Joshua Chaplinsky's Favorite Films of 2012

Another year older and what do you get? Another crop of kick ass movies, that's what. And if the crop is where celluloid images are stored prior to digestion, this column is the gizzard where their contents are broken down and meaning is extracted (usually with the aid of swallowed dirt and rocks) before the waste product is expelled. It may sound gross, but remember: when prepared properly the gizzard is considered quite the delicacy.

My list of favorite films from 2012 is populated by a mix of festival and theatrical releases, domestic and international, studio and independent. These are the films I couldn't stop thinking about, whether I wanted to or not. These are the films that stimulated the mind cogs and tugged at the heart strings. Some of them even turned my asshole into a fist. What I'm trying to say is they affected me: mentally, emotionally, and physically-- and now I want to share those feelings with you. So if you can stomach yet another round of hyperbolic pontification from some guy who writes on the internet...

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Final Cut - Ladies and Gentlemen (Gyorgy Palfi)

I am a huge fan of Hungarian director, Gyorgy Palfi. Each film he makes is a unique cinematic experience, and this collage is no exception. In my full review, I said Final Cut was possibly the best film about film ever made, an assertion I'm sticking by. It's certainly my favorite film of the year. Even though it is made up entirely of clips from other movies, those clips function as a cohesive whole. Kind of like a photo mosaic, only pulsing with life. It is simultaneously an experimental documentary on film history and the ultimate love story. It will inspire a childlike wonderment in even the most jaded cineaste. If and when this becomes available (rights issues), it is a must see.


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The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Is there any American director working today that comes closer to filling the shoes vacated by Stanley Kubrick? The Master is Paul Thomas Anderson at the top of his game, an enigmatic character study of two seemingly dissimilar rebels who form an intense, adversarial bond. It is a technical marvel, especially in 70mm, buoyed by a double-decker master class in acting, courtesy of Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. All I have to say after reading the Oscar nominations is, "What the fuck, Academy?" Oh, right. Scientology.

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The Comedy (Rick Alverson)

Another film I've been heaping lots of love on. Frankly, my friends are getting sick of it, but I don't care. The Comedy is like that friend with the aggressive personality who puts up dukes and backs you into a corner whenever he sees you. The first few times you huddle into a standing half-fetal, but eventually you learn the rhythm of the mime-spar ritual and grow to enjoy it. Comedian Tim Heidecker turns in a breakout dramatic performance here, giving a dead-pan seriousness to this black film about white male privilege.

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Django Unchained (The Q-Dog)

Man, this film is a ton of fun. I don't think I've seen any white critic admit this, but there is an undeniable twinge of excitement laced with guilt to be had from this provocative romp. And no matter what he says, you know Tarantino felt that electricity when he made it.  It's an exploitation flick, after all. It's supposed to disgust and titillate in equal measure. And whether you find it offensive or harmless-- you're not wrong.  That's the beauty of it. When art-- even pop art-- ceases to polarize and provoke, it loses its power. This isn't the "congratulations, white people!" filmmaking of Spielberg's Lincoln. This one's exposing the psyche, warts and all.

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Holy Motors (Leos Carax)

Leos Carax returns to feature filmmaking after more than a decade with a film light on narrative and heavy on symbolism. The Rosetta Stone to unlocking its mysteries are the director's personal life and career, which add further depth to the film's themes of identity and loss. It is unrestrained and emotional and dazzling and playful. It's a refreshing collection of episodic ideas, the kind that frustrate the informal movie-goer and tickle cineastes like a fat baby's chin, all coochie-coochie coo. How great was the motion capture scene? The return of the creature from the sewer? The "Let My Baby Ride" musical interlude? Exactly.

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Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland)

I saw this at the NYFF and it totally wasn't the film I thought it was going to be-- which is a good thing. At the time I had this to say: "[BBC] is the best giallo I've ever seen, even though it really isn't a giallo. It's more a mix of 70s DePalma and Lynchian weirdness. I'm sure some will complain about the lack of traditional narrative structure, but they get so many films for 'them', so I'm claiming this one for 'us'. A very cool mind-bender with grade A acting (especially from Toby Jones, the other Capote) and fantastic sound design." In retrospect, I have to say-- I still totally agree with myself.

