Here’s the second half of my top thirty films of 2012. The exact order has changed about a dozen times since I finished writing, including the top spot, so it shows you how spoiled for choice we have been this past year! Let me know what you think.
If you missed the first part of my list you can check it out below:
Top 30 of 2012 : Part 1, 30-16
A bleak and scuzzy neo-noir from Andrew Dominik, the writer/director behind Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. Killing Them Softly is set in the grimy and rain soaked New Orleans underworld and features a cast of thoroughly unpleasant types who become embroiled in an escalating series of double-crosses and vendettas after a valuable card game gets held up by two dim-witted small time crooks. There are plenty of memorable scenes peppered throughout as well as some choice dialogue and stand out performances from Brad Pitt and Scoot McNairy as a ruthless hit man and a scrawny low life respectively.
The subtext regarding the financial crisis and bankers gambling away public money is laid on a little thick in places, but it doesn’t detract from the tense and gritty tone which engulfs the movie. I’ve always had a fondness for films that embrace their bleakness and make no apologies for doing so and this is definitely one of those. Killing Them Softlyis filled with dislikeable and dishonest men and the gangland farce that they all become embroiled in is captured wonderfully by Dominik.
William Friedkin’s brilliantly taglined “totally twisted deep-fried Texas redneck trailer park murder story” sees Matthew McConaughey playing against type as a sadistic and menacing hired gun called Joe. It’s a grubby and grimy movie with a cast full of rough and fairly unlikeable characters. Joe has been hired by a family to kill their mother in order for them to claim the insurance. As one might expect, things don’t go exactly as the family hope and plans begin to go awry. Joe however upholds his end of the bargain and expects to get his payment as promised. The unpleasant payment in question happens to be the family’s under-age daughter, played with waifish naivety by Juno Temple.
As everything begins to go wrong and the family become more and more desperate, Joe only gets more and more dangerously determined. The trailer park setting and sleazy characters create a truly depraved atmosphere as you begin to wonder what lengths they will all go to next It’s very much McConaughey’s movie though and Joe haunts the movie like a grim spectre of death, very much like Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh in No Country For Old Men. One specific scene involving a family dinner of KFC being put to horrific use, stands out as a prime example of the film’s unflinching and brutal style. Not one for all the family to enjoy but a really dark and tense piece that is well worth a watch.
Rian Johnson’s Sci-Fi thriller wasn’t quite the mind-bending spectacle that its promotional team billed it as, but it was nonetheless an impressively atmospheric and engrossing time travel movie. The central premise is a great one. In 2074, time travel has been invented but swiftly outlawed. Criminal gangs have begun to utilise it however and are sending people they want disposed of back in time to 2044 to be killed by specially trained ‘loopers’. When the gangsters wish to dispose of the
loopershowever, they send their future selves back to 2044 to be killed by their younger incarnation in an act known as ‘closing the loop’.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a young looper who is doing very well for himself and enjoying the drugs and partying lifestyle his work affords him. That all begins to change however when his friend and fellow looper Seth shows up panicking, saying he hesitated when presented with his future self to kill and that a mysterious gangland figure called ‘The Rainmaker’ has begun closing everyone’s loop in the future. When Joe himself is then presented with his future self (Bruce Willis) and fails to finish him off, it sets of a chain reaction of events that sees him forced to fight for his own survival. As you can tell it’s one of those movies that is hard to condense into a solitary paragraph.
While there are some fairly glaring plot holes involved, as Joe himself says in the film, it’s best not to get hung up too much on the science of it all. JGL proves here that he is very much ready to be a Hollywood leading man and Bruce Willis puts in his best performance in a good while as the tortured future Joe. The story keeps you gripped throughout and Johnson clearly has a wonderful eye for a great shot. One particular scene involving a young telekinetic boy losing his temper and a gangland henchmen baring the brunt of his rage was a particular striking highlight. It’s a stylish and memorable movie and arguably the most original Sci-Fi offering since Inception.
A gritty and low-fi crime drama set on the sun-baked streets of LA that follows two cops on their daily patrols as they become embroiled in a dangerous case involving a powerful cartel that may leave them severely out of their depth. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena give two great performances and its their easy chemistry and sparky to-and-fros which give the film a genuine sense of realism. The film is told for the most part in the found-footage format with the cops’ own handheld camera recording the events which unfold. The case involving a ruthless drugs cartel slowlyunravels and the way in which little snippets of information are discovered by the two cops during their day-to-day routine is nicely done. The elements of their privates lives are also well utilised as we get a genuine sense of the bond between them both as well as the difficulties faced by their loved one. It’s an extremely visceral film and one which thrusts the viewer into the thick of the action and doesn’t shy away from the more gruesome aspects of the case in question.
