Best Films of 2012

2012, what a great year for film...

This year I haven't listened to much new music or played many new games but what I have done a lot of is watching movies! (Obviously working in a cinema helps!) Soooo an end of the year 'Best Films of 2012' was an obvious choice. I've picked ten films, ten being slim enough a number to keep it to the best of the best films of the year... although as well as my top ten there are some honourable mentions for films that I felt were worth a quick mention. If a film you loved this year isn't on my list let me know in the comments below, I want to know what I may have missed!

It has been a brilliant year for film with a lot variety in the 'types' of films released and some great 'leftfield' films doing surprisingly well at box office showing a healthy film-going culture, I'm thinking in particular of Steve McQueen's Shame which grossed 17 million dollars which is amazing by comparison to the 2 million dollars that was made by his 2008 film Hunger.


Director: Michel Hazanavicius
UK Release: 30th December 2011

Technically not a 2012 film, The Artist was such a big hit through the beginning of 2012 that it is hard to ignore... The Artist is a silent black-and-white film that tells of the tension that amounted around the turn from silent filmmaking to the 'talkies'. Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin a silent film star who starts a romantic relationship with non-actor Peppy Miller played by Bérénice Bejo. With the decline of silent cinema George falls from his once dizzying highs: unwanted and unconvinced by the drastic technological advancement that was sound. One-time lover Peppy rises with the introduction of sound and becomes a big star in Hollywood as George falls further away from her reach. The Artist was an incredible high to start the year with, a film that deserved all the praise that it gained and lived up to the hype. It's a film with real heart and beautifully simplicity that tells of the transition from silent to sound with a form that mirrors and plays off the tension that arose from this change.

Director: David Cronenberg
UK Release: 15th June 2012

Possibly one of the most bizarre and polarising films of recent years; Cosmopolis sees David Cronenberg return to his more eccentric side after last year's straight telling of the Freud and Jung story in A Dangerous Method. An adaptation of the novel by Don DeLillo, Cosmpolis follows Eric Parker - played by Twilight star Robert Pattinson  - a young twenty something billionaire who rides in the back of his personalised limo through a crowded central Manhattan during riots, a visit from the president and the funereal of a famous rapper... all in pursuit of a haircut at his old barbers. The films follows the hollowed and confused Parker as friends and clients enter his limo on its slow crawl through the bustling streets of Manhatten, some are there for business, others for sex and in one case, a prostate examination. Cosmopolis is a very different film for Pattinson; his character is an arrogant and empty young man who doesn't know how to socialise or make positive sense or meaning of the life around him... Pattinson is perfect for this role! His character's hollow psychology seeps into every aspect of the film giving the film a very odd plasticity that rubbed many the wrong way when this was released back in June but I really enjoyed the artificiality and thought its themes were interesting and unusual.

Director: Wes Anderson
UK Release: 25th May 2012

Moonrise Kingdom is an incredibly stylised American indie comedy; nothing new for Wes Anderson of course but it is probably my favourite film from this young influential director... second maybe to his first feature film Bottle Rocket. It kind of feels like The Royal Tenenbaums; with a wide cast of interesting and eccentric characters, yet the scout setting gives it a distinct charm and the romance between central characters Sam and Suzy provides a sweet tone to the movie. The film follows the young blooming love between rebel scout Sam Shakusky (Jared Gilman) and pen pal Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward) as they plan their escape from their respective family and scout camp. A wild chase ensues as they are hunted down for fear of their safety. Although young both Sam and Suzy have an air of adulthood about them, they simply don't fear for their own safety and will do anything to be together. I loved this film, it was a great film for the summer; a funny, well written and immaculately directed film about the love between two innocent teens who perhaps have grown up too fast.

7 - Amour

Director: Michael Haneke
UK Release: 16th November 2012

The notoriously cruel director's most tender work to date focuses its attention on the acute relationships between a couple who have to suddenly come to terms with illness and old age when Anne played superbly by Emmanuelle Riva suffers a stroke. It's up to husband Georges - played beautifully restrained by Jean-Louis Trintignant - to care for his rapidly deteriorating wife as she loses physical mobility and faith in life. There is a bitterness to the film gives it a distinct 'Haneke' feel... it's not an easy movie to watch and you feel completely complacent in her suffering which may put some viewers off but underneath this is an affecting piece of cinema that deals with time and physical deterioration on an almost microscopic level. Beautifully filmed with a gorgeous set, fantastic make up and flawless acting, this is cinema that is as beautiful as it is cruel.

Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne
UK Release: 23rd March 2012

The Kid with a Bike is a remarkably subtle and tense film that tells the story of a young, somewhat confused and troubled boy called Cyril who is in foster care after his father decides that he can no longer take care of him. Cyril (Thomas Doret) refuses to except his fathers rejection and becomes desperate to find him and his lost bicycle. He ends up being taken in by Samantha (Cécile De France) and has to adjust to his new surroundings and the neighbourhood kids. The Kid with a Bike is a fantastic film about the pains of growing up, and how innocence can so easily be taken advantage of. It is an incredibly tense film with beautiful direction and acting through out, it reminded me of Lukas Moodysson's masterpiece Lilja 4 Eva in both its raw handling of the theme of childhood as well as its loose directional style. A brilliant hard hitting drama that comes highly recommended.

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
UK Release: 16th November 2012

The Master is an impeccably written and directed film that tells the story of Freddie Quell (Joaquin Pheonix), a World War II veteran who struggles to integrate himself back into society after coming home from war. Freddie happens upon Lancaster Dodd (aka. The Master) (Philip Seymour Hoffman) when - after drinking one of his own lethal paint thinner alcohol concoctions - he boards a small boat he sees on a stumble through town. Upon waking from his intoxicated state he finds that the boat has set sail for New York; Freddie's life has become aimless so he doesn't really mind the trip. He gets to know the people on the boat, in particular the head of the boat Lancaster Dodd; writer of philosophical and proto-religious book The Cause which is gaining a cult following. The film has a fairly relaxed pace throughout but it is always engaging due to some incredible performances and spotless writing, every aspect of the film is thriving with life and detail, a meticulous film that deserves all the praise that it has attracted.

Director: Aki Kaurismäki
UK Release: 6th April 2012

Le Havre tells the story of Marcel (André Wilms), a shoeshiner who happens upon young illegal immagrant Idrissa (Blondin Miguel) trying to get to London but who's shipping container hideout is scrambled by the police of Le Havre (a port town of Normandy). Marcel takes wanted Idrissa under his wing and out of the police's sight whilst attempting to set up an escape route for him. Le Havre is a witty, unique and heartwarming film that brings to mind the dramas of German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder mixed with the beautiful simplicity and sincerity of someone like Yasujirô Ozu. A fantastic film that has stuck strong in my mind throughout the year.

Director: Ann Hui
UK Release: 3rd August 2012

A Simple Life is a brilliant and subtly affecting film that explores ideas of care, age and class in Hong Kong. It tells the story of a family maid Ah Tao who worked for a Hong Kong family for over 30 years and gained an extremely close and personal relationship with the children of the family. Roger - one of the children of the family, now a film director - visits her from time to time but it isn't until Ah Tao suffers a stroke that Roger realises just how important Ah Tao is to him. The movie follows her fluctuations in health which results in Ah Tao being taken in to a rather basic nursing home that has its own bizarre charm. The film is incredibly tender but not without humour, it reminded me a lot of Edward Yang's A One and a Two (Yi Yi) in that it slowly creeps into your heart and just tugs away at it. Central to the film is Deannie Yip's astonishing performance as Ah Tao, easily the best acting role I saw this year by a mile, a physically demanding role that she acted perfectly. I'm not afraid to admit that I cried my eyes out when I saw this film, I think it is a film that anyone can relate to and is without a doubt one of the cinematic highlights of the year. Sadly the film didn't receive much attention over here and had a very limited release.

2 - Samsara

Director: Ron Fricke
UK Release: 31st August 2012

Samsara was the film that exceeded my expectations the most this year, I was expecting it to be the cinematic equivalent of 'World Music', a somewhat polite cinema that would simply show our diverse world culture... but what I found in Samsara was a fascinating film who's focus was dizzyingly wide, taking in meat, gun and sex doll production as well as dance, nature and religion. It was engaging from start to finish, paced, edited and scored beautifully, an inspiring rhythmic cinematic experience. Highlights for me were the sand filled rooms with doors held open by big mounds of sand blown in through windows of disused houses in desert areas and the hypnotic and creepy dance that opens the film. A fascinating film that will surprise and inspire you, a film that surpasses any 'documentary' or 'world cinema' tag... can't wait to see it again!

