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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2012: Soundtracks of the Year

1. Cosmopolis – Howard Shore & Metric

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Howard Shore’s 2012 output will probably be more remembered for his return to Middle Earth scoring Hobbit I, and so to Metric and their latest album, Synthetica, than for their collaboration on David Cronenberg’s latest oddity. Shore’s worked with Cronenberg many times before (his score for The Fly is a particular favourite), and so too with Metric on some other Robert Pattinson movie (Twilight: Eclipse), but here they capture Cosmopolis’ cool sheen as well as imbuing the film with all the emotion and warmth missing from the text. And the appearance of rapper K’Naan on ‘Mecca’, despite sounding initially silly and simplistic, especially in the context of the film, has been lodged in my brain ever since. Swirling, pulsing, electric, and totally awesome.

2. The Master – Jonny Greenwood

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Having made his mark with his exceptional, dark and foreboding work on There Will Be Blood, Norwegian Wood and We Need to Talk about Kevin, Greenwood’s music for Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest may be his lightest, most hopeful-sounding score yet. That’s not saying a lot, as there are still unsettling elements, harsh, clipped woodblocks that keep you on edge, but there is something freeing and fluid about the way the strings heave and sigh too. Another great achievement.

3. Prometheus – Marc Streitenfeld

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As flawed as Prometheus was, the one component that fully sold a sense of exploration and wonder was Marc Streitenfeld’s score. In this day and age of incessant Hans Zimmer mimicry, where big ominous blasts and the sound of an orchestra crumbling mid-recording are the blockbuster default settling, it’s nice to hear a score with a distinct theme,  that feels as grand as the themes the film itself tries to tackle. Wide-eyed and awe-inspiring, Streitenfeld’s music here is reminiscent of TV Star Trek themes at their very best, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

4. Dredd – Paul Leonard-Morgan

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A meaty gritty adaptation of everyone’s favourite law-dispenser deserves such a score as this. Crunchy beats for the action, glorious dreamy flourishes for the “slo-mo” sequences, with hollow dusty electro-industrial soundscapes adding an ambient backdrop. Combined with Anthony Dod Mantle’s impeccable cinematography, it’s a great marriage of sound and vision. Bonus points for having Matt Berry’s theme from Snuff Box make an appearance too.

5. Shame – Various Artists

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Though having the one-two punch of Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ and Tom Tom Club’s ‘Genius of Love’ is obvious soundtrack gold for me, and sure Carey Mulligan’s rendition of ‘New York, New York’ is a showstopper (in the film that is, not so much listened to separately and cold), it’s Harry Escott’s compositions amongst the assorted jazz and classical that really stand out. Like a big, brooding wave ready to crash, it’s the soul of a film focused on someone desperately looking for one (a soul, that is, not a film, ya dummy).

6. Skyfall – Thomas Newman

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Director Sam Mendes brought in regular collaborator Thomas Newman (just as well as regular Bond composer David Arnold was on Olympic duties), and while the Bond tunes is present and correct, and the action scenes are filled with fairly indistinct bluster and bombast, he adds a lot of personality elsewhere. There’s a melancholic tinge that permeates throughout the quieter moments, and it feels far more of a complete cinematic score of its own than the typical collection of themes and stings that Bond films can sometimes end up being.

7. ParaNorman – Jon Brion

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ParaNorman’s quirky charm lends itself well to Jon Brion’s sensibilities, but alongside the breezy guitar strumming, there’s also 80s-horror-inspired synth for when the dead rise from the grave. It works a treat, and there are nice unconventional appearances from The White Stripes and Dizzee Rascal too.

8. Le Voyage Dans La Lune – Air

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Air follow in the footsteps of Pet Shop Boys with Battleship Potemkin and Giorgio Moroder with Metropolis – though a bit more of the former than the latter – with their soundtrack to George Méliès’ iconic 1902 film in the restored colourised version that premiered at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Spacey, trippy goodness.

9. Moonrise Kingdom – Various Artists

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It’s a Wes Anderson film, so you might expect, as much care and attention has been put towards the music as the visuals. Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra in both diagetic and non-diagetic contexts, and neatly mirrored in Alexandre Desplat’s own compositions, sits side-by-side with Hank Williams and Françoise Hardy, but it all fits together very nicely indeed.

10. Wrong – Tahiti Boy & Mr. Oizo

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I’ve not seen Quentin Dupieux’s follow-up to Rubber – it’s played various festivals since premiering at Sundance, but not yet in the UK as far as I am aware – but being that Dupieux is also Mr. Oizo (of Flat Eric fame), his team-up with Tahiti Boy on the soundtrack to his latest film is a delightful mix of cool squelchy beats and sunshiney muzak.

 

Tracks from all 10 of my favourite soundtracks of the year can be found on the Viewing Gum Soundtracks of 2012 Spotify Playlist, alongside a few other choice selections.

