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theartsdesk's Top 10 Films of 2012: 10 - 6 | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk's Top 10 Films of 2012: 10 - 6

theartsdesk's Top 10 Films of 2012: 10 - 6

Part one of our favourite movies of the year

'Beasts of the Southern Wild': One of the year's most dazzling films

With the end of 2012 nearly upon us it’s time for a spot of reflection. We’ve polled our film writers for their picks of the year and bring you our top 10 in all its drama and diversity. This is cinema at its very best, representing the numerous shades of the filmic rainbow: spectacular, plucky, horrifying, challenging, comedic, harrowing, joyous and strange.

With each of our writers acting as a film’s individual champion, we begin with a rundown of numbers 10 to six (two films tied for eighth spot.) Join us tomorrow for the final five.

10 – Rust and Bone (dir. Jacques Audiard)

There's much to gawp at in Jacques Audiard's intense, oddball romance - Marion Cotillard legless below the knee after an accident at work training theme-park killer whales; bareknuckle, backyard prizefighting for Matthias Schoenaerts' drifting single parent; and their fiery sexual rendezvous. Beyond the brutality is a touching portrait of two lonely, cauterised souls stranded on a jagged path to some sort of redemption. Audiard flees from the dead weight of sentiment with his characteristic flair for austerity. The Côte d'Azur has never looked more hatchet-faced, nights on the town less merry, so that when Cotillard's Stephanie seeks rehabilitation in the sea it feels all the more like a visceral release. Later there is an almost unwatchable cameo for more wintry waters, a lake frozen but for a hole through which the young son of Schoenaerts' Ali inevitably slips. If Rust and Bone has a weakness it's that the coda's rush towards the light feels too pat. But by then, this being Audiard, we've all suffered quite enough. Jasper Rees

8 – Holy Motors (dir. Leos Carax)

A Borgesian palimpsest, a movie in search of a genre, a lament for film when it was film, a bittersweet critique of the deadening of moviegoers’ sensibilities by their immersion in digital graphics – Leos Carax’s barmy Holy Motors is all this and more. It takes the form of a daylong odyssey in which Denis Lavant’s Mr. Oscar (dreamed by Carax himself in a prologue) is driven round sepulchral Paris in a stretch limo chauffeured by Edith Scob, who eventually dons the mask she wore in 1960’s Eyes Without a Face. Starting as an international banker, he shape-shifts as he goes, becoming a beggar-woman, a motion-capture actor, the ogre Mr. Merde (from Carax’s segment in Tokyo!), a scolding dad, a hitman, and the long-lost lover of Kylie Minogue’s Jean Seberg lookalike, who hauntingly recalls their affair in a torch song. There being no end to Carax’s sorcery, he finally quotes from Pixar’s Cars! Graham Fuller

8 - Beasts of the Southern Wild (dir. Benh Zeitlin)

Leading actors tend not to be in the single digits on the occasion of their debut Oscar bids: Keisha Castle-Hughes was 13 when she got a best actress nod for Whale Rider in 2004, and how many people remember Jackie Cooper, who was indeed nine when he was tapped for a prize for Skippy in 1931? But Beasts of the Southern Wild is such a startling achievement, and the now nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis so compelling and defining a presence in the film’s principal role, that the pre-teen talent may find herself up against the big girls come Oscar night in February - and rightly so. Benh Zeitlin’s feature film debut moves from dreamscape to nightmare and back again as it tells of life and the ongoing risk of death in a Louisiana backwater, with Wallis and Dwight Henry in formidable form as the wonderfully named Hushpuppy and her ferocious father, Wink. A reverie in magical realist form, Beasts was the American indie of the year: long may it roar. Matt Wolf

7 – Berberian Sound Studio (dir. Peter Strickland)

A feast of strange sights, and even stranger sounds, Berberian Sound Studio deals with the corruption of an innocent. That the innocent in question is a middle-aged man makes it all the more interesting. Set in the 1970s and told with extreme ingenuity, humour and finesse, British director Peter Strickland’s follow-up to the similarly impressive Katalin Varga sees sheltered sound engineer Toby Jones tormented during the post-production of bloodthirsty Italian “giallo” thriller “The Equestrian Vortex”. Jones’ Gilderoy is bullied, seduced and baffled by his Italian collaborators and tortured by his aural contribution to the (unseen) onscreen carnage. Berberian Sound Studio is a mini marvel, a conjuror’s trick, which explores a fragile, increasingly infected mind as it critiques the filmmaking process, and it’s up there with Holy Motors for most original movie of the year. As the film-within-a-film’s director Santini asserts, “This is not a horror film”. That may be, but it’s still an absolute scream. Emma Simmonds

6 – Amour (dir. Michael Haneke)

Harrowing to watch and hard to forget, Michael Haneke’s Amour delivers the stark message that death is as merciless and as messy for the carer as the victim. Why, then, are we celebrating the winner of the Palme d’Or as one of the best films of 2012? It's time someone was brave enough to explore this difficult topic with unflinching clarity, and because veteran actors Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva give such subtle performances as the elderly couple whose loving relationship is tested to breaking point by terminal illness. Anne suffers a stroke, which paralyses her down one side and prevents her playing the piano – a symbol of the rewarding life slipping from her grasp. As further strokes rob her of speech as well as mobility, her husband Georges tries valiantly to care for her but, alongside his own despair, has to contend with the increasingly hysterical intrusions of their daughter (Isabelle Huppert). Cinema at its serious best. Sarah Kent

Watch the trailer for Amour

This is cinema at its very best

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