Wednesday, 30 January 2013

[Review] Zero Dark Thirty - Into the Abyss

Zero Dark Thirty (2012)

Director - Kathryn Bigelow
Country - USA
Starring - Jessica Chastain, Jason Clarke, Kyle Chandler
Running Time - 157 minutes

A chronicle of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, and his death at the hands of the Navy S.E.A.L. Team 6 in May 2011.

War has changed. This is the immediate message of Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty. No longer won through soldiers and battles, but information and statistics. The line between civilian and target has been blurred. With the internet, events are instantly broadcasted across the world and public reaction has never been more foregrounded; facts, opinions and motives have never been more direct yet so fractured. It is the cinema that has most directly reflected and responded to the developments of conflict throughout the 20th (and into the 21st) century. We see it in the technology, from pulp glorification to the increasing desire to bring us as close to the 'reality' in the most aesthetically exciting way. We also, see it in the nature of the films themselves; the propaganda films of World War 2 against the anger from the films of 'Nam.

But Zero Dark Thirty has no such agenda. Bigelow isn't here to debate, but merely to depict. She looks to present the events (as far as contemporary knowledge understands them) accurately, but what she finds is terrifying. 

A movie about the hunt and eventual killing of bin Laden was inevitable, after all the actions of S.E.A.L. Team Six are virtually the stuff of action movie legend resulting in the first clear-cut American victory in a long time. During the decade long manhunt public and political attitudes changed as the US casualties increased and the ever increasing chase yielded no results. It was almost a complete surprise then on the 2nd of May 2011 when the news was broke that America had finally caught their bogeyman. It would set the tone for the second decade of the 21st century almost as much as the event that sparked the War on Terror had the first. So the existence of a movie adaption isn't whats surprising, it is the existence of this movie that is. 

Bigelow and writer Boal finished an initial draft centered around the 2001 Battle of Tora Bora and the subsequent escape of bin Laden, supposedly finishing on an ambiguously sombre note when the news of his death hit. Yet despite being presented with the fairy-tale ending, the tone remains unchanged. Zero Dark Thirty is not a testament to American success, instead it presents us with a destruction. There is no room for heroes here, nor time for celebration, those are liberties of a by-gone era. Instead we witness the emergence of a new world, one birthed in darkness and marked on the hard drive of every computer across the globe.   

The film opens with a disturbing audio montage of recordings from 9/11, police reports and phone calls of those trapped in the towers. The impact only heightened by the lack of visual accompaniment as we are left to fill the identity of the people ourselves. The film then jumps two years ahead to a CIA base where Jason Clarke is currently in the process of torturing a detainee for information. This quick jump cut illustrates both the determination and the frustration of the CIA as the trail has run cold.

At this point enough has already been made of controversy surrounding the depiction of torture, and I am not going to spend much time addressing it, once again Bigelow only depicts. She detaches herself from opinion by refraining from concentrated editing patterns or camera angles (outside of a basic film making level) to criticize or approve. It is presented as the rest of the film is, and we can decide ourselves if it was necessary or not.

We are then introduced to the agent known only as Maya, played by Jessica Chastain. The person on which she is based remains officially 'non-existent' but first hand accounts say the performance captures her intense determination. She is a fiercely driven woman, remaining one of the few who stay true to the search as the situation becomes more fragmented with independent cells and attacks acting throughout the world (including an frighteningly realistic re-enactment of the 7/7 London bombings.) Maya could too easily become a singular beacon for American tenacity, as her confidence and preservation do persuade her superiors and even the S.E.A.L. team themselves when it comes down to it. Yet, the film is no triumph and Chastain plays her remarkably human, but sure footed touch. At one point Maya guides her friend to safety after an explosion, only for that friend to be undone by having the audacity to trust later on. There are no movie fake-outs here. She claims later on that she was 'spared' to finish the job, but was she really? She accomplishes the impossible, but in the end she is left with nothing and no-one, just the empty seats of a helicopter and a ticket to anywhere in the new world she has created.

