20. FOR LOVE’S SAKE
I find popular Japanese director Takashi Miike to be wildly inconsistent. There is no doubt he is an absolute talent and has created some definite classics, but he also has his fair share of duds too. Saying that, “For Love’s Sake” was one of the most fun I had in a cinema all of last year. It is a ridiculous melodramatic love story that also happens to be a musical. The song and dance numbers are insane and are all different in style from one another which just makes the film so damn entertaining. “For Love’s Sake” is set in the 1970’s and I couldn’t help but think that the majority for the film was an homage to the “pinky violence” films of that era, especially with all of the gang fights within the story. The film has been wonderfully shot and is full of bright vibrant colours adding to its charm. The main problem with the majority of Miike’s films is that they all appear to be too long, and “For Love’s Sake” also suffers from this (shaving 20 minutes off the running time would have made this an instant classic), but for the most part, this uniquely Japanese film will have you tapping your feet in the aisles to its good hearted insanity. Click here to read my original review.
19. THE DIVIDE
Set post apocalypse, “The Divide” cares little about the incident that caused the destruction of the Earth, but rather at the way humans regress to the basics of need and survival, which is to look out for number one before anyone else. This is such an easy film to hate due to the fact that it revels in human despair and is very nihilistic, however it is the film’s boldness to actually go to these dark places and not be afraid to explore them that is the very reason I love “The Divide”. Xavier Gens was the director of the film and he never backs away from getting dark and dirty, brutal and violent. With the exception of the opening scene, “The Divide” is set in a shelter where a number of survivors attempt to survive after the blast has annihilated the rest of the world. The increasing tension of the film is amazing particularly in the second half as the hope of the survivors starts to fade and individuals continue to do terrible things to one another just to ensure their own survival. While it is true that there is barely a sympathetic character in the film and that performances are a little all over the place, within the film is a stunning performance from Michael Eklund which is as physically intense as it is emotionally, as his character, Bobby, slowly starts to go insane. Although there is a lot more to recommend about “The Divide”, Eklund’s performance is enough to warrant seeing the film. Click here to read my original review.
As generic an entry into the gangster genre as its title, “Lawless” is a film that has been impeccably made. Based on a true story, “Lawless” is about the three brothers of the Bondurant family who were moonshine bootleggers back in Depression-era Franklin County, Virginia. Their small but hugely profitable business is suddenly threatened when a new deputy from Chicago comes to town and attempts to take a cut of their profits, however the Bondurant’s refuse to be intimidated by anyone including the law. As I said, the storyline of “Lawless” is nothing we haven’t seen before in any number of gangster films, but it is the way the film has been put together that makes it so good. First of all, the film is littered with outstanding performances from the likes of Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, Jason Clarke, Mia Wasikowska and the stunningly beautiful Jessica Chastain. There is also a gloriously over the top performance from Guy Pearce as the deputy from Chicago that has to be seen to be believed. This is another collaboration between director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave who previously gave us the outstanding Australian western “The Proposition” and again they have succeeded brilliantly in creating a thoroughly entertaining film. If you are familiar with “The Proposition” you will know that Hillcoat and Cave like their violence to be brutal and bloody, which is true again here in “Lawless” as there are a number of confronting and very bloody scenes. Visually, the film is gloriously beautiful to look at thanks to Benoit Delhomme’s stunning cinematography. I have heard a lot of complaints about the pace of the film claiming that it is too slow, but I couldn’t disagree more. The two hour running time flew by for me thanks to the even pace of the film. For some unknown reason there seems to be a lot of negativity in regards to the quality of “Lawless” but with the exception of its rather clunky finale, I thought the film was brilliantly made and a very entertaining film. I just wished it had kept its original title, “The Wettest County In The World”.
