The films of 2012 (contributors C-E)

90 international critics on their top five films and highlights of 2012.

Sight & Sound contributors
Updated:

Full web edition

Tabu

Tabu

Dan Callahan
Critic, USA

Francine
Brian M. Cassidy & Melanie Shatzky, USA/Canada

Bernie
Richard Linklater, USA

Lincoln
Steven Spielberg, USA/India

Magic Mike
Steven Soderbergh, USA

Cosmopolis
David Cronenberg, Canada/France/Portugal/Italy

Dylan Cave
BFI Archive, UK

Dreams of a Life
Carol Morley, UK/Ireland

I caught this right at the start of the year, but it stayed with me throughout because of the way it touchingly evokes a particular kind of grief: that of losing a well-loved friend.

The Nine Muses
John Akomfrah, UK

The frozen stasis of the modern world gives way to the pulsating eloquence of archive footage in Akomfrah’s essay on memory and migration.

Young Adult
Jason Reitman, USA

Ageing sucks, the past is a lie and a belief in one true love is delusional and arrogant. Sour, sad but funny – Diablo Cody’s richest yet.

The Curse
Fyzal Boulifa, UK/Morocco

Best short of the year. Boulifa’s Moroccan tale of adolescent bullying is bitterly realistic, but also plays like a dreamlike allegory of paralysing sexual guilt. Remarkable.

Gimme the Loot
Adam Leon, USA

My favourite this year. Two graffiti writers beg, borrow and steal in order to infiltrate the NY Mets’ Shea Stadium and tag the celebrated Home Run Apple. Fresh as a new pair of sneakers.

Highlights

Grabbers’ drunken premise; the weird trend for tower-block films; The Woman in Black’s unrelenting malevolence; Shadow Dancer’s opening sequence; Boyle’s opening ceremony; dragging my kids to see The Muppets; Lawrence of Arabia in 4K; the rise of the rapper/director (Plan B, Ice-T, RZA); Hitchcock’s genius; revisiting Bob Marley; a packed screening of Mulholland Dr; Bond checking his cufflinks; Spike Island’s unashamed colloquialism; Bane’s nonsense; Claire Danes’s Carrie Mathison; The Thick of It’s peek into coalition politics; drinking in Ealing’s The Red Lion; the onstage reunion of two child actors 45 years after they starred in The Little Ones (1965). But still too many superhero movies.

Tom Charity
Program co-ordinator, Vancity Theatre, Canada

The Act of Killing
Joshua Oppenheimer

An extraordinary and fascinating film about the amoral lure of cinema itself – and conversely, the magic of its empathy.

Killing Them Softly
Andrew Dominik, USA

A noir that drug dealers, bankers and businessmen will understand equally well.

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Benh Zeitlin, USA

Because it represents a poetic escape route from the impasse of indie realism – and because the floods are real. 

Leviathan
Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Véréna Paravel

A real fish-eye view of deep-sea trawling. It’s purgatorial and exhilarating at the same time, with images we’ve never seen before.

The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson, USA

Joaquin Phoenix is the actor of his generation, and Anderson allowed him to play a grown man at last.

Highlight

Catching up with Searching for Sugar Man some two months after it opened and falling in love with Rodriguez’s sound, his songs and his dignity. It’s still showing in Vancouver after 11 weeks, and I’m still bumping into people who just discovered it. There’s something very heartening about this reaffirmation of cinema as communal experience – the mythic sleeper hit that hardly ever happens any more. On top of which it’s a beautifully structured piece of storytelling. 

Ian Christie
Critic and film historian, Birkbeck, University of London

Amour
Michael Haneke

Haneke’s tender yet unflinching journey into the twilight of a couple’s old age was the film that called some of Cannes’s sillier displays of mindless violence to order. Jean-Louis Trintignant heroically carries on, tetchy and pragmatic, while Emmanuelle Riva simply shines in the difficult role of his stricken wife. 

Tabu
Miguel Gomes, Portugal/Germany/France

Another film that starts out with old age, as an elderly Portuguese woman reaches into her past in Africa, leading us into a bittersweet romance and an astonishing black-and-white silent film that manages to avoid pastiche while genuinely reinventing the language of Murnau and Flaherty.

Shame
Steve McQueen, UK/Canada

McQueen’s second feature opened early in 2012 and won wide respect, even if grudging in some quarters. Michael Fassbender’s character is certainly embarrassing and repellent in roughly equal measure, but director and actor have conspired to make him someone we go on caring about, as he wreaks emotional havoc in this sad story for our self-obsessed times.

