2012 has been a strange year in film for me as I’ve seen fewer films than I have in previous years. It’s been more circumstance than choice – I have been following up on Sound It Out by making two new films and have either had my head behind a camera (shooting Pantomime) , or for four months, confined in an edit suite with only a quietly sarcastic Canadian and ninety hours of HD for company cutting The Great Hip Hop Hoax for BBC Storyville.

As is now traditional, in the twilight days of 2012 I peered into the past year asking myself, “What films have stayed with me, what am I still thinking about?”, even if they niggled a bit. This is my criteria for the films I have chosen for my top ten. I have (as is also now traditional) *slightly* broken MarBelle’s stringent rules for film selection, but I haven’t included any artworks this year, all films were released in 2012 and I saw all but one of them in the cinema.

If I was going to go hell for leather and completely break the rules I would include The Shining which I saw on re-release on the big screen in 2012. In all the years since its release it’s lost none of its brilliant creepiness. When I first read the book as a teenager it terrified me so much that I had to put the book out on the landing at night. I loved watching the film again and I urge you to watch this short doc that Kubrick’s daughter Vivian made during production – I’m also eagerly awaiting Room 237 about the legacy of the film when it comes to my base and home from home, Broadway Cinema.

I went to see two future cinema productions – Bugsy Malone and Grease – these immersive, cinematic experiences bring films off the screen and right into the audience. Being pelted in the face with a cream pie by my cackling eight year old as the end scene of Bugsy Malone unfolded was a real highlight. Truly brilliant.

2012 was also a stellar year for Sheffield DocFest which has gone from strength to strength and is now well established as an absolute must attend date for the documentary industry. Their opening double bill was the scorching live rendition of the – British Sea Power soundtracked costal oddessey From the Land to the Sea Beyond – which can now be watched in full here and the multi award winning Searching for Sugarman. If you have even a passing interest in film go in 2013!


Dir: Jeff Orlowski

26 year old Jeff Orlowski’s film debut is a visually stunning, terrifying and, forgive the pun, chilling wake up call about the effect of global warming on the arctic glaciers. The film follows photographer James Balog as he battles personal challenges to document the moving ice and launches an ambitious project to film them time-lapse over years. For me, the images he creates are where the real heart of the film lies – They are the most devastatingly beautiful and convincing way to learn about ‘an inconvenient truth’ . Recently longlisted for the documentary oscar this is a film that you must see on the big screen.


Dir: Paolo Sorrentino

Sean Penn playing a Robert Smith like Goth rock star in his 50s going on a journey to find his father and himself. A charming and moving ride


Dir: Bart Layton

The biggest doc of the year that was marketed as pure thriller. (see Charlie Phillip’s blog post on the way the doc broke out). Unfurling the story of missing Nicholas Barclay, a 13 year-old Texas boy who had allegedly turned up in Spain three years later, but was no longer blue eyed and blonde. And he had a French accent. The film had more turns than a roller-coaster and was a heady ride delving into the truth and lies of what happened. I wished I’d known nothing going in to the film (I unfortunately already knew all of the twists), as again it’s a film best watched in ignorance. It’s undeniably skilful, tense and well worth seeing on the big screen. Unfortunately, I did take issue with the way it dealt with the family. Although the outcome is presented as open, we’re left in no doubt what the filmmaker believes and shows the audience to be true. So, I am a fan of much in the film but that left a nasty taste.


Dir: Benjamin Marquet

This is an utterly charming, coming of age film, centred around a group of 14 year old trainee jockies just outside Paris. It’s endurance observational documentary filmmaking as the camera follows the adolescents for a year as they grow in confidence, in the saddle and at the local disco. Wonderful.


Dir: Malik Bendjelloul

I don’t want to say too much about this as Sugarman is a film best watched cold. I was utterly thrilled to see a music doc taking centre stage, winning awards and opening Sheffield Doc Fest in June. (Oh how I am troubled by “Music doc” – the particular sub genre of filmmaking. I was advised by a senior member of BBC staff to never refer to myself as a maker of “music documentaries” as it is a curious hinterland of niche film festival programming and films that may not be taken seriously as documentaries). The film is an utterly enjoyable, moving and captivating journey into fandom and legacy of an artist. The only disappointment for me was the ‘absence’ of the main, key character. It looks like there were a few interviews shot but they don’t make it into the cut – the edit deals with it skilfully but it seems that Sugarman, as an absent protagonist, is missing in more ways than one.


Dir: Will Lovelace & Dylan Southern

Shut Up and Play the Hits is a melancholic documentary portrait that revels in the lovingly shot farewell concert of LCD sound-system, intercut with a portrait of unlikely, bearded front man James Murphy. We see him – the morning after the night before – shuffling around his apartment, in his underpants, with his dog, clearing out the ephemera collected over the lifetime of the band. I loved the idea of saying goodbye to a moment in time with a celebratory funeral. Without knowing LCD Soundsystem’s music I was seduced and bereft as the wilting panda at the end of the concert when the music finally ended.


Dir: Wes Anderson

Symmetry, pastels, whimsy, curly typography and Bill Murray – It played like a Now That’s What I Call a Wes Anderson movie. If you like those things, and I do, it’s a very stylish and enjoyable ride into teenage defiance and falling in love.


Dir: Carol Morley

If you died, who would notice? Nobody noticed when Joyce Vincent died in her bedsit above a shopping mall in North London in 2003. Her body was found three years later, in front of a still flickering television, a pile of wrapped Christmas presents at her feet. Carol Morley’s film touched me deeply as it examines a modern kind of loneliness. In a world of social media and apparent connectedness who would actually miss you? As is the mark of a good film I thought about it long after watching.


Creator: Vince Gilligan

Here’s where I can hear MarBelle’s eyebrows raising [right off my forehead!] as I have put a television series at number 2 in my top ten but Breaking Bad is every bit as ‘cinematic’ in terms of scale, cinematography, performances and storytelling as anything I have seen on the big screen. Consistently brilliant, Breaking Bad is the television I look forward to more than anything else. If you haven’t ever seen it I can barely hide my jealousy as you have five series to enjoy. Starting out as the story of Walter White, the cancer-ridden chemistry teacher driven to making meth to fund his chemotherapy it’s now so much more. I went back and re-watched from series one earlier this year and the way that characters develop and change over time is just so clever and satisfying to watch. The enduring appeal of interchangeable ‘good’ and ‘bad’ guys struggling to make sense of their corrupt lives is as addictive as Heizenberg’s pure glass meth.


Dir: Benh Zeitlin

Once there was a Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub

A whimsical, magical realist vision of a post-Katrina-like world called The Bathtub, as seen by a five year old Hushpuppy. A world inhabited by danger, magic and huge beasts. This film of survival and spirit was surprising, bold, brilliant, infuriating and lasting and Quvenzhané Wallis, the young girl at the centre of the film, is mesmerising to watch. I felt like the film, at times walked neared the line of becoming irritating but I was so won over by its independent and bonkers spirit I would have forgiven it anything and ultimately it is my film of the year.

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