The Year in Film 2012: Scenes and Performances


Joaquin Phoenix’s lip curls in ‘The Master’ deserve their own Oscar.

Moonrise Kingdom’s Scoutmaster Randy Ward’s camp inspection: Again it’s difficult to divest only one scene from this compact and perfect love story. But nothing made me laugh harder and smile bigger than the perfectly paced and composed move through the Khaki Scout camp.

—Robert Ham

Sam and Susie dancing to Francoise Hardy in Moonrise Kingdom.
—David Ehrenstein

…the dream sequence (or is it?) from the final quarter of Berberian Sound Studio [dir. Peter Strickland]. The only suitable past-twelve-months comparison (in terms of art-direction mastery) is the opening twenty minutes of Moonrise Kingdom (dir., Wes Anderson).
—Jonathan Marlow

The enthralling, surprisingly emotional church tower scene in Moonrise Kingdom.
—Craig Phillips

Jesse Ataide
1. Solomon Glave and Shannon Beer, Wuthering Heights
2. Chiara Mastroianni, Beloved
3. Thure Lindardt, Keep the Lights On
4. Carleen Altman, The Color Wheel
5. Céline Sallette, A Burning Hot Summer
(Bonus: House of Pleasures)


Michael Atkinson
1. Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
2. Denis Lavant, Holy Motors
3. Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
4. Nina Hoss, Barbara
5. Ebizo Ichikawa, Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai


A woman wakes up and discovers she is cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible wall in ‘Die Wand.’

Sean Axmaker
1. Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
2. Rachel Weisz, Deep Blue Sea
3. Michael Fassbender, Prometheus
4. Nina Hoss, Barbara
5. Denis Lavant, Holy Motors

Miriam Bale
1. Kentucker Audley Bad Fever, also Sun Don’t Shine
2. Nina Hoss Barbara
3. Greta Gerwig Damsels in Distress
4. The kids in Moonrise Kingdom
5. Cindy Silver, Exit Elena

The department store scene in The Master: Unfortunately nothing else in that dully pompous dud of a film matched the wordless several minutes of the camera elegantly follows a store model as she wanders through a bustling 1950s department store—but then, hardly anything else I saw on the screen this last year did either.
—Jesse Attained

The audit scene (The Master): Two characters/actors, one hammering the other until the latter is reduced to a pile of psychic dust. Joaquin Phoenix’s lip curls deserve their own Oscar.
—David Fear

The Master’s “This is a window; this is a wall:” Choosing a scene from this strange and beautiful masterwork is tough but this weird, key moment when Freddie Quell is put through a form of psychological and physical abuse (of his own choosing, I might add) is compelling and oddly terrifying.
—Robert Ham

The fight scene between PS Hoffmann and Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, the best male scrap since Eastern Promises.
—Craig Phillips

Haywire’s opening scene with Gina Caruso and Channing Tatum: A tough five minutes perfectly sets the tone for what is to be an uncompromising, brutal, and absolutely thrilling action film.
—Robert Ham

Fassbender vs. Carano, Haywire.
—Glenn Heath Jr.

So many truly unforgettable sequences in the one-of-a-kind dream that is Holy Motors, in which Denis Levant practically quantum-leaps through other lives but I’ll chose the one at the end which I won’t fully spoil for those who haven’t seen, but it leaves our actor protagonist at “home” with an unlikely family of seemingly distant relatives.
—Craig Phillips

Putting on the mask at the end of Holy Motors: For all the dazzling visual pyrotechnics and potentially indelible scenes that Leos Carax and Denis Levant endlessly serve up, it is the quiet moment at the conclusion when Édith Scob put on the mask she once wore in Eyes Without a Face—collapsing time, erasing age, looping cinematic memory—that made the hairs on my neck stand on end, and it haunts me still.
—Jesse Ataide

The mastiff walking down the aisle of a movie theater, a rapt audience on either side staring ahead into the light of the screen, in Holy Motors.
—Sean Axmaker


A plan crashes spectacularly in Robert Zemeckis’s ‘Flight,’ with Denzel Washington.

Livia Bloom
1. Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
2. Channing Tatum, Magic Mike
3. Louise Grinberg, 17 Girls
4. Jessica Chastsain, Zero Dark Thirty
5. Igi (Jafar Panahi’s daughter’s pet iguana), This Is Not a Film

Brian Darr
1. Greg Cala, Amity
2. Lola Créton, Goodbye First Love
3. Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom
4. Deannie Yip, A Simple Life

Steve Erickson
1. Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
2. Judi Dench, Skyfall
3. Ann Dowd, Compliance
4. Kara Hayward, Moonrise Kingdom
5. Denis Lavant, Holy Motors

David Ehrenstein
1. Jack Black, Bernie
2. Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea
3. Jean-Louis Trintignant, Amour
4. Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty

The scene where the father picks up his daughter at a party in Holy Motors.
—Miriam Bale

