Favourites of the Year:
And here are my favourite cinematic watches of the year, in no particular order:
Rampart (Oren Moverman)
The Raid/Serbuan maut (Gareth Evans)
Maniac (Franck Khalfoun)
Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland)
Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik)
The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
The Hobbit: AnUnexpected Journey (Peter Jackson)
Life of Pi (Ang Lee)
Indeed, aside from “The Raid” (which was the most visceral action film I have seen since, well, “Casino Royale”) and “The Hobbit”, all my other choices are character studies that often lean to the abstract side. These were the most satisfying watches to me because the acting was so examplary and the aesthetics so wonderful that I knew repeat viewings were only going to reveal how damned good these things were.
I hate voiceovers as a rule, but Elijah Wood’s soft-spoken psychopath in “Maniac” certainly crawled into the head, helped by the p.o.v. camera (and the best subjective camera I’ve seen this year, though there was quite a bit around).
“Killing Them Softly” was as obviously political and scathing as a polemical soul tune with a deluded bunch of low-lives.
It wasn’t immediately obvious to me how much I rated “Rampart”, but I found I couldn’t wait to bust out the blu-ray as soon as it was on release for a second watch: I’m an Ellroy and Woody Harrelson fan and Harrelson’s heartfelt and frightening machismo was so riveting that the vagaries of the double-crosses in the plot barely even registered.
“Berberian Sound Studio” looks and feels like a horror film, and indeed I saw it at Frightfest, but it is something else entirely. Repeat watches are going to reveal, etc etc
Oh, I know the majority seem to dislike “The Master” greatly and feel it to be one of the most boring films ever made, apparently, but… Well it worked for me. The acting was stunning, the abstractions beguiling and… well, Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell is the performance of the year, if not one of the most remarkable of cinema, and that is in a year of excpetional performances.Also best:
The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2011)
Mildred Pierce (Todd Haynes, mini-series 2011)Two fantastic dramas about and for women with remarkable casts and performances; both being leisurely, elegantly and sympathetically paced. Sumptious and very, very moving.
Killer Joe: (William Friedkin) That is some low-down and dirty fun.
Two Days in New York: (July Delpy) Funny, light, smart and silly all at once. And bearing one of the funniest “soul-stealing” cameos ever put onto screen.
Sleep Tight/Mientras duermes: (Jaume Balagueró) Highly creepy Italian stalking thriller that makes the skin crawl and probably has more rightful claim to that much thrown-about accolade “Hitchcockian” than most.
Chained: Jennifer Lynch’s lo-fi serial killer and child abuse drama that isn’t quite as you might expect by the end, but one that ultimately emerges as respectful and should earn a cult following.
Looper: (Rian Johnson) Daft but immensely enjoyable time-travel fun. I am a fan of genre fair that takes sharp mid-way turns. Plus, it includes one of the most remarkable child performances ever in Pierce Gagnon.
Skyfall: (Sam Mendes) Daft but immensely enjoyable spy-fun. No, it doesn’t top “Casino Royale”, but it may be the best-looking Bond and the left-turn into quasi-Gothic imagery for the final act is certainly unexpected and something new. I hope they keep this up because surely this is the best of mainstream cinema, despite any flaws?
And upon reflection, I find myself thinking more favourably of “Dredd” (Pete Travis)than I did initially, and Todd Solondz's “Dark Horse” was pretty entertaining and scathing too.
Disappointments of the Year:
Cabin in the Woods: (Drew Goddard) Sorry, but Nah. Horror that tries to berate its own genre is much like puritanical priests that have affairs. Also: not half as clever as it thought. Also, I have probably never quite upset so many people over my indifference and objections to the film. Heh.
End of Watch: (David Ayer) Bearer of one of the worst and inconsistant cinematic aesthetics ever.
Prometheus: (Ridley Scott) Expectation was so very high but Ridley Scott trying to trump Quatermass’ “Aliens made us” was a pretty-looking underwhelmer. I mean, it's not awful - not at all - but no prizes. Also: stupid character behaviour tends to make a film look stupid.
American Mary: (Jen & Sylvia Soska) Intriguing premise with confused and ultimately silly resolutions. All its interesting possibilities missed for muddled horror pay-offs.
The Killing/Forbrydelsen: A bunch of strung-out TV whodunnit and police poredural cliches, albeit with some subtitled grace. Oh, and let me say as snottily as possible that I guessed the killer from episode one, yes I did. Because: cliches.
Highlights of the year:
Going to “Frightfest”.
The storm sequence of “Life of Pi”.
The cast of “The Master”.
Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell.
The cast of “The Deep Blue Sea”.
Being won over by “The Hobbit”.
Richard Parker in “Life of Pi”.
“Breaking Bad”. Because it is stunningly well written and performed and might well be the most minute-to-minute surprising and enjoyable TV show ever given over to fandom. And that’s in a world where brilliant shows like “The Wire” and “Deadwood” exist.
Having five minute chat to Alan Jones about Dario Argento at “Frightfest”.
Finding myself the only person left in the cinema by the end of “The Master”.
Lowlights of the year:
Too much rape on the film menu at “Frightfest”. By the time Jennifer Lynch’s “Chained “ came on, I could barely appreciate how respectful and good it was because I was sick of seeing another screaming woman being dragged across the floor to rape and torture.
Too much incomprehible and nauseating shakey-cam in “V/H/S” (which I enjoyed) and “End of Watch” (which left me indifferent).
The downward slide into narcissisitic fairground-ride of “Dr Who”.
So, so many that I didn’t get to see. “The Hunt”; “Sighseers”; “Moonrise Kingdom”, etc etc. *sigh*. Later…