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!

Advertisements

Film review – Holy Motors (2012)

23 August 2012
Holy Motors: Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) and Eva Grace (Kylie Minogue)

Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) and Eva Grace (Kylie Minogue)

In Holy Motors director Leos Carax demonstrates that playful can be profound, bewildering can be meaningful and randomness can have precision. It undermines so many cinematic conventions and yet it is a loving tribute to cinema. Like Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar’s deliriously funny animation A Town Called Panic (2009) it appears to be a film where the story has been made up on the spot, and yet it is not possible that a work this intricate could not have been strategically planned. Like the dream inspired films of Federico Fellini in the 1960s, Holy Motors is funny, melancholic, nostalgic and just self-aware enough to remind the audience that although they can enjoy the sensory experience on screen, thinking further about what the film could be suggesting will deliver the richest rewards.

The basic structure of the film is straightforward – a man played by actor Denis Lavant (a regular collaborator with Carax) is taken around Paris in a limousine and given a variety of tasks where he takes on different personae. His limousine is like an elaborate backstage changing room where he not only physically transforms himself but psychologically seems to fully possess the role he has to play, which is then completely accepted without question by the people he encounters in the real world.

The point and purpose of the various tasks is deliberately left wide open for interpretation. The film hints that they could be the dreams of the people the Lavant character encounters, as if Holy Motors is a visualisation of the behind-the-scenes mechanics of the dream world. Every task could also be regarded as symbolising a cinematic genre: from social realism, to crime thriller, to family drama and even to a Jacques Demy-style musical in a scene featuring an incredible performance by Kylie Minogue. One task that seems to evoke recent French and other European horror sees the Lavant character as a deranged representation of a homeless man. He kidnaps a model played by Eva Mendes and then forces her to wear a burqa in a scene that parodies fears of ‘otherness’.

An earlier sequence sees Lavant wearing a motion-capture bodysuit, dancing in a darkened studio with only the sensors on his bodysuit capturing the light. During the sequence he is joined by a female companion and the pair perform a strange sensual dance. It’s a visually startling scene that is then undermined when the results of their performance is revealed and the audience see the pair as two CGI creatures from a fantasy film animated by their moves. The creation of the illusion is so much more fulfilling than the reveal of the illusion, which seems to be Carax’s main theme in terms of how Holy Motors represents filmmaking and even the meaning of life itself.

Carax is perhaps arguing that seeing the mechanics of cinema and being aware of its tangibility is what makes film great, and the current pursuit of smaller cameras, discrete digital filmmaking and the new verite-style ‘realism’ is removing the magic. Similarly, defining a life by landmark events and occasions loses the joy of the strange and wonderful passages in-between and the moments that don’t make sense in a Hollywood narrative but form who we are. At least that’s one potential way to read Holy Motors. One thing that Carax leaves no doubt about with the film’s final scene is that regardless of how the film is experienced or deconstructed, it all boils down to being a bit of fun. Playful, absurd and whimsical fun that captures so much of why cinema is still something to be treasured and celebrated.

Thomas Caldwell, 2012

MIFF 2012: Feature film picks

31 July 2012

The Melbourne International Film Festival opens this Thursday so I thought I’d share my festival picks, even though they are based on a somewhat random sampling of what I have just happened to have seen. Many of my favourite films in the festival are Shorts and the Next Gen films, but I’ve covered those two programs in detail already. Which brings me to the obligatory disclaimer that I work for MIFF in the programming department so have zero objectivity about the festival. Having said that, all the films discussed here are ones that I had nothing at all to do with selecting.

Beasts of the Southern Wild 

The textures and colour make this film a visual masterpiece, and when that is combined with an amazing performance by the film’s young star and an emotive coming-of-age tale that incorporates visions of prehistoric times with future climate change catastrophes, the result is a Magical Realist triumph. I cannot wait to see this film again.

Holy Motors

I am so thankful that films this playful, provocative and puzzling are still made. The latest by Leos Carax, who is the subject of a retrospective at the festival, is a fascinating exploration of dreams, film genres and the effect that technology is having on the way audiences experience cinema. At least that’s what I took from it.

Ernest & Celestine

As two of the three directors on this film are the geniuses behind the deliriously funny A Town Called Panic, I was not expecting it to be a traditional hand-drawn animation that would be so incredibly charming. This gorgeous parable about a mouse and a bear who become friends, despite being told that they should fear and hate each other, is not only funny but so sweet that at moments I was possibly a little misty eyed.

Tabu

Beautiful shot in black-and-white in 4:3, this mesmerising film set in Portugal and African uses selected techniques from early cinema to create a dreamlike story about illicit love, race, colonialism and melancholy.

[REC] Genesis

While not as strong as the original film, which is one of my favourite contemporary zombie films, this loose prequel is a lot of fun. It does abandon the found footage approach early on, but the resulting wedding-based flesh-eating mayhem is a lot of fun.

Side by Side

A really accessible,  in-depth and entertaining look at the way the film industry – on every level – is making the transition from film-based technology to digital. This documentary contains interviews with many of the major players in the film industry and gives voice to a wide range of viewpoints. It challenged and possibly even changed several of my opinions.

Maniac

A film shot in the first-person about a serial killer who scalps his victims after killing them gets points alone for audacity. This is a slickly made cinematic nasty that I really enjoyed being shocked and disturbed by. There is also some really impressive filmmaking on display, used to mimic the fractured way the delusional and deranged protagonist views the world.

Alois Nebel

The stunning black and white rotoscoping in this Czech animation perfectly complements the dark and sombre story about a loner train dispatcher whose experiences during World War II come back to haunt him. There is a remarkable sense of stillness in this film, which gives it a beautiful meditative quality.

Gainsbourg by Gainsbourg: An Intimate Self Portrait

Like its subject Serge Gainsbourg, this is a rambling film that is sometimes infuriating, something baffling, self-important, self-deprecating, all over the place and constantly fascinating. The combination of archival footage and audio recorded by Gainsbourg provides an impressionist portrait of the man, told out of chronological sequence and far more illuminating than the biopic about him that came out in 2010.

100 Bloody Acres

This horror/comedy is a tremendous amount of fun. As the two brothers with a creative solution to making fertiliser, Angus Sampson is wonderfully wicked while Damon Herriman is hilariously endearing.

Have a great MIFF everybody!

Thomas Caldwell
MIFF Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator