It’s that time of year where every man and his statistically-minded dog are collating their lists of the best films of the year. Now, I am not one for ranking films, it just makes me all kinds of uncomfortable and stressed (but if that is your bag GO AHEAD YOU GLORIOUS RANKING DIAMOND), but like every other film nerd I do like going over my year of film watching and reflect on what has stuck with me.
So this is less a list and more of a “oh hey, that film was great, and I didn’t talk about it on the blog during the year, so let’s have a burble about it now” type of thing.
The one rule I have is that I’m just discussing films with an international 2012 release date, which given Australia’s slackness in often releasing flicks long after the rest of the world means that films as delightfully glorious as Young Adult, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and I Wish will, alas, not be featured as they are technically 2011 films (but you should totally seek those out and watch them, especially Tinker Tailor which has basically taken over my whole life with its perfect, taut storytelling and stupidly handsome actors. One day I will do a post entirely devoted to Benedict Cumberbatch’s face in that film, ONE DAY).
Also, I managed to miss big-hitters such as The Master, Holy Motors, Cabin in the Woods and Amour this year, so they’ll be noticeable absentees. I’ve also previously written about Moonrise Kingdom, Ernest & Celestine, Killing Them Softly, and am half-way through writing a post on Wreck-It Ralph, which are all films that are deserving of a presence on the pile.
Now onward, let us luxuriate in the pile!
100 Bloody Acres
Dir. Cameron and Colin Cairnes.
I’m on record as not being one for horror movies, much less still the kind of horror film that involves a lot of blood and visceral dismemberment. Imagine my surprise in being completely engaged in a film that’s about two brothers living out in the sticks making their living by producing ‘organic’ fertilizer – the kicker being that, of course, the fertilizer is PEOPLE! I think I found it ultimately charming due to the fact that it’s just as much a comedy with well sketched out characters as it is a squishy, bloody horror. The performances are beautifully engaging: Damon Herriman as our anti-hero protagonist Reg has such a wounded sense of naive innocence to him that you can’t help but be on his side, even when he’s facilitating to feed his brother’s industrial meat grinder with yet more human fodder. And Angus Sampson puts in probably the performance of his career as Reg’s psychotic brother Lindsay, which if like me you’ve previously defined him by his comedic roles will amp up your dread considerably as he is ABSOLUTELY CREEPILY TERRIFYING in this. The film also plays around a lot with horror tropes, and also with notions of gender in horror films is a very refreshing manner (make sure you stay around after the credits to witness the satisfying dispatchment of the film’s embodiment of hidden misogyny).
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Dir. Alison Klayman.
Easily one of the most adept and engaging documentaries I’ve seen in years. Whether you are a fan of Ai’s work or know nothing about him, you will be effortlessly and irrevocably drawn in by his captivating character, startling art works, and his seemingly relentless efforts in critiquing the Chinese government in seemingly every media avenue possible. And credit really must go to the director Alison Klayman, whose filmmaking technique is uniquely striking, particularly given that this is her first feature length film.
Berberian Sound Studio
Dir. Peter Strickland.
I suppose this is also kind of a horror film too (two in one year! I’m as surprised as you are), but the thriller-y kind that plays psychological tricks on you rather than the flashy blood splatterers that are ordinarily personally less appealing to me. I pretty much nailed down most of my impressed impressions of the film in my Broadsheet review, but would love to one day write a post looking specifically at how this film deals with gender and horror. Hey, maybe this is the key to getting me interested in horror movies, with films that explicitly look at the genre’s relationship with gender politics in a positive, interrogative way rather than in a regressive fashion! Filmmakers, get on this.
Seeking a Friend For the End of the World
Dir. Lorene Scafaria.
This one could be completely down to my rampaging, bottomless infatuations for both Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, so if neither are your bag you will probably not have the reaction I did, but I found this apocalypse flick, after a somewhat abortive start, to be utterly charming and actually surprisingly truthful. I kept describing it to friends as “an optimist’s Melancholia“, which I still feel is as apt a description as any; it is about coming to terms with one’s imminent demise and trying to find an element of grace before the end.
In Another Country
Dir. Hong Sang-soo.
Oh my god, you guys, THIS MOVIE. I’m an unabashed fangirl for Hong Sang-soo’s films, but this one swept me away even further than his films ordinarily do. Isabelle Huppert is gloriously wonderful as always, although Yoo Joon-sang as the lifeguard is a shameless scene-stealer in every frame he’s in. Like all Hong films, it’s an exploration of film as a magical storytelling form, and like the wizardly directing magician that he is, the true delight is seeing all the ways Hong links the three told tales together in ways that only a film could manage.
Dir. Jason Moore.
I’m normally pretty ‘live and let live’ in terms of other peoples film preferences, but I’ve quickly discovered that if someone starts dissing this film in front of me, my smile freezes on my face and I start thinking about how to escape from this clearly terrible person who has no joy left in their soul. Much more than just a highly cynical reworking of the saccharine stylings of shows such as Glee (which alone would have been enough to put a glow to my black heart), this is just a seriously good musical comedy that ticks all the goddamn boxes in terms of scripting, performances and awesomeness. Warning that I am probably going to write a fangirlish post about my mad love for Rebel Wilson and her deconstructing Hollywood tropes ways some time in the near future.
A Royal Affair
Dir. Nikolaj Arcel.
