Iron List Awards
The world as it should be.
Marion Cotillard, Rust & Bone
Hani Furstenberg, The Loneliest Planet
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Cecile de France, Kid with a Bike
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Channing Tatum, Magic Mike
Dwight Henry, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Matthias Schoenarts, Rust and Bone
Lior Ashkenazi, Footnote
Best Supporting Actress
Rosemarie DeWitt, Your Sister’s Sister
Isla Fisher, Bachelorette
Elena Lyadova, Elena
Sarah Silverman, Take This Waltz
Isabelle Huppert, Amour
Samuel L. Jackson, Django Unchained
Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
Christopher Walken, Seven Psychopaths
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Bidzina Gujabidze, The Loneliest Planet
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
P.T. Anderson, The Master
Andrey Zvyagintsev, Elena
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, The Kid With a Bike
Jacques Audiard, Rust & Bone
The Kid with a Bike
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Rust and Bone
Oslo, August 31
Iron List Oscar Picks
The world as it is.
Emmanuelle Riva, Amour (should win)
Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Naomi Watts, The Impossible
Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook** (will win)
Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln** (will win)
Denzel Washington, Flight
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Hugh Jackman, Les Misérables
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook
Best Supporting Actress
Sally Field, Lincoln
Amy Adams, The Master
Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables** (will win)
Helen Hunt, The Sessions
Jacki Weaver, Silver Linings Playbook
Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained** (will win)
Alan Arkin, Argo
Robert De Niro, Silver Linings Playbook
Benh Zeitlin, Beasts of the Southern Wild
Steven Spielberg, Lincoln** (will win)
Michael Haneke, Amour
Ang Lee, Life of Pi
David O. Russell, Silver Linings Playbook
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Life of Pi
Zero Dark Thirty
Argo** (will win)
Silver Linings Playbook
The TOP TEN is finally here, and with it comes a link to Matt and Katherine's individual Top 50 rankings. No, we did not see Les Mis. I blame myself.
10. Django Unchained (K.H.'s #11 overall film, M.K.'s #8)
K.H.: Matt covered this pretty well in his essay on the Junto blog. All I’ll add is that the bodacious soundtrack has been playing in our apartment ever since.
M.K.: Yeah, go read that, and the comments, too. But listen to Rick Ross while you're doing it.
12. Zero Dark Thirty, Looper, The Cabin in the Woods (3-Way Tie)
Zero Dark Thirty is seriously riveting, but by fictionalizing events that are most interesting for their factual value—for what they can tell us about the not-so-ambiguous moral questions that surround torture, about the slow, unreliable process of intelligence gathering and interpretation, about dynamics of gender in governmental and military agencies—the movie presents questions of accuracy that are pretty distracting.
Some hate, but I congratulate Looper; I mean, there’s telekinesis, a sense of humor about the ineluctable silliness of time travel narratives, and Joseph Gordon Levitt’s acting is muted by makeup artists to the point of tolerability. Finally, A Cabin in the Woods is such a fun horror flick; it’s scary (in a cartoonish, Joss Whedon kind of way), it’s a bloodfest, and it loves its genre, quite appropriately, to death; it pays homage to the horror film by deconstructing it with violent, dismembering glee.
My respect for this movie springs from two sources (besides its bracing directness toward a difficult subject). The first is Denzel, full stop. There was Glory, yes, and Philadelphia, yes, but in this movie he’s on a different, um, plane. I also respect Flight for its baller use of metaphor. The crash could have been a schlocky mechanism, but it was perhaps the most memorable single scene of any movie I saw this year. (Marion Cotillard’s reconciliation with the whale that maimed her in Rust and Bone is a rival).
8. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Richard’s snoring may have just barely kept the rest of the theater awake, but I found this movie really absorbing. If you replace Talmudic scholarship with tuna, and Footnote’s ample backstory of father-son rivalry with true-life, elephant-in-the-room reticence about the same subject, you’ve got Jiro Dreams of Sushi (kind of--see below). It’s mostly visual and atmospheric, it’s true, but it’s admirably obsessed with the subject of craft; I love my non-human animal brethren and everything, but this movie makes slicing translucent, peony-pink flesh look like the most admirably artistic of human pursuits.
