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Listmania 2012: Best Movies of 2012 (10-1)

As pop culture aficionados, your friends at Culture Blues are not immune to the end-of-year lists currently overwhelming the internet. We just like to wait until the entire year is over before we post anything, in case something cool happens around the holidays (also, we're lazy). Welcome to Listmania, where Culture Blues ranks our favorite shit in a handful categories.

Here’s how this works: Jeff Hart and Jeremiah White each make a Top 20 list of the best films they’ve seen this year, scoring each entry from a pool of 300 points. Then, they combine those points to create a list representative of Culture Blues. And then they argue about it. See #20-11 here.

(10) The Raid: Redemption

Jeremiah White:  After Fast Five took #10 last year, is there any way we can convince people we don’t conspire to put an action movie here just so we can lead the 2nd part of our countdown off with people like Vin Diesel?

Jeff Hart:  Why fight it? As far as I’m concerned #10 is now officially the Movies For Guys Who Like Movies spot, in honor of the legendary TBS celebration of testosterone and sweat.

Jeremiah White:  How esoteric. The Raid was easily the best action movie of the year. Fantastic fights (including the year’s best), entertaining heroes and villains, a novel premise that confines the action to a single building, and enough intrigue and emotion to keep things interesting all the way through an exhilarating and draining finale.

Jeff Hart:  It’s a blast and required viewing for all action movie fans. See you here in 2013, Fast Six!

(9) Killing Them Softly

Jeremiah White:  Andrew Dominik’s crime movie set against the backdrop of 2008’s global financial crisis isn’t subtle in comparing the world of high finance to the underworld of New Orleans. That might bother me (probably not) if there wasn’t so much else to like as well. First and foremost, it’s a well-crafted, intriguing bit of subversive crime cinema, bailouts or no.

Jeff Hart:  Where Seven Psychopaths pushes crime movie tropes beyond their logical breaking point, Killing Them Softly scales those same tropes back. Things don’t play out in the ways we expect them to as filmgoers. Instead, Dominik’s crime movie is light on thrills and heavy on bureaucracy. Which somehow makes it thrilling?

Jeremiah White:  I also loved the cast, who sink their teeth into the film’s many digressive, dialogue-heavy scenes. From the desperate and downtrodden (James Gandolfini, Ben Mendelsohn) to the composed and condescending (Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins), Killing Them Softly is loaded with rich dialogue and memorable performances.

Jeff Hart:  Brad Pitt wins best monologue of the year.

(8) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Jeff Hart:  This Turkish meditation on small-town life and existential crisis definitely isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s long, moves ponderously, and takes its time traveling a relatively short distance (metaphorically and figuratively!). But, if you can get into the rhythms of Anatolia, it’s one of the most satisfying films of 2012.

Jeremiah White:  If by satisfying you mean emotionally draining and ultimately ambiguous, then I agree.

Jeff Hart:  That’s exactly what I mean! When it’s over, the characters feel known to you, like you actually experienced that long drive with them. You end up feeling as haggard as these guys look. When making this list I try to keep in mind movies that I had fun watching, whether they’re viewed as “important” or not. The flipside of that are movies like Anatolia that are just exhausting in the best way possible.

(7) Moonrise Kingdom

Jeremiah White:  Welcome back, Wes Anderson! The only movie to occupy the same spot on both our lists (#7, which isn’t a given with our points system) managed to overcome the fact that it stars children.

Jeff Hart:  Child actors are the worst. Except for these two! Anderson did a great job casting a pair of talented unknowns who fit right into his particular style.

Jeremiah White:  Moonrise’s heart may be the tender, precious romance, but it’s balanced by Anderson’s typical stable of dissatisfied, disappointed adults. And the whole thing is held together by a badass pint-sized adventure across picturesque landscapes.

(6) Django Unchained

Jeff Hart:  I had Django in my bronze medal spot while you had it all the way down at #10. So we both agree that Django is good, but we disagree on its exact degree of awesomeness.

Jeremiah White:  When Django is firing on all cylinders, which is most of the nearly 3-hour runtime, it's fantastic. But after 2 acts that speed through a couple movies worth of plot, things really slow down. The dinner table conversation is not as absorbing as Tarantino's dialogue often is. Django definitely works as a whole, just some parts better than others.

