Thursday, January 17, 2013

Fuck Top 10 Lists: The Best Movies of 2012

I may be a cynical bastard in my real life, but I am a heart-on-my-sleeve optimist when it comes to movies. Don't feel like you saw a lot of great movies this year? Then you didn't try hard enough. I could barely swing a dead cat without hitting something awesome. It was such a kickass year for films that I'm not going to let myself be constrained by the tyranny of a top 10 list. Here are all the fucking movies I thought were great in 2012, because a list of 10 wouldn't cut it.

The Best Films of 2012

What better way to examine the charms and contradictions of small town Texas life than with a gentle dark comedy/drama based on a true crime story that incorporates actual interviews with real people involved in the story but also throws in fake interviews with actors pretending to be real people in the mix, too. Honestly, I have no fucking clue how Richard Linklater conceived of this project, but I'll be damned if it doesn't work like gangbusters. Besides yet again getting career best work out of Jack Black (in a role that both plays to all his strengths while being completely different from anything he's done before), he has crafted a film that takes on dark subject matter with a light touch, that is funny and satirical without being mean, that creates a world that is simultaneously inviting and off-putting, that feels simple and mainstream but contains deep pools of strangeness and mystery. Linklater has long been one of the least showy master craftsmen of his generation, and yet again he conceals great skill and complexity underneath an amiable surface. Once prolific, his output has seriously slowed down in the past 6 or so years, but movies like Bernie are worth waiting for.

Beyond the Black Rainbow
Imagine someone took the only worthwhile 10 minutes from some strange, shitty 80's sci-fi/horror, extracted the plot, stuffed it with hallucinogenic mushrooms and stretched it sloooooooooooowly out to nearly 2 hours and... well, that doesn't quite describe Beyond the Black Rainbow, but it's the sort of movie that defies easy description. It's ostensibly about a girl with psychic powers being held by a batshit crazy doctor in some high tech medical facility, but really it's just about trippy colors underscored by moody, 80's-sounding synthesizers, strange special effects, and the weird evocation of an indescribable mood or feeling. It's like peering into the oversoul of shitty 80's genre films, a version of those films that exists in the back of your mind, beyond logic. Maybe I'm just making it sound like Lava Lamp: The Motion Picture (and that's not an entirely unfair appraisal of the film), but it somehow harvests the accidental surrealism of bad sci-fi/horror, applies some serious filmmaking chops, and turns it into art. Director Panos Cosmatos is son of George P. Cosmatos, who made both seriously cool and seriously shitty action and sci-fi movies in the 80's; Panos has inherited his father's technical skill but married it to a weirdo fucking sensibility to create something new and exciting.

Cabin in the Woods

Let me get my contrarianism out of the way: The Avengers was a lot of fun, but super fucking overrated; it had a lot of snappy dialogue, but that's about it. I love Joss Whedon, I think Buffy is one of the best TV shows ever and that Angel had a pretty amazing run, too (and hell, I seem to like Dollhouse more than even most Whedon fans do), but the guy ain't perfect, and an overstuffed, lightweight Hollywood monstrosity with some great one-liners is still an overstuffed, lightweight Hollywood monstrosity. Yet, we finally did get the Whedon spirit properly translated to film in 2012 for the first time, maybe because this is the first movie to come out of the Whedon camp that isn't a continuation of a TV show or franchise/commercial property. Cabin in the Woods doesn't have any fanbase to play to, it's just a brilliantly conceived horror/comedy that takes a few loving shots at the genre, and has a few wry comments to make about the relationship between audiences and films. Drew Goddard, a long-time collaborator of Whedon's who cowrote the script with him, makes his directorial debut here, and while his filmmaking doesn't excite me much on the technical/visual/audio side of things, he shows himself adept at telling the kind of riproaring, hilarious, smart-assedly post-modern genre stories that distinguished Whedon's TV work.

After an overlong layover in CGI/mocap land, Robert Zemeckis, one of America's finest commercial filmmakers, triumphantly returns to live-action with the kind of movie that gives the mainstream a good name. Like his best work, Flight marries some exciting, blockbustery filmmaking (that plane crash... holy shit) with real, sincere emotion. Denzel Washington gives his best performance in years as an alcoholic commercial airline pilot reluctantly facing his demons. This material could have been shaped into something sappy and feelgood; instead, it examines the notion of redemption in more thoughtful terms than Hollywood is usually capable of. Although it has a mild religious message that surprised me, coming from the man who directed an adaptation of a Carl Sagan book, it's not preachy or sanctimonious; it is compelling, moving, and highly entertaining.

