Tuesday, 1 January 2013


(in alphabetical order)

BABY BLUES - dir. Katarzyna Roslaniec
Nobody makes movies quite like Katarzyna Roslaniec. In Baby Blues, the spirited Polish director tackles everyday challenges young teenage girls face in the modern world. Her touch is never juvenile, clichéd, didactic, humourless, nor rife with the dour bludgeon of political correctness. Her movies rock! Big time! Baby Blues focuses on Natalia (played brilliantly by Magdalena Berus), a teenager with a baby sired by her unwitting slacker boyfriend. She is bound and determined to keep it, but on her own steam, thank you very much. Roslaniec injects the picture with a verité nuttiness, allowing her to take a whole lot of stylistic chances, yielding one indelible moment after another. One of several sublime sequences is unveiled just after Natalia experiences a harrowing encounter with judgemental health care workers. Roslaniec holds on a shot of the teen, now looking more like a little girl than a burgeoning young woman, huddled on a metro train with her sick baby clutched tightly in her arms. She holds and holds and holds on the shot and when it feels like she’s going to finally cut out, the shot holds even longer. What Roslaniec finally evokes is truthful – infused with life itself. And it is sublime.

BEYOND THE HILLS - dir. Cristian Mungiu
Beyond the Hills is a masterpiece. Cristian Mungiu (director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) has created a film of lasting value. In its own way the film tells an extremely vital tale in a manner that contributes both to cinema as an art and perhaps even more importantly, to humanity. It tells the story of two friends who took separate paths after their release from a Moldavian orphanage and charts their heartbreaking reunion some years later. Voichita joined a nearby monastery to become a nun under the strict patriarchy of an Orthodox priest referred to as "Papa". Alina has been living "alone" in Germany and working as a waitress (or so she claims). Her plan is to extricate Voichita from the monastery so they can rekindle their deep love and friendship together. God, or rather, religious hypocrisy and hysteria has other plans. What follows in this world of backwards, religious patriarchy is as nightmarish an exploitation of women as the forced sex trade - the creepily insidious manner in which women are forced into the sexist, misogynistic and subservient roles that are so prevalent in cultures rooted in the centuries-old Eastern Rite religious traditions. Even more horrendous are the deep-seeded attitudes these cultures have towards orphans (also rooted in sexism and misogyny). For a huge majority of Eastern Rite followers, orphans take on the sins of their mothers and as such, our two central characters were born into a world that believed them to be lesser human beings because of this. Mungiu charts the final weeks of their friendship in homage to Carl Dreyer - most notably in the religious-themed Day of Wrath and Ordet. Visually, Mungiu packs his frames in direct contrast to Dreyer's austerity, but where Mungiu and Dreyer share approaches are found in the tableau-styled takes and, of course, in the stories that are told. Dreyer might be one of the great film artists to have committed himself to the thematic concerns of women amidst religious and/or societal repression and their exploitation within these worlds. Clearly with the horrific tale of abortion, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and now Beyond the Hills, Mungiu continues in Dreyer's bold thematic and narrative tradition of telling the stories of women and their suffering in patriarchal worlds.

CITADEL - dir. Ciaran Foy A brilliant dystopian horror film about crashing, numbing, unrelenting fear brought on when the young protagonist watches - not once, but twice - as those he loves are brutalized and/or snatched away from him. His fear intensifies so unremittingly, with such grim realism, that we're placed directly in the eye of the storm that is his constant state of terror. Contributing greatly here is lead actor Aneurin Barnard as the young father, delivering a performance so haunting, it's unlikely audiences will ever shake the full impact of what he achieves. We follow his story solely from his sphere and given that the character is almost always in a state of intense apprehension, the whole affair could have been utterly unbearable. Thankfully, he breathes such humanity into the role that we not only side with him, but I frankly defy anyone to NOT see themselves (or at least aspects of who they are and what they feel) in this character so indelibly wrought. This single father, living alone with his baby in a desolate housing project, must occasionally leave his home and enter a world of emptiness, squalor, violent crime, constantly grey skies and interiors lit under harsh fluorescents. His head is down, his eyes only occasionally looking around for potential danger and/or to literally see where he is walking (or rather, scurrying to). Just as he's constantly in a state of terror - so are we. There is, you see, an infection - a pestilence of the most abominable kind and to avoid it is ultimately futile. The vermin must be met head-on. And it's going to scare the living bejesus out of you.

