Friday, December 28, 2012

Review of 2012

It has been a quiet year for Cinewise, but that doesn't mean films weren't watched. They just weren't elaborated on in this humble blog. Continuing with the tradition, it would be remiss not to feature a best-of-year retrospective, with the usual caveats and new features:
  • Instead of last year's rather mammoth Top 50, I went for a more modest and concise Top 30. This concision was partly driven by a considerable lack of quality releases beyond this mark.
  • The films need to be generally released within the UK cinemas between January 1st and December 31st 2012 (no festival-only releases from 2012, but you will see some festival releases from 2011), which meant, some films like The Artist have been omitted this year. Sadly, it didn't feature in last year's list either because I hadn't seen it when the list was published. Oops.
  • As prefaced in previous years' lists, we get films a bit later than the rest of the world here, so some films will have been indexed by online databases as 2011, or even 2010, releases. That being said, they are still included in this year's list because of their UK release dates. Otherwise the pool of films I had to draw from would have been far less than 30!
  • Some of the big names will be missing (such as Lincoln and Django Unchained), because those won't be released here until next year.
  • And, it goes without saying, these films are drawn from the pool of films I have in their entirety.
But, wait. There's more.

Actress of the year:

Elisabeth Olson: One of her films made it to the list and another one narrowly missed out. But there's no question that she was the best thing in both of them. The third Olson sister is proving to be one of the most promising actresses around and things can only get better.

Actor of the year:

Mads Mikkelsen: Two of his films made this year's list and he was simply mesmerising in both. I've only recently jumped on the bandwagon. As they say, better late than never.

Scenes of the year:

  1. Ruby finally realises who's holding the strings in Ruby Sparks
  2. The scene that makes you ask, "Is that even legal?", in Moonrise Kingdom
  3. Serving tea in candlelight in Once upon a Time in Anatolia
  4. The steadicam awesomeness of the final scene in Carancho
  5. Mad Dog, Andi and Rama having a little discussion in The Raid
  6. John Hawkes singing Jackson C. Frank classic "Marcy's Song" in Martha Marcy May Marlene
  7. Charlize Theron and Patty Oswald get naughty with chicken breasts in Young Adult
  8. The dinner scene that re-defines awkward in Inside

And here are the Top 30 films of 2012 according to The Bru:

30- The Dark Knight Rises

Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan
Production country: USA, UK

The problem with The Dark Knight Rises is difficult to pinpoint. If I had made this list a week after watching it, there is no doubt in my mind that it would feature near the top of it (assuming of course that I had seen all of the films below by that point). It is no secret that The Dark Knight was what it was because of Heath Ledger's death. It is extremely hard to ignore that fact and see the new film without that in mind. The Dark Knight Rises, which is essentially the same film with the same superficial dynamics, suffers from the lack of that caveat (as macabre as that may sound). More so, The Dark Knight Rises gets worse retrospectively. Having said that, it is still a very solid blockbuster and a superior example of the superhero genre. It is sufficiently dark, with plenty of great set pieces. It was a fitting, but a slightly underwhelming, finale to one of the better blockbuster series we have seen in the last decade.

29- The Amazing Spider-Man

Directed by: Marc Webb
Written by: James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves
Production country: USA

I must admit I had big reservations about this. Not that I am particularly a fan of Sam Raimi's take on Spider-man, but mostly because of its timing and the rumours that circulated about its tone. Marc Webb's version is as teenage and emo as Raimi's, but improves vastly on numerous fronts, one of which is acting. As much as I liked Tobey Maguire, the rest of the cast of all Spidey movies were far short of average. Here we have Andrew Garfield as the titular homo-arachnid and Emma Stone as the love interest and they sparkle as they should - no wonder they are now a real-life couple. Moreover, this packs more fun in its running time than the three that came before. Garfield's take on Peter Parker really shows his vulnerabilities and the wide-eyed wonder a teenage boy would have if he suddenly grew superpowers, so to speak. All in all, The Amazing Spider-Man is a very enjoyable film and much better than the other recent versions.

28- Coriolanus

Directed by: Ralph Fiennes
Written by: John Logan
Production country: UK

Adapting Shakespeare verbatim to screen has been problematic (see The Merchant of Venice). His language doesn't transfer well to film, but Ralph Fiennes does a fine job by placing one of Shakespeare's less known works in a modern context. What may look like gimmicky political demogaugery on surface, ends up being a tense, bloody and beautiful work. Fiennes is fantastic as the titular General Coriolanus who was banished from the country he saved many times in bloody battles. As he signs a contract with the devil (essentially his nemesis) and seeks revenge upon his homeland, you inevitably come face to face with his dilemma and question concepts like loyalty, patriotism and honour. They become malleable and easily manipulated. Eventually they become what Benedict Anderson may call imagined concepts. A very well done, unconventional film that sadly went under the radar when it was released earlier in the year.

27- Avengers Assemble (aka The Avengers)

Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon
Production country: USA

Not being a comic-book fan is a difficult thing in the summer if you like films. The multiplexes are inundated with new superheroes trying to save the world or sort out their daddy issues, while not-banging non-superhero chicks-next-door. It gets dully fairly easily. Thankfully this year was much better than previous years, as Marvel Studios shamelessly got us excited for the union of its franchise stars in an All-Star film. If you follow NBA, you know that All-Star games are the worst part of the season - bloated offense, no hussle plays and the camaraderie of millionaire athletes that are better than you in every way. Avengers Assemble (aka The Avengers) seemed to be facing the same destiny, only to turn out to be immensely fun (though completely nonsensical plot-wise). This is mostly due to director Joss Whedon, a real fan. Not sure the formula can be repeated, but this is certainly the best straight-up comic-book adaptation … ever?

26- The Raid

Directed by: Gareth Evans
Written by: Gareth Evans
Production country: Indonesia, USA

Continuing the trend of British directors kicking ass in non-British films, the Welshman Gareth Evans's Indonesian martial arts film is too fun for its own good. Doing away with a logical plot, Evans just plays on a very basic concept: officers of an elite polie strike force are trapped in a high-rise building facing a machine-gun-toting, martial-arts-wielding gang. Simples. Once entrapped and the fringe crewmen die, the action kicks in and never lets up. The fight scenes are incredible (especially the penultimate ménage à trois showdown), the human element (the soppy backstories) are a little too cheesy but that's to be expected in a martial arts film. Will this make Iko Kuwais a major star is to be seen, but in Gareth Evans the British cinema has another promising good director.

25- Klown

Directed by: Mikkel Norgaard
Written by: Casper Christensen, Frank Hvam
Production country: Denmark

If your sense of humour comes without any caveats, then you will truly enjoy this hilarious Danish romp. However, if you don't like to see a little boy being made fun of by adults for having a small penis or see a man who has to endure a video of him drug-raped shown to his whole family, you will probably not like this at all. True to the Scandinavian no-holds-barred and no-one-left-uninsulted comedic style, Klown, despite its lack of visual appeal, simply wins. It does look like a long TV episode of a sitcom that was never aired, but that shouldn't take away the from the brilliant concept of two middle-aged men going on a quest to find the best brothel in Denmark, with a young boy in tow. If "Two and a Half Men" were actually written by Charlie Sheen, it would be like this. Probably the funniest all-out comedy of the year.

24- Berberian Sound Studio

Directed by: Peter Strickland
Written by: Peter Strickland
Production country: UK

Peter Strickland wowed us all with 2009's Katalin Varga, one of the subtlest horror films of the last decade. He continues the eerie atmosphere of his previous film in his little nod to giallo. Toby Jones is the hotly-tipped, shy British sound engineer hired to record the soundtrack for the next big Italian horror film. However, there are more serious things to consider other than the language barrier and the never-reimbursed plane ticket to Rome. The fourth walls are broken one by one and soon all films (including the one we are watching) blur into one. The film's snail-like pace crawls under your skin and it is all the more effective for exactly that reason. Any quickening of the pace and this would have been just another "face-in-the-mirror" horror film. It will not give you vivid nightmares, but it will definitely make you look at every dark corner in your house before you go to sleep.

23- Headhunters

Directed by: Morten Tyldum
Written by: Lars Gudmestad, Ulf Ryberg
Production country: Norway, Germany

Other than his extremely fluid and economical writing, the thing that makes Jo Nesbo's novels so popular lies with where they are set: you can picture a fictional detective or a clever psycho in a 315-million-population country like the US, but when you transfer the same story to a 5-million-population Norway, those two suddenly become god-like creatures, going through a plot that is simply once-in-a-lifetime. It also helps that there is a clear fascination with everything Scandinavian in Anglo-American film and television at the moment, so it's no surprise that Headhunters turned a few heads. And rightly so. This is a kick-ass thriller the likes of which they don't make anymore. Genius plot twists, great set-pieces (one involving a toilet-paper-tube used as a snorkel in a shit pool) and well-thought-of characters. The storyline may rely too much on coincidences but Headhunters is a nice old-school thriller.

22- Cabin in the Woods

Directed by: Joss Whedon
Written by: Joss Whedon, Drew Goddard
Production country: USA

There is an argument to be made here about how too meta this is and it can be jarring at times. But I can't remember having this much fun at the cinema all year. It took 2 years to arrive on the big screen and it was worth it. Whether you buy into the concept or not (it would be a spoiler to reveal it) is moot, because Whedon (a great accidental one-two punch this year) delivers an assured film aware of its shortcomings, too smart for its audience, but never condescending. It should have garnered as much notoriety as Scream, but its too-clever premise got lost in the process. There is another argument as to its double-identity: is it a straight-up horror or a piss-take? Scream balanced that perfectly, while Cabin in the Woods favours the pisst-take part a little bit more seriously (so to speak), but adds another cerebral dimension to the process. Too good for its own good? Maybe.

21- Lawless

Directed by: John Hillcoat
Written by: Nick Cave
Production country: USA

Lawless is a difficult film to like and it is borderline nonsensical. Its polarising nature did not do any good at the box-office, but underneath it all is a very smart, beautifully-shot and dark-as-fuck humour. The one major gripe is how certain plot elements are left hanging (such as the one involving Gary Oldman's tough gang boss). I'm still not convinced about Shia LaBoef's leading-man credentials (though I am excited about what Lars Von Trier will bring out of him in Nymphomaniac), but Tom Hardy once again proves that he fits every role (though, the bulging muscles he built for Bane does look a bit odd in the Prohibition-era setting here). Nick Cave's screenplay is assured, memorable and zings with one-liners. John Hillcoat's direction depicts the era well. Not the masterpiece we were perhaps hoping for, but a more-than-able modern western of our times.

20- Carancho

Directed by: Pablo Trapero
Written by: Alejandro Fadel, Martin Mauregui, Santiago Mitre, and Pablo Trapero
Production country: Argentina, Chile, France, South Korea

Ricardo Darín is a favourite here at Cinewise and Carancho shows why he is one of the best actors working today. Pablo Trapero's film uses close-up to perfection and the night-time setting lends a noirish feel to the proceedings. Sosa is a shady character, but Darín portrays his inner humanity so well and his on-screen chemistry with Martina Gusman is fantastic. Argentinean cinema doesn't get enough praise beyond the critics' circuit, which is a shame. Carancho sits well with the recent exports from that country, such as The Headless Woman and the majestic The Secrets in their Eyes. The final scene is guaranteed to leave you breathless with its technical bravura and inventiveness.

19- Looper

Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Production country: USA, China

You need to stop thinking about Looper the moment you stop watching it, which is hard because it is heaps of fun. In a mainstream cinema dominated by re-makes and adaptations, Looper is a bright light in originality. The problem? It tries to be too clever. Time-travel films usually don't make sense. Even the most robustly-thought-of examples like Primer have giant plot-holes if you probe them enough. Looper, for all its cerebral chops, does have giant plot-holes all over its running time. If you ignore them, though, it will reward you many times over. Not sure why it became Omen in the last third - I have heard from many people that this was the best part of the film. I think it's the opposite, but you have to give it to director-writer Rian Johnson for starting these kind of conversations. If only all blockbusters were as smart and daring as this.

18- Seven Psychopaths

Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Production country: UK

Seven Psychopaths asks too much from its audience. The first act looks as if we are about to see the biggest turkey of the year. How can a man who wrote such gems as In Bruges and Six Shooter come up with this? And, another story about a writer suffering from writers' block?! Well, once the meta kicks in and you realise you are watching the visual analogue of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water", that's when you know you're in the presence of a genius. From that moment on the laughs keep coming in at breakneck speed and everything begins to make sense, yet it still leaves you surprised at the end. Don't let the dog-kidnapping concept fool you - that is a great MacGuffin, it's only there to get things started. This is essentially Martin McDonagh's autobiography of his mind - inventive, dark, hilarious and ultimately very reawarding. Only gripe is that it should have been so from the get-go.

