The films of 2012 (contributors F-G)

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

Sight & Sound contributors
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Michael Haneke (left) directing his Amour actors.

Michael Haneke (left) directing his Amour actors.

The Ferroni Brigade AKA Christoph Huber and Olaf Möller
Critics, Austria/Germany

Kaien Hotel · Blue (Kaien Hoteru · burû)
+ 11.25: The Day Mishima Chose His Own Fate (11.25 jiketsu no hi: Mishima Yukio to wakamono-tachi)
+ The Millennial Rapture (Sennen no yuraku)
Wakamatsu Kôji, Japan

A year of great losses, none more tragic than the twistedly Odön von Horváth-ish demise of Wakamatsu Kôji. Prolific to the last, he left this life after this historic hat-trick of films to ponder: first, a surreal reconsideration of his own early work; then, a concise counterpart to his towering late epic United Red Army (2007); and finally, an awe-inspiring Nakagami Kenji adaptation, a work about and beyond time – thus maybe a perfect legacy. If anybody had made only one of these films, he would be on our list – but of course, only Wakamatsu could have made all three.

Dredd
Pete Travis, UK/USA/India

+ The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!
Peter Lord & Jeff Newitt, USA/UK

+ Dracula 3D
Dario Argento, Italy/France/Spain

In this world of overinflated, undimensioned comic-book adaptations serious, straightforward work is possible, as proven by Dredd, an admirably no-nonsense, visually convincing antidote to the reign of postmodern smirk and dumbed-down high concept. There’s also reliably great three-dimensional work in Resident Evil Retribution by Paul W.S. Anderson, who resurrects the Hollywood musical as virtual action adventure, but this triple bill is about the richness of 3D approaches in commercial filmmaking. So we rather point to its other magnificent possibilities: its use for lending additional dimension to bloated, beloved faces like those of Val Kilmer or David Hasselhoff, or to give us the first 3D dodo in cinema history (clearly best supporting actor of the year) in The Pirates!, a hugely enjoyable but also disarmingly wise piece of (mostly) stop-motion animation. Just consider the Pirate Captain’s nugget of advice: “And that’s why, in a straight fight, a shark would probably beat a Dracula.” Which brings us to one of this year’s most misunderstood works, Dario Argento’s highly romantic edel-trash extravaganza Dracula 3D, as demented as it is visionary, not least in its totally old-school approach to the third dimension.

Paradise: Love (Paradies: Liebe)
+ Paradise: Faith (Paradies: Glaube)
+ Paradise: Hope (Paradies: Hofffnung)
Ulrich Seidl, Austria/France/Germany

At last, a trilogy that is more than the sum of its parts: three films deepening each other’s themes without the usual deterministic crutches, united by an auteur’s vision. An epic portrait of institutionalised loneliness, playing out tragicomically as uneven power struggles. Love is to be expected, devastation to be found. (Bonus: best ‘La Paloma’ rendition in recent years.)

Gegenwart
Thomas Heise, Germany
+ 48 Heads from the Merkurov Museum (after Kurt Kren) (48 Köpfe aus dem Merkurov Museum (nach Kurt Kren))
Anna Artaker, Germany
+ A Moment of Silence at the Grave of Ed Gein (Ein Moment der Stille am Grab von Ed Gein)
Jörg Buttgereit, Germany

Three times last rites: Heise gives an account of unending work in a small crematorium; Artaker studies Soviet death masks, while bowing to master Kurt Kren; Regietitan Jörg Buttgereit delivers a short coda as culmination of one of the main strands in his work. Contemplation needs no words.

La madre, versions 1-3
Jean-Marie Straub, Germany

“There will be other days, other voices and awakenings” – Cesare Pavese.

Highlight

“Mensch ist Mensch. Das ist alles” (“Human is human. That’s All.”) – the words of actor Nabil Saleh at the Venice press conference for Paradise: Faith. (Note: If you want to be in this spot on the Ferroni Brigade’s 2013 list, please arrange a screening that consists of George Albert Smith’s 1906 masterpiece Tartans of Scottish Clans 90 times in a row, accompanied by full bagpipe orchestra with a roundelay of soloists wearing the appropriate tartan stepping forward in turn.)

William Fowler
BFI Archive, UK

The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson

The Bruce Lacey Experience
Nicholas Abrahams & Jeremy Deller, UK

All Divided Selves
Luke Fowler, UK

Two Years at Sea
Ben Rivers, UK

Dredd
Pete Travis, UK/USA/India

On reflection, all these films seem to be about inner states and the mind as much as the strange world in which we live… Unusual films by and about unusual people.

