The top ten
Goodbye First Love
Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Tree Of Life
Film Of The Year
The first film I saw at the cinema in 2012, and, as the year closes, still the one that left the greatest impression. Michael Fassbender’s controlled performance as Brandon sears the screen, ably complimented by Carey Mulligan’s turn as his sister Sissy. Whilst director Steve McQueen brings an artist’s sensibility to the unjustly taboo subject matter. But beyond sex addition, McQueen’s film is about modern isolation. A contemporary film about loneliness and our own destructive tendencies, and a beautiful one at that.
Polarising opinion like few other films this year, Paul Thomas Anderson’s sixth is either a modern masterpiece or the emperor’s new clothes. Leaving the central debate over the film’s content to one side for now, you cannot argue the bravura filmmaking on show. A truly gorgeous piece of work, pinned by two impressive but contrasting performances. It’s clear who the master at work is here, and the five-year wait was, for me, entirely worth it.
The world needs filmmakers like Léos Carax, and it’s good to have him back. Where would we be if endlessly inventive surrealist pantomimes like Holy Motors didn’t exist? It wasn’t just that the film was dreamlike and strange, but that it had an enthusiastic joie de vivre about it. Take that ecstatic accordion interlude. Even if it all means nothing, Carax’s film provided most of the year’s truly incredible moments, and a masterful central performance from Denis Lavant.
Goodbye First Love
French cinema’s hippest name (and partner to Olivier Assayas), Mia Hansen-Løve’s work is often wise and pragmatic. The marvellous Lola Créton takes centre stage here as a young woman both in and out of love, opening up to the world and later thriving as student architect. It’s an intimate-feeling character study.
Martha Mary May Marlene
Sean Durkin’s quiet film about a young woman who tries to shake off the effects of life in a commune is a slow-burner that gets under the skin. Flicking between two timelines, as Marcy (Elisabeth Olsen) recalls the sinister activities of her former life, Durkin walks a tightrope of insinuation and paranoia. Olsen’s performance is one of the most impressive of the year, and that ending provokes discussion and debate every time.
With instant-cult-classic stamped all over it, Richard Bates Jr.’s kooky debut saw teen comedy and body-horror collide. 90201‘s AnnaLynne McCord is transformed into Pauline, one of the great troubled teens. With a supporting cast that boasts the likes of John Waters, Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise and Tracy Llords, along with a gut-punch of an ending, Excision was a well-needed middle-finger to respectable movie-making everywhere, vividly realised.
The Tree Of Life
Malick’s artful and autobiographical new offering felt so light of touch that even its actors couldn’t be counted on to remain connected to terra firma. The Tree Of Life featured a sequence of such angelic lift that Jessica Chastain left the ground, the purity of her maternal figure artfully made literal. It’s a graceful peak in a sun-dappled hymn to Malick’s own childhood.
At 77 and with the likes of The Exorcist and The French Connection under his belt, who really thought William Friedkin still had anything to prove? Nevertheless, in 2012 he trotted out this remarkable fanfare to trailer-park stupidity. A bloody, pulpy exploitation thriller in which Matthew McConaughey single-handedly revived his faltering career with his turn as the calm killer of the title. You’ll never look at a chicken drumstick the same way again.
Dree Hemingway portrays an amateur porn actress who strikes up an unlikely friendship with an octoganarian woman (Besedka Johnson). Sean Baker’s cinema seems worth keeping an eye on. His film is fresh and friendly and a sympathetic and demystifying portrayal of humdrum life in the sex industry.
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody reunited for this caustic black comedy, replacing the indie-lite suburbia of Juno with a sadder vision of small town life as ghost-writing former prom queen Mavis Gary (a superb Charlize Theron) returns to her roots to sabotage the marriage of her former beau Buddy (Patrick Wilson). It’s subdued, uneasy viewing that slowly ratchets into cringe-comedy, all-the-better for swerving a trite resolution in its final minutes. Criminally overlooked during awards season.