The top 15 films of 2012
2012 was a year so rich in quality films that I do not think I have seen one as good before, nor will there be one as good in the next few years (it’s looking pretty unlikely in 2013 at least). I tried doing this list as a top 10, but it was utterly impossible, and even narrowing things down to 15 meant leaving films out that would have easily made my top 10 in other years. I have watched every film now that I wanted to see before compiling this list, with a couple of notable exceptions. For each choice, I have included a brief summary, with a more extensive review below the list.
It was after watching ‘To The Wonder’ (which is ineligible for the 2012 list, but has already made my future 2013 list), and having watched many of the films in this list, that I had that enervating and overwhelming sensation that this is my chosen profession and that even now, I am incredibly moved by film, maybe even more so than ever before.
15 – Django Unchained – Classic Tarantino with one too many flaws. There is delicious dialogue, there are gory set-pieces and there are way too many expletives. The fatal flaw of this film though is that it is supposed to be a revenge flick, but only one man, Django, has the brains to do anything, and all the other slaves are dumb. Which might have just about worked had Django actually had more focus on his story, but in Act 2, it is as much about Calvin Candie (DiCaprio) and Dr. King Schultz (Waltz) as it is about anyone else.
14 – Cloud Atlas – 2 hours and 50 minutes, and yet I left the cinema feeling like I had watched 3 movies in that time, and they had all made sense. I don’t think many filmmakers could have pulled this film off, but the Wachowski siblings and Tykwer did it. The 2nd Act is where is all comes together and there are moments where this film reaches a zenith of perfection. I cared about the many, many characters and rooted for them all. A lot of originality and a lot of unique imagery, but the film is ultimately overpowered by the sheer amount it tries to convey, and that was its undoing. Still, one moment in particular, courtesy of the ever effervescent Ben Whishaw had me in tears.
13 – Beasts of the Southern Wild – A wonderful film, with a lot of originality, that did not have a strong enough sense of plot to make it any higher on my list. But the performances were the true strength of the film. Quvenzhane Wallis was magnificent, but equally I think plaudits must go to Benh Zeitlin, the director, for bringing out such performances from amateur actors.
12 – Moonrise Kingdom – Typically of Wes Anderson, this film is about a group of people who are institutionalized in the sense that they are often forced to live or co-exist with one another, often against their will. What really works for Moonrise Kingdom, is that the focus is less on the co-existence and more about 2 people who are trying to break the mould, which they have decided is clearly not working. However, their institution is an island, and escape is not that easy.
11 – Searching for Sugar Man – A fine piece of documentary film making, and one of those stories which you cannot help but smile about. The film is clever in that it touches on the scandalous nature of the music industry that had robbed Rodriguez of not only money, but also perhaps his career, but does not make that the focus of the film. Instead the focus is on hope, and how this incredible songwriter’s spirit was kept alive in the most unlikely of places: apartheid South Africa, only to blossom late on, and allow him the fame that he rightfully deserves.
10 – The Dark Knight Rises – This probably should be higher up the list, but there were too many challengers. TDKR is a brilliant piece of film making from a true master, there are set pieces in this as with the other 2 Nolan Batmans that are so original and gripping that they beg to be watched over and over again. There is no reason other for this not to be in the top 5 other than that I wanted to give other, smaller films a chance.
9 – Silver Linings Playbook – This film was to stand or fall on the performances alone. As it turned out, it surpassed my expectations. De Niro was at his very best, I got to see a side of Cooper that I knew he had in him, Lawrence was worth every bit of her Oscar win, and Jacki Weaver should have had more screen time. Great cast, compelling story, even though the ending was straight out of a Hollywood writing for beginners course.
8 – Zero Dark Thirty - I liked this film a lot more than ‘The Hurt Locker’. Chastain had to tread a very fine line as an actress, and play, what could well have been her most challenging role to date: that of a woman trying to exhibit bravado, not to get what she wants, but to achieve what she knows is right. Throughout, I got a sense of her character feeling uncomfortable with that, but doing it anyway to achieve her goals. The risk, having it come off as bad acting, but I think Boal just about pulls it off with his script. Although I’m unsure whether this: “I’m the motherfucker that found this place, sir”, was shit writing, shit acting or both. The opening of real emergency services recordings over a black screen was a touch of brilliance.
7 – Looper – I find it hard to enjoy sci-fi because there is usually too much that is unbelievable that detracts, or the film becomes more about the world than the story it is set in. Looper then surprised me. Great story, great sense of focus on the characters and a brilliant Bruce Willis impersonation from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
6 – Lincoln – I am torn between loving Spielberg for giving Daniel Day Lewis the chance to do what no other actor could do properly, which is be (not play, be) Abraham Lincoln. But I’m also angry at Spielberg, because it seems like the challenge of it was too much for Day Lewis, who has now decided to retire from acting for 5 years. A well-measured script from Tony Kushner really was delightful to watch.
