Saturday, December 29, 2012

Best Films of 2012

It goes without saying that an end of the year list depends on access to quality films from around the world. And my access to those quality global titles is getting harder each year with closure of arthouse/independent cinemas thereby delaying seeing foreign films in a timely manner. For example, only 4 of the 25 films (16%) listed below had a theatrical run of one week or more. The rest only played once or twice via a film festival/cinematheque screening. Since all film festivals don’t have access to the same films, that forces a wait of 1-2 years to see certain foreign titles. That is why this list, like all previous years, contains older titles.

Top 10 Films

1. Holy Motors (France, Leos Carax)

Leos Carax creatively captures the essence of cinema from the silent era to contemporary times while paying homage to key genres throughout. Pure Cinema!

2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (2011, Turkey, Nuri Bilge Ceylan)

A stylistic film that is packed with dry wit while depicting characters in the hunt for a murdered body over the course of a night. Also, the best shot film of the year which manages to use light and shadows to great effect. For example, the scene where the mayor’s daughter makes an appearance is pure cinematic bliss.

3. This is Not a Film (2011, Iran, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb/Jafar Panahi)

The film shows that in the hands of a talented filmmaker even a tiny confined space can be a liberating cinematic experience. The final moments capture those magical moments that Werner Herzog has claimed happen only when the camera is left recording just a little bit longer.

4. The Master (USA, Paul Thomas Anderson) 

5. Gone Fishing (Argentina, Carlos Sorin) 

A charming and relaxed film that contains plenty of contemplative moments in following a father’s (Marco played by Alejandro Awada) attempts to patch-up with his daughter. Such a story could have gotten a serious treatment in the hands of another director but Sorin smartly uses the visuals and pleasant score (composed by his son) to release any tension before it forms on the screen. When things are about to get serious Sorin ensures that the audience gets a nice reprieve either with a moment of humor or breathtaking beauty.

6. The World Before Her (Canada, Nisha Pahuja)

A perfectly balanced and insightful film that examines two very different camps of thought in India. The two camps, beauty pageants vs fundamentalism, contain the essence of issues that are dividing and ruining India. Given the recent brutal crime in Delhi, The World Before Her is one of the year’s most relevant films which should kick-start a debate about improving women’s rights in India.

7. Found Memories (2011, Brazil co-production, Lucia Murat) 

A mesmerizing film that deceptively appears as a contemplative piece but contains another layer beneath the surface. The ending, which puts a completely different spin on the overall film perception, haunts long in the memory because it forces one to rethink the lives of the residents and why they have continued to stay in a place cut-off from the rest of the world. One could easily classify this as an artful horror film!

8. The Bright Day (India, Mohit Takalkar) 

Mohit Takalkar makes his cinematic debut with a beautiful, poetic and hypnotic film. The visuals are striking as is the use of background music to enhance the film’s mythical tale. Plus, there are some smart touches such as using the same actor (Mohan Agashe) to play different characters that highlights how the main character Shiv perceives people around him.

9. Unfair World (2011, Greece/Germany, Filippos Tsitos) 

This smart Greek film shows how two cops’ efforts to save an innocent person leads to murder thereby forcing them to cover their tracks. Each frame is packed with absurd comedic moments which are slowly revealed as the camera movements act like a drawn out punch line. The film’s comedic style is reminiscent of Aki Kaurismäki, Corneliu Porumboiu (Police, Adjective) and the recent wave of Greek films directed by Giorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Alps) & Athina Rachel Tsangari’s (Attenberg).

10. Sleeping Sickness (2011, Germany co-production, Ulrich Kohler) 

15 Honorable Mentions roughly in order of preference:

Teddy Bear (Denmark, Mads Matthiesen) 

An award winning body builder who not only lives with his mother but is afraid of her. Despite his hulk like appearance, he has no luck with love. So he decides to fly to Thailand to find a bride. This setup brings plenty of humor and credit to the director to allow events to flow naturally without any extra drama.

The Queen of Versailles (USA co-production, Lauren Greenfield) 

Even though Lauren Greenfield’s documentary looks at a single American family, the Seigels, the film is a case study of the excess spending that played a part in the American Economic crisis of 2008. The Siegels clearly spent beyond their means but they were not alone in doing so. After 2008, when easy access to money was shut down, the previously wealthy Siegels suffered the same fate as the average American of having to cut back and making drastic changes in their lives. Essential viewing!

Polisse (2011, France, Maïwenn) 

An unflinching look at a French police division dealing with children and juvenile crime cases. The verite style heightens the tension and shows that even the police officers dealing with the cases are not immune to losing control.

Reality (Italy, Matteo Garrone) 

A devastating case study of a man who is so blinded by his quest for fame that he starts to lose grip on reality and starts to throw his life away.

Killing Them Softly (USA, Andrew Dominik) 

Andrew Dominik makes a very good decision to adapt George V. Higgins’ 1974 novel Cogan's Trade to the 2008 American economic crisis. The original book is devoid of any political or economic elements but the film depicts the effects of financial strain on the characters in every frame. The opening shots of abandoned houses plus the non-stop sound bites of presidential debates highlight that even assassins and mobsters are feeling financial pressure in cutting back. The grayish look of the film also emphasizes the constant gloom that envelopes all the characters. As good as the film is, two stylistic scenes don’t mesh with the rest of the film’s look. The slow-motion car killing and the drug trip may look good on their own but they have no place in an otherwise tightly constructed film.

Arcadia (USA, Olivia Silver) 

A wonderful American film about a father’s road trip with his children to their new home. The strong start sets the tone of the father’s parental methods early on, which makes for a fascinating viewing. John Hawkes puts in a strong performance but the young actors also shine brightly and evoke tender emotions. This film is another one of those that belongs to the Neo-Realist American cinema category which depict genuine stories with a fly on the wall perspective.

