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Andrew O’Hehir’s 10 Best Movies of 2012

1. Wuthering Heights

If there’s an element of Terrence Malick-like cinematic abstraction and landscape photography to this “Wuthering Heights,” it feels more pre-modern than postmodern, as if it’s trying to dig backward through all the costume-drama adaptations to the physical, elemental truths of life and love on the frigid moors of Yorkshire. As a visual and sensual out-of-body experience (mention must go to Robbie Ryan, Arnold’s amazing cinematographer), no other movie released this year comes close.

2. Holy Motors

There’s no point trying to decode the ultimate whys and wherefores of “Holy Motors,” in which a man named only Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) travels through multiple identities, multiple realities and many different genres of film, from science fiction to motion capture animation to action flick to romantic musical to family melodrama. You have to enjoy the ride rather than the destination…

3. Amour
4. Zero Dark Thirty

No one thinks the discussion about the depiction of torture in Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama-hunting thriller is over, but since I don’t believe the film either justifies torture or seeks to, I see that conversation as a proxy for bigger questions about the uses of art in depicting political and moral crisis, and about the global role of the United States. A sweeping, moody historical chronicle of almost Tolstoyan breadth.

5. Rust and Bone

6. Lincoln

…by teaming with playwright Tony Kushner (who also wrote Spielberg’s terrific “Munich”), and focusing on the culmination of Abe Lincoln’s political career instead of delivering a log-cabin biopic, Spielberg has outdone himself… Whatever political or historical criticisms of “Lincoln” you may wish to offer, this is a meaty and satisfying example of Hollywood cinema at its finest.

7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
8. Whore’s Glory

…this artful, honest and profoundly compassionate survey of the lives of real female sex workers in Thailand, Bangladesh and Mexico is his most haunting and memorable picture yet. Considering the button-pushing nature of the subject and the enormous potential for sleaze or sentimentality (or both) when it’s approached by a male artist, “Whores’ Glory” paints a remarkably evenhanded portrayal of the world’s oldest profession, neither judgmental nor celebratory.

9. Oslo, August 31
10. Take This Waltz

These tribute paragraphs have been abridged. Read more about the full list at Salon.

23 Comments on this Post

  1. Glad to see Wuthering Heights in his list, i loved that movie and its bleak, rawness… not your typical “costume drama”. Anatolia and Oslo have been literally on every critics list, they are in my top 10 as well. I wish more people could appreciate Take this Waltz, what a gem.

  2. Wuthering Heights! He had me at that. Good list overall too.

  3. rufussondheim

    I love Andrew O’Hehir. He’s got enigmatic tastes but even with the stuff he likes that you know is crap you want to see it by the time you get done reading his review just because you want to see if he could possibly be correct.

    But I enjoy him mostly because he rarely enjoys the conventional. There’s something unique in the films he chooses to champion.

  4. Danemychal

    Awesome list!

  5. Oh Andrew, you had me at Wuthering Heights. You had me with Holy Motors and Amour. You had me all the way. All the way… and then you said Take This Waltz. And I knew it was over. Over. It was broken and there would no way we could ever get it back. Ever. And you know what hurts the most? You never lied to me. You respected me so much to admit that yes, you have feelings for Take This Waltz. I do too, but mostly they involve retching.

  6. The Japanese Viewer

    Holy Motors sounds intriguing. I am not sure if it’s been praised for its overall merits in general or mainly for what seems to be too much emphasis on the so-called originality and some indulgent hipster factors, but it’s one of my must-see motion pictures now — thanks to some of the US-based critics and AD readers’ words of mouth. It worked. : )

  7. The best top 10 list I’ve seen this year. I’m not a huge fan of Holy Motors or Wuthering Heights but even with them taking the top 2, this list is fabulous.

  8. rufussondheim

    I had watched Oslo last week and fell in love with the first half, but the second half left me a bit dazed and confused and unsatisfied and depressed. But it stuck with me and knew I wanted to see it again. And seeing this list and then reading O’Hehir’s full review, I was prompted to watch it again this evening.

