Stories about people who want to do better

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Eureka Street doesn't try to review every film that comes out, not by a long shot. Instead we aim to address well-made films that have something substantial to say about the human condition. Our list of ten essential films from 2012 could broadly be named 'Stories about people who want to do better'.

They are films about characters who try to transcend corrupt environments, or are themselves corrupt and seek absolution. In one film, the central character wishes to obtain a fuller experience of his own humanity, and takes steps to achieve that. Mostly they are films that in some way reflect the struggle and desire to live ethically.

 

1. Carnage (M). Director: Roman Polanski. Starring: Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly. 79 minutes 

Alan and Nancy's son has hit Michael and Penelope's son in the face with a stick. The couples meet to resolve the situation civilly without bitter legal wrangling. But as with Australian author Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap this act of violence among children acts as a catalyst to exacerbate the characters' unease about a range of social and relational issues. A black comedy containing some razor sharp acting, especially from Foster and Waltz.

Full review

 

2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (M). Director: Stephen Chbosky. Starring: Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Ezra Miller, Paul Rudd, Johnny Simmons, Mae Whitman. 102 minutes 

I sat with a lump in my throat for most of this film. It ploughed deep into my affective memory of being a high school 'wallflower', with the empathy and voyeurism and destructive self-absorption that entails. Part of the irony of such an existence is that while you feel deeply for others, sometimes being so deeply introspective means that you can miss the possible hurtful consequences of your own actions. Charlie learns this the hard way. 

Full review

 

3. Shame (R). Director: Steve McQueen. Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan. 101 minutes 

The best films about addiction are not merely voyeuristic, but offer insight into the nuances of the character's emotional and psychological makeup, and their humanity. As a story about addiction, Shame follows the formula, though in this instance the addiction in question is not a drug or other substance, but sex. Director McQueen's background is as a visual artist, and as such the themes of Shame are expressed both frankly and artfully.

Full review

 

4. The Sessions (MA). Director: Ben Lewin. Starring: John Hawkes, Helen Hunt, Wiliam H. Macy. 

The Sessions misses opportunies to consider whether it is ever ethically defensible for a woman to be paid for sex in the service of another's dignity. On the other hand Australian Jewish director Lewin should be commended for his affirmation of the dignity of those who experience disability, and frank and humane treatment of such individuals' sexuality. The 'sessions' themselves are conducted by the two actors with courage and sensitivity.

Full review

 

5. The Dark Knight Rises (M). Director: Christopher Nolan. Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy. 164 minutes 

The Dark Knight Trilogy is surprisingly, poignantly humane by the standards of Hollywood action films. Rises finds Wayne too damaged — physically, psychologically and emotionally — from his past exploits as Batman to succeed alone against the formidable foe Bane. He requires and receives much practical and moral support. These good men who support and sustain him are the heart and soul of The Dark Knight Rises

Full review

 

6. Margin Call (MA). Director: J. C. Chandor. Starring: Zachary Quinto, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Penn Badgley, Paul Bettany, Demi Moore. 107 minutes 

Margin Call is full of ethical and moral conversations about the kinds of behaviour that led to the Global Financial Crisis. Writer-director Chandor's Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay testifies to the film's efficiency and poignancy in exploring these ideas. The film is set in 2008 on the eve of the GFC itself and stands more as a kind of philosophical horror story than a cautionary tale about the destructive power of human greed. 

Full review

 

7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (M). Director: Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Starring: Muhammet Uzuner, Yilmaz Erdogan, Taner Birsel, Firat Tanis. 150 minutes 

Over the course of one long night, law officials traipse the fields and knolls of a Turkish steppe in search for a discarded body. Cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli probes human faces with the same intent and intensity with which he regards the terrifyingly beautiful landscapes, as if to iterate the ways in which the menace, mystery and majesty of the natural world are mimicked in human nature. 

Full review

 

8. God Bless America (MA). Director: Bobcat Goldthwait. Starring: Joel Muray, Tara Lynne Barr. 105 minutes 

Comedian-cum-iconoclastic filmmaker Goldthwait's brutal, didactic satire about the vacuous and exploitative nature of American media pulls few punches. His antihero Frank has a violent streak even before this endless stream of television trash drives him off the rails. The film is exceedingly violent and does labour its point, but nonetheless it provides a stunning riposte to passivity in media consumption.  

Full review

 

9. Monsieur Lazhar (M). Director: Philippe Falardeau. Starring: Mohamed Fellag, Sophie Nélisse, Émilien Néron. 95 minutes 

What makes a good teacher? French-Canadian drama Monsieur Lazhar offers two contrasting examples. The first is characterised by selfishness and absence: a teacher, after a period of prolonged stress, commits suicide in her empty classroom before school. The second, by presence and selflessness: Algerian migrant Bachir Lazhar's own experience of loss gives him something to offer the students that his predecessor so abandoned. 

Full review

 

10. Les Miserables (M). Director: Tom Hooper. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Redmayne. 158 minutes 

Hooper, best known as the director of The King's Speech, excels at the intimate moments of this film adaptation of the popular stage musical. Set in 19th century France during a time of great social inequality, it is populated by characters who incessantly plough their own moral and emotional terrain. Hathaway gives the performance of the film in a brief but pivotal role as a single mother sunk to desperate acts that shred her dignity. 

Full review


Tim Kroenert headshotTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He looks forward to talking film with you again in 2013.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Carnage, Roman Polanski, Shame, Michael Fassbender, The Sessions


 

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Existing comments

It's good to know you will be reviewing films next year! I go a lot to see 'good' films and have to rely on reviews from French sources or English ones.I don't like wasting my time & money seeing the same American rubbish over and over again. M. Lahzar was excellent, but my Australian friend didn't find it very interesting. Looks like my taste is different. So, I'm looking forwards reading your reviews! Cheers!
nathalie | 20 December 2012


I always love your film reviews Tim. You always look at films I'm interested in. You summarise them beautifully and then analyse them without any hype or cutting critique. They're just the right length too. More please.
Claudia | 21 December 2012


Holy Motors was by far the coolest thing you reviewed this year. (I haven't seen all these films, but I stand by my comment!). I really found that one fascinating for refusing to explain itself.
Penelope | 22 December 2012


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