2012: The Best of Film


Best Films
1. Holy Motors

Leos Carax’ “Holy Motors” is a film about the death of film. But, ironically (and to Carax’ credit), no other recent film has more fully embraced the philosophy and potential of digital cinema to such a shocking and spectacular degree. The film takes place in some loosely-defined alternate reality — the near future, perhaps — where actors act out their “scenes” in public spaces, without cameras. But “Holy Motors” can hardly be confined to any sci-fi subgenre, as it functions more as a collection of beautiful and loosely-connected film scenes, each acted out by the film’s single protagonist (a chameleon method actor in this cameraless universe who is carted from assignment to mysterious assignment in a white limo). One scene follows a hitman who murders his doppelganger, while another recounts a bizzare fantasy about a flower-eating, sewer-dwelling troll. And these are simply two pitstops in a seemingly endless string of scenes — each of which play with film conventions and the possibilities of digital intervention by way of green screen and motion capture effects. Carax has created a timeless classic, as well as our generation’s answer to “Singin’ In The Rain.” “Holy Motors” even has enough sheer ambition, humor and transgressive cynicism to match (musical show-stoppers included).

— Ren Ebel
Managing Editor

2. The Master

The main character of “The Master,” Freddie Quell — brilliantly played by a haggard, sickly Joaquin Phoenix — introduces himself by way of frantically dry-humping a sand model of a woman. When we meet Lancaster Dodd, Phoenix’s co-star Phillip Seymour Hoffman, he describes himself as “above all a man” and not, as he later explains, part of the animal kingdom. For the rest of “The Master,” director Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”) explores the interaction between Quell’s carnal animalism and Dodd’s humanistic refinement.

This exploration takes place in the frame of a thinly veiled rehash of Scientology’s history, set in 1950s America. We see Quell chafe under any authority or attempt to bind his animalistic nature, while Dodd needs Quell’s devotion, if not his complete conversion, to continue his cause. Shot in visually astounding 65mm, “The Master” again proves Anderson is capable of getting amazing performances from his actors and crafting them into a complete masterpiece.

— Sebastian Brady
A&E Editorial Assistant

3. Django Unchained

When the title character has his own original theme song, either you’re watching Nickelodeon reruns or something is seriously about to blow your mind. Quentin Tarantino likes his films the slow-burning, meticulous way, but when he finally does knock out one of his long-awaited works, it throws a helluva punch. “Django Unchained” in no way escaped this habit, utilizing every necessary element — lush dust-blown sceneries, rich dialogue, enduring characters — for a shoot-‘em-up classic in the making. The film tackles America’s touchiest subject with anything but grace and sophistication; violence, vulgarity, and vengeance drive home this cowboy blood battle in traditional Tarantino manner, armed and ready with his swashbuckling, outlawed heroes and villainous southern gents of a cast. Quentin Tarantino brought the fire; Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington fuel it with fury.

— Jacey Aldredge
Associate A&E Editor

4. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Not since “Pan’s Labyrinth” has a movie exploded with such cosmic strength and clarity so sharp it cuts right into your heart. The little engine that could, “Beasts” tore through film festivals all year (winning at Cannes, Sundance and NYIF, to name a few), a bitingly original fable of post-Katrina Louisiana and the small-but-mighty Quvenzhane Wallis who carries this robust, idiosyncratic film with a poise and electricity unheard of in girls of only six years old. Her relationship with Dwight Henry, the erratic and drunken father who just wants his girl to survive, is so heartfelt it’s hard to believe they were acting at all. Ah, and that is the rub.

— Jacey Aldredge
Associate A&E Editor

5. Moonrise Kingdom

You gotta hand it to the haters: Wes Anderson makes relentlessly quirky comedies. Stylized to a T, Anderson’s body of work is instantly recognizable — and divisive. Yet when his films are as outstanding as “Moonrise Kingdom,” the haters don’t stand a chance.

The film’s dreamy setting of 1965 New England served the director’s quirky style well, making the over-stylization appear era-appropriate and not like style for style’s sake. A wistful look at a pair of 12-year-old runaways — an orphaned “Khaki Scout” (Jared Gilman) and an eccentric bookworm (Kara Hayward) — and the ragtag group of adults who set out to find them (including Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Bill Murray), “Moonrise Kingdom” packs a ton of heart and a ton of humor. The portrayal of the kids’ blossoming, first-time love is tender without being creepy, while the unpredictable shenanigans that ensue keep the laughs coming.

