2012: year in film

Our lead film critic looks at the cinematic highlights of the year



Juan Carlos-Selznick’s best of 2012
Beasts of the Southern Wild
A Dangerous Method
The Deep Blue Sea
The Descendants
The Master
Moonrise Kingdom
Mysteries of Lisbon

As I sit down to write this (a week or so before Christmas), The New York Times’ esteemed movie reviewers have already gone on record saying that 2012 was an exceptionally good year for movies. One of them (Stephen Holden) went so far as to insist that this year’s “Top Ten” had to be a Top 25, in his case.

Searching for Sugar Man

Here in the provinces, it may not have seemed as good as all that, especially if your viewing choices were solely a matter of what turned up in local theaters. Various video options again put us within reach of a great many very worthy films that didn’t make it to Chico theaters, but even then, what we got to see here on the big screen amounted to a bumper crop—the best of the best (Lincoln, Moonrise Kingdom, The Master and Beasts of the Southern Wild) as well as a host of others that were often remarkable and sometimes exceptional (A Dangerous Method, Searching for Sugar Man, Bernie, Liberal Arts, Premium Rush, Argo, Cloud Atlas, Life of Pi, The Sessions, etc.) and a few late-arriving, top-flight carryovers from 2011 (The Descendants, The Adventures of Tintin, The Artist).

Foreign-language films weren’t much of a presence this year in local theatres. A Separation (Iran), Footnote (Israel) and The Kid with a Bike (Belgium) were among the year’s best. But, apart from second-tier items like Headhunters (Norway) and The Intouchables (France), not much else of note got here. The University Film Series at Chico State did help fill the gap with first-time screenings of Gianni Amelio’s The Missing Star (Italy, 2006) and two-thirds of Semih Kaplanoglu’s “Yusuf Trilogy” (Turkey).

Moonrise Kingdom

But, thanks to assorted video connections, it was still a rich year for foreign language imports. Several rank among the very best of the year for me: the late Raúl Ruiz’s monumental Mysteries of Lisbon (Portugal/France), Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s sprawling tragicomic police story Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkey), Aki Kaurismäki’s whimsical immigration drama Le Havre (Finland/France/Germany) and André Téchiné’s enigmatic mystery tale/relationship drama Unforgivable (France). And France’s Mathieu Demy, son of filmmakers Agnès Varda and the late Jacques Demy, delivered the mournful, charming Americano, a tri-lingual memoir/reverie set in France, Southern California, and Mexican border towns

Plus, there was Nanni Moretti’s satirical We Have a Pope (Italy) and a whole array of variously intriguing films from France: Daniel Auteuil’s remake of Marcel Pagnol’s The Well-Digger’s Daughter, Philippe Garrel’s downbeat A Burning Hot Summer, the political comedy The Women on the 6th Floor, the oddball period piece Mozart’s Sister, the offbeat crime films Polisse and Heat Wave, the elegiac Goodbye First Love, and Pawel Pawlikowski’s low-key psychothriller The Woman in the Fifth, a French/Polish/English production with Ethan Hawke and Kristin Scott Thomas in the lead roles.

Mysteries of Lisbon

Kenneth Lonergan’s beleaguered Margaret finally made it into circulation via video, and in a year that had an astonishing abundance of offbeat emotional dramas it was a special standout right alongside David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method and Terence Davies’ The Deep Blue Sea. Todd Haynes’ Mildred Pierce, a miniseries in 2011 and an impressive DVD in 2012, belongs in that company as well.

And more than honorable mention should go to quite a number of other smartly written, well-acted small-scale dramas: The Sessions, Bernie, Liberal Arts, Starlet and Premium Rush, among the films that reached local theaters, and Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz (Canada), Lynne Ramsay’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (UK), Francine (with Melissa Leo), Sean Durkin’s Martha Marcy May Marlene, and Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Deadfall, among those that didn’t.

I’m still playing catch-up with this year’s wave of serious-minded documentaries. Searching for Sugar Man is the best of the ones I did see, with Bully, Neil Young Journeys, and Wim Wenders’ dance film Pina as distinguished runners-up.