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by Sheila Benson

Contributor

Oscar, You’re Breaking My Heart (but you always do)

I have no proof whatever that when the final ballots were tallied, late at night at the Academy, and the prospect of a second year of the dreaded hashtag #OscarsSoWhite hung over the room, considerable thought was given to The Messenger of this news. Messengers.

I do know that it was really nice to see that Guillermo Del Toro and Ang Lee were given the first swath of nominations to read. The second list was handled by redoubtable Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs and John Krasinski.

It was a gallant show of inclusiveness, before the truth was out and hellfire rained down from every side.

– Sylvester Stallone but not Michael B. Jordan? So, who was Creed about, an old, slow white guy from Philly?

– Idris Elba nowhere in sight, unless you count Netflix ads.

Straight Outta Compton? Not exactly the screener that . . .ummm, mature Academy voters bring out to share with poker cronies.

– Women? Don’t start. Freud said it best, “My god, what do women want?”

– Spike Lee? Maybe no one could pronounce Chi-Raq. In any case, he just got an honorary Oscar. . . in November, at one of those ceremonies that happen way, way off-stage. Check out his speech, every last minute of it.

Don’t even want to think what he’s saying today. No, actually, I do.

Continue reading at Critic Quality Feed

“The Citizen Kane of the digital era. . .”

That’s not me talking. That’s what the great editor (great friend) Dov Hoenig said about  Birdman the other day, as his wife Zoe and I were trying to shorten the distance between London and Seattle over the phone.

Michael Keaton in ‘Birdman’

My enthusiasms you can take with a giant grain of salt. Dov’s you should take very very seriously. The secret in the IMDb listing of his 40+ films, abroad and crucially with Michael Mann, is that it spans movies shot on film (Thief, Manhunter, Last of the Mohicans) and digitally (Heat, Collateral Damage) and he knows the virtues and frailties of both. Never heard Dov — impassioned but also measured and serious — be this swept away before and this seems the time to share his fervor.

What particularly revved me up was seeing Birdman a second time last week. I’d forgotten just what a deckle-edge comedy it is, with all its soulfulness. I think it’s a reflection of my inner Olive Kitteridge that I’ve held fast (for 3 months!) to not just popping in the screener so that my husband could see what I’ve been hyperventilating about, but insisting on a dark quiet theatre, so he could see it as it should be seen, in its full wonder. Worked, too; he has come back to moments from it, again and again.

Continue reading at Critic Quality Feed

Wait, wait! First the Golden Globes, THEN the Oscar nominations.

I know, I know: old and slow. My only possible defense is that we have either been guests or had guests since December 23rd, a sojourn involving passports, dear distant family, dear semi-distant friends and a last emotional good-bye at the airport yesterday. The cats barely know what lap to turn to, while I’m summoning up all my reserves to turn up in two matching shoes.

To get to those Globes: they were just Sunday and I know I’m behind on the newspapers, but where’s the outrage? Or even the irony over the results of the Globes TV Movies or Mini-series category? I’m talking about the sublime Olive Kitteridge, anchored by the unsparing eloquence of Frances McDormand, being beaten by the TV show Fargo. Let’s be honest, the initial good will of  Fargo-the-miniseries would never have existed without our collective infatuation with McDormand’s singular character in, ummm, Fargo-the-film. (Just the memory of the actress’s back, squared in rectitude as she marched up to get her Fargo Oscar in 1997 is enough to kick off a smile.)

Continue reading at Critic Quality Feed

Parallax View’s Best of 2014

Welcome 2015 with one last look back at the best releases of 2014, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.

Sean Axmaker

My list this year is light on foreign movies, largely because I didn’t get out to as many festival screenings as I have in past years, and because many of the foreign language films placing highly on other lists have not opened in this corner of the world.

1. Boyhood (Richard Linkater, US)
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, US)
3. Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, US)
4. Gone Girl (David Fincher, US)
5. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, UK)
6. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, US)
7. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
8. Manuscripts Don’t Burn (Mohammad Rasoulof, Iran)
9. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, Australia)
10. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (Ana Lily Amirpour, Iran/US)
And because this film turns it up to 11. Snowpiercer (Bong Joon Ho, US / South Korea / France / Czech Republic) – high concept science fiction thrillers are always best when serving as metaphors for sociopolitical commentary. Amiright?

