2012 has been the most important year in my life. Finishing Mark Cousins’ 15 hour odyssey The Story of Film (first TV series, then book), and then attending a Q & A with the man himself (I’m babbling at 14:50 here) cranked my mind open more so than anything I’d encountered before, leaving me with words I’ve pondered every day since. Speaking of encounters, thanks to a recommendation from senior blogger Bags I was accepted as a young journalist to take part in Inside Encounters, covering the 18th Encounters Film Festival in Bristol with several other like minded writers, photographers and filmmakers. I wish I could’ve met everybody attending, but at the very least my interview with modest Swedo-Danish director Isabella Eklöf reminded me, among other things, of how less and less I know about more and more. Mostly, I caught the international live action scene, also squeezing in some British works such as mesmerising as Sam Abrahams’ Hold On Me, who happened to light up in conversation when I brought ‘Like Crazy’ up. As much criticism the yearning indie romance received, opinion seemed unanimous on the two lead performer’s turns. I’ll gladly be the first to go one further than the appreciative critical acclaim: Felicity Jones’ performance is one of the most quietly moving, deeply eviscerating, assuringly consoling, utterly loveable, completely contemptuous and just plain honest I’ve yet seen.
As the contentious debate over digital v.s. film rages on – highlighted in Christopher Kenneally’s neatly objective documentary Side by Side – one thing is for sure: regardless of the format, talented filmmakers from all over the world are creating work that stuns, grips, soothes and disturbs audiences, something which writing for specialist website Subtitled Online has helped me express. High quality television continues to battle cinemas over who gets the most people sat down in chairs: the true ‘game of thrones’, if you will. In London, British theatre had a good year as Matilda stormed the Olivier Awards and Constellations challenged narrative logic. Back home, places like the ever dependable Watershed, the amiable Arnolfini and crucial Cube Cinema maintained the prevalence of great cinema available to Bristolians even whilst Picturehouse collapsed, the most incongruous Bond film yet broke the UK revenue record and the UK Olympic team broke every other record. Many of you (although from my pathetically low output these last few months that ‘many’ should be ‘not so many’) may notice the absence of your favourites of this year and so it ought to be noted that my attendance at the local multiplex is declining in frequency and, not incidentally, increasing in apathy. I’m pleased enough with my top ten which seem to all be about struggle – to love, to connect, to be human, to survive, to bring back The Muppets – mostly featuring lonely people faced with adversity (again not incidentally, like last year’s best). There is still so much to see, so much to anticipate, so much to rediscover, to analyse, to inspire and immerse or endure or engulf – and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Here are the top 10 reasons 2012 was a year of cinematic utopia:
10. Bombay Beach
There’s something so rough around the edges about Bombay Beach, filmed in a decrepit town in Southern California originally built to house middle class families looking for a cheap holiday. Har’el doesn’t care if the image goes out of focus, or if the sound isn’t pristine. She’s more interested in the dozen or so subjects chosen, of whom we see dreaming of being a fireman or dwelling in young love or politely having a stroke on a front porch. I find the impulsiveness of this, Har’el’s debut feature, somewhat infectious in it’s affectation of Southern folk we see stereotyped so often.
9. The Turin Horse
Bela Tarr’s goodbye to film, his swansong, may come as a challenge to some with his typically lengthy (I mean amazingly lengthy) shots and periodic Hungarian setting, but invest the time and you’ll be rewarded with the most visually arresting and visceral film of the year. Tarr shoots black and white like no other filmmaker the world over, and his intricate yet bombarding sound design is as close to facing the harsh winds and paths of rural Hungary as you can get.
8. The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson reinvents himself once again for his sixth film, an examination of faith and of human relations. Much is to be said of the effervescent cinematography, finite editing and Jonny Greenwood’s deranged score, but Anderson always places the central interest on the characters. In turn, the best ensemble performance in possibly any of his films fuels this unclassifiable picture.
7. The Muppets
It’s a very good year for ‘The…’s, apparently. Jason Segel resuscitates the famed characters with panache. He may not be the best singer or even the best dancer, but with an enthusiastic cast he and Josh Babin craft something from pure joy that brings out the inner child from the cobwebs.
