Sunday, 24 February 2013

REVIEW OF 2012

On the eve of the Oscars, and at long last, here's the Screen on Screen Review of 2012.

The Top Ten Films of 2012

1. THE TURIN HORSE
Bela Tarr's final film, lest he should choose to retire from retirement, is bleak and claustrophobic, and brilliantly so. It's a slow burner, but the ultimate effect is one of extraordinary desolation. As accomplished a depiction of the world's end as has been made to this day.

2. KEEP THE LIGHTS ON
A film that will make you cry, and not because it wrings the tears out of your eyes. It draws you in, beguilingly, tenderly, honestly. The honesty in the central relationship is so palpable because Keep the Lights On is semi-autobiographical, and undoubtedly Ira Sachs' best work to date.

3. AMOUR
A chronicle of love. Hence the title. It is not about death - you know that's coming, after all, but it's not there yet. It is about life, and that is there in every frame, every line, every flicker of expression in the faces of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, and what glorious expression.

4. LIFE OF PI
Dip your toe into Ang Lee's delicate yet overwhelming fantasy world, and you'll find that, before long, he's pulled you the whole way in. You're submerged, like Pi himself, but whereas he must watch the end of his life as he knows it, you may be watching the beginning of your own life, knowing it as you've never known it before.

5. TO THE WONDER
Take Terrence Malick's work at face value, and it is cold. But come up to his level, and read the imagery like you read a face, hear the sounds like you hear dialogue, and the richness of what he is communicating, and the way in which he is communicating it, is emblematic of the ultimate of what can be achieved through the art form that is cinema.

6. THE MASTER
So what does Paul Thomas Anderson know, anyway? As it turns out, not a lot. He asks questions he cannot answer. He leaves us with them, and embeds The Master in our own minds; in fact, it creeps into the cerebrum entirely, a sterile probe made of pure steel and steeliness. What do I know? The Master is one of the best films of the year.

7. ELENA
Elena is about Russia. Such a large country, with such a rich past, such an interesting future, such a complicated present. It is about money in Russia, class in Russia, gender in Russia, age in Russia. And in the hands of Andrei Zvyagintsev, it is all this in the form of a gripping thriller.

8. THE HUNT
You really feel this one. It stings. Thomas Vinterberg isn't out to sooth you. He's out to provoke you, infuriate you. Because these people are real, and these situations are real; they almost crack out of the screen, their force is so strong. Vinterberg isn't sorry that there are no happy endings. There is no happiness without pain.

9. HOLY MOTORS
It's just a film. Yes, of course you can read it as a commentary on what we watch, and how and why we watch it. Or you can read it as surrealist madness. Or you can choose to read it as nothing all. It's just a film. One way or another, I imagine you might raise a wry smile across Leos Carax's lips. Holy Motors did the same for me.

10. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO
An exercise in style, and what an exercise in style. Peter Strickland turns everything up to eleven, but strips his mise en scene, both visually and aurally, strikingly bare. And all those elevens add up. Lap this one up, preferably alone, in a dark room, with your own sound studio turned up to eleven.

Click to see my picks for 2012 in several other fields!


The Top Ten Performances of 2012

1. EMMANUELLE RIVA (AMOUR)
That rare combination - the demanding role, undertaken with both uncompromising realism and an extraordinary depth of feeling. Nobody went deeper than Riva in 2012.

2. JEAN-LOUIS TRINTIGNANT (AMOUR)
It doesn't feel entirely right separating Riva and Trintignant. He is so subtle, and so moving. His understanding of such a difficult screenplay and such a difficult role is astonishing.

3. THURE LINDHARDT (KEEP THE LIGHTS ON)
He'll make your heart ache. Thure Lindhardt has a direct line to it in Keep the Lights On. Unafraid of showing us every aspect of his character, no matter how potentially humiliating. In risking this, he achieves the opposite of humiliation. I'll see him in anything now.

4. DANIEL DAY-LEWIS (LINCOLN)
If every actor spent years preparing for their roles, would all their performances be this good? Somehow, I doubt it. Here resides an incomparable talent.

5. NAOMI WATTS (THE IMPOSSIBLE)
Naomi Watts knows how to convey pain and suffering on screen like no-one else. You never doubt it, not even for a second. She elevates every frame of this film that she's in.

6. MARGARETE TIESEL (PARADISE: LOVE)
You want bravery? What is there that Margarete Tiesel does not show in Paradise: Love? And she does it all with an unrehearsed approach that is the sign of something not learned, but intuited. She has a remarkable gift for acting.

7. DEON LOTZ (BEAUTY)
A bruising, brilliant film, driven and, indeed, characterised by Deon Lotz's incredible, terrifying performance. There's little to like in him, so Lotz gives us plenty to pity.

8. NADEZHDA MARKINA (ELENA)
Who needs dialogue with this level of dramatic ability in your arsenal? Words would only get in the way, I suppose. Delve inside her mind, because Markina has left it open for all to explore. The way in? Those eyes...

9. ELLE FANNING (GINGER & ROSA)
Maybe it's because I'm a boy. The mind of an adolescent girl is peculiar terrain for me to navigate. Not so for Elle Fanning, who identifies and conveys every minute detail in Ginger's character. The best actress of her generation.

10. DENIS LAVANT (HOLY MOTORS)
Holy Motors doesn't give Denis Lavant anywhere to hide. Nor does it give him an easy way out. He plays several different characters, all in the one body (or maybe more), and all better, individually, than most actors will achieve in their entire careers. The only acting masterclass you'll ever need.


