In this section, I list my three greatest discoveries in the world of film.
These are defined as three outstanding films that I’ve seen for the first time in 2012. This year’s discoveries traverse a range of countries, decades and genres.
Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)
You don’t usually expect raw emotion from a Stanley Kubrick film. That’s why Paths of Glory is such a jolt to the system. A moving and impassioned anti-war polemic, the film is loosely based on a notorious incident carried out by the French army during World War I, and the film was banned in the country until the 70s. Kirk Douglas gives a tremendous performance as Colonel Dax, a decent soldier who must lead his troops on a futile mission across No Man’s Land to recapture a German position – only for three of his men to be sentenced to death for cowardice. Rarely have Kubrick’s films been as heartbreaking as the scene where the scapegoats are led towards the firing squad or, prior to that, breaking down in front of the priest who has come to offer them solace. Kubrick’s mastery of film language is very much in evidence (especially in the powerful contrast between the horror of the trenches and the opulence of the French château in which the commanding officers scramble for power) – but this time the formal sophistication is welded to genuine, naked emotion.
Mother (Joon-ho Bong, 2009)
A wonderfully eccentric hybrid of mystery and observational small-town drama, Joon-ho Bong’s gripping 2009 film Mother manages the near-impossible feat of appearing surreal and deadly serious at the same time. This is because the absurdity is welded to a witty, incisive script and never veers into self-indulgence – a discipline that marks out many South Korean films. The fabulous Hye-ja Kim plays the unnamed titular mother, a woman who lives in a provincial South Korean community and who exerts a possessive hold on her handicapped son Yoon Do-Joon (the equally impressive Bin Won). But then he’s accused of murder… The brilliantly perceptive film throws light on the appalling prejudice doled out to Yoon Do-Joon as he’s effectively made a scapegoat for the grisly crime, whilst drawing us further into the rabbit hole as Kim’s mother figure goes to all lengths to prove his innocence. Many films demonstrate a mother’s love; few demonstrate it in a way as skewed, bizarre and memorable as this.
Adventureland (Greg Mottola, 2009)
We’re living in an age of lazy comedies, ones in which famous comedians believe their paycheck is justified simply by turning up on the set. Look at the likes of The Watch from 2012 – did Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn or Jonah Hill do anything funny in that movie? Of course not. So it was with a sense of trepidation that I sat down to watch Adventureland. But having gone in with the assumption that it would be yet another crass, feckless American comedy, I was delighted to discover it’s less an exercise in obnoxious box-ticking than a sensitive, coming of age, 80s-set drama with funny bits in it. Jesse Eisenberg gives a winning performance as the awkward guy spending his summer working at the eponymous fairground, and Kristen Stewart is just as appealing as the girl he falls for. Although there are crude laughs, the period observations are spot on, there’s genuine compassion for the characters and the film has the chutzpah to end on a moment of physical intimacy which is not so much titillating as beautifully charming. Now that’s a smart move.