DJANGO UNCHAINED - dir. Quentin Tarantino
I hated Reservoir Dogs - nasty, overwrought posturing that both bored and sickened me. I enjoyed Pulp Fiction a tiny bit more. Well, to be truthful, I loved the Bruce Willis story, but pretty much everything else bored the crap out of me. And then it happened. I was about to flush this overrated poseur down the toilet until I allowed myself to see Jackie Brown. From there, it was onwards and upwards and while I still (after repeated attempts) hate his first two films, Tarantino's become one of my favourite contemporary directors. Django Unchained follows in the footsteps of his previous work which, frankly, gets better and better. Managing to be both horrific and, I kid you not, fun, Django Unchained is one of the most raw, original and subversive films I've EVER had the pleasure to enjoy. In a nutshell, it's Richard Fleischer's Mandingo with the same manner of pure, joyous, unadulterated vengeance that coursed through the veins of Inglourious Basterds as directed by Sergio Corbucci pumped on crystal meth. Set two years before the American Civil War, Tarantino introduces us to the biggest, baddest 70s-style SuperSpade Blaxploitation Hero in Spaghetti Western duds we're ever likely to see. Jamie Foxx as Django is teamed up with bounty hunter Christoph Waltz to kill nasty-ass racist white folk throughout the deep south and rescue his wife from the clutches of Leonardo DiCaprio, the most insane plantation owner this side of James Mason and Perry King in the aforementioned Mandingo. Guns blaze, blood splashes in our faces and after close to three hours, we leave the cinema with the same buoyancy that infused us after seeing 2011's great Friedkin picture Killer Joe. The film is as all-out exploitative as it's one of the most provocative cinematic condemnations of slavery etched on celluloid. Does Tarantino get to have his cake and eat it too? Damn straight, and so do we.

END OF WATCH - dir. David Ayer
My Dad was a cop for ten years. Most cop pictures left him cold save for their occasional entertainment value, but a handful of pictures stand out as movies he loved on several levels. Richard Fleischer's adaptation of Joseph Wambaugh's The New Centurions was one that Dad always felt came closest to recreating "the life" of cops while William Friedkin's The French Connection captured the dull, dirty, mundane aspects of police work and finally, Don Siegel's Dirty Harry came closest to showing the frustrations inherent in the job and how sometimes, a good cop just had to say, "Fuck the system," and do what needed to be done. I think Dad would have liked End of Watch a lot. Hanging by the slenderest of plot threads, this gorgeously, blisteringly and bravely photographed policier is a mostly episodic nosedive into every harrowing moment street cops encounter and provides us with an always jolting ride through the dangers our boys in blue face everyday. Focusing upon the close friendship of two cops (beautifully played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña), we experience their lives on and off the beat and most importantly, the thematic and dramatic importance of family in all its forms - blood, community and crime. The partners go about their day-to-day exploits until they happen upon a group of deadly local dealers who are tied to vicious drug cartels. The two cops begin investigating until they get so close to the source of criminal power that the cartel orders hits on them. It's a testament to writer-director David Ayer that he captures the camaraderie of partners by leaping beyond the by-the-numbers mismatched-partners-who-learn-to-love-and-respect-each-other cliches. From the start, we know the partners in End of Watch are made for each other. If anything, their love deepens and becomes even more demonstrative as the danger and violence in the film intensifies. So many films in recent years (including those Ayer has written and/or directed) have focused up the "dirty" cops. Reversing this trend with End of Watch is not only welcome but necessary to bolster those in the force who genuinely embrace the protection of the citizenry. To be a good cop in a world where crime is escalating and when administrative shackles are getting tighter and where cops are even forced into plying their trade in ways they know are unfair to those they're supposed to protect is as narratively and politically satisfying as it is savvy. End of Watch is the best cop picture in years!

