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!

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Film review – Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011)

27 May 2012

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

The first shot in Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a dirty window filmed from the outside. A slow zoom and focus pull take the audience through the window to view three men drinking, one of whom the audience only ever see again after he has been murdered. The other two men spend most of the rest of the film travelling in a police convoy through the mountains in Central Anatolia, trying to remember where they buried the body having since confessed to murdering their friend. Of these two, only one of them, Kenan (Firat Tanis), is prominently featured in the film as he rides in the main car that also carries the police commissioner Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan) and the town’s doctor Cernal (Muhammet Uzuner). The rest of the convoy consists of various police officers, army personnel and gravediggers, plus the local prosecutor Nusret (Taner Birsel), the final key character in the drama that takes place during one night and one morning.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is superficially a police procedural, even though the killers have confessed, nobody seems concerned about their motives and all that needs to be done is for the body to be located if only Kenan and his accomplice could remember where they buried it. Instead, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is an epic meditation on morality, civilisation, masculinity and how each generation suffers the sins of the one before it. The conversations at the start of the film, as the characters drive through the dark night, are about things such as different types of yoghurt. As the night wears on and fatigue and frustration sets in, the conversations become more intimate, particularly between Doctor Cernal and Prosecutor Nusret, the two most educated men who find a degree of common ground in comparison to the more emotional Commissioner Naci. A story Nusret tells Cernal about a woman who predicted her own death is continually returned to with Cernal irritated that no logical explanation can be offered for what happened. The discussion between Cernal and Nusret about what can be rationally explained and what cannot underpins the entire film, which often undermines obvious cause and effect narrative developments in order to comment on the difference between knowing the objective truth and believing an interpreted truth that makes life more bearable.

Many critics have compared Ceylan to Robert Bresson and Abbas Kiarostami, with his direction in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia also earning him comparisons to John Cassavetes, Krzysztof Kiéslowski and Michael Haneke. Perhaps another director that Ceylan is influenced by is the one that the title of the film most overtly suggests, and that’s Sergio Leone who directed two (arguably three if you include alternate titles) films with titles that begin with ‘Once Upon a Time in’. Like the case with many of Leone’s films, what happens in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia comments on the broader history, politics and culture of a geographical region. The main three characters are also identified broadly as archetypes; they are still complex characters developed throughout the film and identified by their actual names, but they are introduced and often referred to simply as the Police Chief, the Prosecutor and the Doctor.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is about men who are figuratively lost in a vast and indifferent landscape that threatens to consume them. Throughout the film long shots are repeatedly used to remind the audience how small the characters are in the terrain where the lightening, thunder and strong winds of an approaching storm create dark foreboding. There is also a sense of the frontier in the film’s rural setting. In one scene the police driver Arap Ali (Ahmet Mümtaz Taylan) speaks about the lawlessness and the need for everybody to fend for themselves. The region is tribally broken up into small villages, one of which the convoy visit and meet its mayor who is more concerned with building a state-of-the-art morgue than maintaining the village’s electricity supply – death is ever present in this film. Women are almost entirely absent so that when one does appear, in this case the village mayor’s daughter, she is an angelic apparition who moves the men not just to tears, but profound realisations.

Despite the absence of cut and dried resolution or narrative urgency, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is compelling and engaging cinema. Ceylan’s visual mastery means that the long shots of the men on the mountains not only convey the desired sensation of them being exposed and open to scrutiny, but these shots are simply beautiful. In particular, shots of fields of wild grass illuminated by car headlights at night possess an immense visual power. Ceylan also does extraordinary things with the sound design, including using dogs barking to underpin scenes directly connected to the murder. Combining the sounds of children playing with the sounds of an autopsy brings together the major themes and narrative strands of the film over the end credits. There are deep mysteries in this film, not just about what happened or why, but what it means for the characters and what it means for the audience sharing their journey. Ceylan’s direction is so assured that unlike the convoy, there is never any doubt that the film is leading to a point where all will be revealed, even if that revelation is not immediate, tangible or easily expressed.  The result is a cinematic experience that lingers long in the mind and demands repeat viewings.

Thomas Caldwell, 2012

MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 12

4 August 2011
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Despite being very fatigued yesterday morning I found Once Upon a Time in Anatolia utterly engaging. Focusing on only a small number of characters for the majority of the film, it unfolds as a sort of exterior chamber film with lots of long shots to emphasise how small the characters are in the vast and exposed landscape. The interaction between the police characters, a prosecutor, a doctor and one of the men who has confessed to murdering the person whose body they are looking for, explores issues of guilt, culpability and compassion. There is also a commentary on the tensions between older tribal modes of living and modernity. This is one of the handful of films that I feel the need to see again outside of the festival environment to really appreciate its complexity and layers of meaning.

