The Dirty Dozen
Hm, the January blues. It’s enough to make you want to curl up inside a darkened room. Which is fortunate, as there were so many great films in 2011, there’s a lot of catching up to do. Most shamefully, I missed out on Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, and perhaps most painfully, Gianni Di Gregorio’s follow-up to Mid-August Lunch – The Salt Of Life. But there were some unexpected highlights along the way, not only from London’s Gay And Lesbian Film Festival, the London Spanish Film Festival and the London Film Festival, but also some serendipitous finds, such as Sophie Heldman’s Satte Farben Vor Schwarz, Aureliano Amadei’s 20 Sigarette, André Téchiné’s Impardonnables or discovering Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before The Revolution.
Of course, Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and seems to prop up most critics’ top-tens. But it’s not on mine. It’s stunning, both with its cinematography and its levitating Jessica Chastain, but beauty does not a dinosaur-compassion story make. Instead, and in no particular order, Berlin’s Golden Bear winner A Separation, Asghar Farhadi’s simple tale of the complexities of domestic politics in Iran, remains one of the highlights of 2011 for the sheer quality of the performances and its humble script. The sublime poetry of Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte wins me over every time, with its thought-provoking association of ideas and wacky unpredictability. And Xavier Dolan’s Heartbeats is also a rare joy. It might be playfully indebted to both Jules Et Jim and In The Mood For Love, but it’s full of enough vim, vigour and venom to lift it off the screen and into our still beating hearts.
From the UK, Andrew Haigh’s Weekend has been for me the most outstanding British film this year, a great new voice able to combine a thoughtful script with perfectly poised performances and all wrapped up in an alternative love story. From one low-beat story of impossible love to another overwrought one, Terence Davies masterly adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea. Centred around three great performances, with a career best from Rachel Weisz, The Deep Blue Sea is an infidelity melodrama with tragic undertones and also intensely moving. And almost like François Ozon’s 5×2, Blue Valentine is a bittersweet journey in reverse, from acrimony to romance. Derek Cianfrance’s great direction and Andrij Parekh’s beautiful cinematography make it an overwhelming foray into love’s highs and very deep lows.
Two of the best performances were Lubna Azabal’s in Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies, a fantastic exploration of family, memory and the Middle East, and Tilda Swinton’s in Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of the Lionel Shriver novel We Need To Talk About Kevin, a haunting, suffocating look at maternal guilt and painful dispossession. Violence is also the driving force behind Susanne Bier’s In A Better World in which two boys’ thirst for justice isn’t borne out in the civilised world of forgiveness and cowed weakness. And of the comedies, Potiche is probably the finest. An onscreen delectation of Deneuve and Depardieu, François Ozon’s film is an exuberant masterpiece of delightful ridiculousness. Similarly, and most recently, there’s Michel Hazanavicius’s fabulous The Artist, a celebration of cinema in all its forms with the comfortable familiarity of a golden oldie and the freshness of a modern masterpiece.
It’s been a good year all told, with too many other films to do them all justice, but special mentions go to the gothic Black Swan, the doleful Biutiful, the faultless The King’s Speech, Franco fests 127 Hours and Howl, the stunning Norwegian Wood, the utterly perplexing The Skin I Live In, the politically honest Tambien La Lluvia, the riotous Troll Hunter, the wet wool of Wuthering Heights, the lazy sunset of Oslo August 31st and the apocalyptic grip of Take Shelter. Phew… And while Tabloid and Black Power Mixtape were some of the best documentaries I’ve seen for a long, long time, it’s a toss-up between We Were Here and This Is Not A Film for the most moving doc of 2011.
Luckily, this year’s set to be just as good – perhaps the pride before a fall when funding cuts start to bite. But not only are there some anxiously awaited blockbusters, including the next Bond film – Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, but there’s also some favourites from the London Film Festival due for release in 2012. Steve McQueen’s Shame and Roman Polanski’s Carnage lie just around the corner, and Norwegian film continues its steady climb with Headhunters, so funny there’s already an American remake in the pipeline. Well, that’s what Scandinavian films are for, isn’t it?
Michael Haneke’s Amour and the Dardennes brothers’ The Kid With A Bike are set to be big, along with Aki Kaurismäki’s Le Havre, already a hit in France, if it finds a distributor. My own personal must-sees for 2012 include Play, Ruben Östlund’s follow-up to Involuntary and a devastating look at contemporary racism, Marco Berger’s Ausente, Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways, Giorgos Lanthimos‘ Alps and Markus Schleinzer’s eerie thriller Michael. And the list goes on. But with so many treats in store, 2012 will be light enough to brighten many a dark day.