The Grey
This, I was not expecting from Joe Carnahan. Narc was an okay if overrated cop drama; Smokin' Aces tried too hard and ended up underwhelming; I didn't even bother with The A Team because, you know, who gives a shit about some bloated Hollywood remake of a terrible TV show? But The Grey was not the silly action film the trailers made it out to be. Instead, it's a harsh, grim tale of survivalism with a surprisingly emotional, even poetic undercurrent. This is a Manly Movie, yes, but not one full of macho bullshit. A group of men survive a plane crash in the middle of nowhere, are picked off one-by-one by wolves or by the elements, and the ordeal forces one man to come to terms with a conflict within himself. After being saddled with a lot of uninspiring action roles of late, Liam Neeson finally gets another chance to peel back the layers of his unrivaled cinematic masculinity to expose some of the vulnerability, and it's one of his best roles. The Grey tells the kind of nature-as-a-metaphor-for-the-struggle-in-every-man kind of story that Ernest Hemingway or Jack London could have written, and while I wasn't surprised by the skill Carnahan brings to the action of the film, I was surprised by the tenderness he brings to the emotional journey. The Grey also has one of my favorite endings of the year, the kind that chooses to leave the story at just the right moment instead of extending into phony climax. I'm sure the ending frustrated a lot of folks looking for a more standard action film, but it resolves the film's themes in a way both moving and unromanticized, true to the spirit of the rest of the film.

Holy Motors
2012's great big "what the fuck?" of a movie. It could be argued that it's a film about the nature of performance, a film about films, a film about the transition from the analog to the digital era. I don't know. I do know that mostly it's a film about itself, about indulging director Leos Carax's whims, maybe for no better reason than to make something unapolgetically cinematic. And what better reason is there? Art can be intellectual, sure, but it can also be sensual, and Holy Motors is a bizarre, funny, melancholy, perplexing, frustrating, boring, exciting, serious, silly treat for the senses. A man takes on various personas. Kylie Minogue has a musical number, as do a large group of accordionists. Two motion capture artists mime acrobatic sex, which is reenacted by animated monsters. Limousines have whimsical conversations with each other. There is a suburban home filled with monkeys. Let's leave it at that.

The Innkeepers
Though I greatly enjoyed it, I seriously underrated Ti West's The Innkeepers after my initial viewing for no better reason than it wasn't The House of the Devil. HotD may be the high water mark for modern horror films, but that doesn't mean Innkeepers should be punished for only being great instead of being a masterpiece. While The Innkeepers doesn't generate the suspense of West's previous film, it is in some ways the more accomplished film. It is stylistically assured, patient and elegant, and manages to create thick atmosphere without going overboard on the usual audio/visual gimmicks. But the film is also a showcase for West as a writer; the film is really just about two coworkers killing time together, and the relationship he shows is funny, sweet, and just a little sad. Sarah Paxton and Pat Healy are the two most likable, relatable horror movie protagonists as any I've seen, and I know I'm not the only viewer who commented that the film would have remained wonderful even without the horror movie aspects.

Guy Maddin is that Canadian weirdo who makes ironic yet heartfelt, abstract and dreamlike (nightmarish, even) pastiches of oldtimey silent movies and early talkies. His films are like peering into some alternate movie history where film technology never progressed past 1925 and Hollywood decided to hire David Lynch to make all its romantic comedies. His work I've seen has always been hit or miss for me; oftentimes his unique style, so fascinating at first, becomes tiresome at feature length. Yet Keyhole was a bullseye, and for the first time for me, everything Maddin was trying clicked. It's sort of a mashup of old gangster movie and horror movie tropes and imagery, if they showed movies in hell. I can't think of a better actor to anchor this than the perennially underrated Jason Patric, who looks like he could have been a 1930's screen icon but is no stranger to the weird. This replaces The Saddest Music in the World for my favorite Maddin movie, packing a potent mixture of the weird, funny and creepy.

