The Year in Review:
The Best of Film in 2012, Part 2

FILM, Features
Twelve months in the dark, as recalled by our editors and contributors.

img_39stepsTim Wong

Editor, The Lumière Reader

  1. The Clock (Christian Marclay, 2010) Read More
  2. This is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi/Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Iran, 2011)
  3. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, France/Germany)
  4. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, USA, 2011)
  5. Two Years at Sea (Ben Rivers, UK, 2011)
  6. Neighbouring Sounds (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil) Read More
  7. Moneyball (Bennett Miller, USA, 2011)
  8. The Red House (Alyx Duncan, NZ) Read More
  9. I Wish (Hirozaku Kore-eda, Japan, 2011) Read More
  10. Wolf Children (Mamoru Hosoda, Japan)

FURTHER HIGHLIGHTS: Barbara, Tabu, Stopped on Track, Amour, Sightseers, Last Train Home, The Interrupters, Golden Slumbers, The Color Wheel, The Raid.

FAVOURITE DVD/BLU-RAY RELEASES: Ruggles of Red Gap (Masters of Cinema), Design for Living (Criterion), Johnny Guitar (Olive Films), Maidstone and other films by Norman Mailer (Eclipse), The Story of Film (Network), Tuesday, After Christmas (Second Sight).

DISCOVERIES/REVELEATIONS: Choose Me (Alan Rudolph, 1984), I’m Going Home (Manoel de Oliveira, 2001), I fidanzati (Ermanno Olmi, 1963), Los Angeles Plays Itself (Thom Anderson, 2003), The Crowd (King Vidor, 1928), US Go Home (Claire Denis, 1994), Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, 2008), Fat City (John Huston, 1972).

LOWLIGHTS: Shame, Room 237: Being an Inquiry into The Shining in 9 Parts.

Continue reading Tim’s Year in Review here

Brannavan Gnanalingam

Editor-at-Large, The Lumière Reader

My Top 10 for 2012 is severely lacking, entirely because I missed the this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival. I have been fortunate enough to travel around the world since May (and currently, am residing in Paris for the next six months or so), but I have largely missed watching films, particularly those that aren’t American. Nevertheless, I can offer certain thoughts from my film watching and reading.

1. The best film I saw this year was Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. This certainly does not mean it was the best film of 2012—I simply haven’t seen enough this year to feel comfortable making the call.  The Master was, however, wonderful: a measured and strange take on 1950s America, in which charlatanism took hold of scarred and scared individuals. Anderson films it like a great 1950s master—Nicholas Ray and Douglas Sirk come to mind—but his tale is fiercely contemporary. Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffmann, and Amy Adams are all magnificent, while Anderson has further added to his impressive oeuvre. Other highlights from the year include Paradise: Faith, in which Ulrich Seidl, in his typically vicious way, shows people failing to find happiness, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s pained and potent mini-series Penance. Even if the latter film’s ending didn’t quite work, it was overall an exhilarating experience. Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder was nowhere near as bad as critics made it out to be; in fact, it was very good. In terms of the bigger films released at the start of the year, The Artist was okay—fun, but not much more. Hugo was a fascinating tribute to film pioneer Georges Méliès that also failed utterly as a children’s film. The Descendants was bland. Big box office smashes like The Avengers were good fun, and I haven’t managed to see the latest Batman or Bond films. Others such as Les Intouchables (I have read too many articles criticising Driving Miss Daisy for its banal racism for me to feel any sort of comfort watching this one), The Hobbit, and Les Misérables carry no interest whatsoever.

2. I will need to watch Amour (Michael Haneke), the rest of Seidl’s Paradise Trilogy, Django Unchained (Quentin Tarantino), Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley), The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies), Tabu (Miguel Gomes), Barbara (Christian Petzold), Golden Slumbers (Davy Chou), Almayer’s Folly (Chantal Akerman), Two Years at Sea (Ben Rivers), Alps (Yorgos Lanthimos), Holy Motors (Leos Carax), Neighbouring Sounds (Kleber Mendonça Filho), I Wish (Hirokazu Kore-eda), amongst many others. There’s always next year!

