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December 25, 2012

Slate: The 10 best movies of 2012

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

"Lincoln."

Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner's warm, literate portrait of the 16th president in the last few months of the Civil War (and of his life) is like a treacle sandwich with the bread in the middle. But that bread is so substantial and so delicious that it's easy to forgive the movie its sentimental opening and tacked-on, reverential coda. And while the cast as a whole is superb, Daniel Day-Lewis' quiet, meditative, deeply lived performance as Lincoln catapults him into the acting stratosphere.

"The Master."

Paul Thomas Anderson's sixth film, a kind of twisted homosocial romance between a nascent cult leader and a damaged Navy vet who comes into his orbit in the first years after WWII, was the only movie this year so nice I reviewed it twice. OK, maybe "nice" isn't the best descriptor for a film that plumbs the darker recesses of both masculine psychology and mid-20th-century American culture. But "The Master" is original, startling and bold, from the glorious 65mm cinematography by Mihai Malaimare Jr. to the unsettling soundtrack by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix give performances that are somehow at once mythically impenetrable and alive with earthy detail. I also love that, even after three viewings, there are parts of "The Master" whose final "meaning" continues to elude me: that nude sort-of-dream-sequence around the piano, for example, or Hoffman's mysterious valedictory "Slow Boat to China" serenade.

"Once Upon a Time in Anatolia."

With its gradually unfolding murder-investigation storyline, starkly music-free soundtrack, and nightscapes straight out of a Rembrandt painting, Nuri Bilge Ceylan's bleak Turkish procedural makes for a demanding but lavishly rewarding two-and-a-half-hour watch. In terms of sheer visual and narrative sophistication, this may be the most accomplished film I've seen all year — there isn't an aesthetic detail it doesn't get right. If it doesn't get a best foreign-language film Oscar nomination, "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" could easily disappear from sight for American audiences. Don't let it.

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