17- Holy Motors

Directed by: Leos Carax
Written by: Leos Carax
Production country: France, Germany

Leos Carax's return to feature films is astonishing. When the film everyone remembers you by is a romantic fantasy set in contemporary Paris involving a blind rich girl and homeless man, your next film probably shouldn't be Holy Motors, about a man living many lives in contemporary Paris, travelling between these lives in a stretch limo. Who provides this service? Which one of these lives is the anchor? When he meets another fellow … lifer(?) … do we get a glimpse of his 'real' life, or is this also a role he is going to play? Why isn't he eating anything? Too many questions and too few answers, Holy Motors will leave scratching your head and mutter "what the fuck was that" inaudibly for a very long time. A nice little reminder about the magic of cinema and visual storytelling. And who knew I would get emotional listening to Kylie Minogue singing? Granted, her duet with Nick Cave was fantastic.

16- Ruby Sparks

Directed by: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
Written by: Zoe Kazan
Production country: USA

The scene of the year comes in the final act of this very enjoyable indie rom-com. Paul Dano plays the one-hit-wonder genius writer Calvin who, literally, writes his dream girl to life, Ruby (played by the screenwriter Zoe Kazan). When Calvin finally reveals Ruby's nature to her, she attempts to leave. But Calvin picks up his trusty old typewriter and starts dictating what Ruby should do next: dance like an idiot, cry, wave your hands, attempt to fly … you name it, he types it, she does it. Why is this scene so so significant? Because it is the beta male and not the alpha male that does it. The film is not condoning Calvin's behavirous, although Calvin does get the dream girl in the end, albeit under different cicumstances. This scene does not sit particularly well with the rest of the film, which is very light-hearted, but for taking that risk, it elevates Ruby Sparks from all the other mumblecore indie rom-coms.

15- Sightseers

Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Written by: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Amy Jump
Production country: UK

Following on from last year's superb chiller Kill List, Ben Wheatley delivers a film just as funny, violent and good. Yet the two films couldn't be more different in tone and look. While Kill List chilled you to bones with a bleak setting and colour palette, Sightseers is blatantly comedic, shot in bright colours (except for the rain sequences). It is also one of the prettiest British films I have seen in a while. It would be ideal for the British tourist board (or whatever it is called) to promote countryside tourism, cutting the scenes where ramblers, cyclists, and caravaners are hacked to pieces, their blood smearing England's green and pleasant land. Credit to the two leads (Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also co-wrote the script) whose caravaning killers are sympathetic through the end. And more credit to Wheatley for resisting to give them a reason for their blood spree other than a few humourous gripes. This is too black to be a mainstream hit, but if you want to watch a British director at the top of his game, look no further.

14- Silver Linings Playbook

Directed by: David O. Russell
Written by: David O. Russell
Production country: USA

Added to the near universal critical acclaim Silver Linings Playbook has received, there is a valid caveat for its major shortcoming: that too many films are crammed into one. David O. Russell goes back to his whimsical best after the successful but conventional The Fighter. Bradley Cooper plays the bipolar history teacher Pat, who has recently beat the crap out of his wife's boyfriend. After reluctantly released from the mental institute he's been in for the past 6 months, he returns to his parents' home. Robert DeNiro is fantastic as the Philly Eagles fan dad whose priority clearly lies with the gridiron. Pat's futile attempts at getting back with his wife have him run into Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence, hit and miss here), who is trying to overcome his late husband's death by sleeping with every man at her office. Sparks fly and you know the rest. Although formulaic, Russell's script brings in surprise elements into the mix. Some fit, some don't. Personally I would have done without the betting subplot. Regardless, this is one of the smartest romantic comedies I have seen in a while and it is just about the right amount of weird to be a rather refreshing take on a well-trodden story.

