The Top 20 films of 2012

noflashThe Top 20 films of 2012

By FilmFellaDarren

At the start of every year I have a sense of trepidation about what the coming 365 days has install for cinema. I suspect, somewhat irrationally, that this will be the year that quality cinema starts to diminish. I worry that this will be the year the studios will only make films that cater for the multiplex target audience, that being 15 year old teenagers; I get concerned that this will be the year that the cinema industry consumes its own soul by only remaking films from the past; that this will be the year that commerce finally kills art and the studio accountants will wield even more influence, and thus do more damage to quash the visions of filmmakers who possess imagination and inventiveness.

At the end of the year, I start reflecting on the films that were released in the preceding 12 months and I see that there were plenty of quality films made by talented filmmakers, covering an array of topics and filmmaking styles. It’s always encouraging to look back and celebrate the year in cinema.  As I started to write my annual top films of the year list, I started to expand the number of films I wanted to write about since there were so many interesting films out in 2012. There were an eclectic mix of films to choose from and many genuinely original and creative movies in 2012. Overall, I think 2012 was a good year for cinema.

Before I reveal what is on my list in traditional reverse order, I’d just like to point out that these are my choices for the films of 2012 and not a definite list of the best films of 2012. Film lists are like fingerprints: no two are the same – they differ significantly from person to person. Compiling a definite list is an exercise in futility they only serve in celebrating the year in film and drawing attention to films people might have missed during the year. No doubt you will be outraged at some of my choices, curse me for my glaring omissions, and question my order. But film is subjective – the fact that people have different opinions is what stimulates debate. I’ve chopped and changed the order of this list many times, but I’m satisfied with my finished Top 20 list – these were the films that left the biggest impression on me in 2012. Please note that they are in accordance with UK release dates.

20. The Imposter

Director – Bart Layton

UntitledThis fascinating documentary proved the old adage that truth is far stranger than fiction. It didn’t set out to reinvent the documentary format – the structure was a conventional talking heads composite of people involved with the case retelling their account of events, mixed with some chilling reconstructions. It didn’t need any tricks with a story this creepily remarkable: a family whose young son went missing for three years, turned up in another country distressed and with a suspiciously altered appearance and voice; the grief-stricken family took him in, completely unaware that he was not their son – he was instead a predatorily Frenchman who assumed the identity of their son as a way of seeking American citizenship. It seems incredulous that a family could have been that naïve to fall for the Frenchman’s outrageously audacious and sinister plot, but when you heard their evocative account of events, you could see they were desperate for answers to ease the suffering that resulted from their son’s disappearance; their recollection of events shows just how vulnerable they were. What elevated the documentary to another level was the fact that, juxtaposed with the family’s tragic retelling of events, was the account of the sociopathic perpetrator of this extraordinary story.  The fraudster gives his perspective, maddeningly grinning from ear to ear as he proudly retells how he duped and exploited the pain of a grieving family for personal gain. He was clearly completely remorseless and unaware of the hurt he intensified; given how much of an issue identity fraud has become – he makes for an alarming figure in what was a riveting documentary.

19. Looper

Director – Rian Johnson

Untitled2With its inventive new spin on the well-worn time travel genre, Looper was one of the most original films of the year.  The enthrallingly fresh premise saw gangsters discover time travel with devastatingly effective consequences. In the dystopian future of the Looper universe, time travel was now a scientific reality but it had been outlawed and only used in secret by the largest criminal organisations who were no longer content with sending a swift cap to the head of their targets. No, here they sent their hit-men back in time to kill them in the past, to erase any trace of said target ever existing. These hit-men were known as Loopers and in an uncanny twist of fate, Bruce Willis’ Looper was sent back in time to erase someone he was only too familiar with – played by the rising star that is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Levitt nailed Willis’ screen presence and mannerisms – he made the unlikely connection between the two seem strangely believable. The intricate story was intelligently directed by Rian Johnson, who cleverly altered the complex narrative to the point that the third act almost became a different genre of film. The late twists to the story definitely polarized opinion though – for the many that thought the climax was utterly thrilling, there were others who thought that the finale looped so much that it tangled itself in a big loopy mess, stretching credibility and suspension of disbelief to breaking point.

