Sunday, 30 December 2012

2012: My Year in Film (Part 1)

So the year draws to a close, and in a few days I will be posting up my list of 2012's best films (once I've caught a few late entrants.)  In the mean time, here is a list of the 50 best films that I've watched this year

Through the likes of Twitter, Mubi, this years Sight and Sound poll and of course the work of those at Criterion and The Masters of Cinema this year has served as an introduction to a lot of cinema for me. Through the (roughly) 300 films I've watched my taste has broadened and developed, proving a bit of a strain to those around me, a lot on this list I have enjoyed alone. 

[I have tried to make this list as varied as possible, to easily could it have been filled with the likes of Bergman or Kieslowski who I watched around 20 films of each. As a result, there are a few well deserving titles that have been left off, but I shall do an honorable mentions list at the end.]  

50. Crumb - (1994, Dir. Terry Zwigoff)  
An interesting look at an Artists reflection and the nature of the 70s underground movement. As well as a disturbing look at a twisted product of the Nuclear era. Zwigoff's tight framing and unflinching eye creates an uncomfortable intimate portrayal of an America family. 

49.  Kuroneko - (1968, Dir. Kaneto Shindo)
A darkly poetic little horror fable from Japan about a man who returns from war a hero only to be tasked with ridding the woods of two demons who pray on Samurai. The etherally spooky first half gives away to a sombre Shakespearean drama about the nature of love and revenge. Beautifully shot and wonderfully staged. 

48. Vampyr - (1931, Dir. Carl Dreyer)
I managed to see the wonderful restored release played with a live soundtrack which enhances Dreyer's hazy visuals and cinematic tricks. A unique and eerie dip into obsession and the occult. 

47. Branded to Kill - (1967, Dir. Seijun Suzuki)
My first trip into Japanese New Wave has remained one my favourite. Suzuki has flare and coolness in abundance as we follow Goro Hanada, the hamster-cheeked rice fetishistic hit-man as he climbs the ranks of hired contract killers. Be prepared for theatrical insanity and lots and lots of butterflies.  

46. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? - (1957, Dir. Frank Tashlin) 
Wonderfully playful study of public image and media obsessions. Tony Randall, channeling Jack Lemon, simply steals the show as the titular Rock, an every-man working at an advertising agency after a simple life that becomes entangled with the Monroe-esque Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield) when he pursues to market a product. Colourful and light-hearted, but direct in its honesty.  

45. House - (1977, Dir.  Nobuhiko Obayashi)
If film is the real reality, then I still have no clue as to what Obayashi's masterpiece is. Part surrealist horror film, part pop music video. A film so deliriously insane it boarders on tiresome, but perhaps no other film on this list can wear the slogan of 'it must be seen to be believed' so proudly.  

44. Lorna's Silence - (2008, Dir. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
A deconstruction of marriage built without love and study on 'the guilt of women.' Dardenne's characters are plagued by pain, mental and physical. But it is a real pain, not of the cinematic standard. 

43. Lola Montes - (1955, Dir. Max Ophüls)
An explicit and elegant look at celebrity and our desire, or even societal need for it. We watch a young women relive her various scandals and experiences throughout Europe as part of a circus attraction. Shot on beautiful CinemaScope it is enamored with vibrant Technicolour, Ophüls treats his characters with one thing that alludes most directors these days; respect. 

42. Shotgun Stories - (2008, Dir. Jeff Nichols)
Take Shelter was my favourite film from last year, and Shotgun Stories works notably sewed the seeds for Nichols' masterpiece. A blue-collar drama imposed onto a classic Southern feud between two families. There is a biblical quality to Nichol's narrative as sins and burdens are passed through the generations with tragic consequences. Shannon is remarkable as ever, as is his supporting cast. But the true star is the industrially earthy Arkansas in which the film is based.

41.  Laura - (1944, Dir. Otto Preminger)
When a young woman is murdered, a police detective is called in to interview the people closest to her in order to piece together the events that led to her murder and help capture the killer. Gradually he finds himself becoming obsessed with the dead girl himself. The noir genre is built upon chauvinism and Laura is centered upon the destruction of the intellectual in favor of the primal. Through clever dialogue and remarkable acting, it balances the B-movie nature of it's screenplay with first class style.  

40. The Red Shoes - (1948, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger) 
The life of the artist is one of dedication and sacrifice in the strive for perfection. And Moira Shearer's rising ballerina is a victim of choice, the love of her composer or her legacy as an artist? Jack Cardiff is justly renowned as the 'King of Technicolour' and the central dance sequence is his opus. Frantic, hallucinatory and utterly transfixing.  

39. Fiend Without a Face - (1958, Arthur Crabtree)
Much has been done in the name of knowledge throughout cinematic history. In Crabtree's Sci-fi/horror hybrid it is the knowledge itself that becomes the monster. Feeding on our memories and intellect, it becomes a murderous warning. Terrific sound design, creepy stop motion and a brilliant climax make this a classic genre piece. 

