best film:  The Master from Paul Thomas Anderson

  • There many be no other film that rewards multiple viewings more.  Paul Thomas Anderson’s work has an almost unparalleled tendency (maybe Kubrick, or Tarkovsky) towards cinematic layering—or formal layering.
  • The two lead characters are point and counterpoint, mirrors, polar opposites and theme and variation. Both characters are lost, both needing each other and both in search of answers (sex and “the cause” is where they end up– and neither happy about it). It makes for a tremendous pairing with There Will Be Blood.
  • The film has clout…it thumps… and it haunts.
  • The ending clearly mirrors There Will Be Blood’s “I’m finished” but I also see Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange “I was cured, alright” and the Mickey Mouse ironic sing song ending in Full Metal Jacket– here we have “I fell out, can you put me back in?” while he tries a mock-processing scene with the girl. Again, it feels like PTA and Kubrick talking to each other  even if separated by decades.
  • The formal rigor of the shot of the water with the white wake from the boat- these are men adrift (a seaman/sailor/Freddie), meets PSH on a boat, sings “slow boat to china” (about escaping—perhaps there is some homosexual undercurrent here as well). The wake is the past.
  • Again, the film features an almost unparalleled subtext—baffling and cryptic
  • The film’s opening is one of the strongest of the 21st century. PTA is building Phoenix’s character just like There Will Be Blood and Punch-Drunk Love with the crash and the harmonium. Phoenix’s Freddie is primitive man, lost- the void. He mixes drinks (he does this at least six times in the movie), humps the sand lady, masturbates—women– (dream of everyone naked about half way through the film, the ending).

especially when captured on 70mm, The Master features one of the most beautiful cinematic paintings of the past twenty years.

  • Travers “Restores your faith in film as art form”—“I believe in the church of Paul Thomas Anderson”
  • PSH’s lines are absolutely hilarious black comedy. Particularly the “linger at bus stations” and when he reads his qualifications as a nuclear physicist.
  • Both expansive and intimate
  • It is not an easy narrative- it is a film about how there are not answers.

Father/son and mentor/mentee present in most of PTA’s work

  • The naked dance- it could be a daydream—but there are multiple hints throughout the film that the entire thing is a dream/afterlife/etc. When he first ends up on PSH’s boat Phoenix/Freddie is sleeping and it seems very weird how the girl gets him and brings him to PSH. Plus, we have the phone call in the movie theater. This is not real.



most underrated: This is an easy one in 2012. It is once again Xavier Dolan’s work and this time it is Laurence Anyways. Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is also underrated. Nolan’s work currently sits at #38 from 2012 on the TSPDT list.


Xavier Dolan is still only 23 years old in 2012 when he makes one of the best 10 films of the year for the second time already. Laurence Anyways is the single most underrated films of 2012. The TSPDT consensus could not find a spot for it on their 21st century list which means it is at least not in the top 40. This will be corrected in the future.

from 2009-2015 Dolan made five archiveable films in six years and made one of the best films of the year in three of those six years

Dolan is both awe-inspiringly prolific (forget about age for a second) and artistically ambitious at the same time


Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises is strong epic filmmaking with ambitiously constructed set pieces and strong use of Imax cameras. It does not have the narrative punch of The Dark Knight or the Heath Ledger performance (though Tom Hardy is awesome here). The finale where catwoman kills Bane and then makes a cheeseball joke is cringeworthy- but still—this is still a grossly underrated work.. As mentioned, the consensus list has it well outside of the top 20 of 2012 and that is just impossible to reconcile when considering  Nolan’s parallel editing work.

The Dark Knight Rises is larger in scope. There are more establishing shots (a Nolan trait/strength) and use of IMAX -the jaw-dropper of an opening is a set piece that rivals the best in Nolan’s career.



most overrated: There are four prime candidates in 2012.  Holy Motors, Amour, Tabu and Zero Dark Thirty all land in the top 10 of the TSPDT consensus list for 2012. The most egregious is Miguel Gomes’ Tabu. 


trends and notables:

  • It is a big year for Paul Thom Anderson with a long layoff between There Will Be Blood in 2007. This marks the fifth consecutive PTA film to pronounce itself as the best film of the year.
  • There is a gulf between The Master and Moonrise Kingdom but Wes Anderson deserves some extra attention here as his film is fairly easily the second best of the year. 2012 marks five top 10 of the year films for PTA (much better than top 10 as noted above but still) and four (4) for Wes Anderson.
  • Beyond just the Andersons, 2012 is a year in which almost all of this generations most talented auteurs had a go at it: PTA, Wes, Tarantino, Nolan- and they all delivered.

