As 2012 prepares to fade and the ball primes itself for another drop a few blocks away, it’s time to look back once more on the year that was. Well, not “once more.” The season is still pushing ahead and we won’t be finished with it until February 24, but as far as I’m concerned, this annual post is my bow on what the year had to offer.
As I’ve mentioned a number of times, I thought 2012 was a very fine year for movies indeed. And across a wide spectrum, at that. Studio product, indie filmmaking, documentaries, animation, it was all vibrant and robust. And while boiling things down to “best” or “better” might seem reductive, it’s unavoidable. Everyone has their favorites. So, with that having been said, I’ve rounded up MY favorites throughout the Academy’s various categories and a couple I’ve added myself over the years.
You can of course revisit my thoughts on the year in the top 10 podcast and column, but these superlatives mark, for me, the cream of the crop and the richest elements of the year. I hope you enjoy. Feel free to offer up your own choices in the comments section, if you’re ready to do so, and have a happy and safe New Year.
Best Picture: “The Grey” (Runner-up: “Moonrise Kingdom”)
At this point I imagine my feelings are well on the record. No film made me feel as deeply as Joe Carnahan’s vision of man versus not only the elements, but himself…
Best Director: Joe Carnahan, “The Grey” (Runner-up: Wes Anderson, “Moonrise Kingdom”)
…and so I see no reason not to chalk up that vision here, as well. Carnahan filled out his cast brilliantly and tuned it finely. Most of all, he found real heft in the emotional elements of the story and brought it well above the ghetto of a genre film.
Best Actor: Denis Lavant, “Holy Motors” (Runner-up: Liam Neeson, “The Grey”)
No one really comes close to Denis Lavant’s mad, manic routine at the center of Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” this year. With his many faces, all of them brave and committed, he is has been truly slighted along the circuit.
Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva, “Amour” (Runner-up: Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”)
The greatest performance of the year was as brave as Lavant’s but all the more grounded in a stoic sort of authenticity. The physicality of Emmanuelle Riva’s work in Michael Haneke’s “Amour” is often overlooked, as well. It’s such a precise, complete portrayal.
Best Supporting Actor: Philip Seymour Hoffman, “The Master” (Runner-up: Garret Hedlund, “On the Road”)
I side with the critics’ favorite in the supporting ranks this year, beginning here with the other side of a coin in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master.” Philip Seymour Hoffman is charming, mysterious, a bit dangerous, even, and consistently bewitching. Though speaking of alluring, kudos, too, to an underrated piece of work from Garrett Hedlund, capturing one of the most magnetic personalities in all of literature.
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, “Les Misérables” (Runner-up: Sally Field, “Lincoln”)
And again with the supporting ladies, though it’s been such a pathetically thin year for them. Anne Hathaway had precious little time to deliver in “Les Misérables,” but she more than makes it count.
Best Adapted Screenplay: “Lincoln” (Runner-up: “The Grey”)
Tony Kushner wrangled a chunk of a dense volume into a brilliantly realized throughline in “Lincoln,” filling it with an array of characters and offering plenty for them to chew on. His playwright sensibilities were tapped perfectly for a full, lush script that yielded one of the year’s best films.
Best Original Screenplay: “Looper” (Runner-up: “Moonrise Kingdom”)
Rian Johnson is one of the great screenwriters of his generation and he proved the old adage that character matters in genre as much as it ever did. In “Looper,” he weaves what ends up being a brilliant character study with plenty of high concept razzle dazzle to accompany it.
Best Cinematography: “Skyfall” (Runner-up: “The Master”)
Digital never looked so gorgeous as Roger Deakins shot the hell out of Sam Mendes’ “Skyfall.” From neon-streaked Shanghai (shot on a London set, no less) to lantern-lit Macau to foggy Scottish highlands, the film oozes rich imagery. High marks, too, to Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s dense 65mm work on “The Master.”
Best Costume Design: “Moonrise Kingdom” (Runner-up: “Anna Karenina”)
I found these two films standing out in the design arenas this year (flip-flopped in the production design field). But the wardrobe of “Moonrise Kingdom” couldn’t go unrewarded. It’s full of character and identity, the kind of work that, unfortunately, rarely gets its due in an awards season.
Best Film Editing: “Argo” (Runner-up: “Zero Dark Thirty”)
Suffice it to say, William Goldenberg has had a great year. His work on the two CIA thrillers of the season ratcheted up the tension and yielded two of the best assemblages of the year. He shared that work with Dylan Tichenor in “Zero Dark Thirty,” which wrangled a massive amount of footage, but I went with his solo work on “Argo” for its added briskness of pace.
