Listmania 2012: Best Movies of 2012 (20-11)
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.
Jeff Hart: We first saw this bold teen comedy way back in 2011 at the Tribeca Film Festival, when it was still going by Turn Me On, God Dammit.
Jeremiah White: Yeah, before the ad wizards dropped ‘God” from the title so as not to offend delicate American sensibilities.
Jeff Hart: Well, it raked in $126 thousand at the box office, so the title change obviously worked.
Jeremiah White: It’s too bad today’s shitty teenagers don’t have any interest in subtitled Norwegian sex comedies.
Jeff Hart: I’m not surprised Turn Me On failed to find an audience stateside, but I’m hopeful it will someday. It seems destined to be a cult movie down the road, hopefully something actual teenagers can get into instead of, I don’t know, Bring It On, or whatever. It’s fun, charming, and doesn’t get all flustered about sexuality.
Jeremiah White: You sure love movies about strippers.
Jeff Hart: Well, I don’t think Showgirls and Magic Mike are enough to constitute a trend, but I won’t argue. Anyway, I suppose that I consider myself a Steven Soderbergh fan, even if I haven’t liked much in his recent, insane prolific streak (seven movies in five years??). Some of this work has felt dashed off, and I’m getting real tired of oversaturated golds. But, Magic Mike feels like something Soderbergh actually put some care into.
Jeremiah White: I don't know, this seems like something Soderbergh could do in his sleep. I think a winning Channing Tatum performance and a hilariously sleazy Matthew McConaughey performance may have more to do with Magic Mike working than Soderbergh's skills.
Jeff Hart: Whoever’s responsible, Magic Mike is the year’s best comedy. Granted, it was a pretty weak year for comedy, and Magic Mike definitely isn’t all laughs… but, the mix of rock star rise and fall in the world of male-stripping and gleefully ridiculous dance numbers make for a whole lot of fun.
Jeremiah White: Black market hormone dealers finally get their due in this bleak Belgian character study masquerading as a cattle farming mob movie.
Jeff Hart: Matthias Schoenaerts is terrific as Jacky Vanmarsenille, a violent brute who garners a surprising amount of empathy. He was definitely an oversight on our Biggest Badasses list, and would’ve been #1 if we made a Ticking Time Bombs list.
Jeremiah White: This is the first of two movies on our list that was featured in our Instant Movie Club. It was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar last year, but lost to A Separation. It’s gotten plenty of critical praise, but seems to have gone widely unnoticed otherwise.
Jeff Hart: I guess what you’re saying is that our IMC feature is on the cutting edge of cinema.
Jeremiah White: Yes, exactly.
Jeff Hart: Bullhead didn’t quite make my personal list, but it would’ve been one of my honorable mentions. Hopefully people will discover it on DVD or Netflix Instant.
Jeremiah White: I never actually saw this, so Seven Psychopaths is here based on the strength of your ranking alone.
Jeff Hart: You missed out. Seven Psychopaths is so much fun! It ranked #10 on my personal list and it’s one I can’t wait to go back to on DVD. Why did you skip it?
Jeremiah White: I wasn’t a huge fan of Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, and the goofy marketing campaign for Psychopaths didn’t pique my interest, even though I’m a huge Sam Rockwell fan.
Jeff Hart: Again, you missed out, because Rockwell is amazing. In fact, the whole cast is really great, with Christopher Walken in particular doing some of his best work in years. It probably helps that Psychopaths is a throwback to the 90s Tarantino-style bloody crime capers where Walken had his mainstream resurgence. The film is also a deconstruction of those movies, a very canny analysis of the demented thought process behind stylized killing. It’s like Tarantino meets Dan Harmon, but it’s also uniquely Martin McDonagh. Between this and Killing Them Softly, it was a very good year for breaking down crime capers.
Jeremiah White: And here’s Exhibit A in the case for Matthew McConaughey having the best year ever. William Friedkin’s adaptation of Tracy Letts’ trailer park noir play lets McConaughey run wild as a predatory Southern gentleman cop/hitman who gets wrapped up in a family murder plot.
Jeff Hart: Killer Joe suffers from the same stagey feeling as a lot of dramatic adaptations, but that’s made up for by the strength of the cast. Like you said, McConaughey is tremendous, turning that laconic Wooderson charm into something genuinely terrifying. I also really liked Juno Temple’s spacey performance as the object of McConaughey’s desire, and Thomas Haden Church’s dumb-as-rocks trailer dad.
