2012: Films of the Year

Finally, after a week’s worth of distraction from the BAFTA and Oscar nominations announcements, I can reveal what everyone on the face of this planet has been waiting for – my Top 8 Films of 2012!

Eight? EIGHT YOU SAY? Well, yes. The thing is, I could have very easily filled two slots to make up the somewhat arbitrary holy ten from at least a dozen very good movies. But I thought rather than trying to name check absolutely every film I thought was pretty great this year and bulk it out, thereby rendering the rest of the selection even more meaningless (and you can check out a full rundown of my viewing habits here before you complain about your favourite missing – either I didn’t see it, or didn’t like it so much), I’d stick with the eight films that immediately sprung to mind, made the biggest impact on me, and have been hard to shake off since.

Most of my thoughts are revised and edited versions of reviews originally posted here or in my Tumblr mini-reviews (tag Film 2012), but to make up for the lack of new writing, I’ve come up with strained and somewhat flippant Definitials for each title, plus some more of my smiley pics as per last year – and given what a generally bleak affair 2012’s bunch turned out to be, they could all do with a bit of cheering up too.

#8. Shame

Steve McQueen’s directorial follow-up to Hunger, again with Michael Fassbender in the lead, proves their ongoing collaboration is one of the most exciting cinematic relationships at the moment. There was something about Shame which really resonated with me. Apart from all the sex and that (though for all the flesh on show, it’s possibly one of the least sexy films ever made). Loneliness, isolation, an inability to express emotion or connect with others – not original areas to be explored, but nothing I’ve seen before captured these feelings so effectively. The performances, the direction and the overarching tone makes for a compelling watch. Highly impressive work all round.

#7. Chronicle

It is testament to the quality of Chronicle that in the glut of mega-budget superhero blockbusters adapted from pre-existing source material with a readily installed fanbase, not to mention appearing at the tail end of this post-Blair Witch found footage cycle, it still manages to impress and feel fresh and distinctive. Simply put, it is the best original superhero film since the underappreciated Unbreakable, and in many ways feels like a companion piece – just with a dash of Akira and Carrie thrown in for good measure.

> > > Full Review

#6. Sightseers

A frequently hilarious, blackly comic, oddball road movie, and director Ben Wheatley’s most satisfying film yet. Like an updated version of Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May gone terribly wrong, Sightseers may be a bumpy ride for some, with its unforgiving outlook and downbeat desperation amid the brutality and japery. Pass on it though, and you’ll be missing out on probably the best British film this year.

> > > Full Review

#5. The Cabin in the Woods

The joy of The Cabin in the Woods is that it’s meta but never ironic or overly cynical. The gags are broad enough in their frame of reference so as not to alienate the casual cinemagoer, but with enough nods to get fanboys and gorehounds all a flutter. It is clever but never tricksy. It breaks the rules, but never breaks its own rules. Even a title as generic as The Cabin in the Woods is as much a commentary on the film as the film’s own commentary on the film itself. I think. As effective and hilarious a skewering of horror convention as Galaxy Quest was to Star Trek, or Starship Troopers was to macho jingoistic bullshit, the Evil Dead remake is going to have a very hard time seeming in any way relevant in its sizeable genre-busting wake (EDIT: The Evil Dead remake actually looks awesome).

> > > Full Review

#4. Michael

Disquieting, discomforting, disturbing, dis film (hngggh, couldn’t resist!) depicts the life of a solitary man – and the boy he keeps locked in his basement. While thankfully and wisely low on explicit detail, it is nevertheless an intense, queasy experience rooted in the hideously mundane. Perfectly calculated, measured and executed, it doesn’t browbeat or sensationalise, nor attempts to explain or justify – rather it is in its squarely matter-of-fact presentation that it truly succeeds. Exceptional.

#3. The Hunt

Though representative of the mess and hysteria that surrounds accusations of paedophilia, no-one could have predicted just how timely The Hunt’s UK release ended up being. Though more localised to community rather than media reaction, it shows the desperate extent to which an unwitting lie can spiral out of control, how helpless one can be to stem the tide, and how someone’s life can be totally destroyed through hearsay. It’s not a particularly novel premise, but Thomas Vinterberg draws out the every ounce of tension for what it’s worth, and every emotion experienced by the man at the centre of the allegation (an amazing Mads Mikkelsen) is unflinchingly shared with the audience. That’s not to say this is a simple exercise in gut-wrenching misery – everything about the film (the pacing, the length of each shot, a look between characters, a pause between words) is expertly judged. The Hunt is like having your heart gripped and lungs squeezed for two hours. In the best way possible.

#2. The Master

While not as immediate as There Will Be Blood, there is something mesmerising about The Master while watching, but confoundingly ethereal in its wake, with an unshakeable mood that continues long after. Accused of lacking a sustainable narrative (it is undoubtedly a character piece), it is one reason why summing up thoughts and feelings about it is so difficult, as there are few tangible hooks on which to hang them on. Certainly, the cinematography is beautiful, the performances exceptional, the music magnificent. Yet, there are so many issues raised and not fulfilled, avenues and tangents presented but not explored, as the film remains steadfast on examining the relationship between its three leads, through which the other themes that are teased and hinted at throughout can be greater drawn. If There Will Be Blood was a big bloody steak to sink your teeth into, The Master is more like Freddie Quell’s cocktails, booze sloshing in your belly – both leaving you satisfied and full, but with different methods and end results.

See, didn’t I say it was hard to sum up? Basically, I really liked it.

#1. Amour

Though still filmed with Michael Haneke’s customary removed fixed camera style, Amour, as the title might suggest, is not cynical or in any way dispassionate towards its central elderly couple, one of whom suffers a stroke. It is almost unbearably sad, not just because of how active they were before tragedy strikes (their life together is gradually and beautifully revealed through the unfolding events and deft hints), but also how matter-of-fact it’s played in that death awaits us all. There is no montage, no sudden grim diagnosis from a sullen-looking doctor – each time we see them comes as a shock, their condition worsened, the inevitable ever present. But there is also a positivity and hope about Amour, that if such a thing were to happen, there would be someone willing to do anything for you and care for you so resolutely.

Already winner of the Palme D’Or at 2012’s Cannes Film Festival, with two incredible performances from Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges) and BAFTA and Oscar-nominated Emanuelle Riva (Anne), Amour deserves every conceivable relevant award that has been and hopefully will be sent its way.

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