So here's my twenty favourite films of 2012 in descending order. Please note: I don't claim these as the best films of the year, just the ones I personally enjoyed the most. At the bottom of this post you'll also find my five least favourite films of 2012. Enjoy.
20. REC 3
The third in the Spanish horror franchise takes a stylistic left turn from found footage to ‘proper’ film and also becomes more of a black comedy ala Sam Raimi/Peter Jackson. And it works. Bloody, brutal, blackly funny and with the coolest bride since Uma went postal on Bill. Love it.
Steven Soderbergh turns his hand to action movie making in this stylish and violent tale of espionage, double crosses and revenge. Mixed martial artist Gina Carano makes her film debut as the lead, playing a betrayed spy on the run to clear her name. So far so seen it all before. But Soderbergh brings his distinctive look to proceedings as well as a much welcomed pulled back camera and steady and restrained editing to the impressive chases and fights. Carano isn’t the greatest of actors but she certainly has screen presence and charisma. And she can kick ass with the best. She’s scary and sexy and can beat the biggest baddest guys to a pulp. A flop at the cinema this is still way better than the latest Bourne effort.
Carano vs. Fassbender
Seth Macfarlane’s directorial debut is exactly the movie you’d expect and hope from the creator of Family Guy, namely lewd, crude, geeky, clever and gut achingly funny. The years best out and out comedy by a mile.
17. SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN
A stylish and exciting retelling of the classic fairytale with added grit, black magic and battles. It’s dark enough, violent enough and intriguing enough to grab your attention. But then add in a wondrously sexy/scary turn by Charlize Theron as the evil queen and this movie had me completely in its power. Kirsten Stewart is good too as Snow and Chris Hemsworth once more oozes gruff movie star charisma as the Huntsman. Not to everyone’s tastes maybe but as a fairytale geek I loved it. Plus much more entertaining than The Hobbit.
16. THE AWAKENING
An old school British horror, The Awakening is set in the early 1920’s in an allegedly haunted boarding school for boys. Handsomely made and wonderfully slow burn and mysterious, the film features a flawless central performance from Rebecca Hall as she tries to debunk the haunting in the school only to discover some disturbing truths about her own past. Dominic West and Imelda Stanton provide excellent support in this classy, atmospheric and highly watchable chiller.
Pixar do it again with this gorgeous looking, funny and charming adventure about making one’s own fate and fighting for your place in life. Kelly Macdonald is splendid and positively crackles with energy and warmth as the voice of Merida, our young, feisty, flame haired heroine. The rest of the voice cast are great too including Emma Thompson, Billy Connolly and Robbie Coltrane. A lovely film, especially for mothers and daughters everywhere.
Ben Affleck directs and stars in this true story about the rescue of American diplomats from 1979 revolutionary Iran. Affleck directs in a straightforward and non-showy way letting the story and the actors do all the hard work. It pays off. Argo is a tense thriller with a nice line in humour and Alan Arkin stealing the show and all the best lines as a cynical movie producer who helps with the rescue plan. Great stuff.
13. THE TALL MAN
A darkly disturbing and thought provoking film from Pascal Laugier, the director of the infamous Martyrs, that goes places you aren’t expecting it to go. The Tall Man sees small town doctor Jessica Beil investigating the legend of the Tall Man along with the disappearance of several children from what is a dirt-poor American mining community. Beil is excellent in what is a multi-faceted role and Laugier raises all sorts of troubling questions and moral quandaries around issues such as poverty, parenting and how best to improve the lives and futures of our children. Powerful, affecting and horrific in its own special way, The Tall Man is intelligent horror filmmaking.
A beautifully made stop motion animation from the studio that gave us the sublime Coraline, Paranorman is an affectionate ode to horror movies and to the important role scary stories play in childhood. It’s good to be scared it tells us. However it is not good to let your fear get the better of you and to then hurt others because of it. The movie looks great and the voice talent does sterling work. There are even a couple of proper scares in there to make you jump. But the film finds its real power towards the end as the truth of things is revealed and its message of not letting fear lead to bad things hits home in a sad and genuinely affecting way.
Rian Johnson’s time travel thriller is a riveting tale of nature vs. nurture and of changing ones fate. Bruce Willis comes back in time, avoids being murdered by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as his younger self, before setting out to change his fate and the future in a radical way. Small scale but with big ideas Looper is a quality thriller that plays with genre in a similar way in which Johnson’s film Brick did. Willis and Levitt are great, as is the lovely Emily Blunt. But it is young Pierce Gagnon as Blunt’s son Cid who proves quite astonishing in what is a challenging and significant role. Quality scifi.
10. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO
David Fincher’s English language version of Stieg Larsson’s darkly disturbing crime novel is a better film than the Swedish original, being far more cinematic and losing the TV movie feel. Daniel Craig is very good as investigative journalist Blomkvist who’s trying to uncover the mystery of the long vanished niece of Swedish industrialist Henrik Vanger. But it is Rooney Mara as damaged-but-genius hacker Lisbeth Salander who makes the biggest impact. Noomi Rapace was fabulous in the Swedish film and is still the definitive Lisbeth, but Mara comes a very close second. Intense stuff.
9. THE RAID
Welsh director Gareth Evans’ Indonesian action flick is a stupidly violent, stupidly inventive movie that puts almost all Hollywood actioners of recent years to shame. A bunch of special forces cops enter a building owned by a crime boss who locks the building down and offers his tenants big rewards if they kill off all the cops. What follows is an uber-violent bloody battle as our main cop hero Rama must fight his way to the big boss before then escaping the building in one piece. It’s as simply plotted as that, but is pure bone breaking, bullet ridden genius in its execution. A sequel is on its way. Yay!
Claycat’s version of The Raid (awesome!)
Josh Trank’s found footage superhero drama is a genius little film that delves in to a troubled teenaged psyche before eventually unleashing the fury of a super villain on to the world in a gritty and ‘realistic’ way. A group of teenage friends develop telekinetic powers after encountering an apparent glowing meteorite in the woods. It’s all fun and pranks at first but things soon get dark and deadly as one of the group of teenagers growing fury at the world finally pushes him over the edge. Cue a big final superhero smackdown filmed in a handheld digicam documentary style but with the huge scope of the end battle of Superman 2. Brilliant stuff!
7. THE HUNGER GAMES
Gary Ross’s film of Suzanne Collins young adult best seller is thankfully far and away from being just another sappy Twilight tweenfest. Academy Award nominee Jennifer Lawrence is fabulous as Katniss, our young and resourceful heroine who, to save her younger sister, agrees to take her place in the barbaric future sport of the title – an annual fight to the death against lots of other children in a huge forested arena. Themes of fear and control and societal repression abound in what is a brutal (though thankfully not gratuitous) and intensely compelling story of inner strength and outer resistance. At last, an intelligent and daring movie franchise aimed at tweens with a strong, selfless and likeable female main character who we can all admire.
Bond is back in Sam Mendes’ stylish, exciting and thematically rich deconstruction and reconstruction of the 007 mythos. Daniel Craig is an intense, emotional and deeply scarred but also humorous Bond, Javier Bardem is the best Bond villain in years, and Judi Dench proves to be perhaps the best Bond girl ever. The stunning Istanbul chase at the start is the action highlight but the drama and the characters hum with power all the way through to the deeply personal ending of what is a Bond film quite unlike all other Bond films. After the rubbish Quantum of Solace we can breathe a collective sigh of relief and say that Bond is most definitely back!
5. JOHN CARTER
Andrew Stanton’s mega-budgeted adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s classic pulp scifi novel A Princess of Mars may have been a box office flop but I for one bloody loved it. A long time fan of Burroughs’ Barsoom tales I thought Stanton captured the epic romantic sweep of the books extremely well. And boy, did it look good, especially the gorgeous Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris, who made the role her own in a performance of great sensitivity and steely strength. What a woman! As Carter, Taylor Kitch was fine while great support came from Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton, Dominic West and a stupidly charismatic James Purefoy. Michael Giachino’s score soared and the FX were mostly stunning. A damn shame then that we won’t get a sequel. Get your ass to Mars!
John Carter has a big fight
Oh thank God, they got it right. That was my first thought after watching Pete Travis’ Dredd. Forget Sly Stallone’s rubbish Judge Dredd movie, this is the real deal. Karl Urban goes all Eastwood in his spot on performance as the UK’s favourite fascistic future lawman. The plot is essentially the same as The Raid but the execution is gratuitous art house with some stunningly beautiful imagery of utterly horrific things. A violent, no nonsense future thriller, Dredd kicks unholy ass. Urban rules as Dredd but kudos too to the splendid Olivia Thrilby as rookie Judge Anderson and to the always great Lena Headey as vile villain Ma-Ma. Sadly Dredd made no money at the box office so there will be no sequels. Boo!
3. THE CABIN IN THE WOODS
2012 is the year the rest of the world discovered what I already knew – Joss Whedon IS God! The Cabin in the Woods, written by Whedon and Buffy/Angel alumni Drew Goddard, and directed by Goddard, is a gloriously clever, funny, wicked homage/undercutting of the entire horror movie genre. See this and you’ll never look at a horror film in quite the same way again. The cast has fun playing twists on intentional archetypes, while the script is so damn sharp you could slice ham on it. Okay, so it isn’t actually that scary, but the fun to be had here is huge. And if you get it, then you REALLY get it. This year’s film with the biggest potential for DVD freeze framing, The Cabin in the Woods is an endlessly inventive blast.
