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Our Favorite Movies Of 2012, Part 1

By Rob Christopher in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 18, 2012 4:00PM

Filmmaker Jafar Panahi in a scene from This Is Not a Film
Film is dead? Hogwash. This is how I know that 2012 was a strong year for cinema: most of my favorite movies this year were actually, you know, made this year. Believe it or not that's unusual for me; in past years, it's been at times closer to a 50/50 split. I still contend that when it comes to one's personal experience of a movie, the most important moment is when one watches it, not when it was actually made. Yet, refreshingly, I had no trouble choosing several recent releases for this year's list.

Now, I'm pining for several new movies which haven't made it to Chicago (Amour, I'm looking at you) or that I haven't been able to catch yet (Holy Motors, to name but one). Too many movies, too little time. Nevertheless, here, in alphabetical order, are ten movies I did watch this year that knocked my socks off.

Beyond the Hills (directed by Cristian Mungiu, 2012)
Mungiu is a wise filmmaker. As I wrote back in October, "He demonstrates once again that a filmmaker can generate suspense without special effects or even a music score. All that's required are believable characters, an isolated environment, and absolute plausibility (in fact Mungiu's screenplay was inspired by the non-fiction novels of Tatiana Niculescu Bran). The tragedy at the heart of the film illustrates the old saying that misery has many fathers; the story may take place in contemporary Romania, but could happen almost anywhere."

Cosmopolis (directed by David Cronenberg, 2012)
The old, weird, paranoid Cronenberg is back. With a vengeance, typified by a thoroughly offputting scene where Robert Pattinson's reclusive billionaire undergoes another one of his daily medical exams. He points out a weird spot on his skin, and asks the physician, "What do we do about this?" The physician benignly replies, "Let it express itself." Thank goodness for home video, where peculiar movies like this can bubble up to the surface again.

Magic Mike (directed by Steven Soderbergh, 2012)
Only Soderbergh could take a story centered on a Tampa male strip club and turn it into a clear-eyed rumination on the recession, with humor, maturity, and a wonderful eye for color and texture. As long as he's making movies, I'll go see them.

The Master (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)
Watching it in 70mm at the Music Box was easily the movie-going highlight of 2012 for me, an experience packed with grandeur and mystery. I haven't been able to resolve my feelings about the movie, and that's all to Anderson's credit.

Moonrise Kingdom (directed by Wes Anderson, 2012)
As I wrote in my review," Moonrise Kingdom not only has all the usual Anderson hallmarks such as jokey non sequiturs, natty production design, arresting color design, and a wholly unique atmosphere, but also a sweet, genuinely touching story that deepens our enjoyment of all that cleverness."

The Movie Orgy (created by Joe Dante & Jon Davison, 1968)
This aptly named "mother of all supercuts" received a rare presentation at The Nightingale with Dante himself in attendance. It's a sprawling compost heap I wish I could see again. But because the movie is basically a copyright nightmare, I'm not holding my breath.

Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes, 2012)
This smartly crafted, immensely entertaining 007 adventure was minute for minute the most enjoyable time I had at the movies this year. Mendes was, on the surface, an odd choice to helm a Bond film. But he pulled it off (who else would think to introduce Javier Bardem's villain with a monologue captured in a single long take?) helped along by Roger Deakins' splendid cinematography and a great screenplay.

Stony Island (directed by Andrew Davis, 1978)
You want a real musical? This is a real musical. When native Chicagoan Davis showed a newly remastered edition of his film at the Siskel earlier this year, I raved, "In addition to priceless footage of late 70's Chicago, including the funeral procession of Daley Senior, it's also got the funkiest soundtrack this side of The Blues Brothers. Oh, and there's also The Bangles' Susannah Hoffs in a small role as well as Dennis Franz making his film debut, playing an exotic fish salesman (!)"

This Is Not a Film (directed by Mojtaba Mirtahmasb & Jafar Panahi, 2011)
Smuggled out of Iran in a cake (!) this rogue non-film demonstrates what lies at the core of storytelling: spinning something out of imagination and determination. Largely confined to his apartment and forbidden to make films by the government, Panahi enlists documentarian Mirtahmasb to create ... what we're watching. What is it? Watch and find out. The final shot is breathtaking.

Weekend (directed by Andrew Haigh, 2011)
That moment when you’ve stayed up all night talking and then had sex, and it’s morning and you wake up and you haven’t had enough sleep but your brain is fully activated, and you’re having a half-awake conversation that feels inane and then, almost without realizing it, you both say something that’s incredibly important? This movie is about that moment.