's easy to look at the trailer for this movie and expect something Disney-like, but it couldn't be further from that, which is all to the good. And newcomer Suraj Sharma's performance as Pi is nothing short of amazing.

What I said then: Ang Lee proves to be one of the few directors who knows how to make a 3-D movie that places us inside the world of the film rather than using it as a gimmick. In Life of Pi, he combines it with stunning special effects that render a unique world of vast imagination, color, and occasionally even sparkle.

Five Worst -- or rather, my five least favorite of those I saw

ted 5. Ted C+

I saw several C+ movies this year, but this one gets put on my worst-of list over the others because of the disparity between the hype and the product. This was a very successful movie and many people loved it, and I don't particularly understand why. Sure, it's occasionally funny. But you can mold a pile of shit into funny shapes -- will that make you want to look at it for two hours? Also, I had a hard time getting past the idea of a teddy bear brought to life, but evidently with no physical changes, being able to have sex. What the hell does he use? I want answers!

What I said then: If you want to be edgy, you need to stick to the edge. MacFarlane has one foot propped on the edge while the rest of him is resting in a recliner. That's what keeps this movie from working: it aims for being over the top, but it can't commit.

anna karenina 4. Anna Karenina C+

I include this movie over the many other C+ movies for similar reasons: it could have been great, which makes its failure all the more disappointing. It has great costumes, great performances, and a fatal gimmick that it can't even stick to. Presenting a movie like a stage play, complete with intricate set changes on camera even while the story moves forward, sounds like an interesting idea. Doing it only intermittently, and then cutting to wide shots in actual outdoor locations, is just plain dumb.

What I said then: If this Anna Karenina had been told in a much more straightforward way, with the very same level of skill in performances, it could have been totally absorbing, rather than the off-putting movie it is. Did these actors have any idea this is what they signed up for? For their sakes, I can only hope not.

the conquest 3. The Conquest C

I could tell you this movie was totally forgettable. Or I could tell you I literally forgot I even saw it, and re-reading my own review hardly even triggered a memory of it. Both would be true.

What I said then: If Nicolas Sarkozy is as fascinating a man as most reports would suggest, this movie, and the actor who portrays him, do nothing to illustrate it.

joyful noise 2. Joyful Noise C-

I knew what I was getting into with this one. I knew it would be terrible. But: it had Dolly Parton! Love her. It had Queen Latifah! She's pretty great too, if in a lot of crap movies. They sing! It could be fun, right? It might have been, if the music had been better. Or hell, the script, which is just plain embarrassing. That's all you need to know.

What I said then: Rarely do I want to yell at the screen: "Just stop, you're embarrassing yourself!"

killing them softly 1. Killing Them Softly C-

A lot of critics -- the same ones who also hated Joyful Noise -- liked this one. I'm at a loss as to why. This was, hands down, the dullest movie I saw all year. It bored me half to death. Okay, so it had some good acting, and some decent cinematography, but that doesn't count for much when the script doesn't make any sense and the editing actually makes a 97-minute movie feel like six hours. There's some brutal violence, but that alone doesn't make a movie interesting. Where's Quentin Tarantino when you need him? He could have made the stuff coming out of all these criminals' mouths fun to listen to, instead of coma-inducing.

What I said then: Hurry up and shoot these people, or at least shoot me so I don't have to listen to them anymore.

And now for the perennial film log, of record length!

