Our critics rank the best of 2012 in film, stage and music, and name our 10th Actor of the Year
2012 was the year mainstream movies got gay and found God.
Strangely, that duo ended up not being so unusual. But the depth to which characters in film embraced religious feelings and same-sex feelings (not usually in the same film) was noticeable. From the Catholic guilt about sex in The Sessions to the spiritual journey through three major religions in Life of Pi to the 16th president’s conviction that God-given rights are just that in Lincoln to the salvation of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, a higher power figured into numerous films this year. In fact, if one theme outstripped it, that would be gay issues.
And not just in niche festival films, or played for laughs as asinine comic relief a la The Hangover. In addition to the $100 million epic Cloud Atlas (co-directed, not insignificantly, by a trans woman) to the queer supervillian in the James Bond blockbuster Skyfall to gay coming up in such notable releases as The Paperboy, On the Road, Bernie and even ParaNorman, it seems as if the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the approval of same-sex marriages in nearly a quarter of the states had an impact on Hollywood. To which I say about-frickin-time. (Until this year, only four films nominated for best picture Oscars— Kiss of the Spider-Woman, Brokeback Mountain, Capote and The Kids Are All Right — have had fully-rounded gay characters at the forefront of their stories … and none has won.)
But this fertile year resulted in tons of good movies — a banner season, to be sure. (add in some 2011 releases that only opening in Dallas after Jan. 1, and the list grows even more; some are even included.) Here, then, are our Top 10 films of the year, in ascending order:
10. Keep the Lights On. Ira Sachs’ rangy portrait of gay life at the tail end of the last millennium, focusing on a sexually aggressive filmmaker, has all the elements of melodrama but surpasses them with a clear-eyed unsentimentality and strong leading performance by Thure Lindhardt.
9. In the Family. Patrick Wang’s measured, lovely drama, so unrushed and attuned to the rhythms of life, played just a few weeks in the Metroplex, but the memory of this show about a gay Asian-American (played by Wang) whose partner dies leaving him the lone parent, plucked the heartstrings without ever becoming mawkish. All “gay films” should be this true and dignified.
8. The Paperboy. Lee Daniels’ follow-up to Precious didn’t get as much love from critics or audiences, but this steamy potboiler with a bracing message about race, violence and the closeted past was a showcase for actors Matthew McConaughey and Nicole Kidman, and a revelatory one from Zac Efron.
7. Jiro Dreams of Sushi. A meta-documentary, this chronicle of the artistic temperament of Jiro Ono, heralded the world over as the greatest sushi chef the world has ever seen, is not merely for foodies, but for anyone enraptured by the beauty (and cost) of being better than anyone else at what you do.
6. On the Road. Director Walter Salles and screenwriter Jose Rivera re-teamed after their thought-provoking travelogue The Motorcycle Diaries and accomplished the otherwise impossible: Making not merely a serviceable film from Jack Kerouac’s notoriously unfilmable Beat Generation novel, but a great one that crackles with the pulse of jazz.
5. Django Unchained. Quentin Tarantino’s best film is another rollicking re-writing of history — this time, the American South in the ante-bellum era. Christoph Waltz steals the show, but Jamie Foxx is damn sexy — a fact that registered in the lusting glances of fey plantation owner Leonardo DiCaprio … at least until things explode into a bloodbath.
4. Skyfall. Yes, a Bond film really was one of the top five movies of the year — not so surprising, with John Logan coming onboard as a screenwriter and Oscar winner Sam Mendes shaking up all the elements of 007 and rejiggering them respectfully but inventively. Oh, and did I mention having an openly gay villain?
3. Cloud Atlas. A massive undertaking — one of three “unfilmable” books that succeeded with beauty, vision, guts and a dazzling show of special effects that never overwhelm the actors (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant) but rather give them a platform on which to stretch their skills playing a host of characters all interconnected by the tide of time.
2. Bernie. The quintessence of the Texas comedy, this hilarious true story about a small-town, seemingly gay mortician who becomes the world’s most sympathetic murderer is Richard Linklater’s chef d’oeuvre, a spot-on comedy with a transformative performance by Jack Black.
1. Life of Pi. Ang Lee’s mystical adventure tale, equal parts inward-looking reverie and Treasure Island actioner, delves into the dream state between reality and memory, survival and true living. Gorgeous, bold and technically unsurpassed, it turned movie-going into a form of secular church-going.
Nos. 11-20: How to Survive a Plague, Zero Dark Thirty, Hitchcock, Blues for Willadean, First Position, A Late Quartet, Prometheus, Lincoln, I Am a Ghost, Argo.
Memorable performances: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty; Jack Black, Bernie; Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, Hitchcock; Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field, Lincoln; Garret Hedlund, On the Road; Christopher Walken, A Late Quartet; Patrick Wang, In the Family; Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt and Isaac Leyva, Any Day Now; Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained; Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables; John Hawkes and Helen Hunt, The Sessions; Quvenzhane Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild; Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe, Magic Mike and The Paperboy; Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea; Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy.
10 worst films of the year: 1. Silver Linings Playbook; 2. Rock of Ages; 3. Battleship; 4. Bachelorette; 5. Premium Rush; 6. A Cat in Paris; 7. We Need to Talk About Kevin; 8. Not Fade Away; 9. Man on a Ledge; 10. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 28, 2012.