I’m too tired to think about this anymore so here it is. It’s by no means perfect and I’ve been phaffing around changing my mind on what should be in it for way too long. So this is it my best of 2012 as of this moment on the 4th Jan 2013…I bet I’ve forgotten something…meh!
Here’s a list of special mentions before we get into the top 12
The Amazing Spiderman
Beasts of the Southern Wild
The Cabin in the Woods
End of Watch
Into the Abyss
Jeff Who Lives at Home
The Last Projectionist
Martha Marcy May Marlene
Perks of Being a Wallflower
Rust and Bone
Searching for Sugar Man
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
12. The Dark Knight Rises
Another epic and grandiose film from the talented Mr Nolan who clearly wields his Hollywood power in a way that suits himself. One could imagine the Hollywood execs holding the purse strings were probably on their knees begging Nolan to turn DKR into a 3D movie, let’s face it the majority of blockbusters get forced down that route these days. But no, 3D is not for him, instead Nolan championed IMAX as his immersive movie experience of choice. He was right, Dark Knight Rises in IMAX was a stunning movie experience, thrilling, exciting with a sound track that shook you to the core, an appropriate end to Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise. Oh and Micahel Caine made me cry, twice and the movie should have ended on his smiling face.
Movies directed at a younger audience can be a bit hit or miss with an adult audience. Some strive too hard to get in the jokes to keep the grown-ups happy that they forget their target audience. Others are more lightweight fun more suited to the very young. ParaNorman gets the balance just right with lovely dark edges that respect the fact that kids like to be scared a little bit too. The humour is appreciated across the generations, my daughters loved it every bit as much as I did. It’s funny, dark and sad with gorgeous animation from Laika Entertainment, the team responsible for the equally scary and brilliant Coraline. A superior kids movie in every sense with some lovely nods to the horror genre.
10. The Grey
“Once more into the fray. Into the last good fight I’ll ever know. Live and die on this day. Live and die on this day.” Watched in the cinema such a long time ago but definitely not forgotten. Joe Carnahan’s The Grey had a very early release in 2012 but such is its power that it has stayed with me all this time and I was determined to have it in my top 12. It’s one of those films that pulls the rug out from under your feet whilst knocking you sideways. I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only one who went in expecting to see a full on action movie with Neeson as the victorious hero, not unreasonable having seen the trailer. Oh how wrong we were. It is an action movie but it’s also a powerful piece of film making that touches on religion and mortality. Neeson is staggeringly good as a man who has given up on life yet by a twist of fate finds himself fighting for it with all his might. The opening narration from a man on the edge made me think I might be in for something a bit different but the outburst of powerful emotion as Neeson’s Ottway talks down a man dying in his arms confirmed it. This was not going to be a run of the mill action movie. It doesn’t take too big a leap to imagine Neeson must have drawn on his own personal tragedy to portray Ottway as he screams at the heavens to show him something at his most desperate hour. The Grey is quality film making that combines the entertainment of the action genre with the kind of humanity that grounds it, making it all the more believable.
Ben Wheatley is a new kind of director. You might say he has the classic British qualities of a Shane Meadows or a Mike Leigh, making films with hyper realistic scripts delivered by characters that we can recognise. But here’s where the comparison ends because Mr Wheatley’s films come with an unexpected twist, the drink has been spiked and you’re about to enter a very different world to the one you paid for. Like Wheatley’s previous movie Kill List, Sightseers leads you gently by the hand into a story about seemingly ordinary people living their ordinary lives. In this case caravaning couple Chris and Tina and their holiday touring the Midlands of Britain. But there’s more to Chris than his ginger beard and love of pencil and tram museums and what starts out as a lightly humorous tale quickly descends into horror and mayhem as the couple cut a murderous swathe across the stunningly beautiful English countryside (highlighted to great effect by Wheatley’s DOP Laurie Rose). The blackly humorous script written by the stars of the film Alice Lowe and Steve Oram shows great promise. Altogether a deliciously dark and quintissencially British movie. Roll on Wheatley’s new movie, A Field in England.
