The Best Films of 2012
By Victoria Alexander, Film Critic
Las Vegas Informer
First, my criteria.
Instead of conforming to the path established on most Top Films of 2012, which usually include expensive Hollywood epics like “LES MISERABLES,” prestige films like “LINCOLN.” and one obscure foreign film made by Senegalese rebels (that you will never see on your library DVD shelf), I have chosen to list the films I saw twice, will see again, brought or were highly memorable. And “memorable” means a lot in my case, since I see practically every movie released (and have a Netflix account for those elitist foreign, horror, and independent films that do not make it to Las Vegas).
In alphabetical order:
“ANNA KARENINA.” Visually stunning and pretentiously glorious in its radical interpretation, Tom Wright’s re-imagining of Tolstoy’s literary masterpiece comes alive with erotic performances by Keira Knightley and my lover in a future life, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who recently married lionized English filmmaker, photographer and visual artist Sam Taylor-Wood, who is 23 years his senior. They both took the last name Taylor-Johnson). Johnson starred in Taylor-Wood’s first film, “NOWHERE BOY,” playing a young John Lennon. Johnson also starred in R.E.M.’s 2011 music video Überlin which was also directed by his then-fiancée. He runs through the streets, jumps around, and wiggles.
“BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD.” Quvenzhané Wallis should get a Best Actress nomination because she was 5 years old when she won the role (4,000 girls auditioned for the role of Hushpuppy in Behn Zeitlin’s film). Do you know any 5 year old who could be so disciplined? And with its budget reportedly somewhere between $1-2 million, you know no one was coddled on set or had childish temper tantrums. The entire production looks authentic. I believed Wallis actually lived in a corrugated hut. Beautifully imagined without a scent of sentimentality, I was blown away by “BEASTS.”
“THE CABIN IN THE WOODS.” A terrific, clever sci-fi horror film sadly overlooked – but not by me. Another film I viewed twice. It was slated for a wide release in 2010 and then delayed a year so the film supposedly could be converted to 3D. The film was then delayed indefinitely when MGM filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. So “CABIN” just slipped into theaters without much fanfare playing up the fact that Chris “THOR” Hemsworth was headlining the cast. Release of Hemsworth’s other pre-”THOR” movie, “RED DAWN,” was also delayed due to MGM’s money woes. Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins (he’s also terrific in “KILLING THEM SOFTLY”) are fantastic. “CABIN” is a horror puzzle worth renting. I loved it.
“THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.” Saw it twice in the theater and I own the Blu-ray. This is the year iconic fantasy males James Bond and Bruce Wayne got clinically depressed, went unshaven, and sulked around in ratty bathrobes. Their super-human skills and knees were shot. They both got moody and talked about death. But “DARK KNIGHT RISES” had a fascinating backstory about Bane and threw Batman into a subterranean prison. With Christian Bale leaving the Batman franchise, the last scene teases us with one word, “Robin.”
“DJANGO UNCHAINED.” Ignoring the N-word controversy and Spike Lee’s jealousy over a white man taking on the subject of slavery, the performance by Leonardo DiCaprio is mesmerizing. But how does an uneducated runaway slave become a master gunfighter and rakish gentleman who can ride a horse and speak the King’s English? Message to Mr. Lee: Why not take on Samuel L. Jackson who had no trouble playing DiCaprio’s wet nurse? As Jamie Foxx said, “If you want to learn something from a movie, go watch a documentary.”
“THE DEEP BLUE SEA”. Rachel Weisz should get and deserves a Best Actress nomination. A British drama directed by Terence Davies, “DEEP” is an adaptation of the 1952 Terence Rattigan play about the wife of an aristocrat judge who engages in a passionate affair with a reckless former RAF pilot played by Tom Hiddleston. If you loved Hiddleston as Loki in “THOR,” but didn’t think he was much of a leading man in “WAR HORSE” (Steven Spielberg doesn’t do leading man any favors), he’s charismatic as Weisz’s feckless younger lover. Like Anna Karenina, choosing love over privilege has its downside. Especially is your lover is a cad without a job.
“KILLING THEM SOFTLY.” Makes me wonder who the Jolie-Pitts are having as house guests in their French chateau. Brad Pitt stars as a New Orleans mob hitman in a noir-drenched crime film directed by Andrew Dominik. Pitt’s intoxicating performance is the riveting centerpiece while the other actors are equally fascinating to watch. Pitt has this enforcer role down pat and in his scenes with James Gandolfini he reacts as if he is hearing Gandolfini’s tale for the first time. Dominik cleverly ties the mob organization to that of a well-run corporation with rub-outs done by committee. As music blares from car radios throughout the film, Obama gives feel-good TV speeches nobody believes. And Pitt’s Jackie Cogan sums up inequality in a speech denouncing slave-owner Thomas Jefferson, who famously coined the phrase “…all men were created equal” had a slave as a mistress who bore him seven children! Jefferson didn’t need to qualify this statement in the Declaration of Independence since everyone understood that by “men” he meant rich, educated white men.
“KILLER JOE.” Matthew McConaughey eviscerates his rom-com/”MAGIC MIKE” legacy with an astonishing, terrifying performance in “KILLER JOE.” But he is being fast-tracked as a Best Supporting Actor nominee for an Academy Award. The New York Film Critics Circle named him Best Supporting Actor on the strength of both “BERNIE” and “MAGIC MIKE.” But it’s his star performance in “KILLER JOE” that should be recognized. Perhaps a sadistic killer with a sexual performance problem is too radical for the Academy Awards – but it’s the performance I voted for. McConaughey makes Frank Booth and Max Cady look like the choir boys of seduction. He scared me. And Gina Gershon is absolutely fearless! Why has her name been kept out of the running for Best Supporting Actress? The third act of “KILLER JOE” belongs to her. The much maligned “THE EXORCIST” director William Friedkin is definitely back! If you haven’t seen “BUG,” rent it!
