Staff List: The 40 Best Films of 2012

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#30: Cloud Atlas
Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski
Written by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski

Cloud Atlas is essentially a patchwork of narratives thematically linked with minor coincidences and recurring symbolism. With six stories spanning several centuries, Cloud Atlas explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future. As a parable of how we are all connected, each protagonist in Cloud Atlas wrestles with some form of oppression, based on either gender, age, race, sexual orientation, genetics and so on. In 1850, a young American lawyer sailing on a ship through the South Pacific is slowly being poisoned by a doctor who wants the treasure of gold he is hiding. In the 1930s, an inspiring composer follows his dreams while recounting his journey via love letters to his gay lover. A journalistic potboiler set in 1970s San Francisco sees an investigative reporter exposing the secrets of a faulty nuclear facility. Later, a London publisher Timothy Cavendish is imprisoned in a nursing home and must find a way to escape back into society. In 2144 Korea, a cyborg-clone-slave named Sonmi-451 escapes to help lead a rebellion – and further still into a post-apocalyptic future, a Hawaiian tribesman is contacted by a representative of the remnants of an advanced civilization, to save what’s left of the human race. The sprawling, serpentine plot is enough to stretch into a mini series, yet somehow these three filmmakers find ways to intertwine these individual stories into one coherent movie. Atlas is at times frustrating and familiar but credit must be given to the filmmakers for taking on such an ambitious project. If anything, Atlas is highly entertaining even if silly at times.

– Ricky D

Best Films of 2012

#29: Damsels in Distress (38 points)
Directed by Whit Stillman
Written by Whit Stillman
U.S.A., 2011

Oh, the hoards and hoards of films which try valiantly to dissect and study teenage and young adulthood, those formative years when boys and girls learn so much of themselves while at school. There are dramas, horror films, the not so cleverly coined ‘dramedies’, and so on and so on. Most of us have lived through those unforgettable experiences, whether we reminisce them fondly or otherwise being an entirely different matter. Because many understand what they mean, there is an endless supply of material, be it adapted or original, to create more of such movies to the delight or annoyance of many. College, or university as it is recognized in Canada, is unfortunately not solely the domain of the bright and brilliant. Writer-director Whit Stillman, making his feature-length comeback after 1998′s Last Days of the Disco, takes that notion and creates a strange little comedy which does not, in fact, shine positive light on the youth… (read the full review)

Edgar Chaput

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#28 (Tie): Beyond the Hills (39 points)
Directed by Cristian Mungiu
Romania, 2012
Philadelphia Film Festival

At 150 minutes, Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills is not a second overlong. Extended as its takes may be and as patiently as the narrative progresses to its drained conclusion, there is a heaving sense of urgency to this story of a young woman who was failed by pretty much everyone – including herself – and died because of it. It is a true story in fact, fashioned by Mungiu, with the assistance of Niculescu Bran whose non-fiction novels he drew much inspiration from, into a fine screenplay that contains more religious and anti-religious rhetoric than a movie that ultimately feels this morally cagey has any right to. This might partly be due to the way the director shoots his actors and the way the actors speak his lines, without any undue emphasis or thematic/emotional spotlighting. The naturalism at work here is a masterclass, particularly impressive considering the two co-leads are straight-up non-professionals, who we all know can be at risk of either overacting or underacting, at least more so than those more seasoned…. (read the full review)

– Tope Ugundare

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#28 (Tie): The Color Wheel (39 points)
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Written by Carlen Altman and Alex Ross Perry

Alex Ross Perry’s The Color Wheel looks, feels and sounds like an independent American hit of the 90′s film fest circuit. This black and white post-mumblecore road trip through dark comic territory begins as a funny road comedy and ends with an unexpected twist of events. Recommended for fans of Richard Linklater, Lynn Shelton and the Duplass brothers.

Ricky D

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#27: Silver Linings Playbook (40 points)
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by David O. Russell
USA, 2012

Sometimes, it’s OK if you know the destination as long as the journey is plenty of fun. That’s the basic underlying principle of Silver Linings Playbook, a massively enjoyable crowd-pleaser that presents an off-kilter brand of romantic comedy, where most of the zigs and zags can be predicted during the first act. What the plot may lack in genuine shock, the film makes up for with a feisty, sharp ensemble cast and clever, rat-a-tat dialogue from writer-director David O. Russell… (read the full review)

Josh Spiegel

Compliance

#26: Compliance
Written and directed by Craig Zobel
USA, 2012

Compliance is essentially a slow-motion train wreck of rape, an extended sexual assault where the physical acts are being committed by characters who are themselves experiencing a gradual violation. This is a horror film, make no mistake, and the lack of blood spilled does not reduce its intensity in any way. The actors do fine work in letting the decisions show on their faces, of conveying the strange space where they are making a choice and yet believing they have no choice, but the process of the violations themselves may be too intense for some… (read the full review)

Mark Young

Wreck-It-Ralph

25: Wreck-It Ralph (44 points)
Directed by Rich Moore
Written by Jennifer Lee, Phil Johnson
U.S.A., 2012