More honorable mentions (in alphabetical order: Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund, Sweden), The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones, US), The Immigrant (James Gray, US), John Wick (Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, US), Locke (Steven Knight, UK), A Most Violent Year (J.C. Chandor, US), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, US), Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, US), The Strange Little Cat (Ramon Zürcher, Germany), We Are the Best! (Lukas Moodyson, Sweden), What Now? Remind Me (Joaquin Pinto, Portugal)

Other published Top Ten Lists: Village Voice Film Poll, Keyframe
Also: Best of 2014 on Blu-ray and DVD

Sheila Benson

(as published in Village Voice)

1. Birdman
2. Foxcatcher
3. Mr. Turner
4. The Immigrant
5. Two Days, One Night
6. Leviathan
7. Nightcrawler
8. Force Majeure
9. Get on Up
10. Winter Sleep

Jim Emerson

(as presented at Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap)
1. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
2. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
3. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
4. Calvary (John Michael McDonaugh)
5. The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)
6. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
7. Happy Valley (Amir Bar-Lev)
8. Gone Girl (David Fincher)
9. The Immigrant (James Gray)
In a realm of its own, circling above the calendar year considerations: A Summer’s Tale (Eric Rohmer, 1995; first US release, 2014)

Robert Horton

(as published in Seattle Weekly)
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
2. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
3. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
4. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
6. Blue Ruin (Jeremy Saulnier) and The Rover (David Michôd) (tie)
8. Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund)
9. The Homesman (Tommy Lee Jones)
10. Edge of Tomorrow (Doug Liman)

Other published Top Ten Lists: Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap

Richard T. Jameson

1. Under the Skin
2. Only Lovers Left Alive
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. The Homesman
5. Two Days, One Night
6. American Sniper
7. Birdman
8. Mr. Turner
9. Ida
10. The Better Angels

Jay Kuehner

(as published on Fandor)
1. Goodbye to Language (Jean-Luc Godard)
2. A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness (Ben Russell and Ben Rivers)
3. Jealousy (Philippe Garrel)
4. The Strange Little Cat (Ramon Zürcher)
5. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
6. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
7. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne)
8. Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
9. Story of My Death (Albert Serra)
10. Stranger by the Lake (Alain Guiraudie)
11. Like Father, Like Son (Kore-Eda Hirokazu)

Moira Macdonald

(as published in The Seattle Times)
(in alphabetical order)
Birdman
Boyhood
Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen
Gone Girl
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Life Itself
Like Father, Like Son
Love Is Strange
Mood Indigo
Selma

Brian Miller

(as published in Seattle Weekly)
1. Birdman
2. Boyhood
3. Ida
4. Whiplash
5. Frank
6. The Grand Budapest Hotel
7. Force Majeure / Gone Girl (tie)
8. National Gallery
9. Snowpiercer
10. The Homesman

Kathleen Murphy

1. Under the Skin
2. Only Lovers Left Alive
3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
4. The Homesman
5. Ida
6. Mr. Turner
7. American Sniper
8. Two Days, One Night
9. A Most Violent Year
10. Force Majeure

Other published Top Ten Lists: Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap

Andrew Wright

1. Snowpiercer (Joon-ho Bong)
2. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer)
3. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent)
4. Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch)
5. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves)
6. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
7. Two Days, One Night (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
8. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowski)
9. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
10. Cold in July (Jim Mickle)

Lists of lists:

Village Voice (poll and lists)
Roger Ebert.com
Keyframe Best Feature Films of 2014
Keyframe Daily Lists and Award 2014 Index

Polls
Film Comment
Indiewire Poll
Keyframe
Roger Ebert.com
Sight and Sound
Time Out London

Other lists
2014 additions to the National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1924
New York Times Year in Culture

The remarkable Mr. Champlin

It’s rare that you can say that one person changed the trajectory of your life, and for the better. Charles Champlin, who changed mine in every way, died on Sunday. He was 88, and at the end he had Alzheimer’s but the earlier deviltry was that in 1999, he’d developed age-related macular degeneration that left him legally blind.

