I am late on this. I am always late on this. Most people are blogging their lists throughout December. I look at them and think, ‘But the year isn’t even over yet.’
Most of these lists are probably released early enough to act as Christmas shopping lists. That is usually why such lists are done before the year is through. I like to put a little bit of distance between myself and the year.
Now I have a list that not only features what I believe were my favourite ten films of the year and also a list that defines cinema of 2012 for me. I have written this list to try and call attention (or defend) some films that have been overlooked or forgotten.
Over time and with second viewings, the list for this year could change. But for now:
Martha Marlene Marcy May
A thriller about a young woman who has escaped a cult. The tension here never lets up. Tension is difficult. Many thrillers bore because they can’t do tension. Also the ambiguity of the story kills me I am so invested in the characters.
This film was released early in the year in Australia, after coming out elsewhere in 2011. It has been available for rent for a while and is probably making its way to the Weekly section by now.
It would be very odd if Austrian director Mike Haneke made a film and it wasn’t on my list. He is one of the best assured filmmakers working. ‘Amour’ tells a very human love story about an elderly couple who face their mortality.
Haneke faces death in a way that most directors shy away from, he looks on it front on, most films prefer it to be quick, violent and out of the way.
This film hasn’t been released in Australia yet but the recent Best Picture nomination at the Oscars ensures that it is on its way, probably with a decent push by the distributor, soon.
Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
A slow-burner, masterpiece from Turkey. The film tells the story of a group of men set out in search of a dead body in the Anatolian steppes. It is best to let this one, with its quiet humour, confident imagery and masterful atmosphere wash over you.
Another film that was released in 2011 elsewhere but didn’t hit Australian shores until 2012. It is now available on DVD here.
Oslo August 31st
There have been many hack films made about heroin addiction, but ‘Oslo August 31st’ is not one of them. It is a grim story, no doubt about that, but it portrays hopelessness in the quiet manner I suspect it takes in real life.
The film follows a reformed addict is on day release, August 30th, in Oslo from his rehab center. He faces the pressures and expectations of the real world and his friends and family, as he weighs the future.
This film was released in Europe in 2011 before getting more attention elsewhere following its premiere in the USA at Sundance 2012. I am not certain of its current status in Australia.
The Dark Knight Rises
This is a Batman film. But I am sure I don’t need to say that. I know many people hated it, and I think there are problems, but I think the best bits shine more than the best bits in any other ‘blockbuster’ this year.
There are many things I love in this film. The mid-air jailbreak. The score. The larger than life and fun characterization of Catwoman. The John Blake character (despite the cop out at the end). A few moments with Bruce Wayne earlier in the film. The posture of Bane. The chase sequence.
It just doesn’t all work together, I know that, but I think I still love this film for those moments.
I am not even going to defend this film for moments of brilliant cinema, though the fight sequences are masterfully shot and put together. This Indonesian film tells the story of a police unit raiding an apartment tower that is controlled by a drug dealer.
The film is a hell of a lot of fun. Probably the most fun I had in the cinema in 2012. The action comes thick and fast with a ton of energy. It is the energy that most American action flicks lack, and there is none of the humiliation of ‘The Expendables 2’ here.
This film was released in limited cities in Australia in 2012 and is now available on DVD.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
A documentary about an older sushi master based in Japan. This film celebrates food like no other. It makes me hungry just thinking about it. The love in the shots of the food is matched by a respect for the chef and his craft.
I learnt a lot about sushi as well.
Despite being released elsewhere in 2011, this film was released in Australia in May and should be available on DVD.
This film may be the best fusion of documentary and fiction film that springs to mind. ‘Bernie’ tells the true story of a Texan mortician named Bernie, combining both interviews with people that knew Bernie and scripted scenes depicting Bernie’s actions, performed by Jack Black.
It is an interesting and humorous story that raises some perplexing questions. Jack Black proves that he can offer a nuanced performance. It is light entertainment, but good light entertainment.
The film is available on DVD in Australia.
This Is Not A Film
An Iranian documentary following a day in the life of Jafar Panahi, an Iranian filmmaker who is under house arrest and awaiting a verdict that could send me to prison for making propaganda against the regime.
A powerful film about film, filmmakers and freedom of speech.
It was released in Australia in 2011 but I did not see the film until 2012, and it was not released in the USA or the UK until 2012.
End of Watch
‘End of Watch’ depicts Los Angeles as something of a war-zone for its police officers, and I have no doubt, with its rampant gang warfare, that it is true. No film has done brutality as convincingly this year.
The characters aren’t glazed off, they feel like people, and that is why the brutality works. The found-footage style, in small parts, was unnecessary but thankfully it is only in small parts.
This film was released in cinemas in Australia in 2012.