At last! It’s the Oscar-bustin’ review of the year!
Yes, I’ve finally become bored enough that I decided to finish off my list of – count ‘em – 30 favourite films of 2012. Not, perhaps, a vintage year, but maybe time will tell. Although, there are a few prime contenders I’ve still yet to see, namely Sightseers and Silver Linings Playbook, but I did pretty well.
The order has been roughly determined on how I feel about the film right now and its potential rewatch factor, although the numbering isn’t strict.
Based on UK theatrical release dates (hence the lack of Django Unchained, Lincoln, etc), or whatever I want to base it on.
30. Cabin in the Woods
28. On the Road
23. The Muppets
22. Damsels in Distress
21. Oslo, August 31st
20. The Hunger Games
dir: Gary Ross
Teeny fight-to-the-death action-romance-sci-fi-??? that is actually more crazily over-the-top than Battle Royale. Jennifer Lawrence is just about my favourite person at the moment, and The Hunger Games is an interesting, if uneven, satire on modern culture. Mixing up the ‘bread-and-circuses’ of an ancient Rome-style futuristic dystopia, with a deft sideswipe at reality TV – the way the two protagonists manufacture a romance between themselves in order that it would involve them in a ‘story’ for the viewers to follow and garnering sympathy, was a neat touch on how reality shows work. If nothing else, this film gives its teen audience a Logan’s Run of their own. #TeamKatniss
One of Soderbergh’s better genre experiments, this time an underwritten action flick, showcasing Gina Carano’s ability to kick the shit out of A-listers. Plus, It works even better when you imagine the scene where she fights Michael Fassbender as if it is his character in Shame rightfully getting his head kicked in. Yessss.
A confrontational, painfully dark comedy of embarrassment, in which two warring, snarky, cynical siblings find themselves defeated by a world that is even snarkier and more cynical than they are. Carmen Altman gives her flinty, smartmouthed character a fracturing vunerability that highlights a deep-seated desperation. She also happens to be sharply funny, natural and heart-skippingly attractive.
Kind of a crap film, but enjoyably silly and some good pedal action, with Michael Shannon as the year’s best villainous loon.
In Habemus Papam, Michel Piccoli is voted in as the new pope. He decides he doesn’t want to be pope and runs off, disappearing down the back streets of Rome in search of a new life. Back at St Peter’s, the cardinals organise a volleyball tournament. In the end, it’s about an old man who, at the point of crisis, discovers he is not living the life he wanted for himself, and, even at his late stage, decides to act upon it. Many of us can look back on our life, at all of our unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and wonder if it is too late to start again. This film’s message seems to be: it’s never too late.
Dark, brooding, existential masculinity-in-crisis drama played out as a Liam Neeson mano-a-wolfo survivalist action pic. It lingers.
Strange title. Alma is in a constant state of being turned on, and that’s the problem. A teenage girl coming of age in a suffocatingly small and remote Norwegian town, Alma’s sex drive is revving up, only there’s nowhere to go. Buffeted by constant waves of sexual urges, she lets off steam by drifting off into daydreams – mostly involving her school crush, Artur – and running up huge phone bills by calling sex lines.
A small, quiet and dryly amusing indie, Få meg på, for faen dealswith its theme of female teenage sexuality with a truthful frankness. But it isn’t only concerned with raging hormones: Alma and her friends aren’t just horny – they’re bored, bored, bored, bored, bored. And Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s film perfectly captures the claustrophobia of growing up in rural towns, places where the very openness feels like a prison, the natural beauty of the surrounding countryside appearing as nothing but an endless green void to the glum teens. Jacobson repeats the town’s visual motifs over and over: the lonely bus stop, the shop, the cul-de-sac, emphasising the sameness of everything.
And also the small town hivemind mentality, and how easy it is to become ostracised based on rumours – which is precisely what happens to Alma, further compounding her frustration and sense of isolation.
It’s a cute little film, though. Slight, and with a deadpan sense of humour. And it’s refreshing to see a film that is basically a teen sex comedy but one where the girls aren’t totally objectified fuck-toys and the boys aren’t drooling, high-fiving morons. American Pie 12? Turn it off, dammit!
There’s nothing essentially new in this story of two LAPD buddies driving their squad car around South Central LA, responding to calls, giving chase to suspects, dealing with gang violence and so forth. What End of Watch brings is an immediacy through director David Ayer’s vérité camerawork, and two superb lead performances from Jake Gyllanhaal and Michael Peña, who really make you believe in their relationship. Not through being super charismatic, but human. Real.