38. Late Spring - (1949, Yasujiro Ozu)
Throughout his career Ozu returned time and time again to one single theme; a fathers concern for his daughter to marry. The first in his 'Noriko trilogy' centered around the character played by Setsuko Hara, it  is a elegant and moving drama of love, sacrifice and duty in the confused world of Post-War Japan. It's final image is a moment of pure beauty and an encapsulated view of Ozu's career.  

37. Shock Corridor - (1963, Sam Fuller) 
Crass, exploitative and silly are three words one could level at Shock Corridor and they'd be absolutely correct. But it is also a daring, hot-blooded satire on the political and cultural America of the 1960s. Harsh black and white photography by Stanley Cortez and terrificly unsettled performances by Peter Breck and his concerned stripper girlfriend, Constance Towers ensures Fuller's thriller is at once hard to watch, and even harder to look from.    

36. The Driver - (1978, Dir. Walter Hill) 
Lovers of Refn are sure to enjoy Walter Hill's icily cool original. An intense game of cat and mouse between Bruce Dern's Detective and Ryan O'Neal's Driver as study of professionalism in the extreme, these two figures exist for each other alone. Hill's homage to Melville's Le Samurai features some of cinemas best car chases and style in excess. 

35. The Island of Lost Souls - (1932, Dir. Erle C. Kenton) 
Based on the novel by H.G. Wells, this is the original and best version of the twisted Moreau and his beast men. Surprisingly ahead of it's time in regards to its lighting and set design, the real star is Laughton's giddy and flamboyant Moreau that straddles the line between camp and creep.

34. Double Indemnity - (1944, Dir. Billy Wilder)
Billy Wilder's canonical film noir perfectly presents the decaying social atmosphere of Los Angeles. Fred MacMurry is completely believable as the insurance salesman roped into murder with Barbara Stanwyck playing one of the best femme fatales. 

33. A Night to Remember - (1958, Dir. Roy Ward Baker)
Presenting the sinking of the Titanic almost in complete real time, A Night to Remember is laced with an upper-lip-Britishness that presents itself as level headed bravery. Kenneth Moore's earnest Second officer Herbert Lightoller becomes a template for British attitude in the post-war nature. However it is through the film's aversion to melodrama, in favor of detail and subtle motifs that heighten the emotional impact.

32.  L'Atalante - (1934, Dir. Jean Vigo)
A film of poetic earthiness. Following two newly weds on their life aboard barge L'Atalante. Jean Vigo was only 29 when he died, but this film assured his legacy. The lovers fall apart, as we have seen time and time again, but their longing for each other is illustrated through Vigo's haunting visual spontanuity, and the film remains one of the purest love stories.  

31. Tyrannosaur - (2011, Dir. Paddy Constantine) 
A ferocious film about damaged people coping through the relationship they form with one another. Not the nihilistic kitchen-sink drama I expected, this is film blankets the darker elements of the middle class too. Peter Mullan is terrific, but it is the broken Olivia Colman who will remain in your head for days after.

30. 3 Women - (1977, Dir. Robert Altman) 
A sensual cinematic dream of identity and women. Led by the three astonishing performances, the lanky Shelly Duvall, the lizard-like Sissy Spacek and the beautiful Janice Rule. They are a disjointed family brought together by loneliness. The deeply symbolic visuals and ethereal music embody a dream of American idiosyncrasy that will stay with you for some time.

29. The Docks of New York - (1927, Dir. Josef von Sternberg) 
I wrote a piece on the character of New York in this, one of the last silent giants which you can read here. Although to reduce Docks to a single element would be to do it a disservice. A pragmatic romance, Sternberg doesn't judge but he knows. In many regards this is a blue collar Gatsby, a story of mistakes and blind, foolish faith in the city that never sleeps and stops for no-one.

28. Videodrome - (1983, Dir. David Cronenberg) 
Cronenberg has recently returned to his fascination of the interplays between our psyche, the technological and the sexual with the wonderful Cosmopolis. In some ways Videodrome is his most prophetic and visceral movie as James Woods becomes psychologically then physically warped by his obsession with the Videodrome tapes. Long live the new flesh!

27. Hour of the Wolf - (1968, Dir. Ingmar Bergman)
Bergman gives himself to his own anxieties as an artist and as a lover in his Gothic horror film. The overt nature of the increasingly disturbingly surreal visuals and oppressive atmosphere make this feel like something of an homage to the Swedish master. Max von Sydow delivers one of his most tortured performances as a man hunted by his own self esteem and Liv Ullman his dedicated wife.

26. Solaris - (1972, Dir. Andrei Tarkovsky)
Tarkovsky considered this a response to the Kubrick's titanic 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he considered to be a cold exploration of existence. This is undoubtedly the more human of the two, although in essence a science fiction story, it is also a Greek tragedy, as a man fails to protect the women he loves, he is punished time and time again. Few artists can create such an atmosphere as Tarkovsky. The strange sound effects and unnatural performances create a truly uncomfortable and unrelatable setting, yet one that delves deep into the very fiber of our being, moving through our own comprehension. An unforgettable masterpiece of philosophy and genre.

This concludes the first part of my year in cinema review. Tomorrow I will have a run down of the next 25 films on my list from this year. 

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