It’s testament to what a great year of film 2012 has been that I’ve struggled to narrow down my best of list to a nice round thirty and had even greater trouble selecting a top ten. Looking back at 2011, it seems like that was a year with a handful of stand out Rating: movies and then a lot of solid but not particularly sensational movies behind them. 2012 on the other hand has had far more consistency and far more Rating: and upwards ranked films on the old Keeling-o-meter.
One other thing that I did notice was that I have far more blockbuster movies in my top ten this year. I think this is partly because 2012 has genuinely been a great year for Hollywood blockbusters compared to recent years’ offerings. However it may well also be because last year a lot of the more prestigious Oscar nominated movies came out at the end of 2011, such as The Artist, Midnight in Paris and Moneyball etc, and were thus in contention for places on my list. However for the forthcoming 2013 Oscars, the major contenders are yet to come out in the UK with Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Zero Dark Thirty and Lincoln all still to arrive and thus not appearing in this list.
First up, I’ve listed the movies I’ve ranked in places thirty down to sixteen, though to be honest a lot of these are on a par and fairly interchangeable. I just about caught up with everything I wanted to see in 2012 over the past few weeks so it’s as conclusive as it’s going to get!
Leos Carax’s visually stunning and undeniably bonkers fantasy drama plays out like a waking dream as the daily routine of Mr Oscar, a mysterious man who travels around in a chauffeur driven limo and takes on various guises while interacting with different people, unravels onscreen . At different ports of call he’s a beggar, a family man, an assassin and a business man, all thanks to his bottomless make up kit. His most striking guise is the grotesque Mr Merde, a half leprechaun half demonic Mr Trebus type, who rises from the sewers and stalks around terrorising unsuspecting people who are watching a photo-shoot in a cemetery. It should also be noted that Denis Lavant is absolutely incredible as Mr Oscar, showing an enviable range as he undertakes this wide spectrum of roles.
Several arguments have been put forward as to what the film means and what its absurd and surreal visuals symbolise, but as one fellow film buff pointed out to me, I’m not too sure it really matters. It’s a cinematic experience and a real feast for the senses. If you want something a little bit off-the-wall and incredibly memorable, look no further than Holy Motors.
Josh Radnor (he of Ted from ‘How I Met Your Mother’ fame) delivers his second directorial effort in Liberal Arts, a charming indie movie which sees him play thirty-something Jesse, a guy bored with his University Admissions job and now newly single to boot. Struggling to find any inspiration and excitement in his life, Jesse decides to take up a former Professor’s offer of returning to his old College and speaking at the his retirement dinner. Once back among the leafy trees and trappings of academia, Jesse falls in love with College all over again and begins to long for the carefree days before the responsibilities of real life set in, as he looks back with rose-tinted glasses at a time when the wide world stretched out in front of him. During his visit, Jesse meets a young student called Zibby, played by the thoroughly lovely Elisabeth Olsen, and begins to once again feel the thrill of romance before the considerable age difference begins to become an issue.
It’s at times funny but is for the most part a touching and sweet drama about a guy who longs for his past and, to paraphrase Woody Allen, romanticizes it all out of proportion. It’s an upbeat and immensely likable tale and one which will particularly resonate with anyone who occasionally finds themselves getting stuck in the past and struggling to grow up.
Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges was an absolutely fantastic film and ever since it brought the prolific Irish playwright to Hollywood’s attention, I’ve been on the look out for his follow up offering. Seven Psychopaths may not quite reach the dizzy heights of In Bruges, but it’s still an entertaining, violent and often very funny comedy thriller which benefits from having a cast chock full of scene-stealing badasses. Colin Farrell stars as Marty, a boozy Irish scriptwriter with a bad case of writer’s block who can’t seem to get any further than the title with his latest project, ‘Seven Psychopaths’. His best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell), an out of work actor turned dog-napper, attempts to inspire his friend by introducing him to some real life psychopaths, a feat which is made considerably easier when Billy and his elder partner Hans (Christopher Walken), accidentally steal the much-loved dog of a dangerous gangster called Charlie (Woody Harrelson). Things rapidly escalate and the distinction between fictional and real psychopaths begins to get rather blurred.
The film does get very meta in parts and revels in its own cinematic clichés. Whether or not you get onboard with Seven Psychopaths probably relies upon you being willing to sit back and just enjoy the ridiculous violent ride. Personally I think that McDonagh pulls it off brilliantly and the film has a definite Tarantino-esque sense of pop-culture cool and some instantly quotable rat-a-tat dialogue. The cast are all on top form and while Farrell is on safe ground as the booze-soaked seemingly normal one, it’s Rockwell and Walken who really shine with the former embodying a ball of deranged energy and the latter at his eerily calm and menacing best.
Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth has not been met with the rapturous critical response that greeted his first foray into Tolkien’s world, but despite not being on a par with Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was still a thoroughly enjoyable and immersive start to another great adventure. Yes, it is a touch too long and could easily have been trimmed of a good thirty minutes or more, but it was still an entertaining start to the new trilogy and to be honest never felt that overly long to me, certainly not to the detriment of the film as a whole. There were perhaps one too many scenes of Dwarves running away from things, but it still kept me gripped and the ‘Riddles in the Dark’ scene in particular was brilliant. Martin Freeman was note perfect as Bilbo and Sir Ian McKellan was as marvellous as expected as Gandalf. I won’t get into the whole ‘two films good, three films bad’ argument here, but I’ll reiterate my feelings from before the film was released, if any filmmaker can flesh out and add to Tolkien’s fantasy world, then it is Peter Jackson. It may be more kiddy friendly than its cinematic predecessor, but it’s still a fun and thoroughly engaging romp.
An astonishing documentary which tells the story of French conman Frederic Bourdin who managed to dupe an American family into believing he was their missing son despite baring no physical similarity and being several years older. Bourdin is the focal point of the film, acting almost as a narrator as he talks us through his warped rationale. Despite having dark hair, different eye colour and a foreign accent, he convinces officials in both Spain, where he is ‘found’, as well as in America that he is the missing boy. It’s the actions of the boy’s family which prove most surprising however. The family are also interviewed and give their side of this surreal story too. Was it simply wishful thinking and blind hope that led them to accept this imposter into their home or was there an ulterior motive?
The work of a private investigator, Charlie Parker, as well as claims by Bourdin himself, suggest that the family themselves had killed the missing boy and were simply covering their tracks. This claim is unsubstantiated and Bourdin is far from a reliable witness, but Parker does put forward a compelling argument against the family. It’s a gripping and unsettling documentary and one which utilizes recreated footage cleverly in order to heighten the tension. It’s one of those ‘you couldn’t make it up’ true crime stories and one which packs an incredibly sinister undertone.
Stephen Chbosky’s take on his own seminal coming-of-age novel is a nostalgic and heartfelt look at love, friendship and the general tribulations of High School life. The story focuses on titular wallflower Charlie (Logan Lerman) a shy and quiet boy who finds acceptance at his new High School with a bunch of friends headed by charismatic Patrick (Ezra Miller) and his stepsister Sam (Emma Watson). The group takes Charlie under their wing and he soon becomes a vital part of their inner circle. As love triangles begin to emerge and Patrick’s secret gay relationship with one of the school’s jocks begins to deteriorate, the importance of friendship and the pains of unrequited love come to the fore.
Chbosky does a great job of delivering an honest and believable account of late-teenage life in the early nineties and the darker elements which come into play towards the film’s end are deftly observed. The three leads are all magnificent with Watson effortlessly shaking off her Hermione Granger image and delivering a compelling and sweet performance as Charlie’s long-term crush. Ezra Miller steals the show however with a magnetic turn as the feisty and funny Patrick whose role as the gay-best-friend could not be further from the standard rom-com cliché.
A captivating Danish historical drama that weaves in Royal Court power-politics, a de-facto coup d’état and the spread of Enlightenment thinking, all set against the backdrop of a passionate but doomed central romance. Stunningly shot and including some truly striking scenes of opulent royal life, director Nikolaj Arcel delivers an eye catching and engrossing film based on little known real life events.
Set in the court of King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) in late 18thcentury Denmark, the nobility live lives of great luxury while the downtrodden peasants continue to live in squalor. The spread of Enlightenment thinking is beginning to concern those whose power it threatens and thus all Enlightenment texts have been banned. The King himself is mentally ill and manipulated by his advisors. He is wed at the film’s outset to a young Queen called Catherine (Alicia Vikander), a naive girl from the English Royal family. The pair are clearly a terrible match and once she has performed her Queenly duties in the bedroom they begin to ignore each other completely.
When the King is taken ill, a local doctor named Johan Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) a known supporter of the Enlightenment movement is brought in to treat him and they soon strike up a close bond. The doctor begins to exert a great deal of power over the King and he and a few close cohorts begin to manipulate him into passing various social reforms, much to the chagrin of the various nobles. As the political intrigue rages on, Streunsee and Queen Catherine enter into an illicit affair and when she becomes pregnant for the second time, rumours begin to circulate as to who the real father truly is. The ostracized couriers begin to plot the doctor’s downfall and hatch a plan to wrestle back control.
The director does a brilliant job of intertwining the socio-political themes with the central love story and provides ample focus to both at the expense of neither. All three central performances are terrific with Mikkelsen proving once again that he is one of the finest actors working today. Some historical liberties may have been taken but it is nevertheless an incredibly detailed and absorbing movie which thrusts you into this 18th Century world and proves an eye catching and sumptuous piece of little known European history.
