That was 2012 in film

We’ve been trying to put together some ideas about what we’ve seen over the last 12 months. For me personally, 2012 was a great year. I largely ignored Hollywood and I don’t feel that I’ve missed much. Apart from Prometheus (which I argued was a British movie) I’ve watched only Hugo, The Hunger Games and Fincher’s The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. Scorsese’s film was interesting but the Fincher film was irrelevant. The Hunger Games was worth watching and the franchise shows potential but I’m not over-excited. I am intrigued by the prospect of Tarantino’s Western in a few weeks time, but otherwise Hollywood holds few attractions. American indies have also been so-so. Instead, I’ve seen the French blockbuster Intouchables, which I enjoyed but seem not to have written about – a mistake. Bollywood and Chinese blockbusters were also missing this year, though I enjoyed the Tamil remake of 3 Idiots, Nanban. But mostly 2012 was the year of the jaw-dropping specialised release. Trying to choose just five films to put on a pedestal was very difficult and I could easily have listed ten or even 15.

Eventually I came up with this list of the five films on UK cinema release in 2012 which made most impact on me:

1. Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)

A gem of restraint, an almost perfect story.

2. A Royal Affair (Denmark/Czech/Ger/Swe)

Philosophy, history, politics and romance – a heady mixture.

3. Tabu (Portugal/Brazil/France)

Strange, beautiful and a subtle satire – a unique meditation on the colonial imagination.

4. A Simple Life (Hong Kong)

The title says it all, a Chinese melodrama with enormous emotional power.

5. The Hunt (Denmark)

Thomas Vinterberg makes a triumphal comeback with a multi-layered story and Mads Mikkelsen’s second great performance of 2012.

It’s obvious that I like melodramas since that generic classification is the one factor shared by these five titles. Three of them are also about memory and all of them are powered by terrific performances. Mads Mikkelsen is the actor of the moment (i.e. in both A Royal Affair and The Hunt) and Danish and Québécois cinema have dominated my 2012.

We are also listing the five films that we’ve seen either as re-releases or education screenings, in festivals or on DVD or TV in 2012. Here’s my ‘other’ five:

1. War Witch (Canada 2012)

Kim Nguyen’s film about a young girl caught up in the Congolese civil wars would have been a strong contender for my first list but bizarrely it hasn’t yet got a UK release. It has been seen at many festivals and won several prizes already. It has made the ‘long shortlist’ for the Foreign Language Oscar and I hope it wins.

2. Dreams for Sale (Japan 2012)

The best film I saw at the London Film Festival. Contemporary Japanese films are fascinating but don’t seem to sell well internationally at the moment. I hope this proves to be the exception.

3. The Eternal Breasts (Japan 1955)

The Leeds Film Festival came up trumps with its Tanaka Kinuyo retrospective. I’m not sure why, but 1950s Japanese cinema seems to have become my most reliable source of pleasure in the cinema.

4. It Always Rains on Sunday (UK 1947)

A long post on this re-release is nearly complete. The BFI’s digital releases in 2012 included several interesting titles but this was the revelation for me. I’d seen the film before, but I hadn’t understood the power of Googie Withers’ performance until I saw it on the big screen. Part of the BFI’s huge Ealing retrospective I found that this film raised issues about the critical reaction to Ealing’s output that I want to explore.

5. Tess (France/UK 1979)

I watched Tess on DVD earlier this year while I was preparing for an event on Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna and reading the Hardy novel which was the original source of both films. Polanski’s Tess blew me away on DVD – much of it watched on my laptop on a train. I can’t remember why I didn’t see it at the time and I was surprised to read about the difficulties it had in getting distribution in the UK. There is a restored digital print of Tess circulating in the UK and I must track it down.

Nick and Rona have both sent me their lists, so perhaps we can get some debate going? Nick’s (more extensive) lists are also on his own blog – the two here were what he sent to me (and he’s now added his own comments):

Nick’s

I agree with Roy that Hollywood produced little (nothing?) of note last year; I enjoyed Prometheus but the superhero franchises left me cold.

Nick’s list of UK 2012 cinema releases:

The Hunt

Utterly gripping and, the dreadful child protection procedures apart, completely convincing.

About Elly (Iran 2009)

Another melodrama that mixed thriller with humour in devastating fashion.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Turkey/Bosnia-Herzogovina 2011)

Wonderfully slow paced narrative, the absurdities of which were completely engaging.

The Iron Lady (UK-France 2011)

A surprise for me because Thatcher is one of the few people I hate to the core of my being. However, as a film about old age and dementia this will take some beating.

Anna Karenina (UK 2012)

Very impressed by Joe Wright’s artifice, making this period drama refreshingly modern.

and the top 5 films revisited:

Vertigo (US 1957)

It doesn’t deserves the moniker of ‘best movie of all time’, as Sight & Sound suggests, but then no movie does. However, it’s tale of obsession, love and loss is still riveting.

Gattaca (US 1997)

A dystopian thriller that combines SF and noir brilliantly.

Ashes and Diamonds (Poland 1958)

Wajda remains one of my favourite directors, he is able to take a microcosm – here the end of WWII – and instil momentous events within it.

Battle for Haditha (UK 2007)

Nick Broomfield not only brilliantly recreates the madness of the Americans in Iraq, he humanises both the protagonists and antagonists (choose your side).