The naturalistic tone makes the grim discoveries on their job all the more shocking, and their dealings with the gangs more nervy than it would be usually. It’s all pretty much routine cop movie stuff, but it’s given an edge as we sense their vulnerability more, especially when we realise they are getting in over their heads when they inadvertently begin to interfere with a Mexican drug cartel’s business.
Anyway, it’s tense and thrilling and funny as hell. It’s brilliant at capturing the lives of cops, and it’s smartly executed – at first it seems very episodic, watching them going from job to job and it all feels unconnected, but, in fact, it all comes together in the end and you realise that you have been watching a story, not a mock fly-on-the-wall doc.
And the scene where Anna Kendrick does the dance moves to “The Birdie Song” is worth the price of admission on its own.
When Aurora (Laura Soveral), a lonely, eccentric old lady dies, her neighbour seeks out Gian Luca Ventura (Henrique Espírito Santo), a man from Aurora’s distant past whose name she divulged on her deathbed.
From modern day Portugal we are whisked back 50 years as Ventura recounts the story of his torrid love affair with the young Aurora in colonial Africa.
The first, Lisbon set part of Miguel Gomes’ movie tackles the isolation of its characters by cloaking sadness in a dry wit. Filmed in luminous 35mm black and white, it is modern and emotionally subdued. The lion’s share of the movie, however, has misty Mozambique filmed in textural 16mm, giving it the appropriate ache of a reminiscence, and is both vibrantly passionate and poignant.
Entitled ‘Paradise’, the second part is without dialogue and sound apart from some selected foley noises. An elderly Ventura calmly narrates the tales of the forbidden romance between him and his former lover over the gorgeous, dreamlike images of lost youth amid the far flung, fading grandeur of an empire.
The quietness mixed with the odd bit of stylised camera work – as well as the rugged, dashing Errol Flynn-like good looks and charm of the young Ventura (Carloto Cotta) – give Tabu a silent movie feel, much more so than The Artist, even though it never feels the need to recreate the silent era look. To me, there was also something novelistic about it in the way it resembles the way images play in your head as you read a story.
It’s an unusual, elegantly shot, mischievous, and utterly spellbinding film in which volcanic emotions are hushed by memory. It’s like opening an old box filled with faded photographs of lost youth, tear-stained letters and keepsakes.
Well… I suppose visual aesthetics are as important to me as anything else in regard to movies…
The sound of a Blondie cover on a forbidden mixtape makes a Mormon girl pregnant. She heads to Las Vegas in search of the singer, hazy indie oddness ensues.
What this maybe had over the other relatives-dying-is-sad movie (ie Amour), is the portrayal of complex emotional reality. Sometimes people who aren’t old and saintly die, and sometimes the things you have kept putting off come back. The underplayed emotional scenes were very touching, and, for once, Hawaii was depicted as a real place where people live, but there were still some stunning shots of the islands, plus George Clooney in boat shoes.
An unflinching, comedic character study of a woman whose life is careening out of control due to her bad choices and her alcoholism, and who then tries to recross bridges that she has long since burnt.
Extremely attractive stars love dressing down and playing slobbish, unattractive characters, but Charlize Theron gives the best female performance of the year as a caustic wreck of a woman undergoing a midlife crisis meltdown. Her Mavis Gary is such an enjoyable monster, and one which, refreshingly, turns out to be irredeemably self-centered to the end. The film has an admirably miserablist tone and is as blackly funny as it is sad.
Cults and mind control, the personality types who seek to manipulate the thoughts and actions of others, and how scarily easy this is possible, plus how willing people are to listen to an authoritarian voice: all this is fascinating to me, and 2012 brought a raft of films that came at the subject from different angles; notably The Master and Martha Marcy May Marlene, but Compliance is the most terrifying of the lot: like a Milgram experiment carried out for real, it’s the most jaw-droppingly incredible, and it’s all true. 2012′s best horror film.
Judge Dredd shouldn’t have as much stubble as Karl Urban has in this, otherwise the fascist-future Dirty Harry is portrayed perfectly in this exciting, gritty, violent shoot-’em-up, which continues to hold up on rewatch.
It’s very limited by its budget, but it doesn’t let the lack of differing locations affect it… much. In the best way, it feels like a throwback to those post-apocalyptic/Warriors-type exploitation flicks of the early-’80s. In fact, I wish it was as colourful and as stylised as those usually were, and, obviously, as the original comic was. To have the bad guy “perps” dressed in jeans and t-shirts is a pretty disappointing indication of post-Dark Knight reality-grounded seriousness and risk aversion. Still, plenty of thrill power to be had, and I’m so glad it wasn’t an origin story as well.