If Inception was welded to Face-off and stuffed in the body of Twelve Monkeys, then subsequently shoved through the time travel portal in Terminator, chances are Looper would pop out the other-side – and no doubt it would be swiftly shot in the stomach by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. That’s just another paradox to add the many creatively paradoxical moments in the enjoyably perplexing narrative within Looper – one of the best Sci-fi thrillers of the year. For The Filmfellas review click: http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/10/01/looper-review/#respond

18. Martha Marcy May Marlene

Director – Sean Durkin

Untitled3I’ll admit that whilst watching director Sean Durkin’s understatedly creepy drama about a confused young girl desperate to escape a cult she’d been involved with, I was underwhelmed. It was only after I’d seen the strange ending that the insidious power of the film began to reveal itself. Like Elizabeth Olsen’s character, you don’t quite realize how much abuse she has been subjected to until much later. Had the film been overtly shocking it would never have captured the psychologically manipulative effects that cults have on people. The film and Olsen’s powerful performance became difficult to shake from the mind weeks after viewing, as viewers were compelled to reflect on what happened to the character at that cult and how her experiences will forever leave an impression on her. On reflection, what at first seemed like a maddeningly abrupt ending suddenly started to make perfect sense as you realized that the character will always be in the restless state of mind she is in at the end of the film. Even the title said a lot about how cults fracture identity. Martha Marcy May Marlene was a brilliant exercise in sustained paranoia.

17. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Director – John Madden

Untitled4This charming film about a group of retired British citizens who decide to relocate and start a new life in a hotel in India, seemed like a twee film strictly targeting one demographic: the over sixties. It turned out to be a colourful, thoughtful, intelligent and amusing drama that came with an inspiring, life-affirming message: that you are never too old for an adventure. It was obviously made by people who know a great deal about the reality of being a stranger in a foreign land, so the humour, exploring culture shock, and adjusting to an alien environment was naturally played and really well observed. Older actors often complain that work for them dries up, so it was refreshing that such talented aging British legends like Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith were given such a collection of well-rounded meaty and believable retired characters to work with. One of the best films about retiring ever made and it’s universally enjoyable, whether you have retired or not.  For The Filmfellas review click: http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/the-best-exotic-marigold-hotel-review/#comments

16. Frankenweenie

Director – Tim Burton

Untitled5Just when you think Tim Burton’s dark magic had deserted him, he goes back to the drawing board to remake one of his early films, using the kind of kookily grotesque characters that he is synonymous with and the stop-motion process he helped bring back from the grave nearly twenty years ago with The Nightmare Before Christmas.  The result was a playfully macabre film, delightfully weird and fiendish that celebrated the old black and white universal monster movies with a witty script, plenty of visual jokes toying with German Expressionism and entertainingly humourous homages to the films that influenced his distinctive moviemaking style. The tale of a boy resurrecting his beloved pooch in the style of one of cinema’s most infamous mad scientists was surprisingly moving too. It’s a tragedy Burton’s bold decision to do a 3D children’s film in black and white massively backfired on him in terms of box office figures. The film failed to find the family audience it was aiming for; Burton just couldn’t entice enough people to see a 3D black and white film. It’s a shame because the 3D definitely did something interesting to Burton’s weird creations, allowing them to unnervingly lean out into the auditorium whilst submerging those savvy enough to see it, deeper in Burton’s gothic designs than they had ever been before.  For The Filmfellas review click: http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/frankenweenie-review/#respond