FAT KID RULES THE WORLD - dir. Matthew Lillard
On every level, Lillard's lovely film from the fine screenplay by Michael M.B. Galvin and Peter Speakman, indelibly captures both the bittersweet and dark humour associated with what it's like to be a fat kid. Most importantly, it tells an inspiring and genuinely realistic story of how a fat kid not only gains the acceptance of peers, but to respect the inner qualities beneath the mounds of lard and flesh. That the film also touches upon themes of friendship, loyalty and the importance of family is a mega-bonus. That the film offers punk rock as a creative outlet for the main character to develop a greater sense of self-worth is several extra scoops of hot fudge marshmallow sauce on the cinematic ice cream sundae that is Fat Kid Rules The World.

GOON - dir. Michael Dowse


KRIVINA - dir. Igor Drljaca

Okay, I'm cheating a bit here. Sue me, motherfucker. This, however, has been a tremendous year for Canadian Cinema and both of these films rock big time. In a sense, I want to pair these works together as they represent what English Canada is best at. There are no two films made in this country that are as different as these two and yet, they share Canada's potential to create cinema that knocks the ball out of the park in ways that truly defines what's so distinctive about our film culture - what makes it worth preserving and fighting for. In the case of Goon, we have it in us to make a commercially minded picture that is also indigenous to the Canadian experience, just as Krivina takes us into that completely other territory of cinema as poetry, but in so doing, just as brilliantly and successfully reflects Canadian Culture. English Canada is NOT the United States, Mr. Harper. We are truly a nation unto itself and it's so important that we never forget that our feature film culture reflects WHO WE ARE as a nation - and Goon and Krivina do this is spades. Not a single shot is fired in Canadian director Igor Drljaca's stunning feature debut Krivina, but the horror of war - its legacy of pain, its futility and its evil hang like a cloud over every frame of this powerful cinematic evocation of memory and loss. The film's hypnotic rhythm plunges us into the inner landscape of lives irrevocably touched by man's inhumanity to man - a diaspora of suffering that shall never escape the fog of war. Krivina is an astounding film - a personal vision that genuinely affects our sense of self to seek out our own worth, our own place in the world. Like Olexander Dovzhenko, Sergei Paradjanov and, to a certain extent, Tarkovsky, Drljaca achieves what I believe to be the fullest extent of what cinema can offer - the ability to touch the souls of its characters and, in so doing, touching the souls of those lucky enough to experience the magic that can only, I think, be fully wrought by the art of the motion picture. Goon, on the other end of the spectrum presents the Great Canadian Hockey Movie to follow in the footsteps of Canuck "Lumber-in-the-Teeth" Classics as Face Off, Paperback Hero and, of course, the most Canadian Movie Never Made By A Canadian, George Roy Hill's classic Slap Shot. Etching the tender tale of the kindly, but brick-shit-house-for-brains bouncer recruited to a cellar-dweller hockey team in Halifax as an enforcer, Dowse captures the sweaty, blood-spurting, bone-crunching and tooth-spitting circus of minor league hockey with utter perfection. The camaraderie, the endless bus trips, the squalid motels, the brain-dead fans, the piss-and-vinegar coaches, the craggy play-by-play sportscasters, the bars reeking of beer and vomit and, of course, Pogo Sticks - it's all here and then some. Goon delivers laughs, fisticuffs, mayhem and yes, even a dash of romance in a tidy package of good, old-fashioned underdog styling. Oh Canada! Art and commerce is what we're all about.

