Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Encore Awards (2012 in Review: Audacious Cinema

Yes, the Oscars may have come and gone. No, I’m not giving up the ghost of Cinema Past (2012) as yet. And, I’m in excellent company. The delightful Jason (My New Plaid Pants) hasn’t even started his. I suspect next year I may take his lead and launch my year-in-review later just for the hell of it. It works for the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror...

Moving on.

In my quest to find as many new categories as I care to acknowledge in my year in review I pilfered an idea from the estimable Nick Davis who tends to include with his general review a scale (from 1 to 5) on how “important” a film is. It’s a mixture of assessing the value, originality and risk inherent in a project and thus noting how significant an entry in the film cannon it is. I’ve adapted it for my own year-end awards, and sometimes it’s not so much the films I love most but the films which I think are important. So, it's not a list of my favourites which a top 10 would suffice as, but a list of those that everyone should seek out - even if love is not forthcoming, it's an essential experience. The best example I can think of recently is 2010's Inception which made my top 5 of Audacious Entries. I did not care much for the film, but for all my issues its merited warranted it as an entry - a film which had things to offer about the cinematic landscape and took risk, had value and was innovative.

Sometimes the film I love are the ones I consider most important, though. Certified Copy, my favourite film of 2011 is also the film I would argue as one of the most important of the last ten years.
Previously audacious/important/significant/vital films
2011: Certified Copy (Runner Up: The Tree of Life)
2010: The Ghost Writer (Runner Up: The Social Network)
2009: Avatar (Runner-Up: Coraline)

(Pictures take you to reviews where available.)


Anna Karenina
This year so many of the films I loved utilised aspects of traditional literary defamiliarisation in telegraphing their major themes to the audience and Anna Karenina is on potentially rocky road with the fact that its conceit was created only weeks before the film’s shooting. It shows in parts where the screenplay isn’t as incessantly irreverent as its staging but the union of the screenplay and the direction make for an imaginative whole where costume, production design, score, performance, cinematography and editing are all in tandem with Wright to show that an excess of style is not a crutch but can become the story.

directed by Joe Wright from an adaptation by Tom Stoppard based on a novel by Leo Tolstoy

Cloud Atlas
The word visionary gets used often in filmmaking but this film is one that deserves, even demands, that moniker. The way that the three directors manage to meld their talents so that the film’s disparate strands feel independent without seeming like a plodding hotchpotch is particularly impressive. The way the visuals don’t hide the unreality of its core but still feels honest and overwhelmingly fantastical, the way the actors all seem completely on board with the large scope. It’s largescale risky filmmaking, and even if it didn’t work it would be worth a spot here. The fact that it does work makes it essential.

 directed and written by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski based on a novel by David Mitchell

Holy Motors
I noted before that the best thing about Carax here is the way he brings back that illusory note of magic in film to the craft and it’s an asset that cannot be undervalued. Carax is holding up cinema for us to see with Mr Oscar as the representative – these are all the divergent, eclectic things which the movies can show us and make us feel sometimes within seconds and even if the opening with the faceless audience and the close with the mournful machines suggest something bleaker than the joyous centre it’s only because with so much art the joy comes with the pain. Is there anything as important or as valuable in the conversation on cinema? I suspect not.

directed by Leos Carax from his original screenplay

Tabu’s ruminations on the way the past and the present are connected are familiar but impressive. The way sounds of the past are represented by ambient noises and narration, the way that the photography moves from sharp and precise in the present to hazier and grainier in the past are are all parts of the depth beneath the ostensibly simple exterior. Yes, much of the colonialism symbolism seems subtle to the point of being shrouded but even without focus on the film’s political thrust Tabu’s use of: memory as a narrative tool, humour to offset a steadily unhappy story and the distinctly bathetic way that human lives operate is significant.

directed by Miguel Gomes from his original screenplay written with Mariana Ricardo

The Turin Horse 
Regardless of whether you fall on the like, dislike or indifferent plane (although I would be mistrustful of anyone indifferent to this) the film’s deliberately stifling manner of evoking a hellish end-of-days is one of the most artistically valuable creations of the year. I’m a novice on Tarr, but even I can tell that for someone like him the idea of something like this being risky is perhaps specious but even with that knowledge the innovation of the Nietzsche allusion, the oddly energetic take on a hellish existence is above all else cinema which dares to provoke its audience. An impressive feat when accomplished.

directed by Béla Tarr from his original screenplay written with László Krasznahorkai

FINALISTS: Brave, for a lovely and winsome take on an ostensibly familiar but with a moving centre; Killing Them Softly for an impressive 90 minute take on conversation and blood bursting with gusto; Looper for a smart and entertaining sci-fi thriller with a deliberately provocative moral suggestions; Moonrise Kingdom for an impressively charming love story speaking to children without condescension; Once Upon a Time in Anatolia for presenting its themes in a straightforward but arresting way, and flawless digital photography

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: Cosmopolis; Damsels in Distress; Life of Pi

Which 2012 films do you consider as important contributions to cinema? Not necessarily the ones you loved most passionately but the ones which you respected most?


Mette said...

A very interesting list and I like your descriptions of the movies, although I haven't seen one of them.
I'm just glad not to see Lincoln here... but I can't think of any movies you missed.

Amir said...

I must have completely forgotten, or you must not have told me at all: when did you watch Tabu? We've never talked about it even though you know I love it so much!

Glad to see you think highly of it though.