This movie is three to five very important minutes too short, but I forgive it. Its awesome surprise is how beautifully it depicts continuities between (moral) character and intellectual style—continuities that are super, super difficult to render in a visual medium. The father’s rigid, inhuman, scientific sensibility and profound respect for truth and the son’s creativity, interpretive power, and willingness to play fast and loose with facts find expression in the men’s demeanors, language, and scholarship alike—and both father and son suffer for the ambitious extremity of their points of view. I wish the mother, silent and suffering in the crossfire of the movie’s male rivalry, had been a little less silent, and that the father had been given as much sympathetic complexity as the son. But the movie is quirky and academic in a good way, and makes great use of whimsical, Amelie-style narrative interjections that brighten its tone.
6. Searching for Sugar Man
Your classic unsung-presumed-to-be-dead-Detroit-vagrant-singer/songwriter-meets-orphaned-and-adoring-South-African-fan-base love story. This movie has pure luck on its side—its great strength is its unrelenting sinuousness, but the stranger-than-fiction plot twists are found, not made. What I like best about this documentary is its restraint; its makers are driven by dogged curiosity, but in the end the movie curates its subject without plundering its central mystery.
5. The Queen of Versailles
The pleasures of this documentary are all mixed up with its horrors. A central gratification, rather unusually, is Schadenfreude; watching its real-life villain suffer, and watching the grotesque economics, ethics and aesthetics of the McMansioned world he inhabits contract and decay, is really very satisfying indeed. But more startling and nuanced is the genuine affective confusion the movie’s anti-heroine, the queen herself, elicits; as patently intelligent as she is shallow, as exploited and she is exploitative, as dehumanized by consumption as she is addicted to it, her monstrosity and charm demonstrate the capacity of documentary to render character with the deftness of scripted drama.
It was a delight to watch this movie transcend the fun but meaningless bitch-fest it might have been and floresce into an exotic hybrid of sensitivity and satirical brutality. This is the most mordant movie I’ve seen in recent memory, but its merciless depiction of an explicitly female kind of psychological violence is balanced by equally scathing allusions to the social causes of that violence—and to the special, isolated fallenness that accompanies the onset of sexual maturity/sexual objecthood in American women.
The movie may share thematic genes with Bridesmaids, but the comedies are of totally different tonal species and modal families; Bachelorette centers, for example, on a quest to restore a desecrated wedding dress, a humpty-dumptified emblem of female restoration through romantic love. Though I normally object to Kirsten Dunst’s stock array of attributes—cruelty, vapidity, amoral intelligence—here she’s a well cast Grinch whose heart grows three sizes over the course of the movie. Bachelorette does seem to lose its nerve in the end, falling back on some pretty facile procedures of rom-com closure, but that’s just an assertion of its priorities—the movie comes to play, not preach.
3. Django Unchained
This movie is so distinctive for its exuberant, bloody marriage of aggressive confrontation and comic caricature; it’s both challenging and entertaining, and it lovingly parodies the spaghetti Western and the bromance as it covers its unlikely thematic ground. For me the counterpoint of revenge comedy slasher violence and ‘real’ historical violence, however Tarantinified, worked. I have two major regrets, though; one is Tarantino’s very unfortunate, seeing-your-grandparent-naked style cameo as an Australian miner, the other is the movie’s lack, given all the stalking and carnage, of Inglorious Basterds’ memorable suspense. Would that the world could bottle Christoph Waltz’s charisma, and prevent Leonardo DiCaprio from doing accents!
2. Take this Waltz
Most of the awesome things that stuck with me from this movie are visual: the under-water courtship dance; the intergenerational locker room; the euphoric tilt-a-whirl; the twirling, time-lapse portrait of the descent of a relationship from sexual frenzy to domestic ennui. I didn’t need another reason to love Sarah Silverman, but her drunken “Life has a gap in it” speech kicked me in the face in the best kind of way. I still prefer Sarah Polley’s debut Away from Her, but at least Take this Waltz didn’t elicit a straight hour and a half of undignified blubbering.
1. Rust and Bone
Thank you for introducing me to this movie (and no. 4), Matt and Katherine! It worked some kind of black magic on me, and I’m desperate to see it again. Rust and Bone is all about the body in crazy sophisticated ways, and it’s so subtle and copious in its angles of approach: it’s got interspecies love, failures and triumphs of ‘natural’ parental instinct, mysterious impulses to violence in men and orcas, bruised fists on ice and fists broken on ice, emotional intimacy facilitated and impeded by sexuality, tattoos, prosthesis, puppies; most strikingly, the movie’s spiritual and psychological transformations arise from the physical, life and death crises of its three central characters. Both of my top two movies ask what to make of diminished thing--Rust and Bone, of a body, and Take this Waltz, of a marriage—but Rust and Bone is by far the more soulful of the two.
