Top Ten Films of 2012
Here we are again. At the end of another year. A year that inevitably will be described as the best/worst/middling year ever by the hyperbolic internet machine. All I can say is that for me 2012 was a sensational year of film watching. It was the most interesting and successful year of film since maybe <insert random year here>.
The following bunch of titles are the films I have personally enjoyed most over the last 12 months. They are not objectively 'the best' (although deep down you know they are), they are simply the films that left me with an excitement for cinema that keeps me doing what I do. Some have been released, some haven't, some may never be. Let's get going shall we.
A complex drama that uses a hysterical teenage girl as a cipher for a post 9/11 America, Margaret unbelievably sat on the shelf for years unreleased yet is one of the richest, most complex and interesting American films made in the last decade. Anna Paquin is magnificent here, reminding us of what a great actor she is and making us all lament the wasted years she has spent in that True Blood junk.
This deceptively sophisticated film not only gave us Jack Black’s best performance ever but also reminded us that Richard Linklater is still one of the strongest filmmakers of his generation. Alternating fake, documentary style interviews (which fooled several major US critics) with staged sequences, Linklater created one of the most interesting and complex true crime films I’ve ever seen. Avoiding crass caricatures Bernie is a miracle of a film that navigates tonal shifts I didn’t even know were possible, creating sympathy for a man who killed a woman but never trying to advocate an uncomfortable ethical position. I still cant believe Linklater pulled this film off.
8: THE AMBASSADOR
I’m a big fan of documentaries that tread a fine line between truth and fiction and Mads Brugger’s journey into the heart of darkness to find diamonds is a brilliant example of a morally dubious piece of gonzo cinema.
“Call it what you will – fiction, document, journalism, practical joke, or even simply a how-to guide for acquiring blood diamonds – The Ambassador is a grand achievement. Brugger fills his film with so many fascinatingly absurd and evocative moments (from a cleverly constructed, tense visit to an illegal diamond mind to the strikingly surreal scene where he plays whale sounds for his Pygmy assistants) that the entire experience is magnetically captivating. Sure to be divisive, The Ambassador is one of the most fascinating films of the year.”
7: THIS MUST BE THE PLACE
I’m not generally a big rewatcher of films. Something really great will usually get two viewings from me before I move on. I watched This Must Be The Place four times in 2012 and can easily see myself returning to this bizarre piece of work quite often over the coming years. Paolo Sorrentino’s first English language film is so brazenly creative it holds more interesting ideas than a dozen regular films. Every five minutes it feels like it becomes something else, as if someone truly insane is behind the camera. No other film this year (except maybe Holy Motors) exuded such an untapped joy in the potential of cinema and Sean Penn’s performance is from another world. This is my catnip.
I guess it’s a testament to the skill of Haneke as a filmmaker that a film I consider one of his more simple and straightforward efforts is still in my top ten. Amour is one of the best examinations of death and dying I have ever seen put to film. It’s an experience that makes you want to run out and hug those that you love. Cold, calculating but still amazingly human, this is an exceptional film.
“Haneke turns Amour into an endurance test for the audience, immersing them in the claustrophobic confines of the couple’s apartment and never letting us leave. The entire film (except for a magnificent moment near the beginning) is set in this single space, and despite issues of religion, euthanasia and morality skirting at the borders of the story, Haneke is determined to keep you experientially in the moment. His cold, objective mise-en-scene masterfully places you in the position of conscientious observer.”
5: KILLING THEM SOFTLY
Despite a lukewarm response in Cannes and horrific numbers in the US, Killing Them Softly seems to be appearing on almost every local critic's best of the list. Aussie director Andrew Dominik’s take on the 70s crime film is pretty damn ballsy. Using the backdrop of the 08 US presidential election, Dominik slams his point home with a sledgehammer, framing the criminal underworld within the rotting carcass of a failing capitalist culture. Ray Liotta gets a beating that acts like karmic retribution for a beating he gave in Goodfellas and Brad Pitt utters the punchiest closing line to any film in any year. This is a major piece of cinema.
4: THE COMEDY
It was only a matter of time before someone made a sharply incisive film that examines the modern hipster phenomenon but never would I have guessed it turn out this brilliant. The Comedy is a hugely significant film that paints an entire generation as emotionally stunted and borderline sociopathic. Made by a bunch of hipsters this is a starkly prescient film that needs more attention. It’s also quite funny.
“Rick Alverson‘s The Comedy is a caustic critique, not only of modern hipster culture, but also a wider generational inability to connect with any experience on an authentic or emotional level. This is ironic detachment taken to its logical conclusion and while I found the film brilliant, I also suspect many will see it as irredeemably futile.”