Charles Champlin, 1979

That must have been purgatory for someone whose life had been the graceful  consideration of books and films, films and books. As the writer that he was, above all else, he wrote about his AMD too, in a sliver of a book, “My Friend, You Are Legally Blind.” Purportedly, it’s about ways to get the better of the disease; it’s really a look at lifelong gallantry.

The persona that Champlin presented to the world: a man foursquare as the aviator glasses that became his trademark, wasn’t all of him, not by a Hammondsport mile. The essential Champlin who could shift among a half-dozen settings and arrive intact and unruffled at each one, was compound-complex.  He’d have to be; he was functioning as an editor, an essayist, a critic, most certainly a teacher, a lecturer, a sometimes author and a card-carrying devotee of the hurly-burly of Cannes. And, somewhere in all that, he and his extraordinary wife Peggy were raising a family of six.

Continue reading at Critic Quality Feed

Parallax View’s Best of 2013

Welcome 2014 with one last look back at the best releases of 2013, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.

Sean Axmaker

1. Her (Spike Jonze)
2. Blue is the Warmest Color / La vie d’Adèle (Abdellatif Kechiche)
3. Something in the Air / Apres Mai (Olivier Assayas)
4. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints (David Lowery)
5. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)
6. Nebraska (Alexander Payne)
7. Drug War (Johnnie To)
8. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (dir: Alain Resnais)
9. Upstream Color (Shane Carruth)
10. Byzantium (Neil Jordan)

Twelve more: Bastards / Les Salauds (Claire Denis), Fruitvale Station (Ryan Coogler), Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel and Ethan Coen), Gravity (Alfonso Cuaron), Mud (Jeff Nichols), Night Across the Street (Raul Ruiz), Museum Hours (Jem Cohen), Short Term 12 (Destin Creton), Stoker (Park Chan-wook), Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley), The Wind Rises (Hayao Miyazaki), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)

Best festival film I saw in 2013 without a release: What Now? Remind Me (Joaquim Pinto)

Other lists: Village Voice, Cinephiled, Senses of Cinema

Sheila Benson

(as published in Village Voice)

1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Gravity
3. Captain Phillips
4. Fruitvale Station
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
6. All Is Lost
7. Philomena
8. The Great Beauty
9. American Hustle
10. The Confessing Stone

Jim Emerson

(as published on Cinephiled)

1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Nebraska
3. Mud
4. All Is Lost
5. The Act of Killing
6. This Is the End
7. Behind the Candelabra
8. The Stranger By the Lake
9. The Great Beauty
10. Gravity

Other lists: Indiewire

Robert Horton

(as published in Seattle Weekly)

1. Something In the Air
2. All Is Lost
3. Gravity
4. Blue is the Warmest Color
5. Inside Llewyn Davis
6. The Unspeakable Act
7. Nebraska
8. The Act of Killing
9. Amour
10. Like a Rolling Stone

Other lists: Indiewire, The Herald

Richard T. Jameson

1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Gravity
3. Nebraska
4. Blue Is the Warmest Color
5. her
6. American Hustle
7. Like Someone in Love
8. Enough Said
9. All Is Lost
10. Fruitvale Station

Other lists: Cinephiled

Jay Kuehner

(as published on Indiewire)

1. Leviathan
2. The Act of Killing
3. Something In the Air
4. In the Fog
5. Neighbouring Sounds
6. Bastards
7. A Touch of Sin
8. Viola
9. Centro Historico
10. Nana

Other lists: Senses of Cinema

Moira Macdonald

(as published in Seattle Times)

Here are my favorite movies of 2013, in alphabetical (and numerical) order.