3. As for crystal-gazing: I can see Argo and Lincoln duking it out for the Oscars (both seem like Oscar bait), especially as The Master appears far too complex for those who usually judge the awards season.

4. Speaking of The Hobbit, being removed from the hoopla has made its New Zealand reaction seem even more cringe worthy. I was no fan of the Lord of the Rings films, and my antipathy to Tolkien’s literary output has been held for nearly all of my life. Ordinarily I would ignore such a thing, in part because I know the sheer technical and world-leading skill employed by Weta and its employees ought to be celebrated, but a few things have stuck in my craw. There are few things more aggravating than seeing culture co-opted to sell things so wholeheartedly and so overwhelmingly by people who have no interest in the culture itself. Seeing New Zealand market itself as Middle Earth is bad enough; erasing a vibrant and fascinating culture to pretend instead that a reactionary, xenophobic English novel is ours is a pathetically desperate thing to do. Re-writing our labour laws so that a studio can squeeze a little more profit (by underhanded scapegoating) thanks to a fawning (and frankly) embarrassing prime minister was painful to watch. Openly criticising and writing off those who express a contrary viewpoint to the films as economic traitors, when culture is supposed to be debated and argued about, is nothing more than small-mindedness. Thinking that the world genuinely cares about one film has resulted in nothing more than petty whining. While I hope the films do well, mostly because I know how hard the people behind the scenes have worked and hubris is only worth so much, I certainly hope I never have to see again the unedifying spectacle of New Zealand corporates and politicians pissing on culture the way they have with The Hobbit.

5. Travelling always gives a good perspective on the reach and importance of cinema, and it constantly gratifies me to see the importance and joy strangers can get talking about cinema. I once got out of a dicey situation in Mali by talking about the great Souleymane Cissé film Yeelen. I spent hours unsuccessfully hunting for Sharunas Bartas films in Lithuania, and my host mournfully said that not enough people knew about how good he was (funnily enough, “no one knows about him or her” is a constant refrain I hear all over the world, suggesting that more people know about great filmmakers than people are given credit for). Iranians spoke at me for hours about Forough Farrokhzad, Jafar Panahi, and Abbas Kiarostami, drawing parallels with them and their wonderful medieval poets (at the risk of generalising, few countries in the world respect their poets like the Iranians), revealing that no matter what government pressures these filmmakers have faced, their films mean a lot to ordinary people. Bankers, property developers, and civil servants in Paris have talked to me about Jacques Rozier’s neglected oeuvre, where to find Out 1, or the effect of Deneuve’s wardrobe in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. Even wandering the city of Paris is a cinematic experience, from seeing graffiti to commemorate the passing of Chris Marker, to visiting Jean Cocteau’s Studio 28, or of course to the wonderful Cinémathèque. Where else can you see the full version of Manoel de Oliveira’s Satin’s Slipper played to a nearly full audience? At the risk of sounding like I want my French visa extended, spending time in a country that in my opinion is the greatest filmmaking nation of all-time, is a truly wonderful thing. Cinema that’s lived rather than seen.

6. Next year promises to be exciting. But then, cinema—no matter the formal, financial, political, and technological constraints—has always been exciting. Happy watching!

Continue reading Brannavan’s dispatches from the Venice International Film Festival here

Photograph: Brannavan Gnanalingam

Alexander Bisley

Editor-at-Large, The Lumière Reader

An underwhelming year, but still enjoy going to the silver screen. Saw enough to have ten good films to recommend. It’s a bit irritating too many films arrive a year late in New Zealand, making it hard for us to make good lists. Distributors need to distribute quicker/smarter, or people will increasingly download. You can follow my cinematic commentary on Twitter @alexanderbisley.

Margin Call (J.C. Chandor, USA, 2011)
The best, most captivating movie ever made about Wall St.

