Each writer at Film Misery has now had their turn to reveal their choices for the best movies of 2012 and there has been some expected overlap, along with some exciting variation among the lists. Just like last year, we have decided to aggregate all of the lists to see what the most popular movies were among all of us. We lined up all six lists and assigned each movie a point based on its ranking. A 1st place ranking was worth 10 points, 2nd place was 9 points, 3rd place 8 points, etc. (Special thanks to Justin Jagoe for doing the math). Below is the top ten list along with the blurbs from whichever writer had that particular film ranked the highest on their list.
Film Misery Top Ten Lists
- Justin Jagoe’s Top Ten List
- Duncan Houst’s Top Ten List
- G Clark Finfrock’s Top Ten List
- Alex Carlson and Phil Kollar’s Top Ten Podcast
- Hilary Kissinger’s Top Ten List
- Alex Carlson’s Top Ten List
Film Misery Staff Top Ten of 2012
10) The Dark Knight Rises – 10 pts, 2 lists
“No film have I defended more this year than Christopher Nolan’s third installment in his excellent Batman trilogy (and I am not the only passionate one, my review of the film was the most commented article on Film Misery this year). The biggest criticism that has been lobbed at The Dark Knight Rises is that it seems to get bogged down with moral fuzziness, offering sympathy and disdain for people on both sides of the law. I happen to believe that moral fuzziness was the point of the movie. Throughout history there have been few conflicts when there is a clearly identifiable hero and villain and The Dark Knight Rises further establishes that every individual or movement, given some perspective, has equal moments of justice and villainy. Christopher Nolan is a master action movie structuralist and the beautiful IMAX projection of this film had me clinging to my arm rests right up until the final moments. Criticize the minor flaws all you want (and I’ll be the first to admit, there ARE flaws), but I loved this movie and will defend it to the end of days.” — Alex Carlson
9) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – 12 pts, 3 lists
“A friend asked me what the plot of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s remarkable film was. “Well, a group of Turkish policemen go searching about the Anatolian steppe for a buried body.” “That’s it?” he replied. “That takes two-and-a-half hours?” Such an abridged synopsis obscures the depth the film contains; much more happens over the long night during which this police procedural takes place. This is a film of quiet revelations, hushed profundities, silent epiphanies. The plot doesn’t matter. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is an experience.” — G Clark Finfrock
7) Moonrise Kingdom – 13 pts, 2 lists
“I was very glad to revisit the entire Wes Anderson oeuvre during our marathonearlier this year because it made me appreciate Anderson’s latest effort all the more. Moonrise Kingdom may be the most Anderson-y of all of Anderson’s films yet with a central love story that fits the director’s unique and quirky style perfectly. Anderson’s usual stylistic tricks are at play with fantastic parallel tracking shots and an omnipotent narrator (brilliantly personified by Bob Balaban) with some of the greatest ensemble work of the year. Sam and Suzy have instantly become the quintessential cinematic youth romance with their journey to escape from childhood brilliantly contrasted by the adults in the film acting like children. What really elevates the film to greatness, however, are the moments of comedy that have subtle human truths weaved within.” — Alex Carlson
7) Beasts of the Southern Wild – 13 pts, 2 lists
“Many of my top picks for the years top films come down to the feeling I had upon watching them. Beasts may suffer from the ease with which it can be read as populated by the so-called film trope of “magical negroes,” an archetype that cute-ifies a quaint brand of poverty (as Justin mentioned in his own list, the condescension of the bon sauvage), but I think it’s striving for far more than that. The scene that convinced me of its beauty and ambition featured the four young girls on their quest, striding with purpose, the four beasts mirrored behind them. Benh Zeitlin might be dealing in imagery blunted on the stone of naivete, but the whimsical force of its imagery and the fierceness of those girls reminded me of stories I loved as a child, focused on a child and a community that are not often given a voice in Hollywood. Now, whether Beasts really gives a voice to anyone but Zeitlin is up for debate, but its raw, tactile sensibility and gritty charm won me over to an appreciation of its fantastical and heartfelt poetry.” — Hilary Kissinger
6) Argo – 14 pts, 2 lists
“Argo is simply a great example of cinematic storytelling. Period. So much so that it should be taught in film schools, so the emerging generation of filmmakers understand how to handle suspense properly, see how to shift the tone of a film multiple times without making it uneven or jarring, learn how to let actors fill in characters that a screenplay may not have completely shaded, grasp how important editing is to a film’s pace and structure… I could go on. Say whatever you will about Ben Affleck’s acing or career choices (reminder: Gigli is not the worst film ever made), but there’s no denying that he has proven himself over three films to be one of the most intelligent and canny directors currently working. That the Academy shut him out of the Best Direction race at this year’s Oscars makes me wonder if they even know what a director does. Which, you’d think, they should.
