ponedjeljak, 21. siječnja 2013.

A D Jameson - The 240 Best Movies of 2012


Književnik AD Jameson pedantan je tip. Sabrao je za nas razne best of liste i iznio rezultate.

Last year I wrote a post, “The 248 Best Movies of 2011,” where I tallied all the film data reported at the site Year-End Lists, which reports critics’ year-end lists for movies, music, and books. Film critics surveyed include Andrew O’Hehir, A.O. Scott, Dennis Cooper, J. Hoberman, John Waters, Kenneth Turan, Manohla Dargis, and Roger Ebert, as well as journals like the A.V. Club, Cahiers du Cinéma, Film Comment, and Sight & Sound. The site also reports on the accolades dished out by various organizations and critics circles.
Since 2012 is now mostly a matter of record, I once again tallied things up, in order to see how critics have already begun to regard the past year. But before we dive into the data, a few caveats:
  1. The value of the numbers below is primarily relative, not absolute. Some critics were sampled more than once, since they not only make their own lists, but also contribute to larger lists (such as the Sight & Sound poll, or the New York Film Critics Circle Awards).
  2. Every time a film was mentioned, I gave it a single point. In other words, I didn’t weight films, even if a given critic’s year-end list was ranked. (I just don’t have the time to do that.) Honorable mentions and near-misses also counted for a point; that’s just the way it goes. But I think this is OK: my primary intention is to see which films are being thrown about in regards to “the best films of the year,” and I think an honorable mention does just as well as the #1 spot. We’ll let the frequency of mentions do the weighting for us.
  3. I also counted each award received as a single point. Thus, the New York Film Critics Circle awarded Zero Dark Thirty three prizes: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematographer—and that counts as three points for our purposes. I think this is fair because, in addition to seeing which films are being singled out, we’re trying to gauge how much they’ve been praised relative to one another. Counting awards like this will pull the most honored films toward the top.
Again, keep in mind that this is all pretty relative. I also won’t claim that we’re sampling all the data we should be sampling; I just went with what’s at the Year-End Lists site. Also, note that a strong bias was given to English-language critics, especially US-based ones—but that, my friends, is the data to which I have the readiest access.
Caveats aside, however, the results strike me as representative of the cinematic zeitgeist c. January 2013. Because without doubt, the two films from 2012 that I’ve seen critics talking the most about have definitely been—

  • 1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson): 53 mentions
  • 2. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow): 50 mentions
The Master arguably has benefited from the fact that critics were enamored with its three central actors (Joachim Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams). Most of the praise focused on their work—e.g., all three are up for Academy Awards.
After that came:
  • 3. Holy Motors (Leos Carax): 47 mentions
  • 4. Amour (Michael Haneke): 44 mentions
  • 5. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg): 43 mentions
  • 5. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson): 43 mentions
And behind that we have:
  • 6. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin): 34 mentions
After that comes a bit of a drop-off (although, again, we’re still dealing with very highly praised films):
  • 7. Argo (Ben Affleck): 29 mentions
  • 8. This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb): 28 mentions
  • 9. The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies): 27 mentions
  • 10. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bigle Ceylan): 26 mentions
And then:
  • 11. Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell): 21 mentions
  • 12. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino): 20 mentions
  • 12. Tabu (Miguel Gomes): 20 mentions
After that, the results start getting closer:
  • 13. Life of Pi (Ang Lee): 17 mentions
  • 13. Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh): 17 mentions
  • 13. Oslo, August 31st (Joachim Trier): 17 mentions
  • 14. Bernie (Richard Linklater): 16 mentions
  • 14. Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg): 16 mentions
  • 14. Looper (Rian Johnson): 16 mentions
  • 14. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr): 16 mentions
  • 15. The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne): 15 mentions
  • 16. Almayer’s Folly (Chantal Akerman): 14 mentions
  • 16. How to Survive a Plague (David France): 14 mentions
  • 17. The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev): 13 mentions
  • 18. Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard): 12 mentions
  • 18. Skyfall (Sam Mendes): 12 mentions
  • 18. The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan): 12 mentions
  • 19. Barbara (Christian Petzold): 11 mentions
  • 19. Killer Joe (William Friedkin): 11 mentions
  • 19. Neighboring Sounds (Kleber Mendonça Filho): 11 mentions
  • 19. The Gatekeepers (Dror Moreh): 11 mentions
  • 20. Keep the Lights On (Ira Sachs): 10 mentions
  • 20. The Day He Arrives (Hong Sang-soo): 10 mentions
Despite the numbering, that’s thirty-four films total. And this all feels correct to me: these are the films that I remember seeing critics praise the most. Actually, spots 1–12 feel especially right—they’re the real heavyweights, the films that critics seem to have already agreed are the absolute best films of 2012. Let’s recap them so it’s easier to see:
  • 1. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson): 53 mentions
  • 2. Zero Dark Thirty (Kathryn Bigelow): 50 mentions
  • 3. Holy Motors (Leos Carax): 47 mentions
  • 4. Amour (Michael Haneke): 44 mentions
  • 5. Lincoln (Steven Spielberg): 43 mentions
  • 5. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson): 43 mentions
  • 6. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin): 34 mentions
  • 7. Argo (Ben Affleck): 29 mentions
  • 8. This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb): 28 mentions
  • 9. The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies): 27 mentions
  • 10. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bigle Ceylan): 26 mentions
  • 11. Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell): 21 mentions
  • 12. Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino): 20 mentions
  • 12. Tabu (Miguel Gomes): 20 mentions
And for a lark, let’s compare that to the nine films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. (I’ll bold the films that appear on the above list.)
  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • Django Unchained
  • Les Misérables
  • Life of Pi
  • Lincoln
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Zero Dark Thirty
Missing are Holy Motors, Tabu, This Is Not a Film, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia—but they’re not eligible, having been made in languages other than all-mighty English. Also missing are The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, The Deep Blue Sea, which I guess you could call snubs. (I guess critics liked the acting in The Master more than they did the overall film?) Wes Anderson was also left out in the cold—the Academy doesn’t like directors named Anderson? They certainly don’t seem to like idiosyncratic stylists. Terrence Davies, meanwhile, seems to have been completely overlooked/forgotten, which might be a consequence of The Deep Blue Sea having come out early in the year (23 March).
OK, enough about the stupid Oscars! (Although I do think that if one wanted to Nate Silver them, looking at this compiled data would be a good way to start.) Let’s look at what other films the critics liked. Here are the remaining movies that earned multiple mentions:
9 mentions (6 films):
  • Goodbye, First Love (Mia Hansen-Løve)
  • Miss Bala (Gerardo Naranjo)
  • The Cabin In The Woods (Drew Goddard)
  • The Color Wheel (Alex Ross Perry)
  • The Grey (Joe Carnahan)
  • The Queen of Versailles (Lauren Greenfield)
8 mentions (5 films):
  • Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman)
  • Footnote (Joseph Cedar)
  • Girl Walk // All Day (Jacob Krupnick)
  • Haywire (Steven Soderbergh)
  • The Sessions (Ben Lewin)
7 mentions (5 films):
  • Compliance (Craig Zobel)
  • Elena (Andrei Zvyagintsev)
  • Flight (Robert Zemeckis)
  • It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt)
  • The Comedy (Rick Alverson)
6 mentions (6 films):
  • Alps (Giorgos Lanthimos)
  • Anna Karenina (Joe Wright)
  • In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo)
  • Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul)
  • Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley)
  • The Central Park Five (Ken Burns, Sarah Burns & David McMahon)
5 mentions (8 films):
  • Room 237 (Rodney Ascher)
  • Sister (Ursula Meier)
  • The Imposter (Bart Layton)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky)
  • The Raid: Redemption (Gareth Evans)
  • This Is 40 (Judd Apatow)
  • Two Years At Sea (Ben Rivers)
  • Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold)
Around here, opinion starts fanning out more, as we get fringier and fringier in terms of critical opinion.
4 mentions (11 films):
  • A Burning Hot Summer (Philippe Garrel)
  • Attenberg (Athina Rachel Tsangari)
  • End of Watch (David Ayer)
  • Frankenweenie (Tim Burton)
  • In the Family (Patrick Wang)
  • Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik)
  • Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present (Matthew Akers)
  • ParaNorman (Chris Butler & Sam Fell)
  • The Avengers (Joss Whedon)
  • The House I Live In (Eugene Jarecki)
  • The Invisible War (Kirby Dick)
3 mentions (15 films):
  • 21 Jump Street (Phil Lord & Chris Miller)
  • 4:44 Last Day on Earth (Abel Ferrara)
  • A Simple Life (Ann Hui)
  • Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu)
  • Chronicle (Josh Trank)
  • Detropia (Heidi Ewing & Rachel Grady)
  • Les Miserables (Tom Hooper) — one hell of an Oscar campaign?
  • Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel)
  • Middle of Nowhere (Ava DuVernay)
  • Not Fade Away (David Chase)
  • Pitch Perfect (Jason Moore)
  • Take Shelter (Jeff Nichols)
  • The Waiting Room (Peter Nicks)
  • This Must Be The Place (Paolo Sorrentino)
  • Your Sister’s Sister (Lynn Shelton)
2 mentions (31 films):
  • A Man Vanishes (Shohei Imamura)
  • Abendland (Nikolaus Geyrhalter)
  • Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (Alison Klayman)
  • Arbitrage (Nicholas Jarecki)
  • Beloved (Christophe Honoré)
  • Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland)
  • Bestiaire (Denis Côté)
  • Chico & Rita (Fernando Trueba & Javier Mariscal)
  • Cloud Atlas (Lana & Andy Wachowski & Tom Tykwer)
  • Consuming Spirits (Chris Sullivan)
  • Go Go Tales (Abel Ferrara)
  • God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait)
  • I Wish (Hirokazu Koreeda)
  • Klown (Mikkel Nørgaard)
  • Let the Bullets Fly (Jiang Wen)
  • Michael (Markus Schleinzer)
  • Oki’s Movie (Hong Sang-soo)
  • Only The Young (Jason Tippet & Elizabeth Mims)
  • Paradise: Love (Ulrich Seidl)
  • Policeman (Nadav Lapid)
  • Red Hook Summer (Spike Lee)
  • Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow)
  • Starlet (Sean Baker)
  • Ted (Seth MacFarlane) — see, there’s a reason why I put that pic at the top!
  • The Five-Year Engagement (Nicholas Stoller)
  • The Impossible (Juan Antonio Bayona)
  • The Paperboy (Lee Daniels)
  • Twixt (Francis Ford Coppola)
  • We Have a Pope (Nanni Moretti)
  • Whores’ Glory (Michael Glawogger)
  • Wreck-It Ralph (Rich Moore)
As we progress toward the bottom, here’s something worth noting: in some cases, critics are voting for films that came out last year, and which they omitted from their 2011 lists. Thus, Nani Moretti’s We Have a Pope (2011) got two mentions this year, but also two mentions last year. This suggests that we’ll need to combine the 2011 data with that from 2012 to really see which films have been the most critically favored. (Hm, sounds like another post…)
But for now, the above lists mark the 121 films that at least more than one critic thought were arguably the best films of 2012. And there are still 119 films that received at least one mention. I’ll list them all here for completeness sake (after which I’ll try to draw a few more conclusions):
  • 5 Broken Cameras (Emad Burnat & Guy Davidi)
  • A Late Quartet (Yaron Zilberman)
  • A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
  • A World Without Women (Guillaume Brac)
  • All Divided Selves (Luke Fowler)
  • Alms for a Blind Horse (Gurvinder Singh)
  • Araf — Somewhere In Between (Yeşim Ustaoğlu)
  • Artificial Paradises (Yulene Olaizola)
  • Atomic Age (Héléna Klotz)
  • August and After (Nathaniel Dorsky)
  • Auto-Collider XV (Ernie Gehr)
  • autrement, la Molussie (Nicolas Rey)
  • Bachelorette (Leslye Headland)
  • Bad Fever (Dustin Guy Defa)
  • Brave (Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman)
  • Brooklyn Castle (Katie Dellamaggiore)
  • Camille Rewinds (Noémie Lvovsky)
  • Celeste & Jesse Forever (Lee Toland Krieger)
  • Clint Eastwood on YouTube
  • Dark Horse (Todd Solondz)
  • Departure (Mr. Gehr)
  • Domain (Patric Chiha)
  • Dragon (Peter Chan)
  • Extraterrestrial (Nacho Vigalondo)
  • Fake It So Real (Robert Greene)
  • Farewell, My Queen (Benoît Jacquot)
  • Fat Kid Rules the World (Matthew Lillard)
  • Faust (Aleksandr Sokurov)
  • Fengming: A Chinese Memoir (Wang Bing)
  • Free Radicals (Pip Chodorov)
  • Friends With Kids (Jennifer Westfeldt)
  • Gayby (Jonathan Lisecki)
  • Generation P (Victor Ginzburg)
  • Giacomo’s Summer (Alessandro Comodin)
  • Green (Sophia Takal)
  • Gypsy Davy (Rachel Leah Jones)
  • Happy Few (Four Lovers) (Antony Cordier)
  • Headhunters (Morten Tyldum)
  • Hello, I Must Be Going (Todd Louisa)
  • Hermano (Marcel Rasquin)
  • Hors Satan (Outside Satan) (Bruno Dumont)
  • Il Cinema Ritrovato XVI (annual festival in Bologna)
  • In Darkness (Agnieszka Holland)
  • Informant (Jamie Meltzer)
  • Jeff, Who Lives at Home (Jay & Mark Duplass)
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb)
  • Keyhole (Guy Maddin)
  • Kill List (Ben Wheatley)
  • Las Acacias (Pablo Giorgelli)
  • Last Ride (Glendyn Ivin)
  • Laurence Anyways (Xavier Dolan)
  • Le Grand Amour (Pierre Etaix)
  • Life Without Principle (Johnnie To)
  • Like Someone in Love (Abbas Kiarostami)
  • Lonesome (1928) (Paul Fejos)
  • Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan)
  • Meanwhile (Hal Hartley)
  • Memories Look At Me (Song Fang)
  • Middle of Nowhere (Michael Salerno & Marcus Whale)
  • Mobile Homestead [trilogy] (Mike Kelley)
  • Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau)
  • My Best Thing (Frances Stark)
  • Napoleon (1927) (Abel Gance, restored by Kevin Brownlow)
  • Natural Selection (Robbie Pickering)
  • No (Pablo Larraín)
  • Our Children (Joachim Lafosse)
  • Palaces of Pity (Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt)
  • Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky)
  • Paradise: Faith (Ulrich Seidl)
  • Photographic Memory (Ross McElwee)
  • Pink Ribbons, Inc. (Léa Pool)
  • Polisse (Maïwenn)
  • Possession (1981) (Andrzej Zulawski)
  • Premium Rush (David Koepp)
  • Prometheus (Ridley Scott)
  • Promised Land (Gus Van Sant)
  • Rampart (Oren Moverman)
  • Return (Liza Johnson)
  • Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)
  • Sack Barrow (Ben Rivers)
  • Samsara (Ron Fricke)
  • Shitty Youth (Adam Humphrey) — this made Dennis Cooper’s list
  • Shut Up and Play the Hits (Dylan Southern & Will Lovelace)
  • Sightseers (Ben Wheatley)
  • Sleepless Night (Frédéric Jardin)
  • Sleepwalk With Me (Mike Birbiglia & Seth Barrish)
  • Smugglers’ Songs (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche)
  • Something in the Air (Olivier Assayas)
  • Sound of Noise (Ola Simonsson & Johannes Stjärne Nilsson)
  • Space Light Art (Oskar Fischinger exhibit at the Whitney)
  • Stand in the Stream (Stanya Kahn)
  • Surviving Progress (Mathieu Roy & Harold Crooks)
