Wednesday, January 9, 2013

CineCritical's Picks O' the Year 2012 - Matt's Picks

As we have now entered the second weekend of January, I have almost finished reflecting on 2012, cinematically speaking. It has been and up and down year, with seemingly far fewer Oscar-baiting films finding release in October and November. The top ten highest-grossing films of 2012 feature three comic book adaptations: The Avengers (1), The Dark Knight Rises (2) and The Amazing Spider-Man (7), the third (and final?) installments of Madagascar (8) and Men in Black (10). The Hunger Games (9) is the only non-sequel/non-franchise film on the list (if you allow me to include The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure alongside Lord of the Rings, as it features many of the same actors and the same director) - and can we expect The Hunger Games: Catching Fire to be there next year? Unfortunately for my tastes, not a single of these films is featured amongst my top films of the year. Happily, three of my top four films are foreign (French to be exact!).

For reference, my top pick of 2011 was Lynne's Ramsay's chilling We Need to Talk About Kevin, with a performance from Tilda Swinton that could still rank as my favourite performance of the year. And in 2011, I gave my heart to Mike Leigh's Another Year and Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan

I hope that 2013 will bring as many cinematic gems as 2012. I leave it to the world to take me by surprise.

Matt's Top Ten Films of 2012
10. Sightseers
The last of eight films (and the first of two on my list) that I saw at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival, Ben Wheatley's decidedly off-colour Bonnie and Clyde-style Sightseers is number ten on my list. The film is a ninety minutes of pure violence and adrenaline. Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) start off on a quasi-romantic caravan tour of England that soon becomes a blood-fueled killing spree. In spite of its disturbingly realistic violence, Sightseers is perhaps the funniest film I saw in 2012. 

Read my TIFF review here.

9. Django Unchained 
Quentin Tarantino films often feature prominently in my top films of the year. His previous effort, 2009's Inglourious Basterds, wound up as my third favourite film. And Kill Bill is one of my favourites of all time.  Tarantino has a masterful way of writing dialogue, and the words he gives to Christoph Waltz's Dr. King Schultz are some of the most ingenious he has ever written. It is the story of Django (Jamie Foxx) and his quest to save his wife (Kerry Washington) from an evil land owner (Leonardo DiCaprio) with the help of Dr. King Schultz, a bounty hunter. Django Unchained is not Tarantino's best film, but he is a director with a distinct point of view.

Read my review here

8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Anchored by a startlingly mature performance from Quvenzhané Wallis (who was five years old when she auditioned), Beasts of the Southern Wild is an amazing blend of filmmaking and storytelling. As an allegory for the horrible catastrophe Hurricane Katrina, the film is, at times, too invested in making a statement through art, but its relentless emotion (and Wallis' performance) will win you over. 

Read my review here

7. Arbitrage
Perhaps Richard Gere's career-best performance, Arbitrage is the tale of the power and the influence of the rich. Not a perfect film by any means, and maybe the weakest of the films on my list, it happily left a poor taste in my mouth for weeks. It is outrageous how the wealthy have the power to influence the law. Gere plays Robert Miller, a hedge fund manager whose must cover up his involvement in his mistress' death in order to prevent authorities from discovering that he has defrauded his investors. It is a powerful moral tale with a superb performance from Gere (despite a somewhat low-key performance from Susan Sarandon). 

Read my review here

6. Compliance
Craig Zobel's thriller Compliance is the scariest film I saw in 2012. When a man masquerading as a police officer phones the restaurant and tells Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager, that a blonde employee (Becky, played by Dreama Walker) stole money from a customer it turns into a grotesquely disturbing tale of abuse of power. Dreama Walker (known to us as Becca on The Good Wife) is fantastic, but Ann Down, Best Supporting Actress winner from the National Board of Review, is mystifying as the compliant manager who allows a young woman to be assaulted.

Read my review here.

5. Zero Dark Thirty
A surprising last-minute addition to my top ten list, Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most rigorous and intense films I have seen all year. Mark Boal's terrific screenplay moves at top speed as the story highlights the nearly ten year manhunt that lead to Osama bin Laden's death. Although the film features strong direction and a great screenplay, it is Jessica Chastain's performance that is the heart and soul of the film. The brilliance of her character development is astonishing.

Read my review here.