15. A Royal Affair

Director – Nikolaj Arcel

UntitledThis Danish period piece looked a little bit too much like a Merchant Ivory costume drama from the poster. Those who were lucky enough to see it found out that it was an astonishing, complex, powerful, thought-provoking piece of historical cinema which explored power changes in the Danish monarchy in a manor not too dissimilar to the narrative style used in Game of Thrones. Remarkably, the sensational story was based on an actual period of Danish history – the monarchs featured were real figures who ruled over Copenhagen in the 1700’s. The small town physician and Enlightenment sympathizer who strikes up an unlikely but believable friendship with the naïve, immature, and rather insane King of Denmark, whilst starting an affair with the King’s long suffering, estranged queen, was also based on a real figure. His friendship with such a seemingly powerful monarch allows him to influence power in a way no ordinary man has had the chance to do before. A Royal Affair was drama of the highest order, suspenseful, tense and compelling. We’ve simply never seen kings and queen depicted like this, and the multifaceted dynamic between the childish king, the calculated physician and the troubled queen was as mesmerizing as it was moving. Intelligently written, the film had so much to say about the politics of power, brilliantly capturing a country moving towards a revolution. Denmark’s finest export since Carlsberg and bacon, Mads Mickleson – instantly recognisable as the villain from Casino Royale – gave a fantastically assured performance as the physician who stirs things up in the Danish monarchy. It reminded me a lot of Milos Forman’s Oscar winning masterpiece Amadeus – A Royal Affair is worthy of mentioning in the same sentence as one of the Best Oscar winning films of all time. Make of that what you will. The film will definitely get a nomination in the Best Foreign Language category at the Oscars.

14. Killer Joe

Director – William Friedkin

Untitled1William Friedkin is now well in his seventies, but in Killer Joe the director of The Exorcist showed that he has not mellowed with age. Killer Joe was twisted, shocking unsettling, and pleasingly grubby cinema – as uncompromising as anything he made in his seventies heyday. Set on a sleazy Texan trailer park, the story saw Friedkin put the grime in crime as Emile Hirsch’s naïve small time drug dealer decided to hire a mysterious hit-man to kill his mother in a desperate last ditch to clear his gambling debts. Friedkin eyed something in Mathew McConaughey, brilliantly subverting the actor’s Southern charisma, and giving him a chance to break-out of his rom-com niche more wildly than he has done before. McConaughey rose to the challenge; he was magnificent as the eponymous character, magnetic, weird, deadly, dangerous and unhinged. Friedkin proved adept at Coen brothersesque twisted black comedy.  As things went awry for the most dysfunctional of families, there was clearly some bleak humour satirizing trailer trash stupidity. It was one of the most extreme films of the year, a perverse little thriller and there’s now an infamously disturbing scene that inventively put an image in people’s heads that is still a major cinematic taboo. The utterly warped scene did more to put people off a certain brand of Southern Fried Chicken than any of the bad publicity the company ever received. No scene this year could rival it for sheer unadulterated potency – it’s that visceral and disturbing. Just like the film as a whole, that scene pushed the envelope of perversity to quite an extreme. For The Filmfellas review click: http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/07/02/killer-joe-review/#comments

13. Moonrise Kingdom

Director – Wes Anderson

Untitled2Wes Anderson returned this year with another utterly enchanting, idiosyncratic and colourful bittersweet drama that featured an array of naturally written, likable but troubled characters.  Anderson’s films are always retrospective in terms of style, and contain an air of nostalgia but this was the first film of his that had those qualities and was actually set in the past. Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 65, the film was a beautifully told love story between two precocious children, who ran away together for a secret, innocently romantic encounter. Anderson films always offer an ensemble of interesting characters for established names to perform with; Anderson regular Bill Murray gave another browbeaten performance and there were also quality roles for Anderson newcomers Ed Norton as a quirky scout leader and Bruce Willis as a forlorn sheriff, but it was the two young inexperienced leads who really shone: 11 year old Jared Gilman and 14-year-old Kara Haywood provided the considerable heart and soul to Moonrise Kingdom. They captured the world-weary tone that defines Wes Anderson characters. They were also funny, charming, intelligent and mesmerizing and they created the most believably harmonious on-screen couple of the year. This was a charming romance about two young people coming-of-age through meeting each other. You can feel that Anderson went all misty eyed filming them, the little boy, knowledgeable and resourceful was clearly the kind of figure Anderson must have been growing up, which makes the film seem semi-autobiographical and perhaps is the reason why the film had more heart than any of his previous films.