Disturbing and beguiling, this outstanding debut feature from Sean Durkin examines the control over identity and the consequences of victimhood. Elizabeth Olsen gives a thoughtful and quietly powerful performance as Martha, a troubled soul adrift, with the film’s fractured way of telling the story, along with its gauzy vibe, being a fitting way of representing Martha’s psychological fugue state.
Martha rebounds from one broken ‘family’ to the next, from the clutches of a charismatic but abusive cult leader back to her natural family as she tries to relocate her sense of self, but with her disturbed psychology, it’s probably too late. I love the wonderfully disconnected, dreamlike haze that enshrouds everything.
Less fish-out-of-water, more frog-in-escalating-hot-water. Toby Jones is perfect as the innocent abroad, slowly corrupted by the crazed Italian giallo horror movie he has to provide the foley soundtrack for. Peter Strickland’s deeply strange second film lovingly fetishises the post-production processes: old, clunking analogue recording machinery, with lingering close-ups of faders and chunky switches, and the ribbons of tape spooling noisily around spinning reels.And actresses noiselessly screaming within sound-proof booths, later their bloodcurdling screams echo eerily around the empty corridors as the recordings are replayed over and over. We never see any of the horror movie in question; the camera focuses strictly on the sounds of unspeakable horror being created – watermelons being cleaved wetly in two, and the face of Toby Jones’ character blanching at the explicit violence, even as he has to mimic it by repeatedly stabbing a mic’d-up cabbage. But, as he ambles about the claustrophobic confines of the studio like a mole, you begin to question what is really happening, and what do those letters from his mother mean… ?
A sort of densely layered and ingenious amalgam of Back to the Future and The Terminator, but with its own giddy spin on time-travel and the knots it produces. On rewatch all the doubts and niggles I had with this film were either answered or were revealed to be mere fun-hating piddle. Greatly satisfying, ideas-heavy sci-fi flick (and how rare are they?), with any bumps in the plot being smoothed down by credible performances, especially by JGL and Bruce Willis, and a smart, aware script that knew when to skip over potential plot paradox tar-pits – “I don’t wanna talk about no time-travel shit” – while still throwing the audience enough meaty bones to gnaw on.
Having now rewatched this on Blu-ray a couple of times I’ve switched preferences and now prefer the farmhouse section of the film. The whole future-Depression vibe from the endless cane fields and the isolated farmstead, and relationship between JGL and Emily Blunt and the kid as they wait for Bruce Willis in Terminator mode, to track them down has a richness to it that rewards on repeat viewing. And I loved the dramatic irony of Terminator-Bruce’s intention to kill the Rainmaker kid in order to save his future wife, ends up with him creating her killer. Just great, inventive and highly entertaining time-twistyness.
It begins as a rom-com with a cute, high concept twist: brooding, blocked writer, Calvin (Paul Dano), has his dream girlfriend, Ruby (a superb Zoe Kazan, who also wrote the script), magically step off the page and into real life. And, what do you know, his Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a doe-eyed, girlish, quirky, kooky cutie-pie who loves the same films and music as he does, and whose uncomplicated, upbeat outlook on life and childlike sense of fun is really going to help him out of his funk – whilst also adoring him for the quiet, deep soul that he is, obviously. Soon, though, his lovably silly ingénue begins to undergo a Pinocchio-like transformation into a real person, with flaws and emotions and – uh oh – independent thoughts.
Ostensibly looking like yet another spin on the Pygmalion myth, the real intention of Ruby Sparks is to offer a devastating critique on the troubling Magic Pixie Dream Girl trope, and the rather sad screen idealisation of fantasy carefree girl-like women, who have enough personality to make up for the deficiencies in the insecure “genius” male (author surrogate) character.
Part of Ruby Sparks‘ brilliance is how it gets everything absolutely right; carefully fashioning itself in the sheep’s clothing of a sunny, offbeat, modern romantic comedy, complete with wacky side characters and farce, all before slowly bearing its fangs.
Wes Anderson’s poignant study of childhood escapism and adult disappointment, Moonrise Kingdom, is the most perfectly realised representation of his neat-and-tidy dollhouse aesthetic, as well as being the one with the most recognisable and relatable situations and characters. Moonrise is Anderson’s kingdom; a Charlie Brown nostalgic look back at childhood’s end,and full of the pagentry of lost (and, by some way, idealised) youth: hand-drawn maps, books read under torchlight, dens and treehouses, binoculars and record players. The hills, coves and beaches we played. And, of course, first love.
This kind of regression isn’t strictly healthy, as is the view of all adults as screw-ups (or, at best, overgrown kids), but his films about broken families and unhappy people remain heartfelt. The quiet burn of Bruce Willis’ portrayal of a policemen carrying a life-load of regret needs to be mentioned as well, and how his clandestine romance with Frances McDormand mirrors the one between the two kids.
