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Otago Daily Times film reviewers Christine Powley and Mark Orton choose their favourite movies of 2012.
James Bond made a splashy return, but the year's best spy was George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a film that depicted 1970s London as being about as colourful as 1970s Bulgaria and still had us mesmerised. If Bond was getting back to basics then Gary Oldman's Smiley reminded us that spying is 90% paperwork.
She likes to work and we love to watch her. The most hoopla was over her extended role of M in Skyfall, but she really went all action in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Seeing Dench fall in love with India and toy boy Bill Nighy was pure candyfloss fun.
Skyfall had a villain who was clearly on the edge and Javier Bardem made him recognisably human, but Mental did something even more impressive. It said that being nuts is the most normal thing you can do and just went with it. Toni Collette's Shaz, with her knife stuck down her boot and her fierce sense of justice, would normally be a movie baddie but here she is a family's saviour using her distorted reference points for good, not evil.
Daniel Craig's Bond finally had sex in the cavalier fashion that we associate with the role, but the year's most memorable movie sex was in The Sessions where a man in an iron lung discovered what his body was capable of with a sex surrogate. The searing honesty Helen Hunt (as the surrogate) and John Hawkes (as her client) brought to the process made this truthful and life affirming. One of the those movies that you never forget.
Skyfall closed off central London to achieve some of its spectacular sequences, but that is nothing when you consider the hoops Sir Peter Jackson put the New Zealand Government through. So was changing labour laws and all the rest of it worth it for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? Well speaking not as an actor who has had my terms and conditions amended, probably yes. If I did not already live here, watching dwarves tramp over majestic scenery would make me want to visit. I always drive via Middlemarch to get to Central and I think that this year the road is going to be much more busy.
Its not often that we get a chance to see Iranian cinema, so thankfully A Separation, which was one of the standouts of the International Film Festival, received a mainstream release. As the winner of the Oscar for best foreign language film, A Separation brilliantly universalises Iranian politics and culture for an international audience. Steeped in religious dogma and tradition, this is still a film with universal appeal. Encompassing themes of family, class, truth and honour, director Asghar Farhadi weaves together a taut thriller that resonates far beyond the claustrophobic Teheran apartment where it is predominantly set.
After learning of a wacky small-town relationship between an undertaker and a wealthy widow, slacker-director Richard Linklater recognised the potential for a film based on the casting of Jack Black. As portly undertaker Bernie Tiede, Black turns in the best performance of his career based purely on some uncustomary restraint. The story itself is nothing short of surreal, so Black, to his credit, subtly embodies the eccentricities of his character without reverting to his usual histrionics. Set up quasi-documentary-style with appearances from actual townsfolk, Bernie is an incredibly amusing piece of storytelling.
'Forget Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, Headhunters is the best thriller to emerge out of Scandinavia in recent times. Adapted from celebrated Norwegian author Jo Nesbo's 2008 book Hodejegerne, Headhunters is a savvy tale of cat and mouse between a charismatic art thief and the owner of a piece of art that he simply has to get. Askel Hennie is superb as the diminutive thief Roger Brown, totally embodying what it is like to be trapped in circumstances that have got way out of control. Cracking along at a rollicking pace, Headhunters unfurls one trick after the next to keep you guessing right until the end.
The very fact that a little-known folk singer called Rodriguez is now packing out concerts after a failed early '70s career is owed totally to this film. From the same producers who put together the amazing Man on a Wire, Searching for Sugarman is a quest film, a documentary about what it means to be a fan and to what lengths you should travel to find your musical hero. Traversing the globe from sunny South African streets to the gnarly ruins of inner-city Detroit, Searching for Sugar Man is a charming meditation on fame, politics and the transformative power of a captivating chord change.
It might not be a documentary but it sure feels like one. Immensely powerful in its confrontational style, Polisse is a triumph for actress turned director Maiwenn. Realising that there might just be a dramatic script in the work done by the French Child Protection Unit, Maiwenn cast herself as a photographer drafted in to document the daily activities of the unit. Polisse is a master class in hand-held camera, editorial pacing and unscripted chaos. Keeping the cameras mobile and in the face of the actors, every nuance of emotion and tension is captured and used to mesmerising effect.