Truth or dare
2. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Christopher Nolan only went and bloody did it. The study of a man broken down by a lie and a perceived loss of purpose, TDKR may not quite reach the same dizzy heights as Batman Begins and The Dark Knight but it is still a deeply intelligent, thunderingly intense thriller. Bale is fab yet again, this time joined by Tom Hardy on splendidly odd and imposing form as Bane. However it is the beautiful and monstrously talented Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle who steals the movie with such slinky purr-fection. Yes, a few plot points don’t make much sense and the story relies on a few too many coincidences and contrivances to make it perfect, but its grandly thematic, operatic sweep overcomes such trifling quibbles. In the end The Dark Knight Rises ends up as 99% the triumph we’d all hoped it would be. And that’s good enough for me.
1. MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS
Oh Joss, you wonderful man you. Who else on this puny little planet could have been the ringmaster for such a huge and potentially messy and convoluted circus? Thank God then that Marvel had the brains and the balls to hire him for the gig. Of course, to us, his fans, it made perfect sense from the start. The man does motley outsiders who come together to form their own functional family unit in his sleep. It’s his bread and butter (see Buffy, Angel, Firefly). He is also a life long comics nerd who has actually written for Marvel and also runs his own comics line for Dark Horse. So a no brainer then. Except that his only prior movie making credit was the utterly brilliant but box office flop of Serenity. Anyway, he got the gig. And The Avengers came out…. And made a Billion-and-a-half dollars world wide while getting almost unanimous critical acclaim. So what if it ain’t so deep and clever? What The Avengers is, is big, brassy, funny, balls to the wall FUN! Don’t underestimate how hard it would be to make a movie like this work. So many big characters to balance, so many stories to serve, actors to give their appropriate screen time to, big action and drama beats to cover. But Joss does it all with so much apparent ease. You watch it and think, of course, that’s how you make a movie like this. Okay, so he isn’t the most cinematic of directors but he more than compensates where his talents really lie - in character and in making you care about the people. That is at least partly why The Avengers works so damn well. Plus it is very, very funny. Oh, and it also has the “And Hulk… Smash!” moment, my single favourite moment of any film this year. A moment that never fails to make me lose my shit. In the end, what The Avengers is, is the purest form of escapist fun to be had at the cinema this year. In many ways The Dark Knight Rises may be the better film, but for pure putting a huge silly grin on my face movie going, Cap, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Nick Fury just can’t be beat. Make mine Marvel and bring on Phase 2. Oh yeah, and Joss IS Boss!
Live to Rise (Soundgarden music video)
Almost made its: The Woman in Black, Detention, The Hobbit, Prometheus, Kill List, 21 Jump Street, Young Adult
MY FIVE LEAST FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2012
5. WRATH OF THE TITANS
Not so much a Greek tragedy, more a Greek travesty. If you thought the first one was pants then I dare you to watch this dim-witted toss of a sequel.
4. THE DEVIL INSIDE
The kind of horror film that give horror films a bad name being stupid, dull and deeply unscary. Do yourself a favour and do not try to ‘possess’ this silly little devil. If you want a low budget mockumentary film about demonic possession then go get the excellent The Last Exorcism instead.
3. THE DARKEST HOUR
Never has an alien invasion been so bloody dull and uneventful. The cgi energy beam aliens were shit but I was still rooting for them to hurry up and kill the annoying American teens arsing about in Moscow doing bugger all for 90mins. If they turned a corner they might have run in to the equally annoying American teens getting ready to go visit Chernobyl. Sigh.
2. THIS MEANS WAR
Laugh? No. No I really didn’t. At all. Here, McG wastes lots of Fox’s money on a big budget and deeply stupid, deeply tiresome and woefully unfunny romantic action comedy that somehow manages to take the genuinely likeable and talented Tom Hardy, Chris Pine and Reece Witherspoon and make you hate them with a passion. Hmm, quite the achievement really when you think about it. Way to go, McG.
1. STRIPPERS VS. WEREWOLVES
Oh sweet baby Jesus, make Billy Murray (dad of yummy Jamie) and his friends stop making these ultra cheap, ultra terrible British ‘horror’ movies. I managed only half of this one as it was so unbearably terrible on every conceivable level. Just avoid, okay? Your life is way too short for this sort of punishment.
Proof of terribleness