'The Master' named 2012's best in Sight & Sound critics' poll

Posted by · 4:00 pm · December 2nd, 2012

The awards season has already begun to some extent, but the critics are about to add their collective voice to it: tomorrow, the New York Film Critics’ Circle announce their picks for 2012’s best, kicking off a long, long run of critics’ awards that won’t finish until January. So it’s apt that Sight & Sound magazine have neatly foreshadowed this turn of events with their own annual critics’ poll — one of the largest and most internationally inclusive of the lot.

And though you may already have heard this, it’s good news for “The Master” — one of the films, as it happens, that has the most to gain from the upcoming bevy of critics’ honors. Paul Thomas Anderson’s remarkable Scientology-inspired dual character study has acquired a reputation for being a difficult, divisive beast — but it still united enough opinion to score the most votes in S&S’s survey of over 90 critics, academics and programmers. It wouldn’t surprise me to see it emerge similarly triumphant with certain leading US critics’ groups, reasserting its status as a potential Oscar player.

“The Tree of Life,” it’s worth noting, topped the S&S list last year, while “The Social Network” was top dog in 2010 — so this marks a third straight year that a critics’ cause from the US has won out in the British magazine’s poll. Other poll winners include “Brokeback Mountain” (2005), “Hidden” (2006), “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (2007), “Hunger” (2008) and “A Prophet” (2009). All in all, not bad company to be in. 

The full top 10 (or top 11, rather, due to voting ties at the lower end) reads as follows:

1. “The Master” (Paul Thomas Anderson)

2. “Tabu” (Miguel Gomes)

3. “Amour” (Michael Haneke)

4. “Holy Motors” (Leos Carax)

=5. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (Benh Zeitlin)

=5. “Berberian Sound Studio” (Peter Strickland)

7. “Moonrise Kingdom” (Wes Anderson)

=8. “Beyond the Hills” (Cristian Mungiu)

=8. “Cosmopolis” (David Cronenberg)

=8. “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

=8. “This Is Not a Film” (Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmaseb)

I didn’t get to vote in this year’s poll, though my contribution would only have furthered the lead held by the two films at the top. While I fully expected to see “The Master” come out on top, I’m more surprised — and absolutely delighted — to see such extensive support for “Tabu,” the Portuguese semi-silent celebration of movie-love and love itself that I’ve been championing as one of the year’s best since the Berlinale in February. You can expect to see both on my personal Top 10 list toward the end of the month.

Next up are the two leading critics’ pets of Cannes 2012, “Amour” and “Holy Motors” — the latter having recently topped the list of S&S’s across-the-Channel equivalent, Cahiers du Cinema. As usual, Cannes fare dominates the list: after the top two (which premiered at Venice and Berlin), all but one of the selections played the Croisette.

The exception is a film I’m particularly thrilled to see here, and the one British pick on the list. “Berberian Sound Studio,” Peter Strickland’s ingenious homage to 1970s Italian Z-horror, has had to fight for its critical standing this year. Many feared a misfire after the film was turned down by Cannes and other festivals, but word of mouth built rapidly after a quiet debut at Edinburgh in the summer. After a shower of British Independent Film Award nominations, this placing seals its status as one of the year’s crowning achievements in British film. (If you’re interested, check out my Variety review.)

The full array of individual lists will be available on the magazine’s website soon, while a selection of them are in print. In case you were curious, Armond White’s list is thoroughly respectable, including the “The Deep Blue Sea,” “Holy Motors” and “Damsels in Distress,” while Kenneth Turan balances mainstream Oscar bait selection (“Lincoln,” “Silver Linings Playbook”) with “The Gatekeepers,” “Amour” and “No.” Here’s hoping their fellow US critics show similarly broad taste in the coming weeks.

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