  • The Amazing Spider-Man (Marc Webb)
  • The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye (Marie Losier)
  • The Descendants (Alexander Payne)
  • The Eye of the Storm (Fred Schepisi)
  • The FP (Brandon Trost & Jason Trost)
  • The Hunger Games (Gary Ross)
  • The Hunt (Thomas Vinterberg)
  • The Hunter (David Nettheim)
  • The Last Time I Saw Macao (João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata)
  • The Law in These Parts (Ra’anan Alexandrowicz)
  • The Pirates! Band of Misfits (Peter Lord)
  • The Second Cabin: Stemple Pass (James Benning)
  • The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
  • The Unspeakable Act (Dan Sallitt)
  • The Wall (Julian Pölsler)
  • The Wilding (Grant Scicluna)
  • To Rome with Love (Woody Allen)
  • Unforgivable (Andre Techine)
  • Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (John Hyams)
  • View From the Acropolis (Lonnie van Brummelen & Siebren de Haan)
  • Viola (Matías Piñeiro)
  • Wanderlust (David Wain)
  • Werner Schroeter retrospective at MOMA (Werner Schroeter)
  • West of Memphis (Amy Berg)
  • Where Do We Go Now? (Nadine Labaki)
  • You Are Here (Daniel Cockburn)
  • Young Adult (Jason Reitman)
Again, some of these picks (Margaret) see critics playing catch-up from last year. Others reflect individual cases—the inclusion of archival films like Andrzej Zulawski’s cult horror film Possession (1982), which made my pal Ben Sachs’s Chicago Reader list after a restored print played the Gene Siskel Film Center here in Chicago. There are also some very idiosyncratic choices, such as “Clint Eastwood on YouTube,” or the Werner Schroeter retrospective at MOMA—stuff that other critics probably weren’t considering.
Also, remember that some of these films are just coming out now. A good example of this is Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land, which received a limited release right at the end of the year (28 December, 25 theaters), then went wider in the first week of 2013 (4 January, 1676 theaters). Perhaps we’ll see it mentioned again come December?
So those are the 240 films (or film-like things) that critics basically went for. That number, 240, compares well with the 248 from last year (which actually should have been 250—since writing that post, I caught and corrected some errors in the data). So, too, do the tallies: adding up all the mentions from 2011 yields 1072; this year, there were 1230. The greater number stems from the fact that the opinions of 73 critics/organizations were rounded up, vs. 58 last year. That said, although the Year-End Lists site surveyed more critics this year, we arrived at a lower number of total films. Which might suggest that critical consensus was a little tighter this time.
Meanwhile, do you want to see this year’s data combined with 2011′s? I bet that you do! I’ll post it later this week, as well as a few more thoughts on all this data.
Until then, get busy viewing!


The 248 Best Movies of 2011

Not the best movie of 2012—although, as we'll see, it is one of the 248 (according to some).
Here’s a very nifty site collecting “year-end best of” lists for 2011 (in albums, songs, movies, and books). The movies section includes lists made by individual critics like Andrew O’Hehir, A.O. Scott, J. Hoberman, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Kenneth Turan, Manohla Dargis, Roger Ebert; artists like Dennis Cooper and John Waters (there’s a pairing!); organizations like the A.V. Club, the AFI, and various critics circles; and journals like Cahiers du Cinéma, Film Comment, and Sight & Sound (whose own top 10 list is a compilation of 100 critics). Well … that’s a lot of data! What story can we tell from all of it?
I consider life an excuse to use Microsoft Excel, so (yes) I copied all of the lists into a spreadsheet, then condensed it. I wanted to see which films got named the most. In doing so, I ignored the actual rankings (e.g., 1st, 10th), and I included all honorable mentions. My goal was just to see which recent movies critics are picking as noteworthy. (I also did this a couple of weeks ago, but the movies section of that site hasn’t been updated since 13 Jan, so I don’t think I missed anything.)
I ended up with 248 titles—which, curiously, is almost exactly the same number we saw last week (246, that being the number of films that had box office returns in the US in 2011). However, these lists are very different. (Angels Crest doesn’t make an appearance—although Sucker Punch, believe it or not, actually will.) (Remember, also, that the IMDb lists 8077 features as having been released in 2011 [the count decreased by 66 titles in the past week], so we’re still dealing with only a fraction of the films that sprang into the world fully formed last year. And all of my usual caveats apply, in particular the one about how feature films are once again standing in for all of cinema.)
Let’s start with the films that got mentioned the most
(the format is “Title – Director: # of mentions”):
  1. The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick: 37 mentions
  2. A Separation – Asghar Farhadi: 29
  3. Certified Copy – Abbas Kiarostami: 29
  4. Drive – Nicolas Winding Refn: 25
  5. Hugo – Martin Scorsese: 25
  6. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives – Apichatpong Weerasethakul: 23
  7. Melancholia – Lars von Trier: 21
  8. Margaret – Kenneth Lonergan: 20
  9. Meek’s Cutoff – Kelly Reichardt: 19
  10. Mysteries of Lisbon – Raoul Ruiz: 18
  11. Poetry – Lee Chang-dong: 18
  12. Take Shelter – Jeff Nichols: 18
  13. The Descendants – Alexander Payne: 18
Now, whatever you or I or anyone we know thinks of these thirteen new films, they are the ones that critics, collectively, are the most interested in. They’re receiving the most praise. The Tree of Life is far and away leading the pack; it’s easily the must-see film of 2011 (critically speaking). It might even be safe to say that a film critic can’t afford to miss it, or have an opinion about it. (I thought it was remarkable yet unsuccessful, as did my colleague, Jeremy.) (Actually, Jeremy despised it.)
After Tree, the titles get somewhat more interchangeable. People who care about movies presumably don’t have to see all of them—I myself have seen four of them, including Tree—but these are the films that critics are claiming matter. (I feel some amount of compulsion to see them — I feel like I should see them. Or most of them. No way am I watching The Descendants.)
It’s worth pausing to note that only three of these thirteen films (Tree, Hugo, Payne’s) were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. OK, four: A Separation was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. I think it’s safe to count this as evidence that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is more than a little out of step with the majority of English-language film critics.
