I bought the January issue of Sight and Sound to read the critic’s film highlights of 2012. The titles that come up frequently are Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Master, Tabu, and Holy Motors. An eclectic mix but I have yet to see them. My blog represents my taste and it is also eclectic and rather idiosyncratic. Foremost is the fact that I love far eastern films regardless of genre – hell, even musicals these days. Indeed, no matter how much I may tease people who love slow-cinema, I still watch it. My Top Ten Films of the year is a diverse list with titles like the existential (or was I reading too much into it?) Goth – Love of Death at ten, the moving reflection on death that is Vital at nine, great genre stalwarts Skyfall and Prometheus both at six and the gloriously OTT musical Ai to Makoto at two. Japan features strongly but there is also a large British contingent which is best represented with my joint number one.
On a related note, I was at a party for the Japanese class when a friend mentioned how I had too many joint places in my Top Ten Films list. Half-jokingly… I think. Anyway the fact is that this year, more than any other previous year, I have fallen in love with so many films and wrote passionately about them. They moved me to feel something and I enjoyed researching and writing the reviews for them.
Next year I will be tougher.
Two films which could not be more different from one another. Do I really want my number one films of 2012 to be about a sex addict with intimacy issues and a film about children that morph into wolves? What was so good about them?
What was so good was the fact that they both shone a light on aspects of humanity in such original ways.
Shame was the first film I went to see at a cinema this year. My expectations for it were quite non-existent since I knew little about the film other than it starred Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan and it was directed by Steve McQueen. I was familiar with the actors, having watched films like Jane Eyre and An Education in previous years but Steve McQueen was an unknown quantity. I knew that he and Fassbender had wowed the critics with their previous film Hunger but I ducked the opportunity to see it in a cinema because the subject matter did not interest me. I came to question my decision when I read all of the critical praise for Hunger. I decided to watch Shame to see if the hype was justified.
Despite eyebrow-raising subject matter I really found the film moving in its depiction of a life that is blighted by sex, something we would never consider a problem. We follow a handsome man named Brandon who leads a highly controlled life and exists as a creature driven by base instincts which we all share but deal with in different ways. He reflects our lives now, increasingly impersonal and materialistic, chasing the fantasy of no commitments and maximum pleasure and trying to avoid tough things like self-analysis. Then the film introduced an unstable female element, Sissy, the sister. She was the catalyst for the film, equally driven by baser instincts but hovering much closer to self-destruction. A great contrast with her messiness, she captures another aspect of chasing pleasure to overcome some painful weight around her neck, only she does it with a lot more verve and openness.
Thankfully the actors, director and writer trust the viewer by refraining from over-complicating and even ruining things by verbalising the problems of the characters which is what makes this film brilliant. The complex performances of the actors held a believable brother/sister dynamic which reveals their messy interior lives. Their relationship gives the film its heart and colour, the physical interactions which give us disturbing impressions of their relationship and their shared past, the way Brandon and Sissy’s actions contrast with each other, allowing the viewer to judge and evaluate these two examples of fractured humanity.
It takes more than performances to make it to the top ten and the film is technically brilliant. McQueen orchestrates everything to the tiniest detail. The way that set-design reflects the inner lives of the characters, the way that no shot is wasted and there is a certain leanness and lack of sentimentality to proceedings which makes the film feel like a taut examination. It was so good it did not feel like a British film, it felt more European with its insistence on challenging the viewer with difficult subject matter and doing it both visually and through telling a story which shows more than it tells. It was bracing and difficult but it kicked off a great year for UK cinema and for me going to the cinema.
Come back Friday to read my thoughts about the other film that stole to the top of my best film of the year list, The Wolf Children!