Tuesday, January 01, 2013

My Favourite Films of 2012

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
My top three are pretty much a tie, but Beasts pips the others to the post because of its sheer boldness and the fact that it is a startling debut that came out of nowhere. This odd little film could just as easily have been terrible but with it's delicate blend of beauty, sadness and joy, Benh Zeitlin has brought us one of the most perfect films in recent memory. All of the facets of this strange world fit together beautifully, not least of which is the power of the lead actress Quvenzhan√© Wallis, who jumped into first place in my favourite child performance of all time (replacing Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed) chart. At the end of the day I have a feeling that this film, it’s fine performances and it’s bloody marvellous soundtrack will stay with me for a long, long time. See below for a sample of the beautiful soundtrack.

2. Killing Them Softly
His CV might be short but it is flawless. Andrew Dominik has made only three films, Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and now Killing Them Softly and his films just keep getting better and better. Receiving unfathomable mixed reviews upon its release, it seems that the films’ bleak economic backdrop might have been too on the nose for many but I found it refreshing to see America in such a stark light. I dare say that for future generations this will be the seminal film of this chapter of America’s history. A superb ensemble cast, a frankly stunning script and an atmosphere that chills to the bone. I’d pay good money for a spin-off following the exploits of Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy’s characters.

3. Killer Joe
As much as I loved Killer Joe I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to see how many other people did too. One of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences of my life, I was convinced that surely it was only my sick brain that could be so seduced by this trashy, unpleasant, nasty and vicious story. But no, other people are just as sick, it seems. In one fell swoop Matthew McConaughey’s name on a poster went from being the biggest turn-off to being the biggest incentive to see a film. His performance is unlike anything I have ever seen onscreen. I actually can’t even begin to compare it to something else. So slimy, so sleazy, so wise, so strangely sympathetic. Yurck! He leaves you wanting a shower with brillo pads. But I can’t help but allow my heart leap at that final shot. What is wrong with me???

4. Argo
Ben Affleck has proven himself to be a wonderful filmmaker already but Argo is the one that has catapulted him to the top of the Most Wanted list. This tight, tense hostage drama is very much a Hollywood picture but it is certainly more of the Sidney Lumet calibre. Some were let down by its (presumably) exaggerated airport chase-scene finale but personally I enjoyed and respected the fact that it was wearing it’s “Hollywood” on its sleeve and at the end of the day it had fun with its own cinematic knowledge. Kudos to Affleck who also managed to balance the sober and the absurd quite beautifully.

5. What Richard Did
Ok, this one is a little bit close to my heart as I worked on the film at script stage when I worked in script development and watched it grow into a real film. I saw its rough cuts, final cuts and poster mock-ups right up until, now a cinema programmer, I got to see it screened in my own cinema! What a thrill! Especially since the world LOVES this film almost as much as I do. Written by my good friend Malcolm Campbell and directed by another friend and constant inspiration Lenny Abrahamson this is a remarkably restrained, uniquely Irish, yet strangely universal story of a young over-achiever who makes a fatal mistake and must deal with the repercussions. I didn’t want to put it at the top of my list because that just seems like favouritism so I put it slap, bang in the middle so it’s all perfectly fair…dodgy logic. Take my word for it, it’s haunting, it’s brilliant and it’s the greatest Irish film of all time.


6. The Raid
This was the year that I started to appreciate Asian fightin' flicks. And it's all thanks to Gareth Evan's rambunctious, bloody, ridiculously well-made action film, The Raid. From the time I saw the brilliant trailer back in September 2011 I had a feeling this was going to be the one to convince me that there is something to be enjoyed in that genre. I was right. I was pretty sure I could only be disappointed and that the film couldn't possibly live up to the trailer but every lovingly crafted move, every brilliantly economical shot and every beat of the superb score allayed my fears immediately. To be fair, the 11am JDIFF screening of the film will go down as one of the most electric and lively two-hours of cinema-watching in Dublin's history so I definitely saw it in the right environment. But I've seen it twice since then and it's still wonderful. The simplicity of the plot, the videogame structure, the quiet intensity of lead actor Iko Uwais, it all adds up to slick action-packed fun!

7. Cabin In The Woods
I make no secret of my adoration of Joss Whedon and his weird and wonderful way of getting around pop culture in a way that nobody else can. I found myself underwhelmed by Avengers Assemble (sorry!) so The Cabin In The Woods is my Whedon flick of the year. He didn’t direct it but he co-wrote it with telly scribe extraordinaire Drew Goddard and in fairness the film has Whedon’s stamp all over it. A stroll (or manic turbo zoom) through horror cinema history, this film lovingly plays with and subverts pretty much every genre clich√© in the book and gives us one of the most memorable, funny, sometimes scary and just plain classy postmodern films of our time. And no, I don’t think that’s hyperbolic (but maybe it is). It rubbed many up the wrong way as being too clever for its own good or for being too silly but it’s just pure Buffy, plain and simple. If you’re on board, it’s genius, if you’re not, it’s silly fluff. I’ve been having this argument my whole adult life.

8. Magic Mike
This one was (logically) marketed as a glamorous stripper movie with fit actors with their pecs out. I can see why that was necessary but it’s a shame this films wasn’t given a broader appeal to the arthouse crowd because it really is utterly fantastic. Not only am I now sold on Channing Tatum being an incredible actor (this, coupled with a brilliant turn in 21 Jump Street, the best comedy blockbuster of the year by far) but it also gave McConaughey (My Man of the Year by a mile) another chance to shine as gross, slimy club owner Dallas. Steven Soderbergh may seem like an odd choice to direct this film but his temperate direction but lack of restraint in showing the boys doing what they do best keeps the film on the fine line between garish and heartfelt. Brilliant. Also see below for Oscar-eligible song from my man of the year Matthew McConaughey...

