I prefer not to order films according to a prescribed ‘best’ list and find that, looking back at the year’s viewing – it’s the most memorable that are important. I couldn’t imagine putting them in order as they’ve all drifted in and out of my mind at one time or another, and have equally filled my thoughts with arresting images and sounds. To that end, here are some films that have affected me and I hope they did you, too.
At Glasgow Film Festival in February I had the pleasure of seeing Patrick Wang’s In the Family, an epic melodrama about a one half of a couple, Joey (Wang) struggling to affirm his place in stepson, Chip’s life when his biological father suddenly dies. Wang’s languid pace and attention to detail gradually allows an intimacy with the characters, supported by wonderfully natural performances and dialogue. It all adds up to an un-showy, Capra-esq last act that rewards the viewer tenfold.
Two Years at Sea was a gorgeous, skillful portrait of Jake, the Aberdeenshire hermit that managed to play with the expectations one might have of a solitary soul. Ben Rivers black and white film spends plenty of time on Jake’s daily routine, but his camera’s presence is the clue to just how ‘real’ or ‘true’ this depiction is, and even manages a tree-house related magic trick too. That this 16mm delight was developed in a sink only adds to it charm.
Martha Marcy May Marlene directed by Sean Durkin is responsible for some of the most arresting images to permeate my thoughts – not least of all the excellent John Hawkes singing sweetly, enchanting his young followers.
This, and Amy Seimetz’ Sun Don’t Shine – a couple-on the run thriller that used harsh daylight to evoke claustrophobia akin to a daylight noir – were perhaps the US independent films that impressed most (and that’s in the year that brought us Beasts of the Southern Wild – supposedly the saviour of the American indie).
Barbara was simply an excellent narrative film, a hugely rewarding drama that managed to surprise and beguile me. It almost goes without saying that Amour and The Master were stand-out auteur works so I won’t say anymore, other than if you’re put off by their heaps of praise, don’t be. For me, the big, epic of the year was Once Upon a Time in Anatolia from Climates director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Ostensibly a police procedural – the search for a body in a landscape only penetrated by car headlights – this was morality and myth on screen that I frequently misremember as a 1940’s Renoir ballad of humanity. I sincerely hope it gets more outings on the big screen. Kosmos by Reha Erdem also deserves a mention for being another example of fine Turkish cinema.
I was delighted to be able to see Maria Saakyan’s new film, I’m Going to Change My Name at London Film Festival. As a follow up to her feature debut, The Lighthouse (2006), this tale of a young girl’s identity crisis represented online space more fluently and sensitively than the crass Catfish and suggested that if Saakyan continues to develop with such originality, we are in for some very exciting films indeed. Another excellent depiction of youth and longing was Mao Mao’s Here, Then which screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival and won the Award for Best International Feature Film. Using long takes and crisp cinematography, masterfully handled by DoP Liu Ai Guo, Mao Mao’s film manages to weave connections between his seemingly unrelated protagonists and create a ponderous space in which to consider their action/inaction.
A beautiful, very special film for me this year was Jem Cohen’s Museum Hours starring the enigmatic Mary Margaret O’Hara as a visitor in Vienna who befriends a guard at the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum. Cohen’s sensitivity towards his characters and obvious ease with which his actors perform makes for a naturalistic musing on friendship, art and communication. A more ‘Hollywood’ take on the subject might see this unlikely pair romantically involved but Cohen prioritises the subtleties and awkwardness of newfound connection – much like the detail in Breugels paintings, so delicately discussed in the film. The result is a highly engaging, honest and relatable depiction of contemporary relationships.
2012 will always be the year I discovered Miguel Gomes and I couldn’t possible write of the most memorable without mention of his masterpiece, Tabu. I don’t think I can remember a recent film that has brought me so much joy to watch, or to think about afterward. To have made such a funny, heartbreaking and fiercely intelligent film means that I will never be shy of heaping praise on Mr Gomes, and eagerly anticipating what he will do next.
Honourable mentions must go to the following, which were just as thoughtful, funny, enjoyable or intelligent as those mentioned above, but who’s drawn out appraisal I will save you from here.
Shame. Steve McQueen.
Mitsuko Delivers, Yûya Ishii.
The Muppets, James Bobin.
Avengers Assemble, Joss Whedon.
Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present, Matthew Akers, Jeff Dupre.
The Myth of the American Sleepover, David Robert Mitchell.
Berberian Sound Studio, Peter Strickland.
Since publication Sun Don’t Shine has been picked up for distribution by Factory 25 – not sure if it’ll come to the UK but look out for it, whether its in cinemas, DVD or online – its worth it!