Highlight

Seeing The Master at the Odeon West End on 70mm. There were tramlines and surface dust, and it felt very odd indeed.

Philip French
The Observer, UK

Once upon a Time in Anatolia
Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Ceylan renews the classic European cinema of the 1960s across the Bosporus.

Berberian Sound Studio
Peter Strickland

The British film of the year, as remarkable as The Conversation in its examination of sound as a key component of cinema.

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

Panahi’s defiant slice of ironic autobiography emphatically justifies cinema as a challenge to a complacent authoritarian regime.

Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson, USA

Anderson’s magical fable is his wittiest, most generous attempt to define the American Dream.

Cosmopolis
David Cronenberg

Cronenberg’s sleek adaptation of Don DeLillo’s urban road movie, as elegant, cool and rebarbative as the stretch limo the antihero travels in.

Highlight

The vast silhouette of Alfred Hitchcock loomed over the year: the BFI Southbank’s three-part season, the newly struck copies, and the apotheosis of the Master with Vertigo voted the greatest film of all time in the latest Sight & Sound poll. The most important rediscovery, perhaps, was the revival on DVD and in the cinema of Robert Hamer’s acutely shaped slice of British realism It Always Rains on Sunday (1947). It made us reconsider the meaning of Ealing Studios, and recognise the versatility of the great cinematographer Douglas Slocombe, still alive at 99.

The year’s most original books were about Tarkovsky: Geoff Dyer’s slim Zona (Canongate), a personal monograph about Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and the monumental Tarkovsky: Films, Stills, Polaroids & Writings, edited by Andrey A. Tarkovsky, Hans-Joachim Schlegel and Lothar Schirmer (Thames & Hudson).

Jean-Michel Frodon
Critic, France

Holy Motors
Leos Carax, France/Germany

Both an accomplishment and a step forward, rooted in the love for cinema and defying the coming times, as dark and as promising as they may be.

Laurence Anyways
Xavier Dolan, Canada/France

Bold and emotional, unpredictable and perfectly true to its characters and their motivations, supported by extraordinary acting.

Leviathan
Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Véréna Paravel, France/UK/USA

If the word ‘groundbreaking’ ever meant something, it applies to this reinvention of cinema power to poeticise the relation between men, animals, ocean, sky and the invisible, in a completely revolutionary way.

Saudade
Tomita Tatsuya, Japan

From the local to the universal, an extraordinarily complex yet easily accessible cinematic translation of the forces that reshape and threaten contemporary societies.

Tabu
Miguel Gomes, Portugal/Germany/France

Poetry and politics, romanticism, infinite love for characters and sharp vision of a self-destructive world.

Five titles only is dura lex, excluding Hong Sangsoo, Olivier Assayas, Brillante Mendoza, David Cronenberg, Abbas Kiarostami, Marco Bellocchio, Benoît Jacquot, Aleksandr Sokurov, Manoel de Oliveira… This (once again) very fruitful year remains doomed by the irremediable loss of Chris Marker.

Chris Fujiwara
Director, Edinburgh International Film Festival, UK

Top five rediscoveries:

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1943, UK

Presented in its new restoration at the Berlinale, with Thelma Schoonmaker in attendance.

Himala
Ishmael Bernal, 1983, Philippines

A magnificent work of astounding complexity and control, presented in a restored version at Venice.

Western Union
Fritz Lang, 1941, USA

An ignored work vindicated in a stunning print screened in the Austrian Filmmuseum’s Fritz Lang retrospective.

Typhoon Club (Taifû kurabu)
Somai Shinji, 1985, Japan

A masterpiece by Somai, presented first at Tokyo FILMeX, then at Edinburgh in retrospectives of this neglected figure.

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell
Terence Fisher, 1973, UK

The melancholy and brilliant last film of Terence Fisher, rediscovered at Jeonju – to the great joy of a distinguished multinational cadre of filmmakers and cinephiles.

Graham Fuller
Critic, USA

The Deep Blue Sea
Terence Davies, UK

Except for The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, it’s hard to think of another film in which the masochistic misery of unrequited love is rendered as exquisitely as it is in Davies’s Terence Rattigan adaptation, which loves its suicidal heroine even if her feckless younger lover does not. Rarely has Britain’s Age of Austerity been so boldly vivified.

Holy Motors
Leos Carax

Despite being filmed digitally, Carax’s role-playing fantasy – as romantic as it is sardonic – is a cineaste’s heartfelt lament for film as a lost ideal. Any movie that has Kylie Minogue as a Jean Seberg surrogate asking her ex-lover in song “Who were we when we were who we were, back then?” is priceless.

