Best Films of 2012

You can’t make a title simpler than that really. As you may have guessed these are my top flicks of 2012. We all love collating things we’ve seen/done and ranking them in some arbitrary order of preference. So here’s mine…

In no particular order.

 

10) End Of Watch

It was a good year for thrillers and for me this was one of the best. Mixing found-footage with more traditional techniques it takes you into the world of patrol cops, played here by Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. In part it’s a tense, exciting ride into the danger that waits for these men at every turn and in part it’s an exploration of the bond that forms when you’re put into that situation. Plus William Freidken, he of The French Connection and the hugely underrated Cruising referred to it as the best cop film he’s seen, and he should know – he made Jade.

9) The Cabin In The Woods/Detention

Ok I’m totally cheating here. But this is a tie, and based on how similar the two films are it didn’t seem fair to pick one over the other. First off Joss Whedon and Co-Writer/Director Drew Goddard dismantle the familiar tropes of a horror movie to greatly entertaining effect. It serves as a metaphor for film making while arguing for the importance of horror movies in our lives. It has a great cast of kids too, but special mention should go to Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins as the men pulling the strings. It’s like Evil Dead took place in the world of The West Wing, and I’m terrible at metaphors.

Detention is simply unlike anything else that’s out there. I’ve written and deleted a few lines trying best to describe it and I simply can’t. I did a terrible job at it when I reviewed it earlier in the year and I’m likely to do one now. But this is smart, dizzying film-making from Joseph Kahn and sadly remains underseen. It simply operates on a level unlike anything else this year. It takes these elements that shouldn’t work; teen comedy, slasher movie, time travel and makes them form a cohesive whole. Even the presence of Bro-Comic Dane Cook isn’t enough to ruin it.

8) 21 Jump Street

I don’t think there’s been a film released in a while that’s made me laugh as much as this one. While you would expect Jonah Hill to be the star of the show, it’s Channing Tatum that steals it away from him, delivering a funny and sweet performance that almost makes me forget his utterly bland work in GI Joe and that other film he did where he beats people up for a living. Oh and that dancing one too. In fact they might be the same film.

7) The Grey

I didn’t expect much from Joe Carnahan’s Man Vs Nature movie. Only that Liam Neeson would go hand to hand with some wolves. That doesn’t really happen, much to the disappointment of people everywhere. What I certainly didn’t expect was a film about spirituality, about a man grasping to understand his place in the word and about how we wrestle with the knowledge that we might be insignificant in all this grey.

6) The Raid: Redemption

First off there’s no redemption in this film. No one is redeemed, unless you consider a punch to the face ‘redemption’, in which case there’s a whole lot of it going on. Gareth Evans’ film about a uh…raid on an apartment block is low on dialogue and story but huge on the aforementioned people getting hit in the face…and the stomach…and the groin…and the…oh just everywhere. Brutal martial arts at its finest.

5) Killer Joe

Who would’ve thought that Matthew McConaughey would turn out to be a pretty great actor? Sure he was great in Dazed and Confused but after all those years languishing in romantic comedies it was easy to forget that he has talent. His long road to recovery started with the better-than-you-thought-it-would-be The Lincoln Lawyer and has brought him to this. He’s fantastic in this slice of Texan Noir, about a morally bankrupt officer of the law who offers up some hitman action on the side and gets embroiled with a very dim witted family who wish to bump off one of their own. If you’re someone who needs a character to root for, or think that a film is only relatable if the main character is likeable then this really isn’t for you. There’s no one ‘good’ here, just degrees of bad. If you’re anything like me you’ll find it hilarious, but only for the darkest of hearts.

4) Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson has it easy at this point. If he makes something I’ll be there, even though the slight mis-step of The Darjeeling Limited which seemed to amp up all of this worst tendencies. This, a tale of young love on a small New England Island, lacks the hilarity of something like Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums, but it is perhaps his most human film. Contrasted against the coming together of these two young lovers is the loneliness of the adults, personified here by Bruce Willis as the law, and Edward Norton as a scout leader. But it’s the young stars who have the most heavy lifting to do, in their film début and in a Wes Anderson film to boot, they seem a natural fit. It also helps that it’s one of the best looking films of the year, immaculately composed, almost every frame looks like a faded postcard. If it was simply gorgeous to look at then it wouldn’t be enough to make this list, but with a bittersweet script to match it gets a hearty recommendation from me.

