Films of the Year 2012

Special mentions

The Dark Knight Rises

A fitting end to one of the greatest cinematic trilogies in Hollywood history. An intelligently made action blockbuster that doesn’t shy away from including economic subtext and philosophical discussion. Also Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is easily the character of the year. The trouble with me in this was the pacing. For a film that attempts such massive emotional punches you would think that they would allow the audience time to get back up on their feet. Moments like this need time for the viewer to reflect on what they have just seen and consider the consequences of the characters actions. Unfortunately The Dark Knight Rises just has too much polt to fill in too short a space, so that time is spent on yet another story development or action sequence.

Silver Lingings Playbook

It was all going so well for Silver Linings Playbook. I loved the characters, the dialogue displayed authenticity and genuine emotion; I was especially loving the way it satirised attitudes towards mental illness, but then… It fell to pieces. One tiny instance of a forced plot contrivance seemed to unleash a snowball that gradually got bigger and bigger the longer its rampage went on for. I made you not only wish for a better ending it made you question if all the elements you liked the film for in the first place weren’t just your own self delusion. A devastating effect for twenty minutes to have on the one-hundred wonderful minutes that proceeded it.

Offender

Offender was one of the most brutal, brilliant and uncompromising débuts of 2012. A harsh look at life in the bowels of a young offender’s institute and an even harsher look at how some of the young offenders end up there. Some of the most grimace inducing moments of 2012 can be found within the walls of Offenders grim prison. But it just wasn’t good enough to justify the fact that its tone was just too one dimensional. One of the key techniques a film maker must use to really have an imapact on the viewer is to know when to let up on the darkness of the tone, because two hours of consistent nihilism only serves to diminish the impact of the trials and suffering your character must go through. Some films are good enough to get away with that, Offender whilst still a fantastic piece of work, isn’t.

Argo

Argo is right to be one of the most praised movies of the year. Tense direction, great acting, wonderful characters and a brilliant script. The problem for me is I just liked all of these other films better. Simple as that.

Top 10

10. The Hobbit

By no means a perfect film I cannot stress that enough, but certainly good enough to make all those imperfections irrelevant. Yes it had serious pacing issues but unlike The Dark Knight Rises the storytelling was good enough that you never really noticed. Peter Jackson puts so much fun, laughter and energy into a scene you cannot help but be swept away in the moment. No one takes his characters so close to the brink of defeat and no makes their triumphs seem so victorious.

9. The Grey

Ever since Taken back in 2008 Liam Neeson’s career has had a renaissance seeing him be a introverted killing machine in films that are occupying the same space today as Death Wish or Dirty Harry did back in the 70’s. The Grey is the most interesting of all of them, old or new. The Grey takes the archetype that Neeson has become known for and subverts it. Suddenly he is the one being hunted down by single minded killing machines bent on vengeance as the clock runs down on his blood soaked existence. He is the one paying for past crimes, he is the one as surely destined to die as a non English speaking part in a Chuck Norris movie. All the while he sees his death in the shadows, following him at every turn. This created one of the tensest, most nail bitingly stressful films of year and Liam Neeson’s best since Schindler’s List.

8. Killer Joe

Killer Joe is one of the most sick, twisted and morally dubious films of the decade and unless society collapses, still will be when it’s over. Which pretty much makes its inclusion on my ten favourite films list mandatory. Helmed by Exorcist director William Friedkin Killer Joe is the story of family values if the family was populated by people who buy cocaine from Craigslist. We can’t give him all the credit though, this is the disturbing Southern Gothic vision of Tracy Letts, a man for whom shocking is not only second nature but first, third and fourth. Featuring a revelatory performance from Matthew McConaughey who displays far more natural talent at playing a dead eyed psychopath than he ever did playing a gold hearted Casanova, scenes to watch out for include a sex scene that makes some uncomfortable disclosuresmid way through about Juno Temples’ teenage temptress and a scene where Gina Gershon does her best Linda Lovelace impression with a deep fried chicken leg.

7. Ted/21 Jump Street

This is such a cheat. I couldn’t decide what I thought was funnier, the cinematic debut of a television writer whose tricks were getting old fast or the rehash of an 80’s cult TV show with a premise that Jimmy Saville would dream about. Whatever, I already had to drop my beloved Muppets for these two jokers and I just can’t do that to The Hobbit too (Wrap it up, I’m already starting to regret that decision, goddamn it man, you’ve gone too far to turn it back now!). Anyway, both were incredibly funny films whose best moments came from out of field left turns that extended the absurdity and performances, the quality of which films like this have no right to feature.

6. Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly is so blackly comic that it may not even occur to you that this is mainly a comedy until after the credits stop rolling. Many of the film’s most memorable moments cause you to raise a laugh, sometimes because the satire is well observed and insightful, sometimes (like Killer Joe) because the film is so bleak and brutal it causes part of your brain to retreat into mindless nervous laughter as a form of mental defence. Maybe the violence is the reason you turn up to the party and maybe its what you remember after the music’s turned off and they’re wiping the blood off the dance floor. But the real reason it stays with you is the terrific performances from a veteran cast and the way it effortlessly compares low life criminal scumbags and the bureaucracy of twenty first century capitalism.

5. The Avengers

2012 belonged to Joss Whedon. Before this film the only cinematic directors credit to his name was 2005’s Serenity, a supplement to a cancelled Fox show which itself was a commercial failure. But Disney didn’t care, they knew they had a winner in a concept that everybody wanted but no one was sure how to do right. The answer? Get a director with a track record at making ensemble casts work. A director who could give a large number of main characters equal time and use every interaction to dedicate to story, development and world building. The result is a film that proves you can have a fun blockbuster that doesn’t have to be serious or dark to be intelligent. Well done Disney for giving the right project to the right man. This is why I am so excited for Star Wars.

4. Looper

The man who brought us a Noir film set in a high school, starring the students brings us a Sci Fi film populated by the characters of a spaghetti western. The scope of Looper is huge combining the paradoxical nature of time travel, the terrible consequences of leading a life defined by violence and how love consumes us, blinds us and ultimately destroys us. A proper science fiction film that provides great and unforgettable spectacle whilst remembering that the greatest science fictions don’t explore space, they explore the human soul.

3. Chronicle

I remember watching Chronicle and thinking that if more superhero movies put this much depth into their origin stories it wouldn’t matter whether or not the audience knows the character before they go in the theatre because they’d sure as hell know him by the time they got out. What I loved about Chronicle wasn’t just the painfully touching script or the innovative direction, it was the fact that it took the time to get you to care about a character that most films would have you demonize the second he walked on screen. The fact that the films central perspective comes from the person we would eventually label as the bad guy means we empathise with him before we make that realisation. We’re invested in him, we’ve gone through what he’s gone through, we can’t just hate him at the flick of a switch. It reminded me of my number one film of 2010 Philip Ridley’s Heartless, a film that showed you in painstaking detail what a mind has to go though before its capable of such gruesome violence. Both were films that challenged how we judge the acts of the man before getting to know the man behind the acts.

2.The Raid

Not just the best martial arts films of2012 but one of the best martial arts films ever made, full stop. A brutal ballet of precision choreography and barbaric ingenuity, no action scene went by without the audience howling in empathetic pain at the plight of an unfortunate goon getting his head kicked in by the superhuman protagonist. For a Welshman Gareth Evans handles his direction of the Idonnesion martial art Silat with the expertise of a master. Where other people see furniture, Evans sees instruments of sadistic destruction; every avenue of pain is explored even, no especially if it comes from a source the audience would least expect. Also the economy of storytelling shows several of the bigger budget, story driven action films how to do it. In the first fifteen seconds of the movie the bad guy makes a better impression here than ninety percent of bad guys make in ninety minutes. The story telling may be sparse but it’s some of the most effective of 2012.

1. The Cabin In The Woods

The Raid might be one of the best examples of its genre, but The Cabin in the Woods takes its genre and dismantles it, puts it back together like a Rubik’s Cube only to finally blow it to pieces.  The Cabin in the Woods is the American Horror Movie to end all American Horror Movies. In 2013 scary films had better be doing something radically different for me to even take notice. In exposing the hidden mechanics of the genre it renders them impotent. Doing so was an attempt by the filmmakers to break the cycle of horror films slaving to audience expectation and the same audiences relying on familiar genre elements. This allowed viewers to retain a sense of security in a genre that should be about systematically destroying it. In that respect The Cabin in the Woods doesn’t really work as a horror, its far better at being a comedy, a savage biting satire, one that isn’t afraid to take shots at its audience, its peers or even itself. It’s a work of seething artistic frustration, like listening to a guy talk about what’s wrong with horror films for an hour, see him get steadily more heated as his annoyances stack up and eventually blow his top as he can’t take it anymore. That may not sound like a great way to spend an hour and a half, but when you agree with every word they say and admire the passion with which they say it, you have a film that the rest of the year’s offerings just can’t compete with.