17. SOUND OF MY VOICE
When two investigative journalists infiltrate a cult in an attempt to expose the leader (who claims to be from the future) as the fraud they believe she is, they find themselves having to look within themselves and reflect on what makes them who they are, as their mission becomes increasingly dangerous the more they find themselves believing in the teachings of this cult. Another film that I saw at MIFF and one that I went into with little expectation, I found “Sound Of My Voice” to be a fantastic surprise and one that stayed with me long after the film had ended. Director Zal Batmanglij made the smart decision to keep everything about the cult as open ended as possible, whilst never over explaining anything. His direction is very economical focusing more on the story rather than imposing a style onto the film. The real jewel of the film though is co-writer Brit Marling who also stars as the cult leader. She is fantastic and has a presence that is just hypnotic. Behind her beauty there is a darkness behind her eyes that never betrays the truth of her situation. The film is short and told in chapters that also add to the experience of “Sound Of My Voice”. It also in my opinion has a perfect ending that will leave you talking about the film long after you finish watching it. Click here to read my original review.
The latest film from Shinya Tsukamoto is a harrowing affair. It is about a single mother, Kotoko, who suffers from depression and a number of mental issues, trying to bring up her son in today’s world. Kotoko suffers from a strange affliction in that she sees “double”. This isn’t where she sees the same image duplicated, rather she sees two variations of the same person, one good and one evil, and she must always be alert to know which is real and which is not. This terrifies her and as such she holes herself up in her apartment with her baby in an attempt to never cross paths with another human being. This is obviously not healthy and her situation as a result becomes more and more intense. What is so amazing about “Kotoko” is the fact that the star of the film, Cocco, suffers from a lot of the same mental disorders as her character does in the film. Cocco is a famous singer in Japan and this is her feature acting debut and she gives a phenomenal performance. Through her character she goes to a number of very dark places, but she always portrays each scene with intense honesty. This is not the kind of vanity project that we are so used to seeing from U.S singers when they decide to try their hand at acting, instead it is the opposite as Cocco has opened herself completely to her fans in this role, warts and all. Shinya Tsukamoto is back in fine form once again with “Kotoko”, it is his best film since 2004’s “Vital”, but it is not for everyone. It is incredibly bleak and very bloody and it certainly packs an emotional punch, but it is so worth it. Click here to read my original review.
15. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
It seems so long ago that I saw this film that it is hard to believe that it was a 2012 release here in Australia, but it’s true, as it came out in the second week of January. I was a big fan of the original Swedish version of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” (it ranked at #13 in my Top 25 of 2010) and particularly of the star making performance from Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth Salander. When word came out that Hollywood was to remake the film, I thought two directors could do the film justice: Brian De Palma or David Fincher. As history shows Fincher got the gig, and his version of the same story is just as powerful and brilliant as the original. It is well known that David Fincher is a perfectionist and a supreme stylist so “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” was always going to be technically well made and it is. The problem was always going to be in the casting of the role of Lisbeth, particularly now that they would be living in the shadow of Rapace’s performance. Fincher boldly chose Rooney Mara, who prior to this announcement I had only seen in “The Nightmare On Elm Street” remake and thought she was terrible. I thought this was a shocking mistake and there was no hope Mara could pull off this extremely complex role, but I was so wrong – she is stunningly good. She completely makes this Lisbeth her own, to the point that you don’t even consider comparing her performance with Rapace’s while watching the film, she just is Lisbeth. The attitude, the look, the walk, her accent, it is all Lisbeth and never once derivative of Rapace’s performance. Thankfully the Hollywood version of the film has not been watered down, so this is still as brutal as the original (so beware that there are some very confronting scenes), and as entertaining. Where the remake is superior to the Swedish film though is in its very fine and non-traditional score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
I often cite Martin Scorsese as my favourite director but “Hugo” saw him doing a few things that he had never done before in his filmmaking career. The first was to make a “children’s” film, leaving behind murderers and the mob to tell a heartwarming tale about an orphan living in Paris during the 1930’s. The second was to shoot the film in 3-D. Both of these decisions made the prospect of “Hugo” very interesting and exciting if just to see how good a director Scorsese was when totally out of his comfort zone. To most people’s surprise, “Hugo” has turned out to be one of Martin Scorsese’s finest films of his entire career and one that is obviously very personal to him. Without giving anything of the plot away, “Hugo” is a love letter to cinema and the early pioneers of cinema, whilst also something of a call to arms in the importance of film restoration. While I state above that “Hugo” is a children’s film, I do not necessarily think this is accurate as it is more of a film for adults with children at its center. In regards to Scorsese’s use of the 3-D technology, without hyperbole let me say that in my opinion it is the best use of the technology that I have seen yet. Predictably Scorsese chose not to use the 3-D as a gimmick for things to just come out of the screen, instead he uses it to create incredible depth within the frame and it is obvious that this experiment has energized Scorsese because some of the shots he has created in “Hugo” are just stunning. I haven’t mentioned the cast yet, but they are all magnificent particularly Ben Kingsley in an important role.