Director: Leos Carax
UK Release: 28th September 2012

Holy Motors follows Monsieur Oscar during a day's 'appointments' around the city, for each appiontment Oscar must take on the role of one of numerous persona's and act out tasks that range from the mundane to the violent and outlandish. At the centre of the film is the incredible performance by Carax regular Denis Lavant who rises to the task of playing around ten different characters with incredible ease. Carax really pushes Lavant and makes the most of his uniquely physical acting style throughout the film and it really is a joy to watch Lavant on the big screen. No other film was as engaging, experimental, and down right fun to watch as Holy Motors this year, a film that furthered the medium, pushed boundaries and confounded audiences. Holy Motors is testament to the power and flexibility of cinema and utilizes the potential of cinema to its fullest. With Holy Motors director Leos Carax makes the medium of cinema bend to his will and in so doing breaks all previous conventions and starts anew, an absolutely fascinating masterpiece of cinema which is as much a taxonomy of the form as it is a breaking of that form.

You can read my full review of Holy Motors here >> REVIEW: Holy Motors

Honourable Mentions

Here are four films that didn't make it on to my top 10 but are worthwhile watches and highlights of the year in their own right. All are definitely worth a mention when looking back at the state of film in 2012.

Directors: Kim Tae-YongTsai Ming-LiangGu ChangweiAnn Hui
UK Release: 15th October 2012

Beautiful 2012 is a collection of four short films by directors from East Asia commissioned for Hong Kong Film Festival under the premiss of 'What is beautiful?'. It opens with South Korean director Kim Tae-Yong's light-hearted and humorous film You Are More Than Beautiful which tells the story of a young man who hires an actress to pretend to be his wife on a visit to see his Dad who is in a comatosed state... a strange premiss for a film that worked surprisingly well. Next is a film by one my favourite directors, Tsai Ming-Liang. Walker is a digitally filmed 20 minute piece which comprises of images of a red robed monk played by Tsai regular Lee Kang-Sheng walking extremely slowly around a bustling Hong Kong with a bread role and a white plastic bag. I love Tsai but I felt that this film perhaps missed the mark slightly, it was a very interesting and contemplative short film but could have been shortened considerably. Next up was the real stunner of the bunch, Gu Changwei's Long Tou, a staggeringly original film that seemed to bend time over and onto itself. Working with the interplay of sound and image and somehow defying the usual conventions of both mediums. A truly magical film that shows great promise for Gu in the future. If Long Tou was expanded to feature length it would easily make it on to my top ten. My Way, the last short film of Beautiful 2012, directed by Ann Hui follows a pre-op transsexual married man who's marriage is on the rocks when he decides to follow his heart and go ahead with a sex change. The film is an odd mix of drama and comedy that was touching and strangely beautiful.

Director: David Lean
UK Release: 10th December 1962 // 50th Anniversary 23rd November 2012

2012 marked the 50th anniversary of David Lean's epic Lawrence of Arabia. To celebrate the occasion Sony gave the film an incredible new restoration, a re-release in cinemas around the UK and a release on the Blu-Ray format. I had not seen the film before this re-release and wasn't familiar with the story of T.E. Lawrence so I found parts of the story hard to follow yet the beautiful and awe-inspiring scale of this epic film is hard to deny or ignore. The colours are remarkably rich and vivid throughout and the editing is creative in ways few films can match. The framing of some of the shots is breathtaking and makes a very good case for film as a powerful art form, I particularly loved the shot of Lawrence and his Bedouin guide riding on camels silhouetted and framed by massive cliff faces and the shot under moonlight where Sherif Ali finds Lawrence thrown on to the street after being tortured. I loved the film, it still has a lot to teach young filmmakers and on a technical level it is a triumph.

Director: Ridley Scott
UK Release: 1st June 2012

When looking back on the films of 2012 it is hard not to think of Ridley Scott's highly debated Alien prequal, Prometheus. No film this year has caused such wide debate and mixed reactions. Personally I felt it it fell victim to simply being a modern blockbuster - with all the no-brainer action and cheap thrills that the tag of 'blockbuster' suggests in 2012. There was no way a film like this would get through unscathed and many people hated the film (click here to see what I'm talking about) but I felt it did an okay job and is the best Alien film since Aliens.

Director: Zal Batmanglij
UK Release: 3rd August 2012

Sadly this slightly flawed independent sci-fi went almost completely unnoticed this year. Written by up-and-coming Brit Marling and premiered around the same time as another film written by Marling - the somewhat superior Another Earth - Sound of My Voice tells the story of a cult surrounding a women who claims to be from the future. The film isn't perfect, it could have been 20 minutes longer and Brit Marling's slightly theatrical performance is a bit like Marmite, you'll either love it or hate it. Neither-the-less this was a brave independent film that makes a case for a new form of science fiction.

Posted: 14th December 2012

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