Top 20 err 23 movies of 2012 part 1
As the year comes to a close the steady stream of “best of the year” lists have already started and will continue well into the first part of 2013. We in the film criticism business are not exempt in this practice; in fact a lot of the most read and regarded critics will be adding their opinion to the arena or already have. While this critic is still relatively new to the game and hardly expecting to battle it out with the heavy weights, my opinion is humbly offered regardless. The list will be made up of films seen in the calendar year of 2012, whether during a regular theatrical release or the film festival circuit.
Just a quick preface, there will be a handful of films that will not appear on this list simply due to the lack of being able to see them before this list was made. These include critical favorites Argo, The Imposter, Lincoln, Life of Pi and The Impossible. Now on to the list.
#21 – [Tie] My Father and the Man in Black and Ping Pong
My first of only 2 cheats, I promise, is to sneak in these 2 little documentary gems I saw this year, My Father at the NXNE festival and Ping Pong at Hot Docs (and an exclusive Toronto engagement afterwards). My Father is the story of Saul Holiff as told by his son, director Jonathan Holiff. The film delves into the relationship between the Saul and the man he managed for more than two decades, Johnny Cash, through tons of archival material and footage discovered hidden away after the death of the Holiff patriarch. The film is about the senior Holiff more than the Man in Black himself but manages to give us insights into both of the men.
Ping Pong is the tale of a group of 80+ year olds and their struggles and triumphs as they train and compete in the world championships of Table Tennis. The story remains unpredictable throughout as the film follows the stories of eight seniors as their fates in the tournament are decided, with many falling by the wayside before the finals. Heartwarming and touching, Ping Pong was not on this list until a second viewing enthralled as much as the first. Fans of the 2007 film Young @ Heart should definitely seek this one out.
#20 – Ruby Sparks
The unconventional love story written by its co-star Zoe Kazan comes in at number 20 because it doesn’t play out like a typical romantic comedy at all. In fact the film is not afraid to get very dark and unforgiving, especially in the third act. The tale of a writer literally writing his ideal woman into existence, then ultimately having to decide whether to let her be her own person or his creation forever, does not go where expected. Strong performances by Paul Dano and Zoe Kazan buoy the film and the smart script delivers the goods.
#19 – Graceland
The edgy and racy thriller from the Philippines was one of the highlights of this year`s Reel Asian Film Festival in November. The story of a man whose daughter is mistakenly abducted and held for ransom due to a mistaken identity is gritty and unrelenting. Also delving into the thriving underground world of Manila’s black market and underage sex trade, Graceland does not shy away from tough subject matter, in fact it uses it as further motivation to drive Marlon Vilar (Played by Arnold Reyes) to find his daughter. Graceland is one of the best thrillers of the year.
Michael Haneke’s reflection on aging and enduring love is tedious and unrelenting at times, but that is the director’s point. We slowly and agonizingly watch Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) fade away after multiple strokes lead to her body’s deterioration. And her loving husband George (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as he desperately tries to help her and keep her with him, while dealing and trying to exude a positive presence to all those who inquire. A harsh and unflinching look, Amour survives on the fantastic performances of its two leads.
# – 17 Barbara
Christian Petzold’s fifth film with muse and star Nina Hoss is a tour de force performance from Hoss. A quiet and insular film, Barbara’s motivations are not displayed for all to see, but her will and determinations are. We are left with as many questions about her relationships and actions as the film ends as what we start with, but the strength of the film and the performance is that we want to know the answers. The film’s setting of early 1980’s East Germany also serves as a character in the film, lending an extra level of paranoia and possible deceit to every action.
# – 16 Chronicle
Josh Trank’s Chronicle is one the most realistic portrayals of what would happen if a group of adolescents inherited super powers put to screen. The downtrodden and picked on Andrew (played brilliantly by Dane DeHaan) barely manages to keep his anger intact as his compatriots learn to discover powers he has already mastered. His descent into unbridled rage fuels the film as his cousin Matt (Alex Russell) is eventually forced to intercede. The finale is a knock down drag out fight with dire consequences for all.
Chronicle and Ruby Sparks are available for rental and purchase on DVD and Blu-Ray at local retailers and online through sites like Amazon.ca and its American counterpart Amazon.com. My Father and the Man in Black, Ping Pong and Graceland are still working the festival circuit and should be released later in 2013. Barbara is currently (As of Dec 31st 2012) on an exclusive run at the TIFF Bell Lightbox for the next couple of days and Amour starts its Lightbox run on January 11th.
Coming soon is part 2, 15-11, with some of the funniest comedies of the year, a super hero spectacular and one of the year’s few musicals.
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