Sunday, 13 January 2013

ARTICLE: The Top 10 of 2012

Films that were good but missed the Top 10 include:

Young Adult - in which director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody return after less successful solo projects to deliver a surprisingly funny, sad and angry piece of genre criticisl that was worthy precisely becuase it was adult. Another good indie comedy was Whit Stillman’s Damsels In Distress, worthwhile for its sense of humour and its almost total incongruity – and the fact that it has an appendix. Whimsical, funny and entirely enjoyable would also described To Rome With Love, not one of Woody Allen’s best but a nice, cheery film nonetheless.
A Dangerous Method was a fascinating talking piece full of interesting ideas, performances and techniques. That it may not even be the best Cronenberg film of the year goes to show how great this filmmaker remains. This description also works for Cosmopolis with the addition of the powerful performance from Paul Giamatti. Both are riveting cinema.

The Woman In Black is messy and unoriginal, but it was fun to watch with an audience that didn’t see it all coming. Similarly The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is nowhere near good enough, but it was likable. And 21 Jump Street gets a mention for being surprisingly funny.

Rampart is like some of James Ellroy’s best recent fiction – morally complex and full of incident but awkwardly repetitive and a little too long. Woody Harrelson gives what must surely be one of the best dirty cop performances in cinema. Less complex, but incredibly dark and funny was William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, which was equally fun and offensive, and an incendiary, challenging film. Looper was intriguing and full of ideas, though less successful in hindsight – worth a mention because it beats out all the other dumb, male-centric action blockbusters and contains a critique of their conceptions of moral violence.

Room 237 was a thoroughly enjoyable trip into the labyrinth that is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. A group of ardent fans spin their interpretations about what the film is saying - some enlightening, some nonsense but all revealing the joy of film watching and film discussion.

10. Five Broken Cameras was a powerful portrait of a peaceful struggle against oppression and some much needed insight into a people who are too easily presented in the West as terrorists. Like the writings of Edward W. Said, it is convincing precisely because of the moral and humanist force of its argument.

9. Rust and Bone is a film with too much at stake and too many dramatic devices on show, and yet it manages to be entirely convincing and often very moving for the majority of its running time, mainly thanks to Cotillard and Schoenaerts. Audiard continues to show an ability to reinvigorate pap into powerful and realistic cinema.

8. Breaking Dawn – Part Two. It was not the best of the series but it was a very good closer, one that remained thoroughly enjoyable despite some rough patches. It deserved its money for being a blockbuster that focuses on emotions and characters rather than on CGI and battles and for being one of the few films released to focus on strong females and to aim at a female audience.

7. The Turin Horse is apparently the swansong of Béla Tarr and is possibly even more powerfully apocalyptic than von Trier’s Melancholia, precisely because its focus is so much more intimate and, hence, so much more devastating. It says a lot about mankind, that, for all our progress, we still depend on a few simple things that we cannot control. A powerful visual and emotional work that is also intellectually satisfying as only the best of arthouse cinema can be.

6. The Master was fascinating simply because it was so open to interpretation and yet many of its successes are simply down to talent. Phoenix and Hoffman are both great and the writing and direction is focussed and evocative. A lot of the joy of The Master is in seeing a collection of talented artists doing a very good job.

5. The Angels’ Share is the funniest film on the list but it might also be the most politically important in the current climate of cuts and the demonization of those on welfare. Loach continues to bring the concerns of those too often ignored to the foreground and, though he is in a lighter mood than normal, his message and his anger have not been blunted.

4. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a well-made thriller with a lot of interesting ideas about society and indoctrination and some techniques that recall the best of the French New Wave. Sean Durkin proves himself to be one to watch and is already one of the most interesting of a new generation of American filmmakers.

3. What Richard Did is another film that leaves a lot up to the audience and it is specific yet general enough to point to a lot more issues than its plot would seem to accommodate. At once simple yet complex, it features a powerful performance from Jack Reynor and an evocative subtlety of technique and purpose from director Lenny Abrahamson. One of the few films of the year in which the camera is placed precisely where it needs to be for exactly as long as it should be.

2. The Descendants. Alexander Payne has become a skilled director of comedy-dramas in which the emotions and the laughs are not at each other’s throats but instead pleasantly co-exist. The Descendants is his most human film and his least distanced and critical. It is very funny but also very moving – ultimately, it is an incredibly well observed and likable film.

1. This Is Not A Film. It was difficult to decide whether The Descendants or Jafar Panahi’s multi-faceted study of cinema and imprisonment should get the top spot, but I opted for This Is Not A Film because it is the more important and innovative. In a very short running time, Panahi questions the power of cinema, whether political or otherwise, and the need for a filmmaker to make films. Defying categories, it is also a documentary about Panahi’s house arrest, an essay film about his ideas about what cinema, and art in general, fundamentally is and a powerful act of defiance.

UPDATE: The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg's fantastic and powerful companion piece to Festen should be placed at No. 3.
See also: The Top 10 of 2011

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