Happy New year to everyone and apologies for the delay in my contribution. Just recovering from chaos of Hogmanay.
I didn’t find 2012 as good as the previous few years but I managed to miss some films which I was very keen to see, including Holy Motors, The Master (I thought Anderson’s Magnolia one of the best films of the 1990s), About Elly, This is Not a Film, Berberian Sound Studio, Shadow Dancer. Some of these will no doubt appear on my 2013 DVD list.
I’ve chosen ten on the UK cinema release list because I can’t find an obvious five which are far better than the next five and these are not necessarily in any order:
Rust and Bone (France/Belgium)
I usually have to psyche myself up to watch films featuring severe physical injury but the performance of Cotillard in particular made me overcome my squeamishness. Also a fine performance by Matthias Schoenaerts whose character’s lack of emotion at the beginning helped Stephanie to get beyond self-pity and rebuild her life. Alain couldn’t stay frozen forever and his transformation was incredibly well done.
Le Havre (Finland/France/Germany)
A Chaplinesque good-hearted fairy-tale about a group of ‘small people’ in the port area of Le Havre conspiring to help an immigrant boy on his way to join his mother in London keep out of the hands of the police. A sort of Finnish hommage to French poetic realism.
Goodbye First Love (France/Germany)
I’ve never been a fan of Rohmer but this film has the qualities fans of Rohmer often describe.
Anna Karenina (UK)
Costume drama needs a rethink and this is one of the most radical.
The Hunt (Jagten, Denmark/Sweden 2012)
Seems to be a common denominator among contributors so it must have something special going for it.
Liberal Arts (USA)
34-year-old Nat visits his old university and falls for Zibby, the bright 19-year-old daughter of his former professor’s friends. Could be classed as a romcom but the term doesn’t quite catch the mood and tone of the film. Terrific performances, especially by minor characters and by Elizabeth Olsen who threatens to put in the shade her more famous sisters Mary-Kate and Ashley. Something endearingly old-fashioned about the contact of the two protagonists – by letter. Here’s a clip of the couple’s correspondence rendered by voice-over which catches the flavour of the film.:
Your Sister’s Sister (USA)
Another American indy production. Interesting relationship triangle between a man and two sisters, witty and engaging. A bit of a rough diamond of a romcom.
An uplifting comedy about the friendship that develops between a wealthy quadriplegic and his carer, Driss, an ex-convict. Has become the most seen film in French history and already doing better abroad than The Artist.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro (France 2012)
A union official made redundant and his wife struggle to apply their long-held socialist principles faced with adversity.
Monsieur Lazhar (Canada)
There seems to be a real flourishing of film in Quebec in recent years and this is a fine example.
An honourable mention to The Angels Share and a dishonourable mention to two American comedies which were both immature and very funny: Ted and 21 Jump Street.
Once Upon a Time The Revolution/Duck You Sucker (Italy 1971)
Tends to be overlooked in comparison to the other two “Once Upon a Time” Leone films (The West and America) but still great, ebullient film making.
The Minister (France/Belgium, 2011) (TOTAL French Film Festival)
Terrific performance by Olivier Gourmet (whom I’d only seen in Dardennes Brothers films such as The Son) in which he plays a government minister under pressure.
Sarah’s Key (France, 2010)
Two time periods, Paris in 1942, during the notorious round-ups of the Jews by the Paris police, and present-day Paris and New York. A journalist (Kristin Scott-Thomas) suspects her in-laws may have benefitted from the Jews’ misfortune over 60 years before. In some way more effective in portraying these events than La Rafle.
The First Day of the Rest of Your Life (France, 2008)
Family melodrama which follows the story of a tumultuous family over five important days in their lives.
C.R.A.Z.Y. (Canada, 2005)
Another family melodrama, this time set in Canada. It tells the story of conservative father (a great country fan – which will explain the title) and his relationship with his five sons, in 1960s and 1970s Quebec and in particular Zac, a young gay man dealing with homophobia.
Café de Flor (Canada/France, 2011)
Another Quebec film (also written and directed by Jean-Mark Vallé) which cuts between two seemingly unrelated stories. One set in Montréal dealing with the relationship between a successful DJ, his new, younger girlfriend and his still-complicated relationship with his ex-wife who can’t let go. The other, set in 1960s Paris, stars Vanessa Paradis as a fiercely protective single mother of a child with Down syndrome
Even the Rain (Spain, 2010)
While a director and his crew shoot a controversial film about Christopher Columbus in Cochabamba, Bolivia, local people rise up against plans to privatize the water supply.
The final two are Spanish films directed by Fernando Trueba, a Christmas gift from Madrid. Probably on my list as seen most recently but they refuted the common claim that in Spain there is only Almodóvar.
Belle Époque (Spain/Portugal, 1992)
Set in Spain in 1931 Fernando, a young soldier, deserts from the army and is welcomed by the owner of a farm due to his libertarian political ideas. The man has four daughters, all of whom Fernando is attracted to and they to him , so he has to decide which one to love. Despite the subtext consisting of the issues that lead to the Civil War 5 years later, this is really a fairy-tale. I think I would have hated it back in 1992 when it first came out, when Spanish film (and Spanish political culture generally) avoided any real issues to do with the Civil War (the so-called “pact of forgetting”). But seeing it now, really enjoyed it and its utopian aspirations.
Chico and Rita (Spain/UK, 2010)
An animated feature-length film, the story of Chico, a pianist, and Rita, a singer, is set against backdrops of Havana, New York City, Las Vegas, Hollywood and Paris in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Strange having such a sexy animated film (outside Japan!). I probably still associate, subconsciously, animation with kids’ films. Good story, excellent animation, wonderful music.
What of 2013? Looking forward to seeing the films mentioned by other contributors, and want to fill a lacuna in my viewing experience by getting to grips with Kenji Mizoguchi. As for telly, looking forward to Season 4 of Engrenages/Spiral and the final half season of Breaking Bad, one of the best US series but almost invisible in the UK.
And a New Year Resolution – not to go and see blockbusters because influential reviewers tell me how good and original they are – such as Skyfall, the latest Bond film, which bored me to tears after half an hour.