Quelque Jours avec Moi (Claude Sautet, France, 1988)
The comedy, the comedy. Sandrine Bonnaire is luminous in Sautet’s 80s classic.

Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow, USA)
Sweet, witty, romantic, gently eccentric; Darkoesque, low-budget cinema at its most resonant.

Hugo (Martin Scorsese, USA, 2011)
Martin Scorsese’s still one of the best directors working today. Hugo is a bittersweet tribute to cine-pioneer Georges Méliès.

Shame (Steve McQueen, UK, 2011)
Last tango in New York.

Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul, Sweden/UK)
A beautiful and inspirational story for our rude times.

Sarah Palin: You Betcha (Nick Broomfield/Joan Churchill, USA, 2011)
“Spinechilling”, McCain-Palin ’08 senior strategist Steve Schmidt on Wasilla Sarah in Nick Broomfield’s very vivid documentary. The likes of Rupert Murdoch still support this infantile, destructive extremism.

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, UK/USA)
Super enjoyable, Istanbul and Javier Bardem complement Dame Judi and the Blond Bond.

Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik, USA, 2012)/Arbitrage (Nicholas Jarecki, USA)
Also zeitgeisty. Arbitrage is a tight yarn about sketchy hedge fund behaviour in New York. Killing Me Softly scores a terrific cast for its jaundiced tale of dodgy business.

Treme (DVD of the Year)
Belatedly, Treme is abundant, vivid, carnal, seductive. I hope to go to New Orleans before too long.

Jacob Powell

Contributing Editor, The Lumière Reader

As usual, my list is a mix of festival and general theatrical release fare, but they are all films that I have seen in New Zealand cinemas throughout 2012 and that have been open to the viewing public.

1. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, USA, 2011)
Forget the ongoing ‘how should we cut this thing’ fiasco, Margaret—multihyphenate Kenneth Lonergan’s long awaited follow-up to his 2001 debut feature You Can Count on Me—is a dramatic masterwork which revels in its imperfections. The straightforward linear narrative acts as a framework for its complexly threaded exploration of character and characterisation. Where other films might gloss over the fringes, Lonergan indulges and engages, endowing them with significance outside of the main narrative thrust. And thus, the film is about this world in which the film unfolds as much as it is about a young girl’s tale of self-discovery, or lack thereof. Is it a mess? Yes, well, to a degree. But this untidy structure mirrors the haphazard nature of human interaction and development and hence this relational mélange is where much of Margaret’s appeal is to be found. It also helps that Lonergan draws people with sharp yet unexpectedly empathic accuracy and that his camera lingers over New York City with the eye of a familiar lover.

2. Just the Wind (Benedek Fliegauf, Hungary/Germany/France)
An unassuming Hungarian drama following a day in the life of a Romani family in a beset community, Benedek Fliegauf’s Just the Wind evokes Michael Haneke’s control of mood with its cumulative tension and pervasive sense of inevitability. The visual tone brought to mind the palette and movement of Claire Denis’s 2009 dramatic thriller White Material, though Fliegauf and cinematographer Zoltán Lovasi opt for a more tethered camera. Almost perfectly blending a confounding mix of naturalism and impressionism, Just the Wind, which seemed to fly under the radar of most of the festival audience, surprised me with its formal assurance and relative lack of gravitas for such a heavy narrative subject. I could have done without the closing resolution, but even so Just the Wind is an excellent, underrated piece of cinema.

3. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, France/Germany)
Speaking of inevitability, Leos Carax’s cinematic harbinger of cinematic change is a tonally dualistic feat of irrepressible artistry. Scenes from various lives, being the scenes from a life, being (metaphorically and in actuality) the medium of cinema—Leos Carax has constructed both a joyful memorial and a fearful hope for the work and life he loves. Packed with internal and external references and vignetted with such creative fervour that it might’ve been an anthology film, Carax nevertheless pulls his strands together to make a cohesive, layered personal statement. And it doesn’t matter that Holy Motors has slow thematic absorption rate because the surface coating helps it go down very nicely.

4. Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2011)
Social realism in the North Yorkshire moors! For her third feature, rising British auteur Andrea Arnold turns her hand to adapting Emily Brontë’s much revered 1847 classic Wuthering Heights and does so with a strong directorial hand. Arnold’s film is firmly clothed in its Northern setting, capturing in crisp detail the grim, forbidding environs in which Cathy and Heathcliff’s young love blossoms, extracting the raw beauty behind that constantly keening wind. It would be fair to say that the viscera of everyday country living gets more attention from the film than does its limited dialogue. Similarly, Arnold dials back the use of music preferring ambient sounds from within the scene. The obsessive, single-minded focus on the world the characters inhabit reflects the nature of the intense bond between the two protagonists; finding a sense of home in the spare, cold crags and moors mirrors the tenor of the relationship they grow into. Brontë’s source material both legitimises and constrains Arnold’s tendency to third act histrionics enabling her to deliver classic romantic drama as a work of cinematic art.

5. Looper (Rian Johnson, USA/China)
Looper is one of those rare beasts: a genre film driven more by story and character than by spectacle and novelty whilst still obviously being imbued with a love for its genre makeup. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is excellent as usual and Bruce Willis relishes the chance to settle into another meaty role as young Joe’s older if not wiser personal nemesis. The talented Rian Johnson outdoes himself, subverting genre and narrative expectations at every turn. And if some find the proceedings a little slow, maybe they can enjoy actually being able to study the wide rhythmic quality of the action sequences (all shot in the director’s preferred 35mm analogue format). Excellently written, shot, directed, and acted, the filmmakers are aware of the possible shortcomings of such a film (beware time travel trainspotters) and have worked smartly to mostly mitigate these, leaving a highly engaging action ride with a story and characters you can sink you teeth into. Top work.

6. Sound of My Voice (Zal Batmanglij, USA, 2011)
Less sci-fi than lo-fi, Sound of My Voice lodged firmly in my brain and set to agitating. The debut feature from director Zal Batmanglij (brother of Vampire Weekend guitarist/songwriter Rostam Batmanglij, who incidentally scored the film) tracks the divergent responses of a sceptical couple who infiltrate a cult with the intention of secretly filming an exposé documentary. Cult leader Maggie is played by magnetic co-writer Brit Marling, who owns the screen whenever she’s in shot. As well as sharing subject matter with Sean Durkin’s excellent Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011), the filmmakers cleverly opt to leave key issues ambiguous, letting the viewer’s imagination take whichever path fancy or logic dictates. Despite a few glaring missteps (e.g. a slightly weak premise and some terribly written, exposition heavy scenes), Sound of My Voice proves a succinct, smartly directed dramatic exploration with a compelling central performance from Marling.

7. Compliance (Craig Zobel, USA)
A study in unease, Craig Zobel’s psychological thriller Compliance left me shaking, short of breath, and involuntarily mouthing expletives as the credits rolled. So effective is Zobel’s writing and direction that his film had this marked impression upon me despite prior familiarity with its story, having some time ago read about the swath of real life cases the movie is based upon. Compliance lays bare the subconscious human tendency to abdicate responsibility with the kind of spare, unwavering clarity you might expect in a Michael Haneke piece (yes, again with the Haneke references!) Gripping, gruelling, and garnering its share of controversy, Compliance is necessary, if discomforting, viewing.

8. The Raid (Gareth Evans, Indonesia/USA, 2011)
A Welshman making indigenous Indonesian action films, who’d have thought? And yet Gareth Evans’s The Raid leapt out of the primordial action-film ooze and smacked jaded western fight movie viewers right where it joyously hurts, showing up almost all Hollywood action fare as the limp carrots they actually are. The Raid is a kind of cinematic tenderiser effecting neural pliancy through its near endless barrage of punches, kicks, and awesomeness. Evans, who also pulled ‘action choreographer’ duties, is self- (and genre) aware enough not to get bogged down in complex (usually = trite) narrative setups and heavy (= cliched) emotional payoffs. Instead he presents a pared down fight extravaganza which feels both fresh and exhilarating and which even manages a gleeful wee narrative twist. Did I mention that the credited crew includes no less than TWELVE medical staff?

