2012 The Year In Film: 10 Surprises

A good year for cinema is usually a year full of surprises and 2012 offered good ones aplenty. Among them, writers such as Stephen Chbosky adapting his own best-selling rites of passage novel ‘The Perks Of Being A Wallflower’; actresses who also delivered the goods as screenplay writers (Zoe Kazan with ‘Ruby Sparks’) or directors (Julie Delpy in the hilarious comedy ‘Two Days In New York’); from the Australian feel-good treat ‘The Sapphires’, showing Chris O’Down as the shabby manager of a native girl band playing for the US troops in Vietnam; to the darker corners of South Africa with a study on repressed homosexuality in ‘Beauty’ or the explosion of Scandinavian noir, not only on television, but also in cinemas with more successful adaptations such as Jo Nesbø’s ‘Headhunters’.

The arthouse scene provided the long awaited return to form of Robert Guedeguian, who brought his usual acting troupe once again for another blend of humane comedy and working class leftie politics in ‘The Snows Of Kilimanjaro’; Christi Puiu took his time to follow up is multi-awarded ‘Death Of Mr. Lazarescu’ with the formally impressive yet patience challenging ‘Aurora’ and the umpteenth register change in Michael Winterbottom’s career with a simple experimental drama, shot over five years to portrait the impact that a dad in prison had in the lives of his family.

Genre films were another strong source of joy with the superb martial arts feast of ‘The Ride’; the clever dissection of trickery used by horror movies in ‘The Cabin Of The Woods’; the larger than life sci-fi epic ‘Cloud Atlas’, in which the Wachowskis and Tom Twyker aided by a starry cast faithfully recreatef a story without such time boundaries as past, present and future; the lightly politically-tinted literary saga of ‘The Hunger Games’, hugely successful and a worthier teen proposition than the finishing Twilight franchise; the superb reconstruction of the recent tsunami tragedy in ‘The Impossible’ or the impressively restrained existential fight between man and nature in ‘The Grey’.

Any of them would have proudly featured among our Top 10 surprises any other year. In 2012, though, there were some bigger ones.

10-The Rise Of The Grey Pound

Nearly out of the blue, In 2012 Maggie Smith; Judy Dench and the likes rose to the upper echelons in the rankings of the planet’s most bankable stars and ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ is mostly to blame. An unexpected massive success in both sides of the Atlantic whose aces up its sleeve were a solid cast of veteran stars; an exotic Indian location and an old-fashioned way of storytelling that appealed to the most mature segment of the audience. Suddenly everyone was talking about how the mainstream has rediscovered the power of the grey pound. Dustin Hoffman promptly fuelled the trend with his directorial debut ‘Quartet’ and this week ‘Song For Marion’ brings more grey power to our screens. With this state of affairs is not hard to anticipate a very geriatric 2013.

9-Kerouac’s Masterpiece Finally On The Big Screen

More than half a decade since ‘On The Road’, hailed as the novel that defined the Beat Generation, saw the light of day, the director of other high profile adaptation, ‘The Motorcycle Diaries’, finally got the go ahead to take it to the big screen, bringing the cream of today’s young actors on board. Many critics praised how faithful to Kerouac’s original spirit on his depiction of a young writer and his charismatic friend hitting the road on a sex, drugs and jazz-infused search for inspiring vital experiences; others dismissed it as overlong, misogynous and short of excitement. Revisiting such an influential work was always going to be hugely divisive but the result is worth making your own mind about.

8-A Musical Dealing With Religious Conflict

Lebanese director Nadine Labaki was the toast of Toronto2011 with ‘Where Do We Go Now’, a total crowd pleaser that resorts to comedy and musical to deal with such serious issues as the religious conflicts escalating across the Middle East and North Africa. A thoroughly enjoyable and good-natured film that shocked even more for a light approach not everyone deemed appropriate for the gravity of the situation, but its heart was in the right place proving that looking for a humorous angle in even harshest problems does not necessary banalize them.

