The Final Countdown
It’s coming towards the end of January and certain corners of the Internet are positively overflowing with reviewers’ lists of what they believed to be the Best Films of last year. I thought I’d join in the fun so below are my Top 10. Feel free to agree with my choices or abuse them mercilessly in the comment section.
Before we begin I should note that the films eligible to be included in the list had to have been released in the UK between the 1st of January 2012 and the 31st of December 2012. Because I am going by UK release dates some Oscar nominated films (like Lincoln, Django Unchained, Les Miserablés and Zero Dark Thirty) will find themselves in the running for next year’s list, and not 2012’s.
So, without further ado…:
#10) 21 Jump Street:
Remaking old television shows as modern films has become part and parcel of the Hollywood movie machine in recent years but I can’t remember one being as well made as 21 Jump Street. Pitch perfect in tone, rich with meta-gags and laugh out loud moments, and respectful of the original show, it was easily the funniest film of the year, and the first comedy I’d been to in ages that had the entire screening’s audience shaking with laughter (and that includes the wildly overrated The Hangover, and its contemptible sequel.) Channing Tatum goes against his grain and shows himself to be a real comic revelation, and this is Jonah Hill’s best work since Superbad. I avidly await the inevitable sequel.
Ben Affleck is making quite the name for himself as a director after Gone Baby Gone and The Town (which actually appeared on my Top 10 of 2010 list) and Argo makes it three for three. A thriller that actually thrills, Argo tells the real life story of the “best bad idea” the CIA may have ever had. Affleck matches his excellent direction with a well realised leading performance, and is flanked by brilliant turns from John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston (whose line likening his CIA bosses to Statler and Waldorf from The Muppets might be simultaneously the best written and best delivered line of all 2012.) While it may bend the truth here and there (it’s only BASED on a true story after all) Argo will have you so far off the edge of your seat you may end up in the lap of the bloke sat in front of you.
#8) De Rouille Et D’os (Rust and Bone):
The rightful winner of the Best Film award at the BFI London Film Festival, De Rouille Et D’os is an emotional experience masquerading as a film. I went into its screening with no prior knowledge other than it starred Marion Cotillard and was directed by the same person who made 2009’s Un Prophète, and came back out a quivering mess. While it is about fifteen minutes too long, and its ending is a little contrived compared to the rest of the film, director Jacques Audiard deftly captures the sorrow and redemption of lost and lonely broken things and Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts (the Belgian Tom Hardy) are both superb. Despite both their character’s finding their stories steeped in melodrama, the film never descends into soap operatics and must also be praised for its bizarre, yet brilliant, inclusion of Katy Perry’s Firework – used to wonderfully emotive effect. Perhaps more at home in a gallery than a cinema, De Rouille Et D’os really is a quite beautiful work of art.
#7) Dredd 3D:
Despite dramatically under performing at the world wide box office, I thought Dredd 3D was this year’s Drive. Both films are stylishly directed ultra-violent stories with strong, stoic, at times entirely unfeeling men as their lead performances and each, after only one viewing, feels like a cult film in the making. Taking its cue from characters like RoboCop, Karl Urban’s chin puts in the performance of its life squaring off against Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey and her deliciously spiteful villain MaMa and, while its story does feel a little like a retread of Gareth Evans’ The Raid, what elevates Dredd is that it is such a fine example of principled cinema; its visceral violence, claustrophobic nature and masking of its only real Hollywood star for the entire movie’s duration is decidedly anti-studio, and its attempt to stay as true as possible to its comic book lore makes it a film made by fans for fans. It is probably these points, however, that ended up being the nails in Dredd’s coffin. But, if you’re a fan of real cinema, grab it now, shoot it into your Blu-ray player and let it burn away the sickly aftertaste of Stallone’s half baked attempt from 1995 forever.
#6) The Dark Knight Rises:
The aforementioned Drive grabbed the #1 spot in my Top Ten of 2011 last year and, at the time of the list’s publication in January, I predicted The Dark Knight Rises to take its crown 12 months later. So why is it not even in 2012’s top 5? Well, ultimately, it didn’t live up to its own hype. Already a keen Batman fan, after The Dark Knight (#1 in my list from 2008) premiered I found myself obsessed with details of the then unconfirmed sequel. I was one of the salivating dogs that checked the Internet every day, desperate to fill myself on the drip, drip, drip of released information. So it was never going to live up to its hype and, I should stress, that is neither Christopher Nolan nor TDKR’s fault; very few films can, and the momentum of excitement leading up to this particular one was overwhelming. However, it’s not higher on this list because of the things that is its fault, namely the gaping plot holes, the bloated length and, in my personal opinion, its ill fitting ending. But it deserves its place on the list because there is still an awful lot to like: Tom Hardy is amazing and terrifying as Bane, instantly dispelling any worries that he may not reach Heath Ledger’s level of greatness, and Nolan’s direction is perhaps the best it’s ever been; the film’s opening sequence along with Bane and Batman’s initial bout (without any soundtrack but their trading of blows) are both masterpieces. Plus it is ambitious and demands a lot more from a mainstream audience than the average summer blockbuster, which is no bad thing. So, while it is undeniably the weakest in Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, it is still very entertaining and I maintain I have never, ever been as excited for a film as I have with TDKR, and the movie’s final trailer is the best film trailer I have ever seen. Ever.
#5) Moonrise Kingdom:
While TDKR does hold the title of Best Trailer Ever (probably) I was underwhelmed when I first saw Moonrise Kingdom’s. Yes, it looked like a spot of fun, but I wasn’t prepared for the quirky and colourful reel of pure joy that it turned out to be. Wes Anderson is an artist; his vision of a childhood summer of love makes you feel nostalgic for things you’ve never seen, places you’ve never been, people you’ve never known and an era you’ve never lived in. Hormonal infatuation is infused with quasi-apocalyptic threat as the director frames the budding romance between two adolescents as the most important thing in the world. There are some great performances from the rather famous supporting ensemble, including Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Ed Norton, but it’s the central teenagers, dorky Jared Gilman and rebellious Kara Hayward that steal the show and audiences’ hearts. Expect big things from those two. Funny, honest and original, Moonrise Kingdom is an eccentric, imaginative triumph.
#4) Beasts of the Southern Wild:
“Once there was a Hushpuppy,” says our heroine over the initial scenes of Beasts of the Southern Wild, “and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.” And so begins what could quite possibly be 2012’s Most Beautiful Film of the Year. Sharing the quasi-apocalyptic themes found in Moonrise Kingdom, director Benh Zeitlin runs with that first line and delivers a wonderful, fairytale like story that is all at once a dreamy fantasy and, simultaneously, a gritty, realistic display of love and courage and survival. There are, of course, subtexts to be read into, most notably the comparison between the plight of the Bathtub featured in the film and those affected in real life by Hurricane Katrina, but Zeitlin makes everything present a human issue, and not just one about race. Quevenzhané Wallis gives a performance beyond her young years as Hushpuppy, and Dwight Henry brings a heartbreaking grace and kinetic, charismatic energy to his role as her daddy, Wink. As wonderful as it is tragic, Beasts of the Southern Wild will leave you with a smile on your face and a lump in your throat.
#3) The Imposter:
The flavour of some films can be heightened significantly by knowing absolutely nothing about their content prior to screening. The Imposter is exactly this kind of film. Without going into too much detail, Brit director Bart Layton tells the incredible real life story of missing child Nicholas Barclay, and the serial “imposter” who assumed his identity. Why? You’ll have to watch the film? How? Watch the film. Like Senna before it, The Imposter goes beyond the constraints of your usual run of the mill documentary, interweaving talking heads of the real people involved in the dramatic story, and Crimewatch like reconstructions – each directed flawlessly. It twists and it turns but Layton’s real masterstroke is the inclusion and interviewing of the “imposter” himself, the eerily magnetic Frédéric Bourdin. It’s the best thriller of the year, and just goes to prove that old adage that fact really is stranger than fiction. See it before you have it spoiled.
#2) Jagten (The Hunt):
If recently ended crime series Forbrydelson showed the world the Nords can hold their own in producing dark suburban dramas, then Thomas Vinterberg’s creepy, uncomfortable and utterly captivating Jagten cements them as world leaders of the genre. The director turns the pedophile horror story upon its head by painting the accuser as the antagonist of the piece, and the accused (someone we know from the get go is completely innocent of all charges laid against him) as their victim. Mads Mikkelsen’s Lucas is a million miles away from Le Chiffre, the Bond villain role I most associate him with, but he’s amazing – all at once gentle, broken and horrified as his world begins to end around him. Jagten is entirely relevant to our times, and hugely powerful; showing how lies and gossip can tear a community apart and how one false word can destroy a man forever. I have yet to see Vinterberg’s Festen but, after Jagten, it’s at the top of my To Watch List. Jagten should be at the top of yours.
#1) The Avengers:
The Avengers taking my top spot for 2012 proves that my predictions were entirely off for this year. While I assumed TDKR would take the crown I thought The Avengers was going to be 2012’s biggest car crash; an off key, entirely inharmonious melody of egos squaring off against each other to hog the limelight. But Joss Whedon’s genre defining crossover event was anything but and, in the end, turned out to be the most fun I’ve had in a cinema last year, as well as tearing up the Box Office records book in its quest for world domination. Funny, action packed and thrilling it was both an excellent pay off to all the other previous Marvel films while, at the same time, being head and shoulders better than all of them put together. I loved every second of it. Special mentions should be made for new boy Mark Ruffalo, who has managed to make the Hulk cool again, and Tom Hiddleston for his gleefully twisted version of villainous Loki. Joss Whedon, you are my hero.
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