Somewhat unsurprisingly, Cannes dominated 2012, handing Michael Haneke a well-deserved second Palme d’Or and sending several other near-masterpieces scrambling for distribution and spiralling to the various corners of the world. Documentaries also had a terrific stint, with two works of genius landing in the top 6. Here are my thoughts on a year that started weak, ended strong, and had plenty to offer in between.
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Berberian Sound Studio, Blancanieves, Ernest & Celestine, The Gatekeepers, The Hunt, It’s Such a Beautiful Day, Leviathan, Like Someone in Love, Museum Hours, Sister, Spring Breakers, Tabu, Wadjda, West of Memphis, Zero Dark Thirty
Top 10 Films
10. Oslo, August 31st
“Proust is Proust.”
My review of Oslo, August 31st, coming soon.
7. Beyond the Hills
“She won’t be coming back.” “To me, democracy seems fun. A happy product, if you put it that way.” “The man who leaves and the man who comes back are not the same.”
My review of Barbara, coming soon.
My review of No, here.
My review of Beyond the Hills, here.
6. Stories We Tell
5. The Act of Killing
4. Frances Ha
“I’m really glad she found someone.” “In all this darkness, it’s like we’re living at the end of the world.” “It’s that thing when you’re with someone…you love them. That is your person in this life.”
A seemingly conventional documentary about director Sarah Polley’s relationship to her mother, who passed away when Polley was 11, Stories We Tell is otherwise revolutionary in its structure and method. Launching us far beyond navel-gazing or the throes of another self-interested memoir, the film’s take on the shifting boundaries between truth and fiction, memory and reality, are stunning in their implications. More than once, Polley lays out false expectations before revealing a starkly different true hand. Polley’s story of fathers, sisters, and brothers is fascinating for its peculiarity, but the alliances and rivalries are equally compelling because of their familiar ring.
In terms of formal and moral risks, The Act of Killing is without equal in 2012. The experience of watching proud paramilitary soldiers reenact the torture and murder of thousands of Indonesians in the mid-1960s is surreal, causing unfathomable and layered responses ranging from horror and nausea to laughter. The brave choice to give the killers, who are still in power, free reign to recount their history as they would like to remember it walks a fine line between accepting them and giving them a rope to hang themselves. Because of the aging thugs’ delusion about their wrongful acts, this bizarre and unforgettable film comes out the other side looking like legitimate art.
In Frances Ha, the dialogue, soundtrack, and performances sparkle with an effortless glow. A film about the glories and pitfalls of female friendship (of which type there is never enough), about chasing your dreams, about getting lost, about the wonders of Manhattan, Noah Baumbach’s second triumph after The Squid and the Whale is also radically dissimilar: quirky, funny, shot in gorgeous black-and-white, with a central character in Frances that is as insanely lovable as Bernard Berkman is unlikable. Part of the credit must go to Greta Gerwig, and at least part of me thinks I fell so hard because I’m a young person who believes in the idea of doing creative things for no money, but this Modern Love-themed tribute to dancing and Woody Allen is one of the highlights of the year.
3. Moonrise Kingdom
2. Holy Motors
“We’re in love. We just want to be together. What’s wrong with that?” “Beauty? They say it’s in the eye, the eye of the beholder.” “Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over.“
On the surface, Wes Anderson’s sixth feature doesn’t seem much different from his previous five. The toy-chest mise-en-scène, the storybook colours, the immaculate visual gags, the deadpan line readings are all there, yet the Anderson brand of whimsy has never been put to such beautifully resonant use, with Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) finding refuge in each other’s arms as they find a world beyond their troubled childhoods. Moonrise Kingdom may be one of Anderson’s more overtly optimistic films, but it’s almost surprisingly emotional, undeniably memorable (“I’m going to find a tree to chop down”), and absolutely delightful.
On one level, Holy Motors is a gonzo sketchbook of cinematic flourishes, a wildly episodic meta movie-movie that abounds in references to past films of director Leos Carax, a grand revel in excess that’s inclusive of every genre and kind of set piece. Denis Lavant’s mutation of actor and therapist literally races from one incarnation to the next. But there’s also an unshakable despair that lingers beneath the inventiveness. Performers you think you know, such as Kylie Minogue or Eva Mendes, are reborn under Carax’s transformative gaze. Even so, Holy Motors belongs to Lavant, in a staggering performance, as a man who’s opaque, complicated, unfettered, and altogether unknowable.
My review of Amour, here.
A & S Year-End Awards
Picture: Margaret Ménégoz, Stefan Arndt, Veit Heiduschka, and Michael Katz, “Amour” (runner-up: Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, and Jeremy Dawson, “Moonrise Kingdom”)
Director: Michael Haneke, “Amour” (runner-up: Leos Carax, “Holy Motors”)
Actor: Denis Lavant, “Holy Motors” (runner-up: Jean-Louis Trintignant, “Amour”)
Actress: Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour” (runner-up: Greta Gerwig, “Frances Ha”)
Supporting Actor: James Franco, “Spring Breakers” (runner-up: Matthew McConaughey, “Killer Joe”)
Supporting Actress: Mickey Sumner, “Frances Ha” (runner-up: Isabelle Huppert, “Amour”)
Original Screenplay: Wes Anderson, “Moonrise Kingdom” (runner-up: Michael Haneke, “Amour”)
Adapted Screenplay: Cristian Mungiu, “Beyond the Hills” (runner-up: N/A)
Editing: Nelly Quettier, “Holy Motors” (runner-up: Andrew Weisblum, “Moonrise Kingdom”)
Cinematography: Robert Yeoman, “Moonrise Kingdom” (runner-up: Darius Khondji, “Amour”)
Score or Soundtrack: Alexandre Desplat, “Moonrise Kingdom” (runner-up: Michael Brook, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”)
Foreign Language Film: Leos Carax, “Holy Motors” (runner-up: Cristian Mungiu, “Beyond the Hills”)
Documentary: Joshua Oppenheimer, “The Act of Killing” (runners-up: Sarah Polley, “Stories We Tell”; Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, “Leviathan”)
Most Promising Filmmaker: Joshua Oppenheimer, “The Act of Killing” (runner-up: Benh Zeitlin, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”)
Breakout Performance: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Smashed” (runner-up: Aubrey Plaza, “Safety Not Guaranteed”)
Spotlight Award: Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, “Moonrise Kingdom” (runner-up: Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, “Beyond the Hills”)
2013 Most Anticipated
2013 brings the return of the Coen brothers, Jim Jarmusch, and Hiyao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”), as well as the culmination of Richard Linklater’s “Before” trilogy, a tech romance from Spike Jonze in “Her,” Asghar Farhadi’s sophomore follow-up to “A Separation,” and new works from Alexander Payne and Steve McQueen.
Two out-of-left-field possibilities are “Upstream Color” from Shane Carruth (“Primer”) and “Under the Skin” from Jonathan Glazer (“Birth”). The former is a sci-fi otherwise beyond description; the latter is a philosophical vampire tale (no, not “Only Lovers Left Alive”) starring Scarlett Johansson. At the very least, both promise to be visually stunning.