Matt’s Top Ten of 2012
10. The Dark Knight Rises
Pity Christopher Nolan—that poor, poor highly acclaimed millionaire. The director succeed just a little bit too much with his previous Batman film, Dark Knight Original Recipe, thus putting himself in an unwinnable position. But despite the nasal clucking of a few (thousand) unfuckable internet trolls, Nolan’s trilogy-ender was a commercial and creative success. Sure, detractors may cite TDKR’s many supposed plot holes, but if you want to talk about messy narratives, just go back and watch The Dark Knight. TDKR’s predecessor has just as many logic gaps, if not more. Fact: it doesn’t matter. Adventure films aren’t about airtight narratives, they’re about creating and sustaining an immersive sense of excitement—something Nolan managed to do with Batman for an impressive total of eight hours across nearly a decade. Not too shabby.
Good art communicates the idea that it was difficult to create; great art makes it look easy. It’s the difference between a merely excellent writer like Jonathan Franzen—who’s prose seems tweaked, refined, and endlessly tortured over—and a sublime writer like David Foster Wallace—who’s ideas and sentences click together so naturally they seem to have been plucked from the air over the typewriter like peaches from a tree. The latter is the quality possessed by Richard Linklater’s Bernie, a perfect little doodad of a movie and easily the breeziest watch of 2012. The quirky tale of loveable murderer Bernie Tiede, Linklater’s film also features Jack Black’s best acting performance since…maybe ever. So tuck into your Texas drawl, fire up Netflix, and steel yourself for 90 straight minutes of no-bullshit fun.
8. Girl Walk // All Day
Les Misérables? Don’t make me fucking vomit. The year’s best musical is obviously Jason Krupnick’s irritatingly punctuated Girl Walk // All Day. A 70-minute visual accompaniment to mash-up DJ Girl Talk’s 2010 album All Day, Girl Walk is a manic, joyful ode to dance, pop, and New York City. But it’s also one of the most important film/video works of the 21st Century, pointing toward the inevitable Total Convergence of traditional cinema, music videos, viral videos, and performance art into one single amorphous blob called “content.” Not to mention the film is also an important historical document. Forty years from now people will watch Girl Walk to see what New York was like in 2012 the same way people today look back at Taxi Driver for a taste of the 1970s. If only Scorsese had the presence of mind to include a scene of Harvey Keitel robo-Krumping across the Staten Island Ferry. History’s loss.
7. The Comedy
Hey man, no joke. Rick Alerverson’s lacerating aging-hipster character study is like seriously one of the best movies of the year—really. Why would I joke about something like that? What would I stand to gain? What is the ultimate benefit to me, aside from an unearned and valueless sense of superiority? Maybe I’ve just spent too many years couching my authentic response mechanisms inside performative sarcasm, the true intent of which is impenetrable by everyone except the most assholeish .001% percent of the general population—i.e. other white dudes in their 30s who are only friends in the sense that we all snigger at the same pop culture references. Could be it takes one to know one, which is why Tim Heidecker’s gonzo lead performance is so unnervingly familiar. Or maybe it’s just because he’s a dumb faggot, and ha ha. Either way, The Comedy isn’t.
6. Room 237
Rodney Ascher’s feature length deconstruction of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 Scatman Crouthers vehicle The Shining won’t be released theatrically until later this year, but I saw it almost exactly twelve months ago at Sundance 2012 and you’re fucking dreaming if you think I’m going wait another year to talk about it. Like Thom Anderson’s cult classic Los Angeles Plays Itself, Room 237 is on the vanguard of an entirely new cinematic form: the Academic-Video-Essay-As-Pop-Entertainment. Resulting primarily from the convergence of sophisticated home editing software and the micro-niche special interest targeting of the internet, this new documentary genre is creating an odd, potent mix of educational perspective and atmospheric dread. Room 237 is a bit of an oxymoron: a derivative work that’s at once totally fresh and unique.
