The 2012 Review: Top Ten Films

Apologies for the delay in publishing this list – I’ve been grappling with a fiendishly difficult university essay in the past fortnight, so Quotesponging had to be put aside for a short while.  However, hopefully there are still some people who have room for one more Top Ten list for last year before the big-hitters of January start arriving in force.

2012 may have been a great year for music, but it was possibly an even better year for cinema.  For what may be the first time in my life, I’ve had the chance to see over thirty films in the cinema this year alone – that might not sound like much to some, but given my previous year averages, I was on something of a roll.  As such, narrowing it all down into a Top Ten has been a painstaking experience indeed.

There has been a lot to enjoy this year on the big screen, and even looking beyond quality, a stellar range of genres and flavours were brought to the table.  Documentaries tipped into the big genre bracket with some incredible releases, among them Bart Layton’s stupefying The Imposter, and the footage of LCD Soundsystem’s final show at Madison Square Garden, which formed the powerful Shut Up And Play The Hits.  Superheroes clashed everywhere: Dredd blew away countless crims, Bats took on Bane, and the Avengers bickered until the cows came home.  Alas, it’s not all been spectacular: Ridley Scott fumbled the ball with the grandiose mess that was Prometheus, and The Bourne Legacy… well, I fell asleep during that.  An account of Jeremy Renner going to the chemist’s isn’t a whole lot of fun, although I do remember hearing lots of gunfire and the word “science” repeatedly.

But all in, it’s not been too bad, and I’d like to think that these ten films show that quality control played a steady hand for the most part.  As with my albums list, I’ll be reeling off my Top Ten first of all, before listing a couple of Honourable Mentions, and mourning Ten That Got Away from me this year.  Happy reading!

My Top Ten Films of 2012

10

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists

The best thing about being a pirate may be Ham Night, but personally, what sold it for me was how charming Aardman made it all seem.  The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists was a remarkably pleasant surprise, providing some of the most quotable gold of the year, and improving with each subsequent viewing.  The tale of the Pirate Captain and his ragtag crew of dodo-doters is completely bonkers, frequently hilarious, and merrily distils Aardman’s cheeky brand of Britishness, thanks in no small part to a superb voice cast, starring the impeccable Hugh Grant and Imelda Staunton.  But most of all, it deserves its praise because it’s just so miraculously crafted.  Stop-motion animation is rarely done on this scale, and to see it pulled off in such an effervescent manner is simply magical.

9

The Imposter

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert when it comes to documentaries, but even to a relative newcomer to the format like myself, Bart Layton’s The Imposter feels like a total breath of fresh air.  An examination of the sprawling web of lies which stemmed from the disappearance of thirteen-year-old Nicholas Barclay, The Imposter is a chilling, and often quite bizarre examination of the nature of deception, and in a fantastic spin on the ‘talking head’ format, the imposter himself leads the discussion.  Frédéric Bourdin is a riveting (and delightfully charismatic) figure as he freely talks about his compulsive falsehoods, and as the question of the family’s part in his scheme is played out, things become even more unsettling.  A gripping watch from start to finish, and also features a tremendous line about ears.

8

Skyfall

As I mentioned in my full-length review, I’m not really in a position to judge Skyfall as a Bond film, given that I had only seen Casino Royale prior to viewing this latest entry – for shame.  However, as a film in its own right, Skyfall thrills as well as any other actioner.  As a personal quibble, it could do with tightening in a few places, but for the most part, Sam Mendes managed a terrific job with Daniel Craig’s third outing as 007, bravely exposing the cracks in an otherwise impeccable icon’s stature.  Skyfall hits hard and heavy, from its thunderous opening sequence onwards, but it’s incredibly debonair at the same time, dosing the explosives with dashes of dry humour (nice thighs) and joyful nods to the canon.  A great anniversary gift for loyal fans and newbies alike.