At the heart of Wreck-It Ralph is a Taoist parable about the usefulness of uselessness that adds unexpected depth to what at first blush could appear to be a simple, funny animated film trading on nostalgia for old video games. On a deeper level, Wreck-It Ralph is an environmental story. The opening screens to the “Fix-It Felix Jr.” game reveal that Ralph originally lived in a forest inside a hollowed-out tree stump, until Ralph’s forest was bulldozed and his stump uprooted to make way for the apartment building that Fix-It Felix Jr. (Jack McBrayer) repairs. Seen in this light, Ralph is not so much a destructive bad guy as an elemental force of nature reacting to the opposing force of civilization, the green root that bursts through the asphalt that “paved over paradise“. The Cy-Bugs from “Hero’s Duty” are the dark mirror of Ralph’s nature, unrestrained destruction that burst up from underneath, consuming everything in their path… (read the full review)

Michael Ryan

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#24 (Tie): The Deep Blue Sea (46 points)
Directed by Terence Davies
2011, UK, 98 minutes

The Deep Blue Sea, Terrence Davies’ new film, adapted from the Terence Rattigan play, could easily have been classified as a faux-hysterical, overwrought melodrama in which a beautiful married woman finds solace and then pain in the arms of a younger, more attractive and more temperamental man than her own decent yet distant husband. However, thanks to Davies’ thoughtful and detailed direction, as well as sterling work from Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, and Simon Russell Beale, The Deep Blue Sea is more perceptive and anguished than most modern relationship-driven drama. It’s hard to choose a standout performer; though each character in this drawing-room story has deep moments of introspection and frustration, it’s Weisz, as the multidimensional and truly flawed lead character, who’s most impressive. From the little moments–her flat reply of “I know what you look like, Freddy” to her paramour’s friendly gestures–to more bombastic interactions, Weisz delivers an excellent, intelligent, and immensely sad performance in a thoroughly excellent slice-of-life story that rings true 60 years after it was brought into being.

Josh Spiegel

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#24 (Tie): Killing Them Softly (46 points)
Written for the screen and directed by Andrew Dominik
USA, 2012

Set against the backdrop of the 2008 US election, chunks of both major parties’ campaign rhetoric, as well as that of former President Bush, permeate select scenes of Killing Them Softly via background radios and televisions, entering like tumbleweeds rolling across a set. The film’s jarringly edited opening credits even cut between the title cards and Scoot McNairy’s slow passing through windswept garbage in a decayed, unnamed suburbia, looking cold and in pain as a cigarette hangs from his mouth, as his walk is scored by the mangled audio mix of an Obama speech about the “American promise of life”: “to make of our own lives what we will.” Later music use also veers far from subtlety, with songs like “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” chosen for blatant irony, and a scene of substance abuse accompanied by the sounds of The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin”. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, Killing Them Softly’s furious avoidance of coyness might prove disastrous, though the bluntness, despite its aesthetically enthralling execution, is still likely to frustrate many. Look beyond the louder elements of the economic and political threading, though, and one has a crackling dialogue-heavy thriller that revels in palpable atmospherics and great performances… (read the full review)

Josh Slater Williams

The Grey (2)

#23: The Grey (46 points)
Written by Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
Directed by Joe Carnahan
USA, 2012

Where The Grey diverges from survival thrillers past is in its pronounced existentialist streak. Ottway and his fellow survivors (including Dermot Mulroney and Dallas Roberts) struggle with individual crises of faith (or lack thereof) while simultaneously battling the elements and their own failing bodies. Carnahan keeps a close watch of the film’s tone and intensity level throughout; long periods of pensive observation actually serve to ratchet up the tension, since the creatures have a tendency to emerge suddenly and viciously. What’s more, the more philosophically inclined portions of the film rarely feel heavy-handed or too highfalutin’ for the surrounding chaos; Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers’ carefully calibrated screenplay only throws out enough of these moments to lend a pleasing ambiguity to Ottway’s journey, making sure that the film works equally well as straight-up thrill ride as well as allegorically loaded fiction… (read the full review)

Simon Howell

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#22: Magic Mike (47 points)
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Reid Carolin
USA, 2012

When does Steven Soderbergh sleep? Is it possible that he stays awake all day long? How else to explain the inexplicable speed with which he makes movies? Last September, Soderbergh had the big-budget film Contagion open to decent box office and acclaim. This January, he released the excellent, gritty actioner Haywire. Now, he’s behind the camera for Magic Mike, a drama focusing on male strippers in Tampa, Florida, because why the hell not? Based in part on the life experiences of Channing Tatum, who stars in and co-produced the film, Magic Mike is surprisingly assured and entertaining – only if Steven Soderbergh cranking out another expertly made film qualifies as surprising… (read the full review)

Josh Spiegel

Oslo, August 31st

#21: Oslo, August 31st (47 points)
Written by Joachim Trier and Eskil Vogt
Directed by Joachim Trier
Norway, 2011

Oslo, August 31st is the second feature length effort from director Joachim Trier, after 2006’s Reprise, and the second cinematic adaptation of the novel Le feu follet by author Pierre Drieu La Rochelle. Known in most English language territories as The Fire Within, Louis Malle’s 1963 version is set in Paris, and follows a recovering alcoholic journeying from a rehabilitation clinic to the city one last time in order to visit friends and hopefully find a reason to keep on living. Trier’s Norwegian film transplants the action to that country’s capital, but also replaces the alcoholism angle with one concerned with drug addiction… (read the full review)

– Josh Slater-Williams

 PART ONE /  PART TWO / PART THREE / PART FOUR


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