We Went to War
Michael Grigsby, UK

Forty years after Grigsby went to Texas to discover how young Vietnam vets were coping, in the groundbreaking Granada doc I Was a Soldier, he returned with producer Rebekah Tolley to pick up the threads of their subsequent lives. The result is as stunningly eloquent for its silences and empty spaces as for anything said, leaving us to contemplate the long-term cost of war.

Avengers Assemble (aka The Avengers)
Joss Whedon, USA

Strangely, I saw Joss Whedon’s exuberantly enjoyable gathering of the Marvel clan – also one of the best 3D movies in an otherwise poor year – immediately after catching Alan Sekula and Noel Burch’s austerely analytical The Forgotten Space (2010) at Tate Modern. Sekula and Burch chart the impact of globalisation on ports and factory towns, and ultimately on all of us, with impressive skill and visual fair – qualities equally in evidence in Whedon’s destruction derby. Instead of Nolan’s Dark Knight pathos, Whedon manages to recreate the pulp humour and sheer absurdity of Jack Kirby’s oddball crew.  

Highlights

2012 saw the rollout of a second great Powell-Pressburger digital restoration, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, from festivals to cinemas and finally DVD. As with The Red Shoes, we actually see more in the restored image, but the major gain here is to realise what a groundbreaking use of Technicolor this was in 1943, with a different colour palette for each sequence. Having published a script after the film’s first restoration in 1985 I know it well, but the sheer quality of Georges Périnal’s cinematography, combined with Alfred Junge’s art direction, is staggering in this restoration – like scraping the varnish overlay from a much-loved picture to see what craft and imagination was there all along. 

Another highlight was the opening show in July at Tate Modern’s Tanks, which used this cavernous space to display some expanded-cinema classics to spectacular effect. One art critic dismissed all the performance film on show, insisting that “only live performance counts.” But let’s hope this great space continues to be used for retrospective as well as contemporary projection work.

Michel Ciment
Editor, ‘Positif’, France

Dormant Beauty (Bella addormentata)
Marco Bellocchio, Italy/France

The best active Italian filmmaker, as lucid as ever (and still refusing any Manichaeism), delivers a modern tale where politics and psychoanalysis are interwoven in a drama about pro-life and euthanasia, inspired by a real case.

The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson, USA

A real master of American cinema gives an epic scope to the confrontation between a soldier bruised by his experience of WWII and a sect guru who vainly tries to cure him. Two actors at their best – and visually stunning.

Mud
Jeff Nichols, USA

After Shotgun Stories and Take Shelter, the confirmation of the most brilliant American director of his generation. A rite of passage for two children confronted in a pastoral landscape with the brutal reality of life.

Tabu
Miguel Gomes, Portugal/Germany/France

So many good films are not very original – and so many original films are not so good – that it’s a pleasure to discover a film, under the shadow of Murnau, that brilliantly mixes realism and fantasy.

You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet (Vous n’avez encore rien vu)
Alain Resnais, France/Germany

Refusing to be embalmed, Resnais at 90 still provokes controversies in his latest opus: a paean to actors, a meditation on death, a dialogue between the stage and the screen.

Highlight

In Cannes, a one-hour meeting with Norman Lloyd – writer, actor, director – and his extraordinary memories of Welles, Hitchcock, Kazan, Losey, Renoir, Chaplin, Kubrick, Brecht et al.

Roger Clarke
Critic, UK

Francine
Brian M. Cassidy & Melanie Shatzky, USA/Canada

Robot & Frank
Jake Schreier, USA

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Benh Zeitlin, USA

A Simple Life (Tao jie)
Ann Hui, Hong Kong

Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson, USA

Highlight

I’ve been writing a book (A Natural History of Ghosts for Penguin) so my film-viewing has been somewhat curtailed. But my best film moment was probably interviewing writer-producer Roger Lee onstage in London for his film A Simple Life – Ann Hui filmed it, but this is so much his project, his life and his script. In 2011 Deanie Ip won Best Actress in Venice for her performance, and he told a wonderful story about her: a deleted late scene where she has to lie down in a coffin had her in something of a fix emotionally, which she resolved by scrubbing and cleaning the coffin herself before lying down in it.

I also ran a Q&A with Angela Allen, who worked on a great many John Huston films, as well as The Third Man, sometimes as a script supervisor, sometimes in continuity. Among her many great stories were Carol Reed having waiters bringing silver-service Viennese coffee down into the sewers of The Third Man, and Marilyn Monroe accusing her of having an affair with her then husband Arthur Miller on the set of The Misfits.

As far as my book goes, I discovered that the Paranormal Activity franchise is incorrectly named (paranormal – will eventually be explained by science). The demonic entities in Paranormal Activity are supernatural, so, technically, you can say without fear of correction that there is no paranormal activity in Paranormal Activity. In December I’ll be presenting The Innocents at Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios, since in the course of my research, I believe I have found the ‘lost true story’ on which Henry James supposedly based The Turn of the Screw, related to him by Archbishop Benson in the 1890s over dinner in Croydon.

