*Note: The following is part of the continuing "10 FOR 10" series in celebration of ten years of Jeremy The Critic, in which my choices for the top 10 films of each year from 2006-2015 are revealed. Just a reminder that movies must have a U.S. release date of that particular year in order to qualify.
It's back. After going on a mini-hiatus while I focused on the Academy Awards, the second half of 10 for 10 project resumes with 2012, and as you can tell by how the list below turned out, it's definitely a turning point. The two films I expected would have the strongest showings (Silver Linings Playbook and Looper) didn't chart nearly that high. In the case of the former, it seems to continue a trend that's been developing since this series began. The films with the most substance and don't have any edges shaved in order to commercially entertain are looming larger in my mind the further way from their release date they get.
As for Looper, you could say this continues another trend of sci-fi cracking the top ten without really breaking through to the top tier. It's entirely possible we make it to 2015 without either a romantic comedy or sci-fi entry in the number one position. But on the off-shot it does occur, I'll at least know it's of a special breed. This isn't to say these aforementioned films don't still represent high-water marks for their respective directors and wouldn't be a worthy top choice in any year.
2012 also marks the strongest showing yet for independent cinema, with a few lesser known titles like Compliance, Take This Waltz and, most surprisingly, the Canadian sci-fi mind-bender, Beyond The Black Rainbow (more known now thanks to its similarities to Netflix's Stranger Things) making a big, lasting impact. The former two came dangerously close to the top, with Waltz being the highest-ranked unreviewed film from any of these Top 10's so far, finally offering me the opportunity to praise a woefully overlooked effort containing Michelle Williams' greatest, yet still least seen, performance.
While it might be a cliche to call 2012 kind of a breakthrough year for actresses, it's impossible to ignore that three of the decade's finest lead performances, of any gender, reside on this list, with the first female-lead (and directed) picture nabbing the top spot. You'd think I'd be politicized out but Zero Dark Thirty is just that great and gripping, marking the rare time my number one identically matches most of the critical consensus. And those who think it's at all political are simply reading into something that thankfully isn't there. It's too smart for that. And what an ending.
Somehow, again, Paul Thomas Anderson makes a film that doesn't land in my top position, but boy did his odd and idiosyncratic pseudo-Scientology biopic The Master come close, only further bolstered by it featuring one the last (and career-defining) performances of a true acting master, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. And it still feels wrong and oddly unsettling typing the word "late" before his name, as if it hasn't completely sunk in.
Rounding out the rest are a somewhat underrated Best Picture winner in Argo and Tarantino squeezing his way in yet again with Django Unchained. My wildly unpopular opinion that The Dark Knight Rises is twice the film its predecessor is still holds, even as it barely cracks the list. A sure sign that the era of the superhero movie ended for me right then and there. With this much competition it really isn't a much of wonder why SLP and Looper couldn't hold on up top.
The depth of this year really becomes apparent when considering runners-up that barely missed, all of which could easily be plugged in at a second's notice. They include Searching For Sugar Man, Bernie, Moonrise Kingdom, Safety Not Guaranteed, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Rust and Bone, Life of Pi, The Imposter, Flight, Smashed, Skyfall, 21 Jump Street, Sound of My Voice, Haywire, Hit and Run and The Grey.
10. Django Unchained
"Whereas Inglourious Basterds mostly played it straight until its third act, morphing into an alternate history revenge fantasy flick, Django is a revenge fantasy through and through, from the opening credits onward. It's also a spaghetti Western, a blaxploitation picture and a buddy film.The biggest surprise is in how it starts as an action comedy not too far removed from something like Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid and slowly morphs into something darker, calling the country out on its own shamefully racist past as the title character steps up to take ownership of his own story. When analyzing Tarantino's films, the popular approach is always to compare them, not to other works, but his own, which is unusual considering how many influences and inspirations he incorporates. Maybe it's finally time to admit he's more original than we give him credit for." - 5/30/13
9. Beyond The Black Rainbow
"The basic plot of Beyond The Black Rainbow is easy to buy into if taken on its own twisted, psychedelic terms. Something about a crazed scientist named Dr. Barry Nyle (a creepy Michael Rogers) conducting experiments on a young telepathic girl, Elena, (Eva Allen) at a New Age research facility in 1984. And it's all beside the point amidst its avalanche of trippy visuals and existential dread. What can't be believed is that writer/director Panos Cosmatos made a film that looks this good on a budget this small and goes many steps further than merely setting it in 1984, but channeling the very year itself in its entire DNA. From the synths to the production design, nothing about it feels contemporary. There's such a thing as an "homage," and then there's what Cosmatos does here, transposing all his VHS cover childhood nightmares into a merciless concoction of mushroom-tripping originality. Most sci-fi feels the need to explain, looking silly as a result. This knows it job. Simply show and amaze, overloading your senses until your mind feels beaten into submission."