Jeff Hart:  I was totally swept up into Tarantino’s comic book version of the south. Django has an epic feeling that makes the major time commitment worthwhile, and the energy throughout is kinetic. Like all Tarantino, it isn’t for the faint of heart or the easily offended. Since it’s all anyone can talk about, I suppose I should mention how all the n-wording didn’t really register for me. I certainly wasn’t appalled by my beloved Jack Dawson spouting nasty epithets. There’s a scene at the end where Tarantino clowns some slaves with dynamite that rankled a bit, but otherwise, my morally objectionable meter stayed relatively neutral throughout. Yours?

Jeremiah White:  I wasn't bothered by Tarantino's use of language. It paints an appropriately ugly picture of slavery-era America, and I don't think that the showing I attended would have featured a grown man yelling out "Yes!" during a climactic moment if the portrait of evil hadn't been so vivid.

(5) The Cabin In the Woods

Jeremiah White:  Sorry Rex Reed!

Jeff Hart:  Joss Whedon gets on this list twice, first as director of Avengers and now as co-screenwriter. Not that he should overshadow director Drew Goddard, a longtime Whedon collaborator, who has likely made some heavy contributions to what we view as the Whedon-style. That’s a style I’m an unapologetic fanboy for, so pushing Cabin in the Woods way up my list was a no-brainer.

Jeremiah White:  Joss Whedon, Matthew McConaughey, and the French. That’s what we like here at Culture Blues.

Jeff Hart:  Yeah, they should all make a movie together. Anyway, Cabin in the Woods is the biggest Whedon-style deconstruction of the horror genre yet.  It’s fun, gory, and has just the right amount of Fran Kranz. The final monsters unleashed sequence might be my favorite use of corny CGI ever.

Jeremiah White:  The horror movie deconstruction is great. The monster massacre is better.

(4) Amour

Jeremiah White:  Here’s the deal: Amour is, like, real depressing. Michael Haneke’s raw, unflinching and ultimately romantic look at a married couple in their 80s can be difficult and uncomfortable to watch, but it’s a journey worth taking (once, at least) for anyone who’s ever thought about getting old.

Jeff Hart:  I mentioned emotionally exhausting movies before when talking about Once Upon a Time in Anatolia. Well, Amour makes Anatolia look like Cabin in the Woods. It’s brutally depressing and I never want to see it again, but it’s great. I mean, in 35 years when I kill myself because some part of my body has started to fail, my family can look back on this capsule review of Amour and see where that urge came from but, uh, yeah, good movie.

Jeremiah White:  I saw this at a crowded New York Film Festival screening after David Chase’s Not Fade Away. The visceral reactions of the mostly wrong-side-of-40 audience told me more than any reviews ever will. Haneke’s experience as a provocateur has made him a master manipulator. He knows exactly what buttons to push. Chase put that audience in a nostalgia-induced reverie, and Haneke snapped them out of it as violently as a hard slap across the face.

(3) Looper

Jeremiah White:  A tremendous year for genre films, none of them better than Rian Johnson’s Looper.

Jeff Hart:  Well, Cabin in the Woods was better, but I’m okay with this ranking. Rian Johnson deserves the love. Dude released an iPod commentary track to take with you to the movies. How cool is that?

Jeremiah White:  After you watch them both a third time, your future self is going to travel back in time and tell you how wrong you are.

Jeff Hart:  A few days ago on Twitter, culture critic or whatever the fuck Toure is posted a comment about how Looper is “one of the best films of a generation to be inspired by The Matrix.” I promptly unfollowed. While Looper definitely has its influences – none of which include The Matrix – the best thing Johnson did was create a fresh, wholly unique sci-fi universe not beholden to any existing property that Hollywood’s trying to exploit. The thoughtful take on time travel is just a bonus.

Jeremiah White:  Much like in his other films, Johnson's stylish visuals and sharp dialogue create a world viewers won't want to leave. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt do a great job selling the idea of older and younger versions of the same character. The stakes and brisk pace keep the adventure tense the entire time. Johnson is a master at creating fun, resonant entertainment, and I can't wait to see what he does next.

(2) Holy Motors

Jeremiah White:  “Anyone? Anyone?” That was the reaction of the guy next to me when the credits started to roll on Holy Motors, my #1 movie of 2012. I think he was making a joke to counter the embarrassment he and his girlfriend felt at not understanding what they’d just seen. My head was still spinning, so I couldn’t possibly have engaged him in conversation. And even if I could, there’s no way I could “explain” Holy Motors to him, and certainly not in the amount of time I consider it socially responsible to spend talking to strangers. The thing is, there’s no shame in being confused by this movie. It’s fucking puzzling! The real shame is in not appreciating this delightfully bizarre, wildly creative and technically awe-inspiring piece of filmmaking for what it is, in failing to take anything away from it because you were too busy trying to “figure it out.”

