Jan 22, 2013

All My 2012 Reviews

Throughout the next couple of weeks, I will start handing out the Amiresque Awards (!) for excellence in the moving image in 2012 but for today, I thought I'd share these mini-reviews for (almost) every film I watched in 2012. You can also see links to reviews and interviews and such wherever there is one. And as you know, you can always check my letter ratings guide here, and keep track of all my screenings here.

John Carter, the first film subjected to my mini-review treatment

5 Broken Cameras (dir. Burnay, Davidi)
Incisive and incredibly moving, this is a heartbreaking first-hand account of the injustices suffered by victims of war and religious conflicts in the Middle East that takes a single family's story to tell a universal story. (B)

After Lucia (dir. Franco) (interview with director)
Confidently directed to create an inescapably brutal environment, this exploration of bullying in a Mexican high school is at once moving and twisted. An unforgettable and unique experience. (A)

All That Matter Is Past (dir. Johnsen)
Atmospheric crime film undermined by very poor editing and unnecessarily distrubing absudities. CGI child birth does not a better film make. (C+)

Amour (dir. Haneke)
It creeps up on its audience as slowly as death itself. A heartbreaking, disturbingly frank portrayal of everlasting love in the final days of life. (A-)

Anna Karenina (dir. Wright) (thoughts)
Enhanced by Wright's vision and the need to creatively overcome financial restrictions, Anna Karenina is vivid, original, luminous and with the exception of Vronsky, superbly performed. Marianelli's score is the best show. (B+)

Argo (dir. Affleck) (review)
A riveting thriller that lets the political backdrop go to waste. Accurate portrayal of the period on the surface but without insight into the causes and implications of the events that transpired. (B)

At Any Price (dir. Bahrani) (review)
An arresting look at male emotional repression, corruption and rural Americana. Symbolism is too often on the nose, but Quaid's strangely unguarded performance carries the film. (B-)

Barbara (dir. Petzold)
Implicit politics and subtle romance move at a snail's pace to an intriguing finale. Nina Hoss's performance is absolutely marvellous. (B)

Beasts of the Southern Wild (dir. Zeitlin) (review)
“You have to see it till you believe it” hasn’t applied to any film more aptly than this one. A meticulously constructed, inventive and emotional film from first-time director Benh Zeitlin and acting wonders Quvenzhane Wallis and Dwight Henry. (A-) 

Berberian Sound Studio (dir. Strickland)
It's very smartly directed and features unsurprisingly superb sound design but the script loses its grip on the audience as Jones loses his grip on his wits. (B-)

Bernie (dir. Linklater)
You wouldn’t know, spending time with these plastic characters, that Bernie is based on a true story. Black tries his best but he can’t wipe the faux sheen from the film's face. (C)

Beyond the Hills (dir. Mungiu) (review)
An immaculately designed, confidently directed and provocative look at religion's power to redeem and demonize. (A)

Brave (dir. Chapman & Andrews)
Pixar lite, sure, but it’s still Pixar lite, which is to say a gorgeously rendered, arresting tale from start to finish. It’s a princess story like you’ve never seen before, as fiery as Merida’s locks. (B)

The Cabin in the Woods (dir. Goddard) (review)
You wait the entire time for a smart twist and all you get is an orgy of horror film archetypes. In this messy blend of stiff humour and cheap thrills, and in the absence of any logic, the only surprise is how awful the film truly is. (D)

The Campaign (dir. Roach)
Where it can go for biting satire, it goes for dirty gags instead but it delivers the laughs so consistently that I’m willing to forgive it. There is nothing new from Ferrell and Galifianakis but their chemistry carries the film through. (B-)

The Central Park Five (dir. Burns, McMahon, Burns) (review)
Stylistically limited, but otherwise enlightening, brutal and frank exposé of racial divides, police corruption and media failures in the US. (B)

The Color Wheel (dir. Ross Perry)
A hilarious and inventive screenplay is sabotaged by aesthetics that feel gimmicky very often. Carlen Altman should become Hollywood's new indie queen. (B)

Compliance (dir. Zobel) 
With a repetitious structure that only serves to condescend the characters once one particular identity is revealed, Compliance is an ignorant, lurid and unreflective take on an interesting subject. (D)

