10. THE HUNGER GAMES (Gary Ross)
Didn’t know much about The Hunger Games until I was biting back tears watching the trembling lower-lips of terrified young kids enter into a lottery of violence. This disturbing scenario sees the mucky faced young’uns pitted against one another in a fight to the death for the sake of ensuring the status quo of post-apocalyptic America. Not a wholly original concept but it is a timely retelling for the X-Factor generation. It’s more emotionally involving than the similarly premised Battle Royale and brilliantly carried by Jennifer Lawrence. In a summer of fatties like The Dark Knight Rises and countless other bish bash bosh flicks (I think that’s official industry jargon), The Hunger Games is accountable for the violence it portrays.
9. SHAME (Steve McQueen)
There can’t be many actors capable of playing the world’s most prolific wanker but Michael Fassbinder pulls it off with aplomb. He’s uncomfortable company throughout but you’re still willing to head towards the dark heart of the night with him. When the arrival of his sister causes his unquenchable sex addiction to unravel, it’s as horrible and mesmerising as you would hope.
8. INTO THE ABYSS (Werner Herzog)
Herzog’s documentary style occasionally seems to mock his subjects, but here the effect is insightful as we comb through the bleak wastelands of white-trash America and uncover the anatomy of a triple homicide that brought a young man to the death penalty. The film is gruelling (the old police video of the crime scene is a particularly haunting moment) but alongside Herzog’s four-part documentary series exploring the cases of four other inmates (On Death Row) it all makes for grimly compelling viewing.
7. ABOUT ELLY (Asghar Farhadi)
Farhadi drops us right into the midst of a group of yuppies from Tehran as they travel to a beach house in the opening sequence of this intense drama. Before you know it the group of young families are playing charades with reckless abandon. But soon enough all hell breaks loose in a chaotic, thrilling and emotionally trying sequence on the beach. The jubilant mood nose-dives into acrimony, accusations and a troubling mystery that gnawed at me long after the lights went up.
6. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE (Sean Durkin)
Foreboding American indie released back in February, in which a revelatory Elizabeth Olsen (from the sinister Olsen dynasty) tries to free her body and mind from John Hawkes’ quietly chilling cult. Dreamy flashbacks to Martha’s indoctrination and subsequent escape take us deep into a fragile, splintered mind. I guess cults aren’t always as fun as they look on Summerisle.
5. BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (Peter Strickland)
I sort of want to put The Equestrian Vortex on this list, but that would be a bit wanky, being the film within a film in Peter Strickland’s follow up to Katalin Varga. I did think one of the many wonders of Berberian Sound Studio was the vivid mental picture we’re left with of the film we hear but never see. Toby Jones’ uptight sound designer sets about composing the effects, leading him towards a discombobulating blend of reality, horror fantasy and the English idyll that he clings onto in vain.
4. THE HUNT (Thomas Vinterberg)
With impeccable timing, The Hunt hit cinemas slap bang in the middle of the UK’s latest paedo freakout. With it’s tight-knit village setting and a climax that takes place at the religious pillar of a rigidly structured community, it's a bit like a gnarly Ingmar Bergman film. Sure to become a Christmas classic of the ‘false accusation of child abuse’ sub-genre, mark my words.
3. AMOUR (Michael Haneke)
Bit of a downer. But the foregone conclusion glimpsed in the opening sequence, along with a claustrophobic Paris apartment setting, lends a slow-burning thriller quality to the ticking time bomb of death. Probably shouldn’t take your Granny to see it though.
2. THE MASTER (Paul Thomas Anderson)
The critical success of Amour and The Master made it tempting to bump them off this list to make some space, but not having nutty stooper Freddie Quell present would seem plain wrong. It’s like the fascinating I’m Still Here razed Joaquin Phoenix to ashes so that his re-emergence could be as visceral as humanly possible. It’s not just the Wacky Phoenix show though; Hoffman proves a powerfully bullish match in Paul Thomas Anderson's stunning bromance about religion, charisma and the ungodly powers of mixing the right amount of paint stripper with just about anything.
1. ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA (Nuri-Bilge Ceylan)
Nuri-Bilge Ceylan delivers an epic journey through the night, as a group of officials are led by a convicted murderer to his victim, if he can only remember where he put him. Ceylan’s style is often cited as being anti-dramatic but I find his films wholly concerned with conflict in genuine human relationships. His characters always display an authentic sense of experience, humanity and humour. In Once Upon a Time in Anatolia the long takes compliment the narrative perfectly, locking us into the characters’ frustrating predicament in what feels like real time. This leads us imperceptibly to some almost hallucinatory revelations. Climates (Iklimler) is one of the best films of the 00s and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia lays down the gauntlet for the teenies. Or whatever it is we’re calling this decade. Well done Nuri, more please!
Therein ends my annual roundup. If you want to check out my top twenty, click here. Thanks for dropping by and I wish you all the very best for 2013. Let’s make it a good one! I’ll bring crisps.