William Friedkin may have over-sold it slightly when he suggested it was the greatest cop movie ever, but considering he gave us The French Connection his is an opinion certainly worth taking onboard. Perhaps not the greatest cop movie ever, but certainly one of the best in recent memory.
Seth MacFarlane’s big screen debut, much like his TV series Family Guy, is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. I know plenty of people who couldn’t stand Ted and found it painfully unfunny. Personally though, I found it absolutely hilarious and laughed embarrassingly loudly throughout my visit to see it at the cinema. It’s not the cleverest
or wittiest of comedies, rather its a bombardment of lewd, crass and often very
offensive jokes that can’t really fail to raise a smile if you are the type of person who enjoys MacFarlane’s other work.
The film follows Mark Wahlberg’s John who as a
lonely child wished his only friend, his teddy bear, was real. One magical night, for reasons unexplained and
frankly irrelevant, his wish is granted and Teddy comes alive. A montage shows us the two buddies growing up and Ted becoming something of a celebrity before flying off the rails. We then land with a bump at John and Ted in adulthood,
getting stoned and making foul-mouthed jokes in the apartment the pair share with John’s long suffering girlfriend Lori (
Mila Kunis). Lori is losing her patience with John who appears unable to
grow up and leave his childish ways behind. In other words, he won’t let Ted go and start putting
Lori first. There is a subplot involving Giovanni Ribisi’s unhinged Teddy obsessive turned kidnapper, but
by and large the fun is mined from Ted and John getting one another intro trouble. Be it through Ted inviting four
prostitutes over to the apartment, one of
whom may well have shit on the floor, or John ditching a swanky party with Lori’s workmates in order to party at Ted’s house with Flash Gordon.
It’s vulgar and silly and not intended to be liked by everyone, but for me it was consistently funny throughout and even the poignant ending doesn’t feel out of place. One of the finest comedies of the year.
Silver Linings Playbook was a really unexpected pleasant surprise of a movie. I didn’t think I’d like it anywhere near as much as I actually did. Funny, moving and filled with great performances, it’s a touching and well-balanced look at mental illness and the effects it can have on a person and those close to them.
Bradley Cooper stars as Pat, a guy who lost everything, including his wife, and after eight months in a state institution is back living with his parents and is set on getting his life back on track and repairing his marriage. He meets Jennifer Lawrence’s Tiffany through a mutual friend and she too has experienced mental problems. The two strike up an at first uneasy friendship which appears to be beneficial to both of their recoveries. The pair then make a deal whereby Tiffany will help Pat reconnect with his wife if he will be her partner at an upcoming dance competition. There’s also the issue of Pat’s dad, played with great gusto by Robert DeNiro, whose obsession with gambling and specifically the Philadelphia Eagles football team, is getting him into difficult financial situations. It all culminates in a heart-warming finale that features one of the feel-good scenes of the year at the dance competition.
Silver Linings Playbook is far more than just your average rom-com managing to be both genuinely funny as well being poignant without the schmaltz. Lawrence is fantastic as Tiffany, swerving from sassy and confident one minute to unhinged and vulnerable the next. Her and Cooper both show a great comic timing and share a wonderful onscreen chemistry. It’s also good to see Robert DeNiro really trying ion a role again and not just phoning it in as he appears to have done for the past fifteen years.
This funny and charming American indie was of 2012’s hidden gems. It didn’t get a great deal of coverage but I urge anyone who likes this type of dialogue-heavy comedy drama (think Little Miss Sunshine, Jeff Who Lives At Home and Your Sister’s Sister) to seek it out immediately.
The plot revolves around an obscure classified ad which reads:
Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
A trendy Seattle magazine sends a cynical writer Jeff (Jake Johnson) to chase up the story. Along for the ride are shy intern Arnau (Karan Soni) and disillusioned budding reporter Darius (Aubrey Plaza). Darius proves to be an adept investigator and tracks down the author of the ad while Jake is off chasing a girl from his childhood and paying the task at hand little or no attention. The ad’s author is Kenneth (Mark Duplass) a paranoid supermarket clerk who appears to be hiding something from his own past. He is however convinced that he has invented time travel and that a shadowy government agency is after him. Darius and Kenneth become close and while he is unaware of the reasons for her interest in his work, he asks her to join him on his adventure. As bizarre as it all seems, Darius soon starts to believe Kenneth’s claims.
Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly deliver an endearing and heartfelt
dramedy about a group of disillusioned and wounded people who are just looking for something a little bit better. The characters are all fully fleshed out and all get there own chance to shine. While the centre of the story if Darius and Kenneth, Jeff and Arnau are by no means sidelined and some of the funniest moments come while Jeff is helping Arnau come out of his shell and learning a valuable lesson or two himself in the process. There’s no
frathouse comedy stereotypes, these are well rounded characters who you genuinely care about by the film’s end. Aubrey Plaza and Mark
Duplass both stand out in the lead roles with the former especially at her
snarky and sullen best. Expect big things from both of these actors this year.
The Raid is one big, wonderfully choreographed, wince-inducing and exhilarating fight sequence. Director Gareth Evans delivers one of the most skilfully shot and brutally realistic martial arts movies there has been in quite some time. The fact that it ran in major multiplexes as if it was a big budget action movie and not the obscure Indonesian fight-flick it was, speaks volumes. Every crunching bone and punch to the head was depicted in unflinching detail as our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) is forced to lead a band of cops in a bloody fight for survival as they seek to escape from a gang-controlled tower block.
Amongst the many precisely composed fight sequences one which stood out was the breathtaking three way fight between Rama, his brother Andi (Donny Alamsyah) and the ultimate psychotic badass Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian). The six minute long fight scene is blisteringly vicious and is aided in no small part by Evans’ wonderful camera work pirouetting around the three fighters. It’s one of those moments where the whole cinema seemingly holds its collective breath. The mass exhale and audible swear words which greeted the scene’s end is credit to just how impressive the sequence really is. Thrilling, intense and incredibly energetic, The Raid was a stand-out action movie from 2012 and signals big things for its young director.
A truly inspiring and uplifting documentary looking at the power of music and the importance of never giving up on your dreams. The film charts the story of a forgotten 70’s folk singer called Rodriguez. Once touted as the next Bob Dylan, his star burned brightly and then promptly fizzled out as after two albums which both received a fairly lacklustre reception. Rodriguez faded into obscurity and was for a long time assumed to be dead. The action then cuts to South Africa where we meet several music fanatics who explain that Rodriguez’s work was in fact massive in South Africa and one of his albums in particular was widely bootlegged across the country and experienced incredible popularity among the white anti-apartheid movement. What follows is an attempt by these South African fans to track the mysterious Rodriguez down and find out what happened to him.
Needless to say, he wasn’t dead as the fans had always assumed, but the reclusive troubadour had long given up his dreams of performing his music for a living and had no idea of his success thousands of miles away in South Africa. I won’t spoil exactly what happens next for you, but as I’ve suggested, there is an incredibly poignant and inspirational moment which cannot fail to melt even the stoniestof hearts. The film itself is wonderfully put together with talking head interviews, live footage and even moody animation utilised to tell this very touching story. The soundtrack meanwhile is first class with the sounds of Rodriguez shining through and proving so catchy you really do struggle to see why he didn’t become a household name.
The final part of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy had an awful lot to live up to. The Dark Knight was so incredibly popular the expectation surrounding its follow up was almost unprecedented. It’s perhaps inevitable therefore that some people weren’t impressed by the third Nolan outing, as is often the case, the weight of expectation can crush movies for some people. Personally though, while not quite matching TDK for sheer unadulterated entertainment, it was still a captivating and riveting super-hero epic. It’s ambitious film making both in terms of both its plot and also its tone and style. This is film making on an epic scale. An incredibly audacious attempt to deliver a heady mix of blockbuster popcorn action with thoughtful and clever cinema. Nolan’s masterful eye and Wally Pfister’s incredible skill as cinematographer ensure the finished product looks absolutely stunning.
Tom Hardy’s Bane is a brilliant baddie, and despite having the unenviable task of following up Heath Ledger’s Joker, Hardy pulls it off with a menacing and intense performance. Bane is a genuine threat to Batman and an adversary even Bruce Wayne cannot handle in one-on-one combat. The bone-crunching fight scene between the two at the film’s midpoint is a stand out moment for me and a timely sign from Nolan showing that he isn’t afraid to take things to a dark place.
Of course there are any number of plot holes that can be picked out and chewed upon. How does Bruce get back to Gotham? How does he track down Selina Kyle? Aren’t those cops surprisingly sprightly after weeks and weeks trapped underground? However we shouldn’t get too bogged down in these matters as lets face it, this is a world where nobody notices that Bruce Wayne and Batman have the same facial features and have never been seen in the same room together. It is slightly more disjointed and messy compared to the neatness of its predecessors, but it still works as a
satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.
