Hey there. I saw a lot of films in 2012. A lot of them were good. Very good. In fact, in the words of Homer Simpson, it was a very good beer. Except switch the word 'beer' with 'year'. Then you'll get what I mean.
Films like THE AVENGERS, END OF WATCH, GRABBERS, THE DESCENDANTS, THE INNKEEPERS were all good, for example. RUBY SPARKS was good. SINISTER was good. PARANORMAN and FRANKENWEENIE were both good. THE GREY is very good. TOWER BLOCK, SKYFALL, EXCISION. KID WITH A BIKE, 21 JUMP STREET. DREDD. These are all films that I classify as 'good' on the sliding scale of bad/good without losing much sleep.
None of these films were good enough to make my top 21.
That's how good a beer/year this was.
What will follow is an entirely accurate list of the year's best films according to me and (I'm assuming) the British public, interspersed with a few other fun best of 2012 bits and pieces.
This post sees films #21-#11, with the top ten to come shortly afterwards. I hope you enjoy it.
Let's get listy!
(Some housekeeping - everything in this list was released in the UK between Jan 1 and Dec 31 2012. No documentaries are included in the main list because it was a headache cutting the list down to 21 as it was. I ranked films according to a complex algorithm in my head that took into account a) my initial cinema experience, b) my desire to ever watch it again, c) its artistic and intellectual merit, d) how 2012-y it felt. This was my system and this is how it worked out, so I'm afraid you're just going to have to live with it. Also - it's a top 21 and not a top 20 because I couldn't whittle it down any further. And it was very nearly 22 - say hi, THE GREY!)
"You have my respect, whatever that means to you, you got it. But know this shit hard, if ever there comes a time, it's gets down to the morrow and it's you and me, kid, I will lay you the fuck out."
So it may not be particularly ambitious but what GOON most definitely is in contention for the most fun I had watching a film this year. Spectacularly violent and foul-mouthed, GOON is brave enough to openly invite comparisons with George Roy Hill's classic SLAP SHOT and good enough to actually stand alongside it as a worthy companion piece. Seann William Scott is brilliantly awkward and funny in a role that couldn't be further away from Stifler, and the on-ice action is bloody (and) exhilarating. Liev Schreiber steals the film, however, and his amazing turn as Scott's main enforcer rival lends a genuine gravitas to the film that sends the final confrontation into a whole new level of crowd-pleasing excitement. There is little that satisfies me in cinema quite as much as a sports movie done right, except perhaps seeing people getting punched in the face over and over again, so I pretty much ate GOON up.
20) MOONRISE KINGDOM - review here
"I love you, but you don't know what you're talking about."
I like Wes Anderson quite a bit, but there's a point in every film post-Bottle Rocket and Rushmore where I lean back, exhale, and think/say "Fuck me, this is insufferably twee", and MOONRISE KINGDOM was no exception, with its cutesy-French-pop by way of Britten and Bernstein soundtrack and exquisitely Instagrammed colour-correction. This little bugbear I have doesn't particularly affect my enjoyment of the often amazing visuals Anderson conjures up (he's got a way with a tableaux alright), and the intricate worlds he builds - I just feel there's an archness to his work that stops me from fully committing to it emotionally. So imagine my surprise when I found myself actually tearing up at the end of MOONRISE KINGDOM, partly out of genuine sadness that I was about to leave its sun-kissed world of bucolic innocence, and partly because the nascent pubescent romance was one of the sweetest love stories I've seen on screen in a very long time. I'd spent the whole film trying to resist it, but the film was stealthily melting my cynical facade even while I was mentally snarking away. Turns out I'm the arch idiot after all. Well played Wes.
Top songs of the year:
"Call Me Maybe" by Carly Jae Repsen, 'Survival Tactics' by Joey Bada$$ ft. Capital Steez, 'The House That Heaven Built' by Japandroids, 'Bad Religion' by Frank Ocean, 'Chum' by Earl Sweatshirt, 'Everything is Embarassing' by Sky Ferreria, 'Money Trees' by Kendrick Lamar ft. Jay Rock, 'Climax' by Usher, 'Genesis' by Grimes, 'Seek It' by Richard Hawley, 'Dance At My Wedding' by The Cornshed Sisters, 'New Year' by Beach House, 'Tonight' by St Etienne, 'Die Young' by Ke$ha, 'The Mother We Share' by CHVRCHES
"Sounds like something from a movie."
My god this film is so much fucking fun. I saw it back in 2011 at the London Film Festival after a slate of heavy movies, and the bat-shit central premise and outrageously violent setpieces of this adaptation of Jo Nesbo's pulpy thriller entertained me as thoroughly as is humanly possible without the aid of rubber gloves. If you're a fan of Breaking Bad, the cracking pace of HEADHUNTERS along with its mix of crime, horror, relationship drama and black humour will be familar to you; if not, get the Breaking Bad boxset, then get a copy of HEADHUNTERS, then toss your rubber gloves away as you will never need them again, unless you use them for washing up, in which case keep one pair under the sink at all times.
18) LAURENCE ANYWAYS - review here
"Gender is shallow to me."
