Dayne’s Top Ten of 2012
Honorable Mentions: Bernie, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Silver Linings Playbook, The Queen of Versailles
Dishonorable Mentions: Prometheus, Cosmopolis, Django Unchained, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
While it might be easy, after taking due presumption of course, to beat up on Spielberg’s usual flair for melodrama and tendency to sentimentalize, Lincoln is so carefully wrought, so judiciously constructed as a whole, it could easily be one of the brighter lights in the oeuvre of John Ford. Nuff said.
9. Killing Them Softly
Cynicism is easy, but actually building a convincing argument for cynicism, especially of the type portrayed here, is a much harder task. At the least for its relentlessness, its capacity to shock me even when I should’ve, and did, see it coming, Killing Them Softly deserves a place on this list. Andrew Dominick’s searing examination, condemnation, and simultaneous justification of American capitalism is not only an incredibly thoughtful, intelligent film, it’s pop art at its finest. Alas that Tarantino has lost the sense of irony on display here, and the capacity of thought backing it up, too. Doubly ironic, then, that Dominick, an Australian director, has shown himself to be the most perceptive analyst of American culture in the film industry today.
8. The Master
P.T. Anderson creates a jarring, nearly unbearable portrayal of madness, masculinity, and religion, and the many strange places they meet. Joaquin Pheonix and Philip Seymour Hoffman are so good, and so praised, it’s almost an afterthought to mention them, but they dominate the film and give it life under the careful direction of Anderson. Though ostensibly, and primarily, a film about the rather ridiculous “religion” (hooray for tax breaks!) of Scientology, The Master is a much deeper examination of religion in our actual lives, the capacity it has to simultaneously heal and destroy us, especially when paired with religious submission. Helming an incredibly even-handed portrayal, Anderson remains one of the deepest thinking filmmakers on the modern stage.
7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
While Life of Pi takes home the awards in jaw-dropping beauty, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is one of the most lyrically beautiful movies of recent memory. Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s film concerns the search of a murder victim in the hinterlands of Turkey, but encompasses much larger themes of morality, faith, bureaucracy, and self-deception into its remarkably understated storytelling. Though it takes its time, not a second is misplaced as we come to know these characters and understand the dark, unspeakable subtext behind their broken lives.
6. Life of Pi
There’s been nothing quite so incredibly beautiful in theaters this year as Ang Lee’s latest film. Only rarely did I succeed in my struggle to keep my jaw off the floor during its two hour length, and, unlike some other recent pretty movies of note, the dialogue, the acting, the pacing, the general storytelling of the film perfectly complemented the incredible visual beauty. As an allegory, it’s deceptively deep, despite the slight misstep of having some random dude tell us what it means at the end. Ignore that dude – this movie’s much, much better than that.
5. Zero Dark Thirty
Katherine Bigelow’s film remains a small, uncomfortable place in my head, weeks after finally seeing it. She spares nothing for detail in telling this story, giving us a feel for the CIA and the larger War on Terror, but even more so for the personal toll that war takes on all of us. The politics and the morality of what’s portrayed and the film itself remain and ambiguous and debatable, and perhaps it’s best that way. Whatever your feelings on the War on Terror, the systematic use of torture by American soldiers or the manhunt for Osama Bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty will give you pause to think, maybe even reconsider. And that’d be worth a hell of a lot in a so-so film, but, luckily, this is a masterpiece.
4. The Invisible War
Just in terms of bare statistics, this film is a shocking tour de force. 1 in 5 women in the military will be raped during their term of service; out of an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults perpetrated in the military during 2010, only 244 resulted in convictions. That’s just the very tippity top of the iceberg. It’s about time someone made this film, and it speaks to our country’s willful ignorance that it hadn’t been made yet. Kirby Dick knows to hold back and let his subjects speak for themselves, and, having finally both been given and taken for themselves the forum in which to speak, they do.
Craig Zobel’s controversial film is astounding, in terms of production, in terms of the bravery of its cast and crew, especially the former, and most particularly as a work of art. Finally, a film that examines the uncomfortable reality of the malleability of the human psyche, all the more exacting because it’s set in the most familiar institution America has – the local fast food joint. Disregard the potential symbolism of the setting and instead focus on the very real human story told here, and the devastating honesty with which it is told. A work of incredible compassion that pulls no punches.
2. 5 Broken Cameras
A documentary chronicling the slow, illegal occupation of his home village by Israeli troops and settlers, and the efforts of that village to nonviolently resist them, Emad Burnat’s film is a deeply personal and searing examination of life under occupation and, for all intents and purposes, during wartime. Burnat tells his story through the lives of his children, in particular his youngest, Gibreel, born as the Israeli settlers began their slow takeover of Bil’In, his hometown, and the combination of this, the horrific footage of soldiers shooting tear gas and actual live rounds at peaceful demonstrators, including areas where children live, and his friends’ and his own personal travails makes for an incredible documentary, the ideal of the most democratizing form of art currently in existence.
Michael Haneke’s latest is a film only a master director could make, imbuing each of his characters with a searing, unassailable humanity and then quietly, carefully picking it apart. The uncomfortable reality of mental illness and the place it leaves those unafflicted, Haneke directs his film without judgment, creating compassion by giving his characters the space they need and simply allowing the audience to slowly come to a complete understanding of the fragility of happiness, mental well-being, and life itself. Powerful and well-crafted, but full of life, the smallest film of the year is my pick for the best film of the year.