It’s okay to mourn- 2012 was a long time ago, and we’re well into 2013, which is not the year that 2012 was. Indeed, 2012 was the best year for pop culture in a long time- at least since 2009. There wasn’t a runaway favorite in the music scene like Adele’s 21 in 2011, but that’s because there were so many great offerings from 2012. There wasn’t a clear favorite in Hollywood like…well, there wasn’t a clear favorite in 2011 either, was there? But that was for lack of quality, whereas in 2012 we were inundated with quality movies the entire year. Ah, the good old days. Excuse me while I take out my teeth and reach for my prune juice.
2012 was a banner year, and what better time to look back at it than 9 months later? No, seriously. You don’t think so? That’s okay. Honestly, if I could, I’d do these Bummys lists right at the beginning of the year, but when January rolls around, I still have so many movies to watch and so much music to listen to, I can’t make a year-end list. So I have to settle for what in our culture of immediacy amounts to a retrospective, akin to those montages at the Oscars for the celebrities that passed away that year. We look back in fondness on the historic year of 2012; may the entire cast of Cloud Atlas rest in peace.
As far as performances go, 2012 was the year of the actress. Whereas we knew who would win Best Actor from the moment Abraham Lincoln was born, the actress field was a tantalizing competition filled with talent both young and old. And some of those great actresses weren’t even nominated for anything! I know Quvenzhané Wallis was awesome (literally, she had me in awe and near tears at some points), but we couldn’t find room on the ballot for actresses who were legitimately acting, rather than 6-year-olds who were being 6? Whatever. The ballot is only so big, which is why you won’t find Wallis on mine, as well as other people that I desperately wanted to include but didn’t match up with my objectively amazing choices. Read on:
Top Performances of 2012
Oh, to be a kid again. At the ripe old age of 24, I’m in the perfect position to remember my high school years with the appropriate combination of nostalgia and scorn. But Emma Watson’s Sam brought up neither of those feelings in me. Instead, she reminded me of the real girls that were my friends in high school. They had their moments of melodrama* but were tinted with the genuine pain that inevitably comes between childhood and adulthood. The fact that Watson pulled this off after playing Hermione Granger eight movies in a row- a job that would numb anyone’s acting chops- made this simultaneously the most underrated and most valuable performance of the year.
I’m sure you could argue there were more subtle performances last year, but watch Skyfall again and tell me there’s not something magnificently layered about Bardem’s villain. It wasn’t his first performance of pure evil; in fact, Silva may not even be pure evil. Maybe opportunistic would be more accurate, or vengeful. The first conversation between Silva and Bond solidified him as a terrifying psychopath. The entire movie that follows hinges on Silva committing atrocity after awful atrocity, and Bardem grounds it all in a convincing pathos. Or maybe Bardem is just pure evil.
Is it possible to separate any Jennifer Lawrence performance from the outsized personality that’s taken over the pop culture word? For me, it’s hard to remove the image of Lawrence tripping over her dress on the way up the stairs to accept her Best Actress award at the Oscars. I already loved her as an alternative to the Hollywood fakeness, but that slip was an overwhelming confirmation of her humanity. It’s impossible for me to view any performance of hers with an unbiased mind. But even so, her role in Silver Linings Playbook will be remembered not only as Lawrence’s coming-out party but as one of the great, all-time romantic comedy turns. Watching her Silver Linings Playbook arc is like watching a cat playing with string. The cat is acting crazy, but if you know cats, it’s just that: acting. Sooner or later, the cat is going to show you that it’s a couple steps ahead of you, something Lawrence does a million times over as Tiffany. She had already proved to be one of the smartest young actresses in the business; in Silver Linings Playbook, she proved to be the smartest actress period.
Forget the Method stories about disappearing into his roles on set. Forget the deserved Oscars he’s already won (for My Left Foot and There Will Be Blood). Forget even that Lincoln was directed by a director with one of the most reliable records in Hollywood. When Day-Lewis is on screen in Lincoln, it’s not really about strategy or performance or art. There are two things that above all else make Lincoln such a decisive portrait of our greatest president: the beyond intelligent screenplay and Day-Lewis. I’d call it an embodiment, but we don’t really have a way of knowing what Lincoln was like. So I’ll say instead that the closest we’ll ever come is watching Day-Lewis inhabit the man so fully that he comes off as a human being rather than just an icon. The clip is bad quality, but the scene is essential nonetheless.
Top Performances of 2013 (So Far, in alphabetic order)
Gael García Bernal, No: This Chilean film was underseen, which is a shame, because it’s divine, especially Bernal’s anchoring turn as a prodigious adman.
Chadwick Boseman, 42: Could anyone else have played Jackie Robinson? Sure. Could anyone else have brought the proper mix of restraint and frustration to the role that Boseman did? Probably not.
Carey Mulligan, The Great Gatsby: Ever since The Education, Mulligan has delivered one knockout performance after another. Her turn as Daisy is no different, and perhaps the best she’s given yet, since she’s asked to carry so much of the movie on her shoulders.
Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels’ The Butler: I did not expect to be blown away by The Butler (sorry, Warner Brothers…Lee Daniels’ The Butler: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire), but I was. This is in large part due to Winfrey basically backhanding the audience with her lived-in performance as Gloria Gaines.
Most Anticipated Performances of 2013 (in alphabetic order)
Sandra Bullock, Gravity: Her Oscar-winning performance in The Blind Side is a tad overrated (not her fault), but her part in Gravity has the potential to be the best thing she’ll ever do. It’ll be all her the whole movie, a la James Franco in 127 Hours. And no actress is more likable, so I doubt we’ll be anything but over the moon for her.
Chloë Grace-Moretz, Carrie: Grace-Moretz is one of the best teenage actress around. The trailer is terrifying. The stage is set for a powerhouse performance.
Hugh Jackman, Prisoners: I’m always game for more Jackman. His Jean Valjean was pitch perfect last year; I can’t wait to see him take on a more modern role that doesn’t involve adamantium claws.
Joaquin Phoenix, Her: In The Master, Phoenix was a live wire with convincing moments both normal and neurotic, but the movie was two aimless to provide a workable foundation for him and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Her looks like it will mirror The Master’s boldness but give Phoenix the right vehicle for his understated genius.
*Didn’t we all.