Favourite Films of 2012

28 December 2012

Hugo

I had a bit of fun this year keeping count of the number of films I watched and discovered that on average I saw six films per week. A large portion of my viewing was of films that received a theatrical release in Melbourne during 2012 and therefore qualify for the parameters in which I select my favourite films of the year. I saw over half the films that had a general release somewhere in Melbourne and while there are about 30 films that I still would like to catch up with, I feel fairly confident that I saw everything that would qualify for consideration for the list below.

I was tempted to not order or rank my favourites, but I changed my mind after another critic encouraged me to do so by saying that if there is one time during the year to be frivolous it is when compiling such lists. Besides, I’m calling these my favourite films – not making any claims about them being the best – so why not have fun?

Favourite ten films with a theatrical release in Melbourne, Australia in 2012:

1. Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011)

Hugo

Hugo is a perfect encapsulation of Scorsese the artist, film historian and pioneer – a technologically advanced 3D spectacle celebrating the craft and imagination of early cinema.’ Full review

 

2. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Tomas Alfredson, 2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

‘Everything about this film is economical – dialogue, acting style and visual style – so that from the very opening shot the audience are themselves playing the part of spies, attempting to piece together information and looking for clues.’ Full review

 

3. Weekend (Andrew Haigh, 2011)

Weekend

Weekend is one of the most impressive films ever made about love. Haigh’s confidence and intelligence as a filmmaker, has resulted in a sincere and emotionally engaging film.’ Full review

 

4. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)

Holy Motors

‘The very existence of a film like Holy Motors is cause for celebration. It demonstrates that playful can be profound, bewildering can be meaningful and randomness can have precision. It undermines so many cinematic conventions and yet is a loving tribute to cinema.’ Full review

 

5. The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2011)

The Deep Blue Sea

The Deep Blue Sea best combines Davies’s representation of memory with a traditional narrative structure. The result is his finest film to date.’ Full review

 

6. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2011)

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

‘An epic meditation on morality, civilisation, masculinity and how every generation suffers the sins of the one before it.’ Full review

 

7. Beasts of the Southern Wild  (Benh Zeitlin, 2012)

(Quvenzhané Wallis), (Gina Montana)

Beasts of the Southern Wild combines big scale ideas about the natural world and how humans relate to it, with a very personal and subjective portrayal of a young girl reconciling what is happening to her father and community.’ Full review

 

8. Lore (Cate Shortland, 2012)

Lore

‘Shortland has done an extraordinary job making such a bleak story into a deeply fulfilling and beautiful film. Lore is an impressionist survival film and an existential war film, and also something truly singular and remarkable.’ Full review

 

9. Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik, 2012)

Killing Them Softly

‘Incorporating several stunning stylised moments with a grim, gritty reality, Killing Them Softly is an engrossing vision of hell where status, money and image have become the ultimate goal and human life is just another commodity to be traded.’ Full review

 

10. Frankenweenie (Tim Burton, 2012)

Frankenweenie

‘A tribute to the type of cinema and cinematic techniques that originally inspired Burton, while growing up as something of an outsider in suburban California during the 1960s and 1970s, finding solace in monster movies and animation.’ Full review

Honourable mentions:

11. Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, 2012)

12. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012)

13. Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)

14. The Sessions (Ben Lewin, 2012)

15. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)

16. The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne, 2011)

17. A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin, Asghar Farhadi, 2011)

18. The Interrupters (Steve James, 2011)

19. The Grey (Joe Carnahan, 2012)

20. Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012)

Favourite ten films not given a full theatrical release

This is where the list making becomes extremely personal since it is based on the films I happened to see out of a very large selection of festival and speciality programmed screenings held for the public somewhere in Melbourne in 2012. I am aware that there are several films that would probably have made this list if I had seen them. It is also worth noting that the top five films on this list are either confirmed or more than likely to receive a general release in 2013:

Amour

1. Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)

2. ParaNorman (Chris Butler and Sam Fell, 2012)

3. Broken (Rufus Norris, 2012)

4. Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)

5. Ernest et Célestine (Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar and Benjamin Renner, 2012)

6. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 2011)

7. Kauwboy (Boudewijn Koole, 2012)

8. Only the Young (Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet, 2011)

9. Keyhole (Guy Maddin, 2011)

10. The Legend of Kaspar Hauser (La leggenda di Kaspar Hauser, Davide Manuli, 2012)

Special mention:

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt, 2012) – feature length edit of Hertzfeldt’s previous three short films, released on DVD through bitter films.

It's Such a Beautiful Day

 

Favourite retrospective screenings and re-releases

The most personal list of all is this one, where I acknowledge the screenings of older films that brought me the most joy this year. Some of these were revisits of old favourites, seeing them on the big screen for the first time, while many were new discoveries:

Raiders of the Lost Arc 

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981) – re-released at The Astor Theatre

2. America America (Elia Kazan, 1963) – The Melbourne Cinémathèque, Elia Kazan: The Outsider season

3. Time Regained (Le temps retrouvé, Raúl Ruiz, 1999) – The Melbourne Cinémathèque, Immortal Stories: The Living Cinema Of Raúl Ruiz season

4. Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946) – The Astor Theatre, David Lean Tribute

5. Solaris (Solyaris, Andrei Tarkovsky, 1972) – The Australian Centre for the Moving Image, (ACMI) Space on Film program

6. Suddenly, Last Summer (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1959) – ACMI First Look

7. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, 1996) – ACMI First Look

8. Brand Upon the Brain! (Guy Maddin, 2006) – ACMI, Nocturnal Transmissions: The Cinema of Guy Maddin program

9. Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999) – The Melbourne Cinémathèque, Borderlines: Selected Works by Claire Denis season

10. House (Hausu, Nobuhiko Ohbayashi, 1977) – ACMI, Nocturnal Transmissions: The Cinema of Guy Maddin program

Special mentions:

Seeing Goblin play their score to Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977) live at ACMI as part of Melbourne Music Week was also pretty special. Finally, it would be remiss of me not to mention the re-release of Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986) at the Astor Theatre, especially as it was also the film that the theatre screened on its Protect the Astor day, which was part of a larger campaign that achieved considerable success in 2012.

Labyrinth

Thomas Caldwell, 2012

This list was originally compiled for the Senses of Cinema 2012 World Poll

PS Feel free to comment and add your thoughts and comparisons. Please note that the spirit of this post is celebratory so long rants about stuff you didn’t like or grand declarations of outrage probably won’t make it through the moderation process!


Film review – Weekend (2011)

23 January 2012
Weekend: Glen (Chris New) and Russell (Tom Cullen)

Glen (Chris New) and Russell (Tom Cullen)

A first glance an English film about a relationship between two young gay men, one of whom lives in a council estate apartment, invites comparisons to films such as My Beautiful Laundrette (Stephen Frears, 1985) and Beautiful Thing (Hettie Macdonald, 1996). The sexuality of the two men in Weekend and their developing relationship is the foremost focus of the film, while the lower socio-economic setting is recognisably that of an English kitchen-sink drama. And yet while not to diminish the significance of earlier films exploring gay identity, Weekend is something of a revelation in its sophisticated yet heartfelt depiction of the brief affair shared by swimming pool attendant Russell (Tom Cullen) and artist Glen (Chris New). For a start, Weekend is neither a coming out story nor a coming-of-age film. The characters – and presumably a lot of the target audience – are beyond such narratives. Instead the film looks at the shifting needs, desires and attitudes experienced by Russell and Glen during their affair.

Visually writer/director Andrew Haigh creates a strong tension between the different ways Russell and Glen present themselves in public compared to how they express themselves privately. Weekend alternates between mostly static long and medium shots of the characters in public spaces, such as nightclubs, bars and motorways, with intimate handheld close-ups of just their faces, to capture moments of private conversation and intimate body language. This is further enhanced by the sound design where the noises that the audience hears in the long and medium shots are those heard by Russell. This technique indicates how Russell experiences a private life (suggested by the sound design) that is different to his public life (suggested by the long and medium shots). Glen, on the other hand, is more open about expressing his sexuality so doesn’t separate his private and public life in the way he interacts with the world. Such themes are further developed as the pair debate what it means to live as a gay man, to what extent do some people still have difficultly understanding gay sexuality and to what extent is that their problem. One of the many joys of Weekend is seeing such complex issues being discussed so frankly and honestly by characters who are most qualified to discuss them.

An extension of the perception theme is in the film’s commentary on the way straight audiences respond to homosexuality. Many previous films depicting gay sexuality, especially the ones that aren’t exclusively pitched at gay audiences, have historically shielded away from actually showing gay sex. Films such as Philadelphia (Jonathan Demme, 1993), Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) and Milk (Gus Van Sant, 2008) are commendable for their part in introducing gay narratives to wider audiences, but they were still extremely coy about showing the physical side of male same-sex relations in a way that films about straight couples are not. In Weekend this issue is scrutinised when Russell questions Glen about his art project, which involves making recordings of previous lovers describing how they met and then eventually had sex. Russell – who keeps a private typed diary as a contrast to Glen’s public recordings – argues that gay men don’t like talking about sex publicly and straight people don’t want to hear it; hence, the absence of expressions of gay sexuality in popular culture.

The debate about Russell’s art project can clearly be applied to Weekend itself, and the film does possess a fascinating self-reflexivity in the way it questions how it will be received. This self-awareness also reveals just how considered Haigh has been in the way he directs the film’s sex scenes. At one point Glen half jokingly mentions that the only audience for art expressing gay sexuality are gay men who want to see cocks. Haigh therefore avoids showing cocks and overtly pans the camera just above the waistline to draw attention to his deliberate decision to defy expectations. By visually removing such an obvious symbol of male sexuality, but by still suggesting it so as not to deny its significance, the sex scenes contain a rawness, frankness and explicitness without ever being graphic or indulgent. The result is several scenes where sexual acts express the physical desire and emotional connection of the characters in a way that is rarely seen in cinema of any kind.

It would be a shame if focusing on the stylistic techniques and themes of Weekend suggested that it is a didactic message film, because it is ultimately a very moving love story. The intensity that comes from the film is a result of its willingness to intelligently engage in issues of sexuality, identity and representation, not despite it. The film’s biggest triumph is one of its final shots that begins as a public wide shot and then slowly zooms into a tightly framed private close-up. It signals an important final moment of character development and delivers a powerful emotional surge for the audience. During the zoom, off-screen characters yell taunts at the pair and Russell’s glare at them is almost directed straight at the audience to confront us with our own potentially unevolved or childish uncomfortableness with gay sexuality. Nevertheless, the pair have their private moment in the public space, although in a brilliant masterstroke Haigh drowns out a piece of key dialogue with on-screen noise. It’s a similar technique to the one used by Sofia Coppola in Lost in Translation (2003), but in Weekend it has more resonance due to the play on private/public space throughout the film that results in a moment so private that not even the audience get to fully share it.

Weekend is one of the most impressive films ever made about love. Haigh’s confidence and intelligence as a filmmaker, has resulted in a sincere and emotionally engaging film. At first glance Weekend seems to have much in common with My Beautiful Laundrette and Beautiful Thing, but the film it really does evoke is a far older English romance/drama about social conventions. That film is David Lean’s 1945 masterpiece Brief Encounter and Weekend is arguably its modern day reincarnation.

Thomas Caldwell, 2012

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