2012 The Year In Film: Top 50 Best Pictures II: 25-1


25-SIGHTSEERS (Ben Wheatley)

Darkly comic road movie described as Mike Leigh meets ‘Badlands’. Ben Wheatley’s follows up his acclaimed second feature ‘Kill List’ going for the laughter but keeping a great deal of horror in the mix when its apparently ordinary middle aged couple embarks on a dull caravan holiday to explore the tourist delights of the Lake District and ends up leaving a trail of death and museum leaflets behind as a wide range of annoying people get in their way. Comedians Alice Lowe and Steve Oram starred and penned the script of what was probably the best British comedy in years.

24 -THE IMPOSTER (Bart Layton)

Reality beats fantasy in this thrilling documentary about the implausible identity theft of a Texan kid, found by the authorities in the sound of Spain three years after his disappearance. A jaw-dropping dramatization of the process of getting the boy reunited with his family, overeager to hold on to the new hope even when the evidence against it being possible was rather obvious. This investigation revealed a load of half-truths, procedural cracks or plain incompetence at every step of the way.

23-ELENA (Andrey Zvyagintsev)

After nearly two years gathering international awards along the festival circuit; many of them for her impressive lead star Nadezhda Markina, the third film in this promising Russian auteur’s career offered a bleak glimpse of Russia’s new class structure through the story of a nurse who marries the millionaire she’s been caring for, and her relatives who constantly took advantage of her new privileged position. The film slides from social commentary to noir when her husband announces intentions to alter his will in his daughter’s favour. Gripping, fascinating and very recommendable.

22-BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (Peter Strickland)

Paying tribute to both the sound in movies and the distinctive ways of 70’s Italo horror, Peter Strickland’s second feature was quite an achievement on creating disturbing atmospheres and a climatic build-up with a deliberate economy of means, in which the arrival of British engineer to work in a sleazy Italian studio making the audio effects for a new horror film leads to a psychological downward spiral with unforeseen consequences.

21-THE HUNT (Thomas Vinterberg)

Hailed as a return to form by the director of ‘Festen’ , this gripping Dutch drama tells the story of a small community descent into a witch hunt against a nursery teacher falsely accused of paedophilia by an innocent lie told by his best friend’s daughter. The school manager’s confused initial reaction quickly spreads among the neighbours and prompts the carer’s existence into living hell. Mads Mikkelsen won best actor at Cannes for his terrific portrait of a man who powerlessly watches his whole life disintegrating.

20-BLANCANIEVES (Pablo Berger)

Seven years in the making just to surface at a moment where The Artist had already stole the novelty credit from bringing silent, black and white movies back and Hollywood had released not one, but two different versions of the classic Snow White fairytale. Berger’s take was, however, a triumph of unique vision with a populist mix of humour and traditional Spanish iconography, soaked in flamenco and set in the world of bullfighting, which conquered audiences and critics alike, sweeping the Board at Spain’s film industry awards, The Goyas.

19- KILLING THEM SOFTLY (Andrew Dominik)

Brad Pitt continued his enviable string of fine roles with this look at organized crime’s decay as a metaphor for the current state of the US in the midst of the financial crisis. This was Pitt’s second collaboration with Andrew Dominik, heading one of the most impressive casts in recent memory where some usual suspects (James Gandolfini ; Ray Liotta; etc.) were joined by rising stars Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy. The film was also grazed with a darkly comic screenplay, filled with sharp dialogues and remarkable one-liners.

18-DAMSELS IN DISTRESS (Whit Stillman)

Whit Stillman got out of his lengthy career hiatus and, decades after his greatly appreciated stay in ‘Barcelona’, returned in full preppy glory flaunting his peculiar comic flair with this college comedy with a difference. Greta Gerwig led a special sorority dedicated to comfort those affected by University’s number one killer, the romantic heartache; combining coffee and doughnuts, dance crazes and odour therapy. The arrival of a fresh student would shake the very foundations of their fellowship. Charmingly odd and a true original, it earned bonus points for teaching us how to do the Sambola.

17-SISTER (Ursula Meier)

The follow-up of Meier’s critically acclaimed ‘Home’ is an accomplished foray into the Dardenne Brothers’ brand of social realism that focuses on two young siblings living with no parents in the vicinity of a mountain resort. The younger kid makes a living by stealing ski equipment and progessively resorts to wittier tactics to make ends meet; supporting her older sister who seems to be in a state of careless immaturity, failing to acknowledge the dramatic circumstances they both are enduring. A touching story widely enhanced by a superb European cast featuring rising star Léa Seydoux and the always excellent Gillian Anderson.