12 Years a Slave
56 Up
Before Midnight
Enough Said
Gravity
Her
Much Ado About Nothing
Nebraska
Philomena
Stories We Tell

Brian Miller

(as published in Seattle Weekly)

1. Her
2. The Great Beauty
3. Gravity
4. Before Midnight
5. All Is Lost
6. Nebraska
7. Stories We Tell
8. The Act of Killing
9. (tie) In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life With Saul Leiter / Cutie and the Boxer

Kathleen Murphy

(as published on Cinephiled)

1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Gravity
3. Blue Is the Warmest Color
4. All Is Lost
5. Nebraska
6. Stories We Tell
7. Bastards
8. Her
9. Blue Jasmine
10. The Wind Rises

Andrew Wright

1. Upstream Color
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. All is Lost
4. The Act of Killing
5. Frances Ha
6. Gravity
7. You Will Be My Son
8. Mud
9. Her
10. We Are What We Are

Lists of lists:

Fandor List of Lists
Indiewire
Village Voice Film Poll 2013
Cinephiled
Senses of Cinema

Polls (no individual lists)

Film Comment
Indiewire
Sight and Sound
The Dissolve
The A.V. Club

Other lists

Keyframe: The Year in Film
2013 additions to the National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1923

See the 2012 Seattle Film Critics Wrap at the Frye, with Robert Horton hosting Kathleen Murphy, Jim Emerson, and Andrew Wright, after the jump below.

Keep Reading

Oscar shows us its boobs: MacFarlane & Co.

God love Tom Shales and this Tweet last night:  “For the first time ever the Oscar show is worse than the Red Carpet crap that preceded it.”

For anyone who does not regularly rejoice in the work of the  former Washington Post TV critic and Pulitzer Prize winner, he blogs here.   For fear of suddenly sounding a whole lot smarter than I have a right to, I haven’t yet read a word of it, beyond his blog headline and this Tweet. Soon as this is posted I plan to luxuriate in Shales’  gentle, dove-like tones, since we seem to have seen the same show.

One of the hundreds of tidbits the Academy chummed to its ravenous readers was an interview with the show’s producers, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (Chicago, The Bucket List, Footloose) who confessed that for years, they’d been dying to stage the Oscars since they’d  knew exactly what they’d do, “But no one asked us.”

Then, for better or worse, they were asked.

Let’s go with the best first.  The awards themselves, over which they had no control, were wide-ranging and generous (if your name isn’t Steven Spielberg.) It seems almost impossible not to love Ang Lee, people seem to beam in his presence, and he returns the favor. The whole theatre seemed to love his winning Best Director for Life of Pi, a seemingly impossible-to-pull-off, spiritually charged and breathtaking film.

Continue reading at Critic Quality Feed

Oscar detritus and a mad Academy Award daydream

Waded through many double-page newspaper ads lately? Checked any late-night talk shows? With Academy balloting closing today  it’s last ditch stand time for nominees, who’ve suddenly popped up on every flat surface to remind Academy voters of their existence.

It’s not just the ballots… although it IS, of course. But also, all those end-of-the-year movies have just been released on DVD – and, bien sur, Blu-ray – and their reappearance has given their stars a chance for one last chorus of “Hey, big spender, spend some time with me.”

The results have been. . .informative. You might imagine after The Hunger Games and especially her nominated work in Silver Linings Playbook that Jennifer Lawrence was a peppy thing, but who could have predicted she’d throw in a mention of anal leakage to David Letterman?  Bet you he didn’t.

Helen Hunt’s Letterman moment was calibrated to a nanosecond. She’s gorgeously naked for a good deal of The Sessions, slipping between motel room sheets in her role as a sexual surrogate, so she and Dave kicked that one around to a fare-thee-well. She got to rap him on the knuckles for taking the low (i.e. leering) road with his questions, which only made him… ummmm, aim lower. Big surprise, huh, Helen?

The really electrifying thing about all their merriment was the name that never once came up: John Hawkes.* He’s the actor in the other half of that bed, Hunt’s un-nominated co-star.  Hawkes’ deeply soulful playing of this wry, shy Berkeley writer and (partial) iron lung patient, anchors The Sessions and gives the film its greatest depths.

Continue reading at Critic Quality Feed

What’s kept ‘Argo’’s flame burning brightly

I have a hunch about what’s helped keep Argo’s awards slowly, stubbornly piling up inside Hollywood: Benghazi and its seemingly interminable fallout.

