As I make my way through watching the Oscar nominated films for the year, I realize that 2012 was a dry year for critically acclaimed cinema. Those that were lauded as great appeared to me to be passable and watchable films with strong acting performances that otherwise fell a little flat in terms of story, structure, and visual innovation. The most glaring omission from the Academy was P.T. Anderson's incredible The Master. But one must move on. These are my choices, in order of preference.
My choice to win - though it won't - Michael Haneke's latest film Amour is a wondrous picture into the dying days of a woman as she is being taken care of by her devoted yet strong-spirited husband. The woman is played beautifully by Emmanuelle Riva who takes on a very difficult role and turns it into a dynamic, magnetic, and extremely sympathetic presence. Jean-Louis Trintignant is simply perfect as her caretaker husband who so convincingly delivers the tasks of everyday life amidst the turmoil of losing his beloved wife.
None of the rest of these films were among my favorites of 2012. I will probably never watch any of them again, in my life - with the exception, perhaps, of pieces of Django on television.
2. Django Unchained
Maybe Tarantino's best film since Jackie Brown, Django Unchained is a fun, clever, often wonderfully-shot movie that also gives some amusing playtime to its featured actors. Leonardo DiCaprio is magnetic, Jamie Foxx delivers a strong lead, and Waltz brings some nuance to a tricky part. Nevertheless, the last half-hour reduces the film to its most basic, predictable elements, reminding me why I stopped really caring about Tarantino after Pulp Fiction.
2. Beasts of a Southern Wild
With a fantastic, beautiful opening, Beasts of the Southern Wild draws you immediately into its world. And then totally loses you there, incessantly repeating the same images and musical themes. It honestly would have worked better as a short film, as it felt like a cohesive, strong 20-minute piece played three times over. There is much one can be troubled with in terms of its depiction of poverty and the white gaze that feels forever present. I tried to stay in my chair and enjoy the visuals. The aesthetic innovation almost made up for the poor storytelling and problematic choosing and handling of subject matter.
2. Zero Dark Thirty
I earlier reviewed this film in this blog post, focusing directly on its depiction of torture and what this implies for the film and the industry at large. I still think that Kathryn Bigelow is a disgustingly opportunistic director who films violence because it draws viewers; however, she knows what she's doing when it comes to making thrillers. As a Hollywood suspense film, this one is solid, with spot-on acting performances. Too bad it lacks any human quality.
5. Silver Linings Playbook
Silver Linings Playbook is a nice, often very funny comedy about two people with instant chemistry but unbalanced lives. It's watchable although has its lulls. Robert de Niro and Jacki Weaver are particularly sharp as the devoted yet misguided parents. Bradley Cooper does a good job of playing a character that is not too well defined, while Jennifer Lawrence steals the show as his spontaneous, unfiltered love interest. It often doesn't quite work (the whole dancing drama) but when it does can be quite fun. Russell has yet to discover a form that works best for his style and voice, but he's getting closer.
I reviewed Argo in this post.
6. Life of Pi
A beautiful film from Ang Lee, Life of Pi keeps your attention throughout but fails to come together as a cohesive, interesting whole. One has to admire the story it courageously puts onscreen - mostly of a boy and a tiger lost at sea. Too bad there wasn't much that was memorable beyond the wondrous visuals of animal and ocean life.
All the points given to this film come by way of the performance by Daniel Day Lewis, which is nothing special, really, but does an excellent job of resurrecting a legendary figure. Spielberg's work here is unashamedly myth-making at its most boring. I don't mind exaggerated historical premises if it is to serve a more riveting, complex film. Here it reduces history to simple, uninspiring terms. If you know nothing about the Civil War, perhaps it will move you. I personally am a bit sick of watching a bunch of white men in a room arguing about the destinies of all the "Others" of the world, both domestic and abroad. Just as he told us of the "dignity" of the Jew from the perspective of the goodness of a Gentile businessman, he here offers the same defense of the Black American from the perspective of a White President. Sadly, but predictably, it's almost a dead-lock to win (if Argo doesn't sneak up on it.)
9. Les Miserables
This was nominated?