Son of Babylon (Iraq/UK/Fra/UAE/Lebanon/Egypt 2009)

I missed this in the cinema; like Haditha it encapsulates the Iraqi experience of war. Maybe if everyone watched films like these the opposition to war would be so great that politicians, even when urged on by the industrial-military complex, wouldn’t dare to defy public opinion.

and Rona‘s lists (a Top 9 and a Top 4):

The Hunt

The Master (US 2012)

Shadow Dancer (UK 2012)

7 Psychopaths (UK 2012)

The Hunter (Australia 2011)

Argo (US 2012)

Holy Motors (France 2012)

The Turin Horse (Hungary/Fra/Ger/Switz/US 2011)

Swandown (UK 2012)

Berberian Sound Studio (UK-Germany 2012)

DVD-wise (return through study)

L’Avventura (Italy 1960)

Taxi Driver (US 1976)

The Conversation (US 1974)

The Passion of Joan of Arc (France 1928)

So far then, only one agreement – that The Hunt is one of the films of the year. We hope to hear soon from Des and Keith. Perhaps they will be posting their own lists first? Any thoughts on the lists so far? Please add in the ‘Comments’ below.

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9 comments

  1. Just Another Film Buff

    Hello Roy. First off, a very happy new year to you, Keith and Des! Here’s to a great ’13

    Haven’t watched a number of films from your list, though I gotta say that the year was disappointing for me for more reasons than one.

    That said, I’m really looking forward to DJANGO UNCHAINED, ZERO DARK THIRTY and THE MASTER. What did you/Nick think of 7 PSYCHOPATHS? I’m a fan of IN BRUGES and I’m keen on this one too.

    I caught up with a number of tier-2 and tier-3 titles at the local film fest. I watched LA PIROGUE (had to give up on BLOWUP!) following your recommendation, and I liked it.
    If you are looking for key Bollywood films of the year, you might want to check out SHANGHAI, GANGS OF WASSEYPUR, AGNEEPATH, to name some.

    Again, wish you a great year ahead.

    • Roy Stafford

      Great to hear from you JAFB and Happy New Year!

      Re 7 Psychopaths, I did find it amusing and the performances were good but it didn’t ‘mean’ much to me. I’m intrigued by Django Unchained partly because Tarantino has mentioned Richard Fleischer’s Mandingo – a controversial but politically fascinating film. I want to see if Tarantino can actually say something that makes a difference. I’m deeply suspicious about Kathryn Bigelow’s film and I’m not sure I want to see it. I’m afraid that politics keeps me out of many US films. I know you are a fan of Tarantino/Bigelow etc. so I’ll try to check out what you make of them.

      I think I’ve already missed Agneepath in cinemas here (I remember the original) but the first part of Gangs of Wasseypur is out here in a couple of months. Shanghai wasn’t released in the UK but it sounds very interesting.

      Can you explain what you mean by ‘Tier 2′ and ‘Tier 3′ at the Bangalore Festival?

      Do you get Danish crime series on TV in India? I would have to say that Borgen (second series starts in the UK on Saturday) is more interesting than most films on release in the UK.

      • Just Another Film Buff

        Thanks, Roy. While I’m an admirer of Tarantino, the reason I’m after ZERO DARK THIRTY is the amount of good criticism and positive flame wars it has sparked. I’m not too keen on THE HURT LOCKER, but I’d be watching her new film just for the sake of reading good stuff.

        With Tier 2 and 3, I was referring to the kind of reception they are getting in the film scene. So Tier 1 would mean the Cannes Competition and UCR entries. + Some from Berlin/Venice.

        No, I don’t think we do, though I gotta admit I stay away from TV as much as possible and wouldn’t know if it does air.

        Cheers!

      • Roy Stafford

        I will read up on Zero Dark Thirty when it opens.

        Your festival explanation is interesting. I think most festivals I’ve visited do discriminate in the way you describe but perhaps not in such a formal way. I tend to go to see festival films which I don’t think will get a general UK cinema release (like La Pirogue).

        The TV/film distinction seems to be breaking down in the US/UK and I’m watching to see when producers in India and China start to take note of the possibilities. Cable TV in the US and multichannel TV globally have both changed the economics of the industry. In Europe most film production relies in one way or another on TV as either a source of funding or new talent as well as a means of distribution.

      • Just Another Film Buff

        I’m not sure how much the Indian TV networks would/can draw from those of Europe, but it sure can free mainstream cinema from a lot of constraints, including self-censoring for family audiences or genre compromises. But before that the addiction for Reality TV has to be torn down.

  2. Rona

    ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ is mired in politics – because it has stirred up a storm regarding torture of detainees. See most recently; http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/04/letter-kathryn-bigelow-zero-dark-thirty where Naomi Wolf got involved. Bigelow’s directorial attitude with this – and with all her other work – is that you make up your own mind, and she has no intention of helping direct interpretations with editorial comment. That attitude was very prevalent in ‘The Hurt Locker’ but both films have problematic relationships to the US military campaigns abroad. Bigelow has already won directing awards for her latest film – e.g. New York Film Critics Circle – which is often regarded as an early indication of Oscar potential. The current media coverage, however, threatens to make Bigelow get involved herself in the politics of her film -which started out life as a script relating to the failure to capture Bin Laden (a very different narrative – and politically less triumphalist – prospect).

  3. Rona

    If I can join the discussion about ’7 Psychopaths’ – I think there is a certain brilliance in constructing that kind of self-referential film (like Kaufman’s ‘Adaptation’) without it becoming really irritating. McDonagh gets it completely right for me, because the understanding at the end of the film where all the narratives link (implausibiy of course) does deliver the message he’s told you he’s aiming for all the way through the film. I found it really moving. I thought the performances were uniformly hilarious – and making nice references (in terms of their past record), I can write on Sam Rockwell at length (if you’ve seen ‘Moon’ you’ll understand why) but McDonagh apparently wrote the part with his voice in his head many years before ‘In Bruges’ (before he ever thought he’d direct).

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