Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Best Films Of The Year 2012

2012 was the year which saw me really getting back into viewing film on a more committed and enthusiastic scale. Launching a Twitter feed midway through the year which was solely dedicated to just movies and movie fans certainly helped reignite my passion for cinema and introduced me to many movies (both good and indeed bad) which in all likelihood, I would probably have never sought out otherwise. By subsequently recently instigating this very blog and setting up a Letterboxd account, next year I hope to be even more immersive and proactive in my pursuit of films and film-going. In itself 2012 eventually turned out to be a well above average year for cinema as I hope this list attests, with an admirable and eclectic mix of mainstream and independent movies making the grade here.

Criteria for inclusion on this rundown of my favourite films of 2012 in the end boiled down to films that were released in UK cinemas for the first time this year, new films that debuted on DVD / Blu-ray which had bypassed UK cinemas, films available on import discs which had not yet been released in the UK, but were legally available to purchase from overseas, and films that featured in UK film festivals or regional screenings (although some of these may possibly carry over onto next year's list if they attain theatrical releases in 2013).

Despite catching well over 200 new releases this year, it's always the case that it's impractical or indeed impossible to see everything in time before the year ends, so notable exceptions which I didn't catch, and may or may not have impacted on inclusion below in some capacity, were (in alphabetical order): American Mary / Amour / Brave / Killing Them Softly / Life Of Pi / Jack Reacher / Maniac / Pusher / Ruby Sparks / Rust And Bone / Searching For Sugar Man / Seven Psychopaths / Sightseers / Silver Linings Playbook / Sound Of My Voice / Tabu / The Hobbit / The Master / The Muppets / The Perks Of Being A Wallflower / The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Pt.2 / This Must Be The Place / Untouchables and West Of Memphis - as many of which as possible I look forward to catching up with next year. So without further inane waffle, here is the list of my favourite films of the year:

THE BEST FILMS OF 2012:


1) THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
It should possibly be with some trepidation that I name Christopher Nolan's epic trilogy closer as my film of the year. For it seems to me there is a definite post-event backlash taking place against a movie that seemed to garner 5-star reviews across the board upon release, but now at year's end, is being castigated by some of the more sniffier critics who have deemed fit to re-assess its credibility. For me, TDKR is a portentous parable, a film of grand ambition, a brooding complexity and audacious maturity, which despite being a major studio summer blockbuster aimed at the widest possible demographic, is infused with a solemnity and gravitas far beyond its comic book roots. Unafraid to tackle such diverse and weighty themes as the banking crisis, the occupy movement, urban terrorism, Machiavellian politics, an apocalyptic revolution, rendition, the class war, libertarianism, altruism, and the notion of vengeance as a moral imperative, all within the context of a rollicking superhero storyline. Brave enough to allow character development and multiple plot strands in a restrained, measured build-up, yet also delivering spectacle by the bucket load - the opening airborne action sequence betters anything in the horribly overrated Skyfall. Beautifully and precisely rendered and realised, sumptuous vivid cinematography from the great Wally Pfister, a flawless ensemble piece and replete with a genuine series finality that satisfactorily wraps up the central story arc, this is a truly momentous ending to a damn near impeccable trilogy. 

2) ARGO
Ben Affleck's incredibly assured third feature as director takes him out of his Boston-based comfort zone, giving him greater opportunity to expand upon his burgeoning talent as a filmmaker. The resultant Argo is a fantastic crowd-pleaser of a film, mixing disparate genre elements of historical drama, taut white-knuckle thriller and broadly comedic Hollywood satire, all deftly and expertly calibrated. What's more, at its core is quite the most remarkable and original pure gold plot, which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that truth is undoubtedly stranger than fiction. Superb. 

3) THE CABIN IN THE WOODS 
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's gloriously subversive and celebratory post-modern slasher which expertly deconstructs horror genre cliches and conventions is a joy to behold. Nothing is what it seems, unless you're a devotee of Whedon's TV work, where many underlining themes of "Big Bad" ancient evils further explored here, were commonplace. Culminating with one of the year's most insane and inspired sequences of mirthful monstrosity, from start to finish this is a delirious treat for genre fans willing to accept their favourite fright films being ridiculed, ripped apart and re-assembled with fierce wit and intelligence.



4) THE GREY
Beautiful and bleak, Joe Carnahan's existential survivalist odyssey was one of the year's real surprises. Miss-sold in its publicity as a straight-up action film, this was a far more profound picture, with a mournful, morose Liam Neeson staring into the abyss of a harsh, unyielding wilderness, faced with daunting desperation in the midst of overwhelming odds against survival. Whilst at the same time The Grey was also a powerful and moving exploration of the male psyche and an indomitable strength of conviction and gritty, grief-stricken determination.

5) CHRONICLE
Another truly unexpected gem, this relatively low budget found footage fable elevated itself way beyond the limitations of its pointless P.O.V. mechanism, to create a compelling and captivating story of the daunting and disturbing possibilities of unexpectedly acquiring incredible superpowers. Few other films of this genre have quite so successfully showcased the terrifyingly cataclysmic potential of somebody gone awry with superhuman ability and a mind torn asunder by fragile human emotions, but with a devastating God-like omnipotence at their disposal. On the evidence of this, debutant feature director Josh Trank is definitely one to watch. 



6) THE RAID: REDEMPTION
Heralded upon a wave of incredible hyperbole, Gareth Evans' insane Indonesian action movie not only lived up to such feverish expectations, but in many ways surpassed them. Frenetic, kinetic, insanely violent and with breath-taking, blitzkrieg choreography, here was a film that re-invented the martial arts picture, and threw down an intimidating gauntlet to action directors the world over, showcasing just what could be achieved within the confines of traditional genre cinema. Dredd, with an almost identical plot, looked positively archaic in comparison.

7) HOLY MOTORS
Baffling and beguiling, this fanciful French flight of fantasy is a surreal, subversive and sublime celebration of cinema and the noble art of performance. Utterly unique and unlike anything else screened this, or indeed, any other year, Leos Carax's hypnagogic odyssey is breath-taking in its originality, and commendable for its completely unharnessed lunacy. At the heart of it all is arguably the year's finest performance from Denis Lavant, chimerical in essaying wildly divergent multiple roles and shape-shifting personalities with gleeful gusto. And who couldn't treasure a film that culminates with one of the most insanely visionary and transcendental endings in modern cinema, that manages to reference everything from Les Yeux Sans Visage to Pixar in the process.  

8) LOOPER
Rian Johnson's head-scrambling time travel opus - smart, cerebral, stylish and at times surprisingly shocking, proved to be the best film of its kind since Source Code, or perhaps even - and high praise indeed - Inception. Looper is a film probably best enjoyed by simply going along with its central premise, rather than needlessly pontificating upon its plausibility, although upon closer inspection the film's internal logic and self-contained mythology stands up surprisingly well. Invention and imagination is at a premium here, with expectations constantly usurped, not least of which for a final act that changes tone, and indeed genre, completely.

9) MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE 
Deeply unsettling and turbulent psychological drama / quasi-horror film, that sees an incredibly assured and alarming star-making performance by Elizabeth Olsen, as a young woman who has escaped brainwashing and abuse by a nefarious cult, but has been left emotionally incinerated and mentally scarred in the process. With an overpowering sense of dread and foreboding throughout, further fraying nerves with frequent flashbacks of escalating apprehension and distressing cruelty, here was a film that harrowingly portrayed the complete psychological destruction of a human being, and truly and terrifyingly embeds itself firmly under the viewer's skin as it unfolds.

10) MOONRISE KINGDOM
In the past I've found director Wes Anderson's idiosyncratic output incredibly hit and miss - I actively loathed Rushmore, and was left utterly cold by The Royal Tenenbaums, but with his latest feature he won me over with this wonderfully warm, witty, whimsical, fantasy-laced coming of age drama. Superbly engaging and thoroughly believable performances by its two young leads, expertly backed-up by an A-list supporting cast, and a restraint and lightness of touch from Anderson reigning in his anomalous antics, help to create this effervescent, charming, life-affirming, and deliciously quirky film. 
 

THE BEST OF THE REST: 

 



11) DETENTION
12) BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO
13) DREDD
14) KILLER JOE
15) END OF WATCH
16) FRANKENWEENIE
17) LAWLESS
18) LIVID (aka LIVIDE)
19) COMPLIANCE
20) MARGIN CALL
21) THE DESCENDANTS
22) THE IMPOSTER
23) THE REVENANT
24) YOUNG ADULT
25) SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
26) EXCISION 
27) 21 JUMP STREET
28) PARANORMAN 
29) THE AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
30) GRABBERS
31) CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL
32) COSMOPOLIS
33) CHAINED
34)  ATTACK OF THE WEREWOLVES (aka LOBOS DE ARGA)
35) HEADHUNTERS
36) THE WOMAN IN BLACK
37) THE INNKEEPERS
38) V/H/S
39) ABSENTIA
40) THE DIVIDE




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