That being said, and I’m no filmmaker of course, just a lowly critic, but for me there was a very obvious ending point for the film which Nolan didn’t take. A certain cafe shot that didn’t require a reaction shot and which would have been a wonderful moment to go out on in its own right. That’s only a minor complaint though and I’ll defer to Mr Nolan on directorial matters such as this one. I did perhaps expect at the beginning of the year that this movie would be even higher on
my list than it is, which does mean that it came in slightly
below expectations for me, but it’s still a mighty
impressive piece of work that I know I’ll be watching again and again.
After the years of build-up and the months of teaser trailers, clips and more trailers, it seemed like the Avengers would never actually arrive on screen. Much like The Dark Knight Rises, it was another instalment in a much-loved pre-existing film world and one with colossal expectations attached to it. Here was a movie which would attempt to cram several franchises worth of stars into one story and still end up with an entertaining and coherent plot. It was undoubtedly a mammoth task and one which in my book, Joss Whedon and his team passed with flying colours.
Action-packed, tense and funnier than I had expected, The Avengers was a rare treat, a big budget blockbuster which successfully combined spectacle and story. A great deal of credit for this must go to Whedon himself. He delivers the spectacle, with several incredibly large and impressive set pieces, but anchors the whole affair with an engrossing and fully rounded plot which provides plenty of drama to go alongside the big explosions and Hulk-smashes. The script as well is first rate and is packed with plenty of typically Whedon-esque zingers, It’s very easy for the script of a film as fantastical as this to fall into overblown cliché, but in Whedon’s hands it remains sharp and clever. The bickering between the assembled heroes works well and goes a long way to making us relate to them as characters rather than just indestructible superheroes.
I know a minority of people have taken against the film and feel its far too full of explosions and set pieces for its own good, but for me it was popcorn cinema at its best. It felt suitably epic and yet at the same time didn’t feel overly long even at a 140+ minute run time. Rather than an overblown sci-fi movie with more FX-budget than sense, it’s an engrossing action romp that appealed to both newbies and fanboys alike.
Sometimes, in amongst the various political and economic strife of this world, you just need a film that will put a smile back on your face and make everything suddenly seem a little bit cheerier. For me, the first theatrical Muppet outing in 12 years was just that, funny, charming and unashamedly upbeat, it really was a breath of fresh air. The movie’s premise may be that the Muppets are outdated and nobody wants to watch them anymore, but after their trademark gleeful insanity has played out and the last song has been sung, the Muppets feel just as necessary as ever.
The story sees lifelong Muppet fanatic Walter, his big brother Gary (Jason Segal) and Gary’s girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams)travelling from their home in Smalltown USA to the bright lights of LA. Once there, they uncover a plot by evil Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) to raze the Muppet Theatre to the ground in order to drill for oil. After rallying the troops and helping Kermit put the band back together, the Muppets decide to do what they do best and stage an all-singing and all-dancing telethon to raise the funds to buy their theatre back off Richman.
There’s no cynicism or world-weariness here, the whole film is shrouded in a refreshing sense of harmless fun. The musical numbers are all incredibly catchy, from the opening ‘Life’s A Happy Song’, to the
anthemic ‘Man or Muppet’. There are also a couple of strangely poignant moments as Kermit laments the faded glories of the
Muppet heyday in ‘Pictures in my Head’ and
particularly in the climactic bittersweet performance of ‘Rainbow Connection’ at the telethon. Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age but to this man-child, that performance of ‘Rainbow Connection’ was more emotional than the vast majority of non-
muppetbased movies I saw this year.
All together now…. Everything is great. Everything is grand. I got the whole wide world in the palm of my hand.
I don’t think any of us expected Skyfall to be quite as successful as it was. We all knew it would take in a pretty penny but to become to highest grossing movie of all time in the UK is an extraordinary feat. Sam Mendes’ movie combined elements of modern day spy action movies with much loved tropes and quirks from the classic Bond universe to blistering effect. In a more general sense, the movie itself attempts to bring the Bond franchise fully up to date, with a distinct lack of gadgets and camp silliness on display. Instead we get a rough and ready Bond, first glimpsed in Daniel Craig’s debut Casino Royale, only now we go deeper into his past and begin to see him more as a real person, rather than a mystical super man.