I am the biggest goddamn sucker in the world for costume dramas, even more so when they involve royalty (you do not want to know how many times I have watched The Young Victoria). So it was like A Royal Affair was MADE FOR ME! For it was about Danish royalty and was full of miserable royal ladies forced into untenable situations due to being treated like ever so much chattel – cue FEMINISM COMMENTARY SMASH! – and a mad king played by an actor who had no excuse for a performance so earth-shatteringly amazing considering that at the time he hadn’t even finished drama school I MEAN WHAT EVEN (seriously Mikkel Boe Folsgaard, you are disgustingly talented, please accept this invitation to be the mad king of my heart). The story is so tightly woven, and even if you know the tragic end is coming (all stories involving royal ladies end tragically, trust me, history backs me up), the way events are presented does not for a second lessen the pain and the ultimate oh-god-my-heart-is-being-ripped-out-this-is-all-so-UNFAIR of everything that occurs. It’s so good that it even helped me get past the fact that Mads Mikkelsen looks like a granite amphibian. Seriously, get on this, it is astounding.
Dir. Rian Johnson.
When I saw this film I wrote a tweet-review that stated that it had caused my heart to bleed. It’s still bleeding. This film is visceral and beautiful, it has the stones to take science fiction back to its roots and then wildly and sharply deviate from what fans of the genre have come to expect, even sometimes purposely spitting on those expectations in a way that had me open-jawed and internally squealing with joy at the presumption. This is a film whose influence you will see reflected over and over in years to come as filmmakers latch onto it and refract it out into thousands of new forms.
Mosquita y Mari
Dir. Aurora Guerrero.
Every time I remember about this film I get a rush of tingles down my spine. Independent, crowd-funded filmmaking at its absolute finest, Mosquita y Mari is just this beautiful glorious burst of a thing, a filmic representation that captures every single beat of first love. I don’t even want to tell you anymore about it, because not knowing where this masterfully put together flick is going to take you is part of its utter joy. Also, YAY FOR ADOLESCENT LADY ROMANCES, MORE OF THESE PLEASE!
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Dir. Behn Zeitlin.
When I originally saw this film, I figured that I liked it, but didn’t LOVE it. I certainly didn’t have the reaction of “THIS THE GREATEST FILM I HAVE EVER SEEN!!!” that some of my friends had. Then I started seeing criticisms of the film that basically boiled the whole thing down to being nothing more than poverty porn, and a seething dragon of outraged resentment promptly took up residence in my chest. Clearly it had affected me more than I thought! I certainly don’t think it’s free of problematic elements – bell hooks’ amazing seething take-down of the film succinctly outlines all of the film’s potentially dodgy racial depictions – but it’s actually an element of hooks’ argument against the film that crystallised what it is I actually like about it: that it’s a film dealing with a very small child’s relationship towards a highly abusive environment, both in terms of nature and in terms of family, and it treats that child’s experiences and view of the world with solemn respect and care. That is just something that you Do. Not. See. in not just American film, but cinema as a whole, where children’s viewpoints are often marginalised or condescended to, and the fact that the child in question is a person of colour makes it all the more extraordinary.
Dir. Joss Whedon.
Oh dear blog, I had kept you entirely free from my ongoing obsession with all things Chris Evans, but as you can see that all ends here. LOOK UPON THIS VISION OF PERFECTION AND DESPAIR *laughs from atop my secret base upon Crazy Lady Mountain*
Ahem. I’ll be the first to admit that this is not a perfect film. But it’s MY imperfect film. And considering that I had zero interest in watching any Marvel films after being so devastatingly disappointed by Iron Man 2 and Thor, to only be thrown into the stratosphere by the gloriously good Captain America: The First Avenger, it’s a wonder this film didn’t drown in my seas of expectation. But what works works SO WELL. Every character is enviously well drawn and acted, this is what all these characters were BORN to do, to interact with each other and snipe and cajole and console and ultimately find ways to work together. This film is a lazy afternoon pleasure flick, something to watch over and over again and always derive a new sense of enjoyment from.
Dir. Boudewijn Koole.
I have to thank my esteemed colleague Thomas Caldwell for the recommendation to see this one, and I’ll be forever thankful for it. This Dutch film is one of the most assured and tenderly moving coming-of-age tales that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. That the tale of a young boy finding an abandoned baby jackdaw and taking it home to care for it had so much power as to render such regular cynics as Jen and I into hysterical crying wrecks for the last 40 minutes of an 80 minute film should give a reasonable indication at the high level of impressive filmmaking that occurs here. What’s truly impressive is that it never once milks you for sentiment or deliberately attempts to force an emotional reaction from you – everything that occurs is just so heartbreakingly honest and one of the most realistic representations of childhood that I’ve seen on film.
Dir. Christian Petzold.
If I was held hostage by masked brigands and could only earn my freedom by definitively stating my favourite film from 2012, well, sorry darling Wes, but I would not name Moonrise Kingdom, I would name this German film. Trying to write about this film is proving an intensely difficult thing to do, I must have started then deleted about four different blog posts about it, and it has made me completely despair about being a terrible film writer – how can I write about the things if the one that affected me the most ends up striking my pen completely dumb? To the best of my shameful writing ability, this is what Barbara did to me: it simultaneously invaded my mind with a story completely foreign to my own experiences, yet spooled out from within me something painfully personal. The central performance of Nina Hoss as Barbara is a definitive masterclass in how to express everything you need to without words and instead employing gesture, mood and tension. It is lush and raw and beautiful and achingly perfect. Despite her painful journey, I wanted nothing more than to be Barbara, to be such a strong woman who no matter the temptations placed in her way always and unfailing did the right thing. I am tearing up at my computer screen right now, clearly this film is all kinds of too personal for me, so just promise me, dear readers, that out of all the films I have mentioned here that this is the one you will try to seek out and find? Because it is the one I would most like to give to you (Australians, if it helps it will apparently be having a limited cinema release this coming March, YOU ARE WELCOME!).