Ben Affleck in ‘Argo’

Argo opened one month and a day after that murderous attack. It was a month that reshaped what we knew about the realities of  “diplomacy” when, in the presence of the President and the Secretary of State, the bodies of our Ambassador to Libya and three men who tried to save him were returned to their families and to a largely uncomprehending country.

And as we began to think about what it is that diplomats do, Argo arrived to show us. It was deadly-real and it was Hollywood-real; it had the look of newsreel footage and a grand, bogus bigger-than-life finale, and at its core were six, human, identifiable characters – diplomats all.

At its most deadly serious, Argo was sound for sound, action for action, what happens when an American embassy (consulate, mission) is overrun in a decidedly unfriendly country. Even when Benghazi became political attack fodder, Argo’s resonance of resilience under fire lingered.

Continue reading at Critic Quality Feed

From Abraham Lincoln to Eiko Ishioka, wot a year it has been

Well, here we are again, friends.  The Academy Award nominations are upon us. For voting members it opens the sluice-gates to six weeks of more “friendly” persuasion than the NRA at that Tucson gun buy-back.

The rest of us can expect a deluge of guesses and pronouncements from folks not vastly smarter than we are about an event roughly as predictable as an earthquake. (See: Marisa Tomei’s Best 1992 Supporting Actress Oscar win over Judy Davis, Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson and Vanessa Redgrave. I know. It was a long time ago. Some folks recover slowly.)

Kathryn Bigelow

To wade in at the top: what was the Directors Guild up to on Tuesday — that’s just two days ago’s Tuesday —  when it nominated Ben Affleck and Katherine Bigelow for two of its five Feature Film Director slots?  (Tom Hooper, Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg rounded out their slate.)

The DGA slate is supposed to be the solid gold, take-it-to-the-bank standard of who’ll be nominated by the Academy. Were they simply giving two hard-working directors a good night’s sleep before Announcement Thursday, when they might reasonably expect to find themselves in nomination?  You don’t think Affleck and Bigelow were being set up for a sucker punch, do you? The Guild loves you, just not the membership of the Guild, the ones who vote in the Academy?  Don’t look at me.  I’m as stunned as they are.  Well, relatively speaking.

BAFTA, the British film academy, released their nominations at virtually the same moment as our Academy.  Will it make Ben Affleck feel any better to go to the London celebration, where among Argo‘s seven nominations, including best picture and best director, he also picked up one as best actor?  Probably not.

I liked the Guardian’s description of the BAFTA best five pics: “Lincoln,  Argo, Les Miserables, Django Unchained and Life of Pi, pluckily bobbing in their wake.”

What makes me personally happy?  To see the many ways humanism was defined by this year’s nominees: in utterly different ways throughout Life of Pi and Argo; in so many of the personal exchanges in Lincoln; by the tenacity of Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook and by the unforgettable face of Emmanuelle Riva in Amour. And please, throw in your own choices, this is such a perfunctory armful.

Continue reading at Critic Quality Feed

Parallax View’s Best of 2012

Welcome 2013 with one last look back at the best releases of 2011, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.

Sean Axmaker

1. Holy Motors
2. Zero Dark Thirty
3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Margaret (2011 in NY and LA, didn’t screen elsewhere until 2012)
5. Cosmopolis
6. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
7. The Master
8. The Turin Horse
9. Tabu
10. This is Not a Film

Ten more: Amour, Barbara, Deep Blue Sea, Django Unchained, Hyde Park on Hudson, I Wish, The Kid With a Bike, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Magic Mike

My greatest cinematic events of 2012
Hands down the cinematic experience of 2012 for me was the American premier of the complete restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927) with live accompaniment by Oakland East Bay Symphony conducted by Carl Davis. The density of Gance’s ideas, the frisson of his images and experiments in cinematic expression, and the complicated perspectives on the legacy of Napoleon have a weight that is undeniable. And watching the full 5 ½ Napoleon with a live orchestra in a magnificent theater elevates the film to a cinematic experience without parallel, and that experience electrifies the storytelling and imagery.

