BY FRANKLIN P. LAVIOLA
10. The Kid with a Bike, directed by Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardennes
The Belgian Dardennes Brothers’ best film to date explores a casual act of kindness in an uncaring world, when a hairdresser takes in a volatile twelve-year-old, recently abandoned by his deadbeat father. Cecile de France as the hairdresser and newcomer Thomas Doret as the boy are both wonderful in this contemporary fairy-tale.
9. Django Unchained, directed by Quentin Tarantino
Frequently hilarious and ultra-violent, Tarantino’s revenge “southern” confronts both the western genre and the very real horrors of slavery. This daring, messy, and insane alternative history (set in 1858, “two years before the Civil War,” a title card informs the viewer) serves as a correction to the sanitized, self-congratulatory, and downright silly awards bait known as Lincoln.
8. Holy Motors, directed by Leos Carax
In transitioning from celluloid to digital, has the cinema lost its mysterious god-like power to astonish, illuminate, and evoke genuine emotion? Leos Carax believes so. From it’s Lynchian prologue in an old movie theater to its uproarious closing shot of limousines in conversation, Carax’s surreal sci-fi film links the death of cinema with the death of the human. An angry and deeply romantic lament for analog humans and their technology.
7. The Deep Blue Sea, directed by Terence Davies
British auteur Terence Davies’ first fiction feature, since The House of Mirth (2000), is a gorgeous love letter to the classic melodrama, post-war England, and the wondrous look and textures of 35mm film stock. As the participants in a doomed love triangle, Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, and Simon Russell Beale are uniformly excellent.
6. Amour, directed by Michael Haneke
A film entitled “Love” from the director of Funny Games? Surely, this must be another one of Haneke’s cruel jokes? Not the case this time around. As an octogenarian married couple, suddenly faced with debilitating illness and the specter of death, French legends Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give the performances of the year.
5. Damsels in Distress, directed by Whit Stillman
2012 was an unexpectedly rewarding year for comedies (Bernie, To Rome with Love, We Have A Pope, and the Sam & Suzie alone together scenes in Moonrise Kingdom), but Stillman’s return to filmmaking after a thirteen year absence was the most consistently witty and amusing. Aided in no small part by Greta Gerwig’s performance, this romantic comedy was also surprisingly insightful about clinical depression and the important role of art and entertainment in our daily lives.
4. The Dark Knight Rises, directed by Christopher Nolan
2012 was also an unexpectedly strong year for the Hollywood tentpole release (The Hobbit, Skyfall, and even Prometheus, feasibly could have made the list), but the conclusion to Nolan’s Batman trilogy was the best of them all. Kudos to star Christian Bale for bringing intelligence and Byronic depth, along with his commanding physical presence, to his incarnation of the famed superhero — key ingredients in making the series so rousing.
3. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The police investigation at the center of this epic procedural, set in rural Turkey, yields more than just a body, a suspect, and a possible motive. Both a complex moral inquiry and study of a natural landscape at night, this is Ceylan’s most accomplished work yet.
2. The Turin Horse, directed by Bela Tarr
If the reports are true, then this stark black & white vision of the apocalypse will be the Hungarian auteur’s final film. Let’s hope not, but, still, what a way to go out …
1. Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Bigelow’s previous film, the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker (2009), was a psychological character study, built around a series of tense bomb-defusing setpieces. For its first two-thirds, her latest is an expert procedural with a journalistic bent, much like All the President’s Men (1976) and Zodiac (2007). But then, in the third act, Bigelow rockets the material into the stratosphere. In recreating the Navy SEALs‘ assault on the Bin Laden compound, the film becomes not just unbelievably detailed and pulse-poundingly riveting, but a rethinking of everything we’ve seen leading up to it and more.
Staff writer Franklin P. Laviola wrote and directed the award-winning short film Happy Face, which has screened at over 20 film festivals.