Last year I was selected to participate in the prestigious poll, conducted by Sight & Sound magazine once every ten years, to determine the top 50 greatest films ever made. I’d like to think that my scribblings here contributed to my selection as a nominator but what that sealed the deal, frankly, was my placement on the masthead of the equally venerable Cineaste, which recently added me to its Editorial Board. The tide carried me in.
Realizing that I was there almost by happy accident I doubled down and, as the staff lowbrow, the one who gets the horror and Japanese softcore DVDs shoved in his in-box, tried to do good. It’s an impossible assignment, so I found a rationale I could live with and stuck to it. Here’s how I voted.
Not a tremendous correlation, as you can see. I figured Citizen Kane and Vertigo could take care of themselves, and they did (though I can think of two or three other Hitchcocks besides Notorious that I value above Vertigo, which shook up a solid if staid selection by leapfrogging Kane). I subbed “favorite” for the difficult “best” as my guideline, not that there aren’t dozens more that I could have chosen. They’re movies I treasure.
What from 2012 will crack the 2022 poll? Nothing, given that that the whippersnapper of the bunch is 2001’s Mulholland Dr., and that placed #28. The poll is like a wine cellar stocked with the eldest vintages. Maybe in 2032 something will bubble forth.
For now, however, I can close the book on 2012 by declaring it a good year for film, if, as is usual, slow to start, with a massive uptick in quality starting in fall. (For the longest time The Three Stooges clung to my list. Hey, I got big nyuk-yuks from it.) That said nothing grabbed me as hard as say The Social Network in 2010, or A Separation last year. For that reason I couldn’t assemble a numerical ranking that worked for me, so I resorted to alphabetical. Which would be:
Zero Dark Thirty
Plus some noteworthy “11’s”: Argo; Beasts of the Southern Wild; Chronicle (an astute sci-fi/superheroic use of the worn-out found footage trend); the first third of Django Unchained (meh on most of the rest); Dredd, the second-best dystopian thriller of the year after Looper; the fine acting in Flight, Goon, Rust and Bone, and The Sessions; Haywire, Life of Pi; Moonrise Kingdom; The Raid: Redemption, Skyfall; Sleepless Night (good Gallic thriller); 21 Jump Street (hilarious).
Oh, and The Three Stooges.
That omits so goddamned much. My Looper self looks at me and says, “What happened to that round-the-clock movie watcher?” (My child-free Looper self, that is.) My documentary viewing lacked breadth, so I decided to leave them off entirely; by 2022 I hope to catch up. Maybe my new Roku box with Vudu will help. Or 12 more hours in the day.
But, hey. It is what it is, I’m chugging along, and, what do you know, I’ve seen two films, Pablo Larrain’s Oscar-nominated No and the March release Room 237 (a doc!) that are in contention for 2013 honors. Having to make the available filmgoing hours count does cut down on seeing bad movies; my only swerves into the gutter were The Hunger Games, Prometheus, and Silver Linings Playbook. (Try to do better by me next year, Ms. Lawrence.) Battleship, too, which I fast-forwarded through on HBO, looking for the good parts. There weren’t any. (John Carter, surprise–not half-bad, a movie killed by its budget.)
What does it all mean? I never know. Fact is I couldn’t easily tell you the other nine movies I had on my list last year. I can tell you that I’ve watched (most of) Skyfall on Blu-ray twice the last couple of weeks, which is more than likely more than I’ll ever see of Amour in the future. Why is Amour better than Skyfall? Because it demanded more of me, and rewarded me in a way that Michael Haneke’s chilly films usually don’t. Because Skyfall, which fell short in niggling ways, is an easier sit, with opening credits and a handful of sequences that bear less arduous rewatching. Because Amour gave me what I hoped from it and I don’t need it again for the forseeable future. Because…? Best, favorite; so hard to quantify.
Which bring us to the 85th Annual Academy Awards, or “The Oscars” as they’re being called this year, lest youngsters flee in droves from a tradition as old as nominee Emmanuelle Riva. There’s no ignoring this ritual in quantification, the end of an awards cycle that begins again on Monday. This year I decided to put my (pretty firm) list of picks on Facebook and let it ride. I was going to say more here, but my buddy Jeff Johnson has already covered the waterfront. We align on many categories.
Where we don’t: I give Adapted Screenplay to the much-liked, if maybe not much-loved, Argo. (Dave Kehr: “Ben Affleck’s mildly glorified HBO movie Argo (will win) Best Picture honors for concocting a feel good story about American operations in the middle east; the bummer Zero Dark Thirty, with its uncomfortable suggestion that a more recent triumph, the killing of Osama Bin Laden, might have been facilitated by an immoral act of torture, has been run out of town.”) We agree that Life of Pi will win Cinematography but Roger Deakins losing again is such a depressing prospect I may change my vote out of solidarity (and his work on Skyfall is superb). The Hobbit is such a familiar and uninspired choice for the madeover Makeup and Hairstyling category I pick the detailed period work for Les Miserables. Reversing an earlier snap decision of mine “Skyfall” the song will earn James Bond his first Oscar since Thunderball in 1965. The series may win a second for Skyfall’s Sound Editing. And the short doc Mondays at Racine, with cancer, sassy ladies, and hair salons, seems like it lends itself to a starring vehicle for rising stars and grande dames. Jennifer Lawrence, Emmanuelle Riva, call your agents.