The Loneliest Planet

A young couple, traveling through Georgia (the country) take a long mountain hike with a local guide. Things are normal, and nothing dramatic occurs, until one scary moment when something hard to explain is revealed, and the dynamics of their relationship changes in ways subtle but unmistakable. Not much "happens" in The Loneliest Planet other than the couple (including, hubba hubba, Gael Garcia Bernal) and the guide walking through picturesque scenery, killing time with the kind of amusing and mundane conversations people normally have. And yet so much is communicated about these people, about their lives, how they see the world and how they relate to each other. Part of this is due to the low key but expressive performances of the three, but also due to Julia Loktev's sensitive, unhurried direction. A lot of folks don't dig these kind of movies where there's not much "plot" and long stretches go by without much dialogue or action, and if done wrong even a pretentious twit like me can find it tedious. But Loktev knows what she's doing; this is a film about the way the small details of everyday life sometimes can paint a bigger picture and tell you more about the characters than dramatic histrionics can.

Magic Mike

Sort of a companion piece to Steven Soderbergh's The Girlfriend Experience, which also told a post economic meltdown tale of young people using both their ambition and their bodies to chase that dollar, Magic Mike is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It promises Channing Tatum performing elaborate strip routines (and delivers), but then also gives a surprisingly thoughtful character study that doesn't shy away from some darker themes. Like Flight, this is a great example of what a good artist can do within the mainstream. It's a fun summer comedy, a stylish and sexy dance movie, but also an actor's showcase and insightful essay on modern America. Soderbergh often likes to go for show-offy, stylistic exercises, but when he dials it back a bit as he does here, you can really see his solid technical chops; if nothing else, I thought Magic Mike was one of the best looking, best staged movies of 2012.

The Master

I've had mixed feelings about Paul Thomas Anderson's output after his first two, wonderful films. When he came on the scene, he was the prodigiously talented wunderkind who married the flashy technical skill of Martin Scorsese with the ambitious, interlocking storytelling of Robert Altman. But his style and excess was already getting tired by the time Magnolia came around, and since then he's been bouncing around, trying to develop his style into something new. And I think his style finally crystallizes in The Master, which maintains the ambition and some of the dramatic bombast of his early work, but brings in a new found maturity in visual style that is more gorgeous and powerful while being less in-your-face, along with more rich ambiguity. The Master isn't really the Scientology expose everyone was expecting. Instead, it's a sad and mysterious film about Freddie Quell, a deeply strange and damaged man, and his relationship with a cult leader who seems to both need to control Freddie and... just plain need him. Those frustrated by The Master's seeming elusiveness are advised by me, as the Coen bros once put it, to "embrace mystery." And hell, who needs a clear cut "point" or "message" when the film creates such a palpable sense of longing and sadness. I arranged this list alphabetically because I don't see the need to rank these films any more than I already have; that said, if I had to pick a film from 2012 that most haunted me, it would be this one.

Moonrise Kingdom
Once I accepted the fact that Wes Anderson was set in his ways and was, basically, going to make the same movie over and over again, I started enjoying him more. Moonrise Kingdom might just be his best since Rushmore, which (perhaps not coincidentally?) was also his last film about coming-of-age. Characters in his films tend to come in two forms: precocious children trying to act like adults, and immature adults still mentally trapped in their shitty childhoods. This can grow tiresome, but this time around he manages a warm and funny representation of both groups, getting great work out of the young and old cast alike. (And who knew Bruce Willis would fit so perfectly into this universe?) That, matched with Anderson's ever expanding visual imagination, makes for the rare twee "indie" dramedy that's not only tolerable, but delightful.

Not Fade Away
David Chase's 60's rock 'n' roll coming of age movie hits all the expected story beats of your typical baby boomer nostalgia nonsense, but brings a bit of a darker, more sardonic attitude and a willingness to take some stylistic chances. What else would you expect from the creator of The Sopranos? It captures the excitement of the era, for sure, along with a lot of great rock and roll, but Chase sees his characters with both affection and a cutting sense of satire; this isn't some That Thing You Do-esque romanticizing of an era. This story of a small town rock and roll band may (or may not) be on the kids' side, but Chase isn't sparing us their flaws or their fatuousness, and there are no illusions about the fact that they aren't actually a very good band. It's an entertaining but not simplistic look at the time, that teasingly ends with a scene that deliberately evokes Antonioni before adding in a strange, delightful twist.

