The Weinstein Company

The 25 Best Films of 2012
The 25 Best Films of 2012

20

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Benh Zeitlin makes an assured feature debut with Beasts of the Southern Wild, a dreamy parable set in a remote bayou in the South, called the Bathtub, whose existence is threatened by rising swamp waters. The movie evokes the nightmares of Hurricane Katrina, depicting a marginalized community that clings to its pride, and dwellings, before a forced evacuation. The feverish imagination and spunk of the main protagonist, a six-year-old girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who narrates the movie, give it much of its hallucinatory energy, as she attempts to listen to chickens speaking in code, and burns down her shack trying to cook. Brought up by a father who’s often absent, and later ill, Hushpuppy must learn not only to survive, but to endure. Her rebellious streak, and the wondrous furry behemoths she imagines—drawing on Zeitlin’s background as an animator—recall Pan’s Labyrinth. But where Guillermo de Toro fled into fantasy, alluding to the afterlife, Zeitlin remains more bracingly earthbound: Hushpuppy’s taming of the “beasts” manifests her will to overcome her pained childhood. And even though some of the problems, particularly alcoholism, are rather thickly drawn, the movie sustains its tension with rapturous, intimate cinematography and a lyrical, offbeat tone.  Ela Bittencourt

The 25 Best Films of 2012

19

Gil Walk // All Day

Like any true descendant of Buster Keaton, the Girl (Anne Marsen) wears discomfort badly. She enters a stiff ballet class in the early moments of Jacob Krupnick’s rapturous Girl Walk // All Day and her young dancer’s face instantly expresses a recognizable awkwardness when asked to perform “graceful” movements. Then, something magical happens: her insecurity breeds inspiration, the black-and-white visuals immediately colorize, the banal ambient soundtrack is overwhelmed by a tidal wave of mash-ups, and the Girl starts dancing to her own primitive beat. As she and two other grooving archetypes dance their way through the busy New York City streets, they use landscape and location to propel themselves forward, backward, upward, and downward toward some unknowable goal. It’s as if their mere presence turns everyday life into a playful block party. On the surface, Kurpnick’s nearly dialogue-less film could be labeled as a feature-length music video for Girl Talk’s All Day. But it’s so much more. By engaging the world at large with different art forms in such a seamless, joyous, and publicly improvisational way, Girl Walk // All Day becomes a musical of the people, by the people, for the people, a new kind of city symphony.  Heath

The 25 Best Films of 2012

18

Killer Joe

It opens (more or less) on a close-up of Gina Gershon’s pubic hair—or some stunt bush, maybe—and only gets odder from there. William Friedkin’s second team-up with playwright Tracy Letts, following 2006’s remarkable potboiler Bug, proves just as fruitful a collaboration. Starring Emile Hirsch as a pudgy fuck-up plotting to off his own ma for the insurance money, then leveraging his teenage sister (Juno Temple) as payment to the contracted hitman (Matthew McConaughey), Killer Joe is a richly realized piece of deep-fried Americana, as scary and shocking as it is darkly funny. Its more notable provocations, including a climactic home invasion that sees McConaughey’s Joe Cooper making resourceful use of a fried chicken drumstick, may eclipse its milder menace. But Friedkin has crafted a warts-and-all trailer-park gothic vision of America’s backslide into toe-headed avarice. In a year that saw the actor wresting free from his middling rom-com shackles, Killer Joe’s the gem in the crown of the 2012 McConaughey renaissance, for sure. It’s impossible to imagine anyone but the courtly, menacing McConaughey playing the part. And you’ll never hear Clarence Carter’s “Strokin’” the same way again.  Semley

The 25 Best Films of 2012

17

How to Survive a Plague

David France chronicled the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic writing for gay magazines in the 1980s, when mainstream press ignored the “plague.” Years later, the former Newsweek senior editor, reporter, and nonfiction author amassed 700 hours of amateur camcorder footage from the period that, after being pared down to two hours, resulted in an intimate, often heartbreaking, look at New York’s gay community at the time of crisis—increasingly embittered about how little was being done, divisive and decimated by mounting deaths. While feature films like And the Band Played On portrayed gay activists as backdrop for bureaucratic squabbles and moral quandaries of straight politicians and epidemiologists, How to Survive a Plague sets the record straight: no one on Capitol Hill handed down salvation; it was fought for, fiercely, as ACT UP and other activists faced down bigoted politicians, government agencies, and pharmaceutical giants, with demonstrations, sit-ins, and boycotts. By offering us a glimpse into the activists’ public actions, taking us behind the scenes at their meetings, and mixing in intimate footage, of home and hospital visits, and frank “then” and “now” interviews, detailing stories of coming out and illness, France delivers a haunting time capsule that captures survival and hope as much as it does despair.  Bittencourt

The 25 Best Films of 2012

16

Lincoln

In hindsight, it seems inevitable that one of cinema’s most commercially successful directors would mount a portrait of one American history’s most exalted figures, each both revered and hated and beholden to satisfying the masses within a narrow and unforgiving range of expectations. Lincoln is Steven Spielberg’s most restrained film in decades, favoring process over action and completely sans score for long stretches, reliant instead on the rhythms of language fraught with moral inquiry and political struggle. Janusz Kamiński’s classically styled yet very much present-tense lighting schemes suggest a series of daguerreotypes, and, as propelled by Daniel Day-Lewis’s mountainous turn as the United States’ 16th president, Lincoln details a remarkable man’s struggle against intense conflict and ambiguous motivations amid his own personal grief. Tony Kushner’s inquisitive screenplay doesn’t need to emphasize paralleling trends in history to make its points known, among them the suggestion that it may be the intrinsically problematic yet necessary duty of a man clothed in immense power at the crossroads of history to manipulate the system for the good of the people, even when it’s against the wishes of said people and at their own personal risk.  Rob Humanick

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