Films of the Year 2012: Mid-Term Report
The school year is coming to an end. The sun is allegedly on the horizon. We’re six months into the year 2012 and it’s time to take the measure of the cinematic offerings we’ve seen so far.
There have been some big flops – Disney apparently wrote off $200 million on John Carter (was I really the only one who enjoyed it?), and Warner Bros can’t have been too happy with Rock of Ages either. Snow White and the Huntsman made a lot of money, more than Mirror Mirror at least, but it cost a mind-boggling $170 million to make (in comparison, Prometheus is reported to have cost $130 million).
Marvel’s superhero tag-team Avengers Assemble lived up to high expectations, Tim Burton’s quirky Dark Shadows not so much. A French black and white silent film won the Academy Award for Best Picture (and Jean Dujardin was named Best Actor opposite Meryl Streep’s win for The Iron Lady), and Ken Loach won the Jury Prize at Cannes with his Scottish comedy The Angels’ Share.
I’ve recorded four five-star reviews so far this year. Alexander Payne’s poignant family comedy The Descendants was the first, a simple, beautifully modulated movie about a father reconnecting with his estranged teenage daughter.
I also loved the groundbreaking neo-realist documentary Position Among the Stars, a portrait of an impoverished Indonesian family brimming with energy, humour and emotion, and a film that has much to say about where the world finds itself at this point of time.
More recently, and controversially, I rate David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis as one of his very best films, a minority opinion at this stage of the game, but a verdict I’m happy to stand by.
Even better, and for me the film of the year so far, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia is a slow but enthralling account of a murder investigation in a remote corner of Turkey. Ceylan is a great filmmaker, and this movie repays close attention and repeat viewing, both for its subtle revelations of the intersections of character, justice and jurisdiction, its mordant humour and the deep visual texture.
If those are the stand-outs for me, there are plenty more I recommend. Among art house releases, look out for The Kid with a Bike, a heartbreaking film from the Dardennes; Aki Kaurismaki’s charming Le Havre; the moving French Canadian school drama Monsieur Lazhar; and the corrosive Argentine crime thriller Carancho.
Add to these a trio of exceptional documentaries: Buck, about the horse whisperer, Buck Brannaman; Werner Herzog’s peek into the Texas death chambers, Into the Abyss; and Bill Cunningham: New York, a movie about an unconventional New York fashion photographer that will surprise and delight even those who don’t think they care about clothes.
I want to single out some underrated American movies too, some of them mainstream studio pictures, some from the independent sector: Woody Harrelson is terrific in the James Ellroy scripted police drama Rampart. We’ve seen a lot of Charlize Theron this year, which is no hardship, but her work in Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman’s sourly funny Young Adult is probably her best yet.
Elizabeth Olsen emerges a star of tomorrow in the chilling Martha Marcy May Marlene and the single-shot horror Silent House (horror fans also had The Cabin in the Woods and Juan of the Dead to shout about).
Some people complain that Clint Eastwood’s biopic J Edgar is too long and too slow, but I think the movie repays your patience with plenty of depth and nuance. I also enjoyed the financial meltdown drama Margin Call, significant portions of The Dictator, Michael Fassbender in Shame, and Bruce Robinson’s underrated The Rum Diaries.
So far, I think you have to say, so good…
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