Moonrise Kingdom– three fields of depth on display here with multiple doorway frames

the first hour of Moonrise Kingdom may be the pinnacle of Wes’ style

The bracketed and controlled tracking shots in the opening are stunning- it is all done within perfect symmetry in the mise-en-scene. This is Peter Greenaway—a moving painting.

Tarantino’s camera tracking in on Foxx’s Django with the glorious Spanish moss in the background

Django Unchained– a sublime shot of blood splattering on cotton– wall-art beauty and thematic resonance

  • German auteur Christian Petzold made his first archiveable film in 2012 (Barbara)
  • Megan Ellison (producer) founds Annapurna pictures in 2011 and already in 2012 she is a major force. Annapurna is behind films like The Master, Zero Dark Thirty and Spring Breakers (all here from 2012).
  • For acting firsts in the archives, 2012 is the first year for Adam Driver with an archiveable film (Lincoln, Frances Ha). Driver would rightly be considered one of the finest actors working (and of his generation) by the end of the decade. His 2012-2019 run includes a whopping fifteen (15) archiveable films.

the big box office films of 2012 are The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Hunger Games and Skyfall (here). This is a very solid group of films at the top.

Skyfall is praiseworthy work from both Sam Mendes and Roger Deakins as cinematographer

  • Malick being prolific all of a sudden back with another film already in 2012, especially after the sonic boom in 2011 with The Tree of Life, feels noteworthy. To the Wonder is no dud- but it certainly looks like the black sheep in comparison with all of Malick’s work to date in 2012
  • The return of films shot entirely (using it partially in films never really went away) on large format 65/70mm is a story in 2012 and a budding mini trend among auteurs. The Master was Paul Thomas Anderson’s foray. In future years Tarantino, Nolan, Terence Davies, and Cuaron will all take the plunge.


gems I want to spotlight:  Every Joe Wright film is better than it gets credit for and 2012’s Anna Karenina is no exception. There is a certain level of expectation that comes with adapting Tolstoy, but the evidence is in that Wright’s work is an artistic success. Christian Petzold’s work is best viewed in a collection, so spotlighting just one of them is not going to do Petzold justice- but 2012’s Barbara is where you need to start.

from Wright’s Ann Karenina- in a word… gorgeous.

Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer have been the production design and set decoration team behind this, Pride & Prejudice and Atonement– all with Joe Wright

echoes of Ozu’s Late Spring here in Petzold’s Barbara



best performance maleJoaquin Phoenix gives the best performance of they year (if not the decade) in The Master. He, and his Freddie Quell character, merit mention right alongside Daniel Day-Lewis and Daniel Plainview from PTA’s There Will Be Blood. Phoenix’s work is physical with Quell’s unique posture, hunched over with those arms on his hips. Philip Seymour Hoffman rightly showed up on a few list for the best performance of the decade for his work in The Master as well as Lancaster Dodd. In the jail scene, Phoenix is an uncaged early Brando– Anderson is telling the story of these two characters in a wordless compare and contrast. Phoenix and PSH are far ahead of anyone else in 2012 but Christoph Waltz is probably third. This is his second mention in this category (and second time working with Tarantino). Waltz’s exacting diction is just perfect for Tarantino’s dialogue- one can still hear Waltz’s “Brittle brothers” and Lubbock, Texas”.  There is enough meat on the bone in Django Unchained for both Jamie Foxx as the film’s lead  and for scene stealing Samuel L. Jackson in a smaller part.  By 2012 it is hard not to take Daniel Day-Lewis (and Spielberg for that matter) for granted, but, he earned a mention here as well  for LincolnChristian Bale finally warrants some love here for his work in Nolan’s trilogy- Rises is where he gives the best of his three performances so it is fitting to get him the slot in 2012 (and there is some overdue goodwill from 2010’s The Fighter as well). The last mention in 2012 goes to Bradley Cooper — but it is a collaborative mention for his two films with David O. Russell in as many years. He is slightly stronger in Silver Linings Playbook than he is in American Hustle in 2013 so he is getting the mention here instead.