12. Argo

Director – Ben Affleck

UntitledThe redemption of Ben Affleck continued unabated this year. His third film as a director saw him adeptly balance Hollywood satire and political drama. Those are two genres that seemed an unlikely pairing in a film but Affleck pulled it off with some aplomb, skilfully directing a remarkable, recently declassified CIA case involving an audacious plot to remove U.S citizens from a dangerously unstable political situation in Iran, by using a fake Sci-Fi movie as a cover. The film was gripping, tense, suspenseful and insightful throughout. The Hollywood satire was funny and natural and the political drama engrossing, realistic and rousing. Affleck claimed he was aiming to make a film like the seventies classic All the President’s Men when he went into production – he made a political drama, similar in tone and worthy of comparison with Alan J Pakula’s iconic film. For The Filmfellas review – http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/11/10/argo-review/#more-2239

11. Headhunters

Director – Morten Tyldum

Untitled1Part tense thriller part twisted black comedy, this fast-paced Norwegian film told the story of a loathsome corporate suit who moonlights as an art thief in a bid to fund his vacuous materialistic lifestyle and prevent himself from completely drowning in the sea of debt he had plunged himself into.  He was the kind of individual you will bad things to happen to and sure enough, his risky escapades landed him in deep trouble, as he tangled himself up in a web of criminal activity that was set to ruin him.

The film was full of gripping twists and surprises and managed to play naturally even though just what happened to the central figure was so creatively outrageous and imaginatively unhinged. The crime-gone-wrong Coen brothers style narrative set up some hilariously wry black comedy – it was sort of twisted therapy to see someone who looked and acted like a recession engineering corporate scumbag, go through such a horrendous experience. It started to become apparent that the film had a more interesting central character than met-the-eye though and when it came to survival skills, he had a surprisingly tenacious will to succeed. Strangely, his suffering made him a sympathetic figure, which gave the film more depth. Ultimately, the film was a clever satire on the desperateness of being in debt; a funny cautionary tale about just how much trouble you could be in if you willingly allow yourself to get in debt to buy materialistic crap you don’t need. If this sounds like you, consider Headhunters to be your wake-up call. See it now before the forthcoming Hollywood remake hammers home the point.

10. Iron Sky

Director – Timo Vuorensola

Untitled2The ambitious team behind this bold, provocative and hugely enjoyable Finnish film invented an absolutely fantastic high-concept pitch to experiment with: Nazis invading from the moon. It seemed like Iron Sky would put a wry twist on old alien invasion plotlines; it did that and so much more as the Nazi moon invasion plotline was used as the basis for a sharp-witted satire that brilliantly lampooned the Nazis and their backwards attitude to race. But the film went further than that, managing to turn the unique narrative into a scathing political comedy commentary on the lunacy of recent modern U.S foreign policy. Director TimoVuorensola brought a distinctly European brand of comedy to the film, daring to mercilessly mock the superficiality and foolishness of modern U.S politics as well as sending-up the far right-wing attitudes held by the republican party, via a plot that saw a loathsomely brash U.S president – who tellingly resembles Sarah Palin – mistakenly become in league with a Nazi party intend on world domination. Vurensola humour in the film serves as therapy for anyone outside of America (or even inside) who has been troubled by the imperialist warmongering doctrine of America’s heavy-handed overseas policy. There are plenty of pop-shots taking fire at the U.S government’s insatiable desire to take fire.  The script had plenty of dry, sly sharp wit and side-splittingly funny one-liners and the scenes set in the U.N boardroom are the stuff of absolute comedy genius. The Iron Sky team were aspiring for a political satire in the vein of Stanley Kubrick’s: Dr Strange Love: or how I stopped worrying and loved the Bomb. Iron Sky has moments as inspired as Kubrick’s masterpiece. It worked as satire – it also worked as a spectacular action Sci-fi film. The Iron Sky team did so much with their meagre 6 million dollar budget, producing some epic space-battle sequences and many authentic lunarscapes. The arch, sardonic comedic tone in this underrated Finnish film combined with a really inventive narrative made Iron sky both a thrilling action sci-fi and a hilarious black comedy. For The Filmfellas review click: http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/iron-sky-review-2/#comments

