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 – The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

11 April 2012
The Deep Blue Sea: Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz)

Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz)

Set in London during the 1950s, Hester Collyer (Rachel Weisz) is emotionally not unlike the post-World War II bombed out and gutted city. She’s married to Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale), a respected judge and a good man, but their marriage is passionless. She’s been having an affair with Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a troubled younger man who served during the war, but she knows he does not feel the intense love towards her that she feel towards him. As the title of the film suggests, she’s caught between two unpleasant options – the devil and the deep blue sea. However, this literal understanding of how the title matches the narrative of the film isn’t nearly as interesting as the idea that Hester takes an emotional journey during the film from suicidal depression to grief. Both are unpleasant, but while one is akin to an illness, one is a natural state of being that is an essential part of being alive. It is therefore fitting that the title only references the part of the famous idiom that evokes nature, since this new adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s 1952 play by filmmaker Terence Davies is about recovery and regrowth for Hester and the city of London.

The Deep Blue Sea is also a film about memory, which is a concept that Davies has explored and represented throughout his career, most specifically in films about his childhood in Liverpool in post-World War II England. His short films, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992) are impressionist autobiographical works and Of Time and the City (2008) is an experimental documentary. While Davies’s other films have been literary adaptations, The Deep Blue Sea best combines his representation of memory with a traditional narrative structure. The result is Davies’s finest film to date.

Memories of London during the blitz weave throughout the film to link the private and solitary emotional trauma experienced by Hester to the collective and shared trauma experienced by the people of London during the war. In one remarkable scene a long take pans across people sheltering on an underground train station platform; singing a popular song while the bombs fall above them. Popular music is used throughout The Deep Blue Sea to express the camaraderie and determination to maintain good spirits by the people of London during the war and re-build years, although in another scene Hester looks awkward as she struggles to join in with the sing-a-long. Surrounded by expressions of defiant good will and cheer, and needing to keep up appearances, she cannot express her anguish. While visually the film depicts her world as one of calm and order, Davies uses Samuel Barber’s 1939 ‘Violin Concerto’ to express her anguish with its dramatic and tumultuous string arrangement. It’s a very effective use of music, creating a soundtrack that is exclusively subjective to Hester.

The Deep Blue Sea also looks like a memory. Not only is it shot on 35mm film, which sadly in itself gives it the feel of a artefact from another era, but the soft focus and muted colours convey the impression of scenes that have not fully materialised and only exist in fragmented and hazy recollection. It is strikingly beautiful and recalls The Tree of Life, which presented memory in a similar way; unsurprisingly considering the affinity between Davies and Terrence Malick as uncompromising directors who challenge the scope and form of cinema to produce works of great beauty and complexity. Also like Malick, Davies is not afraid to let the camera linger on a striking image, such as cigarette smoke curling over the armrest of a chair while illuminated by the afternoon sun peaking through the curtains.

Davies also makes substantial use of fade outs and dissolves, yet he uses such editing techniques not just between shots that have large periods of time between them, which is how they are traditional used, but between shots that are happening within moments of each other. This is especially effective during the opening sequence when Hester prepares her suicide, and it conveys a dreamlike sense that time no longer has any meaning for her now that she is fully engulfed in melancholia. Like the conclusion of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, where Dave Bowman sees himself as an older man and then becomes that older man, time for Hester is folding in on itself, like a dream or a half forgotten memory.

Davies has made a film comparable to David Lean’s masterpiece Brief Encounter, although the advantage Davies has is that he can far more explicitly explore issues of sexuality and infidelity than Lean could in 1945. Like Todd Haynes’s Far From Heaven, which is a homage to Douglas Sirk’s films, The Deep Blue Sea feels like a film from another era that no longer has to relegate its most important ideas into coded subtext (even though that coded subtext was frequently blatant). And still, rather than being a Lean homage, The Deep Blue Sea is distinctively a Davies film. If nothing else the unconventional combination of neo-romanticism and social realism makes Davies’s work more comparable to other uncompromising radicals from England, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.

The final ingredient to what makes The Deep Blue Sea such a magnificent work is the performances from the three leads. As the dull older husband who is subordinate to his dominating mother, Simon Russell Beale manages to deliver a sympathetic and likeable performance as Sir William Collyer. Tom Hiddleston makes Freddie attractive, childish, damaged, contemptible and loveable, often within the same scene. Most of all, Rachel Weisz delivers a career best performance as Hester. While delivering careful and mannered lines, her true feelings are passionately expressed through her facial expressions and gestures. The audience understands exactly what she is feeling at every moment, whether it is her overwhelming desire for Freddie or an ambiguous hope that through sorrow – as opposed to depression – she may finally recover, like a city rebuilding from the rubble.

Thomas Caldwell, 2012