Jeremiah White: It’s a darkly funny, perverse ride through Dallas’ seedier side. An instant midnight movie classic.
Jeff Hart: Absolutely. William Friedkin is one dirty old man. I’m not sure I ever want to see a chicken drumstick again.
Jeremiah White: It takes guts to be the first to bring a Don DeLillo novel to the screen after 40 years of being stuck on the page. Having already tackled J.G. Ballard and William S. Burroughs, David Cronenberg must have little fear of filming the “unfilmable.”
Jeff Hart: Cronenberg does whatever Cronenberg wants, so I’m not going to give him too much credit for tackling DeLillo. Robert Pattinson, on the other hand, deserves some big time praise for happily alienating his fan-base with his portrayal of a bloodless (har har) corporate mogul who has an asymmetrical prostate.
Jeremiah White: Cosmopolis plays like a book at times. The dense, rapid-fire philosophical discussions frequently made me wish I could flip back a page or two to better digest it all, but even when I got lost in the dialogue, the “inhumanity” of Cosmopolis is mesmerizing. From the inscrutable performances to the detached way Cronenberg films his vision of the shiny, cold near future. It’s a clinical examination of the psychology of success.
Jeff Hart: Long live the new flesh.
Jeff Hart: Here’s a movie that I didn’t expect to like nearly as much as I did.
Jeremiah White: Oh, did it make you believe in God?
Jeff Hart: Ha, no, all the faith mumbo jumbo did little for me. However, having never read the book, I found Ang Lee’s emotional climax to be genuinely heartbreaking and surprising, especially because I expected proselytizing. The film did make me a believer in 3D, though. That shipwreck sequence is eye-popping. I popped an eye.
Jeremiah White: The effects are great and the ambiguity made it more thought-provoking than I'd expected based on the marketing and reputation. It's good, there wasn't quite enough outside of the excellent "boy and tiger in a boat" scenes for it to crack my Top 20.
Jeff Hart: I’m getting a little sick of superhero movies, specifically the dark and brooding ones from the Christopher Nolan school of filmmaking. Avengers isn’t that. It’s lively, fun, and colorful, loaded up with larger-than-life fights and that trademark Joss Whedon snark. After years of build-up for these characters through solo movies, a plan which some assumed would fail--
Jeremiah White: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
Jeff Hart: --Avengers proved that Marvel is capable of pulling off its massive cinematic universe. Oh, and spoiler alert, The Dark Knight Rises didn’t make our list.
Jeremiah White: And I liked Dark Knight Rises. It was a perfectly adequate end to a remarkably cohesive superhero trilogy. But, as you alluded to, it's more of the same, and not as good. Avengers, on the other hand, is an entirely new superhero sensation. Now, Avengers 2 - that's going to suck big time.
Jeremiah White: After watching Mike Birbiglia’s passion project, I could imagine his story of sleepwalking and finding his comedic voice as it was first told in his one-man show. The personal, revealing nature, the digressions, the killer climax followed by a single absurd, deadpan line of dialogue. It feels very much like stand-up, but during Sleepwalk With Me all I could think was that this was a confident and promising writing and directing debut. His first career has clearly influenced his filmmaking for the better.
Jeff Hart: So maybe I’m basing this only on Birbiglia and Louis CK, but maybe more stand-up comics should be writing and directing. It turns out they’re pretty good at it.
Jeremiah White: At times, the Karate Kid-for-comedians beats feel contrived, but Birbiglia’s tale is delivered with such sincerity that it doesn’t matter. In addition to a comedic coming-of-age story, this is also a very funny un-romantic comedy. It was one of 2012’s most pleasant surprises for me.
Jeremiah White: This is the perfect antidote to preachy addiction dramas where an alcoholic or drug addict is continuously drawn back to their vice for reasons that are never really explored. In Oslo, a recovering drug addict returns to his hometown for one day and ultimately finds that drugs are the only thing that still makes him feel good. It’s devastating.
Jeff Hart: I guess I wasn’t devastated enough. You ranked this #4 on your list, and I didn’t rank it at all. I liked Oslo and it definitely would’ve made my list if we were doing Top 25, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d seen it all before.
Jeremiah White: It’s not groundbreaking. The bittersweet tone and the fresh twist on the “homecoming” narrative are what make it stand out in my mind. There’s also a tracking shot involving bicycles and a fire extinguisher that easily ranks among my favorite individual shots of the year.
Jeff Hart: Fair enough. Let’s take a break and do some heroin!