Yet More Bests, Not Bests, AND: Not New

 Just in time for the New Year two more lists of 2012's best films, and those not so great.And some not even from 2012.


Betsy Sherman's Top Ten 2012

[1] Moonrise Kingdom -- Young soulmates find each other, triumphantly, in Wes Anderson's meticulously realized microcosm. It has a great ensemble cast and endless treasures of sight and sound.

[2] The Kid With a Bike -- The Dardenne Brothers' portrayals of ethical dilemmas in everyday life are anything but medicinal. This engrossing story is about an angry boy, the father who lets him down, and a stranger who steps up to help him.

[3] Beasts of the Southern Wild -- Benh Zeitlin's debut feature, which shows us a marginal New Orleans community through the eyes of a child, is wonderfully mysterious and inventive.

[4] The Deep Blue Sea - Like Wes Anderson, Terence Davies creates a very personalized world with expressive décor and an evocative soundtrack. This one, starring Rachel Weisz as an unhappy wife in World War II England, is one of his best and most intense works.

[5] Lincoln - From the intimacy of the White House family quarters to a Congressional forum to amend the U.S. Constitution, the drama feels authentic, as does Daniel Day-Lewis's voice and bearing as the president. Spielberg and company manage not to ossify history, but to make it come alive.

[6] Amour - A movie about bodies and the horrible things that happen to them in old age uses as its canvas two once-glamorous movie stars, Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Unrelenting in its detail, it seems improbably gentle for writer-director Michael Haneke. But stick around ...

[7] Oslo August 31 - A recovering addict searches for understanding on this fateful day. It isn't so much the series of events, but the urgency with which they're depicted, that make us feel, and care about, his neediness.

[8] Queen of Versailles - My favorite documentary of the year is like a grand guignol version of Inside Job. It's a profound portrait of recession-era America, with a laugh-out-loud moment in which the king of time-shares, who has made millions by suckering thousands, seems to have no awareness of the cosmic rightness that he himself is now under water.

 [9] The Sessions - A movie about a severely disabled man's quest to lose his virginity does what so many movies fail to do - convey the love part of carnal love. John Hawkes is great and Helen Hunt is simply amazing as the sex therapist who finds that her professional experiences are affecting her personal life.

[10] Django Unchained - An unusual encounter makes it possible for a slave to realize his full potential in this Quentinized version of American history. The movie digs beneath the surface of its cartoon plantation owners and makes visceral the cruelty and tragedy of the whole system.

Five Least Best

(I'm not counting movies I was assigned to see, only those I saw of my own volition)

Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie was unquestionably the worst-once you see it, you can't unsee it. The rest are more pointless than heinous:

Jeff Who Lives at Home

Friends With Kids

Damsels in Distress

Cloud Atlas


1. Amour

2. The Turin Horse

3. Post Mortem

4. This Is Not a Film

5. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

6. Alps

7. Tabu

8. Holy Motors

9. Barbara

10. Almayer's Folly

Runners-up, in order: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Caesar Must Die, Lung Neaw Visits His Neighbors, Wuthering Heights, Attenberg, Turn Me On, Dammit!, Oslo, August 31st, Kill List, Cosmopolis, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Elena, 5 Broken Cameras

Break down: in the top 10, not one American film, one Portuguese, three French, one Greek, one German, one Hungarian, one Turkish -- a veritable European Union -- plus one Chilean and an Iranian. A grim year, it seems, in direct counterpoint to Hollywood's box office receipts, which because the domestic total is largely derived from six fantasy franchise entries, three involving superheroes, only make things grimmer.  That is, of course, only if you view your own cinephilia through the convex lens of what's-new publicity, which I do not, so here's an alternative list: the top 20 not-new films I finally saw in 2012 for the first time, courtesy of video release, bootleggers or my own archival reconnoitering:


1. L'Enfance Nue (1968)

2. Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

3. Whispering Pages (1993)

4. Samurai Rebellion (1967)

5. Sedmoy Sputnik (The Seventh Companion) (A Seventh Moon) (1968)

6. Save and Protect (1990)

7. Pursued (1947)

8. Ici et Ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere) (1976)

9. My Son John (1952)

10. Capricious Summer (1968)

11. The White Reindeer (Valkoinen Peura) (1952)

12. Dial 1119 (1950)

13. Johnny Apollo (1940)

14. Ramrod (1947)

15. Korczak (1990)

16. Le Ciel est a Vous (The Sky Is Yours) (The Woman Who Dared) (1944)

17. Le Main de Diable (The Devil's Hand) (Carnival of Sinners) (1943)

18. La Visita (1963)

19. The Fall of Otrar (1991)

20. The Deserter and the Nomads (1968)

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