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.

Movie Posters for Dummies

Given that film posters account for an amazing 62% of all city centre billboard and advertising space (that’s total bullshit, but it sounds about accurate), it’s surprising how often they look like a jumbled mess of words, stars, and quotation marks. Moreover, recently it seems increasingly the case that the title, cast, crew, tagline, colours and shapes are just not cutting it when it comes to imparting on your audience a vague indication of what the film is about. No! We couldn’t possibly assume the general public has prior knowledge of the film, or have seen the trailer, or the gumption to enter the title into Google and see what comes up. We need one key ingredient to just nudge them gently out of desperate confusion and into full-on penny droppage. And that’s just cack-handedly plopping in a prop or handy block of text to enlighten the masses.

Perhaps the most common perpetrator was the Scary Movie franchise, going from a simple “I See Dead People” stitched into a blanket, to Scary Movie 3 featuring almost as much writing in the central poster image as in the credits beneath. But there have been a batch of fresh new clunkers that I’ve found tricky to ignore…

Okay, so this one’s kinda subtle, but it still seems like a slapdash afterthought – sticking a script in Colin Farrell’s jacket. In case the title didn’t make it clear, WE ARE IN HOLLYWOOD. I understand action film posters use shorthand by giving everyone guns to show, yes, it’s an action film (something semi-seen here), but who is going to think “Oh! Colin Farrell’s got a script, ergo he must be playing a screenwriter. NOW I have to see this film!”. And if you haven’t seen the film and don’t understand that Farrell is writing a screenplay called “Seven Psychopaths”, it’s just going to look like he accidentally brought his script to the photoshoot day.

Now we’re getting a bit silly. For starters, it’s not a particularly ambiguous title, and what’s more, there’s a caravan right next to it. So the rather naff button – featuring another picture of a caravan along with the word “caravan” – just seems, somewhat aptly, like overkill. Unneccessary, design dudes!

Right, knock that shit off. Granted, it’s not the most obvious title (it’s not The Fighter, that’s for damn sure), but if a tagline that prosaic needs to be backed up with a “World’s Best Teacher” mug, you clearly don’t think very highly of your potential audience. Having said that, this is the potential audience for a Kevin James movie, so maybe it does need to be spelled out so blatantly. And isn’t the plot already “borrowed” from Warrior?

Let’s not stop there – clearly a bunch of other releases could have done with a similar marketing strategy, so here are some further examples I cobbled together just as lazily as the genuine articles. First up…

“Hmm…is that not too subtle?”

“Okay, we’re getting there. Could we make it just a little less obtuse?”

“Perfect!”

FILM REVIEW: Sightseers (LFF 2012)

Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) are off on a caravanning holiday, much to the annoyance of Tina’s manipulative overbearing mother. However, the way to minor English tourist attractions is paved with obstacles, namely people who are just, well, kind of annoying. So why should Chris and Tina let anyone get in the way of their little excursion? What follows is a frequently hilarious, blackly comic, oddball road movie, and director Ben Wheatley’s most satisfying film yet.

Delivering on the promise of both Down Terrace (which did the best it could given its limitations) and Kill List (terrific up to a point), Wheatley’s bleakly beautiful style fits perfectly with the characters and story, another depiction of quintessentially English weirdness. Finding fascination in the decidedly humdrum, as well as showing off the surrounding landscapes (both aspects somewhat reminiscent of Michael Winterbottom’s outstanding TV series/film The Trip with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon), Wheatley demonstrates a canny ability to create a visually arresting scene, knows how best to frame a sight gag, and neatly judges how to piece together a sequence that can be equally played for horror or laughs.

However, it’s really Oram and Lowe’s show. As co-writers, basing their roles on characters they have previously both played together, they completely inhabit their parts which, although not entirely believable in their actions and behaviour, are still invested with enough personality and recognisable traits to be engaging and entertaining guides through the ensuing carnage. Chris’ increasing exasperation at the world he had hoped to take a break from is wonderfully matched by Tina’s mix of furrowed-brow confusion and wide-eyed naivety, but soon they are on a dangerously similar wavelength – though this isn’t some quest to write society’s wrongs a la God Bless America. Certain stereotypes are picked upon, but there’s no overarching agenda, which makes for a more interesting, unpredictable journey. More importantly, it’s damn funny, with so many killer lines, it’s best to get on board now before it gets hijacked by quote-a-long jerks and T-shirts in Forbidden Planet.

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.