Our Film Writers’ Top 10 Movies of 2012

12/17/2012 5:00 AM |

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Nicolas Rapold
(in alphabetical order)

Abendland
Nikolaus Geyrhalter
The Austrian chronicler gives us an addictive, HD nightscape of Europe at work, from security guards to mental-health hotline operators to Webcam porn actors to protesters and their riot police. A portrait emerges of a cordial, ever-fascinating civilization catered to and controlled to within an inch of its life—think Richard Scarry meets Harun Farocki.

Almayer’s Folly
Chantal Akerman
Akerman’s return to fiction takes as its source Joseph Conrad’s 1895 maiden voyage in full-length prose. The film’s borderless subject is malaise and its inheritances, and, shot in Cambodia, it’s the farthest afield the filmmaker has gone to portray those displacements of the past which are carried within the heart.

Cosmopolis
David Cronenberg
Cronenberg’s adaptation of DeLillo’s slim millennial oddity goes from anti-cinematic all the way through to fervidly cinematic with the same heightened sensual awareness of the body as Crash or A Dangerous Method. Robert Pattinson, in his synthetically perfect and youthful handsomeness, proves a worthy vessel for this existential thought-experiment and blackest of dystopian comedies.

Keep the Lights On
Ira Sachs
At once direct and reserved, spanning 10 years in a relationship, Sachs’s unsparing, autobiographically drawn feature depicts the rise and protracted decline of a romance against a subtly drawn New York milieu and brings the melancholic scrapes of Arthur Russell to bear.

Lincoln
Steven Spielberg
Spielberg and Kushner’s film lets us perceive the mystery of an extraordinary figure and historical agent with at times startling rhetorical beauty and intimate grandeur. Daniel Day-Lewis incarnates a man who is every inch the American hero and ideal of yore yet also a moody sage, a sly political genius, an emotional sponge, and a moral compass balancing contradiction and compromise.

Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson
Every Anderson film I’ve seen deepens with the second viewing, like a memory upon reflection, and just so do Sam and Suzy grow into personalities peeking around the edges of learned roles and affectations in this beautifully orchestrated Super 16-shot New England pastiche.

Oki’s Movie
Hong Sang-soo
Shifting among characters and their phases at a film school, Hong’s stacked sketches play out affairs of the heart, and scenes of drunken mortification, that can unexpectedly cut to the quick.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Stretching his widescreen canvas across the rolling hills and mystical evenings of the Turkish provinces, Ceylan’s chronicle of a desultory police investigation in the countryside turns into a gorgeously shot, expertly paced, unexpectedly moving chronicle of a group of men, their heavy hearts and quotidian concerns.

The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson
The elliptical path through American individualism casts Freddie Quell’s herky-jerky trajectory as both distinctive and deeply expressive of a broader heartsick yearning for something. Anderson’s sense of a living past in this movie (and the last) is sure and nuanced, a world inhabited rather than staged, shot in constrained but rich 70mm.

Zero Dark Thirty
Kathryn Bigelow
A procedural that goes long to show the dead ends and the numbing middles, the suspensefully staged film blurs vengeance and justice, true to the welter of the emotions in “the war on terrorism.” But it also makes the viewer work and postpone hope along with the heroine, in Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s extraordinary account of a period, and of an event whose most famous publicity photo was a roomful of people watching.

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