And it works its black magic on Katy Perry, to boot.
20. Moonrise Kingdom
K.H.: Wes Anderson’s movies have always been about lost children, but this time the children are actual kids—a Khaki Scout and his townie girlfriend on a New England island in 1965—instead of Owen Wilson in India with a mysteriously bandaged head. Anderson is great with serious kids and the feckless grown-ups who let them down, though in this case you can’t help feeling a little bad for the adults, living under such youthful tyranny. Is there anyone more rigid than a 12-year-old in love? As in every Anderson flick, the rooms people live in, the clothes they wear, and the totems they cart around with them are fabulous and precious—a cinematic language all their own—and everyone is either manic, or world-weary, or both. I hate to fault a director for continuing to make his particular kind of movie (that’s what directors do), but I guess I’d like to see a little more tonal innovation from Wes. Even with Bruce Willis and Tilda Swinton giving their all, the charm of objects and music and deadpan wears thin.
M.K.: Ever since Tenenbaums, at least, I think the hierarchy goes like this:
Wes Anderson Adults < Wes Anderson Children < Wes Anderson Animated Foxes.
M.K.: As I wrote in this space last year: Award-winning documentary filmmaker Tom Isler (having wandered onto this amateurish site for reasons that remain unclear) checks in with his breakdown of the five Oscar-nominated documentary features.
This year the Academy did a better job with its short list than last year, when, arguably, the best documentary of the year (The Interrupters) wasn't even included. I would have like to see nods to Only the Young and maybe The Waiting Room or Detroipia, but we can't have everything.
Although each of the nominees would be a fine choice for the Oscar, I think this is a race between Searching for Sugar Man and 5 Broken Cameras. (The only one I haven't seen yet is The Gatekeepers, which I think is the only one that could challenge these two; it's already picked up a few best-documentary awards this year. Its release has been relatively small to date, and there's less buzz about it. It'd be hard for me to pick The Gatekeepers as the best of the year, not having seen it. Caveat complete.)
Sugar Man has won the top awards from the International Documentary Association and the Cinema Eye Honors (the all-documentary awards that the doc community most respects). Sugar Man also took home the BAFTA recently, and has earned a slew of audience awards, from Sundance to Amsterdam to Melbourne. It's also the film that's most crossed over into the mainstream. (60 Minutes did a piece on Rodriguez, the musician at the center of the film; and Rodriguez's music career has taken off since the film came out.) It's the most entertaining of the crop, and what I like about it is that it tells one of the craziest, inspiring stories I've ever heard to come out of the music industry, which is a business saturated with myths and legends. (I don't want to give too much away.) I like the film's sense of discovery, the skilled storytelling and the story itself; I like documentaries best when they tell a story I wouldn't otherwise hear or know about. It's also the film I most often think about from this year's nominees. I like how the film presents a real-life case study in how a few misfires or missed connections can alter a person's life, and then, miraculously, documents Rodriguez as he's able to get a taste of what his life would have been like all along, if those misfires had hit their targets.
5 Broken Cameras is an outstanding film, putting a personal spin on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the West Bank. (It was the only other nominee that was also up for the Cinema Eye Honor this year.) It was shot, home-movie style, by Emad Burnat, a Palestinian, and co-directed by Israeli Guy Davidi, who helped Burnat structure the footage he'd shot over the years. (It reminds me, in that respect, of Trouble the Water, which was based largely on first-person footage of Katrina, later shaped into a documentary by other filmmakers.) This film is maybe the most valuable visual "document" of the five, for recording this history and spending enough time with a group of characters to make the conflict relatable on a human level.
I also liked The Invisible War , the best film that I've seen by Kirby Dick. It takes on the tough subject of sexual assault in the military, and a win for this film might give the subject matter more exposure. It's designed to elicit outrage and succeeds. Like The Gatekeepers, which is about the Israeli security agency, and which interviews all the living former heads of the agency, The Invisible War is a valuable work of journalism. At the same time, The Invisible War is fairly conventional in its filmmaking, and when I think about the best documentary of the year, I look for something with a bit more artistry.
How To Survive A Plague is a heroic achievement in editing, reconstructing one faction of AIDS activists in the 80s and 90s through archival footage and present-day interviews. I wouldn't be disappointed if this won, but, despite its relevancy to activist culture today, to me the film seems less urgent somehow than The Invisible War, and maybe less revealing than the other nominees, because it is a story that has been documented so well both in film and in other mediums.