Red Hook Summer
My vote for 2012's most underrated film. Spike Lee's best film since at least 25th Hour looked in previews like an unremarkable coming of age movie, but it's much more. Lee's biggest flaw is often his lack of focus; he's got a lot he wants to say and do, but often it doesn't seem like all his ideas should be put in the same movie. But this is a case where his many ambitions coalesce perfectly. Red Hook Summer is a coming of age movie, yes, but also spiritual companion to Do the Right Thing, a questioning look at the nature of faith and hypocrisy, an essay on the state of modern America, an evocation of a certain time and place in New York, and more. And best of all, Lee still takes the kind of chances (both in his style and his story) that I love him for, willing to go on little flights of fancy to make a point, or to upend your feelings about certain characters. Religion does come out to be the dominant theme in the film, and I'm honestly not 100% sure how Lee feels about it, but that seems like part of the point; I don't always agree with Lee's outspoken opinions, but damn if the man isn't great at starting a conversation.

Searching for Sugar Man
This type of crowd-pleasing documentary is not normally the sort of thing I flip for, but when it works, it works. Framed as sort of a mystery, Searching For Sugar Man tells the stranger-than-fiction story of how an obscure, failed American folk musician became a cultural icon on the other side of the world... without even being aware of it. First the film solves the mystery of how in the hell something like this could even happen, and then it introduces us to the man himself, Sixto Rodriguez, who the film paints warmly and with complexity, while still wisely leaving leaving him something of an enigma.

Silver Linings Playbook
The best crowd-pleasing, feel good movie of 2012, but don't let that fool you. This is still a David O. Russell film, and even if he's still trying to prove to Hollywood that he can play nice, his genius still lies in whacked-out, manic energy. Bradley Cooper gives a unexpectedly perfect performance as a bi-polar fuck-up trying to put his life back together after getting out of a mental institution. This would normally be the material of maudlin drama, but Russell finds empathetic humor in Cooper, his equally screwed up family and his budding attraction to a woman maybe even more damaged than he is. No one captures both the terror and hilarity of life spiraling out of control quite like Russell, and here he brings us another heartfelt comedy on par with his Flirting With Disaster and I Heart Huckabees.

This is 40
As someone who completely adores Judd Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin, I've always felt his promise as a director never quite lived up to his debut, even as he frequently scored as a producer. No more. He avoids the (accidental?) sexism of sorta-prequel Knocked Up and the soul-crushing misery of Funny People and finally succeeds to making the hilarious, poignant, serio-comic epic he's been shooting for. If you've seen any of Apatow's previous films, nothing here will exactly surprise you: it's another long comedy with a large supporting cast, lots of subplots heading in every direction, a semi-improvised vibe with the occasional reliance on sitcom plotting. What makes it stand out are the characters and performances, most notably from Apatow's real-life wife Leslie Mann, who takes her hilariously shrill, bitchy character from Knocked Up and fashions her into a funny, sometimes difficult but ultimately lovable woman. (And finally Apatow gives much of the funniest material in the film to the female characters). There are a lot of movies about mid-life crises (I think middle-aged people find it more interesting than the rest of the world does), but Apatow's blend of crude humor and heartfelt emotion helps this one hit the sweet spot.

This is Not a Film
Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been banned by his government from directing any films for 20 years. After being released from prison, he is now on house arrest and unable to leave the country. So he invites a friend over to film one day of his mundane life and allow him to explain what his next film would have been about. This would be unspeakably depressing if it weren't for the way the film paints modern, domestic Iranian life with a certain deadpan humor, and approaches Panahi's ordeal with a certain world-weary fatalism. It's a unique and touching documentary... or is it? There is something so perfect and poetic about the way This Is Not a Film ends that the events may not be exactly spontaneous, and Panahi may be giving a subtle middle-finger to the people who stole his life and work from him.

The Turin Horse
Bela Tarr's The Turin Horse is a hard sell for most folks not on the director's wavelength. It is a slow, dreary, ugly slog through the life of a poor farmer and his daughter as they set about doing mundane, daily tasks like washing and eating potatoes. Day in and day out, their routine is the same, and I can't exactly blame anyone in the audience who would buckle under the crushing tedium. Yet, slowly but surely something sinister starts bubbling under the surface, and by the end this seemingly uneventful film has become terrifying, and downright apocalyptic. The gorgeously ugly black and white photography and Tarr's penchant for long, elaborately staged shots evoke an unbearable, oppressive world gone to hell. It may not be the most exciting story of the year, but it is undoubtedly one of 2012's major aesthetic achievements.

