Happy New Year!
2012 is now done, and a shiny and lovely 2013 has taken its place. But it wouldn’t be right to bid 2012 a fond farewell without taking a look at the films we loved and hated over the last twelve months. Whilst the time for this sort of navel-gazing may well have passed as the clocks ticked round to midnight, we hope you will indulge our late contribution to the end of year party.
So, first, The Worst!
The Worst Films of 2012
5. THE MUPPETS d James Bobin
Who doesn’t love The Muppets? We love The Muppets! The Muppet Christmas Carol is genuinely one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made. But the film that should have relaunched Kermit and the gang was instead a soul crushing experience. Despite excellent songs, the film’s strings are cut by lame characters and characterisations (Jason Segel’s human lead and his Muppet brother Walter are both lifeless, and the Kermit/Piggy relationship drama is weird and unnecessary) a hackneyed plot involving corrupt oil tycoons and tribute bands (this is perhaps the only family movie ever that will feature corporate copyright as a key plot point) and being simply unfunny. The film’s often surreal sense of humour, needless pop culture references and z-list cameos notwithstanding (Whoopi Goldberg and the kid from Modern Family? No expense spared!), the overall impression is of a group of thirtysomething slackers making a film they will find hilarious, but one that displays no understanding of what makes felt covered puppets both funny and magical, nor any interest in letting everyone else share in their fun.
4. MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE- GHOST PROTOCOL d Brad Bird
A big, loud, incredibly stupid, monumentally tedious, breathtakingly corny excuse for a film, M:I4 plays more like a fourth rate spy spoof than a genuine action film. A head-slappingly throwback plot involving bombing Russia and nuclear missiles, an overstuffed cast including all-at-sea non-villain Michael Nyqvist and irritating Simon Pegg, an overreliance on outlandish gadgets and action sequences, dreadfully obvious iconography and music choices for location switches (Dubai! Exotic Middle Eastern tunes! Camels!) and some of the worst special effects in a mainstream blockbuster in recent memory add up to a mission we wished we had not chosen to accept. Only the Josh Holloway fronted prologue and Anil Kapoor’s sleazy playboy come close to making for an enjoyable ride. Brad Bird, an animation genius from The Simpsons’ glory days and Pixar’s peerless The Incredibles, specialised in making drawings and pixels feel human. In his first live action film, he has made his most cartoonish, and worst, film to date.
3. RAMPART d Oren Moverman
A bizarrely pointless cop corruption drama massively over directed by Moverman. The infuriating camera and editing tics cannot hide a non-existent narrative with nothing to say, nor can a starry cast including the usually excellent Woody Harrelson elevate the thin material to the level they, and we as an audience, deserve. Ostensibly based on the Rampart Scandal that shook Los Angeles in the 1990s with endemic corruption revealed in the city’s police force, Harrelson is dissolute bad cop “Date Rape” Dave Brown (a moniker that is as irritating as it is prurient) who is caught on camera pummeling a suspect half to death. Suspended from duty but convinced of his righteousness, Brown, like the film, wanders about aimlessly, taking in his failed relationships (he inexpicably has a child each by a pair of sisters, played, gratingly, as nagging stereotypes Anne Heche and Cynthia Nixon) an affair with Robin Wright, attempts to mediate with his superiors and Ice Cube’s cop determined to expose his dirty ways. Ben Foster is a wheelchair bound hobo for some reason. But that synopsis would fool a prospective viewer into thinking something meaningful occurred within the film’s 108min runtime. It doesn’t. Put to shame by the similar setting but infinitely more exciting End Of Watch, or just about any police procedural ever mounted.
2. THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN d Marc Webb
A brainless, witless, joyless, shameless retread of Sam Raimi’s excellent Spider-Man, released a mere ten years ago, The Amazing Spider-Man singularly fails to live up to its title, which for that alone should be investigated by trading standards. Marc Webb’s ingenious attempt to “reboot” the franchise involves following the exact same story beats from a decade ago, with a few details changed. We see Peter Parker’s origin (again, but in a different lab), his struggle with his powers (again, but on the subway), the shocking death of his Uncle Ben (again, but with President Barlett manhandling a man with a gun, which isn’t the smartest move Prez ever pulled) and yadda yadda yadda. The insulting and cynical way this film gives you exactly the same material in such an uninventive way part of the reason it is one of the year’s worst (witness the “Great Power/Great Responsibility” speech delivered without using the words “Great”, “Power” or “Responsibility”!) A nonsensical story involving yet another semi-benevolent scientist turned green madman (Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin before, Rhys Ifan’s barely-awake-when-human, PS2-when-CGI The Lizard here) wanting to gas the whole of New York to eliminate weakness by making them reptiles (?) the squandering of the perfectly cast Andrew Garfield due to a moody rendering of Peter Parker and Jay Leno on speed characterisation of Spider-Man and the ineffective 3D all contribute to the fury. We vowed not to pay a red cent to see it when the trailers trickled through. We saw it for free, which was still too high a price to pay for such an appalling blockbuster.
