A funny thing happened to the Gay Guru of Cinema on his way to the repertory house this Fall. He stopped by the New York Film Festival and, quite surprisingly, found himself engaged by the current state of the cinema. So, please, forgive him a slight detour as he reveals his favorite films of 2012 with the caveat that he still has a number of films to catch up with.
1. Amour: While always appreciative of the rigorously precise nature of Michael Haneke’s direction in earlier films such as The Piano Teacher and The White Ribbon, locating a beating heart in the Austrian director’s works had always proved to be an elusive goal for the Gay Guru. Not so in Amour, a clinical but yet still emotionally devastating portrait of a well-to-do octogenarian couple experiencing the simultaneous mental and physical decline of their very beings. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, veterans of the French New Wave that emerged in the late 1950s to forever change the cinematic landscape, etch an indelible portrait of the ravaged couple and are – in all likelihood – the primary culprits in providing Haneke’s film with the warmth that the Guru had up to now been unable to locate in his other works. While firmly secure in Amour’s status as the best film of 2012, the Gay Guru can only sit back now and wait to see if the film proves the glorious exception to the rule.
2. Holy Motors: Four months after first seeing Leos Carax’s Holy Motors, the term “bat-shit crazy” still springs immediately to mind when the Gay Guru ponders how best to describe it to people. Unfolding over the course of a single day, the film follows the sole passenger of a limousine ride through Paris who morphs into a series of widely disparate and completely unconnected characters — a homeless woman, a family man, and a psychotic dwarf-like freak to name just three — and, in turn, proceeds to act out vignettes from those characters’ lives. As a film that is more visual poem than narrative-based drama, it’s not one that would typically wend its way onto the Guru’s “Best in Show” run-down but there is just something so unique here that it cannot be ignored. Certainly not everyone’s cup of tea but, should you be one of the Guru’s more adventurous followers, you may just want to take a leap of faith on it.
3. The Deep Blue Sea: Simply recalling the many wonderful parts of Terence Davies’ only-somewhat-successful 2000 adaptation of The House of Mirth, the classic Edith Wharton novel of a woman caught in a web of hypocrisy spun by New York society clearly suggested to the Gay Guru that the director would be the right choice to direct The Deep Blue Sea, an adaptation of Terrence Rafferty’s 1952 play dramatizing the story of a woman caught in a web of hypocrisy spun in post-war London. And, indeed, the Guru was right. But, while that earlier piece was seriously hampered by the oh-so-mannered lead performance of Gillian Anderson as the ensnared Lily Bart — and, yes, the Guru does realize that his opinion here is in the distinct critical minority — Davies’ latest adaptation is single-handedly elevated to the upper echelons of 2012′s cinematic offerings by the remarkable performance of Rachel Weisz. Her Hester Collyer — by turns proud, vulnerable, pathetic — is one for the ages. That the Academy somehow still didn’t find space for her in their Best Actress line-up is the year’s greatest injustice.
4. Zero Dark Thirty: Kathryn Bigelow made history in 2010, becoming the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director for her work on The Hurt Locker. While that film was for many their first introduction to her, the Gay Guru has been watching closely while Ms. Bigelow crafted fascinating genre pictures since the early 90s, with such titles as Near Dark, Point Break, and Strange Days to her credit. Her new film – and for the Guru’s money, the best American film of 2012 – is yet another genre exercise, this one a remarkably dense procedural about one female CIA agent’s obsessive ten-year search for Osama bin Laden in the wake of the September 11 attacks. While that search occupies the majority of her film’s nearly three-hour running time, Ms. Bigelow opts to bookend it – beginning her film with a startling segment that tackles head-on the CIA’s acknowledged use of torture and ending it with a riveting reenactment of the military raid on the bin Laden complex. The former, predictably, has provoked criticism from those who view Bigelow’s restrained approach to the material — her calling card as a director — as a missed opportunity to forcefully condemn the practice of torture. But the Guru thinks that’s missing the point entirely. Like any artist worth her salt would, Bigelow simply allows the drama to unfold unfettered from personal bias while asking her audience to make up their own minds.
5. Lincoln: Like this nation’s first president George Washington, the Gay Guru cannot tell a lie. When Steven Spielberg emerged from behind the curtain at Alice Tully Hall to introduce the secret preview of his “almost completed” Lincoln at this year’s New York Film Festival, the Guru felt a small pang of disappointment. While certainly a must-see title on any serious moviegoer’s year-end list, there was no denying that other as-yet-unreleased films whose names had been bandied about as possibilities for this year’s secret screening – Django Unchained, Les Misérables, and Zero Dark Thirty – would have sent the Guru into more sustained spasms of ecstasy. Then, after the lights went down and an opening scene unspooled that exhibited Mr. Spielberg at his most cloying, the Gay Guru could only take a deep breath, locate the nearest exit sign to plot his escape route if necessary, and gird himself for the worst. But then, like the proverbial Phoenix, what quickly emerged from the ashes of that initial misstep was a bracingly intelligent political thriller that is, arguably, the most subdued film of Spielberg’s storied career. For that, one must certainly credit playwright Tony Kushner’s intelligent pruning of A Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin’s behemoth source material, down to a singular storyline. Credit too Daniel Day-Lewis who – after his fire-and-brimstone turn in There Will Be Blood – executes a complete 180 here with an extraordinarily quiet, yet no less effective, lead performance. And in bringing that majestic calm to the film’s core, Day-Lewis allows his supporting players – most notably Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones – to shine in more showy turns. Throughout his career, collaboration has always been an important key to Spielberg’s work and in Lincoln it has clearly reaped significant dividends.
The Gay Guru of Cinema’s Acting Prizes of 2012:
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln“); runner-up: Christoph Waltz (“Django Unchained“)
Best Actress: Rachel Weisz (“The Deep Blue Sea“); runner-up: Marion Cotillard (“Rust and Bone“)
Best Supporting Actor: John Goodman (“Flight“); runner-up: Jason Clarke (“Zero Dark Thirty“)
Cameo of the Year: James Badge Dale (“Flight“)