7

Moonrise Kingdom

Yay, Wes Anderson.  Again, having only seen a small handful of the director’s works, I’m far from an authority on this one in comparison to the other entries in his catalogue, but Moonrise Kingdom is a pure-hearted delight.  Equal parts funny (armed boy scouts!), cute (dancing on the sand) and quietly moving (Bruce Willis, take a bow), Anderson’s seventh feature left me simply aglow with pleasure.  Of course, if you’re not a fan of the director’s rather twee aesthetic, Moonrise Kingdom will do little to sway you (it is narrated by a man who resembles a gnome, after all), but for everyone else, it’s hard to resist a creation which boasts such a sunny display of bright colour and wistful tone.

6

Avengers Assemble

Time to come clean: before making the journey to the cinema, I didn’t care much one way or the other about Avengers Assemble.  Out of all the Marvel films, I had only caught Captain America prior to the big event, and it hadn’t really struck me as vital viewing.  I wasn’t not looking forward it, but I was far from buzzing, unlike the fifteen-odd people I was accompanying en route to the Apollo.

But I was clearly just being a prat.  With Joss Whedon at the wheel, the good ship Assemble follows a deliciously entertaining course in its two-hour-plus runtime.  With a keen reverence for each character, Whedon turned out to be more than capable of juggling each element fairly, keeping the tone lean and light all the while.  The actors (sometimes literally) bounce off of each other, making Avengers Assemble one of the loosest, funniest, and most wholesomely satisfying entries in the blockbuster genre for quite some time.  Even Renner’s Hawkeye gets a few moments to shine towards the megaton of a climax, and Mark Ruffalo makes for a memorable incarnation of Bruce Banner and the big green Hulking machine.

But the bottom line is that amid modern cinema’s alleged belief that Darker = Better, Avengers Assemble works so well because it embraces its big, bright comic-book genes so unabashedly.  This film doesn’t want to make you think.  It just wants you to have a total blast.  And that’s it’s secret, Captain.

5

The Dark Knight Rises

… and now onto the other side of the same coin.  Big things indeed were expected for Christopher Nolan’s trilogy-topper this year, and in terms of scale at least, The Dark Knight Rises didn’t disappoint.  The conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy brought the series full circle in suitably epic fashion, boasting an impressive display of pyrotechnics as well as putting audiences through the emotional wringer (for God’s sake, Sir Caine, I’m not a bloody reservoir).  The levels of audience involvement commanded by The Dark Knight Rises are still surprising: even though we now all know the story, it has retained the power to excite, distress and impress, and that’s due in no small part to the deft characterisation prioritised by Nolan and David S. Goyer ever since Batman Begins.

It’s flawed, and to some people, it’s the most aggravating film released in recent memory.  But personally, I still stand by the notion that a lot of these criticisms have been blown out of proportion.  Yes, we all know the film has more plot-holes than it does extras, and some of them really are quite grating in terms of logic, but when it comes to sheer exhilaration and heart-in-mouth tension, there was little this year which came close to matching Christian Bale’s final bow as the Caped Crusader.  Hardy brought the pain and the power; Oldman, Caine and Fox brought the profundity; and Hathaway and Gordon-Levitt both proved to be dynamic additions to Nolan’s Batverse.  It might not be perfect, but Bale and Nolan certainly left this franchise with a bang.

4

Holy Motors

A dapper-looking gentleman gets into a stretch limousine one morning, and spends the subsequent day partaking in such activities as scrambling around a Parisian cemetery dressed as a goblin (naturally) and indulging in a weird and wonderful display of mo-capped sex.  Yes, Leos Carax’s fifth film is very, very odd.  But it’s also a riot: an inspiring, unpredictable experience which leaves you turning its surreal beauty over in your head as soon as the credits start rolling.  Without spoiling too much, the journey undertaken by Monsieur Oscar (the aforementioned chap) across Holy Motors’ runtime is a mixture of meta trickery and an example of eloquent storytelling in its own right.  However you choose to interpret it, it’s an enjoyable and thought-provoking ride, and one well worth taking.

3

The Descendants

This is technically a film of 2011, but given that we didn’t have the chance to catch this in the UK until January of last year, I’m marking it as eligible for this list.  Alexander Payne broke his seven-year silence as a director with this gentle drama, which follows George Clooney’s Matt King as he faces a difficult financial decision, at the same time as being forced to address the unravelling ties of his family.