But the playfulness of Anderson’s dialogue, the deep-background detail of his shots, the performances he elicits from his actors – especially the young stars of the film – are all so fine, it’s a pleasure to escape into his tiny worlds for a brief time, to enjoy mourning the intensity and innocence of a first relationship, and, as the unstoppable oncoming storm of adulthood darkens the blue skies, to take a last look at the empty, idyllic cove of vanished childhood.
THEY ALSO SERVED
Other notable releases: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Skyfall, War Horse, The Master, The Comedy, Brave, Magic Mike, Killer Joe, Rust & Bone, Snow White & the Huntsman, Barbara, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Life of Pi.
Following the sad news of Gerry Anderson snuffing it, I’ve gone back and watched a few episodes of the underrated Space: 1999 (hooray for YouTube). Superb disco-era sci-fi that’s basically Star Trek: The Original Series mixed with the mysticism of 2001: A Space Odyssey (anticipating Star Trek: the Motion Picture by a few years, in that regard – and it does feel like ST:TMP the series).
(so many colons!)
Anyway, love this episode from the superior first series. “Dragon’s Domain” is about scary, unfathomable, mind-bending alien being that exists in the middle of a spaceships graveyard, like some mad space spider. Great, intelligent sci-fi, with wonderful design and model work that typified an Anderson production. RIP.
My Christmas Eve tradition for I don’t know how long is to listen to Stan Freberg’s amazing “Christmas Dragnet”. So here I go again. Join me, “love to have ya”.
It’s the best thing on Burton’s filmography, possibly his most visually iconic… and it’s a film he didn’t direct. But TNBC remains the best distillation of Burton’s obsessions, possibly because it’s tempered by Henry Selick’s surer, less cloying direction.
Burton’s films are invariably slushy, sentimental tales with candy-striped gothic window dressing, but this is just the opposite. The twee romantic sub-plot between Jack Skellington and his rag-doll squeeze is underwritten to the point of irrelevancy, leaving the film to be a fevered, blood-ink love letter to the Universal horror movies of the 1930s, ’50s b-pics, and Grimm’s fairy tales.
The land of Halloween Town is full on fun German Expressionism; all mad, slant angles, dramatic, towering gothic architecture and an ominous grey lowering sky. The stop-motion work, the characters and the production design remain a delight; full of highly detailed, visual sight gags.
Cleverly trading in on the now almost imperceptible transition between Halloween and Christmas, you can see why it’s become a seasonal favourite. It matches the cosy, false nostaligia of a perfect, snowy Yuletide with a kind of jolly macabre humour (the huge, striped python slowly swallowing a bauble-laden Christmas tree, and the “Making Christmas” montage where the monsters create their own creepy, kooky Christmas decorations are perfect examples where both styles merge).
From the mad scientist, Dr. Finklestein with his flip-top skull (I don’t know why they didn’t make him an antagonist for Jack as well as Sally), to the literally two-faced politician, the town’s Mayor (“I’m only an elected official, I can’t be expected to make decisions by myself”), Halloween Town is populated by a hoard of nutty characters and familiar monster movie archetypes. My particular favourites might be the lugubrious jazz band (“nice work, bone daddy”) who play mournful music, even turning “Jingle Bells” into a dirge. The Cab Calloway influenced Oogie-Boogie is another – the visually stunning scene where he taunts Santa Claus (“Sandy Claws”) with his scat jazz song is arguably the film’s high point.
The best musical of the 1990s? The soundtrack has become a classic in its own right, and is certainly one of Danny Elfman’s best scores. The film’s full of memorable songs, like the joyful “What’s This” (“absolutely no-one’s dead!”), which is so good even Marilyn Manson couldn’t ruin it (okay, he did ruin it).
The dark whirlwind of The Nightmare Before Christmas proved to be the apotheosis, and something of an end point, for Burton’s whole aesthetic. The excellent biopic, Ed Wood ,came after, but was something of a departure from his more fantastical work. To me, his films have lacked the spirit, strong vision and originality ever since, as if, after Nightmare he had nothing left to say. The true heir to to this film is Selick’s own Coraline - which is arguably much stronger, storywise – and this year’s stop-motion kiddie-horror, ParaNorman.
Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t dead, though. No, it’s very much alive. Not only is it now seen as a festive favourite, but, surprisingly, lives on as goth merch, with Jack Skellington’s leering visage appearing on raver hats and the like. The film has been co-opted by today’s emo kids, which, I suppose, was inevitable.
“Haven’t you heard of peace on Earth, and goodwill toward men?”