1.COSMOPOLIS d David Cronenberg
Staggering is one word for Cosmopolis. Baffling is another. Unspeakably dreadful are two that sum it up quite nicely. From minute one the dread set in, from the mannered stilted dialogue no doubt faithfully culled from the cult novel from Dom DeLillo, that we have never read, nor are likely too. Pretension abounds in a picaresque narrative depicting Robert Pattinson’s sheltered multi billionaire gliding through the streets of New York city, where financial system riots are virulent, in a state of the art limousine cut off from the outside world, all in order to… get a haircut. There are attempts to comment on the banking crises that have seized the world in the past few years (discourses on rats as currency, the value of money, the idea of an uncaring rich bloke swanning down the boulevard in a limo passed the plebs outside) that display no genuine engagement in nor opinion on the situation, leaving us with episodic conversations about nothing in which R-Pattz talks to various business associates, from Jay Baruchel to Samatha Morton. The actors equip themselves ably enough, but the real wonder is this sprang from a genius like David Cronenberg. With this film and another 2012 snoozefest A Dangerous Method, the master who wrought A History of Violence and The Fly is in a serious tailspin. It often feels more like the work of a smug know-it-all film student making fun of whatever audience is magnanimous enough to watch his assembled tripe rather than being shaped by an accomplished filmmaker. The story goes nowhere, making little to no sense (Mathieu Amalric throws a custard pie at one point, and a rapper dies and receives a state funeral) the characters are insufferable, and the dialogue risible. From the repeated use of the phrase “I know this”, to non-sequiturs like Paul Giamitti as a sad sack would be murderer yelling “I want to be known as Benno!”, many extracts have entered our lexicon in an ironic fashion, which only serves to mock the most facile, deluded and yes, Worst Film of 2012.
DISHONORABLE MENTIONS: THE BOURNE LEGACY, KILLING THEM SOFTLY/BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
The Bourne Legacy shared The Amazing Spider-Man’s “essentially remake the first film but pass it off as a reboot” modus operandi, and was similarly infuriating. Billed as going beyond the conspiracy at the heart of the franchise, taking us through the looking glass into the upper echelons of shady government practice, the film instead brought us lots of men in suits talking dully about how everything was going to blow up in their face. It never did. Tony Gilroy, taking the director’s chair after serving as screenwriter of each instalment (although heavily reworked by directors Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass, much to his chagrin) apparently has no idea why the series became so popular in the first place. A meandering plot, a lead character that despite the presence of the superb Jeremy Renner never comes close to the brilliance of amnesiac Bourne (partly due to an absurd backstory of his agent Aaron Cross) and the questionable decision to muck about with with key iconography from the series (opening on a body face down in a pool, the Moby soundtracked conclusion, scenes re-edited from The Bourne Ultimatum) leaves a bad taste, as does the poor use of CGI in a franchise that was once the watchword in practical stunts and effects.
Both Killing Them Softly and Beasts of The Southern Wild meanwhile were much lauded in many circles, but left us very cold. Many critics hailed Andrew Dominik’s Killing… as a taut 70s-esque crime tale that dealt smartly with the current financial crisis. What it was in reality was ham fisted archive footage of George Bush and Barack Obama talking about bailouts or stimulus packages with zero insight and sub Coen brothers comedy japes involving idiot stick up artists. The ever dependable Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini’s alcoholic marital woe stricken assassin and an excellent climactic speech from Brad Pitt’s Cogan save it from total ignominy, but it was very much a disappointment. Beasts… by comparison had us wondering what planet everyone else was living on. The consensus had Southern Wild pegged as a magical uplifting film set in a carefully crafted universe. What we found was an insufferably twee, clumsily executed and, in places, borderline racist film in its use of stereotypes, with poorly shot and grainy visuals and topped off with sequences featuring piglets dressed up as mythical beasties. Like Killing… we expected to love it, and were greatly let down that we couldn’t see what clothes the Emperor was meant to be wearing.
And saving The Best till last!