Local (Seattle) Event: Joe Dante’s The Movie Orgy, one-night-only at Grand Illusion. It was a perfect marriage of film and venue: the tiny, independent house with a storied history and an audience of regulars, and a scrappy compilation movie with some surreal moments and a climax that manages to bring over dozen films into the same narrative universe, if only for this moment. And hey, don’t crowd me, man.

Other published Top Ten Lists: MSN, Village Voice, Fandor

Best of Home Video lists: Top Ten Disc Debuts, Top Five Blu-rays, Top Five TV on Disc Releases, Top Five MOD Releases and Notable Achievements for 2012

Sheila Benson

(as published in Village Voice)

1. Rust and Bone
2. Amour
3. Argo
4. Lincoln
5. Holy Motors
6. The Master
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
8. Life of Pi
9. Quartet

David Coursen

(the first nine in alphabetical order, the last as the film of the—um—year)
Holy Motors, Hugo, Lincoln, Margaret, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Rust and Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, Tabu, Take this Waltz, and La Rabbia: the Rage of Pasolini (“a film released, in what must have been an infinitely less compelling form, in 1963, but listed this year by the National Gallery of Art as a “Washington Premiere” in a form so imbued with greatness it triggered a private pre-New Years Pasolini epiphany”).

Jim Emerson

(as published in Village Voice)

1. Holy Motors
2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
3. The Deep Blue Sea
4. Lincoln
5. Amour
6. Tabu
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. The Turin Horse
9. This is Not a Film
10. The Master

John Hartl

Technically, Kenneth Lonergan’s remarkable Margaret may not have qualified as a 2012 film (a few people saw it in 2011), but the years he spent in the editing room paid off in this story of a high-strung teenager (Anna Paquin) who causes a horrendous traffic accident. The writer-director’s unique focus on responsibility–and its limits–led to the creation of the year’s most haunting and original film. Almost equally affecting were Michael Haneke’s wrenching account of an older couple facing the end of their relationship, Amour, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, about an American personality cult spinning out of control. Among the most playful new movies: Wes Anderson’s tale of romantic runaways, Moonrise Kingdom, and Richard Linklater’s stranger-than-fiction Jack Black vehicle, Bernie. The latter, like Ben Affleck’s self-assured Argo, Steven Spielberg’s painstaking Lincoln, and Kathryn Bigelow’s vigorous Zero Dark Thirty, is based on fact. Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games took a popular young-adult book and made something majestic of it. Northwest filmmaker Jon Garcia’s The Falls, a perfectly cast love story about 20-year-old Mormon missionaries, was the best of several strong gay films.

A second 10: Rust and Bone, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, Keep the Lights On, Barbara, A Royal Affair, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Queen of Versailles, Any Day Now.

Robert Horton

(as published at Everett Herald)

1. Margaret
2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
3. Silver Linings Playbook
4. This Is Not a Film
5. Lincoln
6. The Turin Horse
7. The Master
8. Bernie
9. Searching for Sugar Man
10. To Rome With Love

For the second 10: The Secret World of Arietty, Wreck-It Ralph, The Deep Blue Sea, Cosmopolis, Django Unchained, Holy Motors, Elena, Moonrise Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises, The Grey.

Richard T. Jameson

1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Lincoln
3. Django Unchained
4. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
5. The Turin Horse
6. Silver Linings Playbook
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. Cosmopolis
9. The Deep Blue Sea
10. The Sessions

Mooned by the misbegotten: Les Misérables, Rock of Ages

Other published lists: MSN

Jay Kuehner

(as published on Fandor)

1. Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel)
2. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
3. Neighbouring Sounds/O som ao redor (Kleber Mendonça Filho)
4. In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo)
5. Two Years at Sea (Ben Rivers)
6. small roads (James Benning)
7. Viola (Matias Piniero)
8. O Gebo e a Sombra/Gebo and the Shadow (Manoel de Oliveira)
9. Vers Madrid/The Burning Bright (Sylvain George)
10. Arraianos (Eloy Enciso)

Moira Macdonald

(as published in The Seattle Times)

Anna Karenina
Argo
The Avengers
The Deep Blue Sea
Flight
I Wish
Lincoln
Margaret
Pina
Ruby Sparks

Ten more terrific movies, any of which might have slipped into my first ten on a different day: A Cat in Paris, Bernie, Liberal Arts, The Master, Middle of Nowhere, Moonrise Kingdom, A Royal Affair, The Sessions, The Silver Linings Playbook, Skyfall, Smashed. OK, that’s 11. So be it.