9. Hara-kiri: Death of a Samurai (Takashi Miike, Japan/UK, 2011)
Someone recently commented, amusedly, that the poster for Hara-kiri might misconstrue the film’s style and tone to 13 Assassins fans, and they have a point. Whereas Miike’s previous film was a visceral action fan’s feast couched nicely in a Samurai epic structure, Hara-kiri attacks its historical period and themes in a very personal way. Geared more towards its dramatic goals than swordplay visuals—though swordplay and viscera there surely are!—the prolific Japanese filmmaker turns out a twisted revenge story with its historical and cultural contexts intact. As visually gripping as it is narratively, Miike proves himself the equal of folding grand themes and his idiosyncratic style into an affecting small scale drama.

10. The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev, USA/Germany, 2011)
Julia Loktev’s highly cinematic study of relationships and the complexities of human connection against the overwhelming scale of Caucasus mountains is a structural and rhythmic delight. What the film lacks in dialogue it more than makes up for in deftly photographed communicative gestures and facial expressions. The film’s setting and premise—a guided trek in the deep dark Georgian beyond—informs both the narrative and thematic flow. As Loktev’s trio of protagonists slowly navigate mountain trails and river valleys they are also tracing the almost tangible steps of a complex relational dance; traversing roles and partners as the tempo mounts. Treasures await the patient viewer. Read More

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: The Avengers, Barbara, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Cabin in the Woods, Coriolanus, Damsels In Distress, Killer Joe, Presumed Guilty, Reality, Room 237: Being an Inquiry into The Shining in 9 Parts, Safety Not Guaranteed, Searching For Sugar Man, Shame, Sightseers, Skyfall, The Skin I Live In, This is Not a Film.

HOPING TO SEE/LOOKING FORWARD TO: The ABCs of Death, Alps, Amour, Cloud Atlas, Computer Chess, Django Unchained, Extraterrestrial (if it eventually shows up?!?), Life of Pi, The Master, Promised Land, Star Trek Into Darkness, Stoker, To Rome with Love, Wrong, Zero Dark Thirty.

CLUNKERS: The Dictator, Horrible Bosses , This Means War, Vulgaria, Wanderlust.

Sam Brooks

Contributing Editor, The Lumière Reader

1. Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, USA, 2011)
The quintessential New York film; the most incisive portrayal of post-9/11 guilt; an unsympathetic coming-of-age story; a grand mess. Margaret is all of these things, and more. I’ve seen the two and a half hour cut twice and the three hour cut once, neither is substantially different, and they’re both the best film I’ve seen this year. It took seven years to get there, but Lonergan’s film cuts right into the heart of the above with lyrical, restless ambition. Read More

2. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, France/Germany)
I don’t know what Holy Motors is about. It could be about the death of cinema, the constantly adapting technologies of cinema, or about the transient life of an actor. Whatever it is, Carax has crafted a magnificent ode. Anchored by a transformative performance from Denis Lavant, it doesn’t tell us the power of cinema, it shows us. Bizarre, hilarious, touching, chilling in different parts.

3. Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh, USA)
Somehow this harsh critique of post-2008 economics turned into a massive hit. Less the male Showgirls than a companion piece to The Girlfriend Experience, the film is a story of transactions, commodification, and survival. Sounds like a Soderbergh film, and it’s his best in years; his stylistic risks pay dividends, and the entire cast sparkles.

4. Weekend (Andrew Haigh, UK, 2011)
A film that is as much political as it is personal. More than just Before Sunset for the gays, Weekend examines the day-to-day drudgeries of being gay and the rifts between two gay men who come from very different places and philosophies. Intimate and delicately observed, but with a real angry political undercurrent.