16-ALPS (Giorgios Lanthimos)

The follow-up to the Oscar nominated “Dogtooth” preserves all the elements that made of its predecessor such an international success. A group of four peculiar characters offered bereaved families the service to replace their lost one for some time, making their suffering more bearable. Trouble would arise when one of them becomes too emotionally involved. This reflection on the ways we deal with death doesn’t disappoint, establishing young Greek director Lanthimos as one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary European cinema.

15-FRANKENWEENIE (Tim Burton)

The king of goth in a welcome return to form, remaking one of his early shorts. Shot in 3D and gorgeous black and white Frankenweenie’s stop-motion animated marvel served as a tribute to the horror genre as a whole setting Mary Shelley’s creation in contemporary America. No one like Burton knows how to delve into the dark side of everyday life and this tale of a solitary kid who finds the way to bring his pet dog back to life and the chaos that ensues when other kids discover his formula was no exception.

14-NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT (Patricio Guzmán)

Veteran Chilean director Patricio Guzmán mixed visual poetry and existential thoughts in this visually astonishing documentary taking us to the Atacama desert whose unique geographical position is a magnet for scientists coming to watch stars and study the Universe. It is also infamous for being the place where Pinochet’s regime disposed of its victims. Their relatives come and wander around on an endless, and normally fruitless, search for the remains of the disappeared. All joined together in a beautiful meditation about what shapes us as human beings and what defines our place in the Universe.

13-BARBARA (Christian Petzold)

One of the Berlinale’s winners and Germany’s submission to the foreign language Oscar, the best reviewed German movie since ‘The Lives of others’ shares the common subject of how the Stasi’s police oppression invaded the sphere of citizens’s privacy under the communist rule in East Germany. Nina Hoss collected raves for her performance as the doctor who finds herself banned from working in Berlin and gets relocated in a remote Northern town hospital.

12-ARGO (Ben Affleck)

This year’s Oscar winner, Ben Affleck’s excellent third feature takes us back to Iran in the late 70’s, when the American Embassy was raided and their delegates kidnapped in the midst of a popular revolutionary upsurge. Working against the clock and knowing their lives were endangered, the US government faked the shooting of a Hollywood sci-fi film as a cover-up for their rescue operation. Perfectly capturing the vibe of those times, this gripping thriller nicely tones down to lighter comedy whenever the action moves from the events in Iran to the rushed preparation of that Sci-Fi production.

11-INTO THE ABYSS: A TALE OF DEATH, A TALE OF LIFE (Werner Herzog)

Described as Herzog’s own ‘In Cold Blood’, the prolific author’s powerful research on the prisoners waiting for death row in a Texan jail shaped up a portrait as chilling as it was revealing, done in such depth that it generated enough material for a four episode TV mini-series covering the cases of four other inmates. The chosen story was that of a couple of young men who killed a woman while trying to steal her car, narrated in shocking detail covering everyone involved at every step of the way; all told in the light of a strong anti-death penalty stand.

10-I WISH (Hirokazu Kore-Eda)

Hirokazu Koreeda had already shown an special talent to portrait the lives of kids, now refined through this lovely tale of two brothers gone to live in different cities after their parent’s separation. They would plot an excursion to the place where the bullet trains going north and south meet, as according to a childrens legend when the encounter between the two happens, the energy generated has the magic power to grant any wish the to the viewer. Wisely combining infantile fantasies with serious family issues and blessed with an arresting young cast that strikes a mighty emotional chord with the audience; ‘I Wish’ was a joy from beginning to end.

9-ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

The Turkish darling of the festival circuit for nearly two decades has arguably produced his best work to date. ‘Anatolia’ reinforces his strengths, namely a superb taste for the cinematography of landscapes and a profound interest in the human condition; minimizing his less successful ones, characterization and storytelling. An ambitious, epic study of a crime that masterfully changes tone and pace as the narration shifts from one character to the next, looking into their worlds from the point of view of the respective the roles they play in the investigation.