3) Looper

Hello again Bruce Willis. Rian Johnson’s time travel movie is essentially an exploration of the Hitler question. If you could go back in time and kill Hitler would you do it? Except what if Hitler is just a little kid, would he be worth trying to save? The time travel stuff doesn’t even really matter against the larger themes that Johnson explores (And the film isn’t really interested in time travel either. It refuses to go down the rabbit hole of paradoxes and questions – it just is). Add to that another great performance from Willis (When he’s so good in these films it just makes you sad that he’s making another Die Hard) and the always-great Joseph Gordon-Levitt and you have a high-concept film that doesn’t have to be dumbed down.

2) Argo

Ben Affleck has done more than just create a film that takes place in the 70’s, it’s one that invokes a time in American film when we got to see stories like this. With some of my favourite movies being All The President’s Men and Three Days of the Condor I think it’s safe to say I was on board from the start with this one. It’s a great thriller that’s well told, nothing more than that. It tells the story of an Iranian hostage crises that was somewhat saved (History is obviously more complicated than this) when the CIA rescued them under the ruse of making a crappy Sci-Fi epic called Argo. Despite Affleck getting a little loose with history at the end it’s an altogether well made, tense, intelligent film. Thanks to John Goodman and Alan Arkin it also happens to be really funny. It’s a balancing act that’s hard to pull off, but Argo manages it.

1) The Master

This is a long, meandering, difficult film to watch. But it’s also utterly captivating. It has a plot but it’s not really interested in it so much as it is an exploration of two men and what draws them together. There Will Be Blood was Paul Thomas Anderson experimenting with these ideas, but this is an even more stripped back look at that. Like that one its set against an important time in American history (The Oil Rush/The End of World War 2) and like that one it can serve as a metaphor for America itself in the post-war years. When you first write a story you allow to just unfurl in front of you. You don’t worry about a page count or whether the scene your writing is important to the whole, you just let the characters find their way. It is in some ways the most pure form of writing, before it’s been edited and reworked into something more palatable. That’s what I’m most reminded of here. Anderson lets his characters find those moments, he and us are just observers along for the ride. There are some films that have entertained me more this year, but few have left me as exhausted, in a great way, as this one.

 

Honourable Mentions.

There were more films I wanted to include on this list and ask me in a few months time and this might look a little different. But here are the almost-rans.

1) Skyfall

I need to see this again before deciding whether it’s the best Bond film to date but it’s certainly the most personal. Coming off the awful Quantum of Solace (I still don’t know what that means) it’s astounding, and typical of the Bond films, that they can have such a swing in quality. Exploring the mental and physical effects that being Bond has is something the films have touched on before, but this is the first one to really lay those things bare. There’s also a plot which liberally takes some ideas from The Dark Knight too but you don’t mind when the film is as good, and as good looking, as this one.

2) Magic Mike

It’s more than just ‘that stripper film’. It’s a spiritual successor to Saturday Night Fever (Not like the actual successor to that film, Staying Alive, which is legitimately terrible) that reveals the shallow, empty lives of people who do this thing for a living, all set against the current economic downturn. Oh and there’s loads of ass on display.

3) Dredd

Unfairly maligned, this is a slice of violent B-Movie heaven that has a staggeringly similar plot to The Raid (No one ripped anyone off – it’s just one of those odd coincidences) that has much the same affect. Just replace fists for bullets and you’re there. It also has a great central performance from Karl Urban, who does all his acting through the bottom half of his face.

4) Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

No seriously, it’s actually pretty good. There’s no wink-wink moments from the film, it completely buys into the premise. It also subtly tips it’s hat to what it’s really about in the opening and closing moments, in that hagiography sometimes goes too far. And the myth of who a man was threatens to overshadow the reality.

Also there’s a chase scene where a guy throws a horse at another guy. So there’s that.

5) John Carter

Another unfairly maligned movie that has some fantastic special effects and a great female role model (It shows that you can make strong women in films more than just men with tits). It ultimately suffers from being a very old book that’s been ripped off countless times since and a terrible title and marketing campaign. And as much as I love Taylor Kitsch in Friday Night Lights, he’s sadly mis-cast here.

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