The Best of the Decade series looks back over the most popular and beloved films of the past ten years. Each author chooses a film they believe to be the definitive film of the year, along with a wildcard favourite film of their own. For 2012, Mary Tiernan chooses Beasts of the Southern Wild as the definitive film of the year, and Seven Psychopaths as her personal favourite.
Best of 2012: Beasts of the Southern Wild
Written by Mary Tiernan
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a story about a father and a daughter living in “The Bathtub”: an enchanted and disadvantaged community cut off from the rest of the world. Directed by first time filmmaker Benh Zeitlin, it is impossible for the audience not to feel connected to the plight of 6-year-old Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), her father Wink (Dwight Henry) and their close-knit but dysfunctional community in The Bathtub. The Bathtub is a remote community, isolated from the rest of the world somewhere in Southern Mississippi. They face constant threat from submersion if hit by a big storm or if global warming causes sea levels to rise. Despite this threat, the residents of The Bathtub refuse to leave and are adamant about protecting their community.
Beasts of the Southern Wild focuses on the complex relationship between Hushpuppy and Wink, which is often punctuated by aggression and physical confrontations despite their loving nature. Hushpuppy constantly daydreams and fantasizes about her life, particularly her mother who she has never met. When a storm hits The Bathtub, the residents who stay need to figure out how to survive. The threat of climate change underscores the film, as the community faces obliteration if the area is hit by a storm or local sea levels rise. This is aligned with Wink’s illness, which causes temperatures to rise and nature to become more chaotic. Thus, Hushpuppy begins to believe that the threat to her father’s life and the threats to her environment are linked.
Beasts of the Southern Wild focuses on the complex relationship between Hushpuppy and Wink, which is often punctuated by aggression and physical confrontations despite their loving nature.
Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild was for me one of the best movies of 2012. It tells a story about people who are struggling in a way which makes the audience admire the determination of the characters rather than sympathise with their unfortunate circumstances. The people of the Bathtub carry on with their daily lives, believing they are freer and better than people constrained by life in the city. Additionally, Dan Romer’s soundtrack for Beasts of the Southern Wild is one of my favourite film scores ever, and perfectly fits the defiant tone Zeitlin presents throughout the movie. At times, it is hard to believe that this story of resilience and hope is not a documentary. The moving portrayal of Hushpuppy by 5-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis is a striking image of heroism with a convincing depth of truth.
While the Bathtub is steeped in poverty, the audience views this through the eyes of a child. Despite the criticism the film has received for celebrating this, there is no doubt that the poverty presented is desperately real. There is a lack of healthcare, education and institutional structures, all of which contribute to the community’s degradation. However, the Bathtub is presented in a celebratory light through the imagination of Hushpuppy, who imagines melting ice caps when she hears thunder and envisions her world with stampedes of prehistoric Aurochs. This is indicative of the pain and wonder within Beasts of the Southern Wild, a film which sees the world through a strange, but beautiful lens.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video and the Google Play Store.
Critic’s Choice: Seven Psychopaths
Written by Mary Tiernan
As someone who loves dark comedy, I have been a fan of Martin McDonagh since I first watched his Leenane Trilogy, quickly followed by his 2008 feature In Bruges. Thus, it is hardly surprising that Seven Psychopaths was my personal favourite movie of 2012. Seven Psychopaths follows the search of protagonist Marty (Colin Farrell) for a screenplay. While he has a title, he has no story to accompany it, and thus the film follows Marty as he accompanies several psychopaths in order to gain a story for his screenplay.
While this short description doesn’t accurately reflect the humour and intelligence integral to Seven Psychopaths, there is no doubt it is one of the most original films I have seen since In Bruges. Added to this are the performances from an all-star cast (Colin Farrell, Tom Waits, Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell), which while male-dominated, are undoubtedly outstanding. Sam Rockwell’s embodiment of Billy, an actor-turned-dog thief, is one of my favourite performances in the film, as he somehow creates an endearing and lovable psychopath. These strong characterizations are helped by McDonagh’s witty dialogue, contrasting the darkness and intensity of the tone. As a tongue-in-cheek, morose comedy, Seven Psychopaths seemingly winks at its audience one moment and allows genuine empathy to creep in at the next. After this, and 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I can’t wait to see what McDonagh comes up with next.
Seven Psychopaths is available to stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.