The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson, USA

Scarcely an exegesis of Scientology, Anderson’s disarmingly serene drama presents its master-slave dynamic as a perverse odyssey that allegorises the patriarchalism of the Eisenhower decade. The best American film since There Will Be Blood.

Tabu
Miguel Gomes

In turning a melancholy drama about three lonely women in modern Lisbon into an African colonial idyll of adulterous love, Gomes pulled off the year’s greatest conjuring trick. Neither as sentimental nor as populist as The Artist, it’s a paean to the silent-cinema aesthetic, the ghost of Murnau, and the great white hunters and huntresses of Hollywood’s past.

The Turin Horse
Béla Tarr

Tarr’s swansong is a relentlessly sombre deconstruction of the father, daughter and eponymous nag’s humble ecosystem, culminating in the woman’s loss of will to survive and the disappearance of the light. Invoking apocalypse – albeit of the whimper rather than the bang variety – the film is a bleak analogue to Tarr’s more narratively complex and imagistic Werckmeister Harmonies.

Highlights

In New York, the Lincoln Center’s Aleksei German retrospective led me to the tender, rueful Twenty Days Without War and the surreal and breathless Khrustalyov, My Car!.

It Always Rains on Sunday and Woman in a Dressing Gown, both rereleased, impressed me as persuasive forebears of kitchen-sink realism. I imagine that, back in the day, they’d have solaced The Deep Blue Sea’s Hester.

Best DVD: Jean Grémillon During the Occupation (Criterion Eclipse): three great dramas starring Madeleine Renaud that made me question poetic realism’s morbidity.

Charles Gant
Heat, UK

Rust and Bone
Jacques Audiard

Critics quibbled at its sentimentality, manipulation or unearned redemptive ending, but Audiard’s tearjerker remains the film I connected with most strongly in 2012.

Argo
Ben Affleck, USA

For sheer old-fashioned entertainment value.

The Comedian
Tom Shkolnik, UK

Ill-nourished in narrative but rich in wholly convincing realness, Shkolnik’s lo-fi debut raised the bar for character-based improvised drama, and was my discovery of the London Film Festival. Chiselled down from a four-rough cut into an elegant 80 minutes by an editor who calls it “the first wildlife documentary about human relations”, the gay-themed Brit flick will arrive in arthouse cinemas in 2013.

Cloud Atlas
Tom Tykwer, Andy & Lana Wachowski, Germany/USA/Hong Kong/Singapore

I approached this with caution, thanks to more than a whiff of Darren Aronofsky’s irritatingly indulgent The Fountain, but I couldn’t have been more surprised or beguiled. It’s not flawless – in fact one of the six storylines doesn’t really come off – but it’s still a highly achieved piece, and gets ever more dizzyingly gripping throughout its three-hour running time. The bladder-challenging downside, as it cuts back and forth with increasing rapidity, is that there really is no safe moment for a quick bathroom break.

Chronicle
Josh Trank, USA

Not particularly celebrated in the pages of Sight & Sound, this teen sci-fi was the genre discovery of the year

Ryan Gilbey
New Statesman, UK

Nostalgia for the Light
Patricio Guzmán

On the Road
Walter Salles, France/UK/Brazil/USA/Canada

Amour
Michael Haneke

Beauty (Skoonheid)
Oliver Hermanus, South Africa/France/Germany

Elena
Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia/France/USA/Japan

Highlights

My highlights of the year involve two very different heroes, one living, one long dead. The former is Jean-Claude Carrière, with whom I was privileged to spend an afternoon this summer. His wisdom is matched only by the playfulness with which he carries it.

I also attended the world premiere of Dark Blood, River Phoenix’s last (unfinished) movie, at the Netherlands Film Festival in Utrecht. As a former teenage fan of the actor (I still remember being floored by news of his death when it flashed up, in those pre-internet days, on Teletext), I never thought the day would come. Adroitly rescued and poignantly narrated by its director George Sluizer, Dark Blood reminds us of the breadth and uniqueness of Phoenix’s talent. Stragglers unmoved by the film itself would surely have been overcome by the speech afterwards from Sluizer, himself frail and gravely ill.

Jane Giles
Head of Content, BFI, UK

The five new cinema releases that I saw this year and most enjoyed were these in order of date seen:

London the Modern Babylon
Julien Temple, UK

100 years of archive footage, punk rock and Hetty Bower all in one sitting. Beautiful.