Best 2012 movies that haven’t opened in Seattle yet (but I’ve seen them): Amour, Zero Dark Thirty

Kathleen Murphy

(as published at MSN Movies)

1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Lincoln
3. The Master
4. Amour
5. Holy Motors
6. Django Unchained
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. Silver Linings Playbook
9. The Deep Blue Sea
10. Cosmopolis

Bruce Reid

1. The Turin Horse
2. The Kid with a Bike
3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Cosmopolis
5. The Master
6. Holy Motors
7. This Is Not a Film
8. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
9. Not Fade Away
10. The Loneliest Planet

Andrew Wright

1. Django Unchained
2. Holy Motors
3. Elena
4. Looper
5. Margaret
6. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
7. Argo
8. The Master
9. The Grey
10. Skyfall

Lists of lists:
MSN Movies (lists at end of gallery)
Village Voice (poll and lists)
Indiewire’s Criticwire
Movie City News
Fandor
Time Out London
Keyframe Daily Lists and Award 2012 Index

Polls (no individual lists)
Film Comment
Indiewire Poll
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See the 2012 Seattle Film Critics Wrap at the Frye, with Robert Horton hosting Kathleen Murphy and Jim Emerson, after the jump below.

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Argo and me — the back story

I started to describe why Argo struck me as brilliant and almost unendurable, all at once, but that’s silly. Just drop everything and go.  For such a full-throttle, gripping, movie-goer’s-movie, it has depths that linger — certainly at this house.

I haven’t been writing for a while.  Even before the September 11th attacks in Benghazi, with the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others, I’ve been reading, almost every day, reports from a world that I am intimately connected to, yet necessarily apart from, our Foreign Service.

Most of my friends know that the most far-flung of the three daughters joined the Foreign Service just over three years ago.  She began working in Bogota, came back to D.C. this Fall for training as a Consular Officer and when that’s finished, she goes to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  With, of course, her husband and their three cats, the Tabbies.

At the same time that I followed every test, every setback and surge forward on her blog, I began to browse over at the Tabbies’ lower right-hand column, where she lists other FS blogs she follows.

They are the damndest mash-up imaginable: blogs so dense with acronyms that I don’t venture across their threshholds; ones fuming at a bureaucracy that seems to make things harder, not easier, and ones with pretty imaginative examples of coping calmly with what you and I might see as staggering obstacles.

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A Night Swung Between Two Oscars

The secret of having a fine night watching the Academy Awards is having a horse in the race, and I had two: Meryl Streep, whom I couldn’t bear to see lose again, not after that performance, and Undefeated, a documentary longshot about high school football players in North Memphis,Tennessee, that didn’t stand a chance in a field that stretched from Pina to Hell and Back

Truly deeply deserving Streep

So, understandably, our house echoed with shrieks, after Undefeated’s win. You may remember the bleeping disbelief by one of its pair of young director-editors, Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin, Oscars in hand.

As the extraordinary Manassas Tigers’ coach Bill Courtney says, “Football doesn’t build character; football reveals character.” Undefeated reveals the almost overwhelming personal struggles of three of Courtney’s young black athletes as they move toward manhood, captured by the kind of filmmaking “luck” that comes from being there, day in day out, recording routine  moments and ones of high and sometimes almost hidden emotion.

One of these came on the filmmakers’ first day with Montiel, known as “Money,” a small, speedy offensive lineman and honors student. He took Lindsay and Martin behind his grandmother’s house where he lives, to show them his pet: a tortoise. As he picks it up, explaining gently how its hard shell protects the soft creature inside, we get the first glimpse of the heart on each side of Undefeated’s lens.

