An unexpectedly busy Christmas season means a short delay in compiling my best and worst of the year just gone, with the extra couple of weeks allowing a few late changes and additions. As before, I have listed my favourites of 2012 in no particular order but the standout film was Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon A Time In Anatolia. The Turkish director's sixth feature is a visually stunning, quietly gripping masterpiece about a group of policemen out hunting for a buried corpse in the countryside. A modest epic of desperation that made magic of the mundane, it cements Ceylan's reputation as one of the new masters of world cinema. At least it does for me.
And, in no particular order:
The two finest acting performances with a story that falls just short of transcendence, Paul Thomas Anderson’s dared to distil the story of America in the Atomic Age into the relationship between a Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cult leader and Joaquin Phoenix’s wild-eyed follower.
Michael Haneke’s devastating exploration of the power of love won the Austrian writer and director his second Palme d’Or in a row. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva, now both in their 80s, play a loving couple whose lives are disrupted by sudden illness and inevitable death. Unwatchable yet unmissable.
The big winner at the Oscars brought a shaft of flickering light to an otherwise gloomy January. Funny, sweet and sumptuously presented, Michel Hazanavicius’ film made stars, however briefly dazzling, of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo.
Bart Layton's ingenious, intricate documentary about identity thief Frédéric Bourdin, a thirty year old French orphan who pretended to be missing Texan teenager Nicholas Barclay. The cliché that truth is stranger than fiction has rarely been more appropriate.
Lenny Abrahamson’s third film confirmed his reputation as the best Irish young director working today. A brilliantly-crafted story of public death and private remorse, inspired by a real-life crime, it had a career-making performance from 20 year old star Jack Reynor.
Plenty of films tried to put the tangled politics of the Occupy protest movement in a cinematic context in 2012, the clumsiest being David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, but it was a big-budget, blockbuster superhero film, funded by a major studio, that came closest. After seven years and billions of dollars at the box office, Christopher Nolan ended his trilogy by bringing Batman bang up to date.
Rian Johnson made telling the story of his time-travelling sci-fi look easy and complicated at the same time. Not perfect, but very nearly.
Searching For Sugar Man
Malik Bendjelloul's documentary told the story of how a couple of South African fans of 1970s singer/songwriter Rodriguez decided to look behind the urban legends that surrounded his disappearance from the scene. What they found was astonishing.
Steve McQueen and Michael Fassbender reunited for this brutal examination of an Irishman in New York addicted to sex. A long night of the soul delivered in a series of horribly intimate close-ups and endless tracking shots, it burned up the screen in a wrong-feeling, sad way.
Who would have guessed that the year’s finest action film would be made on a shoestring in Indonesia by a Welsh director? Tied with Leos Carax’s loo-lah Holy Motors for most WFT moments, Gareth Evans’ hyperkinetic extravaganza made a new martial arts star of Iko Uwais. The five-minute standing ovation that greeted its Dublin Film Festival screening stood the hairs on the back of my neck.
The Worst of 2012
To mark annual whipping-boy Matthew McConaughey's spectacularly unlikely career resurrection - as an entrepreneurial stripper in Soderberg's Magic Mike and a sleazy cop in Friedkin's nutso-noir Killer Joe - this year's worst list is limited to one title (in which McC did not appear), McG's This Means War: an ultra-violent toothpaste commercial. There were others but none as soulless.
Image of the director and his cast on location taken from Nuri Bilge Ceylan's website.