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Arts & Culture

2012: The Cinema Junkie Awards

Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy in "Beasts of the Southern Wild."
Fox Searchlight
Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy in "Beasts of the Southern Wild."

A Look Back At The Best And Worst In Film

Looking back on 2012 I find some glorious high points but overall a rather bland year.

I have to confess that having to cover arts and culture rather than just movies this past year did cut down on my filmgoing. So the pool of films I saw this year was smaller than in some previous years. But on the plus side I went to London for FrightFest and got to see a pair of horror films that kicked ass and made my top ten list. It was also a year that actresses got to shine in a wide range of roles and across all ages. Tiny Quvenzhane Wallis dazzled audiences in "Beasts of the Southern Wild" while mature actresses like Judi Dench ("Skyfall," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"), Helen Mirren ("Hitchcock"), and Maggie Smith (""The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Quartet") also got challenging leading roles. If women were showcased in leading roles, men dominated the supporting category with so many stellar actors rounding out casts. Among the standouts: Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, and Harry Dean Stanton in "7 Psychopaths," Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Whisaw in "Skyfall," Tom Hardy in "The Dark Knight Rises," Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford in "Cabin in the Woods," just to name a few.

It was also a great year for genre with horror and action proving that different kinds of perfection are out there to be appreciated.

So here's my list of the best and worst of 2012. And here's looking forward to 2013.

Ten Best of 2012

"Beasts of the Southern Wild"

A fresh, original film that shows us the world from a little girl's point of view and turns it into a rapturous cinematic poem. Also a film that shows people who are poor but without making poverty an issue. It is instead about people with a connection to a place and threatened with extinction.

"Sleep Tight"

This is not horror of a conventional kind, but it is a perfectly calibrated work that's seriously disturbing. Luis Tosar plays César, a man who confesses that he's simply not happy so he sets about making everyone else's life hell. The clever twist is that against our will we're made to side with César. It's like watching Norman Bates clean up the shower in "Psycho," we don't want him to miss a single drop of blood. In both cases, the directors give us so much detail that we can't help but feel engaged in activity we condemn. It's brilliant. This is horror at its smartest and classiest.

"The Raid Redemption"

I said this before and I'll say this again, this film is crack cocaine for action junkies. Sure there were films that had loftier ambitions and more serious themes but few were more perfectly executed. This is a breathless ballet of action from start to finish.

"Django Unchained"

Quentin Tarantino delivers his most mature film yet by mixing Blaxploitation and spaghetti westerns. The result is a film that's both crude and subtle, ridiculously entertaining and slyly thought provoking.

Katherine Isabelle as "American Mary," from the Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska.
Industry Works
Katherine Isabelle as "American Mary," from the Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska.

"American Mary"

Universal picked up this film for distribution in the United Kingdom but its theatrical future is uncertain in the US so I want to highlight it this year in case it vanishes for lack of an American distributor. And the reason it might not get a US distributor is that the film is scary -- scary because it breaks rules, pushes boundaries, and goes someplace truly dark.That not only scares audiences but it scares Hollywood because it's something genuinely original. The terrifyingly talented twins from Canada, Jen and Sylvia Soska, deliver a horror film that's assured and elegantly perverse. The story involves a med student (the glorious Katharine Isabelle) who grows disillusioned with her male-dominated profession and ventures into the world of underground surgery and body modification. The film drips with style, finds humor in the most unexpected places, and unflinchingly explores the darkest aspects of human nature. It's horrific but not in the way you expect. It's also showcases stunning make up effects by Todd Masters that place surgery in a whole new light. Do not miss this film if you have an opportunity to catch it.

"The Avengers"

Pure geek heaven. This may be the most perfect comic book movie to date. Joss Whedon lets his love for the comics shine through in this delicious ensemble of superheroes.

"Rust and Bone"

Don't let the trailer fool you, this is not a film about a woman recovering from a tragic accident. The accident is merely a part of her life that she has to cope with but it is not the story. Instead director Jacques Audiard gives us a fascinating tale of two damaged people trying to maintain a less than perfect relationship.


James Bond has matured as a franchise and this film pulls everything together in one smart, sophisticated package. Javier Bardem provides wicked fun as an old school villain making use of hi-tech tools. Daniel Craig is great as a battered and weary Bond trying to get his edge back, and Judi Dench dominates as M. The film maintains a perfect balance between paying homage to the past with laying the groundwork for the future. Also kudos for top notch technical work in cinematography, sound, production design, costume design (thank you Tom Ford for those custom suits for Daniel Craig), and music.

"Cabin in the Woods"

A smart, funny, and highly original film designed to delight horror fans. The film addresses and shatters every horror cliche you can imagine and does so with a level of humor and cleverness that leaves you applauding. Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford give such brilliant and co-dependent performances that you simply cannot imagine the one without the other.

"Zero Dark Thirty"

Katherine Bigelow delivers a top notch procedural thriller inspired by the real life hunt for Osama Bin Laden. She and writer Mark Boal started the film before Bin Laden was killed and had to rewrite their film as they were shooting to reflect real life events. I have some complaints about how they depict torture but nothing but praise for her skills as an action director.

A little love, a little electricity, and a few things from mom's kitchen and you get "Frankenweenie."
Walt Disney
A little love, a little electricity, and a few things from mom's kitchen and you get "Frankenweenie."

Best animated film: "Frankenweenie"

Honorable mention: "The Secret World of Arrietty" and "Paranorman"

Best documentary: "Zero Killed" (a riveting documentary showcased at Horrible Imaginings Film Festival)

Best Actress: Quvenzhane Wallis, "Beasts of the Southern Wild"

Honorable Mention: Jessica Chastain, "Zero Dark Thirty" and Jennifer Lawrence, "Silver Linings Playbook"

Best Actor: Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained"

Honorable Mention: Dwight Henry, "Beasts of the Southern Wild," and Jean-Louis Trintignant, "Amour"

Best villain: Javier Bardem as Silva in "Skyfall

Runners up: Tom Hardy as Bane in "The Dark Knight Rises" and Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog in "The Raid: Redemption"

Our beloved geek king, Joss Whedon, on the set of "The Avengers" with Scarlett Johansson.
Walt Disney
Our beloved geek king, Joss Whedon, on the set of "The Avengers" with Scarlett Johansson.

Geek award: Joss Whedon, for knowing exactly what geeks want and delivering it in "The Avengers" and in"Cabin in the Woods" (which he co-wrote and produced). My favorite geek moment courtesy of Whedon might be when Hulk punches Thor out of frame.

Worst Movie of the Year: "Cloud Atlas"

Runners up: "Les Miserables"

Most underappreciated film: "Dredd," which grossed less than $10 million and deserved far better reception as a fun and good looking action film.

Biggest waste of talent: "The Expendables 2" for not being able to put any of its huge ensemble cast of iconic action stars to good use.

Best performance in a bad film: Guy Pearce, "Lockout"

Best visual/make up effects: "American Mary's" surgery scenes, and "Looper'" torture scene in which a man in the present shows the horrific effects of mutilation going on in the past (see the film to understand the conundrum)

Worst visual/make up effects: "Cloud Atlas" in which Tom Hanks is made to look like John Travolta from "To Paris With Love" as he channels Bob Hoskins' crazy British gangster. It was so bad I had to leave the theater.

Best song: "Django Unchained"

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