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film-reel

The end of the year is in many ways a strange time to do a review of cinema, as many of the biggest releases arrive in December and January, aiming for Oscar success.  I am yet to see a number of films that could definitely trump a lot of the best ones I have seen up until now – Django Unchained, Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi.

I’ve also missed out on a lot of films recently, due to being away. I caught up with Skyfall and The Hobbit but I’m yet to see Silver Linings Playbook, Amour, Argo and Rust and Bon(as well as This Is Not A Film).

Nonetheless, even discounting these myriad offerings, 2012 has been a strong year for cinema.The year started off when, extremely hungover, I bought a ticket for Shame at the Sunshine Cinema in Lower East Manhattan, on the 1st of January. This bleak, brooding portrait of an emotionally-alienated sex addict was an auspicious start, providing a punchy and captivating watch with a superb central performance from Michael Fassbender and supporting work from Carey Mulligan. The other Fassbender flick out that month was A Dangerous Method, which proved somewhat more of a disappointment – Keira Knightley’s pouting wasn’t a problem, but David Cronenburg’s uneven script was – with the film split between its historical account of Freud and Jung and the soap story involving Knightley.

shame

The next major film I saw was Once Upon A Time In AnatoliaNuri Bilge Ceylan’s mesmerising, if slow-paced, tale of a nighttime hunt for a cadaver in the hills of central Turkey. This beautifully shot film is well worth a watch for its superb cinematography and unhurried portrayal of locals going about their lives to unexpectedly profound (and occasionally comic) effect. Then came Moonrise Kingdom, one of the year’s highlights. I’m a fair-weather fan of Wes Anderson – enjoying Royal Tenenbaums and Darjeeling Limited, but finding Life Aquatic a bit dull – but this one absolutely hit the spot, a funny, sweet and sincere tale. Not only are the central young actors perfectly cast, but there are also some wonderful supporting performances from Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and, most of all, the fantastic Ed Norton. The following month’s Detachment, starring Adrian Brody, was altogether more average and forgettable.

Nostalgia for the Light was a deeply affecting film about a search for the bones of victims of Pinochet’s regime beneath the Atacama desert – and the audacious, moving connection of this to the scientists’ search in the stars above the same desert. It should rightly win best documentary of the year – except that my heart was stolen by another, Searching for Sugarman, a joyful doc about sixties star who never was, Sixto Rodriguez.  This was undoubtedly the feelgood film of the year.

Kiera Knightley returned to the cinema screen with Anna Karenina, a film I enjoyed much more than expected – even if Aaron Taylor-Johnson was hopelessly mis-cast as Count Vronsky. Killing Them Softly was an enjoyable romp, but it left little behind thirty minutes after the film, let alone a few months later and I was a bit surprised by the praised heaped upon it. It did contain some good performances however, including Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and Ben Mendelsohn (also excellent in the 2010 Oz film Animal Kingdom). To Rome With Love was ultimately nothing that you hope for and everything you fear from Woody Allen, despite a promising opening half-hour. And Holy Motors wins the maddest film of the year award, with a barely intelligible script by Leos Carax that either has deep meaning or (more likely) none at all. If I didn’t fall in love with this mad piece of cinema, then at the very least respect has to go to Denis Lavant for his superb physical performance, as he contorts himself to play a host of different characters.

As the year began to draw slowly, inexorably, to a close, I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild, an original and imaginative directorial debut from Benh Zeitlin. I saw Skyfall, which puts Bond back up to his best (Casino Royale) after the dip that was Quantum of Solace. And, most impressively of all, there was time for The Master, heavyweight cinema of the highest order from Paul Thomas Anderson, featuring two virtuoso performances from Philip Seyour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix.

As Christmas and the New Year arrived, there was just time to return to Middle-earth for several hours with The Hobbit, which was undoubtedly overlong but also broadly entertaining, particularly when Andy Serkis (Gollum) was on screen.

Films of the Year 2012

1. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)

2. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

3. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

4. Shame (Steve McQueen)

5. Searching for Sugarman (Malik Bendjelloul)

Best Performances of 2012

1. Denis Lavant for Holy Motors

2. Philip Seymour Hoffman for The Master

3. Michael Fassbender for Shame

Best Supporting Performances of 2012

1. Andy Serkis for The Hobbit

2. Ed Norton for Moonrise Kingdom

3. Judy Dench for Skyfall

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