5. The Queen of Versailles
Sure, Lauren Greenfield’s comic documentary about Recession-squeezed timeshare magnates Jackie and David Siegel may share some basic aesthetic DNA with Bravo’s Real Housewives franchise, but it manages to pull off one of the unlikeliest cinematic tricks of the 2012: making the 1% vaguely sympathetic. He’s a myopic workaholic; she’s an aging trophy wife. Together they dream of building America’s largest residential home in the swampy wastelands of Orlando. Will our intrepid wealthmongers succeed? Or will the entropic global economy reduce their billions to mere pitiful hundred-millions? It’s Man vs. Nature—or in this case, Man vs. Credit Ratings. To its credit, Versailles is equally effective as both a humanistic character study and a damning, muckraking portrait of American consumption at its tackiest extreme. Don’t watch it with someone you love; watch it with someone who owes you money.
Forget vampires, zombies, and C.H.U.D.s—sometimes the most frightening creature is Loneliness. Especially if you happen to live in L.A.—which, despite its many positive qualities, doesn’t exactly work overtime to foster a sense of community or connectedness. I mean, you saw Crash, right? Dallas Hallam & Patrick Horvath’s lo-fi Polanski-meets-Bujalski slasher flick was Tyler’s #10 film of last year, but I caught up with it earlier this year during its limited IFC release. Good thing I did. I’m a sucker for artistically sophisticated horror movies, particularly when they’re able to subvert audience expectations while simultaneously respecting what’s effective about genre tropes and tradition. Entrance does this so well that, until its final third, my girlfriend literally forgot we were supposed to watching be a horror movie, even though I had told her we were. And not much slips past that lady—trust me.
3. Django Unchained
When NASA scientists finally begin the arduous task of analyzing Quentin Tarantino’s career, the first thing they’ll do is divide the twitchy filmmaker’s career into three tidy categories: the early, bratty Southland noir of Resevior Dogs and Pulp Fiction; the kitschy grindhouse pyrotechnics of Kill Bill and Death Proof; and the violent-retribution-as-revisionist-history of Inglourious Basterds and now Django Unchained. Though less successful overall than the triumphant Basterds, Django is more intellectually ambitious, with Tarantino trading in his Nazi punching bags to take on a much thornier villain—American History itself. Not an easy sell for audiences who prefer their black protagonists quippy and crossover-friendly, not soaked in the blood of slain white men. Nevertheless, Tarantino makes it go down easy with his trademark wit and artistry.
2. The Cabin in the Woods
Cabin in the Woods is every bit as much a film essay as Room 237. The distinction between fictional narrative and documentary is pedantic, but the basic question remains the same: why, exactly, do humans find comfort in such seemingly anti-social material? What insight does it offer? Goddard and Whedon’s thesis seems to be that horror satisfies the same primitive bloodlust that once made dudes feed Christians to enormous felines. But they’re not didactic about it. Cabin is funny as shit. And for horror nerds, there was no giddier 20 minutes of film this year than Cabin’s nutball 3rd Act. Jerk critics may dismiss this game of “spot the horror movie reference” as the worst kind of internet film geek pandering, but my response is this: go fuck thyself. Menacing redneck zombie axe murderers aside, there was no more fun place to be this year than The Cabin in the Woods.
1. Cloud Atlas
The largest independent production in cinema history, Cloud Atlas somehow managed to combine the slick bloat of mainstream blockbusters with the esoteric inscrutability of the world’s most pretentious art film. No shit it flopped. But as a big, big fan of gonzo hubris, Tom Tykwer & The Wachowskis’ sextagonal-pronged meditation on whatever-the-fuck was 2012’s tastiest scoop of overreaching shithouse insanity. Coming from literally anyone else, saying that Cloud Atlas is reminiscent of Southland Tales would be damning criticism. But lucky for Tykwer and the Wachowski, I’m an iconoclastic madman who loves that shit. Corpuscular nose puddy? Gunganesque newspeak? Hugo Weaving as a hardass convalescent nurse with big fake titties? BRING IT ON. But there’s a method to the madness, too. If Cloud Atlas has a point, it’s that the distinctions humans erect in order to separate themselves from each other—race, gender, linear temporality—are artificial constructs. Not an unimportant message coming from a transgendered filmmaker, her brother, and their German sidekick.
So there you have it: Cloud Atlas is empirically an inarguably the best film of 2012. Feel free to power down the internet now, and may god have mercy on us all.