If I had a vote, I'd cast it for Sugar Man.
I was so sure I had seen 40 movies, but it turns out I can’t count very well. The order of my top-five seems pretty arbitrary, and could have been different on any given day. Shout-outs to Margaret, and A Separation, two 2011 films that I watched in 2012, and that would have made my top-five last year had I seen them in time. Also a shout-out to They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? which is actually the best movie I saw this year.
39. Moonrise Kingdom
I know that it’s just as trendy to hate Wes Anderson as it is to love him. But until now I didn’t have strong feelings about his work. That said, I found this movie loathsome. Has comedy been reduced to the point that a drunken Bill Murray stating, “I’ll be out back. I’m going to go find a tree to chop down,” or an oddly dressed Bob Balaban instantly sends its audience into fits of laughter?
I’ve read a lot of commentary on how the relationship between the two young leads offers viewers a nostalgic sense of young love. Maybe my asexual pre-adolescence makes it impossible for me to understand the feelings between these two characters. But I can’t help but wonder if the nostalgia we are supposed to feel is for a past that never really existed—a vision of burgeoning (hetero-)sexuality that we have been conditioned to view as “sweet” without ever asking ourselves why. Perhaps the gender studies professor in me is reading too much into one small film, but I continue to wonder, do exchanges like “Was he a good dog?”/”Who’s to say?” truly reflect awkward precocity, or just lazy writing? Yes, the movie is pretty, but it would be so much prettier if it could just keep quiet.
30. Zero Dark Thirty
M.K.: You're thinking: oh yay, another political rant! Well, that's right. But instead of Edward Said, you get Steve Coll in the NYRB, who, after noting the film's many deviations from the historical record, comments on its role in shaping the actual debate over torture in this country, which might even be more important than the Oscars:
As with discourse about climate change policy, the persistence of
on-the one-hand, on-the-other forms of argument about the value
of officially sanctioned torture represents a victory for those who
would justify such abuse. Zero Dark Thirty has performed no
public service by enlarging the acceptability of that form of
More to the point, I'm mystified by those clever critics (not just unclever ones like Michael Moore!) who have persuaded themselves that the film actually offers a searing indictment of torture. It doesn't. Making the case that 'we' have to do bad shit in order to prevent worse shit from happening is not a critique, it's a justification. After ZD30 you're not supposed to sign up for enhanced interrogation school at Yale, but you are supposed to understand that these are grim compromises we must accept in our global pursuit of Evil. It's not a pleasant realization -- it might even make you cry, like Jessica Chastain in the final scene -- but mostly it just makes you grateful that there are other people out there, getting their hands dirty in the struggle to keep us safe. In the end, it's not that different from the lesson of Toby Keith's classic jingo anthem "American Soldier": "I'm out there on the front lines, so sleep in peace to-night..."
10. The Color Wheel
What drew me to this movie? The flat, awkward acting? The VHS-worthy cinematography? The even worse editing? The icky subject matter and characters? I wish I could tell you. There's something there, even if I don't know what it is.
9. Moonrise Kingdom
Not his best, but still endearing, tender, and funny in equal proportion.
8. Oslo, August 31
A great date movie. Seriously. Don't read about it, just take that girl you've been thinking of asking out from Match, and rent this. (Don't do that.) Hopeless depression and addiction has never made me want to visit a city more, though.
7. Silver Linings Playbook
As Philebrity has it: "Delaware County: The Movie." Best to ignore DeNiro's inexplicable New York accent (and further decline into a nothing actor) and how annoying Bradley Cooper is and how implausible it is to stand in the middle of 8th and Sansom at 11PM on a Saturday without a car blaring at you.
The best Bond since... well... is there a better Bond? In an early scene, we're presented with the most boring of chase tropes: Bond a motorcycle on a bridge, and the villain below on a boat. Does Bond jump the bike onto the boat? Fuck no: he intentionally crashes into the railing, sending himself flying through the air like a ragdoll. Awesome.
5. Once Upon A Time in Anatolia
I spent most of this movie vacillating between being bored out of my mind and enthralled by the stunning long shots. And then the end sucked all the wind, and tedium, out of me.
Look. I get it, Matt & Kat. This movie sucks. The endless montages. Ben Affleck's masturbatory "look at how good I was at casting" credits. The politics. Ben Affleck. Ben Affleck again. But goddamn if this wasn't a hell of a Hollywood ride. If your inner 12 year old can't enjoy this brilliant Hollywood schlock, Argo fuck yourself.