Take This Waltz (2011, Canada, Sarah Polley) 

Perfectly etched characters depicted in a beautiful fluid manner. Plus, Leonard Cohen's title song elevates the film emotionally.

I’m not a Rockstar (Canada, Bobbi Jo Hart) 

Bobbi Jo Hart has edited over 4 years of footage to craft a documentary about the struggles and journey of a young girl, Marika Bournaki, to become a pianist. There are few scenes which show Marika’s natural talent but for the most part, the film shows her relationship with her father and the sacrifices the father makes for her success. This focus on father-daughter is why the film works so well as we get to know both of them better and even listen to things that we should not have access to. The subject matter applies to all arts in general and highlights pitfalls that can trip up young artists.

The Dynamiter (2011, USA, Matthew Gordon) 

A visually stunning film that belongs to the same category of New Realist American cinema such as Ballast and Wendy and Lucy, films that show a true slice of American life by focusing on characters completely absent from the big Hollywood productions.

The Student (2011, Argentina, Santiago Mitre) 

A razor-sharp political film that examines core issues at the heart of politics: tactics, strategy, managing & manipulating people.

Mallamall (Canada, Lalita Krishna) 

A highly relevant Canadian documentary that looks at India's economic rise via the countless malls being constructed there. The film also highlights a Canadian connection crucial in developing these mega stores, something that is hardly ever seen in any newspaper headlines.

Snowtown (2011, Australia, Justin Kurzel) 

A chilling work that shows how evil can slowly build up until it explodes with horrific consequences. Based on a true life crime, this Australian film shares some aspects of family & crime shown in 2010’s Animal Kingdom but Snowtown is far darker.

The Color Wheel (2011, USA, Alex Ross Perry) 

Alex Ross Perry and Carlen Altman’s vibrant script ensures that The Color Wheel stands apart from other American independent films by including dialogues and jibes that have a purpose in illustrating the character’s insecurities and personalities.

Heleno (2011, Brazil, José Henrique Fonseca) 

Jose Henrique Fonseca has created a devastating portrayal that perfectly depicts the self-destructive habits that led to the Brazilian soccer player Heleno de Freitas' decline. At times, it is painful to watch Heleno throw everything away but given his personality, his fall from grace seems inevitable. The music and black and white visuals nicely evoke the 1940’s-50’s and enhance the mood of the film.

Lowlife (Canada, Seth Smith)

And now for something completely different. This unique film follows two characters who get high on slugs. Their repeated usage of slugs blurs the line between reality and their slug induced nightmares. The drug visions are shown in black and white while reality is shown in color but as the film progresses that changes, especially with a jaw dropping ending.


Sam Juliano said...

Remarkable post in every way! But this is your annual love letter to the cinema Sachin and few if any do it better than you. I was at a few other blogs today, and while I was treated to some amaxing Top Ten lists and supportive scholarshio, your presentation is really the piece de resistence. I have seen an incredible number of films this year, but you really expose my deficiencies with several I have NOT seen.

I have decided as of late tonight to hold back my beloved WAR WITCH until 2013, as it maintains my own long-standing rules (shared by over 90% of America's professional critics) of going by date of commercial release on US screens)

As to your own Number 1, HOLY MOTORS, I do like the film quite a bit, but and want to see it again, but it seems to barely miss my top 10. ANATOLIA is also on my runner-up list. THIS IS NOT A FILM makes my runner-up list as well, and THE MASTER has some great moments but remains problematic for me. I saw THE WORLD BEFORE HER at Tribeca and liked it well enough. Some of other thoughts: VERSAILLES is fine, I saw POLISSE at Tribeca and thought it very good of it's kind, and wasn't much for KILLING THEM SOTLY. WALTZ is passable for me. I applaud your resilience in tracking down films from all over the world. This is something I admit I do not do myself.

As to my own list, I revised it tonight, and will post it here. I posted at other sites this afternoon, but have since added, subtracted and made some slight changes on the numerical order:

1. The Turin Horse
2. The Life of Pi
3. Oslo, August 31st
4. Les Miserables
5. Zero Dark Thirty
6. Lincoln
7. The Impossible
8. Monsieur Lazhar
9. Django Unchained
10. The Perks of Being A Wallflower
The Deep Blue Sea (tie)


Holy Motors
The Kid with a Bike
Planet of Snail
A Royal Affair
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God
This is NOT a Film
The Central Park Five
Once Upon A Time in Anatolia
Moonrise Kingdom

Again, sensational work Sachin!

Sachin said...

Thanks again Sam. You are too kind with words :) There are many that you have seen which I wish I could have seen. For example, I wish ZERO DARK THIRTY had opened in 2012 here. And then there are the numerous Forum spotlights and Lincoln centre films that I wish I could see regularly.

I am delighted that you have revealed your list here as I didn't want to wait till Jan 7 to see it. I forgot that you saw THE TURIN HORSE this year so I didn't expect to see it on your list but like JAFB's from 2011, it occupies your top spot. Very nice selection.

I have a few films to catch from your list including one that I have never heard of -- PLANET OF SNAIL.

I remember you not liking KILLING THEM SOFTLY but I had not seen the film when you posted about it. So I knew that title would be a point of vast difference but it turns out that most people around me have ignored that film anyway. It remains the only multiplex film that I have seen walkouts in so clearly it annoyed a lot of people. But I found it quite arresting.

Also, I know you had given THE MASTER a low rating so I knew that would not make your list.

WAR WITCH didn't make my cut in the end even though it is a hard hitting film that has left quite an impact on many friends.

OSLO is very good and was not that far off. I decided to restrict my number to 25 this year which is why some good films had to left out.

Thanks again.