Argo has no deep or hidden themes, is not destined to become a cult classic, and lacks all indie cred. It is simply what I said it was in my opening sentence: a great example of cinematic storytelling. It’s sad how few of those there are nowadays.” — G Clark Finfrock
4) The Turin Horse – 16 pts, 2 lists
“Belà Tarr’s final film, one that quizzically incorporates an obscure Nietzsche anecdote into the apocalypse, will never be accused of its lack of grimness (read G Clark’s superb breakdown of the movie’s dark descent here). Yet I would posit that, for all its mournful portents, The Turin Horse is not entirely without a sense of humor as it allows existence to unspool in front of us. While it is easy to say that the movie tells of the world ending, the question you are left to ask, of course, is “why?” Why would the world end, and why would it do so over a century before our own time? And why would we witness this all through the eyes of a secluded father and daughter (János Derzsi and Erika Bók giving the Southern Wild duo a run for their money) whose quotidian drudgeries scarcely involve anything more elaborate than collecting well water? Turin’s tedium, filmed almost hypnotically by Fred Kelemen and complemented with Mihály Vig’s droning, repetitive musical cue – and punctuated only occasionally with oblique hints at meaning – suggests that Tarr is not merely interested in a literal cataclysm, but in the way our world views decry the inevitable change of what once was as the human product of villainy and degradation.
Finally – and I do think comically – The Turin Horse is about one’s stubborn refusal to acquiesce to inevitable change, even as the world we know fades into darkness around us, as the warmth of fire escapes us, and as uncooked, unpalatable spuds slide bitterly down our gullets. And yet, we eat still. “We have to eat…”
…and isn’t that just hilarious?” — Justin Jagoe
4) Amour – 16 pts, 2 lists
“I was prepared for an unrelenting grimness when I finally caught up with Michael Haneke’s highly praised new film, but Amour is a juxtaposition of hard and soft, grief and tenderness, and it sustained me even as it broke my heart. Emmanuelle Riva is just as good as everyone says she is, giving the year’s best performance as a woman who withers in front of our eyes, yet carries a fire inside to her final moments. Jean-Louis Trintignant is also exceptional, playing his devoted and crumpling husband with palpable, tangible love. This is amour at the end of life, and though I initially wondered if Haneke might be making a statement with his title (an ironic layer the likes of Funny Games), it is as genuine and direct as they come. Seeing one’s love out of this world and into the next, no more and no less. It is a staggering, honest, and difficult film, but not without its own embrace, a gentle hand to lead you out of the theatre.” — Hilary Kissinger
3) Django Unchained – 16 pts, 3 lists
“Quentin Tarantino’s movies exist in a universe that is so deeply cinematic that everything that occurs within his films must be viewed within that context (which is probably why he is so off-put when people ask him about violence). Along with layers of references to films within the genre he is sending up, his movies also contain a thoughtful analysis and response to the cinematic depiction of certain tropes. The finale in Django Unchained features our title character systematically killing archetypes of slavery movies and then literally blowing up a plantation that, by no coincidence, resembles Tara from Gone with the Wind. It’s simultaneously a celebration and a condemnation of cinema history that only a director like Tarantino can pull off. The film also features the director’s excellent dialogue that trips so marvelously off the tongue of actors like Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, and particularly Christoph Waltz. This may not be the ultimate examination of cinematic violence, like Inglourious Basterds, but it’s another dynamic entry into the Tarantino canon.” — Alex Carlson
2) Lincoln – 23 pts, 4 lists
“Yes, Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln is Oscar bait; with 12 nominations, that’s been proven empirically. Yes, it’s a stirring, patriotic tribute to our democracy whose lessons apply very conveniently to our current times. And yes, Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance as our sixteenth president is characteristically legendary. But let’s talk briefly about what the movie isn’t. It is not the hagiographic daguerreotype those dreadful trailers suggested it might have been. It is not a sprawling war epic aiming to meticulously recreate a time long passed. And it most certainly is not a treacly Spielberg production comparable to War Horse or Amistad.
