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Wolfville, Nova Scotia
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Filtering by Tag: 2012

Favourite Films of 2012

Chris Campbell

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Every year there are a lot of great films and it is good to make up a list of the films that I really enjoyed. It's funny, but over time it seems that it has become a bit easier in making up the list. The number of films is kind of arbitrary. There is no reason to limit it to ten films, but that seems to be the general rule. It's really not about making up a list, but sharing your love of films with people, so in that spirit here are some of the films that really made me think and moved me and made me laugh.

Holy Motors

I was looking forward to Leos Carax' Holy Motors for a long time. I wasn't sure what it would be like or even if it would work. His previous films have all be interesting, but flawed, but they were always magnificent failures that had utterly transcendent moments. With Holy Motors, his first film in over a decade it seems that he worked quickly and came up with something that is lighter and more fun than anything I've seen in a long, long time. It's episodic and a bit rambling, but in a strange way it is the most focussed of his films. It is about filmmaking and acting and it is so much fun that I can't wait to see it again.

Rust and Bone

Every one of Jacques Audiard's films that I've seen have resonated with me on one level or another. They take people from the margins and put them through harrowing situations. The premises are always fascinating and really close to melodrama, but somehow through the writing, acting, and direction he manages to make them utterly compelling. So when I heard that with his latest film, Rust and Bone was about a street fighter and a killer whale trainer, I knew that it was probably going to be a lot more than the premise would suggest. It gripped me right from the beginning and completely devastated me by the end. Powerful, beautiful, and remarkable, it was amazing and unexpected.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

Quiet spaces and indirect narratives are something that I like and with Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan it is a film that I didn't know much about and was fascinated by as it slowly emerged before me. Mostly set at night with people driving through the countryside it is about a murder and finding a body, but that's not really what it is about. I wasn't sure who the main characters were, but gradually it became clear and emotionally powerful. It works slowly and deliberately and it stuck with me for days.

The Loneliest Planet

A few years ago I saw the film Day Night Day Night, directed by Julia Loktev and set in New York with a young woman who is preparing to detonate a suicide bomb. Frustratingly oblique with little dialogue and information, it kept me transfixed throughout. Then I heard about her latest film, The Loneliest Planet with different subject matter, but it has the same naturalistic style and control. The smallest detail can become significant and this time the story focusses on a couple hiking through the mountains in the country of Georgia with a guide. Most of the film consists of them walking and we see the evolution of the relationship as they hike. It's slow and beautiful and haunting.

Killing Them Softly

After seeing that the director of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford had another film coming out with Brad Pitt, I was anticipating it eagerly. But this time Andrew Dominik changes things up and while it is visually interesting, there is a tightness and focus to Killing Them Softly that was unexpected. It's built around a series of scenes with characters mainly talking about their lives, but it is punctuated through bursts of violence. A different character study that is challenging, but rewarding.

Magic Mike

While the film was marketed as being about strippers (and there is a bunch about strippers), Magic Mike is part of Steven Soderberg's ongoing series of films that work in a naturalistic way within genre conventions that feel like they are from the 70s. With Magic Mike Soderberg begins the film with the old Warner Brothers logo and he shoots it in a controlled style with the actors being loose and improvisational. It's a character drama disguised as a film about strippers and it's yet another confident film from Soderberg.

Beasts of the Southern Wild

There were rumblings about Beasts of the Southern Wild from the festival circuit and I was very glad when it showed up and it surprised with in the understated tone and magical realism of the story. Much more moving that I thought it would be it was a unique look at an isolated community with an inventive approach to cinematic storytelling with an ensemble cast and confident direction by Benh Zeitlin. Quite magical.

Looper

My most-anticipated film of last year had to be Looper with Rian Johnson teaming up again with Joseph Gordon-Levitt for their second film since Brick (one of my favourites). With Looper Johnson was telling a time-travel story with film noir elements, so it looked as though it would be good and it was. Very good in fact, so I went to see it a couple of times in the theatre and kept enjoying it more each time. Crafting good science fiction that makes you think and forms a compelling thriller is a challenge and Johnson rises to it.

Stories We Tell

Sarah Polley is intriguing and challenging as a filmmaker. Choosing diverse projects to direct she had Take This Waltz which I really liked for the complicated portrait of Michelle Williams, but with her documentary Stories We Tell it was an emotional and beautiful look at her mother and how her family related to her. A dazzlingly complex and personal image emerges as it shifts and changes over time and filtered through the memories and experiences of everyone who surrounded her. It's an amazing documentary that manages to tell a great story and make a statement about the nature of truth.

The Hunt

There is something about Scandinavian cinema and the combination of melodrama and naturalism that seems to work really well for me. This year I was glad to see The Hunt from Thomas Vinterberg who created the truly stunning The Celebration which kicked off the Dogme 95 movement. While The Hunt doesn't work within the Dogme restrictions, it's a carefully constructed story about a man in a small town wrongly accused of a crime and how that completely disrupts his life. At the centre of the film is an amazing Mads Mikkelsen with a great supporting cast. It's a great drama that is subtle and challenging.

I'd been working on this list for a while and in 2 sessions I sat down and wrote about these films without looking at my list to see what stood out for me and it came out to ten. But looking at the full list there are a few other films that were great and deserve honourable mention. My honourable mentions would be the odd comedy Wrong, the Pixar drama Brave, the fun Scottish whisky heist film The Angel's Share, Xavier Dolan's Laurence Anyways, and Steve McQueen's Shame. In the strange gap between festival screenings and release there are some films that were on lists last year, but they didn't get widely distributed until this year. So in that category I would include Béla Tarr's The Turin Horse, Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Steven Soderberg's Haywire.

