Dienstag, 1. Januar 2013

My Top 10 Movies of 2012

Honorable Mentions (cinematic highlights from movies that did NOT make it to the top of my list):

The cinematography of "Lore" / "白鹿原 (White Deer Plain)" / "Wuthering Heights"
The action sequence "Tsunami" from "The Impossible" / "Manila chase" from "The Bourne Legacy"
The screenplay of "Dans la maison" / "Electrick Children" / "Margaret"

The production design of "Prometheus"
The costume design of "Anna Karenina"
The film music of "Chico & Rita"
The opening sequence of "Holy Motors"

The performance by Ann Dowd as "Sandra" in "Compliance" / Rebel Wilson as "Fat Amy" in "Pitch Perfect" / Charlize Theron as "Mavis" in "Young Adult"
The musical number "Tap Dancing to the Top"  from "The Artist" / "The Sambola! International Dance Craze" from "Damsels in Distress" 
The onscreen couple 楊千樺 & 余文樂 in "春嬌與志明 (Love in the Buff)" / Marion Cotillard & Matthias Schoenaerts in "De rouille et d'os" / Uhm Tae-woong & Han Ga-in; Lee Je-hoon & Bae Suzy in "건축학개론 (Architecture 101)" 

Runners-up (all-around solid movies just missing my top 10), in alphabetical order:

1. "Alps"
2. "Barbara"
3. "觀音山 (Buddha Mountain)"
4. "The Dark Knight Rises"
5. "Hugo"

6. "Looper"
7. "On the Road"
8. "ParaNorman" 
9. "Silver Linings Playbook" 
10. "Skyfall"

And finally, the cream of the crop- out of the 202 movies I saw in 2012 (a personal record!), these are my favorite 10, in alphabetical order:

1. "Amour" (dir. Michael Haneke)

With his trademark austerity and frightening repose, writer/director Michael Haneke created this chamber piece about love and death that's serene, pristine, ruthlessly unsentimental and wrenchingly human. Despite its spacial confines, structural simplicity and thematic universality, this movie is a towering achievement in filmmaking that engrosses, provokes and challenges with quiet authoirty throughout. Emmanuelle Riva's portrayal of a dying pianist traces the cracks spreading across a placid surface and taking over a failing mind with utmost precision and dignity; the pairing of her and fellow acting legend Jean-Louis Trintignant is the stuff film classics are made of. 

2. "Beasts of the Southern Wild" (dir. Benh Zeitlin)

Seen through the eyes of a tough and wise 6-year-old, the dangerous, menacing wetland of the American deep south could look so teeming with life and wonder. Played with dazzling fierceness by Quvenzhané Wallis and captured with endless tenderness by debut director Benh Zeitlin, Hushpuppy is cinema's unlikeliest heroine this year, in a movie that is a giant burst of energy and imagination that celebrates home, nature and our bond to the world with such abandon it wants you to hear, smell, feel everything- and it did just that. Sensational in every sense of the word. 

3. "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" (dir. John Madden)

With John Madden's muted direction and a dutifully by-the-numbers screenplay, this could have been a run-of-the-mill, harmlessly sweet, fish-out-of-water comedy for the elderly. With an ensemble cast from heaven including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson and Penelope Wilton, however, it was turned into cinematic gold. Watching such a superb group of actors at the top of their game act, react and interact with one another, by turns playfully and gracefully, expressing every nuance on the spectrum of human emotions in the process, is to witness a masterclass in performance and the experience is undeniably moving and inexplicably purging.         

4. "The Cabin in the Woods" (dir. Drew Goddard)

Unabashedly genre and outrageously fun, director Drew Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon used their wicked bloodlust and grisly humor to cook up a story that pays hommage to its horror roots and yet yanks up those roots with a twist that's clever, original and just so delicious. While the production value and the acting may not be top-notch, this movie follows its evil masterplan like a well-oiled, slightly crazed machine with deadly efficiency and a cheeky grin. When the tides turn in the third act, literally all hell breaks loose and the ensuing mayhem is a spectacle that's hard to forget. 