Bigelow creates a sense of urgency by structuring the film like that of a serial killer, complete with maps, false trails and intense getaways. This is reinforced through erratic disregard for the cinematic space. Bigelow utilizes a variety of techniques with her camera, from surveillance style wide shots to frantic handheld close-ups. With no comprehensible rhythm to her editing nor consistency in her visual style we are given very little bearing as to our place in relation to the characters, the atmosphere becomes increasingly oppressive. It works to the same effect Stanley Kubrick achieved in The Shining (albeit through differing approaches) and is best illustrated in the films final act. We are given copious amount of information regarding its layout, yet the intensity of the raid is furthered by the labyrinthine complex. The comparisons with Kubrick's horror opus don't stop there; both fracture the passage of time through title cards and Alexandre Desplat's soundtrack is frequently portentously measured beyond it's genre.

The raid sequence itself is surely to become one of cinema's most daring and incredible action sequences. As the helicopters depart they are illuminated by this brilliant midnight sun, it carries the apocalyptic taint to the proceedings as the darkness that has blanketed the films events now descends on the sky itself. The following assault plays out in terrifying silence punctuated only by suppression fire and breach charges. It defies cinematic code by presenting an action sequence that is directed by such a flat reality. The death of bin Laden is so brutally quick it offers us no catharsis, there is no final confrontation or dramatic stand off, just a flash and a bullet. 'Don't you realize what you just did?' states one soldier, 'I just shot the guy on the third floor' he returns. Without so much of a cheer, they turn their attention to gathering as many hard drives and file cabinets as possible before they must make their escape. This is a war won on information and statistics, not heroes.

With Zero Dark Thirty Bigelow has presented us with the death of bin Laden as the death of the old world. Those ideals we sought to protect have been so, but the cost has left a scar across those who fought for them. Their wounds have been transported to us all through the increasing reach of the internet. Through her purely apocalyptic vision Bigelow's film is also a destruction of the action movie too, how can one look to the over excited fetishism of recent action movies knowing they lack the dull silence of reality? The result is one of the best and most important American films in years, and one that will surely be preserved as a cinematic and contemporary artifact. It leaves us with one unsettling question; at what cost?


Monday, 28 January 2013

[Review] Django Unchained - Tarantino-bound

Django Unchained (2012)

Director - Quentin Tarantino
Country - USA
Starring - Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel Jackson
Running Time - 165 minutes

With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave sets out to rescue his wife from a brutal Mississippi plantation owner. 

There are few things less certain than the fact that Quentin Tarantino loves movies. He loves watching them, talking them and above all else making them. Beneath his signature excess lies a keen understanding of the codes by which film operates. He blends genres, reinvents archetypes and undermines the expectations of his audience constantly through the course of his films. I, for one have always sat at odds with him, on one hand he is clearly a very talented and intelligent director making some of the most original American works of the last two decades, on the other, I can never tell who he is making these films for.

Now with the release of his newest film, the Quasi-Western Django Unchained, it seems I have my answer; himself.

Tarantino structures Django much like his previous film Inglorious Basterds, blending pulp and genre pieces thickly layered in visual and audial references to a varied collection of influences. In this case blaxploitation meets spaghetti western, taking its title and main character from the Sergio Corbucci film Django, who's star makes a cameo. We open with a shackled and scarred Jamie Foxx led (along with a number of other slaves) by traders through a forest, when they are approached by Dr King Schultz with his wonderful dentist coach. He confuses and enrages the slavers with his turn of phrase, so when they refuse his sale, things turn violent. Schultz is a dentist turned bounty hunter and he needs Django to identify his next targets as he will come to explain.

Embodying his title, Tarantino's camera is equally free as he traverses the landscape by any means possible. Incorporating decades of Western film making legacy into every frame, the film is a visual feast of close-ups, cheeky zooms and gorgeous vistas. Django is a confident beauty of a film dripping but it never amounts to anything but homage. Think of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford which adopted it's melancholic atmosphere into it's visual tone, or Hillcoat's The Proposition which was shot with such blistering colours that it was often hard to look at. Django, for a film built upon anger, is far too preoccupied with honoring its sources, and obnoxious music choices doesn't help matters either.