Zero Dark Thirty
As an emotional story, I could use a little more personal interest and a little more life (I much prefer Kathryn Bigelow's intimate approach to the war on terror in The Hurt Locker to the epic, long view she takes here). As a political statement, I think the film tries not to tell the audience what to think, admirably tries not to spare the messy details, but doesn't show us enough of what we don't already know to start much of a conversation. (A more cynical person might accuse the film of strategic ambiguity; after all, we wouldn't want to offend any potential paying customers). So maybe I'm not completely ecstatic for Zero Dark Thirty the way some have been, but I'm not going to deny that it was one hell of an exciting procedural. This is over 2 1/2 hours of pure, forward momentum, turning the hunt for Bin Laden into a complex and nerve-wracking thriller. I'll be honest, I think I prefer Kathryn Bigelow the action movie director to Kathryn Bigelow the Oscar winner, but her technical and storytelling gifts are in full effect here, and you're not going to see many more compelling, highly watchable films any time soon.

Oh but wait, there's more. Not every movie is a home run, but we still need to celebrate the triple-plays. The following movies may not reach the levels of excellence that the above films did, but are awesome, must-sees none-the-less.

The Next Best Films of 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man - What seemed like the year's most superfluous films (a new Spiderman origin film only ten years after the last one) turned out to be one of 2012's most welcome surprises, thanks in no small part to a perfect cast and some exciting action sequences.

Argo - Although Gone, Baby, Gone remains, by far, my favorite of Ben Affleck's directorial works, Argo is a highly entertaining, slick Hollywood thriller that doubles as a love letter to the artifice of movies and as a metaphor for the unsung heroes behind the scenes of our favorite films.

Casa De Mi Padre - An inspired, single-minded work of genius. Will Ferrell plays a Mexican, speaks in Spanish, and plays it completely straight, along with a cast equally skilled at not winking at the audience, deadpanning through an absurd melodrama. The most unique comedy of the year.

Damsels in Distress - A welcome, long overdue return for Whit Stillman, who give us his most stylized and delightful comedy to date.

The Dark Knight Rises - Not the punch in the gut, instant classic that The Dark Knight was, but a highly satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

The Deep Blue Sea - Gorgeous, witty melodrama that finds Rachel Weisz in top form as a depressed woman in postwar London reeling from her breakup from the man whom she left her husband for. It sounds dreary, but it ain't; for a tearjerker about some somber shit, it's full of vigor and humor.

Django Unchained - Inglourious Basterds set the bar so unreasonably high for QT that this almost couldn't help but feel insubstantial in comparison. But lightweight it may feel at times, that doesn't take away from how entertaining the damn film was.

Footnote - An uncomfortable, sorta comedy/drama from Israel about rival father and son Talmudic scholars doesn't really sound like my bag, but this is an observant, emotionally brutal work of satire that's about people, not religion.

Headhunters - This white knuckle thriller pushes the thrills and brutality past the realm of the ridiculous and into brilliant, delightful dark comedy.

The Hidden Face - This offbeat Columbian thriller is almost Almodovarian in the deviousness of its plot twists, here where a seeming ghost story turns into something far crazier.

I Wish - Another charmer from Koreeda Hirokazu, whose films are technically impeccable, easily accessible and yet tap into all sorts of complex emotions.

Killer Joe - As far as I'm concerned, Friedkin and Betts should stay collaborators until the old guy kicks the bucket; after the horrifying Bug, here is a wonderfully grotesque and cynical dark comedy that plays like a parody of stereotypes about the American South.

Let the Bullets Fly - Gloriously over-the-top, ceaselessly clever Chinese Eastern/Western, Action/Comedy epic.

Life Without Principle - Johnnie To takes on the financial crisis in the form of an off-the-wall semi-thriller of interlocking stories.

Michael - Harrowing, deadpan tale of a mild-mannered man who keeps a little boy locked up in a room in his basement for sex. Although not particularly graphic, this is not one for those with delicate temperaments; it will rip your soul out.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia - This meditative, haunting art-crime film about the search for a dead body was one of the year's most atmospheric films. I almost gave this the benefit of the doubt and put it on the Best list, but I think I need to see it again to fully suss out my feelings.

Paranorman - Highly entertaining animated children's horror/comedy and winking love letter to horror movie nerds, with just a touch of sadness, makes it feel like the kind of movie Tim Burton is always trying to make but only occasionally pulls off.

