I am not going to say what this year in film has been about, because for all I know this year could have been about anything. One theme that keeps on popping up is legacy, as the memories that we leave behind for families, friends or in some cases, entire communities, expressed in smaller art-house films (Monsieur Lazhar, Searching for Sugar Man), to big blockbusters (Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises). There is also a contingent that want to question how we can function within truth and lies in a society that is entirely grey, full of agendas (A Royal Affair), how lies seek to destroy what little peace there was left (Blackthorn), and how sometimes it can be truly be lost, even what is truly real (Martha Marcy May Marlene). Or you just annihilate both in hope it will turn white, by way of red (Dredd). In the end, what I have written could be a great summary, but that could be ignoring many other films.
Speaking about ignoring other films, I will have to note that I have sadly missed seeing The Master, Amour, The Hunt, Rust and Bone, Ruby Sparks, Shame, Barbara, Holy Motors, Barbarian Sound Studio, and countless many more.
Casa De Mi Padre (d. Matt Piedmont, 2012) – A parodic homage to Mexican cinema, this loony comedy decides to branch out into interesting readings (amid clichés) of family, American/Mexican relations, and the way cinema works. Complementary film to Grindhouse and Black Dynamite.
The Descendents (d. Alexander Payne, 2011) – Though not as strong as his other work, this film’s breezy nature, Hawiian soundtrack, and George Clooney’s subtle performance, allows its harder truths sink in further as it goes along, showing the restoration of a family after a prolonged emotional breakdown.
Headhunters (d. Tyldum, 2011) - Portraying itself as a distinctively bland thriller in the poster campaigns, this film is a tour-de-force of black comedy, tending deep into outright silliness. A spirited examination into corporate culture and masculinity.
Even The Rain (d. Bollain, 2010) – Following the events of 2000 Cochabamba protests, this fictional tale is an indictment of exploitation in South America, the effects of globalisation, the metaphorical and literal use of water. This film also explores the moral quandaries, giving a film characterisation far beyond just preaching, following a film crew, filming a not so dissimilar story about 1600s conquistadors nearby.
ow, the list:
10.) Safety Not Guaranteed (d.Trevorrow, 2012)
Usually, romantic comedies of this nature annoy. With an unusual premise (time traveller seeks companion, gets one out of an intern at a magazine), it would have been woefully precious. However, with the seemingly effortless acting by Mark Duplass and Aubrey Plaza, this gentle science fiction film’s brevity (though nearly derailed by a cliché sub-plot between a former-beau and her journalist superior), the film gives true emotion out of two broken people, both looking to correct themselves as they train genuine affection. The film’s funniest conclusions are played out with well-phrased witty barbs, but with enough naturalism that it feels organic rather than situational.
9.) This Must Be The Place (d. Sorrentino, 2011)
A shaggy-dog of a film, the film decides to combine three, very separate films together underneath a powerhouse performance by Sean Penn, as a down-and-out Robert Smith-alike called Cheyenne (his name based on Siouxsie and the Banshees) The first film shows him living in Dublin as a tax-exile, living among the locals and visiting Tesco Supermarket to get a frozen pizza, confusing boredom and depression. The film proceeds to also fit in a revenge film against a Nazi persecutor of Cheyenne’s dad, to connect to a man that hated him, and a road-trip movie not unlike Paris, Texas, encountering David Byrne along the way and plays Ping Pong. The film is unwieldy and is sometimes tonally uneven, but with an emotional through-line this ambitious coming-of-age story of a 50-year-old teenager, the film’s heart is in the right place through, with large quantities of humour and pathos, as well as a killer soundtrack.
8.) The Turin Horse (d. Tarr, 2011)
This film is not for everyone, nor a Sunday afternoon family film, not by a long shot. This is a film that literally requires your attention throughout, as Béla Tarr’s last film is portraying a different type of apocalypse. A brutal and punishing two and a half hours, most of it is spent on repetitive tasks of a late 18th century Call Man and his daughter, living on a farm with their horse, eating only boiled potatoes. The only context we have of their lives before this point, is a fable which Nietzsche’s insanity is caused by a beating of a horse. When the horse stops working due to melancholy, the next six days, in which the well dries up, they cannot cook, and even light disappears, we see what can only be described as pitch-black evil, as life is literally being sucked out of these two. Life without art? The world’s evil over-pouring out of a full cup? We cannot be sure what this all means, but it is captivating, and hypnotic to watch with some of the greatest black and white photography ever committed to film.
7.) Seven Psychopaths (d. McDonagh, 2012)
Compared to Adaptation, the film does not aim to have a cohesive whole or designed to be an examination of a particular character. Rather, it is about the act of storytelling, that its unwieldy nature comes from the sparks of different stories messily collapsing into each other. By aiming directly at the audience, the film decides to blind-side different audiences, as each character is themselves the audience, all searching for what they want out of the plot. With great supporting performances by Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell and a deliciously witty screenplay, the film does not aim just to be a meta-tale, but to give the audience enough ammo for their own interpretation (let alone questioning the audience themselves), as this film is literally searching for the meaning of… meaning.
