This list, in its first state, crystallized as pairs and trios that formed on no single principle other than that of automatism: sometimes, three films released around the same time; three independent films; three off-Hollywood films; three films by one director (yes); or groupings that appeared first on the page and only later yielded up a kernel of significance, or quasi-surrealistic insignificance (one-word titles, two-word titles). I’ve kept some, tweaked others.
1-2. “Holy Motors” & Moonrise Kingdom”
Tied for first, listed in alphabetical order. Films of blatant, reckless, ecstatic beauty that make the quest for beauty their very subject and that face its moral implications; that take on the ultimate themes of love and death with piercing tenderness and anarchic humor, rapidity and precision, grandeur and intimacy, and an unerring yet personal, spontaneous yet deeply thoughtful sense of form. That take up the challenge of history (cinematic, artistic, personal—and even political, from oblique angles that offer surprising perspectives) and thereby take their place in history. Both have an astonishing reach, a vast geographical embrace. These are the instant classics, ready-made for the distant future.
3. “The Master”
No film brought its subject to life with a more surprising style or seemed to surprise its director as much with the conclusions it reached. It’s a movie of inextricable pairings: mastery of others is inseparable from mastery of self; method, from madness; creation, from power; deception, from self-delusion; performance, from being; and the biggest part of life is filling in the blanks around losses. Its subject is greatness in failure and horror in success, so how could it have made money at the box office?
4-5. “Oki’s Movie” & This Is Not a Film”
Two movies about making movies. It’s Hong Sang-soo’s year, with three films in release (the other two are below); this one stands out for its jagged emotional edges, aggressively intricate approach to its subject, and extraordinarily inspired, brashly vigorous image-making. As for Jafar Panahi’s film made—largely with his iPhone—while under house arrest in Tehran, it pushes outraged reason to a furious pitch of imagination; it turns cinematic form into a moral assertion.
The next ten, ordered arbitrarily:
“To Rome with Love”: Woody Allen, master of metaphors, comes up with one of his greatest—and gives Ellen Page a supporting turn close to that of Dianne Wiest in “Hannah and her Sisters.”
“Tabu”: Love and colonialism, or, can Europeans live well when their countries do good?
“The Color Wheel”: The director Alex Ross Perry stars alongside Carlen Altman, and, playing a sort-of-grown-up pair of siblings too weighted down for takeoff, they spar as fiercely and draw blood more surely than Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Aided by Sean Price Williams’s cinematography, he keeps the camera at just the distance to stay on the precarious edge between comedy and drama. An independent film of classical elements and modern methods and moods.
“The Deep Blue Sea”: Minor compared only to Terence Davies’s other films; not as extremely stylized or intimate as “Distant Voices, Still Lives” or “The Long Day Closes.” But it does something they don’t: reproduces the tones and moods of grand melodrama from the time in which it’s set, London, 1950, and features one of the great flashbacks—to wartime, with a Davies standby, the group sing, raised to a new level of historical consciousness.
“Damsels in Distress”: Whit Stillman’s return isn’t a return to form but the discovery of a new one—his aphoristic brilliance is now couched in a poetically excessive rhetoric of hyperstylized rapidity, which only an extraordinarily nimble and virtuosic cast could keep spinning with a perfect gyroscopic rectitude. The narrowed scope and stylized setting suggest vast inner dimensions of repressed pain as well as overtly prescriptive remedies.
“We Have a Pope”: The director Nanni Moretti, who co-stars, takes a back seat to Michel Piccoli’s poignant performance as a Cardinal who, with the candor of faith, begins to question his lifetime of faith. The political fury of the final scene is an honorable homage to one of the greatest scenes of all time, the ending of “The Great Dictator.”
“This Is 40”: Or, rictus: the painted-on smile of a man who loves his family as well as the wild life. It’s being called a “kind of sequel” to “Knocked Up” but better seen as a pendant to “Funny People”: imagine Adam Sandler’s character not having cheated on Leslie Mann and finding himself in Eric Bana’s position. Think of Cassavetes and call it “Husband.”
“Red Hook Summer”: As ferociously skeptical as “We Have a Pope,” with a pair of child actors as talented as those in “Moonrise Kingdom,” a text as exquisite as that of “Damsels in Distress,” and an artistic metaphor as great as in “To Rome with Love.”
“Fake It So Real”: Robert Greene’s documentary about a local pro-wrestling circuit avoids the clichés of the subject and of the form and offers revelations about its subject as art and sport, about the lives of its agonists and aspirants, and about performance as such.
And a dozen more:
And a blank space because I’m sure there’s at least one important film that’s missing and that I expect to catch up with in the next little while—will report back.
Best Director: Don’t make me choose between Wes Anderson and Leos Carax. To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, if the coin rolls under the davenport, I’d go for Paul Thomas Anderson.
Best Actor: Denis Lavant (“Holy Motors”); Joaquin Phoenix is a close second, Philip Seymour Hoffman a close third, both for “The Master.”
Best Actress: Greta Gerwig (“Damsels in Distress”); second, Rachel Weisz: I’m gratified by the N.Y.F.C.C.’s choice of Weisz for her performance in “The Deep Blue Sea,” which is distinguished by her recreation of a period style of acting. But Gerwig sends a very difficult text aloft with deft humor and graceful emotion; it’s an astonishing feat.
Best Supporting Actor: Clarke Peters (“Red Hook Summer”).
Best Supporting Actress: Edith Scob (“Holy Motors”), with, as close seconds, Amy Ferguson, in “The Master,” and Rosemary DeWitt, for “Promised Land” (not for “Your Sister’s Sister”). And there’s a brief scene in “Red Hook Summer” for which an actress deserves mention here, too, but my notes don’t suffice to identify her; when my DVD arrives (release date: December 21st), I’ll report back.
Best Original Screenplay: “The Master,” followed closely by “Damsels in Distress,” “Tabu,” “Red Hook Summer,” and “The Color Wheel.”
Best Adapted Screenplay: “The Deep Blue Sea.”
Best Cinematography: “The Master”; followed closely by “Oki’s Movie,” “The Color Wheel,” “Magic Mike,” and “Promised Land.”
Best Foreign-Language Film: “Holy Motors,” obviously.
Best Ensemble: “Moonrise Kingdom.”
Best Undistributed Film: “Sun Don’t Shine,” followed by “When Night Falls” and “Marvin Seth and Stanley.”
Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies/2012/12/best-movies-of-2012.html#ixzz2F3KaitkQ