The crux of the matter is Tarantino is not a director capable of understanding such anger, he engages with it only through his violence, this would be more of a problem if he didn't do it so well. This is, after all, a Tarantino film. He applies differing styles to the scenes, it becomes textual; the violence aimed towards blacks are shot in close-up, with highly saturated film stock, giving it a more visceral edge, including a horrific Mandingo brawl. Whites however are blown to smithereens in a ballet of blood and guts. The intention is clear, he wants us to get angry and then he wants that anger to force every bullet harder than the one before. The problem is he never stops to question how or why.

Slavery is constantly the subject of conversation, but it is just text, there is no judgement as to its nature nor a reflective note on it's repercussions. Tarantino is fascinated by his ideal of marrying the classic American image of freedom, the cowboy, to the horrendous crimes committed against the black people culminating in a violent revenge flick that he doesn't feel the need to give us anything more. It is a clever idea, but it lacks the depth to make it truly warranted.

Instead we are given wit and style in abundance, they satisfy on a surface level, supplying laughs and cheers as needed. Ironically for the title, Foxx is rather restrained. He is given a lot to do and chooses to play it through his physical performance, and the result is surprisingly endearing. Waltz is absolutely wonderful, nailing every line with his trade mark European accent. Whilst DiCaprio's vile, horrific Candie is a stylishly presented cartoon of a monster. Clearly both actors are having a total ball on screen and they manage to carry the film's plodding script even when it drags most. 

Despite the sheer smugness in his performance DiCaprio is far to easy to hate for him to be the films main vocal point. This is not the result of writers error, but rather Tarantino's most clever move, the real villain here is Samuel Jackson's Stephen. 'Head house slave,' he is sneaky and observant but above all else he is an exploiter; one who condemns his own race for a favourable position with 'the master.' The contempt held by Tarantino for this character spills into his framing with excessive close-ups capturing every wrinkle in his grotesque grimace. He is not only the most important character in Django, he joins the ranks of modern cinemas most horrific and loathsome characters and his untimely demise is a moment of sheer cinematic catharsis.  

At 165 minutes it is simply too long and too limited. Tarantino is regarded for his bloated dialogue-heavy sequences and Django is no exception. However, whilst each line is written with trade mark wit, to an almost distracting degree, it never goes anywhere or says anything about the events or characters. This is hindered further by the films structure, with the final act bringing the proceedings to a crawl, and by the time Candie's hack-saw orthopedic lecture came about my eyes were sore from the rolling. The inevitable explosive finale becomes something more of a relief, than an exciting climax. Speaking of which, the film has a fake-out jump cut that had it stayed true would have undermined the audience's expectations and provided a surprisingly sombre commentary on the nature of violence and revenge. Instead, Tarantino can't resist showing us more, and it sinks back into the fairly one-note story that only he is truly invested in.   

is crippled by its bloated arrogance, Tarantino's indulgent style constantly undermines his thematic message. The result is a clever artist who is much more interested in showing off the grotesque nature of slavery than making a judgement on it - except for Samuel Jackson's Stephen, the films singular export. However the rest is relegated to surface level thrills that lack the brooding rumination of his spaghetti influences. Marred by pacing inconsistencies, only exasperated by it's gratuitous length. Django Unchained survives on the strength of its actors and of the determination to satisfy with wit and violence, and that it does.


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

[Review] Les Misérables

Les Misérables (2012)

Director - Tom Hooper
Country - UK, USA
Starring - Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried,  Eddie Redmayne
Running Time - 158 minutes

In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole, agrees to care for factory worker Fantine's daughter, Cosette. The fateful decision changes their lives forever.

Finally released in the UK after critical and financial success overseas, Tom Hooper's follow up to his Oscar winning The Kings Speech has picked up majorly during the awards season (being nominated for eight Academy awards just last week.) It isn't hard to see why, but despite the hype marketing this film as a sensational cinematic event, I urge you; save your money to see the stage show and in the meantime download the soundtrack, because as it is, Les Misérables just isn't very good.

Written in 1862 Victor Hugo's novel is a series of complex, melodramatic narratives that examines the human condition amidst the backdrop of socially and politically agitated France, eventually culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion. It's largely regarded as one of the best books of the nineteen century and its characters rank amongst some of literature's favourite creations. The stageshow, which has been in production across the world for three decades now, boils the narrative down to a series of impassioned set pieces and emotionally charged ballads. Here in lies the problem with Les Misérables, this approach may work on stage, which has its own established coda in regards to structure, narrative and staging - one that is inherently aimed towards no-holds-bard spectacle. That isn't to say that the songs in Les Misérables aren't any good here, they are. In fact it’s a testament to their quality that it is so easy to become swept up in them despite, well, everything else...

Becausefilm is not bound by the same coda as the impressionistic element of the stage, especially not one that attempts to base itself in a realistically recreated nineteenth century, the narrative must be reworked in order to give the events and characters some actual depth. So little is the amount of respect Tom Hooper has for his audience however that he feels no other need than to deliver astring of set piece moments and one dimensional 'device' characters, and expect us to give them our hearts in return. The connections and conflicts between the central protagonists seem so contrived and coincidental because the film moves from one heart-wrenching emotional high point to the next without balancingthem against smaller, more human moments that would justify the intensity of the songs.  

Thereis no regard for subtlety or ambiguity, no room for capturing the complexities of the characters by visualizing their actions. Instead Hooper tells us how to feel and who to feel it for under the guise of 'passion.' Take the introduction of second act key figure Marius, played by Eddie Redmayne, who simply appears and latches himself to the grown-up Cosette, the film instantly aligns itself with him without giving us ample reason why. Similarly policeman Javert's adherence to the law defies that of logical and emotional contemplation, an explanation (a rather shallow one at that) is given but it is still undermined by the sheer scope of his refusal to acknowledge the events as they present themselves in front of him. The narrative's impact is totally squandered bythis insufficient character development and it makes it difficult to care abouttheir success or failure.

Much has been made of the decision to sing the songs live, allowing the actors to gauge the delivery based on the actions and reactions of those around them, making their performances simultaneously more personal and natural. Whilst not entirely original, it is technically impressive and the likes of Hugh Jackman, an experienced performer, capitalizes on the process to show case his expressive dynamism. Unfortunately this serves to highlight the limitations ofthe rest of the cast, especially the much less convincing Russell Crowe, who has received much criticism for his gruff attempt to bark his way through each number. Needless to say, they're right and he's terrible. An intensely physical and committed performance from Anne Hathaway, gives way to the film’s most exploitative sequence as she scales show-stopper 'I Dreamed a Dream' down to an intimately raw depiction of a broken woman. Hooper smugly revels only in her pain, and it becomes an uncomfortable scene to watch.

The problem that comes with this approach is that Hooper then anchors the camera tothe actors. If he's not intrusively probing them with unflattering close-ups, he presents us with a number of unsuited and frankly boring compositions that fail to excite by lacking any visual flair. An opportunity to explore the surroundings through editing or montage that would reinforce the connections between the characters, or to foreground the contextual social elements thereby giving events and dramatic realizations any sense of weight, is totally lost, leaving the film totally limp. Hooper seems all to aware of this as he attempts to inject energy through unmotivated camera movements and misconceived expressionist angles, illustrating absolutely no understanding of the cinematic rhythm or space. Les Misérables is a film completely lacking any synchronicity.