    It’s now my favorite of the year. It’s so well written, so well performed (every actor is like a fine-tuned dancer at the Russian Ballet) and so unflashingly directed. It’s a wonder to behold.

  9. Tero Heikkinen

    I’ve had Wuthering Heights for months, but never found the time. Guess I better place it on top of the stack (I think I currently have some 100+ unwatched Blu-rays; many of them 2012 films).

  10. OSLO is absolutely one of the very best films of the year, and I applaud rufussondheim for his revised lofty placement!

  11. On Zero Dark Thirty: I have disagree. How can none-judgement, an abdication of the rights and wrongs of it be any good ? The middle isn’t an alternative on an issue like this. Here it’s black and white.

    Regarding Oslo: In my opinion one of the most boring experiences I’ve ever had in the cinemas. From the first suicide attempt I was trying to find something that’d make me feel for the sob, and after the film ended I walked out scratching my head, searching for answers as to why I should care for this suicidal young man. Living here in Norway we’ve had many novels about navel-gazing young men who can’t seem to grow up, and are bored out of their minds. This movie fits into that mold, saying nothing new.

    A movie that belonged to this list: Goodbye, first love. Now that’s a movie that breezes over you like a cool autumn wind.

  12. A perfect list! Best list I have seen so far.

  13. He called TDKR a masterpiece, yet chose to exclude it from the Top 10 of the year. What gives?

  14. “Regarding Oslo: In my opinion one of the most boring experiences I’ve ever had in the cinemas. From the first suicide attempt I was trying to find something that’d make me feel for the sob, and after the film ended I walked out scratching my head, searching for answers as to why I should care for this suicidal young man. Living here in Norway we’ve had many novels about navel-gazing young men who can’t seem to grow up, and are bored out of their minds. This movie fits into that mold, saying nothing new.”

    Wow. Looks like being close to home has affected your ability to appreciate one of the very best reviewed movies of the year stateside. I found this anything but boring.

  15. rufussondheim

    Perhaps, Mohammed, if I saw as many similar films, I might see where you are coming from. But I don’t see it as someone refusing to grow up, I see it as someone who doesn’t see the point of growing up, or to state it better, he doesn’t see anything that interests him and that can take the place of the drugs he’s done.

    Coming out of drug addiction can be very dispiriting and it’s extremely difficult adapting to one’s “new” life, especially since everything you experience reminds you of the old life.

    I thought this movie was very tragic, watching Anders trying to find something to cling to for hope and finding nothing. His (apparently) best friend makes jokes about the drug past and eventually admits that his life isn’t particularly happy, that it’s repetitive and filled with menial meaningless tasks (I thought the lecture on some guy’s tenure on the national archives was hilariously droll)

    The potential job wasn’t going to be exciting, just an assistant at a hipster magazine. But again, I suspect he would have gotten the job if he stuck it out as his drug addiction would have been seen as a plus rather than a negative since it gave him a different perspective than your typical writer. But his desire to be seen through that lens, again, was dispiriting.

    Then we go to his solitary lunch and he overhears various conversations that have varying effects on him. This is a great scene, in my opinion, as it’s shot in reflection and through windows and it’s light and airy and the two sequences where the camera follows strangers as they go about their routine lives was just exceptional.

    I could go on, but ultimately it’s a story of a guy (who is by no means perfect, by the way) doesn’t have the ability to transition into adulthood. The constant shots of children throughout and the discussion of having children or not having children is the core of this film, with the implication that children are the reason to grow up. But Anders understands that he’ll never attain that stability.

    So if you want to dismiss him as navel-gazing, that’s fine, it’s your loss. But there’s a lot here to mull over and it’s so well made, so well written, so well performed. It’s a stunningly great film.

  16. Great choice Wuthering Heights!

  17. Rufus: I’m an avid reader and I love quirky small films. But I’ve had my fill of young aimless men of means who go around in circles, talking about obscure books and magazines. In the norwegian film industry, perhaps even the Nordic film industry, this archetype have been used so often it has become almost a genre of its own. The director did it in his first film Reprise. It’s not even the only movie about the same type that’s come out here in Norway in the past year.