“PROMETHEUS.” Saw it three times and will see it again. Michael Fassbender is an intense, passionate actor (“HUNGER,” “SHAME” and “A DANGEROUS METHOD”) and his David is the most fascinating character in the film. The film is provocative and visually stunning. “David” is a difficult role – Fassbender has to play an android learning about humans and how to relate to them without looking like an awestruck star-child. One of the most anticipated films of 2012, this is a psychological study at its core. And while Noomi Rapace got the plum starring role, it’s Charlize Theron who got the erotic “W” magazine photo shoot with Fassbender.
“LIFE OF PI.” The Las Vegas Film Critic’s Society voted “LIFE OF PI” the Best Film of 2012. We skipped the preachy history lesson “LINCOLN” and the silly “LES MISERABLES” in favor of a film that retained its dignity and did not soften the mystical qualities of the book (the existence of God) or give the lead to Taylor Lautner. (Well, there are 1.21 billion people in India, so box office in India alone could make its $120 million budget back and then some.) I loved Richard Parker. What an actor! Ang Lee’s magical film is steeped in spirituality and has a first-time 17-year-old Indian actor in the lead. The imagery is profound and the story of survival is remarkable. I know what to do now if I have to spend 227 days at sea with a Bengal tiger. You cannot ignore a film with this much beauty and a defying point-of-view.
“SKYFALL.” Had to see “SKYFALL” twice in one week. It lacks the erotic charge of “CASINO ROYALE” or Daniel Craig in a blue Speedo, but it does have an exciting top-of-speeding-train fight, a homoerotic tease, and Bond’s newest set skill – free-running. “SKYFALL” delves into the complex and troubling psychology of a man “licensed to kill”. He’s got problems. He’s a drunk. He’s got bad knees and needs Viagra. And it’s got Javier Bardem as a crazy-speak sociopath with a mother complex. He also fancies making Bond his “OO” boytoy. But placing Dame Judi Dench as “The Bond Girl” went too far. The iconic “M” never went skiing, played Texas Hold’em, or made Molotov cocktails. Sometimes, pushing these emblematic characters into the 21st Century has its drawbacks.
“MOONRISE KINGDOM.” I adore Tilda Swinton. She’s an icon unapologetic about having a house-husband and a traveling companion lover in her personal life. And as long as Frances McDormand refuses to wear movie makeup or have her hair styled (see the just released “PROMISED LAND.” Wasn’t she fantastic in “BURN AFTER READING”?), I’ll see anything she is in. I’m not a big Wes Anderson fan and I wish he would stop using Jason Schwartzman – but I loved the generally ignored “FANTASTIC MR. FOX” – “MOONRISE KINGDOM” is utterly enchanting. It is the first movie I put on my preparatory “best films list” when I saw it months ago. It has a style all its own and – what is very important to me – a strong, definitive point-of-view. This is one film I can see over and over again.
“THE MASTER.” Regardless of Joaquin Phoenix’s remarks about the Academy Awards, he is certain to get a Best Actor nomination at the 85th Annual Academy Awards. “I think it’s bullshit,” Phoenix said about the Oscars in a discussion with Elvis Mitchell (now a scholar teaching at UNLV): “I think it’s total, utter bullshit, and I don’t want to be a part of it. I don’t believe in it. It’s a carrot, but it’s the worst-tasting carrot I’ve ever tasted in my whole life. I don’t want this carrot. It’s totally subjective. Pitting people against each other … It’s the stupidest thing in the whole world.” Well, the Academy denied him a Best Supporting Actor Award for “GLADIATOR,” which he deserved! Yes, “THE MASTER” is clearly modeled after L. Ron Hubbard’s Church of Scientology but it is the story of its beginnings, not the feared, punishment-prone organization written about today. What is at its center is a homoerotic obsession with a very dangerous man, exhibited by fierce body language by Phoenix. Co-star Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a seductive, likeable Master. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, “THE MASTER” is a strong film with powerful performances.
And my Number One Movie of 2012 is:
“CLOUD ATLAS.” I saw it twice in one day. Written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer (known in the U.S. primarily for “RUN, LOLA, RUN”). It was adapted from the 2004 novel by David Mitchell. The project had difficulty securing financial support but was eventually produced with a $102 million budget provided by independent sources, making “CLOUD ATLAS” one of the most expensive independent of all time. The second time I saw “CLOUD” was a revelation of small pieces of information that I had overlooked. It must be viewed as many times as you watch “THE MATRIX TRILOGY.” It has astonishing performances and was a true project of the heart by the Wachowskis – “CLOUD” explains in its six interlocking stories the radical concept that we share multiple lives with many of the same people over and over again, albeit in different relationships, in different genders, and in different degrees of impact. This is a sophisticated film that suffered from the lack of promotion. The Washowskis understand mythology and symbolism and eventually “CLOUD” will rank with “2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY,” “THE MATRIX” and “BLADE RUNNER” as a signpost for radical re-evaluating consensus reality.
Victoria Alexander is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association: www.bfca.org/ and the Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria’s weekly column, “The Devil’s Hammer,” is posted every Monday. http://www.fromthebalcony.com/editorials.php.
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