4. Amour
Michael Haneke's eloquently touching film about death and the elderly was one of the most beautiful love stories I have seen in quite some time. Amour is a complete testament to the power of acting, with brilliant performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva. The film tells the story of Georges (Trintignant) who adoringly cares for his wife Anne (Riva) after she suffers a debilitating stroke. Despite the knowledge that Anne will indeed die, Georges, still completely devoted to his wife, willingly stays by her side taking care of her in their Parisian apartment. Heartbreaking and beautiful, Amour is a treasure. 

Read my review here

3. Dans la maison (In The House)
Perhaps because I am still reeling from seeing Kristin Scott-Thomas at its premiere at TIFF, or simply because it truly is one of the best films I saw in 2012, François Ozon's Dans la maison is one of the best films I saw this year. Perfectly melodramatic and wonderfully acted, Dans la maison tells the story of French literature teacher Germain (Fabrice Luchini) who becomes obsessed with the writing of his pupil, Claude (Ernst Umhauer). Claude is obsessed one of his peers, Rapha (Bastien Ughetto), and Rapha's mother (Emmanuelle Seigner). As a teacher, Dans la maison has stayed with me in the four months since I saw it. 

Read my TIFF review here

2. Moonrise Kingdom
It is no secret that I am a complete Andersonophile. I love each and every Wes Anderson film because of his unique quirks. Moonrise Kingdom has not reached the same level of appreciation as The Royal Tenenbaums (my second favourite film of all time), but perhaps future repeat viewings will help. Sparked by its wonderful teenage lovers (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward), Moonrise Kingdom is, like all Anderson films, awash in beautiful colours. It helps that it is also the only 2012 film to feature Tilda Swinton! The sheer joy and beauty of Moonrise Kingdom was unsurpassed this year, but I did have one slightly more mind-blowing cinematic experience in 2012. 

Read my review here

1. Rust and Bone (De rouille et d'os)
I doubt I was more afraid to see any other film in 2012. I had such high hopes for Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone that I worried I was going to be disappointed. I have said that Jessica Chastain's performance in Zero Dark Thirty is transcendent, but Marion Cotillard is otherworldly in this film. I fear revealing too much about her performance, but she gives us pure magic. Audiard's 2009 film Un Prophète was also a chilling and haunting film, but the hairs on my arm are still standing on edge because of Rust and Bone. I am guilty of letting films emotionally overpower me, but I was unprepared for this film. I remember not being able to think or talk coherently about the film after it ended because I was so profoundly affected. 

Read my review here

Most Overrated Film of 2012
Steven Spielberg's Lincoln (review) was overbearing and overlong, and suffered from War Horse syndrome. Sure, the story of Abraham Lincoln is interesting, and Daniel Day-Lewis is Oscar-worthy in the title role (in a weak year for actors), but I just feel like Spielberg was feeling overindulgent. 
(Runner-up: Magic Mike)

Worst Film of 2012
Oliver Stone gets credit for luring me to see Savages (review), without question my least favourite film of the year. Casting Blake Lively was a mistake, but a more egregious choice (beyond Salma Hayek's possessed performance) is the sheer incredulity of the plot! Absolutely my most painful cinematic experience of 2012, even worse than Patrice Leconte's terrible Le Magasin des Suicides, the animated 3D musical I saw at TIFF. 
(Runner-up: Killer Joe)

Most Disappointing Film of 2012
Luckily for Jennifer Lawrence, I saw The Hunger Games back in March. Unfortunately for Tom Hooper and company, the travesty of Les Misérables (review) is still fresh in my dead. Despite a three-star review, Hooper's adaptation of my beloved musical was downright terrible. A miscast Russell Crowe, the continuous close-ups, and the insanely offence Sasha Baron Cohen were too much for me to handle. The music is fantastic, the sets are beautiful, and Anne Hathaway is marvelous (if slightly overcooked), but it is still a disappointment. 
(Runner-up: The Paperboy.)

Best Performance of 2012
Marion Cotillard as Stéphanie in Rust and Bone.
(Runner-up: Jessica Chastain as Maya in Zero Dark Thirty.)

Most Overrated Performance of 2012
Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincoln
(Runner-Up: Bradley Cooper as Pat Solitano in Silver Linings Playbook.)

And lastly, a few fantastic films that just could not find a proper space in my picks of the year:
2 Days in New York
Queen of Versailles
The Sessions

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