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Vegetarian Cannibal (Branko Schmidt)

This was being billed as a nasty, Serbian Film-style provocation, but it's decidedly more restrained than that. This works in its favor, because Vegetarian Cannibal has more on its mind than mere shock. Not that it isn't a nasty little piece of work-- it is. It's just that said nastiness comes from the despicable main character: an OB/GYN with a penchant for hookers and blow who gets caught up doing ultra-late term abortions for the mob. Harrowing stuff, but also a riveting character study. This was actually Croatia's submission to the Academy for Best Foreign Film. Also, who knew they had such nice hospitals there?

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Beyond the Black Rainbow (Panos Cosmatos)

What did I say about this one when I presented it with the Dirk Diggler Rising Star Trophy? Oh yeah: "Who cares that it was slow as crippled molasses and didn't make a lick of sense?" That was probably a bit hyperbolic of me. There is some story to be gleaned: Creepy doctor takes LSD and goes back in time through a cosmic tar pit to kill the mother of a psychic girl he keeps locked in his new age research facility only to have the girl escape, requiring him to take off his hair and take out his eyes, put on some leather and grab his ceremonial knife to go hunt her down in the backwoods of Canada. Or something like that. An awesome synthesis of 80s aesthetics and cerebral filmmaking. Pure visual wonderment.  

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Antiviral (Brandon Cronenberg)

The debut film of Brandon Cronenberg is the best Cronenberg film in years. He truly is his father's son. The austere body horror of this commentary on celebrity left me feeling physically ill, which is a huge compliment. The most effective and affecting horror film of the year.

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Wrong (Quentin Dupiuex)

Another nonsensical oddity from Rubber director Quentin Dupiuex. It concerns a lost dog, the man who loves him, a new age guru who specializes in telepathic communication with pets, a pet detective who plugs dog droppings into a television monitor to view their final moments through their "eyes," and a lot of other tangential weirdness. It all seems like one big non-sequitur until you realize the story has come around full circle. Either you dig what this guy is doing or you don't.

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Killer Joe (William Friedkin)

This is down and dirty white trash noir and it is dark, dark, dark. I love that Friedkin had the balls to do something like this at this stage of his career. Along with Magic Mike, this is one of the crowning achievements of the current McConaissance. Matthew McConaughey figuratively kills as literal killer, Joe. The witty repartee of the for-the-stage dialog leaps off the screen with kinetic energy. Juno Temple is a powder keg of sex, despite playing a character that might be legally retarded. The notorious final scene is so grotesque... the wet mouth, the loose skin... the butt clenching... it's brilliant. Violent and disturbing and hilarious and brilliant.

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Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard)

I love horror films, but unfortunately Sturgeon's law applies, big time. So when Cabin in the Woods was shelved I assumed it was because it was shit. I mean, I'm no Whedonite and Thor was in it. How good could it be? But then came the rumblings that it was awesome. Then I saw the trailer and I thought, well maybe... And then I fell in love. High school crush love, not that serious relationship bullshit. This is fun, inventive horror that blah blah blah genre conventions blah blah OHMYGODAKILLERUNICORN!!!

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Looper (Rian Johnson)

From smart, commercial horror to smart commercial sci-fi-- this was a pretty good year for mainstream genre flicks. Take him or leave him actioneer Bruce Willis stars in what will be his second classic time travel film. It goes to show that you don't have to condescend or pander when crafting a crowd-pleasing entertainment. It also shows that you don't have to be pretentious and esoteric to make people think. Good is good, and Looper is great. This is how you do it, Hollywood! 

Joshua Chaplinsky is the Managing Editor for LitReactor.com. He has also written for ChuckPalahniuk.net. He might still be a guitarist in the band SpeedSpeedSpeed, and is the poison pen behind thejamminjabber, although he's not so sure he should admit it.


Around the Internet:
  • I love "McConaissance." So good.

  • Yes, although I can't take credit for the term. I believe it was McConaughey himself who came up with it, which makes it even better.

  • Less Lee Moore

    Haha! Amazing.

  • mightyjoeyoung

    "My list of favorite films from 2012 is populated by a mix of festival and theatrical releases, domestic and international, studio and independent. These are the films I couldn't stop thinking about, whether I wanted to or not."

    It´s a nice list, thanks Mr Chaplinsky.

  • Thank YOU.

  • Jason Dean

    Oh goddammit, these are good picks. We are in the McConnaissance era.

  • igotyougoodJabber

    all of these movies is horrabel. xept Cabi in da Woods - that Thor guys is maaaaad hotz. Feeding Gozer to evil gods wuz kewl 2. youre tast n filmz SUCKZZZZZZZZZ

  • hahaha.

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