9. Take This Waltz
I am definitely in the minority on this and maybe it has something to do with being a young person in a very long-term relationship or maybe it’s to do with having lived at Dufferin and Bloor in Toronto and allowing Sarah Polley to remind me of beautiful evening strolls along College to the gorgeous bars and restaurants of the area. Whatever the reason, something about Take This Waltz struck a chord with me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a relationship breakdown handled in such a mature, realistic and often ugly way. Michelle Williams' unsettled wife gives in to temptation after a long flirtation with an annoying hipster neighbour. As we watch the story unfold, it is difficult to remain on anyone's side. They are all behaving stupidly and nobody is doing the right thing and you just want to punch everyone by the end of the second act. But by the end of the third act, it becomes clear just how clever a storyteller Sarah Polley is. Gorgeously put together, brilliantly performed and just beautiful overall, I found Take This Waltz absolutely irresistible.

10. Looper
Of all of this year's big action blockbusters, this one has to take the biscuit not only for being absolutely cool on every single level, but it also has the privilege of being the only one that is completely original. I loved the story, I love Rian Johnson's style and I love the entire cast. Can't argue with that. My one and only gripe is JGL's ridiculous facial prosthetics. Distracting and unnecessary. Everything else was spot on. And extra points for Garret Dillahunt!

11. Lawless
I have a weakness for gritty violence. There - I said it. I was never going to dislike Lawless. It would go against everything I am. People weren't keen on it for some reason but I thought it was superb! Brilliant performances (yes, I even liked OTT Guy Pearce), interesting world, great pacing and a fantastic finale shoot-out. It goes without saying though, that Tom Hardy was by far the absolute star of the piece. Hardy, and Emmylou Harris singing Nick Cave-penned tunes. It undoubtedly tops my soundtrack of the year list (or maybe ties with Beasts).

12. The Descendants
Clooney, Payne, Hawaii. Enough has been said about this film throughout the year. I just want to acknowledge the tenderness, care and humour that came through in this screenplay, a deserving winner of the Best Screenplay Oscar. Absolutely wonderful. And Clooney has never been better. The complications, stress, fear and sadness of having a loved one in a hospital bed indefinitely is portrayed here with grace and humour with a superb cast, interesting subplots and terrific direction allowing the film to go down the typical weepie route. 

Oh...and my beloved Jim Rash did THIS during his Oscar acceptance speech.

Honorary Mentions

** EDIT: Oh my God I can't believe I forgot Moonrise Kingdom...I just re-watched it two days ago. It's truly lovely!

Holy Motors - a weird and wonderful fairytale from director Leos Carax and featuring an incredible central performance from Denis Lavant
21 Jump Street - a surprisingly witty and clever action comedy. 
The Hunger Games - Forget your Batmen and Spidermen and Iron Men, this was where it was at for me this year as far as action blackbuster franchises go. Clever, competent and featuring a truly inspirational heroine. 
The Artist - I almost forgot this was 2012. Beautiful film.
Sightseers - It kills me that I didn't fit this into the main list but I didn't have room for everything. Hilarious, unique and lovely! Ben, Alice and Steve are brilliant!
Grabbers - Irish writer Kevin Lehane delivers a sharp, clever and never patronising (despite it's unapologetic OIrishness) monster comedy. Superb! And Ruth Bradley plays a brilliant drunk!
Silence - Hypnotic, beautiful and refective. Pat Collins' film is the third Irish film on the list and probably deserves to be higher. Remarkable. If you missed it in the cinema, you can watch it here: http://www.volta.ie/films/silence
Silver Linings Playbook - I only saw this the other day so I need more time to process. Superb film though. Love the sober first half and completely absurd second half.
Your Sister’s Sister - Lynn Shelton delivers another mumblecore gem. Great cast, great tone.
The Hunt - Difficult to watch, and featuring a tremendous performance from Mads Mikkleson, this parable  about the nature of gossip is not without its flaws but deserves to be seen.
Safety Not Guaranteed - Mark Duplass again. He's superb. This brilliant sci-fi comedy romance indie drama won't stop traffic but it's highly enjoyable.


  1. slowly (or maybe not so slowly) making my way through this list of movies. Some crackers!

  2. Anonymous8:07 PM

    hi Charlene, just saw your post on film makers network's page and said id see where you ended up after. You seem to be doing really well for yourself. and you seemed so unsure of yourself at first that it makes me think maybe even i could achieve something similar. your blog is top class too by the way. i like the positive feedback on films, too many negatives elsewhere. Im the kind of person who loves most films i see but for completely different reasons in each film!!!

  3. I love your blog because I'm not just an actress I also love films. (You'd think those two would always go together, but they don't surprisingly.) Lots of winners on your list, but you left off some lovely Maggie Smith/Judi Dench films, including The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I watch over and over as a kind of acting tutorial. Can't agree with you on The Descendants, although obviously I'm in the minority. I thought it left the impression that all Hawaiians were fat and dull-witted, and Clooney's closing speech to his comatose wife was cringe-worthy I thought. He's best as a Cary Grant type - suave and slightly amused at life. Looking forward to seeing Matthew McConaughey in the Dallas Buyers Club, which is just out here in Washington, DC. That looks very gritty.

  4. Saw "Dallas Buyers Club" last night. I wrote off McConaughey as an actor after seeing him in "Failure to Launch" a few years back. I've since changed my mind. He's become a terrific actor. That was a brilliant performance.