Damsels in Distress (dir. Stillman)
Hilarious and ersatz rendering of the over-the-top melodrama of university life. Whit’s dialogue is witty – and Whit-y – and the girls bring on their A-game. You’ll want to dance the Sambola at the end. (A-)

The Dark Knight Rises (dir. Nolan)
Anne Hathaway’s stunning Selina Kyle steals this technically accomplished, but structurally muddled, overlong and emotionally rigid trilogy closer; Nolan's handled the film with expected skill but without any love. (B)

The Deep Blue Sea (dir. Davies)
The hazy, smoke-filled atmosphere comes to the foreground in Terence Davies’s sporadically unravelled narrative, but what a beautiful atmosphere it is. The three central performances are each actor’s career-best work. (B)

Django Unchained (dir. Tarantino) 

Not quite on par with Tarantino's best work.Continuously interesting despite its length, but undermined by a cartoonish finale and a curious absence of the director's stylistic panache. (B)

Dormant Beauty (dir. Bellocchio)
Absent insight, soap opera structure and hysteric acting topped with baby powder for sick makeup and a shrieking score. (D-)

Flight (dir. Zemeckis)
There are quite a few moments that grate and the ending is sadly the biggest of them. But during its peaks, this is studio filmmaking at its best. And Denzel's subtle performance is worthy of every bit of praise. (C+)

Foxfire (dir. Cantet) (review)
Plastic performances, cheesy dialogue, contrived plot and an unnecessary 30 minutes of runtime make for a major letdown. (C-)

Frances Ha (dir. Baumbach) (thoughts)
Endearingly synthetic portrait of authentic problems. Funnier and richer than all of Baumbach's previous films. Gerwig's heartfelt performance is one of the year's best. (A)

Game Change (dir. Roach)
It might let some people off the hook easily, but this riveting film finds a way to make a recent and tired news story sensational. Moore proves – if there’s anyone who still needs proof – why she’s America’s greatest living actress. (B)

The Gatekeepers (dir. Moreh) (review)
A structurally conventional but thematically bold documentary. Gripping without resorting to sensationalization or propaganda. (B+)

The Grey (dir. Carnahan)
Corbijn's The American by way of Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, plus wolves. In every regard – the performances of the entire ensemble, the below-the-line elements, its thematic reach, its human complexity – Carnahan’s film exceeds expectations. (A-)

Haywire (dir. Soderbergh)
Steven Soderbergh's expert direction and Carano's natural action abilities make for some interesting moments, but with so little at stake in the story, it's hard to remain invested. (B-)

Hitchcock (dir. Gervasi) (review)
Light on insight but quite fun to watch. Inconsequential as a study of the auteur's life but entertaining in its portrayal of the trobuled production of Psycho and moving in its portrayal of his troubled but enduring marriage. (B-)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (dir. Jackson)
A thin children's tale stretched over three unbearably bloated and hideous hours. Repetitive and aimless plotting only strengthens the feeling that Jackson's decision to extend the films to a trilogy is motivated by $$$. (C-)

Holy Motors (dir. Carax) (review)
An essential and enojyable viewing, but not a satisfactory one. Heavily disjointed narrative gets in the way of dazzling visuals and the year's strongest performance. (B-)

Hunger Games (dir. Ross)
Despite the long introduction, characters are under-developed and emotional moments underwhelm, but the action in the second half is thrilling. Jennifer Lawrence is superb. (B)

The Iceman (dir. Vromen)
Hyperstylized but underwritten with a complicated narrative that doesn't explore the character. Michael Shannon, though, is as strong as ever. (B-)

The Impossible (dir. Bayona)
Burdened by cliches in style and dialogue, Bayona's film is an incredible technical achievement that adds to less than the sum of its parts. (C)

John Carter (dir. Stanton)
Bloated and confusing storytelling, shoddy editing and weak acting weighs down the visual spectacle, Giacchino’s playful tunes and the world’s sexiest wedding dress. (C)

Killing Them Softly (dir. Dominik)
Lacking the poignancy of Dominik's last film, but just as beautifully stylized; lacking the subtlety of that film, too, but compensating with bitter comedy, and an absolutely killer last line. (B+)

Les Misérables (dir. Hooper)
Few directors actively work against their own film as much as Hooper does here. Grand material reduced to an overbearing, overcooked and overacted mess. (C-)

