Top 10 Films contributor Piers McCarthy takes a look at his top 10 films from 2012. His eclectic list largely shuns Hollywood’s over-sized budgets in favour of some inspired work from the world of independent cinema.
As interesting and diverse as his previous top 10 lists (for example, Top 10 films running over 2.5 hours & Top 10 Male Voices in Cinema), his favourite films from 2012 are far removed from the top UK box office achievers (aside from one notable exception).
10. After Lucia (Franco, Mexico)
A frank, gut-wrenching look at bullying. Some may criticise After Lucia for it knowingly tugging at your heart strings and using a few cliches primed for plot development. Nevertheless, events that transpire in the story are unforgettably upsetting and hard to watch, resulting in a powerful film. Alejandra, played with tremendous poise by Tessa La, is a modern tragic figure to a very believable extent. How Alejandra’s story, the bullies’ and Alejandra’s father’s arcs meet is one of the best thread closures of recent cinema.
9. Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai (Miike, Japan)
Elegant, classic filmmaking perfectly on show in Takashi Miike’s latest. Partially showing two sides to a story (a-la Rashomon), Hara-kiri focuses on two samurai suicides and the reasons behind each. Shot with magnificent depth in sets wonderfully constructed, it is a beautiful film to behold. Performances, especially Ebizo Ichikawa, are phenomenal, bringing about a poignancy rarely witnessed in mainstream cinema.
8. End of Watch (Ayer, USA)
Cop dramas are a dime a dozen though when one comes along that is critically successful it is worth taking note. The likes of The Untouchables, L.A Confidential and Heat rank among the best of the genre though End of Watch could easily stand alongside them. Occasionally the camera work and representation of the villains invites scrutiny though it is the relationship between Jake Gyllenhaal’s Brian and Michael Peña’s Mike that awards the film its acclaim.
7. Argo (Affleck, USA)
Ben Affleck’s hat trick in directing has been completed with his latest, Argo. The unbelievable yet true story about the escape of American hostages in Iran after a coup d’état is thoroughly gripping. As well as being a taut thriller (the finale promoting Affleck’s undeniable skill calling the shots), Argo has wicked moments of humour amongst the drama that makes it a highly entertaining film. Another mention in this list – Scoot McNairy, whose part in this film often steals the limelight.
6. Killing Them Softly (Dominik, USA)
Andrew Dominik’s cold, satirical and biting image of Obama’s America didn’t fair well in the US for obvious reasons but it does not detract from its overall success. Artistically it’s sublime, with music and cinematography creating a compelling atmosphere. Pivotal scenes will not go unforgotten – brutal yet beautiful set pieces to punctuate scenes of heavy (though brilliant) dialogue.
Featuring two up and coming stars, Scoot McNairy and (slightly more known) Ben Mendelsohn, alongside heavyweights such as Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins and Ray Liotta. From Pitt producing to his re-teaming with Dominik, you can tell that this is a passionate project of theirs, and this shines through.
5. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Durkin, USA)
Elizabeth Olsen is definitely an emerging talent. An indie hit at festivals, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a memorable, chilling portrayal of a cult. Less stylistic than The Master that similarly dealt with such topics, but arguably a better film. The direction, writing and acting are are wondrous (notably Olsen and the fantastic John Hawkes), leaving you thinking about the film months after you’ve seen it.
4. Liberal Arts (Radnor, USA)
A mature, sweet rom-com from writer/director/actor Josh Radnor. With a terrific supporting cast including the lovely Elizabeth Olsen, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney and a surprisingly good performance from Zac Efron. Liberal Arts looks at the quandary of dating someone slightly younger than yourself and the moral implications of that. Played with expert wit and fused with charm and geniality, Liberal Arts was not only one of the best rom-coms of 2012 but of the last ten years.
3. Polisse (Maïwenn, France)
A hidden gem of this year with only a limited release, Polisse is the film you have to seek out. Advertised as similar to The Wire, there’s not much that can detract from that comparison – Polisse is every bit as engaging, dramatic and educational as the seminal HBO series. Based around the lives of a child protection unit, Polisse is often disturbing but never fails to provoke emotion. It’s not often that a film could do with a TV spin-off but Polisse’s characters and narratives arcs are deserving of hours more exploration. A stunning portrait of the police and the difficulties of the job.
2. Skyfall (Mendes, UK)
Many comparisons have been made with Skyfall and Christopher Nolan and whilst this may irritate certain people, it is true that intelligent blockbusters have been helped by Nolan’s last 3 films. The latest Bond outing is a triumphant, mature cinematic treat. Helped by three great writers, the legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins and sophisticated director Sam Mendes, Skyfall not only entertains but has consistent artistic merit.
1. Untouchable (Nakache/Toledano, France)
One of the greatest buddy movies of all time and certainly one of the funniest and touching films of the last few decades. A simple (and true) story of a quadriplegic and his aid with more than one conflict of interest. Sounds relatively lacklustre but an opening set piece involving a car-chase, and later scenes such as a jovial dance, a majestic skydiving moment and numerous incidents of top-class, hilarious quips between Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy make it very special. An absolute must-see.
Written and compiled by Piers McCarthy.
Your turn – what were your favourite films of 2012?
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