Kylie Minogue singing “Who Were We?” in Holy Motors.
—David Ehrenstein

The “intermission” (Holy Motors): In a film filled with euphoric moments, this scene stands out as the apex of bliss: Denis Levant leads an army of accordion players a la ronde. I will never talk trash about this instrument again.
—David Fear

The opening of August and After: Nathaniel Dorsky’s elegy begins with an all-too-brief glimpse of George Kuchar’s familiar, smiling face bathed in warm sunlight.  Kuchar’s image disappears completely thereafter, but his absence—used to signify his sad passing in late 2011—continues to haunt the collection of beautiful images that follow. A moving tribute to one august auteur by another.
—Jesse Ataide

…a reflection of clouds as the sunlight gradually reveals a mannequin on the other side of the window in August and After (dir., Nathaniel Dorsky).
—Jonathan Marlow

Sizing up “the wares” in The House of Pleasures: The slow, sensuous pan across the women lined up and posed for selection for a potential patron was for me the gorgeously unsettling apex of the year’s most gorgeously unsettling film.
—Jesse Ataide

Channing Tatum’s “Pony” performance in Magic Mike: I’d been waiting my whole life for that scene!
—Jesse Ataide

Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) tries to join the pub sing-along in The Deep Blue Sea, but as much as she enjoys the communal expression, she doesn’t know any of the songs. Her expression slips between joy and panic at being adrift in a culture she doesn’t get, and a glimpse at the impossibility of the relationship she has just given up her entire life for.
—Sean Axmaker

Whether it’s better than others discussed this year or not, one amazing and devastating performance that I have not seen discussed is Annika Wedderkopp, the little girl from Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt. While it’s hard to say if this was truly a brilliant performance, a triumph of direction, a lucky confluence of personality and part, or a combination of any or all above, it is as vivid a creation as Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, and more piercing and honest and open a character. She isn’t a force of nature. She’s a little girl beset by anxiety, unable to express herself, and suddenly in the middle of a terrible situation that spins out of control. The gravity of it all comes clear to her, and it hurts her almost as much as it does Mads Mikkelson’s character.
—Sean Axmaker

Marilyn Ferdinand
1. Denis Lavant, Holy Motors
2. Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
3. Patrick Wang, In the Family
4. Jude Law, Anna Karenina
5. Julie Delpy, 2 Days in New York

Cheryl Eddy
Top men: Denis Lavant, Holy Motors; Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Top women: Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty; Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Smashed; Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
Top animal: Igi the iguana, This is Not a Film

David Fear
1. Denis Levant, Holy Motors
2. Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
3. Kim Kold, Teddy Bear
4. Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
5. Joaquin Phoenix, The Master

Robert Ham
1. Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
2. Michael Fassbender, Prometheus
3. Anne Hathaway as Selina, The Dark Knight Rises
4. Jack Black, Bernie
5. Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike


‘Moonrise Kingdom’ offerred a variety of perfectly executed scenes, including a camp inspection perfectly paced for comic effect.

Pi and Richard Parker floating in their lifeboat in Life of Pi, adrift in a visually wondrous sea and freed from the film’s clunky framing device.
—Steven Jenkins

“Bag head” argument among Django Unchained‘s mounted lynch-mob posse, for being yet another reinvention of the classic Quentin Tarantino “royale with cheese” moment—in which a scene of violence (or intended violence) is prefaced by an utterly banal (and hilarious) conversation or argument.
—Cheryl Eddy

“I have shoes bigger than this car!” Arnold Schwarzenegger to Bruce Willis, while cramming his bulk into a SmartCar during the final chase scene in Expendables 2.
—Cheryl Eddy

The Hotel room scene in Keep the Lights On. In which Thure Lindhardt holds Zachary Booth’s hand as he gets plowed by a hustler.
—David Ehrenstein

The asphyxiation scene in Amour in which Jean-Louis Trintignant brings Emmaneulle Riva’s suffering to an end.
—David Ehrenstein

“I’m the motherfucker who found the place…sir.” (Zero Dark Thirty): Thank you, Jessica Chastain, for giving us this year’s “You had me at ‘hello.’ “
—David Fear

The majesty of god-like beings, looking like marble statues come to life, sacrificing body and soul to seed a planet with life, in the opening minutes of Prometheus. What a promise of a cosmic vision that the film intermittently delivers between scenes of B-movie stupidity.
—Sean Axmaker

I Dreamed a Dream (Les Miserables): Or: The Passion of Anne D’Hathaway. Look, what can I say? I am only human.
—David Fear

The Paperboy’s first meeting of Charlotte Bless and Hillary Van Wetter: The best part of an otherwise messy film. It’s been a long time since Nicole Kidman has been this filthy and alluring; and John Cusack has never been this sleazy on camera.
—Robert Ham

Bin Laden raid, Zero Dark Thirty.
—Glenn Heath Jr.