This was another big surprise - I went in expecting to hate it, and left totally blown away by the level of craft and invention displayed by 23-year-old Xavier Dolan, who wrote the film, directed it, edited it, designed the costumes and probably hand-made every baguette eaten by the crew while he was at it because by that point why not? An epic, gender-bending romance with cracking performances from Melvyn Poupaud and, particularly, Suzanne Clement, Dolan claims that the big influence on the film was TITANIC, and regardless of your opinions of that film you have to be in awe of a young film-maker who upon finally getting a budget decides to take aim at the second biggest film of all time. This got swallowed up by the huge number of (excellent) prestige releases out in November, but don't let it pass you by. Trust me - it's fucking great.
Top games of the year:
1) Journey (by a mile), 2) The Walking Dead, 3) XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 4) F.T.L., 5) Fez
17) ABOUT ELLY
"A bitter ending is better than an endless bitterness."
A film that was shown at the LFF quite a few years ago, but one that only saw a UK release after the deserved success of Asghar Farhadi's follow-up feature, the remarkable A SEPARATION. To say ABOUT ELLY doesn't quite match up to its successor is hardly damning, as A SEPARATION is one of my films of the century so far, and ABOUT ELLY really isn't far off: if weren't for a slightly shaky first act, the film would be bothering the upper reaches of this list. Farhadi does dilemmas better than anybody - like A SEPARATION, a shocking event here leads a collection of superbly-drawn and utterly credible characters into a range of impossible situations that are inevitably complicated and concentrated by the various restrictive codes and dogma that guide contemporary Iranian culture. These situations never, ever feel engineered, however - the plot feel as humane and organic as an Ozu, but some sequences are able to put your heart in your mouth as well as any Hitchcock. No one ever makes a wrong decision in a Farhadi film, and yet everybody always makes the wrong decision. ABOUT ELLY cements him in my eyes as one of the best film-makers in the world.
"Things will go on as they have done up until now. They'll go from bad to worse. Things will go on, and then one day it will all be over."
An honest, unflinching look at elderly physical decay and the subsequent questions of dependence it asks of loved ones equally concerned and horrified, this is a film that needed to be made, and Haneke nailed it - it's tender but never sentimental (I don't think he's capable of it to be honest), and tough but never enough to repel you. They should and probably will write books on the way Haneke frames the apartment set in a way that instills an increasingly suffocating sense of claustrophobia, and the two central performances are absolutely in contention for th ebst of the year. AMOUR is so good it feels silly not to have it higher on the list, but I just can't quite bring myself to name it as my favourite or even the "best" film of the year:: firstly, I'm not a fan of the key role Metaphor Pigeon plays in the later scenes, as I think that's a character that would work better as a Reddit meme than as a big emotional signpost in a film that frankly doesn't need it. I think my slight resistance to AMOUR though might ultimately be because I was unsurprised by it - it was exactly as stunning, harrowing, controlled and mesmerising as I thought it would be, a gruelling and riveting experience while watching it, but not a film I can honestly say I have given much thought to since, beyond the occasional sentiment of "Man, do I not want to get old". And that's not exactly an original sentiment in my brain. But, as I said, even if that's the only thing you take away from AMOUR, it is still undeniably one of the most expertly crafted and essential screen experiences of the year.
15) THE CABIN IN THE WOODS - review here
"And the winner is..maintenance!"
Joss Whedon had a pretty good year really. People seemed to like that superhero film he made, and then this finally saw a release, which answered the questions "Can a film be too Joss Whedon-y?"; "Can a film have too much fan service?" and "Aren't post-modern horror films played out?" with three big fat Nos and a stupid knowing grin. The film tails off a little bit in the final few minutes, but then how do you possibly follow the "Purge" sequence, one of the only things I've seen at the cinema this year that I can literally describe as jaw-dropping? This is one of the most rewatchable films of the year, without question.
Top comics of the year:
Batman by Scott Snyder, Hawkeye by Matt Fraction, Casanova by Matt Fraction, Adventure Time by Ryan North/others, Swamp Thing/Animal Man by Scott Snyder/Jeff Lemire, The Manhattan Projects by Jonathan Hickman, Saga by Brian K Vaughan, Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
14) BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
"I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe, and that makes it right."
I've struggled a lot with BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD since seeing it back in August. I absolutely loved it on first viewing, with some reservations. Then I watched with increasing bemusement as a succession of critics I admire queued up to kick lumps out of it for being either patronising to the people of New Orleans or outright racist, depending on who you believed. As much as you really shouldn't do this, I immediately began to question my own initial reaction to the film - had I just been suckered in as a white middle-class dilettante eager for a bit of fairy-dust poverty porn, as the infamous Sight and Sound review had not so subtly inferred was the reason behind the film's initial success? A few months later with a bit of daylight between both the incredibly hyped release and the subsequent kerfuffle, and I've decided that the accusations of racism and poverty porn are just hysterical fluff.
