Words: Rob DeStefano
Let the recollection begin! It’s that time of year when all film enthusiasts spend two months discussing the year’s best contributions, mainly as a means of distraction from the filth released into the January and February markets (e.g. Safe Haven). A few guidelines were followed for our twelve selections. One: Prometheus was not included since its colossal perfection would deflate the egos of the other picks. Two: A film cannot appear on the list more than once, so The Lucky One was dismissed since once was just not enough. Three: Finally, if a film received due praise in 2011, but was not released until 2012, it was excluded. For example, The Kid with a Bike and A Separation, despite being flawless movies, were left to reign over the 2011 lists. The following twelve choices are not arranged in a particular order, although the Part 2 grouping is considered superior to Part 1.
Paige: “Are you trying to make me diabetic or just fat?”
Log Line: Your son goes missing in Texas. Three years later, a totally deranged stranger in Spain says that he is your kid. You take him into your home, ignoring the discrepancy in age, ethnicity, eye color, speech, etc. This is the documentary of said story.
If this was a fictional film, it would be wholly unbelievable. But it’s not, and it’s not even a documentary with questionable veracity like 2010’s Exit Through the Gift Shop. It’s the mind-blowing account of a family’s extraordinary ability for denial and a man’s psychotic search for acceptance. This doc takes twists and turns along the way and even includes a wild dance sequence. Yes, completely unforgettable.
Damsels in Distress
Log Line: Violet leads her posse of elitists into the battle against the decaying moral and social standards at Seven Oaks College. Her methods include the implementation of good smelling soaps and an international dance craze.
I originally found writer/director Whit Stillman’s movies to be intellectually alienating, but this film caused me to reexamine the auteur’s filmography. This is only his fourth movie, despite having made his debut back in 1990 with the Oscar nominated Metropolitan. Though still retaining his sharp examination of societal collectives, Damsels in Distress is his – and the year’s – most humorous and witty film. This is partly made successful by his star Greta Gerwig. She’s built quite the indie resume, working with directors such as Jay and Mark Duplass, Noah Baumbach (ugh, Greenberg), and Ti West, but her role as Violet is far and away her best.
Log Line: A man rides his limo around Paris stopping for various appointments, each functioning as a different cinematic vignette.
There’s a trend of ridiculousness running through these selections so far, but Holy Motors leads the pack as the most bonkers film of 2012. In one particular segment, writer/director Leos Carax reprises the character Merde (French for “shit”) from his eponymous 2008 short film. In Holy Motors, Merde – sporting the same milky eye and leprechaun garb – puffs down cigarettes, gorges on flowers for lunch, and bites off Parisians’ fingers, all before kidnapping Eva Mendes (a non-speaking role and the best of her career). Crazy? Most definitely.
But Carax’s film is not without moments of tenderness. Kylie Minogue makes an appearance to sing about former lovers who have grown apart. We are given no insight into the characters’ past, yet the scene functions as one of the year’s most emotional reflections on romance.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Log Line: A six-year-old girl fights to save her sickly father and protect her bayou community from a natural disaster, which threatens to unleash an army of ancient beasts.
Despite some diverging critical reception (naysayers have deemed it exploitative), Beasts of the Southern Wild has been garnering nominations left and right this awards season. This is director Benh Zeitlin’s first feature film, but you would think he has been crafting them since Emmanuelle Riva began acting. The performance he achieves from the film’s star Quvenzhane Wallis – she was only five when she auditioned – is enough reason to seek this one out. But this isn’t just luck of the draw. Zeitlin masterfully ties his performances with the Louisiana community and adds to it a completely unique touch of fantasy. The result is a palpable sense of heart and being.
Take This Waltz
Log Line: A woman is torn between the complacent life she has with her husband and the hope for new passion with the man next door.
I naively believed that Sarah Polley’s career consisted of being molested by a wombat like creature, well her child technically, in that “grandiose” Splice. Rather, she’s one hell of a director. After gaining enough EXP points from 2006’s Away From Her, Polley wrote and directed her second film, an anti-romance story that chronicles a failing relationship, but unlike, for example, Blue Valentine, Take This Waltz is more concerned with examining universal ideas on life and love. Polley uses sharp dialogue (an unequivocally sexual conversation at a café) and striking imagery (a late night swim and a carnival ride known as The Scrambler) to make Margot’s battle with uncertainty and anxiousness feel both fresh and suspenseful. These are not decisions founded purely in aesthetics, but careful calculations toward expressing the film’s voice. This is a director to look out for.
Not Fade Away
Log line: Inspired by The Rolling Stones, a New Jersey teenager tries to make it as a rock and roll artist.
I’m a sucker for coming-of-age stories, especially when the backdrop is an often cold 1960’s suburbia, but this doesn’t undermine the successful product created by David Chase, the man responsible for The Sopranos. The film surprisingly takes on the daunting task of epitomizing the entire era by making references to the assassination of JFK, the birth of The Beatles, the counterculture, and the transformation of racial terminology, but Not Fade Away is most successful when it intimately focuses on Douglas, played perfectly by John Magaro. His character projects a simultaneous sense of stagnation and aging, textured by the dark corners of basement parties and cigarette breaks beneath a wintry sky. Chase creates something timeless here, a sense of nostalgia and youthfulness so rarely encapsulated with this level of vividness.
Return tomorrow for 12 for 2012: Part II.
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