Top 10 movies of 2012 critics' picks: Ken Eisner
In a year filled with nightmarish visions that went on for far too long, the movies did that too! There weren’t a lot of bloated monsters in my personal batch o’ faves, but those that did make it more or less matched their scale to appropriate ambitions. Intriguingly, the films by various Andersons and other well-known directors were not even their best works and might not stand out as much in another year. But they were right for this one. I put my list in alphabetical order because it looks nice.
In his U.S.-centric take on (mostly) true events following the Iranian Revolution in 1979, director-star Ben Affleck shows that it’s possible to have fun with both history and period-movie conventions. I mean, who doesn’t love bloopy ’70s typography?
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The wild things are found in this dreamy, fablelike tale of a small girl and the post-Katrina swamp in which she and a band of society’s rejects (and their animals) find themselves. Strikingly different from everything else out there.
Quentin Tarantino’s blaxploitation epic is an ungainly mess and doesn’t even allow its heroine the dignity of revealing why men are willing to fight and die for her. But it’s full of anger, actorly pleasures, and (of course) a beyond-hip soundtrack.
Skipping both sweep and sentiment, Steven Spielberg turned the last months of the American Civil War and its 16th president—played indelibly by Daniel Day-Lewis—into a taut courtroom drama concerning the end of slavery. (And how could Lincoln know it would lead to Django Unchained ?)
Paul Thomas Anderson featured fatally divided souls in There Will Be Blood, and here he pits both spellbinding Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix against each other as pure intellect (plus charisma) versus the lizard brain (plus homemade hooch). Jonny Greenwood’s sublime music helps nail down a tale that proved elusive to many viewers but still stuns with sheer celluloid artistry.
The self-enclosed worlds Wes Anderson created for Rushmore and The Darjeeling Limited were downright naturalistic compared to the storybook mannerisms of his small-town New England pageant set in the 1960s. But few movies gave more unexpected delight than this dollhouse filled with music courtesy a spectacular Benjamin Britten–derived score.
Not Fade Away
Sopranos creator David Chase takes a note-perfect trip back to the mid-’60s, when geeky guys first discovered that girls really would go for someone who could convincingly ride the rock ’n’ roll wave.
Searching for Sugar Man
This year’s killer doc was about a forgotten, putatively dead Detroit singer (Rodriguez, if you don’t know by now) whose lionization in apartheid-era South Africa eventually led to a career revival. Talk about the power of the camera!
This tiny Portuguese movie, shot in black and white and covering three time periods on two continents, reminds us what can be done with minimal resources, maximal imagination, and the right attitude.
Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow’s hunting–Osama bin Laden tale is an epic Rorschach test allowing all belief systems to be read into its unblinking depictions of state-sanctioned torture, violence, and personal obsession.