Berberian Sound Studio
Peter Strickland, UK

Scala graduate Strickland lets rip in style… I’d triple-bill this with Eraserhead and Peeping Tom before a Dario Argento all-nighter.

Holy Motors
Leos Carax, France/Germany

It was so great to see this, 25 years after Mauvais Sang. I heart Leos Carax and M.Merde, growing older and madder brilliantly.

Keep the Lights On
Ira Sachs, USA

Lovely, both fresh and evocative it felt like a gay Cassavetes movie with bonus points for a sexy lead actor who looks like a baby Rutger Hauer.

Skyfall
Sam Mendes, USA/UK

Seriously good fun, and what family tickets at the local multiplex are made for.

Highlights in order of date they happened

Ken Russell’s The Devils released on DVD in the UK! Whatever next?

The opening night of the Sheffield Doc/Fest – From the Sea to the Land Beyond performed live by British Sea Power plus Searching for Sugar Man with a guest appearance by Rodriguez. And a hog roast.

Soweto Kinch’s thrilling score for the BFI restoration of The Ring performed live at the Hackney Empire was my absolute highlight of the Genius of Hitchcock project.

Suzy Gillett
Head of Projects, London Film School, UK

Once upon a Time in Anatolia
Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Like a nod to Güney’s Yol, it takes on the multilayers of Turkish life in an epic road movie – perfect cinema, for me.

Amour
Michael Haneke, France/Germany/Austria

An exquisite portrait of the part of life we will all face but are never really prepared for. If only we all had a Trintignant at home when the time comes.

Beyond the Hills (Dupa Dealuri)
Cristian Mungiu, Romania/France/Belgium

More intimate and less formal than 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, Mungiu’s latest ends on of the most beautiful focus pulls in film, after transporting us to a Bruegel-like landscape for the winter.

Tey (Aujourd’hui)
Alain Gomis, France/Senegal

Following the last day of a Dakar man played by US slam poet Saul Williams, Tey blew me away. It’s totally hypnotic and – like Amour – takes us to that universal point of departure, but via a curious and ingenious path.

My Brother the Devil
Sally El Hosaini, UK/Egypt/USA

I rarely champion British cinema, but I was so thrilled with My Brother the Devil, one of the most cinematic portrayals of the urban London I recognise and love (with a twist to boot) – from a director who’s a first-timer and a woman. Way to go, Sally El Hosaini!

Agnieszka Gratza
Critic, UK

Amour
Michael Haneke

Tabu
Miguel Gomes

Nostalgia for the Light
Patricio Guzmán

Two Years at Sea
Ben Rivers, UK

Found Memories (Historias Que Só Existem Quando Lembradas)
Júlia Murat, Argentina/Brazil/France

Carmen Gray
Critic, UK

Holy Motors
Leo Carax

Carax’s exhilaratingly mad, rapturous reverie on performance and shifting identities shows up in unapologetic ultraviolet the dust on more drably conventional fare.

Bestiaire
Denis Côté, Canada/France

Feeling more art installation than nature documentary, Côté’s smart, effortessly elegant and non-partisan experiment defamiliarises the zoo and by extension audiences’ fascination with staring at the exotic. 

Neighbouring Sounds (O Som ao Redor)
Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil

This socially incisive Brazilian film employs startlingly innovative sound design to contribute to an architecture of paranoia.

Berberian Sound Studio
Peter Strickland

Sound is again pivotal in this blackly comic, stylish and off-kilter riff on 1970s Italian horror, which thumbs its nose at English pastoral roots – with a very English irreverence.

The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson

This intense, majestic if nihilistic character drama – with astonishing performances from Phoenix and Hoffman – raises highly original questions about the function of comedy in life.

Highlights

The most memorable cinematic event for its sheer beauty of intent was Sixty Seconds of Solitude in Year Zero. Down at Tallinn’s port in Estonia just before Christmas (so missing last year’s poll), an omnibus of minute-long shorts from 60 of the world’s directors was screened, then symbolically set alight. Not to be marketed or distributed, the film was a stand against the subordination of the creative impulse to business, and was accompanied by a manifesto from its originators Veiko Ounpuu and Taavi Eelmaa.

Seeing my favourite film Mirror in big-screen glory – courtesy of fabulous initiative A Nos Amours – also lingers in my mind.

Another year of thoughtful, quality releases from Second Run DVD included Tuesday, After Christmas, a deft, observational portrait of adultery from Romanian director Radu Muntean, which had missed out on UK theatrical release.

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