1) ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (DIR. NURI BILGE CEYLAN, TURKEY)
Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s study of the emotional lives of men is both a both an astute meditation and a cinematic spectacle. In its sweeping portrayal of a police procedural in the Turkish steppes, the film brings to mind the road trips of Abbas Kiarostami and the ecstatic natural world of Tarkovsky. Ceylan’s towering poetic achievement eloquently tackles the fascinating existential question: How do we live in a world where beauty and horror co-exist?
2) MARLEY (DIR. KEVIN MACDONALD, USA)
Kevin Macdonald gives Bob Marley well deserved biographical treatment in this superb and emotionally engaging documentary. Marley narrates Marley’s life story, while looking intelligently at his impact on a socio-political level. The film questions Marley’s role as a husband and a father, while examining his desire to help the public at large. The film is particularly keen in its take on Marley’s mixed race heritage, helping us to understand his broad appeal, which transcends race to offer a redemptive quality and a profound sense of joy.
3) SIGHTSEERS (DIR. BEN WHEATLEY, UK)
It is often assumed that Britain is too small to accommodate for the road movie genre. Not so, for up and coming director Ben Wheatley, who’s Sightseers traverses the north of England from the Tram Museum in Crich to the Ribblehead Viaduct. The story, which begins as a mere caravanning holiday, ends up in a bloody massacre to rival True Romance; the results are as hilarious as they are sickening. As well as great performances and cinematography, the soundtrack is the best of the year, with artists ranging from Frankie Goes To Hollywood to Popul Vuh.
4) LE HAVRE (DIR. AKI KAURISMAKI, FINLAND)
In spite of its melancholic exterior, Le Havre was the most heartwarming film of 2012. Picking up the story of Marcel Marx from director Aki Kaurismäki’s 1992 film La Vie de Bohème, the film sees the ex-bohemian turned shoe shiner help a young African boy immigrate illegally to London. Despite being set in France, the film exudes Kaurismäki’s authentic Finnish style, with immaculate set decoration, high contrast lighting and perfectly timed ironic humor.
5) HOLY MOTORS (DIR. LEOS CARAX, FRANCE)
While not necessarily the most subtle film of the year, Holy Motors was the most original piece of work. Recalling the most hilarious of Luis Buñuel’s features, Holy Motors is riotous surrealist fun. Denis Lavant’s performance is an extraordinary feat of physical acting, showcasing his vast emotional range. Kylie Minogue and Eva Mendes feature in radically unusual cameos, while the director himself appears at the beginning, to usher in his wild cinematic dream.
6) THE RAID (DIR. GARETH EVANS, INDONESIA)
Tackling screen violence with the upmost craft, Gareth Evans’ The Raid was a brutal showcase of the Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat. With expert martial artists Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian as the opposing forces of good and evil, Evans choreographs his camera with a poetic, yet ultraviolent eye. Through pure physicality The Raid transcends the action genre and digs sincerely into the human impulse for discipline and mastery, be it violent or otherwise.
7) THE MASTER (DIR. PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON, USA)
Paul Thomas Anderson’s provocative sixth feature included the finest performances from not one but two of Hollywood’s best actors in 2012. Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman portrayed each other’s ying and yang, as the PTSD sufferer Freddie Quell (Phoenix) and cult leader Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). As well as the fine performances The Master was perhaps the greatest technical achievement of the year’s art-house releases, with Anderson shooting the film on 65mm film, for stunning projection on 70mm.
8) MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (DIR. SEAN DURKIN, USA)
One of the most striking debut features out on general release in 2012 was Martha Marcy May Marlene by Sean Durkin. Durkin honed his filmmaking skills with his company Borderline Films, where he produced features for his colleagues and directed shorts and music videos. His experience paid off, as Martha Marcy May Marlene exhibits a skillful handling of dual narratives and a distinct shooting style, making superb use of natural light. The film also features a beguiling and career defining lead performance by Elizabeth Olsen.
9) BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (DIR. BENH ZEITLIN, USA)
The low budget Beasts of the Southern Wild was perhaps not the most perfectly formed film of 2012, but it had a rough edged mystical quality that hints at greatness. The film’s rough edge almost recalls Werner Herzog’s Aguirre: Wrath of God, as a Delta river community attempt to survive a colossal storm. Quvenzhané Wallis stars as six-year-old Hushpuppy, the young girl at the center of the drama, with an utterly sensational performance that spans reality and fantasy.
10) SKYFALL (DIR. SAM MENDES, UK)
With so called ‘left-field choice’ Sam Mendes at the helm, Skyfall became the best James Bond film in decades. The film looked to Britain to establish high-stakes on Bond’s home turf, while also allowing for stunning action sequences (particularly in the London underground and Scottish highlands.) Mendes’ decision to cast the acclaimed Javier Bardem as the villain gave Craig’s bond a heavyweight opponent with which to spar. Lensed by industry leading cinematographer Roger Deakins, the film is a rounded, politically conscious and artful piece of popular entertainment.