The Weinstein Company

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

5

The Master

Following There Will Be Blood, P.T. Anderson set his eyes once again to the American west for this defiantly odd consideration of man at once leashed and untamed. Pitting Joaquin Phoenix’s mangy, malevolent beast of impulse against Philip Seymour Hoffman’s silver-tongued monster-manipulator, Anderson quickly subverted expectations that his “Scientology movie” was mere furious exposé. In fact, the structured belief system scripted by Hoffman’s Lancaster Dodd remains purposefully ill-defined, allowing Anderson to freely and brilliantly ruminate on will, dominance, suggestion, and fanatical compliance. In The Master, Anderson’s most intense and unique masterpiece to date, control over others is a refracted image of one’s own instability and lack of self-control, repression of the rambunctious animal within. As Dodd’s would-be Cerberus, Phoenix’s Freddie Quells is ferocious and, yes, dangerous, but also wounded and abandoned, haunted by a simple image of grace and adoration: his gentle, redheaded lost love singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else But Me” softly to him. Dodd’s retort, a hair-raising climactic rendition of “(I’d Like to Get You on A) Slow Boat to China” underlines the heart of masculine conflict: that sad, long search for self-possession.  Chris Cabin

The 25 Best Films of 2012

4

The Kid with a Bike

Like all of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s profoundly humane films, The Kid with a Bike isn’t without its allegorical implications. It’s in the heartbreaking embrace Samantha (Cécile de France) gives 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) inside her car, a pieta of sorts that evokes the equally hungry bear hug forced on Gillian Anderson toward the end of Ursula Meier’s similarly themed Sister. It’s in Doret’s wild child, as viscerally single-minded as Igor, Rosetta, Bruno, and Lorna before him, pushing throughout the film a bike whose weight could be that of an enormous cross, a reminder of all that he’s inherited from a father he refuses to believe no longer wants him. And it’s finally in a frightening and heartbreaking scene that’s practically a test of the audience’s faith in matters that extend far beyond the spiritual: Having been doomed by fate to what would seem to be a life of trading hurt for hurt, Cyril falls from a tree and is seemingly resurrected from what looks like certain death, and in the sharpest cut to black we feel not only his life’s agony, but his relief at having been given a chance at rediscovering his essential goodness.  Ed Gonzalez

The 25 Best Films of 2012

3

The Deep Blue Sea

Terence Davies’s shattering film possesses an uncommonly rich understanding of how erotic obsession turns the boundary between past and present almost frighteningly porous. We meet Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz), the young wife of a High Court judge in 1950s England, right as her amour fou for a feckless former RAF pilot (Tom Hiddleston) drives her to suicide. She survives, but the memories of their affair’s halcyon early days (first seen as a bravura burst of ecstatic fragments) and torrid disintegration continually float to the surface—as seductive and fleeting as the rings of smoke wafting off Hester’s ever-present cigarette. The Deep Blue Sea refuses to deny either the naked desperation of her longing or the wreckage her decisions have left behind. (The Vermeer-ish lighting and painterly compositions in Hester’s lengthy scenes with Simon Russell Beale’s cuckolded husband remind us of the film’s origins in Terence Rattigan’s 1952 stage play while remaining sumptuously cinematic in execution.) In Weisz’s transcendent performance, however, we ultimately discover less a lost soul than a woman in the midst of rebirth. Davies honors her wrenching crucible, with an ending as elegant in its formal symmetry as it is profound in its emotional catharsis.  Matthew Connolly

The 25 Best Films of 2012

2

Holy Motors

It would be tempting to describe Holy Motors as a gonzo sketchbook of cinematic flourishes that Leos Carax wasn’t quite able to fit into prior projects—and the film is, indeed, a wildly episodic meta movie-movie that abounds in references to past Carax films as well as seemingly every other movie ever made. On one level, this is a grand revel in unfettered excess that’s inclusive of every genre, every kind of set piece, and seemingly every living performer. But there’s also an unshakable despair that lingers underneath the inventiveness. Denis Levant’s strange mutation of actor and therapist at times literally races from one incarnation to the next in an effort to keep loneliness from finding him, an aspiration, that’s revealed, in the daringly slow final third, as a fool’s errand. There are moments in the film that are painfully sensual in their evocation of elemental yearning, and performers you think you know, such as Eva Mendes or Kylie Minogue, are reborn under Carax’s transformative gaze. But Holy Motors belongs to Levant, in a staggering performance, as a man who’s at once transparent and opaque, complicated and unfettered, and, like all of us, altogether unknowable.  Chuck Bowen

The 25 Best Films of 2012

1

This Is Not a Film

The year saw its share of cinematic love letters, evincing their creators’ throbbing, all-consuming passion for film, but how many risked as much as Jafar Panahi? How many were as formally and expressively ingenious under such enclosed circumstances? Trapped under house arrest, legally prohibited from creating, the persecuted Iranian director brazenly flouted his sentence, assembling a virtuoso masterwork inside his own apartment, sneaking the footage out of the country on a flash drive hidden inside of a cake. With a cast comprised of Panahi himself, fellow director Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, a garbage collector, and an iguana, This Is Not a Film is the work of a man wryly shaking the bars of his cage—staging scenes from prospective films he’s been barred from shooting, reliving moments from his oeuvre, capturing glimpses of the protest and celebration going on just outside his purview. Continuing his habit of tying fiction and reality into an indistinguishable knot, Panahi produces a movie that makes the most of the man’s restricted circumstances, ending with a beautiful finale that feels almost too perfect to be real.  Jesse Cataldo

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