THE MASTER - dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
I can’t ever recall the same electricity in any screening of any movie in the 25-or-so years I’ve been attending the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Hundreds of scribes packed the hugest auditorium of TIFF’s Bell Lightbox complex. The pre-screening buzz in the cinema resembled the low, but crazily intense sounds coming from a hive of happily prodigious bees. The lights went down and the house went completely and utterly silent. Then it began. Paul Thomas Anderson’s insanely provocative exploration of post-war America reels you in. You feel a bit like ‘Bruce’ the shark in Spielberg’s Jaws, chomping on a sharp hook that Robert Shaw’s mad-eyed Quint keeps hitting, taunting, tugging, twisting and pulling. You try to escape, you fight madly not to succumb, but succumb you do. Inspired by the crazy founder of Scientology L. Ron Hubbard, Anderson weaves a hypnotic tale of a young veteran and his mentorship under a charismatic cult leader. If you are lucky enough to see the film as it’s meant to be seen in 70mm, you get the added bonus of diving into Anderson’s masterly use of the medium. It is an epic scope, but an intimate epic with Anderson’s eye examining the rich landscapes of the human face. And what faces! Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Laura Dern suck you deep into their eyes and, ultimately, their very souls. When I left the cinema, I couldn’t explain to myself what I had just seen and why it so powerfully knocked me on my ass. What I can say is that I can count on one hand the number of films that were not only hypnotic, but in fact, seemed to place me in a literal state of hypnosis. The Master is one of these films. I saw it a second time – riveted, yet wondering if I still loved it. I queried George Toles, my old friend, mentor and screenwriter of Guy Maddin’s masterworks, about his experience, explaining, of course, my recent dilemma. His response was this: ‘The movie neither asks for my love, nor wants my love, but I give it my love anyway.’ A third viewing corroborated this for me.

PARADISE: LOVE - dir. Ulrich Seidl
In a perverse way (and perverse is what the great Austrian filmmaker Seidl is all about), his new film actually makes for an excellent companion piece to Django Unchained. Seidl, the "bad-boy" of Austrian cinema is back with this searingly funny, powerful and harrowing drama against the backdrop of Kenya's sex tourism industry. He deftly plumbs the extremities of human behaviour in order to reveal humanity in all its disparate forms and with the weight and resonance of its tragic beauty. Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel) a blonde blob adorned in a sun hat flip-flops onto the sunny airport tarmac of a Kenyan resort, surrounded by her equally porcine 40-50-something Austrian maidens. Seidl's camera greedily drinks in globs of fleshy pink corpulence jiggling like mounds of jello, streaked with road maps of stretch marks boring through virtual mountain ranges of cellulite and grotesque cauliflower-like skin tags gripping desperately to spongy thighs like bats in a cave. Happily ensconced in the paradise of the resort, our jolly Teresa ogles the rich, lithe, cocoa bodies of her male hosts, salivating with the same delightful desire she might express when gazing upon a platter of rich Viennese pastries, imagining the joy of stuffing them all down her expansive, greedy gullet. Teresa parades along the Kenyan beaches in outfits that accentuate her strudel and schnitzel induced corpulence, her fat face emblazoned with lustful wonder that ultimately betrays her slatternly desires. Surrounded by eager, young and almost criminally gorgeous Kenyan men who vie for her attention in the hope she'll buy a lot more than the trinkets they have on offer. With their smooth gentle voices, glisteningly ripped bodies and irrepressibly insistent promises of the love they will provide, it's not hard to believe that Teresa and her ilk might actually believe it is LOVE they are paying for, not sex. When Seidl's camera focuses upon the beautiful young men, their eyes betray desperation and terror. With Paradise: Love, Seidl unflinchingly charts a woman's descent into satisfying her most basic sexual needs by exploiting those who are so poor they will do whatever they have to do in order to survive.