5. The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, USA/UK, 2011)
Rachel Weisz along could vault this film into a top ten. The best performance by an already accomplished actress; she digs into the well-trod role of Hester Collyer with dimmed fire and relit passion alternatively. The film surrounding her is no less brilliant. Terence Davies brings Rattigan’s dusty play to the screen with absorbing, wistful life.

6. Tabu (Miguel Gomes, Portugal/Germany/Brazil/France)
As inventive as it is utterly absorbing. Miguel Gomes experiments with sound, image, and structure in refreshing ways, creating a sweat-soaked story of love and melodrama that functions as a love-letter to storytelling. Or I could be entirely wrong. It’s a delight and a lot of fun at any rate.

7. Amour (Michael Haneke, Austria/France/Germany)
I don’t think I could say anything new about Amour, but for what it’s worth, it’s another slam-dunk from Haneke that reveals what has always been at the core of his work: what humans do when pushed to the end of their rope. Bracingly crafted and brilliantly performed, it still hasn’t left my thoughts six months later. It’s Haneke.

8. Killer Joe (William Friedkin, USA, 2011)
Friedkin and Letts repeat the Bug magic, teaming up together for this Southern Gothic thriller. A family of unrepentantly awful people attack and reinforce the American Dream, and Friedkin follows it all with gleeful abandon. A ridiculous, chilling hell of a fun time. It makes me wish Friedkin was onboard for August: Osage County.

9. Wuthering Heights (Andrea Arnold, UK, 2011)
This is how you do literary adaptation. Andrea Arnold takes Bronte’s classic back to its elemental roots. Brutal and bloody, the film muddies the lines between childlike abandon and adult self-destructiveness. A dirty romantic epic.

10. Mirror Mirror (Tarsem Singh, USA)
I’ve been on Tarsem’s side since The Cell, and this another impressive entry in his filmography. Far from the Shrek comedy it was marketed as, it’s a charming, warm retelling of Snow White with Tarsem’s trademark eye-popping spectacles throughout. An homage to the original tale and a huge step forward at the same time.

Special Mentions:

Hope Springs
Though not without its flaws, Hope Springs gives us two of the year’s best performances in Meryl Streep (far better here than in The Iron Lady) and Tommy Lee Jones, and covers a topic that Hollywood rarely broaches: middle-aged discontent.

Oren Moverman goes all-out with his sophomore film, serving up grimy L.A. realness and a towering performance from Woody Harrelson. Risky, nervy filmmaking about the corrosive nature of authority.

Somehow Soderbergh’s less commercial film this year ended up being a star-studded action film. Nothing revolutionary in story, but Soderbergh bucking the Bourne-style that has plagued action films for the past half-decade is damn admirable. Fluid, poppy, and fun with a charismatic turn by MMA fighter Gina Carano at the centre.

Keep The Lights On
A film about the life of an addict, it goes far deeper than Requiem of a Dream’s theatrics into how addicts can be as appealing as they are repulsive; it’s as easy to be addicted to a person and a situation as it is to be addicted to a drug. Ira Sach’s film is intimate, keenly felt, and engagingly performed by the actors at the centre of this gay-themed drama, Thure Lindhart and Zachary Booth.

Young Adult
Charlize Theron is one of the best actors working at the moment, and her turn in Young Adult gets at the teenager in all of us. Her Mavis Gary is a golem of flaws, self-hatred, and delusion that cuts swathes through this indifferently directed movie.

Worst (in no particular order):

Like Crazy
The worst film I saw this year. Like Crazy plays like somebody reading the most boring parts of a really awful person’s diary; the film mistakes dewy-eyed angst for depth, and awkward, stilted improv for realism. The film also hinges on two unpalatable things: The female lead doing an unbelievably stupid thing that sets up the entire conceit, and a male lead who comes off as appealing and charismatic as a used sponge. And then the film throws ninety stilted minutes of will-they-won’t-they and hilarious furniture metaphors at us before ripping off The Graduate. Avoid.