The success of Lincoln, for me at least, was initially one of diminished expectations. Though my admiration deepened upon revisiting the movie. Little of what characterizes the pejorative “Spielbergian” is to be seen here. The movie is sentimental and indulgent only in small doses (and mostly in the form of those unfortunate bookends). It works with an uncommonly restrained visual and aural palette – restrained for the director, for his cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and even for his fanfare-prone composer John Williams. There is a surprising amount of humor and levity to buoy all the serious political grandstanding. And its screenplay depicts an Honest Abe operating with a kind of intellectual and moral complexity not seen in a Spielberg movie since, well, when he last collaborated with screenwriter Tony Kushner on 2005’s Munich.
Because of this complexity, I want so dearly for Lincoln to be a movie taught in civics classes someday (note that I didn’t say History classes). It is a film in love with democracy, and one that is in love with justice. But it is one, I feel at least, that implicitly recognizes the fundamental imperfections of that process, and – as is subversively showcased when a group of black citizens enter House Chambers to witness the climactic Amendment vote – a republic’s inherent power for the tyrannical few to squabble righteously and uncritically over the rights of many. It recognizes that, for our ideals to be budged forward, even by an inch, your efforts cannot go unmuddied. It’s an ironic thesis for the great earnest filmmaker of our time, and for that reason Lincoln is the first Oscar front-runner in ages that truly deserves to win.” — Justin Jagoe
1) The Master – 43 pts, 5 lists
“A movie destined to be misunderstood. I misunderstood it at first, as well. I was bored during my first viewing of The Master, because I expected to see a scathing evisceration of Scientology, something hard and confrontational. But Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest masterpiece is something much more delicate than that. It is, first and foremost, a penetrating study of power: how the hollow and weak are attracted to the confident and dominant, and how the latter feed off the former.
If Anderson’s last film, There Will Be Blood, gave us one of cinema’s great characters in Daniel Plainview, here, he gives us two: Joaquin Phoenix’s vacant, vaguely desperate Freddie Quell, and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s equally vacant, equally desperate Lancaster Dodd. The difference between them is that Dodd has friends, money, and resources, and Freddie has nothing. Nothing at all. The two orbit around each other in a spellbinding symbiotic relationship that forms the real crux of the movie. Indeed, by comparing PTA’s screenplay with the finished product, it’s obvious that he edited out of the movie anything that wasn’t somehow related to the wicked magic binding the two men together.
Using the past tense in saying I ‘misunderstood’ The Master shouldn’t imply that I completely understand it now. This is a film that may take dozens of viewings to get to the bottom of—or, more likely, a film whose bottom we may never discover. Its fascination lies in its many ellipses, red herrings, inconsistencies, and puzzling surreality. It is not disposable; it is a film to be savored, relished, lived in. Its importance cannot be denied—even the film’s numerous detractors cannot shake it. More than any other film from 2012, it will live on, in essays, festivals, criticism, and Sight & Sound polls, for decades to come.” — G Clark Finfrock
Stay tuned for Film Misery Awards coming later this week!
As a whole staff, how did we do?