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Top 10 movies of 2012

3. "The Master"

Great movies are not always ingratiating ones. There are so many ways in which "The Master," written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and boasting virtuoso, uncompromised performances from a cast led by Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, is a beautiful cinematic object. Its cinematography, by Mihai Malaimare Jr., in the large-frame 70 mm film format, is both sumptuous and unsparing in its detail. The settings, from a Navy destroyer at the end of World War II to an everything-up-to-date 1950s department store to the British church hall where the film's charismatic cult leader sets up shop, are meticulously realized. There's more of course. And yet this is a "difficult" film, because it's about difficult people. At heart, it's about the uneasy truth that all people are difficult, that rage is an all-too-human trait, and that the things we do to deal with that rage, from drinking ourselves insensate to creating a belief system that says all our traumas are rooted in past lives, can maybe scratch an itch a bit but can never really get to the bottom of the unnamable thing that's really eating at us. And that's pretty heavy ... and not ingratiating. Which isn't to say that this masterpiece is without pleasure or humor. It's got plenty of both. But its ultimate, scary power comes from the way it tries to look squarely into the eye of the thing that will not let us be. -- Glenn Kenny

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(The Weinstein Company)

 
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