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).
- Travers “Restores your faith in film as art form”—“I believe in the church of Paul Thomas Anderson” https://www.rollingstone.com/movies/movie-reviews/the-master-96954/
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
best performance male: Joaquin 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 Lincoln. Christian 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.
best performance female: Greta 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.
- The Master
- Moonrise Kingdom
- Laurence Anyways
- Django Unchained
- The Dark Knight Rises
- Spring Breakers
- Beyond the Hills
- Frances Ha
Archives, Directors, and Grades
|A Highjacking- Lindholm||R|
|Amour – Haneke||HR|
|Anna Karenina- J. Wright||HR|
|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|
|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|
|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
Wonderful as always. The Master is such a great, big masterpiece and an exacting psychological study that somehow manages to make statements and implications on broader societal issues. Absolutely brilliant
PS: Is there some kind of word limit to the comment section? Because I’m trying to post my thoughts about a WKW film here for a while and it won’t let me do it.
@Georg- I am very sorry- I am not aware of any word limit and I have seen some very long comments in the past. I apologize.
@Georg- Thank you- appreciate it!
Damn Lincoln jumped from a R/HR to a MS. Wow.
By the way do you think DiCaprio gives the worst performance in Django Unchained?
Pretty strange to see all 3 others listed but not him.
However I do think Bale should be removed from this list. And he gets a combined mention in 2013 for American Hustle. And gets a seperate mention in 2010 for The Fighter. His work in Dark Knight Rises doesn’t strike me as worthy of a spot here. Even as a combined mention.
Was gonna say about Django Unchained… I’m a little perplexed about Samuel L. being higher, tbh. But, although I don’t love Jamie Foxx as an actor, I can see the logic of him getting in here.
@Malith- Thank you for the comment. I feel confident about the exclusion of Leo and inclusion of Bale here.
No Leo for Django, but Samuel L. Jackson gets in for the same film? Interesting – not sure if I agree – but it’s an interesting choice.
That new additions to Best Performances of the year categories are very pleasant to see, but an addition of DiCaprio for Django and Franco for Spring Breakers would make it (for me) perfect.
@RujK- Thank you- I certainly thought long and hard about both DiCaprio and Franco
@Drake-Isn’t the Life of Pi(2012) overrated? It won best Picture haha. What a massive miss from the academy.
@Malith- Argo won best picture in 2012
@Drake-Oh I mixed it up with best director as Ang Lee won it. Thanks for the explanation. I thought I should mention it because in the 2011 page The Artist was #1 in the most overrated category and it won both awards.
@Malith- right, but The Artist is much higher on the TSPDT consensus list which is why it was selected in 2011.
@Malith- Also, I use the TSPDT lists for the overrated/underrated categories. Life of Pi is #37 for 2012 and Argo #30- these are fine spots for those two films
Are you planning on putting in Leo as a joint-mention next year with Wolf Of Wall Street?
@Jeff No. 2- Still working on the 2013 page now. I will say that I do not think of his work in Django as one of his best (which may be more of a compliment to the rest of his work more than anything).
@Drake-Actually The Grey starring Liam Neeson is a 2011 film.
@Malith- Thank you
Does anyone else feel like The Place Beyond the Pines could have been closer to a MS or even borderline MP. It starts out promising, I found the 1st storyline with the Gosling character to be the most interesting of the 3 followed by the Bradley Cooper part when he’s dealing with Ray Liotta and the other crooked cops. The film has some breathtaking overhead shots and an amazing opening shot following the Gosling character through the carnival. I absolutely love the films haunting score done by Mike Patton.
The film is not very subtle with its themes of the sins of the fathers weighing down on the sons and there are some pretty obvious plot holes but I could get past all that if it led to something more engaging. The 3rd act is by far the weakest (the AJ character is extremely annoying and seems out of place) and despite being the longest feels the least developed. It seems to have all the pieces set up for a potential masterpiece but just does not get there. I still enjoy it but I’d be lying if I denied some level of disappointment.
Any thoughts on Lircorice Plaza yet?
@Drake- The Grey starring Liam Neeson is a 2011 film I believe
@Malith- yes, if you scroll up in the comments this has been noted- thank you.
“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.”
Did you forget Hunger Games in the list of archivable films at the bottom?
@Matthew – No, not in this case. Hunger Games is solid, but does not land in the archives
Can Carey Mulligan play Frances in Frances Ha?
@M*A*S*H- I don’t think so- there’s a certainly aimlessness in Frances that Gerwig possesses and Frances needs.
@M*A*S*H – Frances is a little detached from reality, she’s zany.
Carey Mulligan excels at playing troubled characters like she did in Shame (2011), Promising Young Woman (2020), Llewyn Davis (2013)
@James Trapp- yeah. Mulligan is the greatest of her generation without doubt. I really like that she’s ahead of Adams or Williams not only because of her superior resume but also in my opinion she can play pretty much anything. She’s really grounded in Drive and unhinged in PYW. She has range.
@M*A*S*H – Carey Mulligan is one of my 3 favorite living actresses with Jessica Chastain and Cate Blanchett. Agreed about her range but not only does she have range in being able to play different types of characters she can within a single film show impressive range. In Promising Young Woman (2020) she plays unhinged as you mention and is certainly angry and deviant but she also is quite vulnerable in that film, particularly upon discovering information about her new boyfriend, its a complex balancing act.
@Drake- i get it. What about Blue Valentine or I’m thinking of ending things?
@M*A*S*H- I’m a yes here on these two. Again, I’m not recasting Michelle Williams or Jessie Buckley- but I think Mulligan would flourish in these roles