Many of the distinguished films in 2012 were difficult to watch. Writer/director Michael Haneke’s “Amour”, a frontrunner in the best foreign film category, boasting a brilliant performance by Emmanuelle Rivas, slaps us in the face with the harsh reality of the struggle to die with dignity. Joaquin Phoenix delivered a Brando-esque performance with his self-destructive character in “The Master” another difficult view. John Hawkes’ character in “The Sessions”, confined mostly to an iron lung, was somewhat claustrophobic, but the sex therapy created a nice balance. The following films were my standouts in 2012, each compelling in their own way, a few actually easy to watch.
10. Beasts of the Southern Wild
The entire “Beasts” scenario is noteworthy, 30-year -old Benh Zeitlin writes and directs his first film, conceived from memories of a childhood vacation to New
Orleans. Amidst devastation and squalor in a poor bayou community after hurricane Katrina lays the story of a dying man, helping his young daughter to endure the immediate danger while preparing her with the strength to survive being orphaned. It is the struggle with endings and the joy of life to seek new beginnings in one package. Zeitlin found the perfect “Hushpuppy” personality in a young local girl with no previous acting experience. Quvenzhane Wallis now has an Oscar nomination.
9. Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino’s revenge films have always stood out from the others, each with in-depth scripts and great characters whose appeal comes from the fact that they don’t seem to belong in the existing environment. Such is true with Dr. King Schultz, a German gentleman bounty hunter played by Chistoph Waltz, who offers slave Django (Jamie Fox) freedom, revenge and money to help him identify several individuals “wanted dead or alive”. Samuel Jackson as the dominating head servant, Don Johnson and Leonardo Di Caprio, as plantation owners each deliver outstanding performances. Waltz deserves an Oscar in a competitive category.
8. Moonrise Kingdom
From Wes Anderson, the director that bought us “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “Rushmore”, comes the quirky story of two young twelve year
old children who, certain that they have fallen in love, decide to run away prompting chaos in the small island community. The terrific ensemble cast of Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton are comfortable delivering Anderson’s weird and wonderful script.
Jack Black’s performance as Bernie Tiede in the peculiar film “Bernie” is one of this year’s best. Black’s eccentric character becomes a perfect match for his new job as
assistant director of a funeral home in a small, odd community in east Texas. He soon has the entire town charmed, including Marjorie Nugent (Shirley McLaine), the disliked local wealthy widower. The plot thickens and certain strange circumstances have the burg engulfed in a storm with Bernie sitting in the middle. Matthew McConaughy delivers a noteworthy performance as Sheriff Buck.
6. Rust and Bone
Despite lofty expectations and disappointing accolades, I found “Rust and Bone” to be a wonderfully written story, involving a complex
plot of “boys wants girl-girl doesn’t want boy-girl needs boy-boy needs girl”. The evolution of the relationship between Stephanie and Alain is, to say the least, extraordinary and the characters are portrayed brilliantly by actors Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts. Ms. Cotillard
deserved an Oscar nomination.
5. Silver Linings Playbook
Had it been written and released in the 40’s, I visualize a young Tracy and Hepburn in the lead roles. This is the consummate anomalous
love story, one that can only work with great acting from Cooper and Lawrence who generated “Spence and Kate-like” chemistry. Robert DeNiro and Jacky Weaver aptly enhanced the dysfunctional milieu and director David O. Russell proved that he is very good, following his earlier release, “The Fighter”. Definitely the feel good film of the year with dazzling performances.
The premise of this true story is bizarre, another potentially volatile situation, unfolding during the 1978 hostage crisis with Iran, involving
six Embassy staffers who escaped and hid at the Canadian Embassy. The story of the uncanny rescue was kept secret for 17 years and is now
exposed to the public under the direction of Ben Affleck and producer George Clooney. Despite knowing the out come, the threat of discovery
keeps you on the edge of your seat. The brilliant cast featuring Affleck, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, and Bryan Cranston inject some “Hollywood” into this out of the ordinary authentic tale.
3. The Intouchables
Those complaining that French films are too cerebral and boring should see “The Intouchables”, France’s entry in the foreign film category. When a grieving, wealthy quadriplegic needs a caretaker, he takes a risk on a street-smart, black Muslim ex-con who is only interviewing as a stipulation of his unemployment. This is the story of two very different people coming together at a time when each can help one another. In a very entertaining way, this film reminds us that, although we live in varying circumstances, we all really are the same.
Steven Spielberg’s meticulous authenticity and Daniel Day-Lewis’ virtuoso performance as our 16th President is, alone, worth the price of admission. The story focuses on the end of Lincoln’s life when he was obsessed with uniting the country and abolishing slavery before the end of the Civil War. Exceptional cinematography reveals the story by placing the viewer in a beautifully illustrated virtual book. Adapted from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals” this film is already an American classic.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
A film chronicling the discovery and execution of Osama Bin Laden could have gone wrong in so many ways. The balance of authenticity
and a film that would captivate an audience recently absorbed in the real drama would be a difficult task. Director Katherine Bigelow created a fictional account, encased in reality that mesmerized me and, most importantly, left many judgments with the viewer. Visual realism, striking cinematography, Mark Boal’s story and the fact that Jessica Chastain pulled off one of the year’s most challenging roles makes Zero Dark Thirty, in my subjective opinion, a great project and the best film of 2012.