— Arielle Sallai
Editor in Chief 

6. The Comedy

Of all the films to come out this year, none felt as urgently relevant as Rick Alverson’s poignant hipster deconstruction “The Comedy.” The scowling, apathetic slackers at the center of the film are as completely unlikable as they are familiar. As we follow the dull group from one numbingly sarcastic conversation to the next, the inherent sadness beneath the facade becomes frighteningly transparent. Just as admirable, is Tim Heidecker’s (“Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job”) turn as the never-serious, yet clearly depressed Swanson.

— Ren Ebel
Managing Editor

7. Lincoln

In a year full of films portraying life as it could be, or life as it is, “Lincoln” split the Red Sea with a life as it was, catapulting to fruition the construction of a country trying to build itself from the ground up, and the man who championed a battle-born American dream. It’s an origin story everyone should take the time to experience, if not for Tony Kushner’s rich storytelling (he forged a script so natural you’d think he brought it back from 1865 himself), then for Daniel-Day Lewis’s resonating, under-the-skin transformation into a man we never thought would walk the earth again.

— Jacey Aldredge
Associate A&E Editor

8. Silver Linings Playbook

It’s always the quiet ones that have the most to say. “Silver Linings” didn’t garner much talk prior to its release, but once it hit theaters, the story of the batshit-crazy couple and the town around them couldn’t get out of anyone’s head. And why should it have to? Writer-director David O. Russell transformed an already-riveting novel into a concoction of smart dialogue and unsettlingly honest situations. He provided a refreshing spin on the overused themes found in recent romantic comedies, replacing cliche kisses in the rain with unfiltered, late-night runs down the streets of Philly. “Dinner and a movie” made way for “dinner and broken dishes.” Though Russell’s script was brilliant on its own, the playbook that brought it all home were the actors who brought life to the insanity. It’s a hard task to evoke both empathy and laughter out of an audience for the same moment, but this cast, from Bradley Cooper to Robert DeNiro to Jennifer Lawrence, achieved just that.

— Jacey Aldredge
Associate A&E Editor

9. Skyfall

Up until this most recent 007 adventure, Ian Fleming’s original superspy (and his Aston Martin) and the grounded depths of character held within him went mostly avoided, if not forgotten. Sam Mendes’ broke this convention with “Skyfall”, a crisply designed homage to smart thrillers and the always-classic car chase. “Don’t cock it up,” trilled Judi Dench’s M, and they certainly do not. Though Mendes and his writing cohorts traveled back to Bond’s roots, they weren’t afraid of teaching the old dog new tricks, bringing originality and spunk to their villain (a delightfully treacherous Javier Bardem) and paving the way for an alluring new road of Bond with the introduction of Ralph Fiennes, the new face of M16. Amid all of these adjustments, Daniel Craig continues to impress as the steely faced, smirk mouthed Bond; if the 24th installment is anything like its predecessor, the future is looking quite bright indeed.

— Jacey Aldredge
Associate A&E Editor

10. This Is 40

What was supposed to be a “kind-of sequel” to Judd Apatow’s “Knocked-Up” has turned into a testament to the middle class, middle-aged people of America — cupcakes, creepy body trainers, sneaking cigarettes and all. “This is 40” throws out brash, slapstick humor in favor of the much more realistic qualms that life throws our way, full of more “that totally happens” moments than reality television could ever spit out. Floppy-haired Paul Rudd and quick-witted Leslie Mann are a pleasure to watch on screen as they maneuver their way around children, financial distress and surfacing daddy issues, only to find their way back into the chaotic normality known as getting old. Apatow has a knack for stringing together reflections of the blemished and battered trials of life in a way that makes hard-knock humanity all the more appealing, but not since “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” has he gotten relationships more right.

