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 – Killing Them Softly (2012)

11 October 2012
Killing Them Softly: Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt)

Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt)

‘This is business not personal’ is one of the classic lines spoken in The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 masterpiece about Italian-American organised crime, and it’s become a line synonymous with the film’s capitalism allegory. While the gangster and crime genres have long been an ideal template for critiquing the indifferent whims and inequalities of the free market and the greed and borderline psychopathic behaviour of the financial sector, few have so overtly and rigorous explored the metaphor to the extent of Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly.

While it is adapted from the 1974 novel Cogan’s Trade by George V Higgins, Killing Them Softly is a character driven crime drama set during the beginning of the Global Financial Crisis and the 2008 Obama/McCain election. Continual news broadcasts in the background announce the oncoming financial crisis along with speeches by outgoing president George W Bush and incoming president Barack Obama. This provides a backdrop to the film’s story of Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), a professional organised crime enforcer who comes to town to investigate a card game heist. The system Cogan needs to protect has been threatened by petty criminals trying to reach above their status in a time of economic uncertainty and Cogan’s employers do not need that instability. The guilty parties need to be held to account and some calculated collateral damage will also need to occur to ensure the people at the top continue getting paid and good PR is maintained. The crime/capitalism metaphor is anything but subtle – and the final line of the film really rams home the message in case anybody still hasn’t picked it up – but that doesn’t stop Killing Them Softly from being a potent critique of what is rotten at the core of contemporary American capitalism.

Just as the political speeches ring hollow with the usual rhetoric, the classic gangster/capitalist ideal of individualism is revealed to be an unobtainable myth. The bottom dwelling criminals who aspire to more by pulling one supposedly fool proof heist soon discover that they cannot possibly beat the system. While the myth of the lone enforcer is expressed though the Cogan character, he still answers to a committee of criminals via their lawyer, known simply as Driver (Richard Jenkins). And like in many Martin Scorsese films (especially Goodfellas,which shares Killing Them Softly actor Ray Liotta) as well as the cable television series The Sopranos (which shares actors including James Gandolfini) the characters aren’t guaranteed a big climatic finale. Some die off screen, some simply leave the narrative through more mundane plot developments. The romantic notion of hitting the big time and then exiting in a blaze of glory is undermined reflecting the reality that most people fade away with a whimper rather than a bang of a gun.

Cars play an important part in Killing Them Softly for also demythologising the promises of 21st century capitalism. Particularly in classical Hollywood cinema, cars have represented freedom, youthfulness and affluence. They are a perfect symbol of the Great American Dream; a mass-produced status symbol with the power to speed the owner away to a better place. In Killing Them Softly cars represent death. They are the recurring meeting place for Cogan and Driver where they debate who needs to die and who needs to be simply beaten in order to maintain the status quo. Furthermore all on screen deaths and other acts of violence occur inside cars or next to cars, stripping them of their liberating power and leaving them impotent.

The cynical and ruthless themes are also expressed visually. The brown and orange look of the film captures the feelings of decay and depression, establishing the setting as a type of urban frontier; untamed and existing on the fringes. The jarring sound and visual editing during the credits and opening scene very effectively establish the unnerving and fragmented world that the film takes place in. Most impressive is the extraordinary sound design and Greig Fraser’s cinematography. The heist scene boasts an almost unbearable tension while key scenes of violence are turned in grotesque mini-performance pieces where every time a punch lands or a gun is fired, the moment is experienced viscerally by the audience. One disturbing yet captivating death scene is shot in ultra slow motion to become a visual symphony of rain, broken glass and blood. Other characters may fade away, but those who do get to exit dramatically become a spectacle of brutality and agony, where the audience experiences every splatter of blood and every torn piece of flesh.

Killing Them Softly is the work of an extremely confident filmmaker. While having previously explored larger than life criminals/anti-heroes in Chopper (2000) and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) Andrew Dominik reaches new heights with this crime parable. 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 goals and human life is just another commodity to be traded.

Thomas Caldwell, 2012