After that, critics most liked:
  1. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Tomas Alfredson: 16 mentions
  2. A Dangerous Method – David Cronenberg: 15
  3. The Artist – Michel Hazanavicius: 15
  4. The Interrupters – Steve James: 15
  5. The Skin I Live In – Pedro Almodóvar: 15
  6. Bridesmaids – Paul Feig: 14
  7. Weekend – Andrew Haigh: 14
  8. Martha Marcy May Marlene – Sean Durkin: 13
  9. Moneyball – Bennett Miller: 13
  10. The Future – Miranda July: 13
  11. Tuesday, After Christmas – Radu Muntean: 12
  12. Incendies – Denis Villeneuve: 11
  13. Le Quattro Volte – Michelangelo Frammartino: 11
  14. Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen: 11
  15. The Arbor – Clio Barnard: 11
  16. Nostalgia for the Light – Patricio Gusmán: 10
  17. Rise of the Planet of the Apes – Ruper Wyatt: 10
  18. We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lynne Ramsay: 10
Three more Best Picture nominees appear (The Artist, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball), bringing the Academy a bit more in line with a larger critical consensus.
After that:
  1. Contagion – Steve Soderbergh: 9 mentions
  2. Le Havre – Aki Kaurismäki: 9
  3. Shame – Steve McQueen: 9
  4. Film Socialisme – Jean-Luc Godard: 8
  5. Of Gods and Men – Xavier Beauvois: 8
  6. Terri – Azazel Jacobs: 8
  7. House of Pleasures – Bertrand Bonello: 7
  8. J. Edgar – Clint Eastwood: 7
  9. Senna – Asif Kapadia: 7
  10. Super 8 – J.J. Abrams: 7
  11. The Adventures of Tintin – Steven Spielberg: 7
  12. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu – Andrei Ujica: 7
  13. The Trip – Michael Winterbottom: 7
  14. A Brighter Summer Day – Edward Yang: 6
  15. Beginners – Mike Mills: 6
  16. Bellflower – Evan Glodell: 6
  17. Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Werner Herzog: 6
  18. Margin Call – J.C. Chandor: 6
  19. Pina – Wim Wenders: 6
  20. Tabloid – Errol Morris: 6
  21. 13 Assassins – Takashi Miike: 5
  22. City of Life and Death – Lu Chuan: 5
  23. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 – David Yates: 5 [this was the top-grossing film last year both in the US and worldwide]
  24. Jane Eyre – Cary Fukunaga: 5
  25. Putty Hill – Matt Porterfield: 5
  26. The Clock – Christian Marclay: 5
  27. The Turin Horse – Béla Tarr & Agnes Hranitzky: 5
  28. To Die Like a Man – Jaão Pedro Rodrigues: 5
  29. Win Win – Thomas McCarthy: 5
  30. Young Adult – Jason Reitman: 5
And, finally, here are the remaining films. Since our present interest is critical consensus, I’ve cut the 120 films that received only one vote—although Steve Roggenbuck should be pleased to know that Justin Bieber: Never Say Never has a fellow champion out there!
  1. Attack the Block – Joe Cornish: 4 mentions
  2. Aurora – Cristi Puiu: 4
  3. Carnage – Roman Polanski: 4
  4. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – Nuri Bilge Ceylan: 4
  5. Outside Satan – Bruno Dumont: 4
  6. Project Nim – James Marsh: 4
  7. Rango – Gore Verbinski: 4
  8. Road to Nowhere – Monte Hellman: 4
  9. The Strange Case of Angelica – Manoel de Oliveira: 4
  10. Warrior – Gavin O’Connor: 4
  11. We Were Here – David Weissman: 4
  12. Winnie the Pooh – Stephen J. Anderson: 4
  13. Black Swan – Darren Aronofsky: 3
  14. Buck – Cindy Meehl: 3
  15. Coriolanus – Ralph Fiennes: 3
  16. Essential Killing – Jerzy Skolimowski: 3
  17. Into the Abyss – Werner Herzog: 3
  18. Kill List – Ben Wheatley: 3
  19. Love Exposure – Shion Sono: 3
  20. Source Code – Duncan Jones: 3
  21. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – David Fincher: 3
  22. The Help – Tate Taylor: 3
  23. The Mill and the Cross – Lech Majewski: 3
  24. The Time that Remains – Elia Suleiman: 3
  25. This is Not a Film – Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb: 3
  26. Tyrannosaur – Paddy Considine: 3
  27. War Horse – Steven Spielberg: 3
  28. A Screaming Man – Mahamat-Saleh Haroun: 2
  29. Cold Weather – Aaron Katz: 2
  30. Crazy, Stupid, Love – Glenn Ficarra: 2
  31. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame – Tsui Hark: 2
  32. Fast Five – Justin Lin: 2
  33. Final Destination 5 – Steven Quale: 2
  34. Foreign Parts – Verena Paravel & J.P. Sniadecki: 2
  35. Higher Ground – Vera Farmiga: 2
  36. Historias extraordinarias – Mariano Llinás: 2
  37. I Saw the Devil – Kim Ji-woon: 2
  38. I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive – Claude Miller & Nathan Miller: 2
  39. If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front – Marshall Curry & Sam Cullman: 2
  40. In the Family – Patrick Wang: 2
  41. Kaboom – Gregg Araki: 2
  42. Leap Year – Anand Tucker: 2
  43. Mildred Pierce – Todd Haynes: 2
  44. Miss Bala – Gerardo Naranjo: 2
  45. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – Brad Bird: 2
  46. My Joy – Sergei Loznitsa: 2
  47. My Perestroika – Robin Hessman: 2
  48. Petition – Zhao Liang: 2
  49. Policeman – Nadav Lapid: 2
  50. Polytechnique – Denis Villeneuve: 2
  51. Rampart – Oren Moverman: 2
  52. Rubber – Quentin Dupieux: 2
  53. Seeking the Monkey King – Ken Jacobs: 2
  54. Silver Bullets – Joe Swanberg: 2
  55. Submarine – Richard Ayoade: 2
  56. Sucker Punch – Zack Snyder: 2 [I told you this was in there!]
  57. Target – Alexander Zeldovich: 2
  58. The Fighter – David O. Russell: 2
  59. The Guard – John Michael McDonagh: 2
  60. The Kid with a Bike – Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne: 2
  61. The King’s Speech – Tom Hooper: 2
  62. The Lincoln Lawyer – Brad Furman: 2
  63. The Princess of Montpensier – Bertrand Tavernier: 2
  64. Tomboy – Céline Schiamma: 2
  65. True Grit – Joel & Ethan Coen: 2
  66. United Red Army – Koji Wakamatsu: 2
  67. We Have a Pope – Nanni Moretti: 2
… What can we say about these 128 movies?
Obviously, size matters to some degree. All of the top movies received theatrical releases in Europe and/or the US. By way of contrast, Jafar Panahi’s This Is Not a Film—a home video that the director (who’s under house arrest) made illegally and then had smuggled into Cannes—has not been widely seen, so it’s no surprise it didn’t end up on too many year-end lists. (You can watch an excerpt of the 75-minute-long feature at YouTube.)
That said, size only matters so much. Since I love nothing more than analyzing data, I went ahead and used Box Office Mojo to look up the finances for the top thirty-one films listed here, and well as for the nine films nominated for Best Picture. The results are illuminating.
First, here’s the box office data for the top thirteen films (note that you can click through all of these images to see less squished versions—note also that some of these films are still out in theaters [but our present concern is how well they've already done]):
Obviously, a film doesn’t need a huge release or huge returns to impress critics. Just look at Margaret (which, as you might recall from last week, was one of the lowest-grossing movies of 2011). Mysteries of Lisbon also barely played US theaters, and hardly did better overseas, and yet it’s won numerous accolades. (The fact that its director, the legendary Raúl Ruiz, died soon after its release, no doubt pushed many critics to rate it highly).
