Top Ten


A Look at the Top Films of 2012

By Scott Cheshire

Winter 2012-2013

I’ll leave the Ten Best Films of 2012 to smart critics, like Mr. Tyler Malone, who sees more movies in a week than I do in all twelve months. On the other hand, if we were talking about the Ten Best Real Housewives Episodes of the Year, I would absolutely have the advantage. And so here are simply the first ten films I thought of when thinking of 2012 films…

1. The Master – Aside from how beautiful the film is, I mean how it looks, and aside from the uncanny performances, and aside from its uncompromising take on story (if there is such a thing as a “literary film,” this is it), P. T. Anderson simply gets it. Gets what? What it is to want to believe, to want to attain a desire to submit and ascend. And then to abandon that impulse, altogether. And he smartly sets it all against a backdrop of historical American hucksterism and our particular sort of skewed religious genius. And please know I say this as someone who, as a kid, used to get on stage and give sermons, who used to go door-to-door, as a teenager, pressing Watchtowers into the hands of generous strangers. And then one day I woke from it all, and rushed headlong into self-imposed oblivion (no ethanol missile booze, for me, though), and then I woke from that dream, and here I am now. This film made me know myself better. I have never said that before.

2. Goon – I know, I know, I know. Is he going highbrow/lowbrow on purpose? I was just telling my Canadian neighbor about Goon last night. It’s got Seann William Scott and Liev Schreiber, and it’s about hockey. Doug Glatt (played by Scott) is a local nobody loveable dope, whose only real talent is a killer right hook (he’s a bouncer). The movie didn’t win awards, but it’s charming, sweet, funny, and sincere, plus who doesn’t like rooting for the underdog? I remember watching it with my wife and just wanting to give Glatt a big hug.

3. Snow White and the Huntsman – Why can’t I forget seeing this movie? Why did I see this movie in the first place? I am not twelve. And why am I admitting that I saw this movie? At least it was a Sunday matinee, and so it was cheap and we snuck in coffee and bagels with cream cheese and lox, and when we opened the waxed paper surrounding the bagels that stink of smoked fish and garlic filled the room and blew our cover. The takeaway: marketing can make you do things…

4. Lincoln – The film was good, very good, and as expertly made as a perfect omelette. Balanced, well seasoned, it required expert craftsmanship, but also offered little surprise. And, well, let’s just say I like hot sauce. Mr. Day-Lewis you were one hell of a Lincoln, and who doesn’t like a good omelette? But I could’ve used a little heat.

5. The Loneliest Planet – Gael Garcia Bernal, who is always good (and so very handsome, my wife says), and Hani Furstenberg (whose long red lustrous hair made me all tingly inside) go backpacking. And we watch them walk, and talk, and eat, and kiss, and roll around in the grass, and have a generally wonderful time. Until something happens. I won’t say what. But something happens. Can a film be simultaneously whisper quiet and explosive? Yes. Turns out it can.

6. Silver Linings Playbook – Am I a sap? Here is a good example of “Best of…” lists making you feel better about your own questionable opinions. I left the theater thinking, a dance-off? Did they really just end with a dance-off? And was that me weeping happy tears? Cooper is super, Jennifer Lawrence took what could have been a one-note vamping role and underplayed the character’s obvious strengths, and for that delivered a complicated and nuanced performance. DeNiro as Cooper’s Dad made my eyes well up. Did I cry more in 2012 than most years? At the movies? I need to think about this.

7. Killer Joe – William Friedkin? Tracy Letts? Matthew McConaughey as a sadistic killer (and damn he is convincing)? I’m in. Then again…McConaughey forcing Gina Gershon to fellate a fried chicken leg is memorable, yes. And that scene? Brutal and beautifully done. But this film is also good proof that stage language is not easily translated to the screen. I’m afraid there’s just no room for expositional dialogue while Killer Joe puts the barrel end of a shotgun in your quivering drooling mouth.

8. Zero Dark Thirty – I’ll keep this brief: this is a master class in the ordering of narrative info. Bigelow distills a ton of material to a breakneck two and a half hours. Amazing. And for those who find problems with the depiction of torture, they seem to mistake actual torture with the objective depiction of torture. Watch it again. And yet that closing scene is so quiet and graceful, so sad and necessary. I fought back the tears, and I won, damn it.

9. Underworld: Awakening – My friend Alex, a real movie buff, asks me why I watch so many bad movies? I don’t know the answer. I do know thisI have seen every Underworld film, some of them multiple times. And they never improve. Why do I see them? I’d like to think it’s at least partly because of my love for Don DeLillo and his great novel of the same name. Am I missing the influence? The subtle references? It probably has more to do with Kate Beckinsale’s leather pants. Not entirely sure.

10. Amour – Can I include a film I haven’t seen yet? Has this ever been done in the history of lists like this one? Does it count that I’ve wanted to see this film since reading about a year ago, and that Haneke is possibly my favorite living director? And that we planned to go last week for a matinee (sans lox), but they had already removed it from the theater? And why do they show a movie like this for two weeks, and then get rid of it, and replace it with Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, which, now that I think about it, I will probably see, a matinee. Regardless, Amour is on my mind (as it always is), already a significant part of my 2012 movie experience if only by negation, so much so that I feel like I’ve seen it, my DNA is waiting, so it stays.

Scott Cheshire is the author of the debut novel High as the Horses’ Bridles, forthcoming from Henry Holt.


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Written and Compiled by Scott Cheshire

Photography Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

Design by Jillian Mercado


Film Still from The Master, Photography Courtesy of Annapurna Pictures

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