    In the literary world Carl Frode Tiller did it about more than a decade ago with Skråninga.

    The difference is that in the literary world, many of the young men live in the countryside and have inherited farms they have no idea how to run and they contemplate the sorry life of a farmer, mourning their lost social life since moving from Oslo or some other big city.

    Perhaps the fact I’m from here makes me want something else. The grass is greener elsewhere. Specially if it’s South Korean grass. I love that.

    If I’m not mistaken the famous screenwriting teacher Robert Mckee warned against having characters who want to kill themselvs. Most humans as most cinema-goers wants the protogonist to succeed. We are even willing to go along with a charachter who does awful things. But suicide is a matter of in-action: It’s a goal of wanting to sit on the sidelines. It has no pay-off for the viewer. If it’s a poor person who have undergone tremendous hardship or some kind of political statement it can be made a useful tool, but a rich person, having no “real” problems of note, going to such length, I don’t know who’d sympathise with that as a storytelling device.

    The last movie I watched with suicide as a statement, a powerful one was The Beider Meinhoff Complex. Now that’s a statement that shook me. The most complex and hearbreaking was Paradise Now. Oslo, August 31.st was just awful. But it’s great that you enjoyed it.

  18. Perhaps. But reviewers are a hit and a miss for me. The Avengers is one of the best reviewed movies of the year, and it sits well on my number 2 spot of the worst movie of the year for me after Cross. Ahead of Ruby Sparks, Oslo, August 31.st, Savages and on and on. The protogonist trying to off himself is a big no-no for me, specially if it’s void of wider meaning.

    Watch Paradise Now for a suicide that’s actually provocative and engaging in it’s implications. Or The Beider Meinhoff Complex. Or The Shawshank Redemption. Brooks was here!

  19. rufussondheim

    The difference is that in the literary world, many of the young men live in the countryside and have inherited farms they have no idea how to run and they contemplate the sorry life of a farmer, mourning their lost social life since moving from Oslo or some other big city.

    You do realize that’s just a stone’s throw from Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya?

    I can understand your frustration, but even the most covered territory can seem fresh if done will. That’s my case with this film.

    But that’s the greatness of art, not everything has to appeal to everybody.

  20. Have to echo – one of the best lists for 2012.

    Now I have to scramble and find Oslo, August 31, thanks to the discussion above.

  21. rufussondheim

    It’s streamable on Netflix. If you have the ability to stream Netflix onto your TV, I think it’s a great value, especially if you like foreign films and independant cinema. It doesn’t have every option out there, but I would guess 50% of the movies I watch are available through their streaming option.

  22. The ZDT top 10 streak ends. Shalom Life magazine’s top 10: http://ca.shalomlife.com/culture/18497/the-top-10-movies-of-2012/

    1. The Avengers
    Turns out the biggest film of the year in terms of box office was also the best. Marvel’s The Avengers, after a nearly 5 year wait, finally hit the big screen in the summer and quickly became one of the highest grossing movies of all time. Packed with Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and The Hulk, The Avengers managed to do pull off a feat that not every two plus hour superhero movie can do, have a worthwhile story. Yes, someone is trying to take over the world and a bunch of guys in costumes have to stop him, but along the way is some incredible writing, amazing acting, breathtaking special effects and action sequences, and of course, The Hulk.

    2. Skyfall
    After an extended leave of absence 2012 saw James Bond finally come back to the big screen. Ignoring Quantum of Solace and starting fresh, Skyfall managed to be the best Bond movie of all time while simultaneously being one of the best action movies of all time. Inventive, fresh, and stylish, Skyfall proved that even after 50 years of Bond movies there’s still plenty of life left in Agent 007.

    3. The Hunger Games
    What started out looking like another Twilight-esque book turned into a Twilight-esque movie actually ended up being very different. Though The Hunger Games is no doubt a book series about young love, the movie was mostly about a bunch of kids killing each other in a fight to the death. If it sounds a little graphic it’s probably because it is. But The Hunger Games, directed by Gary Ross, managed to be a controversial look at society through a fictional and futuristic world. Instead of vampires, werewolves, and depressed teenagers, The Hunger Games featured great writing, great acting, great directing, and umm… also depressed teenagers, but hey, this time it was interesting.