These conclusions are further borne out in the data for the next eighteen films (#’s 14–31):

Once again, we see a mix of films big and small (although bigger films are starting to creep in). Some of these films—The Arbor, Tuesday, After Christmas—are very small.
Looking at these results, I have to say I’m surprised that neither Bridesmaids nor Rise of the Planet of the Apes was nominated for Best Picture. Both were popular with audiences and with critics (click here and here for their respective Rotten Tomatoes data); Rise was the 11th highest-grossing film in the US last year; Bridesmaids the 14th. There was also a campaign to get Andy Serkis nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his motion-capture performance in Rise. Surely one or both of them could have replaced, say, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (which no one seems to like) and/or The Help, which was more popular with audiences than with critics. (It was the 13th highest-grossing film.) None of these films stands a chance of winning the prize, mind you, but adding more populist films that critics like would lend more legitimacy to the contest, as well as stir interest. (There was even room for one more film to be nominated this year!) (Bridesmaids did get nods for Best Supporting Actress and Original Screenplay, while Rise got nominated for Best Visual Effects—the Andy Serkis Campaign’s consolation prize, I guess.)
Finally, here’s the data for the Oscar Best Picture nominees:

What a difference! Our median US gross just increased by 4000%, compared to the top thirteen films! (It increased by 2100% when compared with the next eighteen.) The Tree of Life notwithstanding, there’s obviously a minimum amount of profit required for entry here, an amount well into the tens of millions of dollars. (This makes it even more perplexing why Extremely Loud was nominated, as right now it doesn’t look incredibly close to earning back its production budget of $70+ million—not to mention whatever Warner Bros. spent on advertising.) (Why didn’t The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo receive its spot? It did OK with audiences and critics, made money, and won five other nominations. And Fincher did very well last year with The Social Network. Curious…)
Well, so the Oscars are like the Ferengi: inscrutable, and mostly concerned with profit—la-di-da. (But now we have some data to throw at our friends and family members!)
What’s much more interesting is when you try estimating how many people have seen each of these films, and how that factors into critical success.
For instance, Margaret scored extremely well with critics (#8, 20 mentions), despite grossing only $46,495. Meaning that, despite the fact that fewer than 5000 people saw it during its four-week theatrical run, those people really liked it. (Word about it eventually also got out, despite the lack of advertising, Oscar campaigns, or the benefit of a Cannes premier.) And it may be that they were just the right people to see it—but, impressive.
By this logic, it can be argued that a film like Poetry (#11, 18 mentions) must be something to really try and catch: it managed to remain in US theaters for 30 weeks—from February–August 2011—until about 35,600 people saw it, most of them liking it. (It won the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes last year, as well as several other awards; I wonder why it wasn’t nominated for Best Foreign Picture?)
Anyway. Hopefully this post, like my last few, has given a bit more perspective to the utterly vast number of films that came out last year, as well as suggested a few more that might be worth seeing. (I’m more determined now to see Margaret, and will also probably check out Poetry; I’m also more tempted to see both Rise of the Apes and Bridesmaids.)
And A Separation is playing right now in Chicago, at the beautiful Music Box, if anyone out there would like to go …

My Favorite New Movies of 2012

“Star War’s Uncut: Director’s Cut” (2012)
Here’s a roundup of my favorite newish movies, with some thoughts on each one. If you appreciate and/or doubt my taste in motion pictures, here are my lists from 2009 & 2010 & 2011. And here are some overall notes:
  1. Films marked with an * can be watched for free online; just click on the title.
  2. Roughly half of the films are from 2012; the rest hail from 2008–11. As I argued in my posts “How Many Movies Are There?” and “How Many Movies Have You Seen?“, no one can watch every new release when it comes out (especially when they’ve recently started a PhD program). I prefer to think of my lists 2009–present more as an ongoing project than as definitive statements on any given year. (I also feel free to revise my opinions over time.)
  3. You may find relevant two older posts—“How Many Cinemas Are There?” & “Why Do You Need So Many Cinemas?“—where I decry the habit of so many film critics to consider only feature-length theatrically-released films when making these kinds of lists. (All other cinema somehow disappears at the end of the year! Which is particularly odd at the present moment, when broadband has been revitalizing the short movie form.)
  4. If you want straight lists of the titles without any commentary, just skip to the end.
And now, without further to do, here are 30+ relatively-new movie-things that I saw and have thoughts on, starting with—

1. Chronicle (2012, Josh Trank, 84 min)
The formula’s at least 50 years old: bickering teens gain superpowers and fall victim not to villains, but to themselves—but the presentation feels fresh. Chronicle is a better Marvel adaptation than anything Marvel has managed so far. No surprise that Josh Trank has since been tapped to re-adapt Fantastic Four. (It also serves as a decent live-action version of Akira.) Chronicle is a pretty simple movie, but it totally works. I can’t wait to watch it at YouTube.
2. *Dear God, I Hate Myself (2010, Xiu Xiu, 3 min)
In a single excruciating shot, Andy Warhol lives again as Angela Seo repeatedly forces herself to vomit while Jamie Stewart calmly eats a chocolate bar. May I suggest a double feature with Low’s “Breaker“? It’s also a great song, with some of Stewart’s best recent lyrics—
despair will hold a place in my heart
a bigger one that you do do do
and i will always be nicer to the cat
than i am to you you you you
3. *Elevations and Depths (2010, Locrian & Annie Feldmeier Adams, 11 min)
I first saw this at a black metal screening that my friend Amelia Ishmael organized. Through a lengthy series of flash edits (which cleverly echo another section of the video involving a blinking flashlight), Adams steadily transforms what might otherwise be mundane shots of trees and birds and the sky into something dreadful and monumental.
4. *False Jesii Part 2 (2010, Pissed Jeans & Shawn Brackbill, 3 min)
How I love when a shot’s content is tightly aesthetically unified! Here, the vertical roll and the wobbling VCR tracking effect is mirrored by the multilevel platform the band’s performing on. Making it all the more exquisite is the ease with which the production—from the video quality to the music to the cheeky performances to the lazy dancing to the spectacularly cynical lyrics—crystallizes punk’s essence: achieving the sublime while making it look as though you’re not expending any effort. Many others have done it before them (e.g., Beat Happening), but Pissed Jeans makes it look new again.
5. *Islands (2010, the xx & Saam, 3 min)
A series of tracking shots depict a couple repeatedly breaking up and reconciling until the cycle wears down, then burns down. My favorite aspect, besides the wonderful dancing, is the way the couple is portrayed by two different pairs, one in the background, one in the foreground.
6. *Star Wars Uncut: Director’s Cut (2012, Casey Pugh et al, 120 min)
OK, back to brand-new features. This is arguably my favorite new film of 2012, so I’ll write about it a bit more than the others. Because for one thing, I’ve never seen anything else quite like it, which makes sense, since it hasn’t been possible to make a film like this until now.
In 2009, Casey Pugh placed a call on the internet, inviting people to remake Star Wars in 15-second clips. He then edited the results into a scene-for-scene remake—and really edited them, too, selecting and truncating the clips in order to create startling juxtapositions, and skillfully weaving together a mix of created and found sound.