STORIES WE TELL - dir. Sarah Polley
Nature, nurture and the manner in which their influence upon our lives inspires common threads in the telling of tales that are in turn relayed, processed and synthesized by what we think we see and what we want to see are the ingredients which make up Sarah Polley’s latest work as a director. It is first and foremost a story of family – not just a family, or for that matter any family, but rather a mad, warm, brilliant passionate family who expose their lives in the kind of raw no-guts-no-glory manner that only film can allow. Most importantly, the lives exposed are as individual as they are universal and ultimately it’s a film about all of us. It is a documentary with a compelling narrative arc, yet one that is as mysterious and provocative and profoundly moving, as you’re likely to see. At the heart of the film is a courageous, vibrant woman no longer with us. Polley guides us through this woman’s influence upon all those she touched. Throughout much of the film, one is reminded of Clarence Oddbody’s great line in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life: “Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?” I try to imagine the lives of everyone Polley introduces us to and how if, like in the Capra film, this vibrant, almost saint-like woman had not been born. Most of those we meet in the film wouldn’t have been born either and the rest would have lived lives with a considerable loss of riches. And I also think deeply on the fact that this woman was born and how we see her effect upon all those whose lives she touched. Then, most importantly, I think about Clarence Oddbody’s line with respect to the child that might not have been born to this glorious woman – a child who might have been aborted. I think about how this child has touched all the lives of those in the documentary. The possibility that this child might have never been born is, within the context of the story relayed, so utterly palpable that I can’t imagine audiences not breaking down and weeping with both sadness and joy. It's a masterpiece.
And now, taking a cue from Mr. Roger Ebert who so simply and easily came up with a way of doing honour to films "that were as good, in one way or another" as those included in his 10 Best List, I'm going to modify my usual list of "runners-up" - a term I hate because it doesn't adequately reflect my feelings.

The 10 Best list selections are, for me (and more often than not), based on aesthetic consideration as well as gut impulse - visceral, personal, emotional responses to the work - often over repeated viewings when possible. (Plus the fact that the world demands 10 and I can only, within that context, only modestly declare a tie or two and only do so when it makes sense as I did above with Goon and Krivina.)

Mr. Ebert notes that the juries at "many film festivals . . . come up with a cockamamie category named the Grand Jury Prizes" which is essentially a way of making appropriate nods in the direction of movies that are equally worthy of accolades. Ebert chose to provide a list of such prizes for his lists this year.

What I've decided to do is include the following category where I'll provide eleven more films in alphabetical order as "11 More Terrific Pictures (2012)" which you're welcome to view as an additional category of just mush up the above list with this one and call it a "Top 21 of 2012". Seems fair. To me. So, without further ado, here they are.
10 More Terrific Pictures From 2012
(in alphabetical order)

AMERICAN MARY - dir. Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska (Soska Twins)
Body modification. Sexually Psychotic Surgeons. Revenge.
Horrifying. Original. And oh, so très, très cool.

BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS - dir. Fredrik Gertten
70s paranoid thriller meets chilling contemporary documentary.
Filmmaker sued by multi-national. It's David meets Goliath.

BULLHEAD - dir. Michael R. Roskam
This unique and harrowing crime melodrama etches a world of double-crosses, filthy brute force and intimidation of the worst kind by transplanting the gangsters of Goodfellas into the roles of two-fisted laconic farmers, veterinarians and feed suppliers - in Belgium, no less.

CAPITAL - dir. Costa Gavras
High Finance. Corporate Chicanery. The Banking Crisis.
Hot clothes. Hot locales. Hot women. Hot cars. Hot.
Director of Z, State of Siege, Missing, The Confession

CLOUDBURST - dir. Thom Fitzgerald
Love on the run, k.d. lang, pickup trucks, roadside cafes,
Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker and a Nova Scotia
that's never looked more heart-achingly beautiful.

DAMSELS IN DISTRESS - dir. Whit Stillman
Crazy, funny, literate dialogue. Hot, smart babes. Doofus guys.
Suicide prevention. Donuts. Inventing a new dance craze.
Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig. Greta Gerwig.

dir. Lena Müller, Dragan von Petrovic, Vuk Maksimovic

In the words of Dragan Wende,
brothel doorman, pimp and dealer in the all-new, reunified Berlin:
"I said to the guy:
'Pay 99 euros and fuck all day!'
'If you have no teeth, just lick her pussy.'"

JOHN CARTER - dir. Andrew Stanton
Hunk hero. Major league babe. Great villains.
The SPIRIT of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Eye-popping special effects.
Cool aliens. Cool sets. Cool spaceships.
Monsters. Yes, monsters. Cool monsters, at that.
Rip-snorting battle sequence.
Have I mentioned the babe, yet?