13. THE MASTER
While initial reports about Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film “The Master” claimed that it was going to be an expose on the religion / cult that is Scientology, it turns out that is not exactly the case. Instead we are treated to a story of friendship between two men in post war America. Freddie Quell is a naval veteran struggling to cope in post war America and often turns to alcohol to subdue his pain. One day while drunk he happens to meet the leader of a faith-based organization called “The Cause”. Freddie and Lancaster make an initial connection over Freddie’s cocktail making abilities, but Freddie soon begins to think that he can make sense of his life and to once again give it meaning by following the beliefs of “The Cause”. He soon becomes Lancaster’s right hand man and a trusted friend of both Lancaster and his wife Peggy. As time goes on, “The Cause” continues to gather followers but as Freddie’s life begins to spiral out of control and his memories once again start to take hold of him, he begins to question the validity of both “The Cause” and the teachings of his friend. “The Master” is the kind of film that they no longer make anymore, in more ways than one. This is a personal emotional piece of filmmaking that is epic in scope that seemed the norm back in the 1970’s but just don’t exist today. The film was also shot on 70mm film, a format that hasn’t been used since Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 version of “Hamlet”. The real “master” of the film is writer / director Paul Thomas Anderson (who was in admittance at the 70mm screening that I attended) who has created a doomed romance between two men filling it with details and nuance of the period. In my eyes, Anderson has yet to make a bad film, but “The Master” would probably be his most demanding due in part to the fact that it is less plot-based than his previous films and deals more in mood. Also the slow deliberate pacing of the film could put a lot of people off, but as I have made known regularly, I respond to slow paced films. As usual Anderson has garnered top notch performances from all of his actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Amy Adams but it is Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell that gives probably the best performance, not just of this film but of all of 2012. He is stunningly good and deserves the Oscar for this role. Two other aspects of “The Master” standout for their quality and they are the truly gorgeous cinematography from Mihai Malaimare Jr. and Jonny Greenwood’s masterful and unique score. It is probably my favourite score of the year and it is a tragedy that Greenwood was not nominated for an Oscar for it. While a difficult film in terms of story, there is no doubting that “The Master” is one of the best put together films of 2012.
12. DREDD 3D
As I mentioned earlier “Dredd 3D” turned out to be the biggest surprise for me in 2012. It was initially a film that I had no interest in at all, but after hearing the positive buzz for it, I finally decided to check it out. For once the buzz was correct and “Dredd 3D” turned into one of my most entertaining films of 2012. While it shares similar plot points with another film on this list (“The Raid”), both films do different things with it and both are awesome. The story is about Judge Dredd and another rookie Judge who are trapped and ambushed in a massive 200 storey apartment complex that is owned and run by a drug lord who orders a hit on the two judges in an attempt to secure her new drug will reach the streets of MegaCity One. What follows is a bloody (very bloody) and brutal fight for survival from the judges against the criminal citizens of the apartment block. Learning from the previous and terrible Sylvester Stallone “Judge Dredd” film of the 90’s, this time Karl Urban fills out the title role yet never once takes his helmet off during the entirety of the film. This is the real Judge Dredd, the badass, violent, get the job done at all costs Judge Dredd, and his second cinematic outing is definitely worth watching. Believe the hype.
Keep an eye out for the third and final part: #10 -1.