Jeff Hart:  That guy sounds like an asshole. I saw this at a New York Film Festival critics screening with the director in attendance, so you can imagine what those questions were like. Bunch of old dudes trying to show off which esoteric references they caught – one critic who took an ill-timed bathroom break mid-discussion even came back to ask the same pretentious question as one of his colleagues. Sure, Holy Motors is a film that begs for dissection, but I don’t need all that. I don’t need to understand. It’s just fucking awesome the whole way through. That’s all the critical thinking I need. It’s like a collection of wonderful short films bound by a strange sci-fi framing device. Plus, that accordion sequence, holy shit.

Jeremiah White:  To boil Holy Motors down to any one description is an exercise in futility, but it connected with me primarily as a celebration of performance and imagination wrapped around a lament of the soul-crushing tedium of being a cog in a machine. There’s a lot to pick apart, but you don’t need a brain to enjoy Holy Motors, you only need your senses. It’s stimulating, intoxicating and frequently euphoric.

(1) The Master

Jeremiah White:  Welcome back Joaquin Phoenix! Your Oscar is waiting.

Jeff Hart:  Probably not, unfortunately. For whatever reason, maybe because a lot of critics have been swept up by whichever film best represents Americans dicking about in the Middle East, the buzz for The Master has faded quite a bit since its release. It was my #1 and your #2.

Jeremiah White:  It's a beautiful, challenging movie, and after having seen it, it's hard to imagine anyone other than Joaquin playing Freddie Quell, the MacGyver of liquor. He's completely immersed in the role of an unhinged drifter. He really goes off the deep end in the character's bouts of madness, this may actually retroactively garner some praise for the brilliant and unfairly maligned I'm Still Here. Both films reveal a dedicated actor willing to fully commit to a role. This time it's just in a more traditional package that should be easier for fuddy-duddies to accept.

Jeff Hart:  PT Anderson’s ominous vision of post-war America is best seen in the expansive 70mm. Usually reserved for Laurence of Arabia type epics, Anderson filmed a decidedly claustrophobic tale of two lost souls tearing each other apart in the most majestic way possible. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s pores will basically swallow you whole.

Jeremiah White: Just like you've always wanted!

Jeff Hart:  My philistine take on Holy Motors as a film it’s best to just sit back and enjoy doesn’t hold true for The Master. We have to be doing our own audits on Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd as The Master plays out. Beyond the technical mastery and bold performances, this is a film that the viewer must attempt to engage. That’s a rare thing, and why The Master was my favorite movie of the year.

* * *

Jeff Hart’s Top Twenty (and points):
(1) The Master - 28
(2) Cabin in the Woods - 27
(3) Django Unchained - 27
(4) Looper - 24
(5) Holy Motors - 23
(6) Amour - 22
(7) Moonrise Kingdom - 19
(8) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - 18
(9) Life of Pi - 17
(10) Seven Psychopaths - 16
(11) The Raid - 13
(12) Magic Mike - 12
(13) Avengers - 11
(14) Cosmopolis - 10
(15) Take This Waltz - 8
(16) Turn Me On, Dammit - 7
(17) Killing Them Softly - 6
(18) Sleepwalk With Me - 5
(19) Killer Joe - 5
(20) Safety Not Guaranteed – 2

Jeremiah White’s Top Twenty (and points):
(1) Holy Motors - 26
(2) The Master - 25
(3) Amour - 24
(4) Oslo, August 31 - 23
(5) Looper - 22
(6) Killing Them Softly - 21
(7) Moonrise Kingdom - 20
(8) Cabin in the Woods - 19
(9) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - 18
(10) Django Unchained - 17
(11) Bullhead - 16
(12) Sleepwalk With Me - 15
(13) The Raid - 13
(14) Killer Joe - 12
(15) Bernie - 8
(16) Avengers - 7
(17) Cosmopolis - 7
(18) Polisse - 4
(19) Turn Me On, Dammit - 2
(20) Loneliest Planet - 1

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  1. Listmania 2012: Best Movies of 2012 (20-11) | Culture Blues