Exclaim!'s Best Films of 2012: Genre (Sci Fi/Horror/Action)
10. Cloud Atlas
Directed By Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski & Lana Wachowski
Time will be kind to Cloud Atlas where many critics and the general public were not. Sensibly positioned as high-concept Oscar-bait before all the ignorant bullies of the mainstream media decided to gang up on the weird kid (like Time Magazine's preposterous and glib assertion that craftsmanship this audacious and accomplished could be the "worst" anything of any year) the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer's take on David Mitchell's seemingly impenetrable award-winning novel is ripe for reappraisal. The way these three talented individuals work together to arrange the story's multiple interwoven narratives as symphonic beats in a greater thematic whole is nothing short of marvellous. Sure, some of the elaborate race, age and gender-bending makeup can be distracting and comes across as a little forced, but it's gutsy and decidedly appropriate, if not always absolutely necessary for the story of souls transmuting over centuries through deliberate acts of free will. Knowing now just how futile mainstream acceptance would be, one must wonder if the directors would have opted to make a few less of the populist concessions demanded of a Tom Hanks blockbuster. Either way, the film's minor flaws and short-sighted rebelliousness are easily eclipsed by the sheer inspirational power of its story and the ambitious, masterful efforts of its cinematic midwives.
Scott A. Gray
Directed By Benedek Fliegauf
Nary a ripple was made by Hungarian director Benedek Fliegauf's challenging but extraordinarily tasteful and carefully paced speculative science fiction drama featuring the bold acting talents of Eva Green and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) when it was released without a theatrical run early in the year. That's as tragic as the story itself. Forgoing the typical visual signifiers of the genre, Womb takes a conceptual sci-fi approach more akin to the superb Never Let Me Go. Set at an unspecified point in the future (we can tell it's not a modern tale since the childhood versions of the leads are comfortable with cell phones) Fliegauf's discomfiting drama traces the impact of a woman's controversial decision to carry the clone of her dead lover to term and raise him as her son after he dies in a freak accident. The way their initial truncated romance unfolds makes Rebecca's (Green) choice easier to understand, but it renders that decision no less complicated. Fliegauf's unflinching examination of the not entirely wholesome bonds that can form between mother and son – not to mention the selfish reasoning behind some women's desire to give birth – is admirably subtle and brave. A brilliant, understated and uncharacteristically pastoral score by Max Richter certainly doesn't hurt either. Thought-provoking dramatic science fiction of the highest order, Womb deserves to find a much wider audience and is a strong contender for cult-classic status.
Scott A. Gray
8. The Awakening
Directed By Nick Murphy
As much a study of post-WWI gender and ideological shifts as it is a gorgeously photographed ghost story, Nick Murphy's The Awakening is, if anything, too smart for its own good. In plot, it follows the sceptical Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) to a remote boarding school where she plans to disprove the theory of haunting. But her quest isn't just about jump scares and the traditionalist cinematic belief in miracles. She's a woman determined to spread rational, scientific theory to the masses, being scarred by the traps of superstition. In such, her character arc is that of struggle against intuition and the metaphor of ghost as forced vessel of introspection into the past. It's all handled with utmost wit and subtlety; aided by moody, impeccably composed, blue-grey cinematography that captures the melancholic, isolated feeling of the few characters sparsely roaming the halls of the potentially haunted boarding school. Of course, not having elaborate CGI, and focusing on themes more so than surface plot, limiting the audience for this truly thoughtful look at the many things we lost in the war.