Life of Pi (dir. Lee)
Absolutely resplendent painting of the ocean, with all its grace and horror, but otherwise muddled with blatant spirituality and intercut with a distractingly mushy framing device. (C+)

Lincoln (dir. Spielberg)
No sign of Spielberg's schmaltzy sentimentality but every sign of his prowess as a director. Built on the foundation of the script's erudition and humour, bolstered by impeccable design and anchored by an incredible performance by Day-Lewis, this is Spielberg's best film in at least a decade. (A-)

Looper (dir. Johnson)
Visually and sonically astounding, morally complex, and powerfully acted but undermined by a childishly problematic story that attempts to fill its holes by overplotting. (B)

Lore (dir. Shortland)
Saskia Rosendahl's grip is incredibly tight, but the film distracts with countless nature documentary inserts and misplaced cinematography effects. (B-)

Magic Mike (dir. Soderbergh)
An extremely smart film that avoids all the potential pitfalls of its narrative; clever, detailed and sympathetic character development, and even-handed treatment of gender roles; Soderbergh’s best film in more than a decade and McConaughey’s career best work. (A-)

The Master (dir. P.T. Anderson)
Exquisitely crafted, gorgeously shot and flawlessly acted, Anderson’s newest film is a wandering narrative unravelling in ellipses, but I’ll gladly follow it to wherever it takes me. Phoenix and Hoffman dazzle and Greenwood haunts. (A)

Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God (dir. Gibney)
Virtually impossible to remain objective about this film. A well-paced, reasoned and harrowing experience as the audience is exposed to the monstrosity of torturing the most innocent of children. (B+)

Mirror Mirror (dir. Tarsem)
Ishioka's genius shines through the surface, but everything else feels overwrought and dull in this unnecessary and messy bore. The hilarious seven dwarves give it their all but they can't save the film from Julia Roberts.(C-)

Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Anderson)
Wes Anderson doesn’t forget that his meticulously constructed, carefully coloured universe needs a beating heart. This charming tale of young love is his best film in more than a decade. (A-)

Much Ado about Nothing (dir. Whedon) (thoughts)
Shakespeare's genius updated with iPods, teddy bears, and a sensitive, witty man behind the camera. The case nails the balance between Shakepearean dialogue and modern attire and demeanour. (A-/ZOMG)

Paperman (dir. Kahrs)
Beautifully animated, artfully rendered, charmingly fleet, and perfectly balanced between reality and chance, and melancholy and romance. (A)

The Patience Stone (dir. Rahimi)
Too faithful to an unadaptable source novel. Lush imagery is undermined by overwriting and a uncharacteristically overacting Farahani. (C)

Peaches Does Herself (dir. Peaches) 
Possibly provocative and energetic as a live show, but a horrendous mayhem of meaningless images on film. (F)

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (dir. Chbosky)
Dodging many high-school drama clichés, but not all; heartfelt at its best moments and a bit cheesy at its worst; Benefits greatly from the director’s familiarity with his own source material and Logan Lerman’s star-making turn. (B)

The Place beyond the Pines (dir. Cianfrance) (review)
White knuckle action meets moving father-son drama in a three-part film of Shakespearean gravitas. Morally teasing with its countless unexpected turns. (A-)

Prometheus (dir. Scott)
Engaging, sure, but Scott’s Alien prequel doesn’t grasp the mythology of its precedents and fails to maintain their mystique. Entertaining buildup for a messy finale, but well-crafted all around. (C)

Queen of Versailles (dir. Greenfield)
Sharply edited to maximize the bitter comedy, Queen of Versailles is a treatise on everything that is wrong with our society today, shot through the lens of reality television. (A-)

The Raid (dir. Evans) (review)
Leave your brain at the door, but only get in if you don’t have a heart problem. This is an expertly executed action film for anyone who doesn’t mind watching killing for the sake of killing. (B)

Rebelle (dir. Nguyen)
Problematic pacing in the second half aside, this is an imaginative and bold look at the lives of child soldiers in Africa, anchored by a fierce performance by Rachel Mwanza. (B)

Rhino Season (dir. Ghobadi)
Sacrifices political insight for sentimentality at times. Directed with a Capital D but subtly acted, poetic and moving. (B-)

