My films of 2012

As 2012 limps towards its end every blogger in the kingdom is posting his or her lists. This blog has gone very quiet this year, particularly since the summer, and that’s mostly because there hasn’t been a great deal that I’ve thought worth writing about. On the rare occasions when I have found myself having an opinion, I have done you the kindness of keeping it to myself. Please consider reciprocating by not posting a comment below.

To fill the many hours I have spent not writing, I have gone to the cinema probably a little more often than in previous years. Most of the best films I’ve seen there, predictably, have been classics — La Grande Illusion, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, To Kill a Mockingbird, Psycho, Inherit the Wind. If an old film is on at the Arts Picturehouse, that’s generally because it’s worth watching. But among the many new films I’ve come across, the following are ten that have stood out as among the best. They’re a predictable melange of sentimentality and physical or psychological abuse.

10. A Cat in Paris [Une Vie de Chat] (Alain Gagnol, Jean-Loup Felicioli)

A Cat in Paris

A beautifully drawn, charming and exciting adventure, in which a little girl joins forces with her cat and a local burglar to catch the gang of crooks responsible for the death of her father. It is animated with wit, humour and tenderness, and certain aspects of it recall things like The Snowman, though it’s a bit livelier than that, and Wallace and Gromit. The original soundtrack is recommended over the English dub.
IMDb | Trailer

9. Petit Nicolas [Le Petit Nicolas] (Laurent Tirard)

Petit Nicolas

Created by René Goscinny of Asterix fame, the adventures of Petit Nicolas are popular in France but haven’t caught on overseas. That’s a shame, as otherwise this enormously likeable film might have had a larger audience in the UK. Nicolas leads an idyllic life, but when his bickering parents start to get along he fears it may mean a little brother or sister is on the way, and resolves to put a stop to it. By and large it stays on the right side of saccharine, though there are some near misses, but I can’t immediately recall a single British children’s film that has its knockabout good humour and joy.
IMDb | Trailer

8. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)

Martha Marcy May Marlene

A gripping psychological drama dealing with the after-effects of a young woman’s escape from a cult. The most striking thing, I thought at the time, is how beautiful and natural it looks, but that is not to detract from the performances, which are superb, especially those of Elizabeth Olsen and Sarah Paulson as the two sisters. John Hawkes is his customary charismatic self.
IMDb | Trailer

7. Amour (Michael Haneke)

Amour

Michael Haneke’s study of dementia is an emotionally gutting film to watch, but full of life and alive to the tenderness and fragility of human existence. The performances of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva are beautiful, and the conversation scenes between them superbly observed and entirely credible. Trintignant has a couple of spellbinding scenes involving a pigeon, and the pigeon gives one of the great performances in cinematic pigeon history. Music is central to the plot of the film, and it is used sparingly and to great effect.
IMDb | Trailer

6. Michael (Markus Schleinzer)

Michael

Not something one could bear to watch often, this Austrian film is a compelling and all too believable study of an outwardly unremarkable insurance broker who secretly keeps a boy locked up in a custom-built cellar in his house. It features two tremendous central performances and engages the mind constantly. Its sense of tension and nerviness reminded me of the Dardenne brothers’ Le Fils, one of my favourite films of recent years, and there is a great deal in it that merits high praise. It is telling that first-time director Schleinzer is a long-time collaborator of Michael Haneke, whose stamp is on the film. The banality of evil has rarely been so well realised in cinema. There are any number of telling little touches that took me aback – like the simple writing of a cross in a notebook.
IMDb | Trailer

5. North Sea Texas [Noordzee, Texas] (Bavo Defurne)

North Sea Texas

The debut feature film of Belgian director Bavo Defurne, whose short films, generally on gay subjects, have caught my attention in the past. It’s a coming-of-age story set in the 1970s, and centres around Pim, a teenage boy with a passion for his older neighbour. Then the other boy gets a girlfriend and things become complicated. It’s the kind of thing that might easily be drearily formulaic, but it’s nothing of the kind. Defurne coaxes winning performances from his young cast and the result is a tender, moving and erotic film.
IMDb | Trailer

4. The Imposter (Bart Layton)

The Imposter

In 1994 a boy goes missing from San Antonio, Texas. In 1997 he is reported found in Spain. But the boy who is found isn’t the boy who went missing. Why do the missing boy’s family take the other one in when it is so obvious he isn’t who he claims to be, and why are they so desperate not to let him go as the truth dawns? The most unlikely thing is that it isn’t all made up. It actually happened. This documentary is sensational without being sensationalist. With the source material it would have been so easy to make something tacky and/or partisan, but the film avoids those traps. The viewer’s loyalties shift. The real boy’s mother, sister and brother-in-law are interviewed, as are the surrogate boy, an FBI investigator and a private detective, all of them giving engaging testimony. The use – the mere existence! – of documentary footage of the boy’s arrival ‘back’ in America is genuinely breathtaking. The film is a tour de force that had my brain doing gymnastics. The people around me laughed at some of the most shocking things, and that’s understandable. The most upsetting things the film relates are also laughable, and there is a very fine line between harrowing and ridiculous.
IMDb | Trailer

3. Skyfall (Sam Mendes)

Skyfall

Not a perfect Bond film, but damn good fun. The synthesis of the high-octane, post-Bourne revamp of the Bond franchise with the old gadgets and cars and sly humour is enormously pleasing. Daniel Craig doesn’t do enough jokes for my taste, but at least he’s not as po-faced as Lazenby and Dalton were. The addition of performers of the calibre and charisma of Javier Bardem, Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes is an enormous boon, but at the heart of the film is Bond’s relationship with M. It’s a delight to see this aspect, which has taken a back seat since Judi Dench’s Bond debut in GoldenEye, in the foreground for a change, and it provides an emotional core that is too often absent from Bond films. It’s a thrilling ride.
IMDb | Trailer

2. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)

The Artist

It’s bold to claim that this film has the visual sweep of something like Citizen Kane or The Magnificent Ambersons, and I’m not sure it’s a claim I could justify if pressed, but I certainly felt in the world of those old classics. The actors, from Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo to James Cromwell and Uggie the dog, have verve and charm in bucketloads, and the film is a delightful homage to silent cinema that I found irresistible and occasionally overwhelming. I was delighted to see it garlanded with awards earlier in the year.
IMDb | Trailer

1. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)

Moonrise Kingdom

I’m not sure I have ever before had the experience of feeling a film might have been made specifically for me, but by gum I had it while I watched this. I’ve admired Wes Anderson in the past, but this is the first time I have fallen in love with one of his films. Set in 1965, it tells the story of a boy scout who absconds from camp with a girl he met at a production of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde the previous year, and is told with Anderson’s usual stylisation and quirkiness and the most beautiful colour palette imaginable. The performances are all excellent (I’d single out Ed Norton and Bruce Willis for particular praise, and Bob Balaban’s oddity of a narrator is a sublime touch), but what I really love is the innocence of the whole thing. Anderson’s treatment of Britten’s music is respectful and sensitive, and my heart wells up to think about the film. Exhilarating and transcendent.
IMDb | Trailer

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2 Responses to “My films of 2012”

  1. Evie Says:

    I will leave a comment…so there! Thanks for reminding me of Martha, etc, which I loved – and of Moonrise Kingdom which I have not yet seen and had forgotten I hadn’t seen and wanted to see it. I love Michael Haneke’s films, but can’t watch Amour yet, for personal reasons. Le Petit Nicolas sounds fun. Nice list, nice comments.

  2. Gareth Says:

    Amour is a bit close to home for me too – it’s beautiful, but desperately sad. And thank you for your own nice comment.

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