As a lover of tales about outlaws in the American West, a big fan of director John Hillcoat’s grimy Australian Western The Proposition and with a cast including Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Guy Pearce and Jessica Chastain, my hopes for Lawless were sky high. The end result was perhaps a little anti-climactic, though that was perhaps more due to weight of expectation rather than a particular problem with the movie. Based on Matt Bondurant’s novel The Wettest Country In The World, it tells the tale of the author’s real-life relatives who flouted America’s prohibition laws to sell Moonshine in Franklin County Virginia in the early 1930s. Beautifully shot and with superb central performances all round, one can only imagine how phenomenal the film could have been has the story been just a bit more inventive. As it is, while the good ol’ boys fighting the law plot plays out fairly predictably, it benefits greatly from a fantastic Tom Hardy brooding and calmly menacing his way through proceedings as the elder brother and family leader, and Guy Pearce giving a particularly nasty turn as a thoroughly unpleasant lawman. It’s bloody and violent throughout and Hillcoat does a decent job of immersing us into the Bondurant brothers’dangerous country life.
Michael Haneke’s Amour has quite rightly received copious amounts of critical praise since its release and received plenty of accolades on the festival circuit.. As one might expect from Haneke, it’s an uncompromising and often incredibly difficult film to watch. Unlike many of the directors’ other films though it is not violent, horrifying or preachy, it is simple an incredibly moving and powerful account of what it truly means to be in love. The film focuses on an elderly French couple called Georges and Anne whose blissful lives are rocked when Anne is taken extremely ill and becomes confined to a wheelchair. Things begin to deteriorate for Anne after she experiences a second stroke and is soon bed-ridden, completely paralysed and unable to communicate. Georges promised Anne however that he would not send her to a home or a hospital and that he would care for her himself. True to his word, Georges takes it upon himself to look after his wife despite the incredible strain this puts upon him.
Haneke’s film is both heartfelt and devastatingly affecting. The unbreakable bond of love and the spectre of death are perfectly captured in a movie that may be difficult to sit through but will unquestionably affect you deeply. Amour is not a film you will want to watch again and again, but one which thoroughly deserves to be seen and appreciated at least once. Little tip however; you may want to line up some comedy for afterwards, just to bring you back from the edge.
An edgy psychological thriller directed by Sean Durkin which starts out as a captivating character study but which is underpinned by an incredible slow-burning tension that gradually builds to a head. The story focuses on Martha, played in a star-making turn by Elisabeth Olsen, a girl who flees a creepy cult ran by a charismatic and abusive leader (John Hawkes). Martha flees to her sister’s country retreat but struggles to adapt to real life and shows clear mental scars from her time with the cult. Flashbacks to her time with the group begin to shed more and more light upon why she has become so distant and on edge.
Martha’s growing paranoia that the cult is out to get her begins to get out of control and the line between delusion and reality gets blurred. The director ramps up the tension and the audience is never sure exactly where the story is going to go. Olsen is superb in the lead, delivering a character who is at times confident and independent but then at others broken and reduced to a state of childlike dependency. It’s a film which deliberately and disturbingly keeps its audience permanently ill at ease.
Walter Salles’ adaptation of Kerouc’s seminal beat novel was not universally loved upon its release. Many felt that it missed the point of the source material and many more suggested that it simply did not translate well into a movie format. I personally disagree however and felt that while the film is not without its faults, it is still an enjoyable and commendable take on the source material and one which goes some way to capturing the counterculture spirit that Kerouac intended.
Like many of Kerouac’s works, On The Road is told in the form of narration with the central character, Sal Paradise, a de facto pseudonym for Kerouac himself. The events which unfold are told through Sal’s eyes and it is his own personal observations and musings on what he witness that create such a captivating glimpse into the experiences of the beat generation. The challenge of translating Sal’s innermost thoughts as well as capturing the distinct tone and sense of time and place that Kerouac’s novel possessed was always going to be a challenge for any director, hence the books supposed status as being ‘unfilmable’. Walter Salles achieves this transition to the screen remarkably well in my book.
There was obviously a need for Salles to trim down Kerouac’s story and this is something the director achieves neatly. The key themes such as the bonds of friendship, the desire to explore and Dean Moriaty’s status as ‘natural man’ unbound by society’s norms, all still remain. Given the novel’s structure, it was inevitable that much of the film would be narrated by Sal and Sam Riley offers a curious and wide-eyed take on his adventures and his admiration and affection of Dean is captured well. The homo-erotic subtext between Sal and Dean is not shied away from either. It’s the close bond between these two friends which is the core ofOn The Road and Garrett Hedlund’s performance is worthy of special praise in particular. Hedlund’s Dean is infectiously charming and dangerously attractive, pulling in friends and lovers with his magnetic personality and Hedlund’s take on a complicated character, right down to his laid back delivery of Dean’s repeated “yes, yes, yes” line, is brilliantly done.