8. The Dark Knight Rises
"A palpable sense of fear and tension comes from sensing everything's up for grabs and anything can happen. And it mostly does. There seems to be no rules, but within that framework, Nolan still manages to create something structurally sound and airtight, free of filler and flaws. Nearly three hours breeze by without a minute wasted. Of course, there's no performance like Ledger's, but there shouldn't be. In fact, it wouldn't even fit here. What's delivered instead is a more ambitious threat both terrifyingly physical and deliberately planned, as well as two tour-de-force supporting turns that steal the film outright. The results on screen don't lie. But the real story isn't how much better this is than Nolan's previous Batman outings, or anything else in the genre. It's that it isn't even close." - 7/27/12
"It's almost too obvious to compare Affleck's creative transformation to Clooney's, so it might be more accurate to point out that he's simply completed his transformation into Ben Affleck, fulfilling (if not exceeding) his full potential as a director and actor. After this, the sky really seems to be the limit in terms of what he can do, having gone even a step further than Clooney in not only taking inspiration from the paranoid thrillers of the 70's, but actually setting one in that time period based on actual events. To call this his Syriana or Good Night, and Good Luck. wouldn't be far off, except it's better realized, taking what could have come off as a dry history lecture in lesser hands and molding and shaping it into suspenseful, first-class entertainment." - 12/9/12
"(Director Rian) Johnson has all the cards lined up so we accept (Willis) in the role immediately and without question. In one of the film's most thrilling sequence, we see a montage depicting the evolution from Young Joe into Old Joe and the events that eventually send him back to meet his younger self. It could have been such a mess, but it's done in under 10 minutes, visually mapped out with no dialogue. But the real turning point comes when the two Joes come face to face during a diner conversation. There's almost a father-son dynamic at work between them, as the older, more experienced Joe tries to lecture his younger counterpart, who he sees as really just a young punk who hasn't lived yet. Unfortunately, Old Joe's clock is running out and the only person truly in control of his destiny is sitting across the table from him." - 1/9/13
5. Silver Linings Playbook
4. Take This Waltz
"In not only asking audiences to examine why people cheat, but actually giving what amounts to an almost embarrassingly real and ugly concrete answer, writer/director Sarah Polley centers her story around a woman almost too clumsily unsure of herself to commit adultry and betray milquetoast husband Lou (a never better Seth Rogen). Cast completely against type, Michelle Williams constantly surprises as Margot, a flighty, carefree manic pixie whose inhibitions get stripped away as the script digs deeper, traveling down more introspective avenues than expected. It builds and simmers until she finally breaks, culminating in one of the most expertly staged and filmed sex scenes of the decade, as much of a tension release for viewers as it is for the characters. Often the fake stand-in for movie cities, Polley can actually claim the Toronto setting plays itself here, and beautifully. So does The Buggles' 1979 hit "Video Killed the Radio Star," reintroduced to the world with a melancholic resonance, subtly underlining the lengths we go to try to fix problems that don't exist anywhere but in ourselves."
"It's easy to come out of this blaming one character but nearly everyone on screen is somewhat responsible, or at least "compliant," in what transpires. And it's worth noting what it takes to end the ordeal, hinting that only someone completely removed from such a dire situation can objectively assess it. Zobel goes further still with an epilogue that asks the same big questions we do of the characters, concluding in a final scene that strangely reminded me of Fargo, conveying that the most deplorable crimes can seem that much worse when committed by small town people you see at the grocery store, go to church with or even get served by at your local fast-food restaurant. Compliance sparked a certain degree of outrage among a vocal minority who have seen it but not because they feel it couldn't happen. It's because they know it can, and did. Admitting that is tough, especially when the events could so easily involve any one of us." - 3/2/13
2. The Master
"There's this expectation that the film is building toward some kind of climactic showdown between the Dodd and Freddie, similar to the final violent bowling alley scene between Daniel Plainview and preacher Eli Sunday in There Will Be Blood. But this isn't that kind of a relationship, and the more we want to see Freddie break away and become Dodd's nemesis, the further PTA seems to tug in the opposite direction. The battle taking place is within themselves and it each needs the other to help fight it. The movie builds and builds before fading away into the distance, leaving the viewer to consider the possibility that some people just might be incapable of change, hardwired to sabotage their own happiness." - 9/29/12
1. Zero Dark Thirty
"At its core, this is about a woman who's beyond exceptional at her job, steadfastly refusing to take 'no' for an answer. Wherever there's red tape, she walks through it. When superiors are in her way, she plows right over them. Operating with an emotionless, laser-like focus and precision, it's impossible for anyone to deter her from her main objective: Finding and killing Osama Bin Laden. In many respects she's the most patriotic, inspirational protagonist we've seen on screen in some time, but Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow (again corroborating with Hurt Locker writer Mark Boal) won't let us get all warm and fuzzy about it. In fact, she hardly even gives us a moment to come up for air." - 1/31/13
My Top 10 Films of 2012
1. Zero Dark Thirty (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
2. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
3. Compliance (dir. Craig Zobel)
4. Take This Waltz (dir. Sarah Polley)
5. Silver Linings Playbook (dir. David O. Russell)
6. Looper (dir. Rian Johnson)
7. Argo (dir. Ben Affleck)
8. The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Christopher Nolan)
9. Beyond The Black Rainbow (dir. Panos Cosmatos)
10. Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino)