Sunday, December 23, 2012

Top 12 Movies of 2012

2012 Favorites


12. In Another Country [Dareun naraeseo] by Hong Sang-soo

The latest installment in the Hong universe puts Huppert off-center in a messy humid context and deceptive mise-en-scène. The cuts are very elegant, and audacious techniques like the HSS trademark digital zoom make perfunctory attempts at solidifying the lead's now-elfin presence in flitty summer garments which by their nature destabilize whatever structural operations one might ascribe to the masterplan at play. She also brings with her colonial associations or orientalist weight. Hong, of course, lives within the land of the living, and remains one of the greatest, least pretentious, directors in the world, the South Korean maker of endless minor masterpieces.

11. Marvin Seth and Stanley by Stephen Gurewitz

The debut feature from Stephen Gurewitz played the inaugural La Di Da Festival in New York a few months ago. Star turns from its essentially three-person cast who constitute the family Greenstein: Marvin Gurewitz, Stephen's father, a gentle and selfless optimist who takes no small amount of shit from Seth (Alex Karpovsky in his most-dickish role to date) while Stanley (Gurewitz) plays the middle-ground. Yet another goddamn road trip movie in a year full of them and there are probably more to come — I've read four road trip scripts and twelve road trip treatments in the last twelve months. And I couldn't tell you when the last time was I went on a road trip. Actually it was two years ago; my friend had to go perform a deposition in Virginia: the destination town center memorialized with a bronze cube the spot where once stood a slave auction block. On the drive back we stopped at a truck stop where a bus-load of inconceivably beautiful co-eds from Madrid got their first taste of Roy Rogers. The final scene with Karpovsky's come-around is expertly conceived, and the opening is brilliantly and hilariously acted by Gurewitz who veers toward violent conflict with a cab driver over carrying luggage — it's like something out of a midget-Chinese Bookie.

10. Red Flag by Alex Karpovsky

The second film in a year from Alex Karpovsky (I still haven't seen Rubberneck) about his road trip to self-promote his earlier feature Woodpecker after breaking up with a girlfriend (Caroline White, underused) with whom he makes an ambivalent attempt to reconnect following a one-night stand mid-tour with an obsessive groupie (Jennifer Prediger, superb here and as funny as in Richard's Wedding by Onur Tukel, who also appears). A film of caution signals, as the title indicates: reckless sex, reckless love, perils of obsession and of obsession's flip-side: self-absorption, self-involvement — in one word less, total fucking narcissism. Maybe the last word of the micro-budget meta-film. Best shot in the film: Caroline White looks up from the kitchen table during Karpovsky's streaming rationalization: the best are-you-KIDDING-me expression ever filmed.

9. This Is 40 by Judd Apatow

Yesterday I wrote something on Twitter: "Loved it. Sprawling + relaxed + hilarious. Also, Maude Apatow is amazing. I don't think I've seen anyone do aggrieved outrage better." I don't have much more to add. Except that there's no point in directors shooting in 2.35:1 anymore, although it's turned into something of a Hollywood standard — they're not framing Moonfleet, and in six months' time when the film is seen from that point in perpetuity only on 16x9 flatscreens, it's either going to be letterboxed (Blu-ray/DVD/VOD) or (when it appears on cable) cropped to 1.78:1. Whichever way you see it, the Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy, and Charlyne Yi scenes will blow you away, too.

8. The Comedy by Rick Alverson

Brilliant, upsetting, hypnotic, and sincerely funny rendition of a possible trust-fund dude (Tim Heidecker) who incarnates the existential end-point of "Irony," emotional detachment, and (not ennui) passionlessness. It's a reset of Gus Van Sant's (remember him?) Last Days, Kurt Cobain dead now for over 18 years. Alverson's previous feature, New Jerusalem, starring the great Will Oldham, is now available on VOD — I haven't seen it yet, but can't wait to.

7. The Unspeakable Act by Dan Sallitt

The gorgeous, deep, third feature film of Dan Sallitt (pronounced "Suh-LEET"), centered around the breakout performance of Tallie Medel, who is probably my favorite actress besides Juliette Binoche. I did a long interview with Dan that was published around the time of its summer world premiere at BAMcinémafest and goes pretty into-depth on the film, which you can read here. And I made a short film with Tallie which you can watch here.

6. Sound of My Voice by Zal Batmanglij

A small concise debut feature about the infiltration of a charismatic Southern California cult-leader/would-be messiah's inner sanctum. It nails suburban middle-class houses and points to the untold stories that take place behind the windows that open onto drywall and landlord beige. Recessed spotlights in kitchens. Actually suspenseful script. There's a recurring set-up that has to do with the two protagonists (Christopher Denham and Nicole Vicius) prepping for meetings with the leader — clip-snap-pop insert-shots of the ritual, but the sequence gets shorter every time and what at first instance comes off as a crappy American genre-movie technique for moving the story along eventually metamorphoses into dismissive shorthand telegraphs. Genuinely suspenseful, closes genuinely unsettlingly with a non-shitty pay-off. This is a B-programmer that plays like an A-movie, in the way some Siodmak films used to, and not in the sense of cinephile apologia for the higher-Rotten-Tomatoes superhero flicks. Fox Searchlight should keep bankrolling pictures of this scale and have them be put together by the same team. The cult-leader "Maggie" is played by Brit Marling, who co-wrote the script with Batmanglij, and who starred in and co-wrote with director Mike Cahill Another Earth, and who said in an interview I read or watched that she and Batmanglij would like to make two more movies continuing the story from Sound of My Voice. For me, and to show why I'd only recommend this picture, Marling is my favorite young American actress besides Tallie Medel. Batmanglij's new film The East, also starring and co-written by Marling, will premiere at Sundance next month, and also stars Ellen Page, Alexander Skarsård, and Julia Ormond. It's the Sundance film I'm most anticipating besides Andrew Bujalski's Computer Chess.

5. Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie by Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim

I think I paid $30 on OnDemand to see this, because I watched it three times. I'm not usually in the mood for invoking au courant critical receptions of movies, because I couldn't give a shit. Here, I'll break my disinclination in order to say that most of the "takes" on this film are fucking insane. Despite Will Ferrell's presence (who, here, is not terrible), this is easily the funniest movie since parts of Borat, since some parts of In the Loop and Four Lions, since Clifford, since Freddy Got Fingered. It's the anti-Blues Brothers, which is, always has been, a complete piece of shit. Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie is the most ruthless and incendiary take-down of the modern Hollywood idiom — moving on from the televisual/early-Internet rabbit-hole of the Adult Swim show — ever made. Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie is, unequivocally, a masterpiece. If you think The Blues Brothers is hilarious you're an idiot.

4. Damsels in Distress by Whit Stillman

I think this might be a 2011 film, but I only got to see it in theaters this year (I went a few times) and, for me, it's another masterpiece — and the greatest Stillman film. A lot of friends of mine who've seen it either hate it or are on the fence. I would say that I love the way ideas, notional flights-of-fancy, and rhetorical turns of phrases are taken in Damsels in Distress to their extremity, their utmost conclusion — and in so doing a kind of conversational utopia is asserted in which at least one of the conversants do not just 'drop the subject' because it's hit a baton-pass lull but instead take it to the end-iteration of whatever point needs to be made. (e.g.,: the "Xavier/Zavier" monologue.) Additionally, Stillman's mise-en-scène has never been more focused: he instills a clean, almost Hawksian grammatical clarity to his shots and cuts unlike little else seen in modern movies. (e.g.,: the quick insert shot when Hugo Becker and Analeigh Tipton chop vegetables.) I could go on and would like to at some point — other highlights include the highly word-worked script à la Stillman (I read someone who wrote something to the effect: "It is so refreshing to hear characters who speak in complete sentences," and I agree to a certain extent but this doesn't exactly get to what's good about the dialogue, and of course this was probably a veiled dig at mumblecore), and the boarding-school milieu. Easily one of my favorite films of all-time, and one that gets better and richer with every viewing, like most movies do.



Louie: Season 3 by Louis C.K.

The greatest single season of 'episodic television' (and one which is actually TRUE CINEMA, at that) in the history of the medium — better than the final season of The Larry Sanders Show, than the phantasmagoria of the end of Roseanne, than the most recent season (the "New York" one) of Curb Your Enthusiasm, than the British Office, than Peep Show (shout-out Hannah Fidell), than Get a Life, than the best of (and especially the last episode of) The Sopranos. And better than "Wrist Hulk." (Which, for all I know, he may have written.) So much has been written about Louis C.K. at this late stage that I'll only jot three things. (1) Season 3 is the funniest, most humane, absurd, tears-inducing whatever-it-even-was-from-one-week-to-the-next scalp-grasping WHAT since the first Gatti/Ward fight. (2) The DP of Pootie Tang was Willy Kurant who shot Godard's Masculin Féminin, Pialat's Sous le soleil de Satan, and, most recently, Garrel's A Burning Hot Summer. (3) The ad absurdum conceit of guest-star-appearances on this season wiped away the cliché of gratuitous drop-ins by dint of the sheer jaw-dropping quality of the performances: Gaby Hoffmann, Melissa Leo, Parker Posey, Maria Dizzia, Sarah Silverman, Chloë Sevigny, etc. (and the surprise-guest-spot turn of the Master in the 3-episode Late Show arc). Literally, the best, and without a "thing that I saw this year counting almost every movie" qualifier. The best. And this on the heels of the Live at the Beacon Theater web-on-demand-$5-download special at the end of last year, which is the best stand-up set I've ever seen. How is all of this possible? Nothing is more fucking annoying.

Open Five 2 by Kentucker Audley

"The Sort-Of Sequel to Open Five." A few things here: this film along with Stephen Gurewitz's Marvin Seth and Stanely and a couple other pictures like ones by Amy Seimetz and Dustin Guy Defa (neither of which I've seen yet) premiered at La Di Da in NYC in September; Open Five 2 has played at two other places since, once in Memphis, and once in Wrocław. Right now, the film is available to watch for free, streaming, in HD, indefinitely, at NoBudge, which is also where Marvin Seth and Stanley was watchable for a bit. (You can check out the OF2 trailer, one of the most exhilarating ever cut, in my opinion, along with an hour-long archived/YouTubed Ustream Q&A with the director-star which is worth your time where among other things he gives the sharpest response about why 'older people' haven't been in his films to date, although they actually have.) — Part of me dislikes the term "mumblecore" but most of me no longer cares and thinks it's okay and kind of charming and it's okay, again. Most of the mumblecorers, so to speak, have proven themselves as lasters and still-further-going expeditioneers. To that point, and this is just my opinion, Open Five 2 is the best movie anyone who ever got lumped into the category has ever made — and I love a lot of those films. I never much took to using the categorization to begin with, because to me movies are movies. (And why, on this list, are there so many American movies? This might be the first year ever with as much for me, and so maybe there are some things filmmakers need to have a long hard self-exam about, and which festival magazines are oblivious to though maybe the French are now more aware beyond just the Safdies and Alex Ross Perry.) (Separately: Cinema-allusion and plan-séquence and waiting-for-government-funding are dead.) So what's in Open Five 2? A film broken up into two halves, where the first is another road trip (like in two other films on this list), intermittently so, and which provides the opportunity for one of the most cogent and powerful/breathtaking take-downs I've ever seen on screen, via Kentucker, having to do with annual-income and frustration and general annoyance at a certain disposition or confrontation, — and which also provides the opportunity for an articulation, via Jake Rabinbach, of love and the way people operating in relationships actually operate, while he's steering the vehicle, and which, alone, friends of mine and me had a long conversation about in a BBQ joint after the La Di Da showing. The first half of the picture is exciting exactly because it's kind of meandering, and sort of a knowing (and slippery) retread of "established" templates (road trip, certain ways of cuts looking and talking), etc., interspersed with the electrifying moments, the beautiful images, snow at last. The second half: — I said this once before about the first Open Five film, but: this movie is another record, in every sense: there is a 'Side 2' here definitely, and there's a flip-point where the movie doubles-down. A new rhythm comes on around the 40- or 45-minute mark after Kentucker returns to Memphis, gets back in the vicinity of Caroline (Caroline White, also in Karpovsky's Red Flag, cf. above); they make a go of reconnecting after some fraught recent times. I won't say much from this stretch of the movie, beyond the fact that in the overwhelming climax of the film White and Audley, together, make the case by admission that whatever the future might hold, at least here, there in the scene, there is love, not movie-character love but the raw flay and exposure: — and here in a time when everything looks cheap and stupid and facile or abstract in most movies: finally something alive, something moving, a plea to try to live our lives better, — this, in one of the most beautiful-looking films of recent times, and I love it because the core surpasses its own (excellent) image/sound aesthetics. ( — ...that is, someone might for example make a film about "turning 40" and it's somehow never about 'turning 40' it's about 'performativity' or is somehow ultimately a subtext because that somehow trumps the subject 'in critical aesthetics.') In an epoch when I hate when movie reviewers or their staff-editors often repurpose a past-/pop-culturally-relevant movie title, or quibble on the thing, for their headline, — in this instance it would certainly occasion — and without much Godfather: Part III operatics — "ONE FROM THE HEART."

Like Someone in Love by Abbas Kiarostami

One of the greatest filmmakers of all-time. One of his greatest films. (He's only ever made masterpieces.) The title is completely presented in English, on the digital negative (just like the titles of the Dinah, Ella, and Björk recordings, all of which the director loves; at first he was going to call the film The End, as in the title-card you see at the end of studio-era Hollywood movies). The film was shot in Tokyo. In a sense, Like Someone in Love represents a companion-piece to Certified Copy. A colleague told me that that particular film (another of the greatest of the 2010s, something on the level of Buñuel's best) was no good because he couldn't stand Binoche's "schtick." (A "schtick" that repulsed him from one movie of hers to the next, apparently.) This sentiment of his reminded me of the Truffaut film The Man Who Loved Women, which I've never seen, because this man must not understand what there is to love about women. Anyway, there is no way to retread Kiarostami's film on this blog entry: I simply wouldn't want to give away spoilers — I'm not a child, but people see films to be surprised, to experience the pleasure of surprise: this is how it works, and I agree wholeheartedly that it should be this way. So: most people reading this have probably read a little bit about the picture and already know about its general contour: okay: the first scene is a tour-de-force of sound and looking and discerning; there's a cab-ride afterwards which is shocking in its power and surprise; an apartment scene with suspense, palm-and-reveal (Kiarostami, the anti-Italian-magic-realist magician); a utilitarian afternoon scene, daylight but claustrophobic and also car-based, a rather protracted scene slightly boring the first time around (I was at MoMA btw on the first day they opened the theater in the new building in 2004: to see Godard's Moments choisis des Histoire(s) du cinéma on 35mm and, earlier, Kiarostami's Five for the introduction of which he had sent a fax read aloud by Mary Lea Bandy, in which he asserted to the audience it was perfectly okay to fall asleep during the course of his film); and a final section which I will not talk about here, because it's the dazzling, dazing ending of this great work, — and is one of the most shocking endings in the history of movies. I have not stopped thinking about this challenging, rapturous movie for months, and maybe never will, maybe never will understand its puzzles completely. But this is part of the exchange with "Kiarostami, the magnificent."