I never took any kind of social commentary from the film at all: the main thrust of BEASTS to me seems to be a cinematic attempt to evoke the particular sense of wonder of being a child who has developed their sensory apparatus just enough to take in the chaos of the world, but still lacks the mental capacity to prioritise and process all the noise into something they can properly assess: as a result, they spend their days in this permanent state of confused exhilaration. This is something that BEASTS succeeds at superbly, and as a result I kind of feel the location of the film is irrelevant. Why shouldn't they make a low-budget film in New Orleans? I feel a lot of the animus does seem to stem from the fact the filmmakers are priveleged white kids from New York, the inference being that they have no right to tell this story, and should stick to what they know. Put if this way, if it's a choice between another BEASTS and another TINY FURNITURE/CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER, I'll go for a clone of BEASTS every fucking time, (even though I think Lena Dunhham is kind of OK really). The "Is BEASTS patronising?" debate essentially boils down to priveleged, over-educated, middle-class film critics accusing priveleged, over-educated film directors of being less racially and socially conscious than they are. The whole thing is basically two bare-lipped hipsters fighting over a moustache comb.
Where was I? Oh yeah, the film. Not all of it works - the integration of the outright fantasy sequences don't quite work, and any time the film does try and edge towards the political it fails - but the ambition is undeniable, and it's overall just beautful and exciting and moving and unique and truly impressive. So there.
13) ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA - review here
"Everyone pays for the things they do. But kids pay for the sins of adults."
One of the less accessible films on the list, this lengthy Turkish journey into the heart of darkness could accurately be described as a police procedural, despite having absolutely nothing in common with the generic tropes that that description would suggest. It's heartfelt and nakedly spiritual mediation on big stuff death, faith, fidelity, family, and duty, with exquisite, painterly photography and even some genuinely funny (and welcome) comic relief. It's an unforgettable and profound experience, with some of the most transcendentally beautiful sequences of the year - the scene where the exhausted men encounter a beautiful farmer's daughter by candlelight late into their dark night of the soul is one of the most unforgettable moments of the year.
12) KILLER JOE
"Whose dick is this?"
Well, alright, alright, alright...it was quite a year for Matthew McConaughey, who makes two appearances on this list, first of all in this wickedly funny Gothic neo-noir from the brilliantly irascible William Friedkin. It's so good to watch a noir that feels genuinely scuzzy, in the vein of BLOOD SIMPLE and TOUCH OF EVIL where the characters' sweat and grime seem to soak off the screen and into the celluloid itself. KILLER JOE goes way further than any previous scuzz-noir, however, with the most disgusting cast of characters you'll see outside of a John Waters film and a revelatory McConaughey at the centre as a sadistic psychopath whose treatment of the hicks is similar to the way a six-year-old with a magnifyng glass might treat a colony of ants. Unrelentingly unpleasant, if you can stomach it KILLER JOE is also one of the funniest films of 2012: the outrageously brutal and perverse finale builds to a punchline ending that made me laugh harder than just about anything else this year. Friedkin is not a known giver of fucks and proves to be a perfect match for the material, infusing it with the kind of bite that a younger director would kill for. It's also a much more effective as a "recession-noir" than the (also very good) KILLING THEM SOFTLY, avoiding obvious social commentary and invoking 21st century desperation much more effectively with its own unique breed of gross-out nihilism.
Best trailer of the year:
11) THE DARK KNIGHT RISES - review here
"No one cared who I was until I put on the mask."
I think I covered why I think this is so great pretty thoroughly in my review, and I stand by it all after a couple more viewings. I will concede that as a standalone film, RISES has some pretty enormous flaws, and the first third in particular features some of the clunkiest dialogue in any film this year. But taken as near-three hour third act, a conclusion to one of the best movie trilogies of all time, it's hard to see how much more satisfied I could have been by this. The decision to effectively base the film around A Tale of Two Cities was a masterstroke, with the epic feel ratcheting up the already staggering scope of Christopher Nolan's interpretation of the Batman mythos.
I think the reason I love the 'Dark Knight Trilogy' so much is because it is the closest screen approximation to the Batman story I wrote in my head while growing up obsessed with the character. It's not in terms of look, or plot, or even in the characterisation - it's how Nolan gets the angst just right, which was the aspect of the stories that I related to most as a frustrated, moody teenager. While Spider-Man's always seemed to me to remain pretty chipper as his loved ones are bumped off around him, Bruce Wayne/Batman never so much as cracks a smile (unless he's in the middle of his playboy act), such is the seriousness of his task of putting the whole stupid world to rights. He is effectively an overgrown man-child so moody that he actually seems capable of dragging the whole city down into his epic strops - he just sucks the life out of everything. It's no coincidence that his nemesis is someone who can't stop giggling - Batman hates fun. Which is, to me, what makes him so fun, and such a hero for me growing up - he is the man striking a blow for grumpy Guses everywhere.
Combine the understanding of the adolescent nature of Bats with Nolan's excellent, persistent use of post-Millennial fears and concerns and you've got the recipe for what gives these films their unique and remarkable atmosphere. It's also why the Nolan approach works for Batman (and kind of works for Bond, another repressed boy-man) and won't work for Zack Snyder's Superman.
But I digress. I'm going to miss the big sourpuss. But he went out on a high.
Also Bane's voice lol
The Top 10 will be coming...at some point after Christmas! Until then, have a merry one, everybody!