 

London Film Festival 2011 – “This I Gotta See!”

The London Film Festival line-up was revealed last week, and BFI members across the country have been stroking their chins and eagerly circling their choice selections in the vague hope they might be successful getting tickets for every single one they want to see. This is just an overview of the 10 films I’ve circled with my SPECIAL BIG PEN, plus a few others that piqued my interest. Oh, and I left out We Need To Talk About Kevin because that’s like released a couple of days later, and if you can’t wait that long and want to pay an overpriced festival ticket cost to see it, you’re a mug (so too have I highlighted confirmed release dates where applicable so you can make up your own mind).

In alphabetical odour:

Alps

The latest from Yorgos Lanthimos, who last gave us the devastatingly brilliant Dogtooth, promises more unsettling description-defying weirdness.

The Artist

I love the OSS 117 films primarily because of Jean Dujardin, who successfully manages to pull off hilarious, charismatic and stupid all at the same time. So it tickled me to see him take the Best Actor award at Cannes for his performance in The Artist, probably the most loved film of the festival. Looks damn near perfect.

Carnage

Yes, it’s bad man Polanski, and yes, it’s just four people talking in a room (as you may expect from its stage origins), but when those four people are Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz, expect some thespy sparks to fly. Looks like fun at least.

A Dangerous Method

Cronenberg. Mortensen. Fassbender. Cassel. Okay, so we do have K.K. thrown into the mix, but she can up her game when she wants to. Early word isn’t as thrillingly optimistic as the pedigree would suggest, but it’s still a combination that’s hard to resist (10th Feb)

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Experiencing something of a resurgence in international recognition after 13 Assassins (despite still being one of the most prolific directors around today), Takashi Miike’s 3D samurai movie remake features a Ryuichi Sakamoto score and looks like a classy piece of work – even if it’s just filler until we get his Phoenix Wright (!) adaptation.

Into the Abyss: A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life

New Werner Herzog, especially documentarian Herzog, is always something to get excited about, and while this focus on life on death row may seem on the surface like nothing that Louis Theroux hasn’t covered already, you can count on Herzog to provide his own idiosyncratic take on the subject.

Let the Bullets Fly

The highest-grossing film in Chinese history is something of which we should all take notice, being that it is fast becoming one of the most important territories in terms of both film consumers and producers. But beyond that, it looks the business, with guns, gags and Chow Yun-Fat.

Shame

Those wishing to go on a Fassbender-bender are in luck with his Venice Film Festival-award winning performance as a sex addict in his new collaboration with Hunger director Steve McQueen. Though Hunger didn’t necessarily bowl me over quite as I expected it to do, I have high hopes for this (13th Jan)

Surprise Film

It’s always a gamble. 2007 and 2008 saw No Country For Old Men and The Wrestler, then when I finally bothered in 2009, I got Capitalism: A Love Story. Looking at the release calendar, there aren’t actually a lot of films beyond the LFF I’m desperate to see, but it’s worth a shot just to get overjoyed/angry about.

Take Shelter

Michael Shannon does ‘unhinged’ better than anybody at the moment, and the concept (man starts to have visions of an impending disaster) has the potential for some serious hinge AND bracket disruption. (11th Nov)

The others…

The Awakening – Dominic West and Rebecca Hall investigate bumps in the night in this period ghost story…The Other Devil’s Backbone? (11th Nov)

Coriolanus – Ralph Fiennes both calls and takes shots as director and star of this contemporary warzone update of Shakespeare’s play with the most Beavis and Butthead-baiting title. (20th Jan)

50/50 – Joseph Gordon-Levitt leads a pretty great cast in what promises to be the most hilarious cancer comedy of the season. (25th Nov)

I Wish (Kiseki) – Hirokazu Kore-eda (best known for Still Walking and Nobody Knows, but Air Doll‘s my favourite) returns with another tale of family matters.

Last Screening – everyone loves a film about cinema, and everyone loves a film about psychos, so mixing the two together, in this French offering about a projectionist cum murderer, should at least be entertaining.

Tales of the Night – it’s the Family Gala, so expect pushy parents forcing their children to go, pretending their kids aren’t into Beyblade or Digimon or whatever’s popular nowadays. But this fairytale anthology piece uses 3D to recreate a beautiful shadow puppet aesthetic, so I’ll let it slide.

This Must Be The Place – Sean Penn goes a bit kooky as a washed-up goth-tinged rock-star on a trip across the States to visit his dying father, plus added David Byrne on co-soundtrack duties.

Wild Bill – of all the smaller Brit-flicks on offer, the combination of Son of Rambow star Will Poulter and Babyface himself Dexter Fletcher writing and directing is an interesting one, even if it’s nothing original.