Intense moments on film
Troubled Iranian families, time-travelling criminals, and sociopathic teenagers were just some of the characters who featured in the year's most memorable films. Matthew Littlewood picks his favourites for 2012.
1. A Separation
Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's Oscar-winning domestic drama began with a judge rejecting a wife's divorce bid, and finished in unresolved silence. In between, there is religious turmoil and emotional blackmail. Every single moment seemed significant, and the child actors disappeared so thoroughly into their roles they were barely acting at all. An emotionally exhausting experience.
2. We Need to Talk About Kevin
Lynne Ramsay's adaptation of Lionel Shriver's novel aggressively played games with the viewer. Tilda Swinton and John C Reilly were unnerving as the parents, while Ezra Miller was quietly horrifying as the son responsible for a high-school massacre. Better than the book.
Equal parts Western and science fiction, Looper's story about time-travelling assassins overcame its plot holes through taut direction, ingenious set design, and spot-on performances from Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt. Implausibly entertaining.
4. Holy Motors
Leo Carax's barmy Holy Motors starred Dennis Lavant as a tramp, a motion-capture artist, an assassin and an accordion player. . . among other things. I have no idea what the film was about, but it was constantly surprising.
Nicolas Refn's film was so violent it bordered on parody, but its neon-lit cinematography, incessant synthesiser score and Ryan Gosling's inscrutable performance made it addictive viewing.
The studios should never have shelved Ken Lonergan's Margaret for nearly six years. Anna Paquin's performance, as a teenager who accidentally caused a bus driver to crash, was her strongest yet, as she dragged everyone else into her character's "moral gymnasium". The rest of the film came very close to matching her work.
Would you believe that a fake science fiction movie, "funded" by the CIA, helped saved the lives of six American diplomats in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis? Ben Affleck's Argo would have been a comedy if it weren't so deadly serious. It also suggested that the movie business was as incomprehensible as international espionage.
8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of John Le Carre's novel was defiantly old-fashioned yet strangely contemporary. Although it was rooted in the suffocating greys of the British secret service in the 1970s, it proved that paranoia never went out of style.
9. Beasts of the Southern Wild
A stylistic gumbo about a little girl (Quvenzhane Wallis) with incredible optimism from an impoverished delta community, Ben Zeitlin's debut flooded the viewer with too much folklore and apocalyptic imagery. Yet it was ecstatic to the final frame, and Wallis is a revelation.
10. Martha Macy May Marlene
Sean Durkin's film about a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen) who escapes from a cult veered from hallucinatory flashbacks to present-day turmoil so violently that it almost came apart at the seams. Olsen was frighteningly self-possessed, and the film's constant dread made me forget the stupid title.
The Timaru Herald