It would take a whole essay, or several essays, to do the resulting film justice. For starters, the new footage is constantly deforming the original Star Wars, seeing just how far it can swing from the source material and still be recognizable. While many participants utilized similar tools (Legos, puppets, cars, pets, kids), there’s a wonderful variety on display—including shots that, outside of the film’s context, wouldn’t signify Star Wars at all:
It helps of course that Star Wars is such familiar source material. When I watch this fan version, I find myself playing it alongside the well-worn copy that lives in my head. (So here’s a film that takes what might be the most obnoxious thing about Star Wars—its relentless omnipresence—and mines it for artistic effect. This thing is like Viktor Shklovsky: The Movie.)
As stated, Casey Pugh did a lot to maximize the differences in the footage. For instance, he frequently jump cuts between different actors filling in as the same character—thus, we cut from footage of one Leia at 1:34:52—
—to another, at 1:34:53:
Less than two minutes later, another actress is playing the part:
1-36-40 Leia
The result is the most experimental Star Wars fan film I’ve seen. (I’ve written more about experimental tendencies in geek cinema here, here, & here.)
At the same time, however, SWU:DC totally remains a fan film, paying cute homage to Star Wars‘s numerous sources, stuff like samurai movies and WWII flying films—
—as well as to innumerable franchises before and since, many of whom were more than a little inspired by Lucas’s little space opera.
Check it out! Meanwhile, Casey Pugh and others—including, perhaps, you?—are hard at work remaking Episode V.
7. Super (2010, James Gunn, 96 min)
I skipped this one in the theater, figuring I knew what it would be. And I was right, to some extent, but I didn’t count on how excellent it would be.
Much like Frank Miller and Alan Moore, Gunn begins with the assumption that anyone who puts on a costume to fight crime must be deranged—and would therefore have a sketchy account of what a criminal is. But Gunn also manages to craft a moving portrait of his antihero, Frank D’Arbo (Rainn Wilson), despite the man’s tendency to conk innocent bystanders on the head with a spray-painted pipe wrench. It was the scene in which that lonely, hostile, pathetic man prays to god that really won me over:
God, please guide me. Tell me what to do. I hate you, God! … I’m sorry I said that. It just seems so unfair, God. Other people have goodness, they have good things, they have love and tenderness, people who care about their lives. Not humiliated at every turn. Other people have things, God, even the starving children in Africa, even their parents love them. Why was I so unlucky, to have my soul born into this disgusting me? This ugly face, this hair, this hair that doesn’t comb, and this dumb idiotic personality? [Sobbing] Other people stare at me, God, I can tell. They are amazed at how something so stupid and idiotic can even exist! Why am I that? Please. God. I just want this one thing, I’ll ask for one thing, I’ll never ask for anything ever again. Please. Let Sarah be my Sarah again.
A few scenes later, God sends tentacles to rape Frank’s brain. The whole film proceeds in this fashion, confidently slamming genres into each another, mining a great deal of humor and pathos from Frank’s fear and loathing.
Gunn is now working on a Guardians of the Galaxy adaptation, and the thought of him bringing Rocket Raccoon to life excites me almost as much as the thought of Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man.
8. *The Death and Return of Superman (2011, Max Landis, 17 min)
Aping the style of Funny or Die’s “Drunk History,” John Landis’s son Max recounts a momentous American saga: the mid-90s profit-motivated death and return of Superman. Besides being very funny, the whole video is impressively put together—so much so that I have greater hope than ever that the newest generation of Hollywood filmmakers are keen to revive craft. (Note that Landis also co-wrote Chronicle.)
… So have superhero comics adaptations gotten better over the past four years? It seems to me that they have. I wasn’t a very big fan of the “first wave,” 2000–7, when X-Men and Spider-Man exploded into the mainstream. Maybe I’m too much a snob, because I know a lot of people who love those movies, but they always struck me as bland and laborious, overly somber affairs missing the very real pleasures of superhero comics. Ang Lee’s Hulk was the only standout, mainly for the boldness of its style (and it still had a terrible script and a terrible ending).
But the past four years have delivered much stronger movies that seem to get it: The Dark Knight, Iron Man, X-Men: First Class, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Super, Chronicle, The Avengers, as well as interesting failures like Superman Returns and Watchmen, plus entertaining-enough fluff like the other Marvel movies. Meanwhile, fan films abound, and while most of them are dreck, there are occasional gems like Landis’s Superman.
Me, I know I’ll take the superhero flicks from 2008–present over the ones made in the previous eight.
9. The Limits of Control (2009, Jim Jarmusch, 116 min)
This is my favorite Jim Jarmusch movie since Dead Man (1995), partly because it might be his most perverse. It seems a lot of people were confused by it, but it really isn’t that hard to understand (although it’s perhaps a bit too self-consciously formal for most?). Ostensibly a spy flick, it maintains that form throughout, hitting all the requisite genre conventions (killers in suits, coded exchanges, travel, assassinations). But beyond that, Jarmusch understands that he’s free to fill in the scenes with whatever content he wants—and so he does.
In that regard, The Limits of Control is clearly inspired by similar abstract genre play by Seijun Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter, Branded to Kill, Pistol Opera) and Godard (Band of Outsiders, Made in U.S.A.). It should come packaged with Susan Sontag’s “Against Interpretation.” It’s just a movie!
10. *Where the Hell is Matt? (2008, Matt Harding, 5 min)
The release of a 2012 edition reminded me that I’ve been meaning to put the 2008 version on one of these lists. It’s easy to see why Matt Harding’s still-ongoing project has won so many millions of admirers. By marrying a simple concept with a charming knack for composition and juxtaposition, he made a video in which you can never really predict where or how he’s going to turn up next. Along the way, he also renders dozens of far-flung locales simultaneously exotic and familiar, making Chicago, Illinois look just as friendly and foreign as Ala Archa Gorge, Kyrgyzstan. Finally, the video also proves tremendously cathartic—which is a hell of a lot to pack into four and a half minutes.
The still above is from the 2008 version, which I remain partial to. Meanwhile, the 2012 version saw Harding still finding new places to take his original idea.

1. American Masters: Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011, Robert B. Weide, 192 min): I found the first half very informative, especially the parts that focused on Allen pre-filmmaking career. The rest I thought less essential but still nice. The best part of the project, though, is this YouTube outtake.
2. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, Joe Johnston, 124 min): The first half is wonderful, a very solid Steve Rogers movie. The second half—the Captain America flick—is far less wonderful. Still, I appreciated many of the nerdier touches, such as the wonderful shot introducing Arnim Zola. But that said, the movie as a whole falls short of the lofty heights achieved by Johnston’s earlier masterpiece The Rocketeer.
3. *Cop Dog Review (by Mr. Plinkett) (2011, Mike Stoklasa, 23 min): Somehow I missed this last year. Imagine my delight when I realized there was an extra Mr. Plinkett review for me to watch! You can watch it here.
I have also continued to enjoy Stoklasa’s ongoing film-review series, Half in the Bag, as well as the occasional other short films that he and Jay Bauman have been throwing up at their site. If none of these films have been my favorites of any given year, it’s only because I hold Stoklasa’s Mr. Plinkett Star Wars reviews in such high esteem.
4. Dredd (aka Dredd 3D) (2012, Pete Travis, 96 min): It’s no Assault on Precinct 13 . It’s no The Warriors. Hell, it isn’t even Die Hard. But it’s … something. (A better version of Gamer, possibly?) More than anything, Dredd reminded me of a mid-80s action flick, the kind I wasted my childhood watching on weekends on HBO. Actually, more than anything, it reminded me of John Milius’s take on Conan: just like Milius, director Travis revels in his garishly violent source material, but also entirely misses its point, stripping it of the absurd fascist tones so essential to the comics’ satire. The result lacks any subtext or subtlety that I could discern, which left me feeling somewhat queasy. But I also enjoyed the film’s lean, straightforward quality, and Karl Urban makes a perfect Judge Joseph Dredd.