The Raid: Redemption - Breathless, bone-crunching action film may lack the elegance of the director and star's previous team-up, but makes up for it with nonstop kinetic energy.

Red Lights - Skeptics unite! Rationality bumps heads with the unknown in this provocative, perfectly cast thriller that will delight and piss you off no matter what you believe.

Resident Evil: Retribution - I could never defend this as a good movie, but I think I need to take a hard look at myself, and finally admit that I don't hate the Resident Evil films, in fact I love how ridiculous and terrible they are. Provided about as much fun as I had at the movies all year.

The Road - Not the Cormac McCarthy adaptation, but a richly atmospheric Filipino horror film that I thought packed some real scares in it's first part, and some good twists and turns down the, uh, road.

Savages - So long as we accept that Oliver Stone is playing nice from now on and probably doesn't have another JFK up his sleeve, I can appreciate his latter-day work for what it is. In this case, a wickedly fun crime/thriller only marred by the casting of two vacant, charisma-voids in the lead roles.

Seven Psychopaths - The film I most wanted to be on the Best list, Martin McDonagh's follow-up to the great In Bruges is like 85% brilliant, a hilarious and endlessly creative riff on movie violence, that unfortunately botches the much of the final act, especially the major confrontations the whole film has been building to. Luckily, it rallies for an incredible ending and post-script.

Skyfall - The best of the Craig-era Bond films, methinks, which brings back more of the fun of classic era Bond without tipping over into the excesses and silliness of the worst of them. And finally, after like 7 of these fucking things, Judi Dench is finally given some good material to work with.

The Tall Man - Pascal Laugier's follow up to his pretty awesome but also pretty overrated Martyrs displays a similar knack for keeping the audience off-balance, while bringing in a more elegant visual style, a stronger emotional edge and more room for nuance. It also strongly suggests that I have been seriously underrating Jessica Biel as an actress for all these years.

Wanderlust - Though not a one-of-kind masterpiece like David Wain's Wet Hot American Summer, or the laff-a-minute triumph like his Role Models, Wanderlust is still classic Wain, jam packed with jokes that rewards multiple viewings, with all sorts of weirdness bubbling under it's seemingly mainstream surface. Don't miss the "Bizarro Cut" extra feature.

Special Shout Out

I wasn't sure it really fit, but I didn't want to close this post out without acknowledging Everything Is Terrible, the found-footage artists who comb through hours of god awful VHS footage to cull the weirdest, most delightfully shitty things they could find. They released two fantastic "features" this year, Doggie Woggiez Poochie Woochiez (which claims to be a remake of The Holy Mountain using only footage from shows and movies about dogs) and the Holiday Special. Both are a little under an hour, and are basically crazy, unrelated footage shaped into video collages of the worst aspects of (mostly American) modern culture. They are by turns hilarious, surreal, trippy, fascinating and more than a little depressing. I love it.

And just to continue to prove how much good shit I saw in 2012, here's another fuckton of movies I would heartily recommend:

After Porn Ends

The American Scream
The Avengers

Get the Gringo
God Bless America
Goodbye, First Love
The Hunter
Life of Pi
Miss Bala
Mother’s Day
Neil Young Journeys
Oslo August 31
Rec 3
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Sound of Noise
Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie
21 Jump Street

And What the Hell, My Favorite Performances of the Year:

Most Improved: 
Jessica Biel, The Tall Man
Bradley Cooper, Silver Linings Playbook

Best Comeback:
Matthew McConaughey, Killer Joe (and to a lesser degree, Bernie and Magic Mike)

Holy Shit, You Fucking Went There:
Samuel L. Jackson & Leonardo DiCaprio, Django Unchained

Slumming It and Loving It:

Ethan Hawke, Sinister
Salma Hayek, Savages

The Kind of Bullshit the Oscars Love, Only This Time I Liked It Too:
Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln
Denzel Washington, Flight

Absurdly Dedicated Performances:
Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
Will Ferrell, Casa de Mi Padre

No Idea Who the Fuck You Are, But Now You're On My Radar:
Denis Levant, Holy Motors
Annalynne McCord, Excision
Aggeliki Papoulia, Alps

We Knew You Funny, But Let's Not Overlook Your Dramatic Chops:
Jack Black, Bernie
Leslie Mann, This is 40

Please Continue to Keep Doing What You're Doing:
Liam Neeson, The Grey
Sigourney Weaver, Red Lights