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Top Ten

RANDALL WINSTON’S FAVORITE FILMS OF 2012

A Look at the Top Films of 2012

By Randall Winston

Winter 2012-2013

10. Beasts of the Southern Wild (dir. Benh Zeitlin)

It’s a beautifully atmospheric and exceptionally conceived first feature from a young talent. Any reservations I had over the rumored “pathology milking” of a drama set in a thinly veiled post-Hurricane Katrina landscape were quickly banished by the dream-like visuals and naturalistic performances of Benh Zeitlin’s touching father-daughter narrative.

9. Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Wes Anderson)

After my intense disappointment with his last two live-action films, Wes Anderson’s whimsical tale of childhood love and adventure was a refreshing return to form. My love for the film rests on Anderson’s frankly amazing capacity to formally and tonally imbue his films with self-assured whimsy. Anderson’s idiosyncrasies seem to work best when they are tempered by the interactions of precocious child protagonists (e.g. Max Fischer in 1998’s Rushmore and Moonrise’s Sam Shakusky and Suzy Bishop) and childish adult authority figures. Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray and Edward Norton are just some of the notable actors to really make this film a spectacular triumph.

8. Killing Them Softly (dir. Andrew Dominik)

Palpable thematic darkness and savagery? Yep. Ham-fisted political “subtext”? Yeah, that too. But Andrew Dominik’s follow up to 2007’s The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford was able to leverage its brutality and rhetorical ostentation into an incredible examination of America in financial crisis. Technically, the film’s painstaking attention to visual and aural detail redefines the bombast and masculine aggression of American gangster sagas. Narratively, the film succeeds by deconstructing the capitalistic trappings that underpin those gangster films, lending every slow-motion bone-crunching violent act an allegorical significance as a grisly representation of the slow death of the American Dream.

7. Django Unchained (dir. Quentin Tarantino)

Tarantino’s always stunning visual and sound design is complemented by intense bravura performances by the main players. While Leonardo DiCaprio’s plantation owner villain and Christoph Waltz’s bounty hunter antihero have received due recognition, Samuel L. Jackson’s own villainous turn stands as the closest allegory for the complicated role that Tarantino’s film occupies. Does it make a cartoon of slavery or through its hyperbolic rendering of slavery’s horrors does it thrust front and center subject matter that the United States public attempts to bury under tons of racial baggage? QT is a savvy enough filmmaker to leave us without easy answers while creating a thoroughly entertaining cinematic ride.

6. Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes)

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Skyfall is on my list, nipping closely at The Dark Knight Rises’ heels. After all, Sam Mendes’ addition to the Bond series combines the phoenix-rising thematic heft of the last entry in Christopher Nolan’s Bat trilogy with the intensity of the Daniel Craig’s past outings as the British clandestine officer. That Mendes adds a healthy dash of Bond nostalgia to introduce some levity into the Craig years (not to mention Javier Bardem’s brilliant villainous turn) only cements the near-perfect product that Mendes and company present for us.

5. The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Christopher Nolan)

Shortly before a midnight screening of Batman Begins in 2005, I experienced a moment of pure exhilaration at the prospect of Batman–one of my favorite fictional characters–fully realized on film. A lot of that excitement was generated from my realization that Christopher Nolan’s direction would bring a certain gravitas to the portrayal of a character–a gravitas made apparent in Nolan’s focus on “escalation” as the primary consequence of the Batman’s vigilante mission. The Dark Knight Rises represents the culmination of that escalation into an epic confrontation between two opposing types of terror–the heroic terror employed by Batman and the terroristic attack on urban society by Tom Hardy’s Bane. This is what a superhero movie should be.

4. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)

A good friend of mine–a P. T. super-fan–looked at me after we attended a screening of The Master. He looked as if he was about to gush over the slow-burn tension of Anderson’s pacing, the apoplectic rage. However, the first thing that came out of my friends mouth was “…And they probably won’t give him the Best Director award for that, despite it being better than anything else this year.” Was he referring to the film’s allegedly unflattering portrait of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Anderson’s five previous Academy Award nominations (and five subsequent losses), or some other factor? I’m not sure, but I am sure that P. T. Anderson only improves with each film and this is his latest and greatest.

3. Amour (dir. Michael Haneke)

There is a devastating beauty to Michael Haneke’s portrait of an aging couple that, like most of his best work, occupies the uncomfortable spaces between the beauty and ugliness of human experience. Haneke’s long (sometimes agonizingly long) takes put the loving relationship of an elderly husband and wife under a microscope trained on the nuances of individual and collective ways of dealing with love, loyalty, disease, and death. Hard to watch, but truly impossible to forget.

2. Looper (dir. Rian Johnson)

Had I not set a goal to clearly delineate each of my top ten slots, I would have had Looper tie with my ultimate number one pick. Not only does Looper stand as a genius piece of film-making, it does so with a superb marriage of well-acted dramatic portrayals, tortuous time-travel mechanics (with sidestepped explanations of those mechanics), and lived-in universe of class dynamics with requisite tensions between high and low culture, transcending the genre conventions that could have pigeonholed it.

and…

1. Zero Dark Thirty (dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

Like a lot of people that read advance press on Kathryn Bigelow’s take on the more than decade-long hunt for Osama Bin Laden, I was pretty skeptical. That skepticism began to disappear as I saw more and more trailers, clips, and interviews that suggested a morally ambiguous approach to a potentially jingoistic paean to American exceptionalism. For the film itself, I was riveted from minute one.

Honorable Mentions: Argo (dir. Ben Affleck), Middle of Nowhere (dir. Ava
DuVernay)

Randall Winston is a PhD student and independent film/media maker.

Written and Compiled by Randall Winston

Photography Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

Design by Jillian Mercado

Captions:

Film Still from Zero Dark Thirty, Photography Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

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