7-Disney And Pixar Swap Roles

In another blurred move from our favourite animation factory, Pixar produced one of the hits of the summer with ‘Brave’, whose Scottish legendary background had more to do with one of his owning company’s classics than with their habitual edgier fare. Disney, on the other side, left everyone in awe with ‘Wreck-It! Ralph’, an imaginative tribute to the early arcade videogames which rescued some of the beloved characters our generation used to play with, instantaneously gaining the hearts of the baby boomers whom, in the States at least, went in waves to see the film. Both works are nominated for the Oscar, but in the creative stakes at least this time Disney got ahead of the game.

6-The Third Age Gets Animated

Staying in the realm of animation, ‘Wrinkles’, a small Spanish feature, stole our hearts with its tale of the elderly people living in a retirement home. A fine group of characters with their bittersweet life stories gently helped pushing the boundaries of the traditional uses given to the genre, often aiming at young or hip crowds, and explore its dramatic potential. A hit in the festival circuit, it wasn’t backed enough as to make it to the Academy awards, but had nothing to envy from any of the luckier counterparts who were honoured in the nominations shortlist.

5-The Return Of Agnieszka Holland

The polish director who became an international success in the independent scene during the nineties thanks to such fine works as ‘Europa, Europa’ or ‘Olivier Olivier’, moved to Hollywood and after a few misteps ended up working in television series of the calibre of ‘The Wire’ or ‘Treme’. A new chance arised with her comeback to Poland for the project ‘In Darkness’, a gritty second world war drama telling the story of the city of Lwów sewage system worker, who helped prosecuted Jewish people during the Nazi occupation to find shelter in the town’s tunnels. A reassured return to form that left Holland at the gates of the Foreign Language Oscar.

4- The Feel Good Movie Of The Year is… French

Traditionally more associated with highbrow offers, last year was ‘The Artist’ sweeping the board at the Academy awards and, in what look like a French offensive to beat Hollywood on its traditional game, this year ‘Untouchable’ can easily take the honours for feel-good comedy. The highest grossing French film ever boasted superb performances by Omar Sy and François Cluzet as the streetwise unemployed guy and the quadriplegic millionaire who hires him as a carer. The story of their odd friendship focused in the comic clash between their opposite backgrounds, happily avoiding the typical sentimentality surrounding those matters.

3-Elmore Leonard Writes Another Screenplay

The most influential contemporary crime writer, whose work has spawned such remarkable films as ‘L.A Confidential’; ‘Jackie Brown’ or ‘Out Of Side’ was the co-author of one of the most accomplished cop dramas of the year, ‘Rampart’. Oren Moverman’s second feature after the well-received ‘The Messenger’ showed the erratic life of a corrupt and violent LA policeman, Woody Harrelson’s best role in ages. A superb cast featuring Sigourney Weaver; Anne Heche; Ice T and Ned Beatty among many others made justice to the famous author’s screenplay, but Perhaps because of the genre’s recent offers saturation, it didn’t get the attention it deserved. Hopefully, one to be vindicated in years to come.

2-The New Queen Of Indie Comedy

With years of delay Lena Dunham first feature ‘Tiny Furnitures’ arrived to British shores amply certifying her one to follow status. Her upper middle-class Manhattan world and the honest (and graphic) description of her emotional and sexual relationships dragged comparisons to Woody Allen and were a breath of fresh air in the rather wore-off panorama of independent filmmaking. Not long afterwards she launched her HBO debut with the acclaimed series ‘Girls’, in which Dunham further develops the characters of this debut prompting an unstoppable rise and finishing the year by piling up awards and being unanimously crowned as the new queen of comedy.

1-The Predecessor Of ‘A Separation’

‘A Separation’ was Roberawards favourite film of 2011 and thanks to its international success Asghar Farhadi’s former opus, ‘About Elly’ had a much deserved release. Almost as superb as its illustrious successor it was another complex moral tale set in the middle of a friends’ weekend gathering next to the sea, where the disappearance of one of the guests would open a can of worms filled with lies and recriminations. Good enough not just to confirm Farhadi as no one hit wonder, but to establish him as one of the brightest authors in contemporary cinema.