The Best Films of 2012
5. SIGHTSEERS d Ben Wheatley
A twistedly hilarious killing spree holiday road trip movie, Sightseers was the funniest, and one of the most shocking, films of the year. The protagonists, played winningly by Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also wrote the script, at first seem like lovable and harmless tourists, only to be revealed to have darker hearts when crossed. The film is a brilliantly observed and extremely funny take on holidaying in Britain, with all the bizarre local attractions you visit on such jaunts, albeit with bursts of ultraviolence. It is also refreshing and quite wonderful to see characters on the silver screen with Birmingham accents. As natives of The Second City we are grossly underrepresented on film, and to have that balance redressed by such talented people was extremely gratifying. The screening we attended was introduced by the delightful Lowe and Oram, both as funny in the flesh as on film. It also enhances director Ben Wheatley’s already glowing reputation as one of the most exciting filmmakers working in the UK today.
4. LOOPER d Rian Johnson
Another exciting vision from writer/director Rian Johnson, Looper matches and in some respects surpasses the inventiveness of his debut film, the marvellously clever high school noir Brick. A fiendishly intelligent science fiction thriller with a plot as tightly wound as lead character Joe’s signature pocket watch, Looper depicts a future where time travel is illegal, only used by criminal syndicates to send people back to be killed. When Joe, played by the never short of exemplary Joseph Gordon-Levitt, lets his older self (Bruce Willis in his best display in years) escape, he must “close the loop” to prevent terrible consequences for himself in the present, or the future itself. A rare film that is as smart as it is exciting, with bold and arresting sequences, including a harrowing but bloodless time travel torture scene, Looper sits comfortably in the pantheon of terrific modern sci-fi alongside Duncan Jones’ Moon and Neil Blomkamp’s District 9. It also displays wit and humour, riffing on Willis’ Die Hard past and is indebted to his previous career highpoint, Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys, which is a fantastic film to reference. We are also greatly inspired by Johnson’s career trajectory so far, eschewing adaptations of other works to craft his own distinctive pieces inspired by various sources. This film, and Johnson’s work in general, gives us plenty to aspire to.
3. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES d Christopher Nolan
Another writer/director we greatly admire is the almighty Christopher Nolan, our favourite filmmaker bar none. With his curtain call to his Dark Knight series, it is easy to see why. Whilst most Hollywood blockbusters are content to churn out more of the same, Nolan dares to increase the already epic scale of his Batman movies without compromising and actually plumbing deeper emotional waters. The more extensive use of IMAX photography gives the huge and already iconic action sequences unparalleled clarity and beauty, demonstrating expert choreography, whether it is the opening plane crash or hundreds of police charging down machine gun wielding mercenaries on Gotham’s ruined streets. The stakes of the drama are almost unbearably raised, with the destruction of a great city transformed from mediocre genre trope to terrifying nightmare, complete with kangaroo courts, sadistic executions and marauding bandits. But few directors entertaining the masses could conceive of, never mind execute, such heart rending scenes of human emotion as those featuring Michael Caine’s Alfred bidding goodbye to his lifelong charge Bruce Wayne. Nolan’s detractors’ unfounded claims that his films are emotionally distant have a perfect rebuke here, as does the wrongheaded notion his Batman sequence is a humourless trudge through gritty reality. Rises is often wonderfully funny and playful, particularly early sequences featuring Anne Hathaway’s con artist supreme Catwoman, Gotham PD’s doomed downtown pursuit of Batman and, in the film’s masterstroke, Tom Hardy’s for-the-ages Bane. Blessed with a rich, hugely strange, but massively entertaining accent, strutting about like cock of the walk, he is as humorous as he is monumentally scary. A physical hulk, an intellectual powerhouse and an unpredictable force of nature, all shackled in a horrific facial mask, Hardy generates a villain that will be cited for years to come as one of film’s best. All of this Nolan pulls off whilst deftly tying the story back into the earlier film’s mythology, creating an immensely satisfying, supremely exciting and justifiably lauded conclusion to a trilogy that showed intelligent blockbusters are not a thing of the past.