A clear theme which is touched upon throughout Skyfall is of 007’s place in the modern world and specifically the agent’s age itself. Bond is returning to duty and is perhaps not as sharp as he once was. Craig delivers a great performance and a Bond who for perhaps the first time appears less than indestructible and possesses a real frailty. Mendes’ movie delves into the secret agent’s past and looks at what made him the spy he is today in a manner which no Bond movie to date has attempted.
There was three very distinct sections to Skyfall. The opening third very much like the Bond movies of old, a romping spy adventure complete with glamorous foreign locales and perilous chase sequences. The second third is a dramatic London set cat-and mouse affair, a setting which feels strangely fresh for a Bond movie as the action is so rarely set here in Blighty itself. The final third sees James embroiled in a deadly scenario the likes of which you won’t have seen him in before. It’s far from your typical Bond climax and packs a genuinely powerful punch.
Skyfall possesses some top draw action sequences, including the opening frenetic chase sequence through crowded Istanbul streets. On top of this though is a film with genuine character development and a profound emotional impact. It also looks magnificent throughout with Roger Deakins’ cinematography truly breathtaking at times with the Macau Casino arrival scene a particular highlight. After the lacklustre Quantum of Solace back in 2008, the Bond franchise needed a strong follow-up to set it back on track and Skyfall has unquestionably done this and much more.
Ben Affleck’s Argo is a tense and nail-biting thriller from start to finish. It shows yet again after strong offerings with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, that
Affleck is very much a director to look out for. From the nerve-wracking opening where American embassy staff are desperately trying to shred important documents as angry protestors storm their way into the compound, you know what you have let yourself in for. The film barely lets up the suspense as it progresses, but also possess a great sense of humour and fun which is cleverly worked into such a deadly serious story.
Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA operative who specialises in getting hostages out of volatile situations. When six Embassy staff escape and hide out in the home of the Canadian Ambassador, he is part of a team that begins to concoct schemes to exfiltrate them back to the US. Mendez’s so called “best bad idea we have” sees him posing as a Hollywood producer seeking to film a Science Fiction fantasy movie in Iran. After the CIA grudgingly give him the go ahead, he ropes in Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegal (Alan Arkin) to help him create this fake movie and make the production as believable as possible. Hence we have a striking juxtaposition between the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood production and the dire straits of the petrified and desperate hostages. Once Mendez is over in Iran and the plan goes into motion, it is pure cinematic tension at its best.
The film’s climactic set piece, as Affleck’s Tony Mendez and the rest of the fake film crew make their way through a crowded airport policed rigidly by the Iranian guards, is an absolute master class in prolonged suspense. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I watched the entire final twenty minutes of Argo through my fingers. As the group makes their way through the three levels of security, each time it gets a little bit more dangerous and you start to will them on that little bit more. By the time they arrive at the final checkpoint and get escorted into a side room for further questioning, if you’re anything like me, you were a nervous wreck.
Managing to be both a fun escapade and a terrifying edge-of-your seat drama, Argo is powerful and affecting popcorn cinema at its best. Simple in many ways, but incredibly effective.
Moonrise Kingdom may see Wes Anderson being as quirky and whimsical as ever, but there’s a tremendous tenderness and sincerity in the film’s narrative that puts it up there with the very best of his output.
Set on a picturesque New England island in 1965, the plot revolves around awkward first love and a childhood lust for adventure. Our two star-crossed lovers are bespectacled orphan and accomplished Khaki Scout Sam (Jared Gilman) and steely-eye problem child Suzy (Kara Hayward). After exchanging love letters, the pair decide to run away together and leave all their problems behind. When they do finally put their plan into action, it forces various adults on the island, such as full-time Scout master and part-time maths teacher Randy (Ed Norton), Suzy’s unhappy parents Walt (Bill Murray) and Laura (Frances McDormand) and lonely local cop Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to take action. The race is then on to get the kids home safely as a storm heads ominously towards the island.
The whole film looks like a typical Wes Anderson movie, all bright colours and very deliberately framed shots and as is often the case with Anderson movies there’s a wonderful attention to background detail too. The entire cast is perfect, from Anderson newcomers like Norton and Wills, to old hands like Bill Murray who is at his hangdog best. The child leads are both revelations and seem to really understand the tone Anderson was aiming for.
Dysfunctional families and precocious kids are nothing new to Wes Anderson movies, yet for me these themes all come together better than ever before in Moonrise Kingdom with a story that is heartfelt and touching and a script that is obscure and witty throughout.
Moonrise Kingdom is an enchanting movie about the innocence and surprising determination of young lovers and conversely the fragility and apathy of adult ones. His style may not be to everybody’s taste but if you like his previous works, this is Anderson at his very, very best and one not to miss.