13- Moonrise Kingdom

Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola
Production country: USA

Here we go, I'm going to say it: this is Wes Anderson's best film yet. Just a notch above Rushmore and far more accomplished and satisfying then anything he's done since. Anderson's obsession with mid-to-late 20th century European chic sits much more comfortable here. The irony is it is also his most American film in the themes it explores: man vs. nature, personal freedom, sexual repression … All with the backdrop of a wonderful little love story between two newcomers, Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward. The barely-legal beach scene is the sweetest, purest thing I have seen all year. It is cringeworthy and endlessly watchable at the same time. The supporting cast of heavyweights (Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Bill Fucking Murray, Ed Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jason Schwartzman, Bob Balaban, and Tilda Swinton … wow!) make this a very enjoyable little love story.

12- Beasts of the Southern Wild

Directed by: Benh Zeitlin
Written by: Benh Zeitlin, Lucy Alibar
Production country: USA

If you're in need of a contemporary fairy tale that is soaring, goosebump-inducing and funny, look no further. You can argue that it is a little too cute, but that's missing the point. This is a post-apocalyptic world painted in decrepit houses, mold, mud and desperate lives. The newcomer Quevenzhané Wallis simply shines in the lead role of a precocious little girl, Hushpuppy, trying her best to survive with her ailing father. Their scenes together are simply breathtaking. While the survivors of a post-hurricane no-man's-land recover their lives, Hushpuppy's vivid imagination revives aurochs trapped under ice for millenia. As the wild beasts make their way to Hushpuppy's sunken village, the US government are also closing in on their community, adamant to make them rejoin the civilisation. Will the aurochs wreak havoc? Will the villagers be assimilated back to civilisation? Will Hushpuppy find her dead mother? Beneath these questions lies the main theme of the film: global warming. Never hinted too subtly, nor are we ever hit on the head with it, the message is delivered just right. Cinema is capable of giving a sense of wonder unlike any medium and Beasts of the Southern Wild is an excellent proof of that.

11- Argo

Directed by: Ben Affleck
Written by: Chris Terrio
Production country: USA

Another great film. Ben Affleck is adamant to save the thriller genre all by himself. Putting aside the rather ridiculous ending, Argo harks back to the thrillers of the 1970s, which were more concerned with the characterisation and setting, rather than the set-pieces. As you're watching it your realise that things happen without any hindrance - it seems to lack conflict. But it somehow works brilliantly. Only when the conflict is added does the film derails - kudos to Affleck to not let the conventional wisdom dictate his direction until the very last scene. Telling the story as it needs to be told, we are presented with the rather ludicrous but true story of a group of American embassy workers saved after the Iranian revolution in the guise of them being a Canadian film crew. The trailer has misled many in the beginning for being a comedy that turns into a thriller. I had my reservations too, but the film balances the comedy with the thrills so well that you won't be left for asking more of either. Ben Affleck is, without doubt, one of the best directors working in Hollywood right now. How awesome is that?!

10- Your Sister's Sister

Directed by: Lynn Shelton
Written by: Lynn Shelton
Production country: USA

Sexy, funny and fresh … Your Sister's Sister is all you want from an indie film. Constantly defying conventions, it is such a fresh story that even after knowing all the plot points it remains a surprising film. Few romantic dramedies will stand up to repeat viewings, but the story here is so well balanced that you will want to watch it again and again. Exploring the themes of friendship, loyalty and unrequited love is nothing new and the examples are endless. Yet, Your Sister's Sister does have an organic way of exploring that theme as the plot evolves from one scene to the next in the most natural way. The hidden becomes obvious, the obvious becomes more layered and subtle. Jack Duplass, Emily Blunt and Rosemary DeWitt are superb as the three leads. There are one too many acoustic indie love songs and an attempt at a montage, but those little digressions do not take anything away from the heartfelt story. Do yourself a favour, make some mulled wine, get cozy on your sofa and watch this by yourself on a rainy Sunday afternoon. You're welcome.

9- A Royal Affair

Directed by: Nikolaj Arcel
Written by: Rasmus Heisterberg, Nikolaj Arcel
Production country: Denmark, Sweden, Czech Republic

The second best Danish film of the year is a beautifully shot historical drama: lengthy running time, minute historical detail, sumptuous costumes and art direction … no this is not an MGM production from the 50s. Majestic and daring, A Royal Affair will restore your faith in old-school movie magic. Making sure the story comes first in this based-on-true-events of the Danish queen's affair with the King's counsellor pays dividends in that the context elevates the plot and not the other way around. Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic (when wasn't he fantastic?) as the progressive German scholar Struense, while the rather young Alicia Vikander is the British-born Queen Caroline. But the true star of the show is the childish, peculiar King Christian, played by Mikkel Boe Følsgaard - if Følsgaard is ignored in the awards season, it will be a big injustice. They don't make films like these anymore. Cherish them while you can.

