Last Updated: March 3, 2014By Tags: ,

2012–What a bad year it was for U.S. cinema, as far as quality goes. The films were lackluster enough to make me want to tear up my press card and train for the New York City marathon. Thankfully, I was able to weather this sticky storm of boredom by riding out the year in France, world capital of cinephilia and malodorous cheeses, where citizens can access seriously good cinema and evil brie-type concotions.

Where did we go wrong? Did the cycle that launched cracklingly with “No Country for Old Men” five years ago finally reach its underwhelming conclusion (in which case things will only get better from here and we ought to get the champagne out early)? And why did films like “Bucky Larson: Born to be a Star,” The Hangover Part II” or “Arthur” even get made? As someone who follows the film industry, I know the answer. It’s movie biz economics, for you. And yet, springing smelly-cheese-type movies upon audiences is an unfair practice.

The year-end movies that a lot of people are expecting, and which may be possible contenders for Academy Awards, are of course “The Hobbit” and “Django Unchained,” the new Tarantino. This list will be updated accordingly, if needed.

Of note, Paramount and Universal Pictures celebrated their respective centennials this year, an enticing reminder of the endurance of American-made cinema.

Here are the movies we considered winners this year (a description followed by the Screen Comment Critic’s initials was taken directly from the review).

Argo (possible Best Picture contender)
Besides its erroneous historical referencing and the special sauce denouement in which Ben Affleck’s character rejoins his estranged family and love is back in our lives, “Argo” is hands-down the best film this year, a mature project by people (Affleck, in collaboration with George Clooney) who take their audience seriously.

Amour (possible Best Foreign film contender)
It’s about what a long-married retiree will do out of love, a tragic premise if there ever was one. “Amour” gets told using the familiar sobering tone of gradual devastation that often typifies Haneke’s opus. “Amour” won the top prize at the Cannes Festival and recently at the European Awards, among others.

Holy Motors
This was directed by Leos Carax and stars Denis Lavant, with Eva Mendes making a brief appearance. This film would probably be never shown in Film School. “Motors” makes a very clumsy attempt at a premise but if you were to consider cinema purely based on instinct “Holy Motors” belongs here.

The Intouchables (Possible Best Foreign Film contender)
France’s biggest B.O. success since the Sixties got lost in translation somewhere on its way to the multiplex. It’s just as well, the Weinstein Company is producing the remake, to be released in late 2013. We’ve been schooled by the French in how to make a drama funny without the cheesy sentimentality that bogs down American scripts.

Farewell, my Queen
“Benoît Jacquot gives us a beautifully-acted, intelligent and moving masterpiece, a film that makes history leap off the screen” (SP).

Seven Psychopaths
“Seven Psychopaths” is a weird, inventive, and gut-bustingly funny movie, the second installment to “In Bruges” (CY).

The Master (possible Best Picture contender)
“Exceptional performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix (their mere presence would’ve been sufficient) and P.T. Anderson’s focus on the fascinating struggle of their characters make “The Master” a noteworthy 2012 film” (CY).

The Dark Knight Rises (possible Best Picture contender)
“… a successful and engrossing movie, its story thick, layered and understandable, its best moments feel like a foreboding prophecy of the moment” (KB).

Take this Waltz
“Seth Rogen gives his quietest, subtlest performance yet, proving his mettle for drama. It’s chilling watching his character switch, with no warning, from buffoonish roughhousing to hypersensitivity. And Silverman is a marvel as the impetuous, yet wise, sister-in-law (SW).”

Beasts of the Southern Wild
“… has the power to burst in your mind and bury itself in your heart for weeks to come. A well-deserving winner at both Cannes and Sundance, this triumph of a movie is as fierce and moving a film as I can remember seeing in years” (CY).