Rust and Bone (dir. Audiard) (thoughts)
Audiard's brute and bruising story of two unlikely lovers teeters on the brink of many cliches, but succeeds by the power of its rhythmic beats and two of the year's strongest performances. (B+)

Safety Not Guaranteed (dir. Trevorrow)
Thematically and emotionally reaching far beyond what the premise suggests, Safety is a charming, poignant and funny observation on love, friendship and life. (B)

Searching for Sugar Man (dir. Bendjelloul)
If this were a fiction film, we'd find it difficult to believe such an unlikely story would be possible. This sensational story of the incredibly gifted artist known as Rodriguez is as heartwarming as it is heartbreaking. (A-)

The Sessions (dir. Lewin) (review) (Interviews: William H. Macy, Ben Lewin)
Inspiring, moving and very, very funny. The cast is superb all around but Hawkes's expressivity despite his limitations is unparalleled. (B)

Seven Psychopaths (dir. McDonagh) 
Too self-aware and violent for its own good. Has its funny moments, but is otherwise overplayed and overacted with an unappealing silliness under the surface. (C)

Silver Linings Playbook (dir. Russell) (thoughts)
Glaringly flawed, but directed with verve and acted with passion. Russell oversimplifies mental disorder to quirkiness, but exhibits even greater prowess at touching the heart than he did with The Fighter. (A-)

Skyfall (dir. Mendes) (thoughts)
One of the best in the long-standing franchise. Craig charms, Bardem repulses and Dench breaks the heart; the action is tense and the girls are fine but the true star of the show is Roger Deakins’s visionary cinematography. (B+)

Smashed (dir. Ponsoldt)
It leaves the supporting characters underexplored but in the process, becomes a showcase for one of the year’s best performances in Winstead’s intimate and vulnerable portrayal of alcoholism. (B+)

Something in the Air (dir. Assayas)
Despite the script's slight incoherence, it bursts with life on the screen through Assayas' singularly energetic vision. (B+)

Stories We Tell (dir. Polley) (review)
A sharply edited, multi-faceted narrative that uncovers personal secrets with such care that they become universal familial truths for everyone. Polley’s touching film proves any story can be engaging if well told. (A-)

Tabu (dir. Miguel Gomes) (thoughs)
Pure magic incarnate and far and away the best film of 2012. Tabu's enchanting love story and subtle study of post-colonialist aggression puts the audience in a delirious state that's hard to shake off. (A)

Take This Waltz (dir. Polley) (notes)
Sarah Polley’s dreamily shot romance is as bittersweet as it is organic. Seth Rogen brings on his A-game to match Michelle Williams’ natural presence. Bonus points for the poetic ode to Toronto. (A-)

Ted (dir. MacFarlane)
MacFarlane’s fans will be pleased with the raunchy humour but the surprisingly sweet-natured Ted brings more to the table than dirty jokes, and finds the right dynamic between a romantic comedy and a buddy film. (B)

To the Wonder (dir. Malick)
Tree of Life meets Badlands. Possibly unrewatchable but endlessly teasing and provoking. Twirls its way into our hearts. (B+)

What Maisie Knew (dir. McGehee, Siegel)
Floaty and grounded, heartbreaking and heartwarming, absurd and authentic, all in equal measure. Ace performances by everyone and a magnificent debut for child actress Onata Aprile. (B+/A-)

Wreck-It Ralph (dir. Moore)
I'm sorry your Candyness. It must be a misunderstanding. This fundgeon is cool, but a little too garish for me. (B-)

Zero Dark Thirty (dir. Bigelow) (thoughts)
Tense and gripping without sensationalization. Deftly directed and superbly performed by the entire cast, this journalistic account of the hunt for Bin Laden is smart and riveting. (A)


  1. I disagree with you on so much (shocker). I considered commenting on each review but that reeks of mental health issues.

    So, two points: You've got all those A's I'm a bit surprised you say you didn't unmitigatedly love 2012 cinema (unless I'm remembering the wrong person)

    I didn't realise your love for LINCOLN was so deep.

    1. I thought 2012 was a great year actually. All I've said all year long is that I like a lot of films, but don't love many of them. All the A's were relegated to A-'s in my head after I watched Tabu.
      Many of these grades were updated throughout the year actually. I just haven't updated them yet. I should!