3: THE MASTER
Paul Thomas Anderson is my favorite living filmmaker so I’m preprogrammed to love his work but I never expected this film to be so… wilfully obtuse. Continuing his trend towards a more intuitive form of cinema, PTA made a film that holds its cards so close to its chest that it’s borderline impenetrable. What does it all mean? I’m still not sure but no other film burrowed its way into my mind in 2012 like The Master. For days after my first viewing it was constantly in my thoughts, and slowly it morphed into this lovely memory symbolising something truly special. All I can say for sure it that The Master has my favorite platonic, sex scene of the millennium in Hoffman and Phoenix’s first processing conversation.
2: BEYOND THE HILLS
I really didn’t like this directors prior film. I’m not a fan of the new wave of Romanian cinema that has bloomed over the last decade. I wasn’t looking forward to a 150 minute drama set in a monastery. Needless to say this two-fisted punch in the face of a film came completely out of the blue. This is a devastating masterpiece that left me with a feeling of utter exhaustion… in the best possible way.
“Beyond The Hills simultaneously critiques the irrational and supernatural aspects of religious belief and also the lackadaisical acceptance of modern society to allow and nurture these subcultures. There is a hopeless cloud hovering over proceedings, and as it reaches its hysterical and unsettling crescendo the sense of inevitability is rife.”
1: HOLY MOTORS
Leos Carax’s long overdue return to feature filmmaking is everything I want from cinema packed into the one film. It’s absurdly hilarious, joyously ecstatic, quietly mournful, deeply meaningful and also manages to slip in a great chimp gag. Somehow Carax beats the odds and manages to simultaneously make a post-modern deconstructive text that’s also deeply emotional and unironically authentic. This is a film from another dimension.
“Holy Motors is bursting at the seams with ideas and possibility, reveling in the simple pleasure of the human form. It’s not a mere random detail that he bookends the picture with shots from Étienne-Jules Marey’s 19th century studies of humans in motion. Carax reminds us of the purity in joyously and sensorially engaging with an aesthetic experience.”
THE BACK TEN
CABIN IN THE WOODS
It’s not often we get a film so conceptually fresh and energetic as this. For an old horror fan it was a joy to see a film so tailored to fans. It may have been a bit too alienating for general audiences but hey, thems the breaks.
For the first half hour of Cosmopolis I was in hell. I don’t walk out of movies so I knew I was stuck watching this absurdly static, insular film to the end but then something strange happened and a wave of trance-like electricity swept over me. It swiftly became a hypnotic experience with a perfect ending. Cronenberg is trying something really fascinating here and serious cinephiles should pay attention. A tremendously intriguing experience.
The best action film I have seen in years. I saw this twice in two weeks and loved it both times. Seen on a big screen turned up loud with a group of friends and good drinks will get you set for a damn memorable experience. Kinetic action cinema at its most pure.
SEARCHING FOR SUGARMAN
This film left me with such an elated, warm fuzzy feeling. Structured like a mystery, this doco works best when you know the least. Watch it as soon as you can and I guarantee you will leave wanting to hunt down a Rodriguez album.
JEFF WHO LIVES AT HOME
Against all the odds, the Duplass brothers make I film that I unreservedly loved despite their annoying stylistic tics. This kind hearted film uses Jason Segel’s talents to spin one of those everything is connected, day in the life, stories into a gentle, hilarious and human tale. My genuine feel good highlight of 2012.
If Errol Morris had a meth-addicted son then this is the film he would make. The Imposter recounts one of the most amazing stories I have ever heard piling twist upon twist until virtually every talking head cannot be trusted and the film collapses into a glorious shitpile of truth and lies. Documentary cinema at its most exciting.
THE WARPED FOREST
“The Warped Forest opens in black and white with a droll conversation between three Japanese men sitting around drinking sake. Very swiftly the film shifts into colour, and also what appears to be an alternate dimension. In this bizarro reality, money (which appear as chestnuts) is stored in one’s belly button; small, Lilliputian-type characters interact casually with regular sized people; guns that resemble aspects of the male anatomy are bought by young girls; trees in the shape of women bear a sweet, alcoholic fruit that appear as a cross between an apple and a vagina; and all the while, a giant upturned pyramid hovers over the village like some supernatural observer.Needless to say, The Warped Forest is weird, but it’s a good kind of weird. What begins as a parade of relentless, Dadaist non-sequiturs slowly turns into a very clever – and tightly structured – play on the idea of blurring dreams and reality.”
Gina Gershon – best character introduction of 2012.
Juno Temple is a star.
Matthew McConaughey is the future of cinema.
I still eat KFC.
The funniest film of 2012. Bar none. Haven’t laughed that much in a film for quite a while.
Also a brilliant film.