Hopefully I'll write bigger reviews of some of these films, but let me know what you saw and loved last year.

Favourite Films of the 2012 Atlantic Film Festival

Chris Campbell

The Atlantic Film Festival is an annual festival that assembles a range of great short and feature films along with the filmmaking community in Halifax, Nova Scotia to celebrate cinema. This year was a very good one and I was able to take full advantage of the screenings and many of the parties. It's the one time of year when you can watch films and catch up with most of the filmmakers from the region. The other great thing is that it usually is the place where some of my favourite films of the year will be seen and today is no exception. Here are 10 of my favourite feature films from this year's festival in the order that I saw them.

The Disappeared

The Disappeared

Shandi Mitchell's feature directing and writing debut The Disappeared poses a challenge in terms of subject matter in that it tells the story of 6 men in two boats, lost at sea. She embraced the constraints and tells a compelling story that was shot on the water to create a moving look at men in an extreme situation that held me through the entire journey. With a solid cast, beautiful cinematography and immersive sound design, it's a timeless story of courage and friendship.

The Angels' Share

The Angels' Share

The opening film of the festival was Ken Loach's lighter drama The Angels' Share that brings his social realist approach to what ultimately becomes a heist film. With leisurely pace and a fantastic cast it has some challenging dramatic moments as well as a lot of humour. It is ultimately about redemption, friendship, community and how we deal with our past and those we care about as time passes. I saw it twice and loved it both times, especially for the audience reactions the second time.

Blackbird

Blackbird

Another promising debut feature at the festival was Jason Buxton's Blackbird which is built around some great performances by a younger cast. Set and shot in Nova Scotia, it is about a teen who faces challenges fitting in at school and in the small town where he lives. A series of misunderstandings lead to the 16 year old being incarcerated and it changes him. It was engrossing and a subtle more subtle and realistic look at growing up in extreme circumstances.

Holy Motors

Holy Motors

One of the films that I was looking forward to purely in terms of knowing that it would be different was Leos Carax's Holy Motors. The descriptions were vague and strange with the images I'd seen looking compelling and different. With his previous track record of visually and aurally stunning films that made up for thin stories with their cinematic beauty I was willing to go where he took me. What surprised me was how much fun the film was. It's an episodic film that really is about cinema and actors. One of the fascinating things about the film is how it reinforces that it is a film with actors, but then somehow managed to make me forget about that repeatedly. I would love to see it again on a big screen.

Beauty is Embarrassing

Beauty is Embarrassing

Wayne White is the fascinating subject of the documentary Beauty is Embarrassing. It's always wonderful to find out about someone whose work you know, but never realized where it came from. A grounded and genial person, White takes us through his life and art in a film that had me repeatedly laughing and smiling. From growing up in the south to an art school education that led to working in television with Pee Wee's Playhouse it's fun to follow along with an artist who has a unique voice and joyful perspective on life.

Wrong

Wrong

Not having seen the director's previous film Rubber, I didn't know what to expect and I took a chance and was very pleasantly surprised by Quentin Dupieux's Wrong which is a surreal and understated film about a man who loses his dog. Shot with bright colours and controlled frames, it has an odd tone that is just a bit off. It never really explains anything, but it was fun to go along for the ride in a slightly unsettling world that reminded me a bit of Visioneers in how it combined humour with a bit of melancholy. Unexpected fun for me.

Brooklyn Castle

Brooklyn Castle

Starting off a day with a documentary about chess players at a Brooklyn junior high is a pretty good day as far as I'm concerned. The key elements to a great documentary are interesting characters, a compelling story and some technical expertise in terms of filming the story. Brooklyn Castle has all of that and it takes a more understated tone and gives us a fascinating portrait of a range of students at the school who are united by playing chess and it gives us glimpses of the challenges that are faced by the school system in New York. A neat way to combine the personal and political in an entertaining way.

The Hunt

The Hunt

Thomas Vinterberg made a huge impression with the first Dogme 95 film, The Celebration, and while he hasn't been making films following the rules of Dogme, he has continued to create tense, dramatic works with solid casts and a more naturalistic shooting style. In The Hunt he builds the film around a great performance by Mads Mikkelsen as a kindergarten teacher wrongly accused of sexually abusing a student. The dynamics of a small town and personal histories combine in a tense story that was utterly compelling. One of the highlights of the festival for me in a theatre that was packed and silent at the end of the amazing film.

Laurence Anyways

Laurence Anyways

Xavier Dolan follows up his previous two Quebecois films with the slightly heavier, but still visually and sonically-ambitious film Laurence Anyways. Spanning 10 years in the 1990s, it's about a man who transitions to a woman and the relationship between him and the woman he loves. Melvil Poupaud is the man who transitions, but the real star of the film is Suzanne Clément who gives an amazing performance as his lover, Fred. Going in to the film at the end of the long day I was concerned with the longer running time, but the film had perfect pacing and held my interest for the entire time and it was a bit surprising when it was over as it didn't feel too long. With gorgeous colours and compositions in a narrower 1.33:1 aspect ratio accompanied by a great soundtrack, it's a lovely look at a complicated relationship.

Rust and Bone

Rust and Bone

It's always good to save the best for the last and the perfect way to end the festival for me was one of my most-anticipated films of the year, which was Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, which I knew very little about. Going in without a lot of knowledge is a good thing with Audiard as he usually takes things in unexpected directions. His usual themes of flawed characters in seedier worlds are here, but with Rust and Bone there is less of a criminal underworld and more character and personal struggle. Beautifully shot and acted with Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts as the leads, it's emotionally devastating while maintaining hope that carries us through the struggles that the characters face. Great, transcendent cinema that had the audience totally enraptured the entire time. One of my favourite films of the past year.