5. *George Washington (2009, Brad Neely, 2 min): I typically bike to school, crossing a Washington St. along the way. It’s one of the busier streets I’m forced to confront, and now when I arrive there, Neely’s catchy little tune starts playing in my head. It’s a witty 2+ minutes. I watched some other things at his site, and this one struck me as his best piece.
6 & 7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 & 2 (2010–1, David Yates, 276 min): I thought Yates bungled the last 20 minutes or so, but the rest was nice enough. I enjoyed Part 1 slightly more than I did Part 2, mainly because I liked when Harry and Ron and Hermione were angry with one another, and just sitting around in the woods. I will maintain (and I think others agree?) that the two best entries in this series remain Alfonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban and Yates’s Half-Blood Prince, the latter of which featured spectacular cinematography (courtesy of Bruno Delbonnel).
8. Haywire (2012, Steven Soderbergh, 93 min): Everything that everyone has said about this is true. Steven Soderbergh and Lem Dobbs wisely crafted the film around star Gina Carano’s strengths and limitations, and the down-to-earth fights scenes are refreshing in this era of wire-fu and CGI stunt-doubles. The film’s also quickly paced and features many nice turns. It’s not as great as something like Drive, but it’s solid.
9. *Hi (2012, David Horvitz & Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu, 3 min): A frantic video to match a frantic song, the lead single from the band’s most recent album, Always.
10. Lincoln (2012, Steven Spielberg, 150 min): The acting is good. The cinematography is good. The production design is good. I’d like to have the suit that Abe Lincoln wore to his 1965 inaugural ball. I appreciated Spielberg’s portrayal (really Doris Kearns Goodwin’s and Tony Kushner’s portrayal) of politics as such a complicated and compromising business—I understand now why Obama can’t just give us all free health care. But … is this really a movie I’m ever going to watch again, let alone remember in twenty years? … Five years?
My pal Ben Sachs said it best (paraphrase): “Critics tend to lavish praise on ‘important’ movies like Lincoln because it allows them talk about something other than cinema.”
(I highly recommend Ben’s work, by the way.)
11. Looper (2012, Rian Johnson, 119 min): The first 45 minutes are whiz-bang, a thrilling piece of noirish sci-fi. Then Johnson keeps reaching, and reaching, and the film blows up around him like a cane field uprooted by a bratty telekinetic child. By the end, the whole damn thing is so overstuffed, Johnson seems to have forgotten half his material. Why did Old Joe even need to be hunting other kids, Terminator-style, and why did one of those kids (dear lord) have to turn out to belong to Piper Perabo? Why did Old Joe have to single-handedly slaughter dozens of bad guys in a hallway, Matrix-style? Why didn’t Young Joe just talk to Old Joe at the end? Even better—when Young Joe realized what he realized in the film’s final minutes, why didn’t Old Joe also realize it as well? They were the same person, after all…
I’m not complaining about plot inconsistencies. They abound in the film, but whatever; it’s a time travel picture. What frustrated me more was the sense that Johnson didn’t really care much about any of his material—as though he were distracted by some bright new shiny object every twenty minutes. The end result felt like at least two films arbitrarily smashed together—a healthy serving of The Big Clock followed by a heaping dollop of Badlands.
Some of Johnson’s problems are the same ones that so plague Christopher Nolan, although Johnson’s direction is stronger overall, and his authorial intrusions prove, while no less frustrating, somewhat subtler. That said, much like Mr. Nolan (and Mr. J. J. Abrams), Johnson has never met a female character he couldn’t stuff inside a fridge in order to motivate the plot. Ugh.
The more I reflect on Looper, the more I find it souring on me. But for now, the strength of its first 45 minutes is fresh enough in my mind for me to give it a pass.
12. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson, 94 min): What I found most remarkable about this one is how, over the past fifteen years or so, Wes Anderson has been able to coach audiences into embracing his rather idiosyncratic aesthetic. Moonrise Kingdom is probably his most relentlessly stylized film, yet I heard more than one person call it his most accessible. That’s a skill. Though it of course helps that the culture at large has grown increasingly twee these past ten years: Wes Anderson today looks more mainstream than ever. But he’s done a lot of the leading.
Me, I still prefer The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic, as well as Fantastic Mr. Fox, but I found myself charmed enough by this new one. I especially liked how sympathetic all the characters were; that remains one of Anderson’s finer strengths as a director. (Edward Norton is just phenomenal in this.) Less positively, Anderson’s single means for ending a film (“stage a crisis that assembles all the characters”—not unlike in The Avengers!) has never felt more desperate, or tired. I’d sure like to see him try something different. But Moonrise Kingdom is the work of an artist more concerned with doubling down than with striking out for elsewhere.
13. Never Let Me Go (2010, Mark Romanek, 103 min): This sensitive picture, made by people who clearly revere Ishiguro’s novel, unfortunately sacrifices a substantial amount of that book’s complexity. The novel is narrated by Kathy, whose voice proves a complex mixture of sorrow and obedience. Losing that element removes most of her character’s terrifying complicity, making her a more straightforward victim. And she is a victim, but our ability to see past her naivity is essential to the book’s masterful effect. Furthermore, while director Romanek really reined himself in here, he also has a habit of making everything look like a J. Crew commercial (although it’s important that the lead characters all be beautiful). The result is a moving and admirable film that’s no substitute for the book.
14. Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes, 143 min): Cinematographer Roger Deakins has given us what might be the most beautiful Bond film ever, and this might be one of the finer Bond installments. But one of the benefits of looking back like this is that you see how a lot of perfectly enjoyable films don’t really hold up all that well when viewed in the larger context of cinema—it strikes me as the kind of movie I like best when watching it. Also, I intensely disliked the final five minutes.
15. *Somebody That I Used to Know (2011, Gotye & Natasha Pincus, 4 min): This is a neat little video that I think could have been much better, as I explained in a post that I put up before I got sick of hearing the song repeat every twenty minutes at the gym.
16. The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon, 143 min): My pal Jeremy M. Davies compared this one to Ghostbusters, both of them being very fun movies that one doesn’t have to enjoy ironically. That makes Robert Downey, Jr. the next Bill Murray? The last third lost me somewhat, as did the awful opening set-piece—so there’s maybe 40 minutes that bored me—but the film overall succeeded wildly as popular entertainment, and I’d be a cad if I didn’t admit I had fun.
17. The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Drew Goddard, 95 min): I enjoyed this one, too, for the most part. It starts strong, but ultimately loses its nerve, and is nowhere near as clever as it thinks it is. It was a total mistake, I’d argue, to include those gods living underneath the earth! Because it’s the audience that is demanding blood, not Cthulhu—and having the gods there permits Goddard and Whedon to make any serious (auto-)critique. Ah, culpability! Still, as disappointing as the whole thing turns out, the movie’s mostly fun, with the Grand Guignol monster mash demonstrating one way in which the rote “final battle” scene can be reimagined.
18. Turtles Forever (2009, Roy Burdine & Lloyd Goldfine, 90 min): Easily the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie ever made! Rather than avoiding the mess that is Turtles continuity, as well as the discrepancies between all the different versions (comics/kiddie cartoon/anime), this movie makes those contradictions its raison d’être. The film’s a little slow to get going, but once it gets going, it’s rollicking—the very definition of fan-service.

