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 – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

16 January 2012
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy: George Smiley (Gary Oldman)

George Smiley (Gary Oldman)

Everything the audience needs to know about the tone of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is established in the opening scenes. It’s 1973 and the Cold War in England is not being played out in high-tech James Bond-style labs, but in dank and dusty rooms where the head of British Intelligence is a dishevelled and elderly man known as Control (John Hurt) sending agent Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) to Hungary on a secret mission. In Budapest, where the sounds of children playing are juxtaposed with the sight of two fighter jets tearing across the sky during a beautiful slow establishing shot camera pull, the mission goes wrong. An innocent bystander is shot dead, which is treated as an unfortunate detail in a world of international subterfuge. Thus begins this highly accomplished spy thriller/drama. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson delivers the same diffused visual style and melancholic atmosphere in this new adaptation of John le Carré’s 1974 novel that he so successfully employed on Let the Right One In (2008).

Alfredson’s command of film style and his respect for the intelligence of the audience is evident during the opening title sequence, which brings the story up to speed and establishes character relationships simply through the body language and facial expressions of all the key players. The graphic matched editing and the almost noirish jazz score further enhance the sequence, which presents the professionally complex yet personally lonely world of the aging agents. 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.

Throughout the film the overcast, grainy and colour-drained visuals emphasise the cold emptiness experienced by the intelligence operatives. Characters are frequently filmed boxed in by their surroundings; framed by small windows and other rigid geometric shapes. Their world is one of restrictions, deceitfulness and moral ambiguity. The cinematography is like surveillance; shots begin from a distance and then hone in on the ‘target’. There is a mist that seems to hang over the entire film, suggesting the mesh of secrets and betrayals that conceal everything seen on screen. Gone are the days of the ‘gentleman’s war’ when working for the British government or army was something to be proud of and open about. Instead there is the new world where nothing is genuine anymore and the slow-burning exhaustion and resignation to ethical compromise of working in intelligence, tears friendships and relationships apart.

As the ironically named George Smiley, Gary Oldman rivals Ryan Gosling in Drive for deadpan and minimalist acting. They both play machine-like characters who are seemingly programmed to unquestioningly perform a specific function. Throughout Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Oldman delivers a slow, still and precise performance – exemplified in one early scene when he calmly releases a bee from a moving car – to indicate Smiley’s methodical institutionalisation into the role of the spy. Like Gosling’s Driver character, things break down when Smiley breaks his programming and acts on human impulses. While this breakdown propels the main narrative in Drive, in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy it is part of the back-story that happens before Smiley is ‘shelved’ and then brought back out of forcible retirement.

The significance of Smiley’s relationship with his wife comes late in the film, but midway we discover the personal attachment that he forged with a failed attempt to turn the mysterious and unseen Soviet spy Karla. In one of the most stunning shots of the film, Oldman as Smiley almost addresses the audience directly in a close-up as he tells the Karla story. It’s a rare scene of emotional exposure where the audience gets up close to this withdrawn and secretive man who betrays through expression and delivery how he got too personally invested in a situation. This is also the scene where Smiley reveals his doubts about the justness of what he does, explaining that Karla realised that neither side had much to offer, hinting that he perhaps suspects the same.

Smiley is not the only character to come undone by moments of personal attachment as other characters in the film’s multi-layered narrative are also shown to either compromise themselves professionally due to personal feelings or to have to make painful sacrifices. And this is the core of what makes Tinker Tailor Solider Spy such a compelling and remarkable film. Within its tale of double agents and international intrigue are a series of micro narratives about love lost and denied. It’s no great insight to comment that by taping photos of Smiley and his colleagues onto chess pieces, Control reduces them to players in an elaborate game where sacrificing individuals is a necessity to achieving the ultimate goal. Perhaps the deepest sense of sadness that comes from the film is that all the people involved are aware of this and yet mostly continue to play their part, regardless of consequences and uncertain as to why.

Thomas Caldwell, 2012