1. The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2012, USA)
The film that has left the most indelible, insatiable marks this year has been PTA’s latest, a meandering chessboard of a picture where every movement of lead actor Joaquin Phoenix’s furrowed brow is accompanied by waves of beaming, abstract enigma. It’s divisive and breathlessly absorbing.
2. Martha Marcy May Marlene (dir. Sean Durkin, 2011, USA)
Sean Durkin’s remarkable big screen debut is a groggy exercise in the perseverance of tension, an element that fuels his simple, but thematically dense, narrative right up to its foreboding, sinister and totally ambiguous final seconds.
3. Amour (dir. Michael Haneke, 2012, Austria/France)
The Cannes Film Festival’s awards darling adds another jewel to his accomplished crown with this intimate and fearlessly perceptive film about the inevitability of death and the persistence of love. Uncensored and handsomely composed, with a deft utilisation of the confined space of a single location, Amour offers further proof that, much like his impeccably rendered protagonists, Haneke is growing old gracefully and bringing his unfettered filmmaking along with him.
4. Tabu (dir. Miguel Gomes, 2012, Portugal)
Portugese filmmaker Miguel Gomes delivers a fresh, poetic and spellbinding study of trenchant politics and melancholy romanticism, packaged in an effortless evocation of the legacy of Murnau.
5. Michael (dir. Markus Schleinzer, 2012, Austria)
A protege of Haneke, Austrian casting director Markus Schleinzer makes an outstanding directorial debut with this caustic and provocative look at the insular torment felt by a pedophile (Michael Fuith) who stores a 10-year-old boy in his basement. Dark and uncompromising, Michael shocks and chills in equal measure right up to its sustained and gut-wrenching closing scenes.
6. After Lucia (Después de Lucía) (dir. Michel Franco, 2012, Mexico)
Michel Franco’s gruelling sophomore feature is as much an up-close investigation of bullying as it is a damning indictment of the potential evils of adolescence. Tessa Ia and Hernán Mendoza excel as a daughter and father, respectively, who face excruciating emotional torment after the death of a pivotal loved one.
7. Wadjda (dir. Haifaa Al-Mansour, 2012, Saudi Arabia)
Transcending the astonishing story behind its inception: the first film made by an Arabian woman, on location in a country where cinemas themselves have been banned for over thirty years – Wadjda is an uplifting tale of a precocious young Saudi girl desperate to reject the strictures and expectations of her lower-middle-class society in the capital city of Riyadh. Excellent performances and assured direction make this an uplifting film destined for greatness. (Released in UK on 19th April 2013)
8. Shame (dir. Steve McQueen, 2011, UK)
Steve McQueen’s second feature – and second collaboration with Michael Fassbender – is an absorbing, fractured take on the destructive intoxication and selfishness of addiction, set in and amongst a forbidding New York City.
9. Shell (Scott Graham, 2012, UK)
First-time filmmaker Scott Graham channels his inner Lynne Ramsay with Shell, an expansion of his own 2007 short film of the same name. An unflinching character study that takes into consideration the metaphors that lay amongst its billowy remote location in the Scottish highlands, Graham here sculpts a tenderly oblique work of quiet devastation that takes minimalism to shatteringly nuanced extremes. (Released in UK on 15th March 2013)
10. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, 2012, USA)
Perhaps his most mature film to date, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom is an almost flawless idiosyncratic distillation of childhood frustrations and familial disquiet. Whimsical, poignant, perfectly shaped, and bathed in a blissful autumnal palette, this should put to rest Anderson’s various undeserved detractors.
- Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012, UK/USA)
- Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011, USA)
- Tiny Furniture (Lena Dunham, 2010, USA)
- The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes, 2011, Belgium)
- Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland, 2012, UK)
- A Royal Affair (Nikolaj Arcel, 2012, Denmark)