This becomes indicative of the films many aesthetic and thematic inconsistencies. Sweeping establishing shots have no frame of reference and therefore no relevance. The blockade battle sequences are so poorly staged they have more incommon with a second rate amateur re-enactment from your local historical society. Hooper has neither the confidence to commit entirely to the prominent realistic style that blankets the films dreary proceedings, nor the desire to build upon the more traditional ensemble piece it utilizes to make light ofsome of the films darker elements i.e. working class discontent and prostitution. It fails to convince on any intellectual level. One can summarize the extent of this misconception by raising one probing question; for a film that claims to represent social injustice towards the working class, why arethe poor depicted as physically and emotionally repulsive?  

Les Misérables is a simplistic and manipulative film that reduces complexintertwining narratives and historical social melodrama to a lifeless backdropof self-satisfied, emotionally exploitative set pieces. Each character isreduced to a single function vessel of hollow passion; their development is so stilted, their actions so unjustified that they possess no relatable human qualities whatsoever. Their sole purpose is to con the audience into feeling. These elements may be forgivable on the stage, which has a degree of impressionistic limitations that would serve the nature of spectacle, but this is not the caseon film. Especially not this film, Hooper's direction is completely inept, brimming with such visual and structural incompetence that the film descendsinto the abstract. It has no regard for subtlety, or interest in ambiguity and therefore has no respect for its characters or audience. Despite being the central theme, deliverance only arrives when it bestows onto us an ending. It is then that we are free to leave the cinema and bask in the unceremonious complexities of the mundane.


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Year In Review [2012]

What a better way to enter 2013 than a retrospective of the year just past. Over the course of 2012 I managed to make it to the cinema around 50 times, and while the year took a while to give us anything really substantial, it ended a year on par with its predecessors, perhaps even better within its five top films, all of which I believe are certified classics.

Undoubtedly it is the superheroes that have had the biggest, at least in financial terms, success this year. With Spidey, Bats and that whole Marvel lot all bringing in the dollars across the summer. Yet none of them will find a place on my list for the year’s best. Away from the convoluted mess of The Dark Knight Rises and plodding simple-mindedness The Avengers (Assemble) the genre did bring us one of the best surprises this year in Chronicle. Josh Tanks allegory of teenage angst proves to be the most human and straight up entertaining addition to the world of super heroes since Spiderman 2.  

Disappointments came in from the indie scene too with Beasts of the Southern Wild, which bewitched critics in Cannes with its rustic charms and babbling miniature protagonist but proved to be a forced and rather hollow look at a naturalist lifestyle. The biggest offender however came right at the end in Ang Lee's Life of Pi, mainstream audiences may be dazzled by the trippy aesthetics of pop-spiritualist ideals attached to some solid survival adventure film making but I found it to be a tacky, hollow and over-composed waste of time.

On a positive note this year was a great triumph for British cinema, two of which feature on my list of the year’s best. The return of Hammer horror is bound to warm the hearts of many, even if The Women in Black was a middling horror film, but its success at the box office means they're likely to get another shot. Speaking of success the wonderful return of James Bond in Sam Mendes' Skyfall just recently passed the $1 billion mark worldwide.

Still had if you've found this year to be not so stimulating there is always the 'stay at home' option, so while I'm on the subject I'd like to name The Masters of Cinema release of The Passion of Joan of Arc my Blu Ray of the year. They have been continuously fantastic as the year has gone on and this beautiful release is stacked with content and alternate version, a complete must for any serious film fans.

Okay, I've said my piece, let's move onto the list.

[Note] - At the time of writing, this list may be subjected to change, there are a number of omissions that I would like to have seen before making this list, but alas it wasn't to be. 

The Top 10 films of 2012 

10. The Grey - (USA, Dir. Joe Carnahan) 

A victim of marketing and reputation, Carnahan's film about a group of plane crash survivors, led by Liam Neeson, attempting to make their way through the Alaskan woodlands, as they are pursued by the elements and a pack of ravenous wolves is less Taken With Wolves as the trailer would suggest, and more an existentialist drama about coming to terms with death that has more in common with early day Herzog than anything else. The numerous archetype characters become symbolic of the individual elements in one’s own existence, gradually stripped until we are left with nothing but the essence of life itself. Neeson is a terrific as the exhausted Ottway, a disillusioned man with nothing but life to live for, given the recent death of Neeson’s own wife in a skiing accident, this performance looks to be something of a personal catharsis by the way in which he carries himself. It isn't without its faults, most notably the dodgy CGI wolves that push the boundaries of believability into the goofy. But the gorgeous visuals and no-holds-barred approach to film making makes The Grey something of a unique, massively engaging and surprisingly effective genre piece.    

9. Sightseers - (UK, Dir. Ben Wheatley) 

Ben Wheatley's third feature allows his trademark black humour to take centre stage in his caravan based satire of middle class discontent. We follow Tina, Chris and kidnapped dog Poppy on a self-proclaimed erotic odyssey around some of England's most, well, English tourist attractions. I stated in my review, Wheatley taps into a primal urge that runs through the core of Britain; here it manifests itself as an extension of alpha male domination unleashed by the lucid beauty of the mud-stained countryside. It is the surprisingly human nature of the film's main relationship that places it on the list of the year’s best. Tina and Chris (played and written by Alice Lowe and Steve Oram) are built upon the combination of the lovers-on-the-run cinematic ideal and childhood memories of the family holidays, the grizzly killings and dark humour are played against sensual passion and even sombre tenderness.   

8. Room 237 - (USA, Dir. Rodney Ascher)
A film Mark Kermode, rather accurately describes as 'Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Film Studies.' Ascher's documentary works as part introduction, exploration and criticism of film theory presented as a stylish, self-aware mystery that could have a limitless number of answers or none at all. That mystery of course is Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Reigning in the world’s most leading experts in Shining-analysis, there is enough conviction in the delivery to make even the most ridiculous theories have a degree of plausibility, yet the film isn't short on chills and laughs. Through all this there is a sense of what we may find in The Shining, in any film, in anything is just a reflection of our own beliefs and interests, therefore elevating this meta-documentary from entertaining bar fodder to fascinating dissection of a critics role. 

7. Tabu - (Portugal, Dir. Miguel Gomes)
Cinema becomes a memory, and memory becomes cinema in Miquel Gomes terrific gem. Opening in a slow but measured depiction of modern Portugal, we follow a middle-aged woman called Pilar encased in her loneliness. She deflects her own problems with interest in her elderly neighbor, Aurora who is in early stages of dementia. Yet when the old woman dies, her past life on the plains of Africa is revealed and we are taken on a richly cinematic adventure. The second half of the film takes place as a film between the silent and the sound era. Shot beautifully on 16mm stock and dryly narrated by Aurora's aged lover, it becomes an exploration of the past passions and cultural boundaries of a bygone era. Playful, erotic and mysterious this is film to treasure and behold. 

6. Berberian Sound Studio - (UK, Dir. Peter Strickland) 

Wearing its influences on its sleeve Berberian Sound Studio is a cold and darkly funny deconstruction of horror film making as well as a send up to one of its most culturally significant sub-genres. Toby Jones plays a reclusive, droopy sound technician called in to work on the Gallio-esque The Equestrian Vortex. Trapped within multiple layers of Kafka based bureaucracy and the exploitative nature of the films narrative begins to expand into the studio itself, Jones shrinks into his work, becoming increasingly obsessed. There is a disorientating lack of time in this film as Jones loses himself into the Vortex. Strickland offers up a criticism of the film maker as well as a warning to the audience about the dangers of exposing one’s self to the disturbing nature of horror films and the increasingly machine driven art world. 

5. Cosmopolis - (USA, Dir. David Cronenberg)
David Cronenberg's returns to his psycho-sexual, psycho-technological routes with his adaption of Don DeLillo’s novel. In what might be this year's most important film Robert Pattinson plays (wonderfully) an elusive billionaire traveling through the city in his soundproof limo in order to get a haircut. Along the way he will meet various people and dissect the increasingly technological economy and by extension, existence. It doesn't sound as fascinating or engaging as it is. Howard Shore's astonishingly chilly techno soundtrack underscores the film's journey around the computerized labyrinth city, whilst the expansive limo becomes a spatial anti-reality inhabited by the cast. Fascinating, cool and hypnotic Cosmopolis is a difficult but powerful masterpiece.  

4. Holy Motors - (France, Dir. Leos Carax)

The other 'limo based epic' of 2012, this time it is the French 'son of film' Leos Carax who is behind the wheel the destination of course, is the cinema. Dennis Lavant gives the greatest, most versatile performance of the year as Oscar, a man being driven through Paris to several different... appointments. Just what is Holy Motors is something I'm still working on myself, a running commentary on the state of cinema? An ode to the art of acting? An evaluation of the ever increasing online based society? All of the above? I don't really know if it matters, the true importance here is that Carax manages to craft an insanity based odyssey that is completely unique, darkly funny and infinitely puzzling.  

3. Amour - (France, Austria, Dir. Michael Haneke)
Haneke's films have always looked to undermine his audience and even his characters with regards to ones expectations; apocalypse's come about without cataclysm, mysteries are often left unexplained and suspense refuses catharsis. Yet this is not the case with Amour, which is a love story in the truest and most difficult sense. It follows his patented bourgeoisie couple, Anne and Georges, in retirement. They live in a spacious flat and spend their days going to concerts and being visited by their daughter. Only when Anne suffers a stroke is their relationship tested to the extreme. Some have pointed to Amour as evidence to a compassionate side to Haneke's icy professionalism that frequently results in an acute detachment that many find difficult to endure. It isn't compassion I see within here, but insecurity. Haneke treats death with the same calculated gaze that he would the glamorization of violence or social responsibility, but he flinches. He treats his characters with an uncertain dignity at an age when dignity leaves us, refusing to exploit the deterioration of Anne's condition in order to squeeze sympathy from his audience. The climax is a moment of devastating desperation; it is the unavoidable price we pay to love.   

2. The Turin Horse - (Hungary, Dir. Bela Tarr)
The final film of Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr, one could easily dismiss it as not for everyone (a true but shallow claim that I've come across in a number of reviews) there is certainly something for everyone here.  Opening with a quote about Nietzsche's defence of a horse [in Turin] being whipped by its owner, the tone is set for Tarr's apocalyptic meditation on suffering. Shot in staggering black and white, it is composed of a mere 30 takes (it is over 140 minutes long) charting the existence of a father and daughter on their farm as fierce winds surround the house. If not the end of the world, it is the end of humanity through gradual erosion of our human nature. A staggering seven minute monologue that the film is centred on opens up Tarr's world for the audience only for a brief moment before it is closed down. Endurance and survival they are not the same as life in Tarr's bleak epic, but if the end is coming I'd imagine that won’t matter. After all, what are we but a light fading slowly out of existence into the overcoming darkness? 

1. The Master - (USA, Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master is a landmark film. Complex, unyielding and distinct it offers up a view of Post-War depiction of a damaged American and those who would exploit it. As redundant a comment it is to make, The Master is a modern companion to Orson Welle's Citizen Kane, in both subject and quality. Boasting three astonishing performances from it follows the relationship between World War II veteran Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd (based on Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard,) as the latter tries to demonstrate his self-help 'processing' to fix the damaged and potentially dangerous Quell. Anderson challenges us on every cinematic level, from the off kilter score by Jonny Greenwood, to his refusal to offer up the expansive landscape shots we expect from the 65mm format he shot on. His lens is a looking glass through the past where he discovers a repeating pattern woven into human nature throughout time. The Master is an unmatched, ever fascinating piece of cinema that will be studied and evaluated over the course the next hundreds of years, from one of the most enigmatic and talented masters.    

So that's it for my top 10 films of 2012, I hope you enjoyed the list and here's to hoping we have another fantastic year ahead.