Bill: I'll be honest; the roots of this article are pretty much steeped in selfishness and narcissism. I wanted to compile a year-end best-of-film list and give you all my opinions. I also wanted to have an extended conversation about said films with the only other person I know who is as cinema-literate as I am (okay, okay; moreso), Ian Miller of Productive Outs.
You may find that our lists sort of (for the most part) diverge wildly from one another. I'm more into stuff that gives me the feels (technical term), while Ian is more into watching films that involve genital mutilation (artsy genital mutilation). But both of us appreciate the ever-loving god damn out of pure craft. Please enjoy our indulgences and our conversation about FILM.
Ian: I feel like 2012 was a pretty solid year in film, or maybe I just watched a bunch of good stuff. Even still, putting together a top 10 list is challenging. I always feel like I'm forgetting something or underrating something else -- it gives me the fantods, frankly.
Bill: This is the danger of lists; as well as the inability to watch absolutely EVERYTHING that comes out. When I did my Top 10 albums list, for example, I hadn't yet listened to The Evens. When I heard that album a week after making the list it was basically just me yelling I'VE MADE A HUGE MISTAKE.
Ian: I totally get that. You can't see or listen to everything, and then you forget half the stuff when it comes time to compile a list. But Frameline, the film site I write for occasionally, asked me to submit a top 10, so I did one. But then I watched a bunch more things in the weeks since I submitted that to my editor, and now those things are jockeying for places on the list and it's gotten very messy.
When I first showed you my list, you said it looked like it was cobbled together from three different people. I took this as a great compliment, actually! It feels like I must be doing something right. Zigging and zagging, etc.
Bill: I feel that both of us have extremely varied tastes. It's just that your variances tend to dangle into the true cineaste areas, while mine are just like ... I dunno. I like when people sing about their feelings and go on journeys of whimsy. You're not so much on the whimsy boat.
Ian: Like I said before, this here is a Whimsy-Free Zone. But without further ado, here's the damned list.
Ian's Top 10 Films
1. The Turin Horse, Bela Tarr.
Andrew O'Hehir's review of Turin Horse pretty much nailed it. "How can I possibly convince you to watch a film that features a 10-minute traveling shot amid a roaming herd of cows? ... Nobody can; you're either game to try something like that or you're not." He was talking about a different Tarr film -- Satantango -- but the point stands. Black and white, just 30 shots in the whole film, long shots without any dialogue. I can't, and won't convince you that this film was good: You're either in or you're out. I was all in from the opening tracking shot and strangely compelled until the end. It's probably the smallest and quietest apocalypse film ever. Tarr is the anti-Michael Bay.
There are parallels to The Pale King, actually. Both works attempt to dramatize tedium, which makes them challenging to consume. But they're rewarding if you can hang in there.
Bill: THIS MOVIE WILL MAKE YOU CHANGE THE WAY YOU THINK ABOUT POTATOES. Seriously though, this is a really great movie. It's basically every single joke about foreign/arthouse films all at once, but just so dang well-made. It didn't make my list, but I acknowledge that this is a pretty stellar accomplishment and verging on being An Important Film.
This movie is not recommended for everyone. This is a deep, deep arthouse cut. Hope you don't like dialogue!
2. The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson.
I got to see this projected in 70mm, and it was absolutely glorious. Some of the images from the film, especially early on when Freddie was serving in the Navy (I think?) are burned into my brain. Anderson's got such an incredible eye. Cinematographer Mihai Malaimare Jr. deserves major propers as well.
Bill: I wasn't able to see this in 70mm, but I can definitely picture what the aspect ratio was bringing to the table.
Ian: I still don't know what to make of the plot/story/narrative, and ultimately I'm not sure that it matters. Everything else -- the design, performances, score, you name it -- that was all so compelling that it didn't need to deliver on a "story" level -- even though I suspect it did. Need to see it again.
Bill: That's a solid take. Definitely worth a rewatch. I'll have more to say on The Master when we get to my list.
3. Kill List, Ben Wheatley.
One of two films on this list I watched twice. (Turin Horse was the other.) I... don't... even.
It starts out as one kind of story and ends up being utterly something else, and it's nails-digging-into-your-palms stressful in between. The tension-o-meter starts at 9, then is pegged at 11 for the rest of the movie. It's relentless.
I watched it a second time to see if Wheatley gave us any clues early on about what was going to happen later. Unless I missed something, there was really only one minor hint that things were not as they seemed. Even the second time around I couldn't figure out what, exactly, had happened, but honestly it didn't matter. It entertained (and scared, and freaked) the shit out of me, and that's why it made the list.
Bill: I felt there were a couple of clues early on, but I think the tone of the film was such that it was just sort of like "Oh hey something really, really horrible is about to happen" the entire time, so it didn't really matter.
Ian: Yep. Relentlessly stressful.
Bill: I have an extremely complicated relationship with horror films and even now I can't reconcile how I really, honestly feel about Kill List. It's possible I may like it more in theory than in practice. I also think I may not be giving it the respect it deserves because of the increasing blurring of the line between truly high-art, high-concept horror/extreme cinema and increasingly well-made (and abundant) "torture porn."
The final reveal, for example, is something that has been done similarly in many films in both horror camps, including A Serbian Film, so I actually predicted the "twist" as soon as the final title card came up. But I don't think it's fair to lump Kill List in with mindless, violent schlock. This is a masterfully well-made film. It is disturbing, yes, but I feel that there is a validity there that many other similar films are lacking.
tl;dr SHIT'S FUCKED UP
Ian: Man, I still haven't attempted A Serbian Film. Too grisly EVEN FOR ME. But keep your eyes peeled for Wheatley's next joint, A Field in England, which is in post-production now and will come out some time in ‘13.
4. Kid with a Bike, Dardenne brothers.
Love them Dardenne brothers. They make these small, tender movies about disenfranchised people in Europe, usually Eastern European immigrants. I'm making this sound really awful, aren't I?
Kid is about a, uhhh, kid with a bike who ends up in a reform school/orphanage after his father abandons him. Like all their films, it's tender and heartbreaking. Cathartic. Maybe a little more hopeful than some of their other stuff, like Lorna's Silence. Really profound.
Bill: Yeah, this was a real good movie! 2012 was sort of a banner year for great acting performances in general and fantastic child actors in specific. This is a movie that you can entirely sum up with the title, and it's short and pretty straightforward, but there's just so much packed into it. Absolutely worth your time.
5. Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg.
We saw this in a theater in Berkeley opening weekend. There were maybe two dozen people in the theater, and a third of them walked out during the film.
Bill: That's possibly the least-surprising thing I've ever heard.
Ian: It was so weird! It certainly doesn't strike me as a very walk-out-of-able film.
Thing is, I loved it. Virtually the entire thing takes place in a limousine, so Cronenberg doesn't get much opportunity to do his Cronenberg thing. Robert Pattinson turned in a great performance as well. Granted he wasn't asked to do much; mostly he just had to brood and look pretty, which he did.
Bill: He's had a lot of practice at those! But yeah he has more acting chops than absolutely anyone knows about.
Ian: I'm a huge Don DeLillo fan, and this was based on one of his novels that I genuinely didn't like. But the movie made me completely re-evaluate the book, which is a huge achievement.
Plus it's fucking Cronenberg. The guy can do no wrong.
Bill: This, to me, was a lot like The Turin Horse in that so much of it -- from the concept to the performances to the endless monologues and the way they were delivered -- was like the lead track off of Now That's What I Call Independent Film! But since it's Cronenberg, of course it all worked.
The movie is a neat, cool little mind-fuck with a lot of good performances, but there's a definite hump you have to get over with the film's own affectations.
6. Beyond the Black Rainbow, Panos Cosmatos.
Funny that this one would be next on the list, as it owes a major debt to Cronenberg. (And no, I didn't plan this.)
Bill: Cronenberg-John Carpenter mash-up. Halloweendrome III: Season of the Violence.
Ian: BTBR is another film that you just have to surrender yourself to. There's almost no narrative arc -- it's all atmosphere. But it's a thick, deftly rendered atmosphere. Visually and sonically (oh man, the soundtrack) it's utterly engrossing. And I don't even do drugs!
Bill: The moment I saw the trailer, I wanted to see this. But as I read more about it, I became leery. It seemed to have a lot in common with Enter the Void, which I absolutely cannot stand. Luckily, BTBR is a GOOD movie! More on this down on MY list.
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin.
This is kind of a tough one to talk about. It wasn't perfect, and I have some issues with big parts of it. Wesleyan-educated white guy from Queens goes to Terrebonne Parish and makes a movie about the non-white people who live there. There are literal Magical Negroes and an Angry/Crazy Black Man. But the world he creates is so goddamn compelling that I'm willing to overlook all of that. Beasts was an incredible movie experience. The kid who played Hushpuppy, Quvenzhane Wallis, was a revelation. And dude made the whole thing for under two million bucks. I have a feeling we're going to be hearing from this guy again.
Bill: I felt this was pretty non-problematic as far as problematic films go. I feel that Roger Ebert (noted white guy) put it best when he said that the reality of the Bathtub, as depicted in the film, was far too specific to be anything other than the Bathtub. That you CAN read a lot of things into the film, but it has no such aspirations, malicious or otherwise. I believe that's true of the intent, but that readings are, of course, up for grabs.
8. Amour, Michael Haneke.
Haneke is probably my favorite director working today, but I didn't love Amour. But even a disappointing Haneke jam is better than most of the rest of everything.
As with all Haneke movies, this was utterly depressing. It's about an elderly couple, the wife of which becomes gravely ill, and her husband and daughter basically watch her die. The Aristocrats!
I think maybe I was disappointed because Haneke's films usually have a larger message. Not that their "message films" or anything awful like that, but they say something about society or the human condition. Like The White Ribbon. My god, I'm still chilled by that film. Amour says something about the human condition, all right, but maybe it was something I already knew. Not sure, man. Not sure. Another "need to watch again."
Bill: I was not able to see Amour, but I trust you, Ian.
9. Argo, Ben Affleck.
Sometimes you just want a taut thriller with excellent performances and great production values. Argo!
The Goodman-Arkin scenes alone were worth the price of admission. Plus Clea Duvall. Also, Christopher Denham was in another film I liked a lot that didn't make this list: Sound of My Voice.
Bill: Sound of My Voice is my favorite Chris Tucker/Jackie Chan movie. Argo is really great. I was disappointed when I read about all the historical inaccuracies afterward, but that's the funny pictures for you! (That's an expression, right?)
10. The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard.
Take every horror trope ever. Invert. That's Cabin in the Woods. I fucking loved it. What a great ride.
My dad hated this film, which really surprised me. He's an old-school horror guy, and he feels like the filmmakers tried to have it both ways. It was too meta for him, I guess.
Bill: Not too meta enough, if you ask me.
Bill's Top 10 Films
1. The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson.
For me, 2012 in film was defined by a bunch of actors at the top of their game just absolutely acting their guts out in big, god-damn, fuck-you performances. Joaquin Phoenix returned from his exile and absolutely blew my mind with his role here. Philip Seymour Hoffman has never been better.
I'm predisposed to like P.T. Anderson films, of course. This is not his finest film and is, in fact, his least approachable. But it's a mood piece and it does everything it's supposed to. I'm still thinking about this film and looking forward to when I can see it again. But it's on top of my list for the performances within it and for how deeply Anderson immersed us in this world, inconsistencies and warts and all.
Ian: Basically agree 100%. We just don't see much sumptuous filmmaking like this anymore. That's not a judgment; just an observation.
2. Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson.
And the Andersons sweep the top two! This is the first film on my list that Ian outright hates, but I'm sure it won't be the last.
I'm also predisposed to love Wes Anderson films. Moonrise Kingdom is the most Wes Anderson film ever made. It really Wes Andersons all over the place and then keeps out-Wes Andersoning itself. And I loved every minute. If you don't like the guy, you're not going to like the film. I thought it was everything you could have possibly asked for, provided you asked for a giant box marked WHIMSY filled with gamboling clowns.
Ian: I don't think I legitimately HATED it, although given the discussions we've had about it, I understand why you might have that impression. It's more that I was just disappointed. I feel like Anderson has made this film already, and I didn't really like it the first time. The kid love story was lovely in its way, but I feel like W.A. and screenwriter/collaborator Roman Coppola need to, like, GROW UP. Deal with something substantial. Move on. I understand this says a lot more about me than it does about him/them, and I'm OK with that.
3. Les Miserables, Tom Hooper.
Les Miserables is my favorite musical of all time. And I'm a HUGE musicals nerd. Tom Hooper -- who I don't believe has ever directed a movie set in the year it was written -- has created a big damn epic out of the most epic damn musical of all time and he absolutely crushed it.
Hooper's directing decisions are honestly daring in Les Miserables, most notably in having all of the actors sing the songs live during the filming of the scenes. A great look at what can happen when ability matches up with ambition. And also Russell Crowe.
Ian: Haven't seen this one yet (and probably won't), but from what I understand Hooper basically shoves the camera up under everyone's chins to make sure you know that the actors are singing this shit live. Is that accurate?
Bill: Yes, but it sounds bad the way you say it.
I've never cried harder at a movie than I cried during the last 10 minutes of this one, but that's largely because of how invested I am in the whole Les Miz thing. Another film with actors just ACTING AS HARD AS THEY CAN. Fantastic.
Ian: OK, I'm softening my stance. I reserve the right to hate-watch this in the future.
4. The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard.
Yeah, this was the movie that gave me hope for horror movies again. It was a movie that got me super excited AS I was watching it and as soon as it was over, I was jazzed about getting to watch it again.
If you like horror movies, you need to watch this movie. If you don't like horror movies, dear god why aren't you watching this movie RIGHT NOW?
I was all-in even before a unicorn killed a man (spoilers).
Ian: Double-bill with Tucker and Dale vs. Evil? That would be awesome, right? Two horror films that have fun with/totally invert the genre?
Bill: Yes, let's get in our jammies and make this happen.
5. Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino.
It looks like QT is just going to make exploitation movies from here on out, and I'm fine with that, because no one has ever been better at making them. This is not only one of the best four Tarantino movies of all time, but almost certainly the funniest. Every Tarantino movie includes humor, but this is something else.
Ian: Embarrassed to say I still haven't seen this. I didn't love Inglourious Basterds like most of the rest of the world did, though, so I'm trying to keep my expectations moderate. I especially didn't lose my shit over Christof Waltz, so I didn't run out to see D.U.
Bill: Christoph Waltz and Leonardo DiCaprio BOTH deserve Oscars for this film. I'm trying to figure out how I can make that happen.
6. The Avengers, Joss Whedon.
If I'm being honest with myself, this is probably my favorite film of the year, but only because I've waited my entire life to see it. Longer even than for Les Miserables. And it fulfilled all of my expectations. I saw it in 2D; I saw it in 3D. I watched it by myself the first time and teared up at the end because I couldn't believe that it finally happened and that they absolutely nailed it.
Ian: I like Avengers a bunch, but not Top 10-liked it. By the time the final battle wound down, I was exhausted -- not like those times when you just feel wrung out by a movie, but my eyeballs were fatigued, y'know? It was too manic, too unrelenting. Maybe that's what the kids want to watch, but it did my head in.
All that said, it was definitely one of the better spandex movies out there. (I still liked Captain America: The First Avenger more, but that's just picking nits.)
Bill: When I was in junior high, we used to spitball who we would cast in movies of Marvel comics. We used to fantasize in high school about how we could make THESE eight movies, and then we could TOTALLY do a miniseries or movie of "The Infinity Gauntlet." By the time I was in college, I was convinced that I was the only person who would ever be driven enough to make that happen. Luckily for everyone, nerds started spending money in bunches enough to justify letting Joss Whedon make The Avengers.
7. Beyond the Black Rainbow, Panos Cosmatos.
Probably about the freakiest movie I can stand to watch these days and still get some sleep that evening. This has a fantastically sinister performance in it and a spectacular score. The mission statement for this film (according to Cosmatos) is that it's a horror movie box that you may have looked at in a video store in the 70s or 80s and imagined what the film might have been. He set out to make an 70s/80s mindfuck horror film that didn't actually exist and boy did he ever do that like crazy. It's like a Neurosis album, but not boring.
Ian: OUCH. I want to smoke taking drugs again just so I can watch this movie while high.
8. Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin.
This is a film driven by a masterful performance, of course, but it's a beautifully-made film. At least one critic awarded the film zero out of five stars on the basis that the subject matter was read as "insulting and offensive" but if you can't find something to appreciate about the sheer craft of this movie, you're doing film criticism wrong.
When the movie first opened up and I didn't know where we were supposed to be (since I knew absolutely nothing about the film going in), I was like, "Oh, is this NOLA? Is this Katrina? Is this a Katrina movie?" But soon I realized: oh, this is a postapocalyptic movie! Neat! And as a guy who spends a lot of his time critically evaluating the things I consume, I didn't really have any issues with this film. Above all, it's about the love between a father and a child. It's a good movie.
Ian: I actually DO see some of the issues with the film, as I mentioned above, but those issues don't invalidate the entire film. Not by any stretch.Maybe the issues would make me detract ½ a star in a review, but not all 5. It does some things SO WELL that the movie transcends its shortcomings.
9. Chronicle, Josh Trank.
I heard great things about this film but I still didn't think it would be as good as it was. It falters a bit in the climax and the denouement, but is absolutely the best "found-footage" film ever made. Taken alone as a superhero movie, it may be the best origin-story movie ever, but in the found-footage genre, nothing else comes close.
As opposed to Blair Witch and Cloverfield, the filmmakers take the time to explain all the quirks of said found footage and explanations as to why and how it could exist. In addition, the footage that comprises the film almost never feels forced or "oh come on now!" which you basically can't say about any other film of this type. In fact, when all hell starts breaking loose, the usage of varying types of found footage moves beyond being a gimmick and is honestly god damn inspired.
Ian: I agree that the found-footage aspect of it was handled really well, but ultimately my problem was story-based. I never really believed that the main kid would end up doing the stuff he did. Maybe I missed some clues about his nature early on, but I never bought it. Those story elements kept me from ever really engaging with it.
10. Argo, Ben Affleck.
The guy who used to be "not-Matt Damon" and then was the first half of "Bennifer" has finally found his niche as a big damn movie director. Three features now and he's knocked every one of them out of the park (baseball term).
Ian: Dude, yes! I feel like The Town really got short shrift because he directed it and people didn't want to acknowledge that he killed it. (I liked it even more than Gone Baby Gone, I think.)
Bill: This was a really masterfully-made film, but as I mentioned earlier, it lost major points with me for beefing stuff up way beyond acceptable parameters for being based on a true story. Ben Affleck's going to win a Best Director Oscar someday (to go with his Best Original Screenplay Oscar), and hopefully he leaves a better-looking corpse than Clint Eastwood.
This is the best film you'll see all year where Ben Affleck plays a Mexican.
Ian: Hey, can we also discuss Cloud Atlas and what a magnificent disaster that was?
Bill: I didn't see it but yes.
Ian: So we can't actually discuss it, then. I see how it is.