If you saw The Blind Sideand think you already know this territory — you don’t. There’s no Sandra Bullock (lord love her) facing genteel opposition as she steps in to change the life of one gifted black player. If Undefeated’s kids see college football as the only way out of their flat-lined lives in this weed-filled, scraggly patch of North Memphis, they can also see the odds as clearly as we can.

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In shock over the Academy’s stats? Not so much.

So, after an 8-month effort of digging, cross-referencing, and prying the news out of agents and publicists that their clients are in the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Los Angeles Times released its bombshell Sunday.

Academy members are:

  • 94% white
  • 77% male
  • 54% over 60 years old

Board members, reportedly surprised by the results, reacted with variations of, “We knew it was bad but we didn’t know it was that bad.”  You might think that a quick look around the room. . . . oh, never mind.

Dig a tiny bit more and you’ll find that only 2% of the membership is under the age of 40; those in their 40s make up 11%, and 25% are in their 50s.  (I know, there’s a rogue 8% “Unknown” missing. . don’t look at me, I only lose glasses.)

Michael Fassbender in 'Shame'

“Uncomfortable,”  “Profound,” “By Mike Leigh” are not words that propel the well over-60-year-old Academy member into a screening. Do you think those same members liked what they saw, when they threw their For Your Consideration DVD of Shame on their home projection system?

Although it’s essentially a noir love story, how well did the unexpectedly violent moments of Drive play in that comfortable Bel Air living room?  What about the knife-edge walked in Young Adult by both Patton Oswalt and  Charlize Theron?  Their (virtual) shut-out in the nominations was a hint. Drive managed one technical nomination, but nothing for its music, let alone its actors, just ask Albert Brooks. On second thought…

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Nobody Does It Better or Morphine Through A Drip?

Before we get into BAFTA, here are a pair of presents.

Looking up from the work at hand — bringing home as many Oscars as possible — a couple of studios have watched what big money PACs have wrought, and liked what they saw: money = influence.  No, no, no, this time it’s a good thing. These featurettes were made in the hope of swaying voters, but they’re shameless fun all the same.  (Okay, the von Sydow piece is truly barefaced and blatant fun, and it diminishes my ardor for him not one scintilla.)   .

Take another brief look at the incomparable Hugo.

Here’s a celebration of the equally incomparable Max von Sydow.

*                           *                          *                        *

I’ve been trying to puzzle out why last night’s BAFTA Awards show went down so smoothly, at least at this house.  Not the awards themselves — a few things to talk about there — but the feeling of the event.

Jean Dujardin and his BAFTA

It may be a certain British take on life in general that seems so appealing. Offer a wild opinion to the kind of Englishman now owned by Colin Firth, and his opening salvo is, “Yes, well. . ” It has to do with reticence, a deep level of wit and intelligence, and the sense — rightly or not –that the person you’re speaking to is as least as quick as you are. It’s so flattering, really.

The show last night seemed to be steeped in that attitude.  It gets on with things. Even thought it’s held at the Royal Opera House, it seemed intimate, certainly compared to whereever  they house the Oscars, where the vastness is always chilling.

BAFTA seems blessedly anti-banter (Aussies excepted), which usually means a single presenter, even a grown-up, who gives a short intro that gets briskly to the point. Although music is recognized, there are no song awards,and thus no music production numbers. Think of the time your life gets back, right there.

If they have a house band, I don’t remember it, but nothing drowns out the winners who, peculiarly enough, have short and sometimes moving things to say. There seems to be the expectation that they will have something to offer, beyond thanks to their wife (first or current), to everyone they’ve ever met in the Industry, to their parents and to the god that made them. And this is an example of the thanks they do get:

Winning the Best Adapted Screenplay for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  Peter Straughan first acknowledged the beginning of The Artist’s mop-up job of 7 awards in all, with, “I’d just like to thank The Artist for not being based on a book.” Then, he took the award for himself and his late wife and co-writer, Bridget O’Conner, whose clear blue eyes had just shone down from the BAFTA clip of artists lost in 2011, saying “She wrote all the good bits, I made the coffee.”

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