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Best Films of 2012: Part I

Six great movies from the year

The Kid with a Bike

The Dardennes make another masterwork, this time about a temperamental but caring boy who finds friendship and hope in the form of a stranger, wonderfully played by Cécile de France. This is a sweet, lulling story with all the stylistic flourishes of the famed Belgian brother writing/directing team who also have a great knack for directing silence, brilliantly casting actors with emotionally revealing and powerful gestures and facial expressions.  

The Master

Exquisite filmmaking, P.T. Anderson's The Master embodies what brings a person to the theater, keeps them there, and makes a film survive past viewing. It is a flawed, semi-meandering film that doesn't know what story it's telling; but it's beautiful, mysterious, haunting, and touching. And it features two of the best performances in movie history, particularly from Joaquin Phoenix as a sex-addicted vet who makes strong alcoholic concoctions, can't keep a job, and bonds with a cult leader (played fabulously by Philip Seymour Hoffman). 

Your Sister's Sister

The first hour of Lynn Shelton's comedy drama features some of the best improvised acting captured in a mainstream film in a long, long time. Mark Duplass, Emily Blunt, and Rosemarie DeWitt are excellent as their complicated relationships are played out over a short period within the confines of an island home. It's sweet and smart and has some of the most inspired acting of the year.

Oslo, August 31

A moving film about a man wanting to die, this film is nevertheless sweet and unexpected. It has beautifully reflective moments where we simply watch what captures the imagination and sight of our protagonist. Directed by Joachim Trier who has a clear and unique vision and starring Anders Danielsen Lie who is quite arresting in the lead role.

Cosmopolis

Cronenberg returns to form in this limo-set claustrophobic financial apocalyptic "thriller" told through a (potentially last) day in the life of a charming and sad billionaire genius. Robert Pattinson steps up to the challenge of playing the twisted, self-doubting, masochistic, and sexually insatiable protagonist. He has lots of sex, philosophizes on life, gets lectured on art and theory, faces death, kills, and gets half a hair-cut - among other activities, all shot in a typically artificial yet beautiful Cronenberg way.

Moonrise Kingdom

In a sweet coming-of-age story set on camping grounds, Wes Anderson uses maps, music, and objects to tell an earnest adolescent fairy tale. He smartly casts strong actors in small, limited but effective roles, such as Bill Murray as the emotionally inept father (who made me laugh out loud twice) and Bruce Willis as a confused but compassionate policeman. Edward Norton is also there, playing nicely with the role of a well-meaning, naive scout master. Opposite these talented, veterans, the kids are played by amateur actors - and you can tell. Their under-experience brings out the innocence and awkwardness of their characters but also limits the emotional range of what they can do with them. Perhaps, in the hands of more talented young actors, Moonrise Kingdom could have been great and not just good.

There are many, many films I have yet to see. They include Amour and Holy Motors. 

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