    4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
    Another book turned movie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was another surprise in a year full of them. Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, the author of the wildly popular book of the same name, Perks of Being a Wallflower, starring Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson, was an unassuming masterpiece of cinema that sadly, not a lot of people went to see. Perks is not the kind of movie that jumps out at you in the vein of The Avengers or The Hunger Games, but rather it just exists and slowly gets you to realize how good it is while still flying under the radar. Some of the best acting of the year was in this movie, including Ezra Miller’s Patrick and Logan Lerman’s Charlie, but you won’t see it nominated for any awards. If you haven’t seen Perks already, now is the time.

    5. Chronicle
    Though many people had never heard of Chronicle until it actually came out, the superhero movie written by Max Landis and directed by Josh Trank was actually one of the best superhero movies of the year. Taking the found footage genre to new heights (quite literally), Chronicle featured some of the most inventive and risky storytelling in recent memory. Its release propelled nearly all of those involved to new heights and massive new projects (including main star Dane DeHaan’s upcoming role in The Amazing Spider-Man 2), and even managed to spawn a sequel, which, fingers crossed, will be ready soon.

    6. Lincoln
    After taking some time off the past few years, then returning last year with War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin, Steven Spielberg’s long awaited historical epic Lincoln was finally released this year. Starring Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln, the film has been making a splash with critics and is seen as a major contender for the Academy Awards this year.

    7. 21 Jump Street
    If you look at this list, every single movie on here, with the exception of Chronicle and This Is 40 is based on either history, or an existing property. So when it was announced that there would be a movie remake of the TV show 21 Jump Street, everyone groaned. But then the movie came along, poked fun at itself and Hollywood conventions numerous times, and turned out to be one of the funniest movies of the year. After taking the box office by storm and receiving massive critical acclaim, 21 Jump Street, the movie based on the show of the same name, is getting a sequel. And though that sequel will be a sequel based on a movie based on a show, we can’t wait.

    8. Argo
    Can a movie about a true story be intense, gripping, and dramatic even when you know the ending? This year, Argo proved that the answer to that question is a definite yes. Though the story is almost too weird to be true, director Ben Affleck managed to make a film that was a believable look at past events that are still relevant in today’s world, while still being incredibly hilarious and entirely entertaining.

    9. The Amazing Spider-Man
    The Amazing Spider-Man had a very difficult task to accomplish when it was released this summer. It had to manage to not alienate fans of the old Spider-Man trilogy, the last of which only came out 5 years ago, it had to create new fans, and it had to distinguish itself enough from the previous movies to not be rendered useless. With less of a focus on Spider-Man and more of a focus on the incredibly well cast Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker, The Amazing Spider-Man managed to do all of the things it had set out to do and more. With production ramping up on the sequel, hopefully now that director Marc Webb has established his own world of Spidey we can spend some more time with the wall crawler without worrying about whether or not 5 years is too soon to reboot a franchise.

    10. This Is 40
    Judd Apatow’s last film, Funny People, polarized a lot of people because they didn’t think it was funny enough. Was it a film about cancer, or was it a comedy? Well, it was both, and it was amazing, but that’s not the point. Apatow’s “sort-of sequel to Knocked Up” isn’t really a sort-of sequel at all. Instead, it’s a raw and unfiltered (especially at nearly two hours and fifteen minutes) look at life through the lens of a middle class family in LA. It’s hilariously funny, but also perfectly real, believable, and dramatic all at the same time. Yes, it’s a comedy, but it’s also a drama, a tragedy, and a love story. With This Is 40, Apatow has created his most polarizing movie to date simply because people don’t understand what it’s supposed to be. It’s life. And it’s also one of the best movies of the year.

  23. Thanks a lot for your great presentation of movie list.All movies are really interesting and enjoyable.Most of the movies are seen …

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