6.) Nostalgia For The Light (d. Guzmán, 2010)
This documentary is astounding, seemingly able to do something that I was amazed it could do. To take two separate, equally captivating topics and make a documentary about them without each of them becoming overbearing is a feat itself, but there is a lot more. These two topics collide in one location: Atacama Desert, Chile, a section of the world which has literally no moisture. One story, with the clearest skies imaginable, astronomers explore the galaxy with gigantic telescopes, while the other story, mothers and sisters of the dead explore the desert to hopefully find the bodies after being subject to the whims of General Pinochet. These two stories combine into a poetic understanding of our existence, as both of their goals reflect each other and realise the horror and beauty of memory as well as the future. A purely visual film (don’t worry, there’s dialogue), it is hard to explain how it works that effectively, but it does.
5.) The Grey (d. Carnahan, 2012)
In this bleak genre piece, left in the dumping grounds of January, Carnahan finds that there is a lot more going on that just genre stylishness. With expert direction, he found that with the threat of death, there was a sense of life that was brought into the characters, and unlike other films like Poseidon, those stock characters felt like fodder, they were used to develop the narrative, emboldening the film’s themes of survival and acceptance of death. The atmosphere that is made gives the surroundings a life of its own, as the demise of certain characters feels immediate and full of impact. Ultimately, it is about Neeson’s character, that with the elements above, they bluster what is truly an Oscar worthy performance, feeling the turmoil that Neeson has, as he ultimately confronts God.
4.) Moonrise Kingdom(d. Anderson, 2012)
Wes Anderson returns with another perfectly executed film, as we follow the trials of two…’star-crossed’… lovers, twelve year olds that might have no sense of their future, but face the same emotional issues as their adult counterparts, as their joy is contrast to adult disappointment. The soundtrack is expertly crafted, as Anderson further proves that within extreme artifice, emotional truth can be expressed from almost anyone. With every young adult book that Susie (Kara Hayward) brings with her to Sam’s (Jared Gilman) survivalist techniques, their relationship and its survival feels so dramatically important, it has more danger than The Avengers had against a horde of aliens.
3.) Looper (d. Johnson, 2012)
If you are looking for a film that has a solid basis of time-travel, this is not the film for you. This film instead, at first, offers an exploration into encountering yourself from a different time, and what would happen. From that point, the film explores the implications of turning over a new leaf, while questioning the mechanics of how we are shaped as people, as the escalation of violence seem to make sure that they will go on repeating forever, and coming to terms with what true love is. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are superb as they act out their dilemmas, as opposites of the same coin as Johnson is proving to becoming a formidable auteur.
2.) Beasts of the Southern Wild (d. Zeitlin, 2012)
A fairy-tale that combines commentary on the woes of the Louisiana Delta, it is very much a tale of a community that is at threat while in a state of celebration. Quvenzhané Wallis, who plays Hushpuppy, is spellbinding, as she brings an optimistic cheer as the spirit who stands against the currents of when life seems to be difficult. While you could accuse the film as making a mockery of similar people, the film shows a father/daughter relationship is told that there is a constant cycle of destruction and restoration , as the film presents us with a raw fable about undying love, warts and all.
1.) Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (d. Ceylan, 2011)
This film transcends the immediate worries of life, or even its own murder mystery, from the beginning. A glacially paced mystery, where an investigation is treated with realistic, unexciting objectivity, following a variety of men of different walks of life, trying to find the buried body with murderer in tow. Instead of making it into CSI: Anatolia, the film proceeds to be an immersive experience that, with its length and lack of excitement, we learn what is truly magical about film-making. The slight looks on the actors’ faces, the way that lighting is used to bring the seemingly desolate Anatolia countryside alive. Ceylan realises that by avoiding the plot-point to plot-point structure, it makes us aware of each situation, even just a gesture, thematically or in actuality, that are the screen and even extend beyond it.
The film explores the issues of life and death, as this landscape seems to have hidden more bodies and souls than the one that appears on screen. Anatolia questions the very idea of existence, as each of the men have their various points of view, never fully satisfied in the answers, as in between jokes and the investigation, they look hard onto the nature of living. Each have their own worries and fears, as they all try to philosophise their existence as if they were on a stage, as they pass the seemingly identical rolling hills of Anatolia, a set that never changes until the last thirty minutes. The mystic breaks into reality, the poetic (a rolling apple) breaks into politics (Turkey’s attempts at getting into the EU), the film allows a cast of fully rounded Chekhovian characters be lost in a world they live in, accepting of what they do not understand, or be shaken by it.