8-TABU (Miguel Gomes)

An homage to Murnau’s classic silent film of the same title, Miguel Gomes offered one of the most inventive works of the year. As brave on his impeccable technical choices as it was poetic on its narrative, ‘Tabu’ was shot in beautiful black and white and structured in two parts revaling the life of an ageing, gambling addict lady in modern day Portugal and her past in a colonial Africa with the impossible love story that shaped her life.

7-DJANGO UNCHAINED (Quentin Tarantino)

Back to the heart of pulp by taking Spaghetti Western by storm, setting it up during the times of slavery, Tarantino delivered his best work since Jackie Brown. Django shared similar territory with Inglorious Basterds, both expanding the trademark elements that made the director such an influential cultural reference and both taking over different genres to boast powerful statements against devastating chapters in history, but wherever its irregular predecessor was short of fulfilling its ambitions, Django achieved and even exceeded them. Flaunting a superb four male lead cast, it was the German dentist turned bounty hunter played in gloriously camp manner by Christoph Waltz who stole the show.

6-THE MASTER (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Another portentous recreation of American history, loosely based in the origins of L Ron Hubbard’s Scientology, told through the relationship of two opposite characters: a traumatized WWII ex-sailor -superb physical performance by Joaquin Phoenix- drifting from job to job until he meets the leader of a new cult –Hoffman, who also nails his role’s mix of grandeur and self-doubt- claiming to relieve all mental afflictions, being welcomed as a perfect case to put teachings into practice. Raising many questions about the mutually feeding nature of master and disciple; it became one of the most thought-provoking works of 2012.

5-ZERO DARK THIRTY (Kathryn Bigelow)

Remarkably putting together an essential part of recent history, the search and killing of Osama Bin Laden,
Bigelow followed-up her Oscar winner ‘The Hurt Locker’ with a sort of twin companion. It maintained the same directorial style, unadorned but slick cinematography and a sharp focus on the storytelling thanks to a brilliant screenplay written by her regular collaborator Mark Boal; but also added a faster pace and an such a realism on showing the way US government deals with terrorism that accusations of supporting torture were unfairly thrown at it. Jessica Chastain, a strong Oscar contender herself, was the determined agent behind the whole process.

4-NO (Pablo Larraín)

Pablo Larraín’s final instalment of his recent Chilean history trilogy was also his finest. Lightening the tone from the grim sleaze of his debut ‘Tony Manero’ or the sombre ‘Post Mortem’, the director has chosen a feel-good comedy for his account of the elections that put an end to Pinochet’s bloody regime, after the dictator driven by growing international pressure agreed to a democratic referendum for the Chileans to decide if they wanted him to stay in power. The depiction of those events, told from the point of view of the advertising creative who shaped the campaign for the negative vote, was incredibly engaging and worked as a comedy; as a political thriller and as a thoroughly researched narration of recent history.

3-BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (Behn Zeitlin)

A masterclass in magical realism, from its Sundance victory the buzz surrounding this superb directorial debut didn’t cease to grow all the way up to earning four Oscar nominations. A tale of the post-Katrina nightmare narrated through the lively imagination of a five year-old kid, mixing fairytale and reality while trying to make sense of the terrible events. Non-professional actors Dwight Henry and Ouvenzhané Willis formed one of the most touching father-daughter screen relationships in recent memory.

2-HOLY MOTORS (Leos Carax)

Visionary, Genius or just plain bonkers, this personal tribute to cinema by French cult auteur Carax was the first true masterpiece 2012 hdelivered. Criminally left empty-handed at Cannes, its many episodes saw Denis Lavant being driven around Paris in a mysterious limo to a series of different assignments. Mr. Oscar, his character, jumps from finance investor to street beggar; from crime to motion capture; Eva Mendes to Kylie in a mind-blowing genre hopping ride referencing many significant landmarks in the history of film.

1-AMOUR (Michael Haneke)

Piling up five star reviews since deservedly winning the Palme D’Or, this reflection on how to deal with the suffering of a loved one was Haneke’s most compassionate and affecting work to date. Magnificently played by veterans Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva as the elderly couple who has to endure the wife’s deteriorating condition after suffering a stroke and closes down to the world while coping with the indignities of a degenerative illness. Both life-affirming and heart-breaking on its portrayal of the ultimate sacrifice that comes with unconditional love, in a year grazed with with a wealth of memorable movies, ‘Amour’ was in a class of its own.