We first encounter Brandon a subway train, experiencing an inner sexual catharsis on an everyday basis. You don’t have to be Freud to figure out some of the phallic references in Steve McQueen’s second feature, but if anything it confirms that Michael Fassbender is something of an oddity; he is as unpredictable a screen actor as a late Dirk Bogarde, striving persistently to surpass himself. Yet only McQueen, here channelling Antonioni with some ferocity, seems to be able to untap his, and Mrs Mulligan’s, potential. Of the film’s composition, Sean Bobbitt is the boldest talent. He has a fascination with movement, place, people and psychology that confronts us and screams through his cinematography, leaving you as if you had been hit by that train.
Amour warrants itself as one of cinema’s most thoughtful portraits of not just old age illness, but old age itself and what Lennon might call ‘real love’. This film leads me to believe that cinema needs Michael Haneke, because without him it would be a far less interesting art.
4. Holy Motors
Much of Holy Motors goes unexplained, but its open ended surrealism can either infuriate or beguile. Regardless, through memorable performances and an unpredictable narrative, Leos Carax pieces together an unforgettable film – a visionary adventure through a surreal world rarely found on screen.
3. Like Crazy
2. Killing Them Softly
From the first second to the last, Andrew Dominik’s crime movie (or perhaps a better label would be ‘U.S movie’) pinned my attention, most exquisitely through George V. Higgins meticulous dialogue that out-Tarantinos Tarantino, and out-Mamets Mamet. The most common criticism seemed to be the (self aware, it should be noted) obviousness of stylistic choices and the parallel with Obama/McCain political messages on televisions, radios and so on. Everything in the film is speaking to you, or rather through you. Rather than exhaust me with literal metaphors, I found Killing Them Softly to be an exhilarating experience, having witnessed a stunning use of form and the best Obama-era, anti-Jeffersonian movie about America. I find Dominik the most fascinating filmmaker at work today, and I rather like his reply to the question ‘Were you worried the film might go over the heads of non-Americans?’, ‘Well, it’s pretty fucking obvious, isn’t it?’.
1. The Deep Blue Sea
I’m absolutely convinced that Terence Davies is the only filmmaker in the country who can capture Britain in the 1950s – how it looks but also, more importantly, how it feels. It’s not enough that he can evoke an era so sumptuously, yet secretly contemptuously, with an sumptuous colour palette of every possible deep shade there can be. Or that he can coax a bewitching performance from Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston who, in another life, would’ve made a fine surrogate for Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard (without forgetting Simon Russell Beale’s contribution, and what a surname). Davies possesses something we should cherish, and all too often neglect: a natural born talent for filmmaking. And that, as he might himself say, is simply ravishing.
Five reasons it was, as the Mayans predicted, a year of apocalypse:
A total mess of a film. John Carter lowered no standard, because The Avengers were already on the job. That it remains to be seen that Joss Whedon’s ultra budget superhero movie is overwrought in cliché, predictability and incoherence in even the most basic of techniques may be down to the hype, or the NOISE, LOTS OF NOISE that covers it up.
The location is stunning, and someone ought to pay a more talented filmmaker equipped with less contemptible actors to make a real horror film there. Be ashamed. Be very ashamed.
Like cutting random strips from the original comics, pasting them together, then making a Nikon commercial out of it. An unbelievably brainless, poorly written CGI fest. Even worse than any of Raimi’s films, even at their very nadir.
2. The Watch
Even taking away the screen parasite that is Vince Vaughn from this film wouldn’t have any less made me as depressed about the state of comedy or as disappointed in actors who should have known so, so much better.
‘Have you ever heard a Boston girl have an orgasm? Oh yah! Oh yah, that was so good now I’m gonna stuff my face with Pepperidge Farm.’ I don’t think there’ll ever be a time that I could hear those words and crack a smile, let alone erupt in laughter like the large audience I was with did. It’s a joke I’m not in on; in fact, it’s not even a joke. Ted is a jokeless, tasteless pop culture wheel spun 200 times then an improvised a film around those 200 subjects.
- The music video to Alt-J’s Breezeblocks, directed by Ellis Bahl.
- Felix Baumgartner’s literally breathtaking jump (live, without the music)
- Miguel Fonseca’s short film As Ondas
- The London 2012 Olympics ceremony
- The Shining at the Watershed
- Moloch, La Grande Illusion & Knife in the Water courtesy of Film Club Bristol
- Breaking Out at the Arnolfini
- Another chance to examine the biggest train wreck in studio history, Star Wars – Episode I: The Phantom Menace … 3D!
To see some of my reader’s contributions, click here.