I don’t claim to know anything about Bob Marley other than I like some of his music, we have a CD collection at home that chronicles the highlights of his musical career from his humble beginnings in Jamaica the height of his fame. So I guess you could say I went to see Marley purely on the weight of the excellent reviews it was receiving. Coming in at over two and a half hours long it may sound like this could be a hard slog if you weren’t a huge fan but nothing could be further from the truth. What’s especially interesting about it is, even though it has the backing of the Marley family (some of them even appear) Marley doesn’t come out completely smelling of roses. It touches on his womanising, the neglect of his children and his pitiful end as his illness causes him to lose his trademark dreads. However even with all this what shines through is the music and the classic rags to riches tale of a man who struggles from his deprived roots to finally make it with pure, natural talent and determination. Utterly fascinating. (Partner it with the equally brilliant Searching for Sugar Man for a great evening of music documentary viewing)
7. The InnKeepers
This is a real doozy of a movie that totally took me by surprise. I don’t believe it had any screenings in Cardiff but I may be mistaken. What clued me into this one was the brilliant FilmSpotting podcast with Adam Kempenar and Josh Larsen, if it wasnt for them I might have missed it. I did manage to rent it on blu but it was released this year so I think it counts. Stepping away from the current trend of found footage horror Ti West’s Inn Keepers is a small and simple tale of two young hotel workers charged with looking after an Inn during its last few weeks as it prepares to close down. It begins all slacker comedy, in the vein of kevin Smith’s Clerks as the two bored youngsters take shifts, moan about their work and play tricks on each other. But slowly an unsettling vibe creeps over the whole affair as inexplicable things begin to happen and it becomes more Shining than Clerks in its tone. All in all a delightfully sinister and creepy tale, brought to life by the naturalistic acting from its young cast (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) with a nice ‘strange old lady’ turn from the under-used Kelly McGillis. Genuinely scary too, go watch it.
Ben Affleck director gets better with each film that he makes. With each new movie you see a man more confident, more at home with his work. Strangely Argo managed to provoke great discussion amongst film critics and has divided opinions. Many have been critical of the portrayal of the Iranian people as excessively angry , but I think they are missing the point. Affleck knows his Middle Eastern history and strives to make it clear that the US are by no means the innocent party in this piece of history, He gives us a potted history at the beginning of the movie to explain the political climate in Iran at the time and what instigated it. It helps the audience to see and understand the Iranian people’s point of view. However the main focus of the movie is the story of the few Embassy workers who managed to escape from the American Embassy as it is over run and the elaborate plan (pretending to make a Hollywood film) to help them exit the country. The stressful scenes in Iran are tempered by the humorous scenes in Hollywood starring a briilliant Alan Arkin and John Goodman as they plan the fake movie. The final scenes are full of “edge of your seat” tension as Affleck ups the ante with a bit of dramatic license to help the story along a little. As he mentioned himself in a recent interview, anyone who remembered the story knew that they managed to get out so the added drama in those last few scenes was not completely unjustified. Argo is a highly entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable piece of cinema that happens to be “based” on a real story. It utilises dramatic license just like every other movie made in this genre. I loved it.
5. Killing Them Softly
Andrew Dominik is slowly becoming one of the finest directors working in Hollywood today, incredible considering he’s only made three movies so far. From the visceral audacity of Chopper to the exquisite beauty of the Assassination of Jesse James he’s clearly a very focused and intelligent director. It’s hard to consistently meet expectation and Killing them Softly could so easily have been the one to break the spell but thankfully it sits very comfortably in Dominik’s ever growing canon of great works. It uses the story of hapless small time crooks Frankie (Scoot McNairy) and Russell (a brilliant Ben Mendehlson) and the men that surround them to tell a parable about corruption. Dominik frequently cuts scenes with sound bites and video clips of Obama and others talking of the financial crisis that rocked America and the World. It’s a simple tool that works well to show us that bad people and corruption are not confined to the bottom of the ladder. The script has a Tarantinoesque quality as characters talk in a realistic and sometimes offensive manner, in particular see Mickey (James Gandolfini) a charmless, alcoholic, misogynistic hitman. Brad Pitt who seems to be a bit of a muse for Dominik, turns in another well judged and controlled performance as hitman Jackie Cogan. Even with all these grim characters, for there’s not a single likeable person in this story, the film manages to be witty and beautiful to look at. The violence is both brutally abhorrent and balletic in quality, an unusual mix that works nonetheless. With Killing Them Softly Dominik has cemented himself firmly in the “one to watch” list.