5 – Skyfall – A film as much about Britain coming to terms with faded glory and grandeur as it is about a spy. When I watched it, the film spoke to me as I was about to return back to England to live after so long away. There was so much truth in the script that it was endearing. We have our past and we should be proud of it, but we should not let that dictate what we do. We should be willing to move on. A good message and my favourite Bond film of all time. Also, Javier Bardem, Albert Finney, Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes, back by the hauntingly beautiful Adele track.
4 – Argo – A bit of a debate for 3rd place, but still a solid 4th. Argo is a how to film for anybody who wants to make a film with suspense. I felt that Affleck is a wonderful director, and this, his 3rd film cements his transformation into a serious Hollywood filmmaker. He lost his way in the early 2000’s only to turn everything around and come back even stronger. Should he have been nominated for a best director Oscar? Absolutely. Should he have won best director Oscar? No. But that does not matter now. This is modern Hollywood at its best.
3 – Once Upon a Time in Anatolia – Brilliant piece of film making. The slowest paced of all films on this list, but also the most rewarding. We follow a group of men during one night through the Steppes of Anatolia in search of a body. The film has some of the most unique cinematography I have ever seen, and there is a subtle and uneasy hint throughout that this film might just be a criticism of the blind pursuit of justice at all costs under the banner of Christianity, when it may be better to step back and avoid the collateral. Nuri Bilge Ceylan (pron: Jellan) is one to watch.
2 – Holy Motors – Whilst it seems to be a trend to make soppy, sentimental labours of love to Hollywood, such as ‘Hugo’, ‘The Artist’ and ‘Argo’, Holy Motors does it properly, delving into the heart of darkness and confusion that drives the Beverly Hills beast. At least that is my personal take on this pristine slice of absurdist cinema. Every single minute of this film was truly original (discounting the ‘man in a limo’ superficiality of Cosmopolis).
1 – The Master – The title best describes Producer/writer/director P.T.Anderson. He really is a true filmmaking mage. His story-telling through his scripts and his camera are, frankly, unparalleled. I also award best scene of the year to this film for the ‘informal processing’ scene, which I must have rewatched dozens of times. Oh God! The acting! The acting, people! Amazing. Images from this film are seared in my mind, and have not left since I first watched this film back in December.
Honourable Mentions - They didn’t quite make the grade, but that should not detract from their brilliance
On the Road – This film was ripped to shreds by the critics and never got a chance. So many critics complained that it was about a series of road trips with no plot. That is what the book is about. That is why I dislike Rotten Tomatoes because most of the critics on there do not have a clue. I love the book, I did not expect a film that was the book exactly, but got a film that encapsulated the atmosphere of the book perfectly. There are beautiful moments in this film. Moments of truth and that really resonated with me.
The Grey – ‘To live and die on this day’. I love all films about the wild, and being stranded and The Grey does not disappoint. This would probably be in 16th place. The fear of death permeates the film, and the film actually does perhaps deserve the accolade of best 3rd Act of the year. Or at least best ending. Freaking Liam Neeson vs. She Wolf. Yes please.
No – Great film about the Chileans overcoming the oppressive dictatorship of General Pinochet. The material is handled with perfection and is a great example of weaving in real footage in with the narrative. It resisted the urge to be preachy or to focus on the atrocities, but cleverly depicted on the campaign by marketing professionals to market a plebiscite in the same way Coke or Evian would be. Often funny and well paced. Gael Garcia Bernal, as ever, is perfect.
Les Miserables – The big disappointment of the year. I have a strong feeling that the people who championed this film, probably knew the story of Les Mis already and were probably crying before they even took their seat in the cinema. I’m not at all stating that it was a bad film, I just thought it fell very far short of what it promised to be. I felt Hooper struggled with the scale of the film, there were too many incidences of good actors singing, and acting badly. The film is saved by the truly stunning scene with the dexterous Anne Hathaway, which is shocking and disturbing and is the one image I’ll take away from the film.
The Hobbit – Another disappointment overall. It was a great film, but I did feel that the pace of the film was very wrong and I was sad that somebody with the ability of Peter Jackson would be so self-indulgent, when he demonstrated such wonderful restraint in adapting Lord Of The Rings. But alas, he was, to the detriment of the film. I must still watch this in 3D.
Avengers – I am not often a fan of super hero movies that are not directed by Christopher Nolan because they bore the crap out of me. Avengers was pretty entertaining, and impressive in its ability to weave so many characters, that often lead their own film, into the story, and give them equal credence. As much as I enjoyed this film, Avengers 2,3,4,5 and 6 will probably all be a major disappointment.