The processing scene in The Master is the singular highlight of the careers of Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman and it has to be on the very short list of all-time great scenes showcasing acting


best performance femaleGreta Gerwig in 2012’s Frances Ha lead the way. This is the best of three very strong performances from Gerwig in Noah Baumbach films (2010’s Greenberg and 2015’s Mistress America) and it feels good to reward an actor for playing a more passive character for once in an acting category. Gerwig gives the titular Frances such complexity and nuance. Amy Adams‘ few scenes in The Master are absolutely critical to the film and this was a very nice change of pace and challenge for Adams at this stage in her career. Suzanne Clément racked up her share of award buzz in 2012 for her work in Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways– and deservedly so. Lastly, similar to the case with Bradley Cooper above, Jennifer Lawrence had quite the back to back in 2012 and 2013 with Silver Linings Playbook and American Hustle and it is here that she deserves the greater attention.



top 10

  1. The Master
  2. Moonrise Kingdom
  3. Laurence Anyways
  4. Django Unchained
  5. The Dark Knight Rises
  6. Lincoln
  7. Spring Breakers
  8. Beyond the Hills
  9. Frances Ha
  10. Skyfall


immaculate character staging in Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills

this is distinctly the work of an auteur- the dining scenes make for a remarkable pairing with similarly staged shots from 2007’s 4 Months, 3 weeks, 2 days

Baumbach leans into the Woody comparisons with his black and white film (Frances Ha) set in New York

Lincoln is easily Spielberg’s strongest effort of the 2010s decade- on a few occasions Spielberg stages the actors perfectly to make breathtaking compositions out of the collective (including Lincoln’s death in his bed with the small crowd gathered).

at several points in the film the actors are shot in front of the windows to capture a miraculous silhouette effect

director Derek Cianfrance and actor Ryan Gosling working together again in The Place Beyond the Pines after 2010’s Blue Valentine

Michael Haneke’s Amour is his first film after 2009’s unbridled masterpiece The White Ribbon. Though the subject is severe (Georges, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, cares for his long-time wife Anne, played by Emmanuelle Riva, as her health rapidly declines), it is, in many ways, his most plainly told, warmest, and accessible film to date.




Archives, Directors, and Grades

A Highjacking- Lindholm R
Amour – Haneke HR
Anna Karenina- J. Wright HR
Arbitrage- Jarecki R
Argo- Affleck R
Augustine – Winocour R
Barbara – Petzold HR
Beasts of the Southern Wild – Zeitlin, R/HR
Berberian Sound Studio – Strickland R
Beyond the Hills- Mungiu HR/MS
Casa de mi Padre – Piedmont R
Cloud Atlas-Wachowski, Tykwer R
Dead Man’s Burden – Moshe R
Django Unchained – Tarantino MS
Flight – Zemeckis R
Frances Ha- Baumbach HR/MS
Holy Motors – Carax HR
Killing Them Softly – Dominik R
Laurence Anyways- Dolan MS
Les Misérables- Hooper R
Life of Pi- A. Lee R
Lincoln – Spielberg, Day-Lewis MS
Looper – Johnson R/HR
Lore – Shortland R
Magic Mike- Soderbergh R
Middle of Nowhere- DuVernay R
Moonrise Kingdom – W. Anderson MP
Mud- J. Nichols R
Night Across the Street – Ruiz R
No- Larraín R
Pieta- Ki-duk Kim R
Prometheus – R. Scott R/HR
Rust and Bone- Audiard R
Seven Psychopaths – Martin McConagh R
Silver Linings Playbook – D. Russell HR
Sister- Meier R
Skyfall- Mendes HR
Something in the Air- Assayas R
Spring Breakers –  Korine HR/MS
The Avengers- Whedon R
The Dark Knight Rises – Nolan MS
The Grey- Carnahan R
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Jackson R
The Hunt- Vinterberg R
The Impossible – Bayona R
The Master- P.T. Anderson MP
The Perks of Being a Wallflower- Chbosky R
The Place Beyond the Pines- Cianfrance R/HR
To the Wonder – Malick R
Wadjda – al-Mansour R
What Maisie Knew-McGehee, Da. Siegel R
Zero Dark Thirty – Bigelow R


*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-See- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives