Favourite Films of 2012

28 December 2012


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 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 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)


‘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)


‘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:


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.


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 – Frankenweenie (2012)

25 October 2012
Frankenweenie: Victor Frankenstien (voiced by Charlie Tahan) and Sparky

Victor Frankenstien (voiced by Charlie Tahan) and Sparky

A crucial line in Frankenweenie about science working best when the experiments come from the heart as well as the head could very well be Tim Burton’s own admission that over the last decade or so many of his films were missing the sincerity and passion of his earlier work. Burton is one of the most stylistically distinctive contemporary filmmakers and while many of his films in the 2000s and beyond contain all the trappings of a Tim Burton film, the heart that was felt so strongly in his 1990s film was more often than not somewhat lacking. One of the many reasons that Frankenweenie is so glorious is that Burton has clearly poured his soul into what is his most personal film since his 1990 masterpiece Edward Scissorhands. Frankenweenie is not only one of Burton’s most pleasing films visually, but it is also a direct return to all his favourite thematic preoccupations. It is 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.

Victor Frankenstien (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is possibly the most overtly Tim Burton alter ego character to date. Like Burton when he was an adolescent, Victor is an introvert who prefers to keep to himself and make stop motion animation films rather than play baseball like his father wants him to. The production design for Frankenweenie combines the manicured lawns and landscaped gardens of the conservative America suburbs were Burton grew up, with an assortment of gothic flourishes capturing the horror film world that Burton submerged himself into. With its central storyline about Victor bringing his beloved dog Sparky back from the dead, the biggest visual influences on Frankenweenie are James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). However, Frankenweenie is overflowing with references to other classic horror and science-fiction films, and part of the fun of watching the film is spotting those references, some of which are very specific while others are more general.

The most striking thing about Frankenweenie is its black-and-white stop motion animation, which gives the film a beautiful textured feel and is Burton’s best use of the animation technique (as director or producer) to date. It’s clearly a labour of love for Burton, which has paid off. The characters elicit genuine empathy and the bond between Victor and Sparky is touching. The short live action film of the same name that Burton made in 1984 is similarly impressive and affecting, but in this new version Burton has done much more so that this 2012 Frankenweenie seems less a remake and more an expansion. Very few details from the original film have been changed with Burton simply recreating his original scenes and designs with stop motion animation. Around these core scenes Burton has introduced several new elements, which work almost seamlessly with the remade 1984 content. Ideas, jokes, characters and relationships are all fleshed out and the results are wonderful.

One of the most interesting new additions is what is possibly Burton’s most overt political statement yet, in the form of a subplot involving Victor’s irrational neighbours. As the latest in a long line of Burton’s misunderstood monsters, the reanimated Sparky starts to create alarm in the community resulting in a fear and panic fuelled pack mentality. It is science the residents decide to blame for their phobias, specifically the teachings of Victor’s science teacher Mr Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau), who despite looking fearsome is clearly a sympathetic character, as he resembles Burton’s idol Vincent Price. While the anti-science mentality is initially ridiculed for laughs it becomes more poignant when Rzykruski warns Victor about the strange distrust and fear Americans can have for science. Burton doesn’t labour the point, but in a handful of satirical scenes Frankenweenie very effectively comments on the ongoing devaluing of science, as expressed through creationism and climate change denialism.

With its anti-intellectualism critique, classic horror film homages and beautiful production design, Frankenweenie is a great film for adventurous young audiences. Similarly to the equally impressive ParaNorman (Chris Butler and Sam Fell, 2012) it combines humour, enjoyable scares, moments of wicked humour and genuine pathos. Not only does Victor feel like the character that Burton has most affinity with, even more so than Edward from Edward Scissorhands, but through Victor Burton seems to reconcile several lingering preoccupations. Burton’s dark humour is still present in Frankenweenie, but a lot of the repressed despair and anger felt in some of his other films has dissipated. It is especially notable that the adult characters, who either misunderstand Victor or act foolishly through ignorance and fear, are portrayed as having the ability to realise and acknowledge they were wrong and be redeemed.

Frankenweenie is about a dog that is brought back to life, but it is also about the human spirit and its ability to do incredible things when fuelled by the power of imagination, curiosity and not being afraid to sometimes make mistakes. These are key attributes for creative and scientific minds, both of which are celebrated in Frankenweenie.

Thomas Caldwell, 2012