I could ramble on about why I enjoyed the film and offer further defences for its faults but I’ll save that for a rainy day. It’s not perfect by any means but Salles’ film deserves credit for coming close to capturing a sense of what Kerouac’s book was about. While I can understand why many people took umbrage with it, I personally found it engaging and entertaining with some gorgeous photography and electric performances.
Released way back in January of 2012, Steve McQueen’s intense drama about one man’s struggles with a crippling sex addiction is driven by a superb central performance by Michael Fassbender. As the insular Brandon, Fassbender portrays a shallow husk of a human being, an empty and seemingly emotionless creature who struggles to find any pleasure in life. The arrival of his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) begins to seriously impinge on his dirty little secrets as Brandon is forced to let her stay with him while she has a couple of singing gigs in New York. As Brandon struggles to maintain his sexual activities, a shared scar from the siblings’ past begins to emerge and Sissy’s longing for help and acceptance from her brother becomes clear, as does Brandon’s inability to provide it.
It’s an unflinching and often uncomfortable film but also an incredibly powerful one. Mulligan and Fassbender are both exceptional with one stand out scene coming as she performs a stripped down and tender version of ‘New York, New York’ at a nightclub and we see a rare flicker of emotion begin to enter onto Brandon’s face. Full of haunting imagery and a drab New York that has rarely looked so unwelcoming, McQueen’s film really resonates and lingers with you long after the film has finished.
Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature film was a captivating and extraordinary movie about a forgotten bayou community in Louisiana called The Bathtub that faces devastation from an oncoming storm. The events which unfold are told through the eyes of Hushpuppy, a tomboyish six year old girl with a wild imagination. Hushpuppy lives with her unwell and often bad-tempered father Wink and the two of them, like many others in their community, refuse to abandon their homes when the flood waters start rising. After seeing out the storm the father and daughter set out in their self-made boat to search for fellow survivors. Wink sees it as his duty to ready Hushpuppy for life after he is gone and frequently warns her of how tough and unforgiving the real world can be. There’s also a fantastical edge to the story as Hushpuppy dreams of some mythical creatures called Aurochs which were frozen centuries ago in the Arctic but appear to be returning to the bathtub in search of Hushpuppy.
This blend of powerful emotions and child-like wonder is captured magnificently by the young director and the cast of actors, most of whom had little or no experience (including young Quvenzhane Wallis in the young lead role) are superb. The cinematography looks incredible and it really adds to the films’ dreamlike atmosphere. Beasts is a poignant and heartfelt coming of age movie like no other you’ve seen before.
This was a film that took many people by surprise and unexpectedly proved to be one of the funniest comedies of the year. Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as Schmidt and Jenko, two rookie cops whose youthful appearance is utilised by the force as they are sent undercover at a high school to infiltrate a drugs ring. A lot has changed since they themselves were at school however and while Hill’s Schmidt has bad memories of bullying and unpopularity, Tatum’s Jenko relishes the chance to go back to a time where he was one of the cool kids. Unfortunately for Jenko though being a meat-headed jock is no longer considered cool, whereas taking part in activities and being environmentally friendly suddenly is. The script mines this twist for plenty of great laughs and also gives the two leads a fair bit of free reign to do their own thing.
Hill and Tatum are both on great form with the latter really excelling and showing a gift for comedy that few of us perhaps expected him to possess. Not only does Tatum have impeccable timing, he also throws himself into the physical side of things with gusto, as demonstrated by his marvellous music-room rampage while high on the new hip drug. Funnier and snappier than most of its contemporaries, 21 Jump Street really stood out when compared to some of the truly terrible American comedies released this year, Project X and The Campaign I’m looking in your direction.
Ben Wheatley’s deeply dark comedy skilfully blends together humour and occasional bursts of bloody violence to devastating effect. The story revolves around odd couple Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) who set off in Chris’caravan for a romantic holiday around the British Isles, taking in such sights as the Crich Tramway Museum and the legendary Keswick Pencil Museum. Things taken a turn for the worse however when one accidental death soon escalates into a gruesome killing spree as the couple begin to take vengeance on anyone they feel has wronged them.
The two central performances are superb with both Oram and Lowe swinging from mundane domestic bliss to unhinged serial killers in the blink of an eye. The film has a distinctly British sense of humour and while it won’t be to everyone’s taste, I found myself in stitches throughout. As Sightseers dramatically kicks up a notch in the final act, everything builds to a shockingly memorable crescendo. One thing that’s for sure, you will never listen to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power of Love in the same light again.