Kieron Corless
‘Sight & Sound’, UK

Tabu
Miguel Gomes

Best film of the year by a mile. The rest, in no particular order:

House of Tolerance (L’Apollonide: Souvenirs de la maison close)
Bertrand Bonello, France

Summer of Giacomo (L’estate di Giacomo)
Alessandro Comodin, Italy/France/Belgium

The Last Time I Saw Macao (A Ultima Vez Que Vi Macau)
João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata, France/Portugal/Macao

Arraianos
Eloy Enciso, Spain

Highlight

The Peter Nestler programme at the Goethe/Tate Modern. Magnificent films, magnificently curated by Ricardo Matos Cabo and Maren Hobein

Mark Cousins
Critic and filmmaker, UK

Sofia’s Last Ambulance (Poslednata lineika na Sofia)
Ilian Metev, Croatia/Bulgaria/Germany

A film about a Bulgarian ambulance team in which – brilliantly – we see only their faces, not their patients.

Hadewijch
Bruno Dumont, France/Germany

Dumont’s beautiful tale of a girl’s feelings about sex and god, which would make a fantastic double bill with Black Narcissus.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present
Matthew Akers, USA

In a city where people hardly hold each other’s glances, Marina Abramovic stares at others for a month. One of the most moving films I’ve ever seen.

Killing Them Softly
Andrew Dominik, USA

Once again Andrew Dominik marries Billy Bitzer imagery with a love of male faces.

Florentina Hubaldo, CTE
Lav Diaz, Philippines

My discovery of the year: a hypnotic landscape painting, Filipino cinema leading the way.

Highlights

As I make the list, I’m daunted. A film fact-finding trip to Albania; walking along the street singing ‘Man or Muppet’ after seeing The Muppet Movie; visiting the Cineteca Bolgna and seeing their Pasolini collection; spending time with Michael Moore at his Traverse City Film Festival; remaking Georges Méliès films with a hundred eight-and-a-half-year-old children and Tilda Swinton; screening The Story of Film: An Odyssey at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and in Beijing; showing my new film What Is This Film Called Love at Karlovy Vary, in a cinema so hot that some people were semi-naked; sitting in the sound booth with Ewen Bremner as he brilliantly recorded voice for the film; editing with Timo Langer to P.J. Harvey’s great music; walking around Hong Kong, filming; having a sandwich with Anand Patwardhan in a pub in Sheffield; Thierry Frémaux’s introduction to The Story of Film in Lyon; getting to know Ulrich Seidl’s actress Margarete Tiesel at the Telluride Film Festival; and the realm of the senses that is YouTube.

Thomas Dawson
Critic, UK

The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson, USA

Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgie de la lumière)
Patricio Guzmán, France/Germany/Chile/USA

Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os)
Jacques Audiard, France/Belgium

In the House (Dans la maison)
François Ozon, France

This Is Not a Film (In Film Nist)
Jafar Panahi & Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran

Highlights

Professor Richard Dyer’s lecture on colour and form in Vincente Minnelli’s films – and subsequently watching The Cobweb and Home from the Hill in the two-month Minnelli season at BFI Southbank; Jafar Panahi talking to his pet iguana in This Is Not a Film; Jérémie Renier’s dancing in underrated disco biopic Cloclo; Quell stumbling upon Dodd’s chartered yacht in The Master; interviewing Jacques Audiard on the roof terrace of a Left Bank French cinema; the mysteries of the Atacama desert in Nostalgia for the Light; the surprise box-office success of Ken Loach’s The Angels’ Share; Rui Poças’s sublime monochrome cinematography in Tabu; the Fellini-esque opening wedding sequence of Matteo Garrone’s Reality; the hat floating down the river in the final shot of Mia Hansen-Løve’s poignant Goodbye First Love; the letters from Dorking in Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio; the remarkable performances of eightysomething nouvelle vague veteran Jean-Louis Trintignant in Amour; the reissue of Orson Welles’s F for Fake; seeing Soviet city symphony Man with a Movie Camera on the big screen with live piano accompaniment.

Lowlight

Being the only one of 850 respondents to vote for Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom in the S&S poll of Greatest Films of All Time.

Maria Delgado
Academic & critic, UK

Tabu
Miguel Gomes

A love story of epic proportions: elegant, glacial and supremely sensual.

After Lucia (Después de Lucía)
Michel Franco, Mexico/France

A devastating portrait of bullying, rooted in two outstanding performances.