1. Cloud Atlas (2012, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, & Tom Tykwer): I outlined my complaints in greater detail here, but simply put, I don’t think the Wachowskis and Tykwer really understood their source material. They supposedly spent months in Hawaii or somewhere recounting the book to one another, telling it and retelling it, in search of some way they could adapt it. They were talking about the wrong novel.
2. Orgasm Inc. (2009, Elizabeth Canner, an unbelievably long 73 min): This is a well-intentioned documentary about how pharmaceutical companies have convinced women that they need to be medicated in order to have orgasms. The problem is that any information that the film delivers could have been communicated in an essay that I could have read in 20 minutes. And so I hereby propose the A D Jameson Test for Documentary Pictures: “If your content can be delivered in an essay that someone can read in less time than it takes to watch your film, then make the essay, not the film.”
The other problem with this movie is that it is terribly boring, and no film with the word “Inc.” in its title should be boring.
3. Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott, 124 min): I wrote more about this one here, and while I admired some things about it (the production design, certain set-pieces), Ridley Scott also made Alien, and this is no Alien. Perhaps it’s because he made such a brilliant earlier film that he seems so ambivalent about this new one? Regardless, that ambivalence is palpable. Keep him away from Blade Runner!
Damon Lindelof’s script is also abominable, loaded with needlessly expository dialogue delivered by characters who are so stupid it’s impossible to care anything about them. Even more disappointingly, the whole picture ultimately proves the shaggiest of shaggy dog stories. I guess they’re making another one now, and which brings to mind a certain quote by The Philosopher:
There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again!
4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan, 165 min): The more people cool on this movie, the more I kinda want to defend it; I’m contrary that way. And make no mistake: there are aspects of Nolan’s Batman movies that I admire. As I wrote in much more detail elsewhere, the biggest accomplishment of his Dark Knight Trilogy was its successful reimagining of the Batman universe as something more realistic and urban. However, Nolan’s writing and direction fail to match that inspired approach, always looking for—and finding—the easiest solution.
If you’re interested, I wrote yet more about The Dark Knight Rises here & here. I’ve also written a fair amount about Inception, here & here & here & here & here. And I’ve written a lot about the true TDKR, Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, here & here & here & here & here & here & here & here.
I really should find something better to do—like write about Peter Jackson and LOTR!
5. The Hobbit: An Uneventful Journey (2012, Peter Jackson, your entire lifetime): I really did honestly like this more than I liked the LOTR movies, mainly because Jackson and his team of one bazillion special effects artists have finally figured out how to resize the actors and composite them in single shots. That means the movie isn’t an endless parade of close-ups, like LOTR was. The movie remains, however, an endless parade of false CGI peril. Once the dwarven dinner party was over, I pretty much checked out, as evidenced by my lengthy post about viewing it, here.
6. The Incredible Hulk (2008, Louis Leterrier, 112 min): The Hulk is possibly my favorite Marvel superhero, so I really wanted to like this, and I think that everyone involved wanted to make a good Hulk film, but they did not make a good Hulk film. It’s possible that no one can. The first twenty minutes or so are really fun, but once the action leaves Brazil it all starts sliding downhill, the way it seems that all Hulk movies must. The final half hour is practically unwatchable: two CGI figures grappling with one another makes for very boring cinema,Hollywood.
7. To Hell Rome with Love (2012, Woody Allen, 112 min): I love Woody Allen even more than I do the Hulk…I think. And I even like several of Woody Allen’s more recent films—Scoop, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Whatever Works. This new one has a few decent gags, such as the scene where the guy sings Pagliacci onstage in the shower, and people have to walk over to him to get stabbed, and his makeup keeps running off. But Woody Allen’s made nearly fifty films, and I’ve seen every single one of them, and honesty forces me to ran this one toward the bottom. (In case you’re interested, Jeremy M. Davies and I really did rank all of Woody Allen’s movies, here.)
1. Spaced (1999–2001, 14 episodes directed by Edgar Wright). I love Edgar Wright’s films so much I had to watch this series, his first collaboration with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. It’s fabulous and I’m now a tremendous fan. I also watched the documentary Skip to the End (2004) which I’d recommend to fans. And if you don’t watch it, at least obey its command and watch the epilogue, which brilliantly delivers the long-awaited (and otherwise-never-going-to-happen) third season.
2. Curb Your Enthusiasm (1999–2011, 80 episodes + a pilot, directed by Robert B. Weide, Larry Charles, et al): You already knew this was wonderful, didn’t you? Over the past decade I caught stray episodes here and there, but now I’m finally watching the seasons straight through. After classes.
I also watched a bunch of older movies, and I intend to write about some of them in the coming year, but I won’t go into any of them now.
So, to recap:
1. Chronicle (2012, Josh Trank, 84 min)
2. Dear God, I Hate Myself (2010, Xiu Xiu, 3 min)
3. Elevations and Depths (2010, Locrian & Annie Feldmeier Adams, 11 min)
4. False Jesii Part 2 (2010, Pissed Jeans & Shawn Brackbill, 3 min)
5. Islands (2010, the xx & Saam, 3 min)
6. Star Wars Uncut: Director’s Cut (2012, Casey Pugh et al, 120 min)
7. Super (2010, James Gunn, 96 min)
8. The Death and Return of Superman (2011, Max Landis, 17 min)
9. The Limits of Control (2009, Jim Jarmusch, 116 min)
10. Where the Hell is Matt? (2008, Matt Harding, 5 min)
+ Curb Your Enthusiasm (1999–2011, various directors)
+ Spaced (1999–2001, Edgar Wright)
1. American Masters: Woody Allen: A Documentary (2011, Robert B. Weide, 192 min)
2. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011, Joe Johnston, 124 min)
3. Cop Dog Review (by Mr. Plinkett) (2011, Mike Stoklasa, 23 min)
4. Dredd (aka Dredd 3D) (2012, Pete Travis, 96 min)
5. George Washington (2009, Brad Neely, 2 min)
6 & 7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Parts 1 & 2 (2010–1, David Yates, 276 min)
8. Haywire (2012, Steven Soderbergh, 93 min)
9. Hi (2012, David Horvitz & Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu, 3 min)
10. Lincoln (2012, Steven Spielberg, 150 min)
11. Looper (2012, Rian Johnson, 119 min)
12. Moonrise Kingdom (2012, Wes Anderson, 94 min)
13. Never Let Me Go (2010, Mark Romanek, 103 min)
14. Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes, 143 min)
15. Somebody That I Used to Know (2011, Gotye & Natasha Pincus, 4 min)
16. The Avengers (2012, Joss Whedon, 143 min)
17. The Cabin in the Woods (2012, Drew Goddard, 95 min)
18. Turtles Forever (2009, Roy Burdine & Lloyd Goldfine, 90 min)
1. Cloud Atlas (2012, Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, & Tom Tykwer)
2. Orgasm Inc. (2009, Elizabeth Canner, 73 min)
3. Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott, 124 min)
4. The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan, 165 min)
5. The Hobbit: An Unrelenting Journey (2012, Peter Jackson, endless)
6. The Incredible Hulk (2008, Louis Leterrier, 112 min)
7. To Rome with Love (2012, Woody Allen, 112 min)
… If you have your own thoughts about any of these movies, I’d love to hear them. Meanwhile, here’s wishing you the very best of viewing in 2013!

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