As we press on into the new cinematic year with the likes of Django Unchained and Les Misérables opening the doors on 2013, State looks back on the cream of the crop, the films that defined 2012.
To say Amour is enjoyable is a fallacy. In fact, the chances are that I’ll see The Avengers (which didn’t make my top ten) seven times for every time I see Amour, because it’s easy. Michael Haneke does not make easy films. He doesn’t care if you like them or if they help escape your own life. What he cares about is making you question the the assumed nature of things. Oftentimes that has been cinema itself (Hidden, Funny Games), but this year he asked us to consider what love really was. What complete devotion to another would really entail and, as I said at the time, whether beauty is sad or sadness is beautiful. Amour makes you ask those questions of yourself, while showing a love that endures and grows even as the bodies supporting it wither and decay. It’s a powerful, difficult, heartbreaking film. But it’s still the most beautiful one I’ve seen all year. – Rory Bonass
Read Rory’s full review on Amour from November here.
9. Holy Motors
Like a particularly visceral dream, Leos Carax’s Holy Motors lingers long in the mind after viewing. The film burns with a confused clarity. An illogical logic which makes perfect sense one moment, none at all the next. True cinema should entertain and confound, engage and beguile. Holy Motors does all this and more. Admittedly, its meaning is elusive but this is not a film to be understood in the conventional sense. It is a film to be experienced, to be dreamt. That is not to suggest it is without form. Carax carefully crafts his film into several neat vignettes, at the centre of each lies Denis Lavant’s chameleonic creations. Much has been made of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in The Master and though Phoenix is magnificent, he is magnificent as one character. In Holy Motors, Lavant is magnificent in several different roles. Having initially failed to raise finance for a large scale, English language film, Carax elected to shoot a smaller film in French. The result of such compromise is Holy Motors. One can only imagine what Carax might dream up if given free reign. Let’s hope we find out. – Fergal Rock
8. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Having read over my original review for Beasts, I find that I may have been a little pessimistic. I claimed that Zeitlin’s film “could be destined to never receive” the attention it so sorely deserved. Given its place in so many Top 10s around the world, it would seem that I’m gladly wrong! Aside from the fact that this film was critically extravagant by comparison to its established contemporaries, Beasts of the Southern Wild espoused a literary charm and charismatic performativity that span a narrative in a way an audience has not been exposed to in a long time, if ever. The amateur leads drove a highly emotive and esoteric screenplay that consistently perpetuated the idea that everyone involved with this production knew exactly what they had gotten together to do. Clever editing, a soaring score, patiently brilliant directing and an earnest sincerity through dense postmodernism resulted in a film that I have wanted to see for a very long time. I tell ye: I fell for this film; I fell hard. It is one of the best films of the year, if not of the millennium so far…and I do not type that lightly. – Jake O’Brien
Read Jake’s full review of Beasts of the Southern Wild from October here.
7. What Richard Did
Until What Richard Did, Abrahamson’s seemed a cinema that explored those little strains of bad behaviour that preoccupy minor artists everywhere; local tragedies for local people. Adam and Paul and Garage were fine and unambitious films, complacent in their smallness. In What Richard Did, big problems both social and moral are faced up to with a Bergmanesque gimlet eye. The stakes may be higher because Richard is the first un-alienated Abrahamson protagonist—in fact, he’s one of contemporary Ireland’s alpha males. Like most of us, he wants to succeed on society’s terms, and like most of us, this gets him a little depressed when he’s alone; an existential load lightly carried until the burst of violence that blows the film in half. Jack Reynor is too small to really be a rugby prodigy, but he can do a world-class degradation of the soul, helped in no small part by cinematographer David Grennan’s grimly blue-green south Dublin. – Darragh McCabe
Read Darragh’s full review of What Richard Did from October here.
I’ve fallen love with Looper. If my first viewing of the film was our first date, then of course I was trepidatious, uncertain. It was only on our second encounter that I truly realised the Looper was something special, something for me. Things that bugged me about the film—the perplexing choices of the story, its seeming ignorance of its own potential—have morphed into the quirks that endear it to me so much. As I said in my initial review, great science fiction takes an outlandish concept and grounds it with an emotional core, a human story. Looper is GREAT science fiction. – Jason Coburn
Read Jason’s full review of Looper from September here.
Ben Affleck has come a long way as an artist since the dark days of ‘Bennifer’ and with Argo, his latest directional effort after Gone Baby Gone and The Town, he’s come out with his strongest work yet. The film is based on the incredible true story of how a CIA agent (Affleck) managed to use the making of a fake movie as a cover for the rescue of U.S. diplomats during the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. The film is filled with nerve shredding tension, and Affleck skilfully manages to blend real life politics and Hollywood satire with some terrific supporting turns by the likes of John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Bryan Cranston. Expect to see a few well earned nods for Argo at the upcoming Oscars. – Padraig Cotter
Padraig wasn’t the only one impressed with Argo, read Rory’s thoughts on the film from November here.
4. The Raid: Redemption
The only film I went to see twice this year, The Raid is a lean, claustrophobic and violent thriller about a rookie police squad trapped in a drug lord’s fortress. A deserved winner of both the audience and critics’ awards at the Jameson Dublin Film Festival, it’s a mix of Die Hard, various martial arts thrillers and a waking nightmare; a limb-snapping, face-shooting, balcony leaping, improvised-weaponing adrenaline shot. – Joe Griffin
Joe wasn’t the only one impressed with The Raid, read Aidan’s thoughts on the film from May here.
3. The Master
One repeat viewing and months removed from seeing P.T Anderson’s The Master, and its fever dream stains still won’t wash off my brain. Penetrating, poetic and polarising, The Master added beautifully to Anderson’s auteur allegory on modern-day America. And with three performances more explosive than a Chitauri attack on New York, the end of 2012 will see myself, and many others, firmly in the patronage of Paul Thomas. – Dave Higgins
Read Dave’s full review of The Master from November here.
2. Silver Linings Playbook
David O. Russell, Oscar-nominated in 2010 for his last film The Fighter, directs Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and a faultless supporting cast in this, one of the funniest, sweetest movies of 2012. Cooper gives the performance of his career as bipolar Pat Solitano, while Lawrence’s Tiffany is the polar opposite of The Hunger Games’ uptight, humourless Katniss. The writing here is of such a standard that it can wring comedy from mental illness without ever feeling exploitative and its characters are believable, idiosyncratic human beings, all arguably just as obsessive and crazy as Pat himself. The film is unstoppably fuelled by its wit, the powerful chemistry of the two leads and an amazing soundtrack. The supporting cast are charming and funny across the board, with special mention to Pat’s parents played by Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro, here in his most memorable performance in years. It’s a film with heart, balls and a twisted sense of humour, and it sets a new gold standard for the modern rom-com. Katherine Heigl, take heed. – Rufus Mullan
Rufus wasn’t the only one impressed with Silver Linings Playbook, read Rory’s thoughts on the film from November here.
1. Moonrise Kingdom
Moonrise Kingdom is, of course, highly stylized, in the signature way all of Wes Anderson’s films are. At this stage, you probably know if the techniques of Anderson’s singular aesthetic—the meticulous set and costume design; the rectilinear, near-geometrical shots; the at times almost Japanese Noh play type acting—float your boat, or not. As far as I’m concerned, he has never made a bad film.
Many of his recurring themes are present here too: going on the lam; fucked up, dysfunctional, well-heeled families; precocious, outsiderish kids, in over their heads. It’s 1965 and twelve year olds Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), two smart, unpopular kids, fall in love with each other and elope. That’s all you really need to know. The performances of the two newcomer leads are great (their love scene gets the pitch of their nascent sexuality just right), but so also are those of all the other principals; the loneliness of these adults’ barren lives is what you sense Sam and Suzy are desperate to avoid.
I suspect what rubs most naysayers the wrong way about Wes Anderson’s films is the sense of wealth and privilege (or sometimes just plain unselfconscious arrogance) insulating characters from the problems of the so-called ‘real world’. Or else that his films don’t deal with ‘real’ problems at all. But these kids are vulnerable, especially Sam. It is, finally, about the pain—and resilience—of being young, of trying to negotiate the transition from childhood to adulthood with as little messy adolescence as possible, and with precious few grown-up role models to look up to, much less emulate. – Desmond Traynor
Want a second opinion? Brian was a little less impressed with State’s film top film of 2012, read his Moonrise Kingdom review from May here.
Seven Psychopaths, The Cabin in the Woods, The Grey, Avengers Assemble, Skyfall, Detachment, ParaNorman, Killer Joe, Shut Up And Play The Hits, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunt, Alps, Safe, Death of a Superhero, 21 Jump Street, The Muppets, The Imposter, Chronicle, A Dangerous Method, Sightseers