Blancanieves
Pablo Berger, Spain

The Grimm Brothers tale re-envisaged as silent cinema. A wicked stepmother, a spirited bullfighting heroine, a playful reworking of Spanish iconography and a lush score by Alfonso Vilallonga. Classy, entertaining filmmaking from the maker of Torremolinos 73.

No
Pablo Larraín, Chile/USA/Mexico

The politics of marketing and the marketing of politics come under Larraín’s scalpel in the final instalment of his trilogy on the traumas of Pinochet’s Chile. His decision to shoot with a U-matic video camera is inspired, lending the film a retro 1980s look where fiction and footage meld effortlessly to capture the dynamics of the time.

The Ethnographer (El etnógrafo)
Ulises Rosell, Argentina

A beautiful documentary about a British ethnographer who now lives with the Wichí community in Northern Argentina. Melding form and content in exemplary fashion, Rosell’s film is as unassuming and serene as the Wichí people themselves.

Highlight

Talking about the process of crafting a performance for Almodóvar with Marisa Paredes and Antonia San Juan; reading Ventura Pons’s taut, lean script for Un berenar a Ginebra (Afternoon Tea in Geneva) on the sunny terrace of the filmmaker’s home in Cadaqués; watching the poster boys for the new New Argentine Cinema, Esteban Lamothe and Esteban Bigliardi, in actress and writer Romila Paula’s dazzling reworking of Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie at one of Buenos Aires’s pocket theatres on a warm summer evening; the pleasure of watching sell-out houses enjoy the Argentine Film Festival at Brixton’s Ritzy Cinema; reading Almodóvar’s magical reflections on the films that live and breathe inside his own cinema as a preparation for his 2012 BAFTA David Lean lecture; the gruelling, uncompromising and luminous brilliance of Amour’s final moments.

Mar Diestro-Dopido
‘Sight & Sound’, UK

House of Tolerance
Bertrand Bonello, France

One of the most sensual and intoxicating films I’ve ever seen.

Tabu
Miguel Gomes

A love letter to a woman, and to cinema.

Diamond Flash
Carlos Vermut, Spain

An absolutely mind-blowing discovery, solely distributed online (and only available in its original Spanish for now, but that’s soon to be remedied).

Arraianos
Eloy Enciso, Spain

Straub/Huillet meet Galician folklore and haunted forests.

Blancanieves
Pablo Berger, Spain

Spanish bacchanalia and horror at its best.

And a special mention to Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux – hated by many, but I was utterly moved.

Gareth Evans
Critic, UK

Beasts of the Southern Wild
Benh Zeitlin, USA

A transcendent joy: a collectively made debut that celebrates outsider vision and living, with its understanding delivered from the inside; celebratory, defiant, truly humane; almost effortlessly able to convince in its fabular reach, Beasts is necessary, compassionate and a real pleasure all in one.

Museum Hours
Jem Cohen, Austria/USA

A wonderfully warm, insightful and moving exploration of the value – beyond price – of art and friendship, and the ability of both to provide lasting and nourishing registers of meaning and worth. A beautifully performed portrait of a city – Vienna – and a relationship that is entirely believable and affecting.

Nostalgia for the Light
Patrico Guzmán

One of the very few masterpieces of 21st-century cinema, this immaculately made essay about the most profound human concerns reminds us what truly matters.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Les Neiges de Kilimandjaro)
Robert Guédigian, France

As austerity bites and cuts aplenty rage, this superbly realised ensemble drama about the true cost of finance capital and its scorched-earth disruption of lives, communities, trust and loyalty speaks with earned hope to the ability of ordinary people to establish new forms of social solidarity and belonging.

Two Years at Sea
Ben Rivers, UK

A real pleasure to see this beautiful and meditative first feature-length work by one of our finest artist filmmakers take to the big screen, with audiences, awards and acclaim all round.

Highlights

Listening to Pedro Costa speak about his remarkable filmmaking (indivisible from life) at London’s ICA for Second Run DVD’s pitch-perfect release of his Casa de Lava. Encountering the miracle that is Sergei Bondarchuk’s 1968 War and Peace (thanks to the efforts of cinephile trailblazers A Nos Amours – film as genuine event). This all-day screening of what is in many ways the greatest film ever made never disappointed, from its pantheistic vision to the empathy of its vast combat scenes, it was a revelation.

Hosting with Chris Darke a 12-hour free celebration of the life and work of cinema’s great voyager Chris Marker, in London’s all-too-necessary countercultural haven the Horse Hospital. Darke’s exemplary curation took us from co-authored early shorts to Marker’s astonishing studies of Kurosawa and Tarkovsky, via many rarely seen works. A full house all day acknowledged the influence of this truly modern maestro of the committed moving image.

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