The Dark Knight Rises
To paraphrase Liz Lemon, “Really dark superhero movies suck.” Nolan’s latest alienated me immediately with its over-stuffed plot, muddled political subtext, and shoddy craft. In a year when The Avengers managed to feel more real while still not taking itself super seriously, Nolan’s film felt dated and lifeless.

Rock of Ages
The only film I fell asleep in this year. ’80s classics ground down into over-produced, horribly lip-synched numbers with some plot and terrible humour in between. Repellent studio slickness and performers who look embarrassed to be there don’t help matters.

On the Road
I’m not a Kerouac devotee, but I think On the Road is a totally filmable novel. This stately, over-long adaptation is not the way to do it. Hedlund, Stewart, and Dunst are aces, but this film lacks any of the novel’s vibrant life, replacing it with listless voiceover, an aimless narrative and zero depth.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
An emotionally/morally bankrupt, misogynistic, hateful story given a classy remake it doesn’t deserve. None of the three versions of this story (novel, Swedish film, American film) can fix the author’s gaffes: protagonist who exists as both fetish object and damsel in distress, another protagonist who exists to sleep with everything in sight and an unbelievably obvious plot that poses as a mystery. Mara is compelling, but everybody involved in this film is too good for it. A year on and it’s already forgotten.

Steve Garden

Contributing Editor, The Lumière Reader

Given that my theatre-going this year was virtually limited to the New Zealand International Film Festival, the following titles were the most notable for me in 2012. Alexandr Sokurov’s Faust was the cinematic experience of the year for me. The four other titles in the ‘exceptional’ list continue to resonate all these months later, and I look forward to seeing them again in the coming year (if I get the chance). The titles in the ‘superior’ list are equally strong, and all of them are not only worthy of repeat viewings but are sure to reveal more of their considerable qualities on second or even third viewings. Alyx Duncan deserves special mention for The Red House, a rare New Zealand film in that the filmmaker’s personal and artistic vision is so successfully (and intelligently) integrated into the aesthetic fabric of the work. Duncan’s film is one of the most contemporary and forward-thinking cinematic achievements yet from a New Zealand filmmaker, a film that does more for my sense of pride in New Zealand film-art than all of the vapid hyperbole (let alone the mind-numbing boredom) of middle-earth.


  • Faust (Aleksandr Sokurov, Russia, 2011)
  • Student (Darezhan Omirbayev, Kazakhstan) Read More
  • People Mountain People Sea (Shangjun Cai, China, 2011)
  • The Loneliest Planet (Julia Loktev, USA/Germany, 2011)
  • Amour (Michael Haneke, Austria/France/Germany)

Superior: In Another Country, Just the Wind, Holy Motors, The Red House, Two Years at Sea, Beyond the Hills, Tabu, Golden Slumbers, Journal de France, Wuthering Heights, Back to Stay, Nana, In the Fog, Return to Burma, Marina Abramovich: The Artist is Present, Crossfire Hurricane, Beyond the Hills.

Honourable: The Sun Beaten Path, Caesar Must Die, Neighbouring Sounds, I Wish, Planet of Snail, Compliance, Beasts of the Southern Wild, West of Memphis, Crazy Horse, Five Broken Cameras, The Law in These Parts, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, The Shining, Whore’s Glory, Searching For Sugarman.

DVD Discoveries: Smiley’s People (BBC; Simon Langton, 1982), Le Silence de la mer (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1949), La Guerre d’un Seul Homme (Edgardo Cozarinsky, 1982), Mother Joan of the Angels (Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1961), Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, 2008), The Road (Darezhan Omirbaev, 2001), Tras os Montes (Margarida Cordeiro/Antonio Reis, 1976).

And the films of Angela Schanelec: Orly (2010), Afternoon (2007), Marseilles (2004), Passing Summer (2001).