4. Anna Karenina
If you’d told me at the beginning of 2012 that I would thoroughly enjoy not one but two Keira Knightley movies that year I would have laughed in your face. I’ve never been a huge fan of her work, finding her a bit mannered, an actress who tries too hard, affecting her performance. Right, here’s where I snaffle some humble pie and admit that she’s not a bad actress after all. She really seems to have grown into her career choice of late. Believe it or not the turning point for me was The Duchess. It’s not a brilliant movie but she impressed me with her assured performance and even moved me to tears at one point. Her roles in Never Let Me Go and A Dangerous Method were both pretty good too and if you look above you will see that I put Seeking a Friend in my special mention list (it almost made it into my top 12). As Kermode mentioned in his review, the fact that she pulled off that incredibly quirky role without being hugely annoying was pretty impressive. So yes, Keira has one me over folks, what can I say. Anna Karenina seems to be a role written of her. She has the kind of beauty that men would do anything for but in addition she seems to have a fragility in her performance that is perfect for the role of Anna. Special mention must go to the fine cast of supporting actors who, in some cases, outshone the leads. Jude Law bravely takes on the less than glamorous role of the cold and business like Karenin and does a fine job. Domnhall Gleeson as Levin had me in floods of tears in a simple but oh so tender love scene with Kitty using some child’s alphabet blocks. Matthew Macfayden steals the show with a beautifully judged comic performance as the bumbling, oafish Oblonsky, brother to Anna. I must admit I was completely taken with Joe Wright’s movie, gripped form start to finish. Tolstoy’s story full of drama is perfect for the screen, one only has to look at how many times it’s been filmed. Joe Wright’s version will appeal to anyone with a love of theatre as well as a love of film, cleverly combining the two to create a stunning visual and theatrical experience. Breathtaking choreography, stunning scene transitions and sumptuous costume design all combine to make it one of 2012s best cinema experiences for me.
I’m so glad that I managed to catch this one in the cinema on the 30th of December, just saw it in time to include it in this list. Michel Hanake’s Amour is a remarkable piece of film making. It tells the story of Georges and Anne an aged couple and ex-music teachers, living out their retirement in a stunning Paris apartment. Georges has to take care of Anne as she slowly deteriorates after a serious illness and unsuccessful operation. It’s a harrowing and tragic tale but somehow that is not what you take away from it. What shines through is the love and a sense of deep understanding that exists between them. Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanualle Riva are supremely talented actors and express so much with a simple gaze. They convince us that George’s and Anne are as real as you or I, that they love each other completely and lived fulfilling lives. Special mention must go to Riva, her portrayal of a woman slowly losing herself to an incurable illness is as convincing a depiction that you will ever see. Hanake peels back the walls to their Paris apartment and lets us take a glimpse inside. We watch as Georges and Anne share a meal or paid a visit by an ex-pupil, simple scenes that are given an iridescent beauty with Haneke’s eye. Amour is such an appropriate title, even with the shocking revelation that comes near the end, the love is what endures. A truly beautiful piece of cinema.
Seriously, how could this not be in everybody’s top movies of 2012? Or top movies of all time while we’re at it! If you read any of my tweets then you’ll probably be aware that I consider Jaws to be the finest film ever made. I was too young (just) to see Jaws on its first release but I have seen it on the big screen before. It wasn’t a great print so to have it cleaned up and rereleased by Universal was the biggest treat ever. I don’t mind admitting that I made three trips to get my fill of it on the big screen and I’ve purchased the steelbook blu ray. I never tire of its sheer brilliance and I absolutely never will. Spielberg’s direction displays a superb mix of rookie’s luck and pure talent that makes Jaws as fresh and exciting today as it was in 1975. Scheider, Shaw and Dreyfuss are my heroes and always will be. Fan gush over.
1. A Royal Affair
The Danish movie A Royal Affair leapt straight into the top position in my list and hasn’t been bested yet so at the top it remains. A stunning and sumptuous costume drama that combines the story of a passionate love affair with political history to great effect. Mads Mikklesen and Alice Vikander are both wonderful in the leads, but it’s Mikel Boe Folsgaard who steals the show with his heartbreaking and superb portrayal of the childlike King Christian VII, the third member of this most unusual of love triangles. He is at turns both dislikable and likeable but most of all pitiful. Talented director Nikolaj Arcel does a wonderful job juggling the love story with the historical and politcal themes, never once losing the attention of his audience. A compelling story exquisitely acted A Royal Affair deserves its place at the top of my best of 2012 list.