By Eleanor Ringel Cater
The holidays may have come and gone.
But for movie reviewers and critics’ groups, there are still a few shopping days left in which to express our opinions about the best and worst of the year.
In fact, one of the groups I belong to — The National Society of Film Critics, which meets in Manhattan — holds its gathering this year on Jan. 5.
So, what sort of year was 2012?
A very good one if you were a Hobbit, a Dark Knight or an Avenger.
Not so good for Adam Sandler, John Carter (on Mars) and the Three Stooges.
Speaking of the Three Stooges, it was a good year for the Georgia Film Industry and Kris Bagwell’s soundstages at Lakewood. Because money is money is money. But I wish the GFI (my made-up designation) had hosted more movies like “Flight” and fewer like “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”
Which happens to be on my 10 Worst List.
But let’s go with 10 Best first — a totally subjective and randomly ordered listing of movies I liked (lots) in 2012.
MY TOP 10
1) BERNIE — A true — and truly funny — tale of death and Texas. Jack Black is in rare form as a fey mortician, as is Shirley MacLaine as the filthy rich and richly cantankerous widow he loves neither wisely nor well.
2) LES MISERABLES — The critics in the Northeast savaged it, intending, I think, to show their theatre-critic counterparts who really has the most poisonous pen. It’s a big blast of a movie musical, beautifully cast with actors who can really sing, and passionately directed by Tom Hooper (“The King’s Speech”). Love, Death and Revolution. What more could anyone want?
3) HOLY MOTORS — Holy Moly, I have no idea whatsoever what was going through French filmmaker Leos Carax’s head when he put together this segmented picture about…well, hell, I have no idea. I do know it’s an electrifying, confounding film with a bravura performance by Denis Lavant who hops in and out of a luxury stretch limo and into various identities and scenarios. It makes David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis,” also set in a stretch, look almost normal (and it isn’t, promise).
4) ANNA KARENINA — So extravagantly rich and imaginative, it’s almost like having a box of Godiva chocolates smashed into your face. A friend suggested (insightfully, I thought) that Joe Wright’s theatrical phantasmagoria — based on Tolstoy’s famed novel of love, loss and social networks, circa mid-1870s Russia — should be seen in 20 minute segments. On some level I agree, but if you’re a daring moviegoer, you’ll sit still and take in the whole thing in one big…um…gulp? You really haven’t seen anything like this intoxicating mix of stage-craft and cinema.
5) A ROYAL AFFAIR — Thanks to George Lefont, Denmark’s nominee for best foreign-language film snuck into Atlanta just under the wire for 2012 (not that that matters to Oscar). It’s the true story of a lower-rank royal, Carolina Mathilde (played with remarkable finesse by Alicia Vikander, who also glows in “Anna Karenina”). The sister of King George III, she’s shipped from England to marry the King of Denmark, Christian VII. Something is not quite right about Christian, whose moods swings suggest a madness to rival Carolina’s big brother back in London. But things at court change — politically for Christian and personally for Carolina — when a small-town German physician (the remarkable Madds Mikelsen, best known for weeping tears of blood in “Casino Royale”) introduces the court (and the now becalmed King) to ideas from the Enlightenment. A backwater suddenly blooms. Voltaire pens a congratulatory letter. The rest is passion, hope, and, ultimately, tragedy.
6) BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD — It’s like trying to describe a poem found in a bottle that some swamp ‘gator has swallowed or a bit of bluegrass that somehow evokes something far more primitive and yet far more sophisticated (Beethoven on the banjo?) Cast mostly with non-pros and set in the sort of Louisiana backwaters that give the bayou its reputation for mystery and Southern otherness, the movie follows six-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhane Willis) and her sickly, alcoholic, occasionally abusive Daddy, as they maneuver the capriciousness of nature (including, a hurricane) This film is truly where the wild things are.
7) ZERO DARK THIRTY — Because, like “Argo,” it tells a riveting true story, and because, unlike “Argo,” it stars the phenomenal Jessica Chastain instead of a wooden Ben Affleck (to be fair, he did a helluva a directing job). Anyway, it turns out it was a determined female CIA agent who tracked down Bin Laden. The director is Kathryn Bigelow (first woman ever to win an Oscar for directing) and she knows that little girls are made up of more than sugar and spice and everything nice.
8) PITCH PERFECT —This is one of those uniquely appealing movies that’s going to find it’s audience at home (like “”The Shawshank Redemption”) and then everyone is going to wonder why they didn’t hear about it in the theatres. Well, you did. From me. But enough chewing y’all out’ “Pitch Perfect” is like a smarter, funnier, estrogen-tipped “Glee.” Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”) stars as a college newbie and reluctant new recruit to an all-girl A Capella singing group. There are so many hilarious things going on, I can’t begin to list them. But to give you a taste: One of the group wonders if something they’ve just learned is “serious” and her colleague replies, with an absolutely straight-face, “It’s Dixie Chicks serious.”
9) THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES — I’m not talking about Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI; I’m talking about Jackie and David Siegel, a gilded couple in Orlando, Florida, who learn the Golden Rule the hard way: He who has the gold rules. At one point the Siegels had the gold —huge house, private jet, etc. And they were glad to have documentarian Lauren Greenfield chronicle their move from an already huge house to a place the size of, well. Versailles (96,00 square feet). And modeled to look like Versailles. But here’s the kicker. When the economy went south and Versailles (Orlando-style) was looking like a twisted Goofy Golf course, the Siegels let Greenfield stay. And film. And film she did. And suddenly we’re in King Lear territory.
10) DJANGO UNCHAINED — A typically overblown (yet wildly entertaining) effort from Quentin Tarantino. It’s about a German bounty hunter (Christoph Waltz, wonderful) who teams up with an escaped slave (Jamie Foxx) in the pre-Civil War South. Their target: a silky smooth, amusingly vain and just a tad sadistic slave-owner played by Leonardo Di Caprio. The first two hours are exhilarating (mostly thanks to Waltz) But the last half hour….See Worst Movies below.
RUNNERS-UP: THE HUNGER GAMES, KILLING THEM SOFTLY, DARK HORSE, SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED.
MY WORST 10
1) DJANGO UNCHAINED — Tarantino had a perfectly fine ending a half-hour earlier. He could’ve still had Jamie Foxx do that cool dressage bit. But the return to the plantation, with the sickening torture and the blood-smeared denouement seems like little more than a nod to his Blog Boy fans. And in the wake of Newtown, it’s sickening.
2) BATTLESHIP — I swear I can’t remember a thing about this except they were all on a battleship. As in the board game. The picture is so far beyond cretinous, it makes “Transformers” look like “The Godfather.”
3) THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN — Maybe they want you to think of “The Curious Life of Benjamin Button?” Liars, liars, pants on fire. A childless couple is granted a magical boy with leaves growing off his, well, limbs.
4) THE THREE STOOGES — You’ve been N’yucked.
5) SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK — Wow, I haven’t seen something this shrewdly constructed in a while. Take one People Magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive” (Bradley Cooper). Give him a mental disease that’s ‘60s rebellious and in no way disfiguring. Add Robert De Niro as his “explosive” dad and make the whole thing hang on a dance contest with Jennifer Lawrence (“Dancing With the ????”) Hateful in its utter contempt for an audience.
6) THE WATCH — Another shot-in-Georgia gem (see “The Three Stooges” above). They had to change the title from “Neighborhood Watch” because of that unpleasantness in Florida.
7) RED DAWN — It wasn’t any good the first time they made it.
8) THAT’S MY BOY — Watching a comic age (in this case, Adam Sandler), isn’t any prettier than watching a cheerleader age. Think, Jerry Lewis. Or Loni Anderson.
9) THIS IS FORTY — This is torture.
10) TED — This is worse.