Tuesday, 17 July 2012

2012 Half time - Top 5 Films So Far And A Look Ahead

As we've said goodbye to the sixth month of 2012 we look into the second half of the year and can only hope for the summer we deserve to arrive. There's no need to hope, however, that the coming 6 months will provide a mass array of cinematic promise, for the line-up looks safe from here. With a quick overview of my major picks yet to be released I also deliver my top 5 films of the year so far. Whether they'll make the list when all is said and done I can't be sure, but for now here they are:

1. Martha Marcy May Marlene
2. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
3. The Raid
4. Killer Joe
5. Magic Mike

It's been a fine year for film, a redundant comment considering there's always enough quality product to deem so. With the usual dips here and there and the arrival of the blockbuster season (mundane and vacuous releases ahoy) there really has been some surprising pieces of work released. Some for their sheer quality and daring with others displaying new exciting talent; two films on my list are made by directors never heard of until now.

- Sean Durkin's Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene floored me with its assured powerhouse performance by rising star Elizabeth Olson, menacing subtle atmosphere, and pinpoint direction, making it a perfectly executed debut from a promising new talent. The story of a young girl escaping the clutches of a cult transcends the psychological thriller genre it was advertised as, becoming an existential drama exploring identity. A knockout first feature that really gets under your skin while reminding that indie cinema still packs a punch.

- The films of Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan have always blown me away; with their stately and precise approach but also their incredible observations on human behaviour and unique other worldly quality. His Once Upon a Time in Anatolia was for me one of the major cinematic events of the year and retrospectively one of the decade. This police procedure parable of men searching through one night to find a body transforms its genre setup, becoming a metaphysical tale of Man's failure to find truth and meaning in the world, exploring the limits of subjective truth. The film is without a doubt the finest offering from Ceylan, a masterpiece that reaffirms him as a leader of world cinema.

- Another surprising pleasure was The Raid - an Indonesian no holds barred shoot 'em up/beat 'em up that reminded us just how electrifying the action genre can be. The thin plot and grimy low budget aesthetic only strengthen the film's purpose and attributes; with a story as dense as a 90s arcade game The Raid delivers bloodshed, carnage, and suspense with a cerebral intensity, never letting its audience tiring of the hand to hand combat due to the sheer amount of ideas in the choreography. The most fun I've had in a cinema this year.

- In a season of Hollywood tent-pole blockbusters and uninspired lacklustre releases aimed at attention deficit minors, Killer Joe came as a breath of fresh air, an expression hardly fitting due to the bad taste it leaves. The southern fried noir has been criticised for going too far and I can accept this, however I stand by the film's decision to go all the way with its depraved intentions and to not compromise in any form. The film boasts some fine performances from Gina Gershon, Juno Temple, and Mathew McConaughey as the devilish detective invited into a family unit to exercise his skills in murder and manipulation. Killer Joe, though impressive, is far from perfect and at times misjudged; whether I'd have fallen for its spitefulness and misogynist black hole humour if it opened in the fall i'll never know, whether subsequent viewings will diminish my respect for the film is yet to be seen, but for the time being it has my ovation. Killer Joe has proved to be one of the major talking points of the year (surely crashing KFC stock due to its already notorious scene), has rejuvenated the career of director William Friedkin (pushing 70 - you'd think it'd been made by someone half his age), and has gotten this critic through the summer.

- The final film in my list is a late entry and the last film I saw/reviewed for this blog. I never would have thought Channing Tatum starring in a film revolving around the lives of male strippers would crack my list, but it has. Magic Mike brought sensationalist entertainment like few films can, brought elegance to a profession that has none, and most importantly brought an evident passion back to the career of Steven Soderbergh - a dazzling career recently flagging and soon to come to an end. Perhaps Soderbergh connected with the titular Mike (Tatum) - a stripper always longing to leave his night job to pursue his real dream but continues to run in circles. Soderbergh has vowed each film over the past 5 years as his last but with each release saw another one, despite his disillusionment regarding the American film industry to this point he has yet to pull the plug. This connection could answer why Magic Mike has such charisma; the film supplies the magic promised in its name, with superbly performed/filmed dance sequences, naturalistic humour and camaraderie, and another show stealing turn by Mathew McConaughey. Magic Mike never really builds to much and has some troublesome casting choices but none of this stops it being one of my yearly highlights. I can't wait to see it again.

Looking Ahead

The best 2012 has to offer is far from behind us, if anything it's most certainly ahead with some of my favourite filmmakers ready with releases before the year is up.

This friday we see Christopher Nolan bring his Batman trilogy to an epic close with The Dark Knight Rises with what is surely the most anticipated film of the year and likely to be the biggest success going in its predecessor's reputation. It's great to have seen Nolan rise to studio dominance through the sheer artistry and respect of his craft. The success of his Batman saga and Inception prove how audiences believe in quality products and will reward them with their money when given them. This friday it all comes to an end and I cannot wait to see how.

In September comes two releases from two very talented Australasian directors with two quintessentially American films. On September 7th John Hillcoat's Depression-era crime drama looks to capitalise on Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman's post-Batman boost, as well as seeing the director focussing once again on familial ties and survival. The film opened to much praise at Cannes earlier this year with Jessica Chastain, Shia LaBeouf, Guy Pierce, and Mia Wasikowska completing the cast.

Sept 21st sees star and director of The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford reunite for Boston crime thriller Killing Them Softly. Brad Pitt plays Jackie Cogan - a hired hitman working for the mob after the heist of a protected poker games. Expect plenty of gallows humour more akin to Andrew Dominik's Chopper (2000) than his previous poetic western.

Beasts Of The Southern Wild (Oct 19th) has left audiences awe struck and teary eyed with its fantasy induced tale of a stricken fathers and absent mothers. A highly anticipated draw.

French director Jaques Audiard's follow up to 2009's A Prophet is made even more tantalising due to the presence of Marion Cotillard. Rust & Bone's tale of a woman facing paralysis and a seemingly mismatched romance with a fighter and killer whales sees the director out of his comfort zone. Each of Audiard's films to date have impressed me beyond recognition and with news out of Cannes I've no reason to doubt that this will too - here's to hoping.

November 9th sees my most anticipated film of the year in Paul Thomas Anderson's much gestated religious drama The Master. With one of the most exciting directors working today with a cast led by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, and the returning Joaquin Phoenix, expectations are through the roof, not least because of Anderson's absence since his Oscar winning masterpiece There Will Be Blood. This drama that may or may not be about the origins of Scientology looks set to rock the world and piss some people off come November.

I could do without Baz Luhrmann bringing my favourite book to the screen, in 3D no less, but I'm just as curious as I am concerned with Lurhann's handling of this (in my mind) delicate project. DiCaprio is a perfect choice for Gatsby himself and despite his unpopular status I stand by the decision to cast Toby Maguire as Carraway - my justification being that the character needs a passive quality to make the transition into Gatsby's exuberant life of riches successful. I hope it comes together but I know already my expectations will never be satisfied, Luhrmann must translate Fitzgerald's magical lyricism and surrealist touches to the screen - an impossible feat.

With these noted choices only representing my projected highlights of the coming 6 months, with much more on offer (a promising new Bond entry) and the usual surprise hit (never though Magic Mike would feature on my list), the remainder of 2012 looks likely to be truly special indeed.