2. KILLER JOE d William Friedkin
Jet black doesn’t come close to describing the dark as pitch comedy of Killer Joe. A grotesque, hilarious and grotesquely hilarious neo-noir, the film mines the seamier side of humanity with great aplomb. Dumb trailer trash duo Emile Hirsch and his father Thomas Haden Church decide to murder Hirsch’s mother for her life insurance policy to settle a debt with the wrong people. They enlist a hired gun, a moonlighting police officer called Joe, in what can only be described as a truly astonishing performance by Matthew McConaughey. Once one of Hollywood’s most exciting acting talents, McConaughey was stuck in a rut of appalling romantic comedies (Failure To Launch is perhaps the worst movie we have ever seen) but storms back with a vengeance. A charming, charismatic but undeniably sinister presence, even if due to the company he keeps he often appears the sanest character in the picture, his Joe is hypnotic and deeply unnerving. When the idiotic twosome default on payment for his services, his eye falls on naive sister Dolly (an impressive Juno Temple taking her as a payment in kind, from which things unravel predictably but spectacularly. The much talked about conclusion featuring a nauseating sexual assault will divide opinion massively in audiences. Some will be rightly repulsed at the sickening display but will wrongly reject the film around it. The scene reflects the true sadistic nature of the lead character, and the degradation he humiliatingly submits another to is representative of his perverse and psychotic heart. It is a film sure to be reduced to “that scene”, putting off many and perhaps enticing a few it shouldn’t. But it is indeed a blistering and singular film that we loved from start to finish, and we hope its reputation will only grow as time goes on.
And the Best Film of 2012 is…
1. SHAME d Steve McQueen
A superb meditation on sex addiction from Hunger director Steve McQueen and his muse Michael Fassbender, Shame stole the show for us in 2012. Dealing with a difficult, potentially lurid subject with sensitivity and tact, featuring yet another electrifying turn by one of our finest actors in Fassbender, McQueen’s film beat all comers. Beautifully if clinically shot, with expert use of sound to focus on the sensual rather than the erotic, the piece’s technical brilliance is only surpassed by its emotional core. Abi Morgan’s script brings empathy to a central character who could in the wrong hands be drawn as hideous or detestable, but thanks to her deft handling, and the raw performance of the film’s lead, we are in no doubt Brandon is a seriously damaged individual wrestling with his considerable demons. In many ways reminiscent of Taxi Driver, with a similar location housing an essentially decent protagonist compelled to terrible acts by darker and destructive impulses, Shame is destined to become, like Scorsese’s masterpiece, a true classic of modern cinema. Our endorsement of it as our Best Film of 2012 is the footnoteiest of footnotes in the annals of this stunning and amazing film.
HONOURABLE MENTIONS: BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO/MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE, THE RAID
Berberian Sound Studio was an amazing and deeply unsettling experience. The stunning use of sound design when coupled with the brilliant photography, evoke a strange, eerie and engaging atmosphere that pulls you in. The tale of a mild mannered but financially desperate sound engineer more used to working on quaint British documentary films and his work on a disgustingly violent Italian Giallo horror film is like no other. The horrors of the film-within-a-film are ingeniously never shown, only depicted by close ups of the items used for the disturbing sound effects. Many a melon is pounded with a hammer, giving a much more visceral reaction than showing the genuine blood and guts ever could. This is also joined by the often hilarious notes from the Italian engineer, talking of “dangerously aroused goblins” and the like to fill us in on what tawdry horrors the production is engaged in. But the whole film is anchored by another superlative turn by Toby Jones, one of the best actors working in Britain today, or indeed, anywhere. His meek Gilderoy is a pleasure to watch as he slowly loses his sanity and himself, trying to do the best he can in an environment and on a project he really isn’t suited for. He features in practically every scene, and does so unfussily but with great skill. The film fails to make the top five as the story is rather thin. By the conclusion we found ourselves disappointed nothing more “happened”; comparisons with the superb Peeping Tom by the legendary Michael Powell, that great film highlighting the similarity between filmmaking and madness, had us waiting for more of a plot to kick in. That misses the point of Studio, which is about atmosphere over all else, and does have a subtle if slight narrative that we deduced after leaving the cinema. But as it failed to live up to its earliest promise, despite being a thrilling and unique creation, we felt it fell just short of our top five.
Martha Marcy May Marlene deserves a similar mention as like Berberian it has atmosphere to burn and is deeply disturbing in its depiction of a young girl who has escaped from a cult, and intercuts her attempts to rebuild her life with the traumas of her time in captivity. Like Studio it pivots on an exemplary performance, here by Elizabeth Olsen, and likewise unnerves in great measure. Confidently written and directed by first timer Sean Durkin, he marked himself and his young lead out as ones to watch in the future.
Finally, The Raid deserves to be highlighted as a hugely entertaining and thrilling martial arts action film. It has more verve and panache in one scene than most summer fare can muster in a bloated two hours, with eye wateringly brutal fight sequences and a taut narrative that propels forward at a terrific pace. It is one of the most fun films of the year, and for that reason felt worthy of mention with the Best of 2012.
We hope you enjoyed our list! A Happy 2013 to you all! We hope to have some more films made this fine year, and will share them with you when we get half a chance!
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