While most of our end of the year features were launched back in December, Patrick and I (Brandon) have held off on presenting our favorite films until now. Why? Well, since we don't get fancy press screenings, we waited until the last few big films of 2012 went into wide release, so that we could make the lists as complete as possible. Below you will find each of our individual lists, highlighting the best in this year's films from some wide releases you will likely recognize some low-key arthouse films that didn't quite get the same widespread recognition. After the jump, Patrick and I have each given our 20 favorite films of the year, with some write ups for the top ten and five, respectively.
1. The Master (review)
When I first saw The Master, I really wasn't expecting it to end up being my favorite film of the year. Sure, the film was fantastic, as all Paul Thomas Anderson entries are, but it didn't leave as immediately excited as some of his other work. Now, almost four months removed from its release, I can safely say that I loved the film. Joaquin Phoenix comes back with a triumphant performance, one that his past works can't measure up to. All the players involved give wholly invested performances, ranking among their best works. Paul Thomas Anderson provides another inventive screenplay, while John Greenwood's score is even more effective than the one written for There Will Be Blood. After five years without a new Paul Thomas Anderson film, The Master was the best possible way one of American cinema's best directors could make his return.
2. Holy Motors
Leos Carax hadn't made a feature length film in 13 years before Holy Motors was released. His last effort, Pola X, didn't leave me with the same positive feeling that the French auteur's previous work did. Taking this into account, there was some skepticism going into Holy Motors. Much like Anderson did with The Master, Carax leaves a huge impression with his return to feature film making. Dennis Lavant gets to truly show off his flexibility as an actor, playing a variety of different characters, each unique in an unmatched way. Between impersonations of homeless woman to the return of Mr. Merde (perviously seen in Carax's contribution to 2008's Tokyo!), Lavant gets to cover all the bases in Holy Motors. The film isn't as flashy as some of its advertisements might insinuate, but the film is absolutely mesmerizing nonetheless.
3. Keep The Lights On
Ira Sachs had never done much for me before Keep The Lights On. His two preceding films left me cold and unimpressed. With Keep The Lights On, Sachs finally accomplishes what he seems to have been attempting for the last eight years; the director made a touching, affecting, and original love story. As a relatively unknown actor before Keep The Lights On, Thure Lindhardt gives one of the strongest male performances of the year. The film might not have made the same impression on me without his contribution, but the chemistry between Lindhardt and his co-star Zachary Booth was outstanding. From the intimate moments of their relationship to the destructive turmoil it passes through, these two actors take Keep The Lights On to an otherwise unreachable height.
4. Smashed (review)
Smashed was by far, no contest, my favorite film coming out of the Toronto International Film Festival. Boasting talents like Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally in the supporting roles, I didn't expect Smashed to be as serious as it was. While the film still blends some fantastic comedy with its serious subject matter, the film is a lot darker than one might assume. Mary Elizabeth Winstead gives the most overlooked performance of the year: one that, in a just industry, should have garnered her some awards attention. Smashed is a film that will hit very close for many, exposing the harsh truths of sobriety and the toll alcohol can take on your life, in a way not as preachy of other films that have tackled alcoholism taken, and that's where its true recognition should lie.
5. The Loneliest Planet
The Loneliest Planet is an absolutely stunning piece of film. Taking full advantage of the beautiful Georgian scenery, every shot is something to marvel at. The glacial pace at which the film moves may be off putting to some viewers, but the film certainly stuck with me quite a bit. In between the gorgeous cinematography, there is a simple, yet scathing story of love and trust happening. While the story doesn't develop in a way too unique or dissimilar to other films, Julia Loktev throws in enough creativity to satiate her viewers, making The Loneliest Planet a triumph in both visual beauty and story telling.
6. Laurence Anyways
I can't say I am a huge fan of French-Canadian Xavier Dolan's previous work. While I appreciate all the 23 year old director has accomplished already, his two previous efforts felt too much like a competition of style over substance. Enter his third film, a near three hour dramatic epic about the titular character's journey after revealing himself to be transgendered, spanning the late 1980's to early 1990's. The film deals with many important LGBT issues, including alienation, prejudice, acceptance, as well as the proclaimed "impossible love" between the film's central characters. Taking himself away from the front of the camera has led to Dolan crafting his masterpiece, a film where the director can finally balance story telling with his knack for style. Xavier Dolan has proven with Laurence Anyways that he is one of Canada's most visionary young talents.
Ursula Meier's sophomore feature film cements her as one of the premier directors in French language cinema. Her debut feature, Home, showed much of the directors promise in a wacky and schizophrenic drama. Sister shows Meier fully capturing here ability. The film has a splendid twist, one of the few experiences this year where the reveal doesn't feel significantly obvious. The young Kacey Mottet Klein proves that he is an actor to look out for, as his turn in Sister is one of the biggest surprises of the year. The film was unable to make the jump from the shortlist to a full fledged nominee for Best Foreign Language film at this year's Academy Awards, but don't let that turn you off from one of the year's best, but most underseen, films.