3. The Master
If the second half had been half as tight as the first, this would have been a masterpiece. A fine, haunting ending saves the day, but it's hard not to think of what could have been.
Even the schlocky Spieldbergian opening and closing can't mar this fine movie. And Daniel Day-Lewis is every bit as good as we could have hoped. That's saying a lot.
I'm confused by the critical consensus that Amour shows a different side of Haneke, less cruel and more emotional. A misunderstanding of both Haneke's past movies and this one; Haneke was never a sadist, but Amour is just as biting, cruel, and indeterminate as Cache, and almost as brilliant. Perhaps it's the out-of-this-world acting by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva that gave the appearance of difference? Regardless, this is one of the best movies of our generation's greatest director that leaves us wrought and disoriented. Is this movie a love note or a damnation? And of whom: its characters or us?
Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Take This Waltz, Dark Knight Rises, Looper (but still: just remake Brick, dammit), Holy Motors, the first half of Magic Mike, A Late Quartet, Flight (my biggest surprise), Chronicle (don't hate), Bachelorette (as funny as Bridesmaids wasn't), Searching for Sugar Man (despite all the hacky nonsense, that story is unruinable), The Mark Duplass trinity (Your Sister's Sister, Safety Not Guaranteed, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon), the far too on-the-nose Robot and Frank.
The Kid with a Bike, The Turin Horse, This Is Not a Film, Life of Pi, Neighboring Sounds, The Loneliest Planet, Monsieur Lazhar
Wish I Had Not Seen
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Eat it, Channing.
My first full year of cohabitation with Amy Lynch was spent watching more TV than movies. Her focus on a dissertation and my generally low IQ meant short attentions spans all around, which are much better suited to 44 minute episodes than 100+ minute movies. (Plus, Amy is a bit of a neophyte when it comes to the cinema, and my semi-regular habit of showing her "the classics," meant missing much of what 2012 had to offer). Nevertheless, with a single-screen theater less than 10 minutes walking time from the apartment, we did get out to see a few things this year, the best of which can be found below, in order from "blech" to "meh":
First-rate ass-kicking goes international; Channing Tatum gets beat up by a girl - that alone was worth the price of admission.
Ralph Fiennes does Shakespeare the way it was intended - with big guns and Gerard Butler, all seen through a CNN camera.
8. The Avengers
Noise, jokes, Hulk, shawarma (stay through the credits).
7. Hunger Games
A decent adaptation of the book, although it could have been called The Not-So-Hungry Games.
6. Cloud Atlas
I read and loved the book...still couldn't follow the movie.
Don't think, just watch. (Seriously, the thing defies even simple logic) (Bonus take away: if you ever find yourself on the run from a giant rolling spaceship, just remember - tuck and roll to the side).
4. The Master
Nothing conveys authority like a mustache.
3. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Too heartbreaking to be really enjoyable, but an amazing movie with an incredible performance from that young actress whose name I can't pronouce (Quvenzhané Wallis...say THAT five-times fast, then tell me how to say it).
Joseph Gordon-Levitt growing up to be Bruce Willis is almost as unbelieveable as the mob using time travel to whack people. But...whatever - Looper was an action movie you can think about, with characters you can care about. It's a close second to my favorite movie of 2012...
I don't care if I'm unoriginal for saying so - Argo was a tense, yet funny thriller reminiscent of Three Days of the Condor. It's the kind of movie Hollywood stopped making right around the time Spielberg taught everybody how to make dinosaurs look real.
40. The Cabin in the Woods
M.K.: Lots of smart people seemed to enjoy this gleeful horror send-up. Smart people have even written smart essays on the film's critique of capitalist rationality, which is a point in its favor. It's doubtful, for instance, that you could gin up a debate between revolutionary Marxists and Commentary magazine on the subject of The Vow. Even if you did, I'm pretty sure nobody would mention Schumpeter.
But without giving away spoilers, engaging the debate over Use versus Exchange Value, or deploying the concept of Rechenhaftigkeit (whoops! too late!), I will say that Joss Whedon's romantic nihilism rubbed me wrong in all sorts of ways. The opening half of the film toggles between deft parody and mysterious riddle; the back half is pure droning agony. Fun, maybe, for horror aficianados, CGI engineers, and Whedon fanboys, but that's about it.
K.H.: I didn't see this, but Fran Kranz was in my college Italian class.
M.K.: Where did you go to school, again?