A cinematic mix-tape for the year gone by
1 “Zero Dark Thirty”
A tough no-nonsense shooter with an eye for clarity hooks up with a top-notch journalist intent on capturing the true essence of the story (which isn’t necessarily the “truth” in an idealized sense) and first we get “The Hurt Locker,” a Best Picture/Director combo winner (along with a screenplay Oscar to boot) that marks a first for a woman at the helm. Kathryn Bigelow’s aim is even truer in “Zero Dark Thirty,” a story that is as much about her (and the plight of strong-willed women) as it is about the search for Osama bin Laden.
2 “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
At the time of its release, I compared this film to the work of Toni Morrison, maybe if she had written “Where the Wild Things Are” with a young black female protagonist (Quvenzhané Wallis), but that description fails to account for the phenomenon that is at the center of this film. She is lightning in a bottle, wild and wise beyond her years and the film has the good sense to tag along for the ride with her.
3 “Moonrise Kingdom” (Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson has, for most of his career, been a filmmaker I’ve respected rather than loved. I knew he was smart, but he never made me feel a damned thing. That is, until “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” Funny, right? An animated children’s story that, to be accurate, really isn’t a children’s story based upon what we normally feed our kids onscreen. But, somehow, he and this marvelous movie touched me and then he came right back at me with “Moonrise Kingdom,” this time with children as the main protagonists. Once again though, these weren’t regular screen kids. This was Terence Malick’s “Badlands” as performed by pre-teens and it is a heavenly treat to behold.
4 “Argo” (Ben Affleck)
That Ben Affleck has charmed the pants off me with his work behind the camera. “Gone Baby Gone” translates a standard thriller from crime fiction writer Dennis Lehane, but thanks to an ending that departs simply (and quite profoundly) from what was written on the page, Affleck’s film is so much better. With “The Town,” he raised the stakes for himself and, while not eclipsing Michael Mann’s “Heat,” proved that he was a sharp shooter. “Argo” is a home run that flies high (higher than his two previous films) without swinging for the fences.
5 “The Master” (Paul Thomas Anderson)
Can we all stop talking about Scientology in regards to this film, please? To do so ignores the far more mythic aspect of this story about the transition from the Old World gods to the rise of New Age men eager to replace them, which is far more interesting than anything L. Ron Hubbard was peddling. Plus, such empty musings distract us from the totally appropriate craziness of Joaquin Phoenix’s work here that is like watching the loony cousin of Daniel Day Lewis’s Daniel Plainview from “There Will Be Blood.”
6 “Rust and Bone” (Jacques Audiard)
I love Marion Cotillard. She plays a character who loses her legs here, in a horrific accident and becomes a fuller, more beautiful woman. What more do I need to say? Okay, I can add a more than healthy admiration for the gently menacing Matthias Schoenaerts from “Bullhead.” He is everything that we’ve come to love about Tom Hardy – minus the Bane mask. Wait until Christopher Nolan hooks up with him.
7 “Anna Karenina” (Joe Wright)
The whole world’s a stage – I get it – and I love that this film made that stage far more real than many of the scenes that drifted across the screen this year that were rooted in something that was supposed to resemble the real world. This whirling, twirling dance of love – Russian-style – featured grace (Keira Knightley) and quiet reserve (Jude Law) in equal measure, enough to set hearts afire.
8 “Middle of Nowhere” (Ava DuVernay)
I never knew what I was missing until I purposefully walked into the TIFF screening of Ava DuVernay’s feature about a truly, magnificently strong black woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi) trying to hold onto the love for her imprisoned man, in the face of an extension of his sentence and the arrival of a new lover who is available and present to her needs, to become the woman of her dreams. Forget black and white. This is the kind of story that reaches deep into your chest and massages your aching heart.
9 “Hyde Park on Hudson” (Roger Michell)
While watching Bill Murray as FDR, I experienced an epiphany of epic proportions. I’ve come to realize that Murray is the flipside of the acting coin to Daniel Day-Lewis. Both guys are brilliant performers – and as FDR, we are presented with a masterful embodiment of political and personal persuasion – who disappear in between roles, but Murray teaches us, by example, to live it up. God bless him!
10 “Silver Linings Playbook”
(David O. Russell)
“Winter’s Bone” showcased the fierce presence of John Hawkes and then signaled that maybe I should keep an eye on Jennifer Lawrence, but to be honest, she was too young to attract my full and undivided attention. “Like Crazy” turned my head a bit more (moreso than “The Hunger Games,” which didn’t hit the target for me, sorry), although she still hadn’t become a thing of real adult yearning. Now, though, she’s the silver lining in “Silver Linings Playbook,” deservedly so because she helps make a man of Bradley Cooper’s pretty boy.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com