July 30, 2014

Film Picks: Top Ten in 2012

 

Topanga Messenger’s resident critic recalls what worked this past year.

Even with an extra day, 2012 seems like it went by at record speed. Then again it could be me. Much like casinos, movie theatres don’t have clocks, just show times.

Since the film studios were gracious enough to let me sublet their screening rooms for the past year, here is what I thought were the best films of 2012. Consider this list as CliffNotes for the upcoming award season.

1. Bernie—How could this not be the best film this year? Director Richard Linklater transformed what would be an uninspired "Unsolved Mysteries" clip into one that’s utterly intriguing. Jack Black plays Bernie Tiede, a real life Carthage mortician, who, after befriending Marjorie Nugent, murders her in cold blood and is currently serving life in prison. Thought provoking, dark and oddly comedic, Bernie simply kills it.

Film Picks: Top Ten in 2012

2. Lincoln—The pieces are all there with Spielberg at the helm and arguably this generation’s greatest actor (Daniel Day-Lewis) playing one of the most iconic men of all time. Spielberg gives us a little bit of everything with battlefields and biographical portrait but ultimately delivers on something more abstract: how an idea evolves into law, the transformation of the subjective to the objective. At 65, the director is still at the height of his powers.

3. The Avengers—Initially I had Chris Nolan and Batman winning the cold war between DC and Marvel Comics. Upon further review (meaning watching the films on infinite repeat), there is no Pepsi/Coke debate as both films accomplish different objectives. Joss Whedon has created the ultimate comic book movie that captures the spirit of the source material.

4. The Master—Knotty and dense does not even begin to describe Paul Thomas Anderson’s character study. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s take (winkingly) on L. Ron Hubbard was the initial attention grabber but Joaquin Phoenix is completely unhinged as an overzealous cult member. Definite food for thought.

5. Searching For Sugar Man—Malik Bendjelloul’s documentary, Searching For Sugar Man, draws a line in the sand, separating art and commerce with the artist, only known as Rodriguez, standing firmly in the middle while gaining absolutely nothing. Keeping consistent with Rodriguez’s unfortunate luck of a-day-late-and-a-dollar- short, the artist was never made aware of his rise on the continent or rewarded with any semblance of royalties. Very rarely are the prince and the pauper the same person. Easily one of the best rock documentaries ever and certainly one of the best this year.

6. The Sessions—Culled from autobiographical essays and poetry, writer/ director Ben Lewin tells the story of Mark O’Brien, a San Francisco artist, who after thirty-plus years in an iron lung, becomes motivated more than ever to lose his virginity before he passes his “sell by” date. There are films and then there are labors of love. The Sessions happens to be both.

7. Argo—Remember when everyone thought that Ben Affleck was washed up after Gigli? Yeah, me neither. The director follows up The Town, with the far superior Argo. Combining political thriller, action, satire and kinetic dialogue, Affleck shows he’s an ardent student of cinema.

Film Picks: Top Ten in 2012

8. The Dark Knight Rises—Just so we’re perfectly clear, this film is not The Dark Knight 2.0. That film was about escalation, ethics, and sacrifice and, of course, the Joker. Director Chris Nolan will never be cheery, but The Dark Knight Rises is an interesting meditation on absolution and identity.

9. Side By Side—If the devil is in the details, then Mephistopheles has changed his name to “digital,” depending on who you talk to. Christopher Kenneally’s Side by Side is a thoroughly engaging and thought provoking look at the state of cinema now and everything leading up to this moment. So many critics (including myself) focus so heavily on plot, character development and artistic merit that it’s occasionally forgotten how the message is transported, i.e., through the film itself.

10. ChronicleChronicle gave a realistic look at the repercussions one would risk if they somehow actually acquired superpowers. This film came out in the midst of last season’s Oscar season so no one really saw it. Down the road, this film will be considered a cinematic game changer. n

J.P. Spence is a film critic for the Topanga Messenger. He previously served as Editor in Chief for the Los Angeles Valley Star, where under his tenure the paper received the prestigious JACC Pacesetter Award. Spence is a five time JACC award winner and currently has his own website, wallamonger.com.