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The Year in Cinema: Ralph Hammann

by Ralph Hammann on January 3, 2013

 

Life of Pi

Best of 2012

1. Life of Pi

Like Avatar and Hugo before it, Ang Lee’s film uses 3-D to realize a unique world that immerses us completely. By turns magical and uncannily realistic, this is the year’s finest example of a film that instills in us a sense of childlike awe. We see something we have never seen, uniquely imagined and breathtaking.

2. Lincoln

Others have also said it, but my first reaction on leaving this painstakingly crafted drama was that I had truly traveled back in time. The authentic settings, the period lighting, the perfect supporting cast, and most of all, Daniel Day Lewis, who not only disappeared into but convinced us that this was the Lincoln of our collective imaginations and fondest wishes.

3. Looper

Rian Johnson’s superlative piece about time travel is richly imagined, with an inventive plot. Not only suspenseful, but a film with a surprisingly great heart shared by Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, both playing the same character.

4. Ruby Sparks

Zoë Kazan’s work as the film’s writer and lead actress is beguiling. Taking cues from Pygmalion and Pirandello, the film created the year’s most charming romance in this fantasy about a writer who imagines his dream lover into real life.

5. Arbitrage

The feat of this film lies in Richard Gere’s complex, troubling and deeply involving portrait of a Wall Street scoundrel we would probably hate if played by any other actor. Too long underappreciated as a serious actor by those who couldn’t see beyond his good looks, Gere holds us in the palm of his hand.

6. Argo

The story alone would be enough to justify inclusion, but Ben Affleck’s meticulous direction and willingness to recede into the background as the nominal star provided a showcase for a host of savory performances. Best of all was the melding of humor to suspense: the humor humanized the stakes and heightened the tension.

7. Chronicle

With but a smattering of the budget of the big dumb blockbusters, this highly original sci-fi piece took us to places and heights seldom seen as it morphed from light comedy into something truly disturbing.

8. The Dictator

I haven’t laughed so hard since Borat, Team America and South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. A welcome anti-PC shot to the brain and solar plexus.

9. The Queen of Versailles

This is a barely believable (for its access to its destructing subjects) documentary of an insanely rich family’s loss of their bloated version of the American Dream. Enraging, hilarious, and jaw-dropping, it also amazed with its surprising moments of empathy for its stupidly acquisitive subjects.

10. The Lady

Poorly distributed and unjustly overlooked, Luc Besson’s drama boasts a mesmerizing performance by Michelle Yeoh. As Burma’s opposition leader and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Yeoh uncannily embodies Aung San Suu Kyi’s poise, courage and capacity to love with effortless grace.

Worst of 2012

1. Cosmopolis

What was David Cronenberg thinking of in subjecting us to a seemingly endless limo trip with Robert Pattinson, even duller than in his Twilight outings?

2. The Raven

As Edgar Allan Poe, John Cusack was unbelievable in this inept thriller which could have used a modicum of Poe’s style and ratiocination before it appropriated his murder devices.

3. Dark Shadows

As anemic as Johnny Depp’s pallid performance of Barnabas Collins, this wreck couldn’t be saved by even Tim Burton’s eclectic madness.

4. This Means War

This means that even Reese Witherspoon, Tom Hardy and Chris Pine need a script as opposed to mind-numbing violence and a director as opposed to a grenade launcher named McG.

5. The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn—Part 2

The surprise (cheaply accomplished and unsurprising) ending of the dullest and most insipidly cast vampire/werewolf franchise of all time should have been subtitled “Breaking Wind—Phew!”