LAWLESS - dir. John Hillcoat
Bootleggers. Ultra-violence. Foulest Villain in Years.
Nick Cave Script. Nick Cave Music. Nick Cave.
Mega-Hunks. Mega-Babes. Mega-Bloodshed.
Cool Costumes. Manly Haircuts. Moonshine.

THE PUNK SYNDROME - dir. Jukka Kärkkäinen, J-P Passi
Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day, one of the greatest punk bands of all time.
A hard-core, kick-ass, take-no-fucking-prisoners mean-machine.
No musical punches pulled. The music slams you in the face.
Until it is pulp. Like coarsely-ground hamburger meat.
They crap on hypocrisy, corruption, mindless bureaucracy.
And pedicures. Yes, pedicures! You see, they are from Finland.

PUSHWAGNER - dir. Even Benestad, August B. Hanssen
Pushwagner rocks! It rocks hard!
Hariton Pushwagner - Artist Extraordinaire. And WHAT an artist!
Norway's ONLY septuagenarian bad boy beat-punk maniac artist.
His art is life. His life is art. All Hail Hariton Pushwagner!
All the fucking time! What an artist! WHAT a movie!

RHINO SEASON - dir. Bahman Ghobadi
A husband. A wife. An evil Totalitarian regime. Poetry leads to prison.
30 years for the man. 10 years for the woman.
Upon her release the wife learns her husband is dead. Life goes on.
20 years later, the husband is released from prison. He is not dead.
He must find her. He must. A love story as old as time itself.
Love is what drives this film and by extension, the human race.
Love must be protected and sanctified at all costs.
When that ceases, so do we.


LAWLESS - dir. John Hillcoat

GOON - dir. Michael Dowse

AMERICAN MARY - dir. Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska (Soska Twins)

BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW - dir. Panos Cosmatos

STORIES WE TELL - dir. Sarah Polley


Aneurin Barnard - CITADEL

Magdalena Berus - BABY BLUES

Leonardo DiCaprio - DJANGO UNCHAINED

Tristan Risk - AMERICAN MARY

Paul Thomas Anderson - THE MASTER

Quentin Tarantino - DJANGO UNCHAINED


Paul Thomas Anderson - THE MASTER

Roman Vasyanov - END OF WATCH



Reginald Harkema - GOON

Tony Devenyi, Courtney Stockstad - AMERICAN MARY

Jayne Mabbot - AMERICAN MARY

Brad Hillman, Maureen Murphy, Eric J. Paul, Brody Ratsoy,

"Pertti Kurikka's Name Day" "Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät":
Pertti Kurikka, Kari Aalto, Sami Helle, Toni Välitalo



BABY BLUES - dir. Katarzyna Roslaniec
BEYOND THE HILLS - dir. Cristian Mungiu
BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS - dir. Fredrik Gertten
CAPITAL - dir. Costa Gavras
CITADEL - dir. Ciaran Foy
CLOUDBURST - dir. Thom Fitzgerald
DAMSELS IN DISTRESS - dir. Whit Stillman
DJANGO UNCHAINED - dir. Quentin Tarantino
DRAGAN WENDE WEST BERLIN - dir. Lena Müller, Dragan von Petrovic, Vuk Maksimovic
END OF WATCH - dir. David Ayer
FAT KID RULES THE WORLD - dir. Matthew Lillard
GOON - dir. Michael Dowse (Tie w/Krivina)
JOHN CARTER - dir. Andrew Stanton
KRIVINA - dir. Igor Drljaca (Tie w/Goon)
LAWLESS - dir. John Hillcoat
THE MASTER - dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
PARADISE: LOVE - dir. Ulrich Seidl
THE PUNK SYNDROME - dir. Jukka Kärkkäinen, J-P Passi
PUSHWAGNER - dir. Even Benestad, August B. Hanssen
RHINO SEASON - dir. Bahman Ghobadi
STORIES WE TELL - dir. Sarah Polley