1. 1/3 Pariah A-
2. 1/4 Young Adult A-
3. 1/8 Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy B
4. 1/12 Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol B+
5. 1/15 Joyful Noise C-
6. 1/17 Carnage B
7. 1/21 Haywire B-
8. 1/25 Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close A-
9. 1/31 Albert Nobbs B-
10. 2/2 The Conquest C
11. 2/7 A Separation A-
12. 2/10 Pina A
13. 2/11 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Animation B+/B
14. 2/13 Declaration of War B- *
15. 2/15 Rampart B *
16. 2/18 This Means War C+
17. 2/18 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Live Action B+
18. 2/22 Chronicle B+
19. 2/27 Wanderlust B+
20. 2/29 Chico & Rita B+
21. 3/4 Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace (in 3D) B-
22. 3/6 Hugo A+ (2nd viewing)
23. 3/10 Friends with Kids B
24. 3/14 John Carter B
25. 3/19 21 Jump Street B+
26. 3/21 Boy B+ *
27. 3/26 Jeff, Who Lives at Home B+
28. 3/27 Airplane! A ***
29. 3/21 The Hunger Games B+
30. 4/5 The Hunter B *
31. 4/11 Footnote B+
32. 4/12 Titanic 3D B
33. 4/15 Monty Python and the Holy Grail A- ***
34. 4/18 Applause A-
35. 4/22 The Deep Blue Sea B
36. 4/25 Surviving Progress C+
37. 5/2 The Pirates! Band of Misfits B
38. 5/3 Damsels in Distress C+
39. 5/5 The Avengers B
40. 5/7 Monsieur Lazhar A-
41. 5/9 The Sound of My Voice B+
42. 5/12 The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel A-
43. 5/13 Dark Shadows B-
44. 5/16 The Dictator B+
45. 5/19 Sleepwalk With Me B **
56. 5/20 Mansome B-
57. 5/22 Cloudburst B **
58. 5/24 Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean C+ **
59. 5/26 Any Day Now B+ **
60. 5/27 North Sea, Texas B+ **
61. 5/28 Men in Black 3 B
62. 5/29 Bernie A-
63. 6/6 Gayby B **
64. 6/7 Snow White and The Huntsman B
65. 6/11 Prometheus B+
66. 6/13 Moonrise Kingdom B+
67. 6/17 Prometheus B+ (2nd viewing)
68. 6/19 Hysteria B+
69. 6/21 Turn Me On, Dammit! B
70. 6/22 Brave B+
71. 6/23 Seeking a Friend for the End of the World B-
72. 6/26 Safety Not Guaranteed A-
73. 6/28 Your Sister's Sister A
74. 6/30 Magic Mike B-
75. 7/1 Ted C+
76. 7/3 Grassroots C+
77. 7/7 The Amazing Spider-Man B
78. 7/9 To Rome, with Love B-
79. 7/12 A Cat in Paris B
80. 7/15 Beasts of the Southern Wild A-
81. 7/17 Take This Waltz B-
82. 7/24 The Goonies B+ ***
83. 7/25 The Dark Knight Rises B+
84. 7/28 Easy Money B+
85. 8/5 Total Recall B-
86. 8/9 Ruby Sparks B+
87. 8/11 The Campaign B
88. 8/12 Hope Springs B
89. 8/14 The Queen of Versailles B+
90. 8/15 Killer Joe B+
91. 8/25 Samsara B+
92. 8/28 Celeste and Jessie Forever B+
93. 8/30 Premium Rush C+
94. 9/5 Robot & Frank B
95. 9/10 Bachelorette B
96. 9/12 2 Days in New York B+
97. 9/15 Finding Nemo in 3D A-
98. 9/18 Amadeus ***
99. 9/19 The Birds ***
100. 9/24 Arbitrage B
101. 9/26 The Master A-
102. 9/29 Looper B
103. 9/30 Stars in Shorts B
104. 10/1 The Perks of Being a Wallflower A-
105. 10/6 Frankenweenie B
106. 10/8 End of Watch B
107. 10/10 Chicken with Plums A-
108. 10/13 Seventh Psychopaths A-
109. 10/16 Argo A-
110. 10/18 Cloud Atlas B- *
111. 10/20 How to Survie a Plague A
112. 10/21 Detropia B+
113. 10/23 The Sessions B+ *
114. 10/24 Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel B+
115. 10/28 The Other Son A
116. 11/2 Wreck-It Ralph B+
117. 11/5 Flight B+
118. 11/7 Silver Linings Playbook B
119. 11/11 Skyfall B+
120. 11/12 A Late Quartet B-
121. 11/15 Brooklyn Castle B-
122. 11/17 Lincoln B
123. 11/18 Chasing Ice A-
124. 11/20 The Flat B+
125. 11/25 Life of Pi A
126. 11/26 Hitchcock B
127. 12/1 Anna Karenina C+
128. 12/3 Killing Them Softly C-
129. 12/4 Hyde Park on Hudson B+
130. 12/20 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey B+
131. 12/22 This Is 40 B
132. 12/23 The Guilt Trip C+
133. 12/27 Django Unchained B+
134. 12/29 Les Misérables A-

*SIFF advance screening
**SIFF festival screening
***Re-issue (no review)


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