Best Makeup: “Holy Motors” (Runner-up: “Men in Black 3”)
The makeup branch surely never saw “Holy Motors,” given that it failed to make the bake-off list. It is, after all, a film that virtually celebrates their contribution to the cinema, and expertly at that. Rick Baker also stepped it back up for the return of the “Men in Black” series with typically creative elements.
Best Music – Original Score: “The Master” (Runner-up: “Beasts of the Southern Wild”)
This might have gone to “The Grey” had the film’s most identifiable and affecting music not been a cue taken from Jamin Winans’s “Ink” (not to take anything away from Marc Streitenfeld’s otherwise effective original work). Alas, it’s been a great year for scores and any number could have filled out these two spots. I had to go with Johnny Greenwood’s robust, varied and absolutely singular work on “The Master,” though.
Best Music – Original Song: “Who Did That To You” from “Django Unchained” (Runner-up: “Skyfall” from “Skyfall”)
Quentin Tarantino commissioned four original songs for “Django Unchained” this year (five if you count the tossed-out Frank Ocean track), and any of them — well, maybe not the Rick Ross jam, as fun as it is — could have been chalked up here. But John Legend’s “Who Did That To You” has a certain vigor and swagger that made it too irresistible.
Best Production Design: “Anna Karenina” (Runner-up: “Moonrise Kingdom”)
It’s hard to give this recognition to anything other than “Anna Karenina.” Sarah Greenwood and her team were responsible for the overall cinematic conceit of the project and it came off without a hitch, beautifully integrated, stunningly achieved.
Best Sound Editing: “Django Unchained” (Runner-up: “The Raid: Redemption”)
It’s been an interesting year for sound and these fields were the toughest to sort out for me. But here I had to go with the work Wylie Stateman and company did for the “Django Unchained” track. Sound was an unexpected part of the overall experience of the film.
Best Sound Mixing: “Les Misérables” (Runner-up: “Skyfall”)
It’s a difficult choice between a number of things here, too, but I opted for some fairly impressive, somewhat innovative work on “Les Misérables.” It was a big feat of both production mixing and post-production work to wrangle the live-singing element of the film.
Best Visual Effects: “Life of Pi” (Runner-up: “Cloud Atlas”)
The visual splendor of “Life of Pi” comes right down to the work Rhythm & Hues put into its palette. It’s the film’s identity, often jaw-dropping and always beautiful. Add that to some brilliantly utilized 3D and, well, we have a winner.
Best Animated Feature Film: “Wreck-It Ralph” (Runner-up: “Frankenweenie”)
As I noted in the top 10 podcast and my best-of-the-year column, Disney’s one-two in-house punch this year was simply wonderful. And really, I could go with either “Wreck-It Ralph” or Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” here, but the undying heart of the former won out this round.
Best Documentary Feature: “The Queen of Versailles” (Runner-up: “Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God”)
Lauren Greenfield’s “The Queen of Versailles” is a snap-shot of a country and its shifting values. It was part and parcel of another dynamic year for documentary filmmaking, and while Alex Gibney’s study of pedophilia in the Catholic Church claimed the runner-up spot this time, it could have easily been “West of Memphis” or “The Central Park Five” or “Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry” or “The House I Live In” or “The Invisible War,” etc.
Best Foreign Language Film: “Amour” (Runner-up: “Holy Motors”)
Really, you can’t argue with what Michael Haneke managed this year. For a filmmaker that never really resonated with me to lead me to these depths, it just couldn’t be ignored. And Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” almost joined him on my top 10 list this year.
Most Underrated Film of the Year: “The Grey”
Most Overrated Film of the Year: “Silver Linings Playbook”
Breakthrough Performance (Male): Logan Lerman, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”
Breakthrough Performance (Female): Quvenzhané Wallis, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Best Ensemble: “The Grey”
Best Cameo Performance: James Badge Dale, “Flight” (and “The Grey”)
Best Hero: Maya, “Zero Dark Thirty”
Best Villain: Calvin Candie and Stephen, “Django Unchained”
Best Poster: “The Master” (link)
Best Trailer (for a trailer released in 2011, not necessarily a film released in 2011): “Man of Steel”
Most Surprising Film of the Year: “Wreck-It Ralph”
Most Disappointing Film of the Year: “Prometheus”
Most Ambitious Film of the Year: “Cloud Atlas”
Most Intriguing Failure: “The Paperboy”
Best Action Sequence: “Zero Dark Thirty” (The raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.)
Entertainer of the Year: (TIE) Megan Ellison and Marvel Studios
Five Worst Films I Saw This Year (in order): “Battleship,” “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” “John Carter,” “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”
Top 10 Films of the Year (in order): “The Grey,” “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Looper,” “Django Unchained,” “Amour,” “Lincoln,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Argo,” “The Queen of Versailles,” “The Master”