2012 Movies: the cream and the crap

Cult’s film critics add to the glut of year-end lists (you know you love them) with our takes on the best films, honourable mentions, most underrated films, guiltiest pleasures and biggest stinkers of 2012.

Cult MTL’s film critics add to the glut of year-end lists (you know you love them) with our takes on the best films, honourable mentions, most underrated films, guiltiest pleasures and biggest stinkers of 2012.


Stories We Tell


Best film: This was a great year for documentary. More specifically, some of the best movies blurred the line between reality and fiction.

Press screenings are an apathetic affair. It’s 10 a.m., and there are about five zombie-like critics in the theatre. No one laughs at jokes; no one flinches during scary parts. Which is why I was surprised when the lights came up after Stories We Tell. I looked around to see the other journalists staying for the credits and wiping their eyes. Sarah Polley’s poignant documentary packs an emotional punch, strong enough to hit even us jaded journos. It’s also a beautiful reflection on the creation of narrative, both as a filmmaker and in our personal lives.

Honourable mentions: Other wonderful documentaries this year were Jiro Dreams of Sushi and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. My favourite fiction features of the year also played with realism. Bernie mixes actors with “real” people, while Beasts of the Southern Wild stars non-actors who often improvised. Similarly, movies that deserve a bigger audience than they’ve had include two documentaries, People of a Feather and Bombay Beach, and a spare fiction feature, Las Acacias.

Biggest stinker(s): Alas, some movies actually seemed to turn this critic into a zombie. I found the highly praised The Sessions and Safety Not Guaranteed incredibly boring and overrated. I also found Life of Pi stunning to look at but soulless. But the movies I found the most painful to sit through, if still fun to dissect in writing, were Martin Villeneuve’s local sci-fi fable Mars et Avril — again, visually beautiful but completely vacuous — and Jesus Henry Christ, an indie-aesthetic copycat that’s the definition of trying too hard. It’s the metaphorical equivalent of Wes Anderson’s vomit. (As an aside, Moonrise Kingdom was another fun movie this year.)



Best film: The most obvious choice for top film of the year is The Master. Although it does taper off a bit towards the end, the first hour or so is solidly in masterpiece territory, and the performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and (especially) Joaquin Phoenix are amazing. But probably my personal favourite film to screen in town this year was Tristan Patterson’s powerful, poetic doc Dragonslayer — although it only sketchily qualifies as a 2012 release, having screened at FNC last year and (shamefully) only getting a one-off screening this year (courtesy of the PHI Centre) instead of a proper release. Cheers to PHI, jeers to local programmers who wimped out (you know who you are). Film fans, don’t let this one fly under your radar.

Honourable mentions: As of this writing, local filmmaker Kim Nguyen’s War Witch (Rebelle) has been shortlisted for the best foreign film Oscar. However far it gets in that race, Nguyen’s harsh but humanistic story of an African child soldier deserves all its praise. Leos Carax’s Holy Motors was an anarchic fable in the finest surrealist tradition. I’d given up on Wes Anderson after Darjeeling Limited, but Moonrise Kingdom reminded me that his twee sensibility actually works quite well in a coming-of-age story.

Guiltiest pleasures: While no one’s idea of a masterpiece, Deadfall was a sharp, well-acted ensemble thriller (complete with snowmobile chase scene!). And never mind the time-travel-logic haters, Looper was Hollywood spectacle done right.

Most underrated: I feared that Whit Stillman’s comeback, Damsels in Distress, might not get the props it deserved in these dumbed-down times, but it was actually called the worst film of the year recently on some other critic’s list. Come on. Really attractive people spouting ridiculously arch and arcane dialogue, what’s not to like?

Biggest stinker(s): Another toss-up, this time between pointless remakes. The Total Recall reboot was a complete waste of time and money even by Hollywood standards. But the English remake of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher was somehow even more offensive. Warmed-over Tarantino is one thing, but warmed-over Guy Ritchie? Bitch, please.


Ruby Sparks


Arguably, the best films of 2012 are coming out between now and January, so maybe we ain’t seen nothing yet. However, I am already a little disappointed and I blame it on Drive and Shame, which set the bar pretty high in 2011.

Best film: On the bright side, I guess you could say 2012 was the year of the indie rom-com. My favourite movie was Ruby Sparks, the story of a writer (Paul Dano) who literally writes up his dream girl (Zoe Kazan) and creates an impossible, magical relationship with her. With an underrated performance by Dano and a fresh script by Kazan, Ruby Sparks was the most thought-provoking film of the year, worthy of being compared to the now iconic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Honourable mentions: A close runner-up would be Moonrise Kingdom, a typical Wes Anderson fairytale about star-crossed pre-teen lovers who flee their home and scout camp, respectively, to be together. A shout-out should be given to the Rashida Jones-scripted Celeste and Jesse Forever, starring Jones and SNL alumnus Andy Samberg, as well as the Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen vehicle Take This Waltz. Both films had terrific scripts and casting, and reached new, unexplored levels of bittersweetness. Anna Karenina is also on my list as one of the most visually arresting movies of the year. So to conclude, the best films of 2012 were about doomed love, regardless of what some might say about the grandiose, Oscar-like Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty.

Guiltiest pleasure: I guess I’ll have to go with The Dark Knight Rises. Critics and audiences were split on this one, but I must say it was Anne Hathaway’s turn as Catwoman that made it worthwhile. Otherwise, the film didn’t live up to my expectations, but then again it’s hard to expect anything short of excellence from Christopher Nolan.

Biggest stinker(s): Too many to name.


Killer Joe


Best film: I’m behind on my end-of-year prestige pics, but even then I’m not sure that they could eclipse Killer Joe, William Friedkin’s bugfuck-insane adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play. It’s as funny, brutal and nasty as it gets and probably contains the best performance of Matthew McConaughey’s career. I want everyone to see it, but I don’t want anyone to blame me for whatever damage it may cause.

Honourable mentions: No film was as successful in its specific aims this year as Pete Travis’ Dredd, a lean and muscular action film the likes of which are growing scarcer and scarcer in the age of bloated franchises and demographic pandering. It’s unabashedly simplistic (and some would argue fascistic) in its execution, but undeniably efficient. Paul Thomas Anderson’s maddeningly obtuse but fascinating The Master is almost certainly a masterpiece, but I can’t even begin to unpack it after a single viewing. The two best performances of the year are certainly in here, though; Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix are predictably great.

Most underrated: Magic Mike might well be the Saturday Night Fever of its time, a perceptive character study that hides behind the façade of a chintzy setting; it’s certainly the most downbeat movie to ever have bachelorette parties hooting and hollering through its screenings. Mad demerits for the performance of the film’s romantic lead Cody Horn, though; her wooden performance is straight out of Soderbergh’s experimental, inscrutable Bubble.

Biggest stinker(s): Although there were worse films this year (the sound-and-fury Dadaist nonsense that is Resident Evil: Retribution comes to mind), none of them were quite as aggressively annoying as Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America, a solid hour and a half of old-man ranting and raving that presents the most obvious op-ed piece about moral decay as cutting, black-hearted satire. It’s tiresome and unfunny as all get out; there are plenty of bitter old people whining about telling it like it is on call-in radio shows around the world if you really need them. ■

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