8- Shame

Directed by: Steve McQueen
Written by: Steve McQueen, Abi Morgan
Production country: UK

One of the two best performances of the year is Michael Fassbender's sexacoholic New York accountant Brandon (the other is at number 2). Much has been said about the sex scenes, Fassbender's impressive manhood, and the treatment of women characters. While the former two are clear talking points, I don't agree with the latter. Carey Mulligan as Brandon's sister Sissy is one of the most complex characters I have seen witten for any gender. As far as the rest of the modest female cast, the script treats them the same way as it treats the male partner Brandon sleeps with - here the gender and sex are blurred and a sexual partner becomes just that, a sexual partner. Steve McQueen's film has a few of outstanding scenes and sequences, one of which is Brandon's cross-town jog (a cross between Travis Bickle's many odysseys in the streets of New York and Ted Kramer running with his injured son to the emergency room - yes, Shame is a great New York movie). Shame will disturb you, it may disgust you. But it will also leave you in jaw-dropped awe. Simply wonderful.

7- Young Adult

Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Diablo Cody
Production country: USA

Charlize Theron is too good in Young Adult. So good, in fact, that she will be criminally underepresented in acting nominations, mostly because of the kind of film Young Adult is. It is a female-led comedy like last year's funny-as-balls (sorry, couldn't resist) Bridesmaids, written by a famous female screenwriter (Diablo Cody). Forget about the gender of those involved (who cares if it was written by a female or a male writer) and just relish in how good Young Adult is. It is funny, heartbreaking and it never shies away from delivering the most brutal punch when it needs to. Theron's witchy Mavis is a cantankerous former prom queen. She is still too beautiful to be taken seriously and her pathetic attempts at ruining her high school sweetheart's family before a reunion party is painful to watch … and too funny (did I mention funny?). Theron won the Oscar for Monster, but it is here that she truly shines. She carries the film to places few other actresses could have, with a character that is too hard to like but harder to not empathise with. Juno was big, but inconsistent. This is Diablo Cody's best script yet and hopefully good things will come in abundance in the future.

6- Martha Marcy May Marlene

Directed by: Sean Durkin
Written by: Sean Durkin
Production country: USA

It is pretty difficult to find faults in this slow-burner. At the same time it is a very hard sell. The Jackson C. Frank soundtrack, sung by co-star John Hawkes, sure helped its cult status and so did the incredible performance from Elizabeth Olson, the other Olson sister. Let's not forget the chilling turn by Hawkes himself. But the strong screenplay and direction by Sean Durkin are the dealmakers here. Durkin, with the help of cinematographer Jody Lee Lipes, create an eerie atmosphere that crawls under your skin. This is dramorror (did I just coin that?) of the highest order, with an ending that will not only leave you speechless but will urge you to see it again to look for further clues to the mystery. But the point is not the why or the what, but how the story unfolds, oscillating between past and present. These narrative jumps are often so subtle, you are unsure where you are in the story, which adds to the mystery and the uneasy feeling that permeates every scene.

5- About Elly

Directed by: Asghar Farhadi
Written by: Asghar Farhadi
Production country: Iran, France

Asghar Farhadi turned a few heads with last year's A Separation, the winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar, so we now get to see his other works. And we are rewarded with this little masterpiece. As three young families and close friends take a weekend trip to the beach in modern-day Iran, they also bring a woman that they barely know. But this woman soon disappears and because of what little they know about her, they are unable to deal with her disappearance. Although the course of action seems pretty obvious, this is Iran and the disappearance of a single woman is not so straightforward. The group dynamic that was working so dynamically and democratically in the beginning soon turn sour as numerous dark secrets are unveiled. The ensemble cast (some of whom also appeared in A Separation) is superb. For a dialogue-heavy narrative, the plot never feels force-fed to you via exposition and the natural acting clearly helps this. Farhadi is a rare talent and we are finally able to appreciate his work. Better late than never.

4- Amour

Directed by: Michael Haneke
Written by: Michael Haneke
Production country: Austria, France, Germany

Love does not conquer all, nor will it save you from multiple strokes and a slow and painful death. This is the maxim of Michael Haneke's latest masterpiece. Still stark and dark, Haneke's approach is now more subtle but no less emotionally draining. The story of an old man who has to see his beloved wife whittle and die in front of his eyes is as disturbing as you would imagine. But in the hands of Haneke, it turns into a human story without sensationalising the efforts of the husband or the distant daughter. Screen legends Emanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant deliver incredible performances, but it's Haneke's show and he once again proves his critics right by being the most distant of all directors, but his probing camera manages to go under the very skin of his characters and we are dealt a story for which we take a side whether we want to or not. Cinema should be a challenging medium and thanks to directors like Haneke we are given chance to elaborate on what we see. Is it a moral tale that will shape our ex-muros behaviour? I don't think that's the intention, but it certainly helps to bring certain unmentionables to light.

3- The Master

Directed by: Paul Thomad Anderson
Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson
Production country: USA

Yes, on the surface there is no discrenible story, plot, suspense, and (dare I say it?) heart. But that is only looking at it superficially. Because The Master has all of those in abundance. It is the film of our times. Interestingly most said the same thing for There Will Be Blood, so Paul Thomas Anderson seems to get it right just about every time. Why is The Master so important? It plays with our basest instincts, turn them around and shove them up our backsides. It puts a giant mirror in front of us and we don't like what we see. If we did, we'd be in more trouble than we should be. Joaquin Phoenix's performance is one for the ages and Philip Seymour Hoffman is scary as can be in the titular role. There is a palpable sense of doom and there are more than handful of nods to Terence Malick. This was the visually most spectacular film of this year and, lo and behold, it was shot on 35mm and 65mm film. Projected with an 70mm projector, this was what watching films must have been like back in the day. Kudos for Anderson for not only giving us a great story but also telling the story in the way it deserves to be told.

2- The Hunt

Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
Written by: Thomas Vinterberg, Tobias Lindholm
Production country: Denmark

Warning to those who suffer from heart problems: do not watch this film. I am a relatively healthy 30-year-old, but I thought my heart was about pop out of my chest cavity more than once watching this. Thomas Vinterberg once again manages to get your heartbeat go stratospheric with the lightest of touches. As with his masterpiece Festen he just lets the story raise the stakes. Although visually more appealing than any Dogme95 film, The Hunt is still very sparse but effective in its autumnal cinematography. Mads Mikkelsen, in an absolutely stellar performance, plays a kindergarten teacher falsely accused of paedophilia. But once the p-word is uttered, the small town where he lives turns against him with very dire results. If you don't need some fresh air afterwards, then you really need to check your pulse. The Hunt is a one-of-a-kind film, a film that will have longevity and in another year it may have been a shoo-in for the top spot. But the best film of the year was …

1- Once upon a Time in Anatolia

Directed by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan
Written by: Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan, Ercan Kesal
Production country: Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Full disclosure: I was born in Turkey, but those who know me well know that I have no patriotic feelings for Turkey (or for any other country, for that matter). The reason I'm saying this is so that no one questions this choice out of any nationalistic zealotry or pride. So, putting that aside, I can confidently say that Nuri Bilge Ceylan's latest, which was a festival-only release last year, is not only his best, but quite probably the best Turkish film ever. There is a very basic story here: a homicide suspect is taken for a ride to show where he buried the body. Now, that doesn't sound very appetising for a 3-hour film. But the story is only a ruse to delve deep into the characters' psyche that we soon lose our anchor for what constitutes as reality. Whose point-of-view are we seeing things? Whose motive takes precedence? Why, why, and why again? Ceylan's film questions the idea of guilt and pride in so few words - most prescient of all is the scene where the all-male cast are rendered speechless as a beautiful teenage girl serves them tea in candlelight. It is by far the most superior film from Ceylan and unmistakably the best film of the year.


Anonymous said...

You've done it again! Awesome list... from which I'll add at least 15 movies to my netflix queue (post-parenthood, I've unfortunately made it to the cinema only about three times...)

Also -random aside- I always think "You're welcome." is really funny, as per #10.

Kudos all round!

The Bru said...

Thanks, buddy! This one took me a while, but I'm glad it's done and dusted now.

I'm sure post-parenthood is a film all by itself. :)


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