— Jacey Aldredge
Associate A&E Editor

Best Performances

Tom Hardy – “Lawless”

Tom Hardy is a man of many faces, each one a little harder to forget than the last. In “Lawless,” the bootlegging account of the indestructible Bondurant brothers, Hardy sheds the rippling back muscles and menacing face mask of his summer performance as Bane (“The Dark Knight Rises”) for a sweater-clad simpleton with iron-wrapped knuckles. His portrayal as the oldest Bondurant is magnetic. Hardy creates a character full of silent power and charming, beastly grunts, only bested by his brass-bound loyalty to the few people he loves and his resolve to keep his family’s honor intact. For a lead character with so few lines to prove it, Tom Hardy grabs you by the eyeballs and doesn’t let them go until the credits roll. His ability to play the love interest, the miscreant, the madman, the brother, and so many others in the riveting way he does has kept him out of pigeonholes and brought him into the ranks of seasoned, award-winning actors. “Lawless” and his performance in it only strengthened that ever-so-close stepping-stone to brilliance.

— Jacey Aldredge
Associate A&E Editor

Jennifer Lawrence – “Silver Linings Playbook”

Scoring a nod at the Oscars this year would not be Jennifer Lawrence’s first trip to the rodeo. However, since “Winter’s Bone,” it’s been a mystery as to when we’d see her face among the other nominees, especially following “X-Men: First Class” and “The Hunger Games,” both movies with their own kind of merit but neither chart-topping critical successes. Her performance as the unhinged Tiffany in “Silver Linings Playbook” has solved this enigma, all but locks a spot for her in the Academy and surely locks her into our hearts. Lawrence continues to brandish her versatility as the bipolar love interest of Bradley Cooper, who couldn’t escape chemistry with the sparkling Tiffany even if he tried. From angry outbursts to uncensored mood swings and an inescapable charm that bites (hard), Jennifer Lawrence is a compelling wonder to watch, becoming a mesmerizing, chuckle-inducing character dripping with a far-reaching fervor to be understood and appreciated.

— Jacey Aldredge
Associate A&E Editor

Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman – “Moonrise Kingdom”

It’s not possible to separate these two magical beings of youthful bliss. “Moonrise Kingdom” might have kept its sparkle without their presence, but it wouldn’t be nearly as bright or as charming. Sam (Gilman) and Suzy’s (Hayward) love is simple; it’s nostalgic for a time when you would do anything to be reunited with your darling, whether by escaping the neighborhood boy scout camp or remembering to pack the kitten in the runaway bag. Their innocence was sobering — a delightful portrayal of adolescent turmoil that depended on the understated gravity of their characters. These star-crossed lovers stole every scene with quirk and charisma, and they weren’t kidding either.

— Jacey Aldredge
Associate A&E Editor

Javier Bardem – “Skyfall”

Just deal with it. Javier Bardem is a force to be reckoned with. He’s scary, insane, and goose-bump-inducing as the tech-savvy M16 nemesis Silva in “Skyfall.” What was supposed to be Daniel Craig’s show became the inevitable game of blonde cyber-terrorist Bardem, as he hummed some tunes and teased the screen with modern-day keystroke evil (and questionable sexuality) a la Julian Assange. He tackles 007’s most updated villain with a playful flick of the wrist — or switch — as he toys with both Judi Dench’s M and Bond himself. What sets Bardem apart from the rest of this year’s bad guys isn’t his dangerously effective offensive game of blowing up buildings and subway stations, nor is it his mangling mind destruction as he eats away at Craig’s inner strength — it is the way in which he exemplifies plausible, present-day terror. Javier Bardem’s Silva is smart, unforgiving, and frighteningly familiar to the people we’re fighting to constrain today.

— Jacey Aldredge
Associate A&E Editor

Christoph Waltz – “Django Unchained”

There’s a lot to be said for a man with a beard. Especially one with a vocabulary as savory as German Dr. King Schultz’s — the man with the plan and a dental carriage to boot. Christoph Waltz wraps us around his finger — from the first time his horse, Fritz, makes a bow — as the winningly optimistic and moral bounty hunter (yes, it’s ironic) who frees a slave, gallivants off to cause a ruckus and then saves the day. His performance is a complete turn from the disheveling Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds” as he takes off those creepy gloves for a top hat and a mischievous smile while still retaining the unstoppable mindset of a man who knows what he wants. Waltz delivers his lines with cheeky disregard for the filters of others, leaving those around him drop-jawed and musing. The expressions of the actors on the receiving end of Waltz’s prestige are almost as engaging as the way he shoots Leonardo DiCaprio in the face. Almost.  

— Jacey Aldredge
Associate A&E Editor 

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