8. Amour (review)
There's not a lot left to say about Amour that I didn't already cover in my recent review. Michael Haneke has made his most difficult film yet, dealing with an elderly couple and the health struggles that come with old age. The film is terrifying in a way like nothing else this year, while also being able to capture some of the tenderness suggested in its title. Amour proved to be something of a surprise hit with this year's Oscar nominations, so you don't just have to bank on my word when watching the film.
9. Rust and Bone (review)
Another one that I only recently got around to watching and reviewing, my feelings on Rust and Bone have softened a bit since I first watched it. I still hold Marion Cottilard and Matthias Schoenaerts' performances with high regard, as well as the film itself, but the lasting impact hasn't been as strong. Regardless, Rust and Bone is one of the better straight forward (I use this term lightly) love stories of the year.
10. Beasts of the Southern Wild (review)
Like Rust and Bone, my feelings on Beasts of the Southern Wild haven't stayed as solid since I first saw it. Quvenzhané Wallis is the most promising child actor in years, while her co-star Dwight Henry gives something of a special performance as well. Behn Zeitlan's Terrence Malick-esque debut is stunning in its own right, and certainly a must see film from 2012. Whether the director will go on to replicate this success in future films is yet to be seen, but Beasts of the Southern Wild is the most impressive debut of 2012.
11. The Kid with a Bike
12. Magic Mike (review)
13. Django Unchained (review)
14. Take This Waltz
15. Moonrise Kingdom
16. Oslo, August 31st
17. ParaNorman (review)
18. Zero Dark Thirty (review)
19. This Is 40 (review)
20. Killer Joe
While this year had no shortage of fantastic movies, I did feel slightly bummed out due to the fact that many of them passed my radar due to my region not being known for its wealth of indie cinemas. Movies like Smashed and Rust and Bone that apparently everyone, Brandon included, saw and loved, weren't available in my area. So while I feel I saw and loved more than your average movie-goer, a lot of these were viewed with the help of Netflix at home.
1. Zero Dark Thirty
I don't have words. I'm still reeling from this. Simply immaculate.
2. Django Unchained
What is there left to say about Django that hasn't been said? The cast - phenomenal; some of the year's best. The direction - perfect. The script - hilarious and dark. Is there anything Quentin Tarantino doesn't do to perfection? It seems unjust that Christoph Waltz received the lone performance Oscar nomination from Django as Jamie Foxx, Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson all turned in award-worthy performances. There were few movies this year as beautiful, dark and hilarious as this was - but you already know that by now.
3. Killing Them Softly (review)
I suppose you could make the same argument about Killing Them Softly as I did for Seven Psychopaths - that the last collaboration between the star and the director remained better than the new offering. That being said, Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt crafted one of the best movies of the last decade with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Expecting the same from Killing Them Softly would only leave you disappointed. However, the film itself stands as an incredibly good crime-drama, that flies by at a jarring speed, in a year ripe with drawn out thrillers. The performances from both Pitt and newcomer Scoot McNairy (who was also featured in Promised Land and Argo) were simply fantastic and the direction was beautiful, sleek and dreary.
4. Seven Psychopaths (review)
This would probably crack the top three if I could set aside the fact that I left somewhat disappointed that Seven Psychopaths didn't touch the previous collaboration between star Colin Farrell and director Martin McDonagh - 2008's In Bruges. That being said, Seven Psychopaths still manages to deliver a gut-achingly hilarious script with enough darkness and realness to remain from being a complete farce. An amazing turn from Sam Rockwell and another from Woody Harrelson that demanded more screen-time were by far two of the more interesting supporting performances of the year.
5. Your Sister's Sister
Perhaps this wouldn't be so high if I removed my bias for Lynn Shelton and the cast (Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, Rosemarie DeWitt and a cameo from Mike Birbiglia of Sleepwalk With Me). However, I simply can't do that. After loving the collaboration between Duplass and Shelton in the over-looked Humpday, I was eagerly anticipating this project. It managed to hurdle over the incredibly high bar I set for it. The entire cast delivered fantastic performances with not a single moment seeming fake. The often-simultaneous comedy and rawness of the film was brought to the screen perfectly by Shelton and I can't wait until any combination of those participating in this project work together again.
6. The Master
7. Safety Not Guaranteed (review)
9. Sleepwalk With Me
10. Moonrise Kingdom
11. Argo (review)
12. Promised Land
13. Lawless (review)
15. Looper (review)
16. This Is 40
17. Take This Waltz
18. Flight (review)
19. Celeste and Jesse Forever
20. Jeff, Who Lives At Home