It may have been hyped beyond belief by critics towards the end of 2011, but the power of The Descendants doesn’t blow its hand all at once.  Over time, and bedding well over repeat viewings, it’s a film which lodges in the mind and filters its warmth long after the laughter has died down.  Ultimately, it follows a tragic tale, yet as a film, it is anything but deflating.  Amid all the heartache, there’s a warm poignancy carried through: a tenderness which refuses to become saccharine or clichéd.  The final message is one of hope and fortitude, which is helped along with a delightfully understated vein of humour, and some outstanding performances, chief among them Shailene Woodley’s portrayal of King’s oldest daughter.

2

The Raid

It’s funny that even in a year which promised Christian Bale bowing out as Batman, the Marvel team uniting to kick alien arse, Bilbo Baggins setting off on his unexpected journey, and an Indian boy sharing a lifeboat with a Royal Bengal tiger, what turned out to be the most pulse-pounding event of all was a film with barely any plot to its name.  Made by a Welshman who lives in Indonesia.  But then, The Raid (or, The Raid: Redemption, if you like) is something else entirely.  A lean powerhouse of a film which dispensed thrills as lightning-fast as Iko Uwais’ reflexes, this is an experience which left those of us in the student cinema hooting, squealing and cheering our way through ninety minutes of explosive, balletic action.

To cut to the chase, an elite SWAT team launch a stealth strike on the tower block HQ of a drug-peddling bastard.  Shit hits the fan, faces hit the walls, and a mad dog is unleashed, all in a display of jaw-dropping martial art prowess.  I can’t really put into words how electrifying this film is, but it’s something to cherish.  Expertly choreographed, hyperkinetic and easily the most thrilling film of 2012, The Raid had us applauding in our seats on more than one occasion, and in this day and age, that’s not something to be sniffed at.

Film Of The Year

Shame

Steve McQueen’s second feature film is a challenging watch.  After 2008’s provocative Hunger, the London-born director re-teamed with Michael Fassbender to explore an equally difficult topic.

Hearing the term “a film about sex addiction”, one could be forgiven for having concerns regarding the dangers of parody, or perhaps even over-sentimental melodrama.  Shame falls into neither trap: it’s a brave, unflinching character study, deeply affecting and filled with questions about human nature.  McQueen’s camera glides through a world by turns polished and dingy, exposing the cold emptiness of modern living as well as the dingy underbelly of such a composed façade.

Fassbender is phenomenal as Brandon Sullivan, a New York high-flyer who conceals a shaky private existence from his colleagues.  When his sister Sissy (another astounding turn from Carey Mulligan – welcome back to the number one spot) unexpectedly turns up asking for shelter, Brandon’s composure begins to fracture, leading him into a downward spiral of shame and self-destruction.

It’s an intense film, and a powerful one.  Shame is not always easy to swallow, and its impact is bitterly ambiguous, but it’s an important work of filmmaking.  McQueen has definitely cemented himself as a talent to watch, and the towering central performances from Fassbender and Mulligan have shot them even higher in my estimation.  Quietly magnificent and elegantly constructed, Shame is easily my film of the year.

Honourable Mentions

They came very close indeed, but here are five films which just missed out on Top Ten honours this year.  In order of merit:

  • The Cabin in the Woods
  • Looper
  • The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
  • Life of Pi
  • Carnage

Ten That Got Away

And of course, I didn’t quite get around to seeing everything I would have liked to this year.  The full list runs to about twenty-five or so, but to make things more palatable, here are ten I’m the most gutted about missing out on in 2012.  But thanks to the Warwick Student Cinema and the miracle of home entertainment, keep your eyes out for them in next year’s reappraisals!

  • Amour
  • Argo
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild
  • The Grey
  • Headhunters
  • Killing Them Softly
  • The Master
  • The Muppets
  • Rust and Bone
  • Sightseers

And there you go!  Apologies once again for lateness, but thank you for reading, and I hope you’ll join me again at some point in 2013.  It looks set to be quite the cracker!

Mike

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Posted on January 10, 2013, in End-of-Year Lists, The Film World and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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