Antonionian stroll through Los Angeles, Not Fade Away.
—Glenn Heath Jr

Killing Them Softly’s heist scene: A master class in how to use camera moves and action sparingly, yet still create a world of tension in your viewers.
—Robert Ham

Matthew McConaghey’s opening house-rules speech in Magic Mike.
—Dennis Harvey


Apichatpong Weerasethakul offered stunning images this year with ‘Mekong Hotel.’

Brandon Harris
1. Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
2. Gina Carano, Haywire
3. Curtis Snow, Snow on tha Bluff
4. Channing Tatum, Magic Mike
5. Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
6. Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master
7. Salomon Hernandez, Artificial Paradises
8. Robert DeNiro, Silver Linings Playbook
9. Matthew McConaughey, Magic Mike
10. Solomon Glave, Wuthering Heights

Dennis Harvey
1. Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
2. Anne Marsen, Girl Walk // All Day
3. Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy
4. Ann Dowd, Compliance
5. Thure Lindgardt, Keep the Lights On

Glenn Heath Jr.
1. Jafar Panahi, This Is Not a Film
2. Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thiry
3. Nina Hoss, Barbara
4. Anne Marsen, Girl Walk // All Day
5. Thure Lindhardt, Keep the Lights On

Steven Jenkins
1. Ann Dowd, an actress I’d previously seen only as a nun in an episode of Louie, gave far and away the finest performance I saw this year as Sandra, the ChickWich manager in Compliance (my favorite American film of the year as well). It’s thrilling to see a total pro so brilliantly interpret and bring to life such a complex character. I’ve thought about her for months and don’t think I’ll ever forget her. The rest of the cast is nearly as great.
2. Joachin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, mano a mano in The Master
3. Denis Lavant, Holy Motors
4. Philippe Torreton, Guilty

The gypsy visit in The Turin Horse. I could just as easily pick any of the thirty shots comprising The Turin Horse, but the medium shot of the gypsies descending on the Ohlsdorfers well is the one that stays with me.
—Ian Miller

Noomi Rapace’s emergency auto-abortion in otherwise disappointing Prometheus.
—Dennis Harvey

Explanation of Texas’ distinct regional cultures in Bernie.
—Dennis Harvey

Every-monster-on-the-loose climax in The Cabin in the Woods.
—Dennis Harvey

Opening Horse Ride, The Turin Horse.
—Glenn Heath Jr

Plane crash, Flight.
—Glenn Heath Jr.

…the discovery of the wall in Die Wand/The Wall (dir. Julian Pölsler).
—Jonathan Marlow

Jackson Parker, aka “the crying boy,” moved to tears by James Murphy’s transcendent rock ‘n’ roll in Shut Up and Play the Hits, because that’s how great art and overwhelmingly emotional live-music experiences make you feel whether you’re 16 or 45.
—Steven Jenkins

Paul Rudd improvising in the bathroom mirror in Wanderlust.
—Dennis Harvey

Anders, alone in a bustling café, overhearing auditory snippets of the life he’ll soon be leaving in Oslo, August 31, featuring the year’s best sound design among so much else.
—Steven Jenkins

An ornate theater transformed into a raucous hippodrome in Anna Karenina, as our heroine’s pulse quickens and unjustly maligned director Joe Wright’s imaginative approach to the literary warhorse takes win, place and show.
—Steven Jenkins

Thaddeus Stevens returning home to his beloved with very good news in Lincoln.
—Steven Jenkins


When Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi’ loses its clunky framing and concentrates and boy and beast, its world fascinates.

The climax and denouement of Kill List. When watching it a second time, I found myself desperately hoping for a different outcome—knowing full well what was about to transpire.
—Ian Miller

…the meandering paths of jet-skiers in the closing moments of Mekong Hotel (dir., Apichatpong Weerasethakul).
—Jonathan Marlow

Jackie, The Queen of Versailles asking a Hertz car rental agent what the name of her driver will be.
—Craig Phillips

though I have only seen stills and not the film itself, seemingly just about any moment from Leviathan (dir., Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel).
—Jonathan Marlow

The “black pool” scene in Beyond the Black Rainbow. Cosmatos takes great pains to create a specific mood in Black Rainbow, making the shift in tone, color, and content in this scene utterly jarring.
—Ian Miller

The opening montage of Lana Del Rey’s music video for “Ride:” There’s one thing for certain about pop music’s most love-her-or-loathe-her figure of 2012—she has an intoxicating cinematic sensibility. The most effective melding to date of the lovely lo-fi videos that launched her to YouTube fame and the big budgets she now commands, there’s nothing particularly about “Ride” that should appeal to me—banal biker iconography, tired “white trash” tropes, a torridly “poetic” voiceover with a tendency toward the cliché—but somehow they all meld together to make one of the most striking series of images and sounds I experienced anywhere in 2012.
—Jesse Ataide

Washing the dishes (Amour): In which you can’t enter the afterlife until all of your chores are done. Death, where is thy Palmolived sting?
—David Fear

Muddy water splashing a windshield at the end of Beyond The Hills. Perfection.
—Steven Jenkins

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