It’s no disgrace to come second at Cannes to Michael Haneke’s Amour, especially so when your film is Rust and Bone. Writer-director Jacques Audiard has a track record of unsettling and confronting dramas, starting (for New Zealand audiences) with Read My Lips in 2001 and — most recently — prison drama A Prophet in 2009. Rust and Bone is equally rugged but with some beauty to balance the violence and despair.
Acadamy Award-winner Marion Cotillard is the big name on the marquee but the film really belongs to Matthias Schoenaerts who lays down a portrait of wounded masculinity as riveting as any of De Niro’s classic performances. He’s Alain, a drifter and waster who lands in picturesque Antibes with his young son. He’s useful in a scrap but useless as a parent and some of the most difficult scenes in the film are of him failing to look after the boy.
As usual, the vagaries of holiday deadlines mean that, just as you are arriving back at work to gleefully greet the New Year, here I am to tell you all about 2012. The best way to use this page is to clip it out, fold it up and put it in your pocket ready for your next visit to the video shop — that way you won’t go wrong with your renting. Trust me — I’m a professional.
But this year I have a problem. Usually I manage to restrict myannualpicks to films that were commercially released to cinemas. I’ve always felt that it wasn’t fair to mention films that only screened in festivals — it’s frustrating to be told about films that aren’t easy to see and it makes it difficult for you to join in and share the love. This year, though, if I take out the festival-only films the greatness is hard to spot among the only “good”.
As usual, I have eschewed a top ten in favour of my patented categories: Keepers, Watch Again, Mentioned in Dispatches and Shun At All Costs. In 2012, only two of my nine Keepers (films I wish to have close to me forever) made it into commercial cinemas and one of them isn’t even really a film.
Two of the big three Academy Award contenders this year are about looking back on the early days of cinema itself. While Scorsese’s Hugo uses the latest technical whizzbangs to bring to life the idea of early cinema and its novelty and excitement in The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius recreates the techniques of old Hollywood in search of pure nostalgia.
A painstakingly created silent movie with several moments of loveliness, The Artist follows the riches to rags story of screen hero George Valentin and the concurrent rags to riches story of starlet Peppy Miller — who tries to catch him as he falls. The performances of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo as the two leads are both splendid, Dujardin in particular displays a technical precision that most actors can only dream of.
For years now I’ve been fighting a single-handed defence of the later career of Robert De Niro (no defence, of course, being necessary for the early career which featured Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and The Deer Hunter). This defence has several arguments. Firstly, his decline hasn’t been nearly as pronounced — or as strange — as Al Pacino’s. Secondly, he was making some unusual decisions even during the eighties and, frankly, one Harry Tuttle — the renegade central heating engineer in Brazil — or foul-mouthed bail bondsman Jack Walsh (Midnight Run) will get you a free pass for an awful lot of We’re No Angels.
For years I’ve been complaining about films that give audiences everything on a plate — they tell what you should be thinking and feeling, leaving no room for us. This week I have nothing to complain about as three out of our four make you work for your rewards (although three tough emotioanl and intellectual workouts in one weekend turns out to be pretty draining).
Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is a terrific indie achievement, brave and uncompromising, emotionally raw but intelligent at the same time. A relationship is born and a relationship dies. Bookends of the same narrative are cleverly intercut to amplify the tragedy (and tragedy is a fair word to use — there’s a beautiful child getting hurt in the middle of all of this).
Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) meet and fall in love. He’s a dropout starting again in New York. She’s a med student with an unhappy home life and a douchebag boyfriend. Five or six years later she’s a nurse trying not to think about unfulfilled potential and he’s a house painter who drinks too much.