[EDIT 27/5/2012: Read a full review of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia]

Bruno Dumont’s latest stark piece of French rural miserablism Outside Satan also features characters symbolically wandering around a barren landscape. However, while the pace and mood of Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was a case of the form and style being dictated by the film’s content, Outside Satan is a bit like End of Animal where the obtuse style seems to have  come first. It is a difficult yet intriguing film with deliberately strange and ambiguous characters who challenge notions of good and evil, and how we perceive spirituality and madness. At times the leading male character, a sort of avenging angel drifter, reminded me of Martin from the Dennis Potter written telemovie Brimstone and Treacle, whose act of evil results in something good.

Being Elmo

Being Elmo

For a complete change of pace I then went to see Being Elmo, the documentary about puppeteer Kevin Clash. I’ve actually never been a huge fan of the Elmo character, but this very charming film has made me a fan of Clash. It’s a bit of a classic rags-to-riches film that covers Clash’s career, which really began when he was a very young boy with a love for the Muppets that inspired him to create his own puppets and tirelessly work at performing his own characters. Seeing somebody who is so hard working and so genuinely a good person achieve astronomical success is tremendously rewarding and inspiring. There’s a beautiful sense of mutual support from the puppeteer community where veterans seem more than happy to encourage and share trade secrets with newcomers that they recognise as having the same spark that originally motivated them. Also, I will never stop being fascinated by the way puppets come to life and take on a distinct personality even when you can see the puppeteer manipulating and speaking for them. It is something quite magical.

I ended the night seeing Troll Hunter, which was a lot of fun. From The Blair Witch Project to Cloverfield to [Rec], I’ve been a big fan of the fake found footage film, which does seem to work best within the horror and monster genres. Troll Hunter does a couple of things just right. Firstly, the trolls move a bit like stop-motion creations and look like puppets. By not trying to make them look photo realistic, the suspension of belief is actually far easier to maintain. Secondly, the film is full of troll mythology that many of the characters take very seriously, which allows the ridiculousness of the film to be laughed along with and enjoyed without any self conscious winks at the camera. Playing such silliness this straight is quite a challenge and Troll Hunter pulls it off.

MIFFhaps
I’ve developed a stye on my right eye. If you don’t know what a stye is, it’s like a pimple but it forms on the inside of your eyelid to constantly press into your eyeball. It’s not cool. Mind you, it’s not as uncomfortable as the time a blood vessel burst in that same eye while I was suffering though Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I suspect that occurred as a result of my brain trying to lobotomise itself.

I want to give a shout-out to the guy sitting a few seats down from me during Troll Hunter. So, this is a film called Troll Hunter and I reckon that somewhat gives away the fact that it’s not going to be striving for realism. The film begins by setting up the concept of it being a found footage film, which is clearly all very tongue in cheek. That didn’t prevent this guy from snidely announcing, ‘Yeah, right’ as if he was one step ahead of the game by casting doubt on the authenticity of a film titled Troll Hunter. It reminded me of when I once worked as a shopping centre Santa Claus (I was really broke) and 13-year-old kids thought it was really awesome to inform me that they knew I wasn’t really Santa and I was so busted for trying to convince them otherwise.

Less a MIFFhap, I was part of a rather lovely collective experience during the screening of Being Elmo. There’s a scene where Kevin Clash tells us that he was offered a chance to work on The Dark Crystal and the entire cinema, including me, gasped in delight and excitement. This was immediately followed by us all giggling at the fact that we were all so impressed by the mention of The Dark Crystal. OK, maybe you had to be there but it was dorky, sweet, a communal experience and one of my favourite moments of the festival this year.

Show us your MIFF
If you’ve ever visited Rich on Film then you’ll be familiar with the work of Richard Haridy, a film critic and academic who is currently studying a Masters in Art & Cultural Management at the University of Melbourne. Richard has been coming to MIFF since 1998 where he was treated to a ‘before they were stars’ moment with a screening of Pi with Darren Aronofsky in attendance. This year Richard’s highlights have been Cold Fish, Senna and The Yellow Sea. He had previously seen a number of MIFF films at the Sydney Film Festival so has enjoyed seeing how Melbourne audiences responded to some of those, in particular Martha Marcy May Marlene. He’s still got The Woman to look forward to, which he’s hoping will be as divisive and controversial as it promises to be. His favourite moments from previous festivals both involved films by festival regular  Miike Takashi: Audition in 2000 and Gozu in 2004. Both films featured substantial walkouts and audiences split between those who were vocally disgusted and those who were delighted at the absurdity of what they were seeing. Richard definitely belonged to the latter group (as did I) and found the dramatically contrasting responses to the films’ infamous sequences electric. Richard finds the all-time favourite film question an impossible one to answer, but uses Magnolia as his standard response when asked, despite having a dozen disclaimers as to why.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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