The Top Ten Images of 2012

1. TO THE WONDER (DP: EMMANUEL LUBEZKI)
There were too many to choose from in To the Wonder. Typical Lubezki!

2. SKYFALL (DP: ROGER DEAKINS)
The old ways are the best.

3. THE TURIN HORSE (DP: FRED KELEMEN)
We'll always have potatoes.

4. LIFE OF PI (DP: CLAUDIO MIRANDA)
Once more, so many to choose from. A visual masterpiece (a masterpiece in all other regards too, actually).

5. DREDD (DP: ANTHONY DOD MANTLE)
Trust Anthony Dod Mantle to deliver the best use of 3D this year. Even better than Life of Pi, yes.

6. THE MASTER (DP: MIHAI MALAIMARE JR.)
Into 65mm, and into the wild.

7. ELENA (DP: MIKHAIL KRICHMAN)
Rich is out, poor is in, but the cold remains, and the bird has flown.

8. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (DP: GOKHAN TIRYAKI)
Far from this great film's prettiest image, but surely its most thought-provoking.

9. HOLY MOTORS (DP: CAROLINE CHAMPETIER)
Forget WETA, special effects provided by Viagra.

10. BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (DP: BEN RICHARDSON)
All the life in the world. And Hushpuppy's at the centre of this world.


The Best Direction of 2012
AGNES HRANITZKY AND BELA TARR (THE TURIN HORSE)

The Best Screenplay of 2012
MIGUEL GOMES AND MARIANA RICARDO (TABU)

The Best Cinematography of 2012
EMMANUEL LUBEZKI (TO THE WONDER)

The Best Editing of 2012
WILLIAM GOLDENBERG AND DYLAN TICHENOR (ZERO DARK THIRTY)

The Best Production Design of 2012
SARAH GREENWOOD (ANNA KARENINA)

The Best Costume Design of 2012
JACQUELINE DURRAN (ANNA KARENINA)

The Best Sound Design of 2012
KENJI SHIBAZAKI (HARA-KIRI: DEATH OF A SAMURAI)

The Best Visual Effects of 2012
CASEY ALLEN, LOUIS CRAIG, JEAN-MARTIN DESMARAIS, PAUL GRAFF, GUILLAUME ROCHERON AND BILL WESTENHOFER (LIFE OF PI)

The Best Make-Up of 2012
BERNARD FLOCH (HOLY MOTORS)

The Best Music of 2012
LAUREN MARIE MIKUS AND HANAN TOWNSHEND (TO THE WONDER)


The Best Animation of 2012
PARANORMAN


The Best Documentaries of 2012

There were several brilliant documentaries released last year, and, for once, the Academy pretty much got it right. 5 Broken Cameras was an unexpectedly moving account of life on the Israel-Palestine border, told via extraordinary camcorder footage. Searching for Sugar Man is a terrific, stranger-than-fiction story, told artfully and respectfully by first-time director Malik Bendjelloul, and it introduced me to the songs of Rodriguez, which is a real gift for a film to make. The Invisible War was a searing experience, one which ought to be mandatory viewing for all those who wish to enlist in their country's armed forces, and it almost took my prize for the best documentary of 2012.
     One documentary which I wished would have been nominated for the Oscar was The Imposter, although it has been very well-received with audiences and critics, and needs to be seen to be believed. And anyway, The Gatekeepers is reported to be an excellent film, although I haven't been able to see it yet. My favourite documentary from 2012, though, is David France's (another debut director) How to Survive a Plague. It's more than just an account of the struggle of the Act Up movement to achieve access for all to invaluable medication. It's a cry from the heart. And my heart heard every word.


Special Mention

One thing in particular struck me about 2012 when I was making my review: the quality of youth performances. What a great year for kids in film. Of course, there's Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild, one of the youngest Oscar nominees in history, she would be the youngest winner, and she is the youngest nominee if the age at which her performance was given was considered (six), rather than the age at which she was nominated (nine).
     But there were many others. Rachel Mwanza became the first African actress to win the Best Actress prize at the Berlin Film Festival, for her outstanding performance in War Witch. Much was made of Tom Holland's impressive work in The Impossible, including a small Oscar campaign, and he was matched by his co-stars Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast. On the topic of ensemble casts, I must mention real-life siblings Katrina, Robert, Shaun and Stephanie Kirk from Michael Winterbottom's Everyday, who gave such instinctive performances. And Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, in potentially star-making performances as the leads in Wes Anderson's highly-acclaimed Moonrise Kingdom. Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock also impressed, as siblings in the Australian film The Hunter.
     Many kids played characters with important, often troubled relationships with their parents (or, more often, parent): from Broken, Eloise Laurence, sure to become a major name in the British film industry, should she choose to continue acting, Rick Lens in the Dutch film Kauwboy, who gives an expressive performance that carries that film, Shaylena Mandingo in For Ellen, spending her only few hours with her father in her life to date, and (big spoiler alert) Kacey Mottet Klein in Sister, whose chemistry with Lea Seydoux is among the best acting from actors of any age last year.
     Blondin Miguel fit right in to Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre, and Gulliver McGrath was engaging in the multi-Oscar-nominated Lincoln. One of the year's most remarkable performances came from Annika Wedderkopp in The Hunt - a role so complex that it would have daunted most adult actors, and one which she handles with apparent ease, and a knowingness beyond her years. Just besting her, though, is Elle Fanning in Ginger & Rosa, for the best youth performance of the year. She's so brilliant as Ginger, and so consistently so through the whole film, even in its less successful stretches, that she made my list of the top ten performances of the year from actors of any age (featured above).