5. "Cloud Atlas" (dir. Lana & Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer)

A whiff of new-agey pseudo-zen in its tone? Sure. Does not invite a second sit-through with its 3-hour running time? Probably. Still, this fearless adaptation of David Mitchell's novel by the Wachowski Siblings and Tom Tykwer is the most audacious cinematic endeavor of the year, with a whopping scale that commands attention and demands admiration. The technical aspects of the film, from its epochs-and-genres hopping production design, rich sound and sweeping cinematography, to the smart editing that put all those narrative threads in place, are irreproachable, on top of which is the directors trio who mapped centuries of sorrow and longing and told a tale as old and brutal as time.

6. "In Another Country" (dir. Hong Sang-soo)

With comically broad and brazenly simple strokes, writer/director Hong Sang-soo crafted three episodes of cross-cultural semi-romances with few showy moments and little resounding consequence. And yet these whimsical, strangely philosophical tales, in which a physically unvarnished and emotionally unguarded Isabelle Huppert gives splendid performances as three women stranded in a Korean village, spark with such wonderful spontaneity and a palpable joie de vivre they hook you right in and offer you a version of life scattered with symbols, parallels, repetitions and coincidences that's at once mystifying, invigorating and liberating- auteur cinema at its purest.     

7. "Life of Pi" (dir. Ang Lee)

Adapting Yann Martel's novel for the big screen proved to be too daunting for Hollywood until the incomparably chameleonic Ang Lee came on board. Under his direction, which breaks new grounds in the deployment of 3D technology without compromising the essence of this unlikely survival tale rooted deep in the inner workings of the mind, the movie became a magically immersive experience that overwhelms the senses and credibly questions the notions of faith, reason and storytelling. Some of the images lensed by cinematographer Claudio Miranda and enhanced by the FX-team are so otherworldly beautiful they, like the story itself, soar into mythical realms.         

8. "Oh Boy" (dir. Jan Ole Gerster)

The most delightfully chilled, casually melancholic 85 minutes at the cinema this year were to be had with Niko Fischer, a young guy on a 24-hour odyssey through Berlin searching for a purpose and a cup of coffee in writer/director Jan Ole Gerster's feature film debut. Drunken on a jazzy soundtrack and hazy with smoke and light scorched on brilliant b&w images, this movie scoops you up in its swinging steps and whispers in your ear the angst of not finding a place in life, the comical details of the anonymous everyday, the loneliness and occasional comfort offered by the immense city through an incisively observant script and remarkably varied performances from a cast led by Tom Schilling. The Berliner flair, captured here to a T, is to die for.  

9. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" (dir. Stephen Chbosky)

Of my top 10 selection this year, this is probably the least technically accomplished. The editing and cinematography leave something to be desired and let the fact that it's director Stephen Chbosky's first movie felt. However, Chbosky, who also wrote the original story and the script himself, unsurprisingly nailed the highly complex sense of struggle, elation, panic and confusion inherent to the passage from adolescence to adulthood and etched in his poignant words. Aided by Logan Lerman, who gave a heartbreaking performance as Charlie, he delivered numerous scenes that come from such an honest place they feel profound, timeless, true.      

10. "Tabu" (dir. Miguel Gomes)

This movie unfolds through digging up pieces of memory hidden in the heart of a dying woman and buried in the swamps of colonial Africa. What it uncovers is the age-old story of passion, forbidden love, secrets and betrayal, and yet it does that in such an intense, hypnotic cinematic language the exposed desire, pain and loss seem to melt like heated asphalt and burn right off the celluoid. Distinct in his grand, retro, romantic gestures and bold, poetic aesthetics, director Miguel Gomes made a deliberately paced, gorgeously shot and scored (or left silent) film that's full of contrasts, feverish recollections and earnest displays of emotions; watching it is like dreaming with your eyes open- submerged, surreal, sublime.

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