9. Chronicle

Director – Josh Trank

UntitledWhat if your friend suddenly discovered superpowers? That was the simple question behind the premise of Josh Trank’s original superhero movie. The answer to that question would be that your friend would probably mess around and have some fun if they discovered they had superpowers, just like the teenage characters did in this inventive, thrilling and amusing film. This was a play on superhero mythology that was refreshing due to the characters’ complete lack of desire to be heroic. Chronicle cleverly subverted Spider-Man’s mantra with a simple but effective narrative that suggested with great power comes great irresponsibility. Trank used the superpowers concept as a mirror to reflect on the lack of vision an average group of teens would have in the unlikely event that they acquired superpowers: the vapid characters here were more concerned with fooling around, pulling pranks and causing havoc with their powers than they were about doing anything even vaguely morally responsible. Strangely, this made the film seem surprisingly natural. The understated effects combined with some use of the faux documentary footage created the exhilarating effect that the set-pieces were not big action spectacles, but instead something you could discover whilst trawling through Youtube. In turn, this made Chronicle a, thrilling, dark, twisted and mind-blowingly entertaining film.  For The Filmfellas review click: http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/the-cabin-in-the-woods-review/#comments

8. Cabin in the Woods

Director – Joss Whedon

Untitled1We have seen many contemporary horror films subvert the conventions of the genre with postmodern twists on well-worn material. Few have ever done that as inventively and amusingly as Joss Whedon did with Cabin in the Woods in 2012. What at first looked like a simple re-tread of the old-young-kids-find-creepy-house-in-the-country-plot, slowly and cleverly shape-shifted into a brilliant little horror film that was so suspenseful, scary and utterly original.  The bizarre opening suggested that there was more than meets-the-eye to this horror film, but try as you might to guess the many twists and turns Whedon packed into the film, the ideas were so creative and outlandishly strange that no one could foresee where the film was going. As a result, the film had so much mystery and intrigue – I can’t remember a time when I felt so jittery and uncertain watching a horror film; I was utterly clueless about what was going to happen. The film was so wildly imaginative it even dumbfounded horror savvy audiences.  Whedon had a phenomenal ending to top off a film of creative genius, the finale was genuinely gob-smacking – the most enjoyable and satisfying end to a horror movie in years. With that finale, he managed to simultaneously subvert every single horror cliché in the entire history of cinema; in any other film, such an audacious attempt would be over-reaching and silly, but the framework or Whedon’s intelligent screenplay supported what happened. Whedon absolutely earned the right to do what he did at the end of Cabin in the Woods. It’s amazing that he managed to make such audacious twists work but he did. This was the best horror film of the year, and one of the best American horror films in recent times.   For The Filmfellas review click: http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/chronicle-review/#comments

7. Avengers Assemble

Director – Joss Whedon

Untitled2In a year of excellent blockbusters, Avengers Assemble was by far the stand-out of all the mega-spectacles released this summer. Director Joss Whedon found the perfect balance between action, spectacle, character drama and humour. It was absolutely scintillating to see all the iconic Marvel characters team up in one film.  The comic quips and witty repartee between the Superheroes was particularly amusing. The script contained some razor sharp wit – even seemingly humourless characters like Thor and The Hulk had some fantastic one-liners. Fanboy conversations about who is the strongest Superhero in Nick Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D Empire were addressed in many adrenaline pumping sequences which saw the heroes put aside crime-fighting to fight each other, as planet-sized egos belonging to the likes of Iron Man and Thor clashed spectacularly. The sheer number of epic set-pieces involving adrenaline pumping smack-downs between the heroes, created some electrifying entertainment. The fact that such a huge ensemble of characters were all given enough screen-time to be fully fleshed out three-dimensional figures, was a testament to Whedon’s slick direction.

Avengers Assemble was fun, fresh and directed with a lightness of touch that made for a welcomed change from the dark direction comic book movies have recently gone in. Thanks to Whedon, Avengers Assemble was definitely one of the best comic book movies of all time.

For The Filmfellas review click: http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/avengers-assemble-review/#comments

6. ParaNorman

Directors – Chris Butler and Sam Fell

Untitled3This ghoulish little horror comedy started out like an animated version of The Sixth Sense as a weird young boy, despite the scepticism of his family, communicates with souls beyond the grave. At first the film was fiendishly funny, with plenty of charmingly kooky characters, a Tim Burton like love of death and a freakish and fresh sense of humour. As the film progressed, the intelligently written story – about the young boy’s quest to stop an ancient century old curse involving the second-coming of a vindictive witch – became more interesting, original and meaningful. The offbeat narrative started to find a level of satirical humour that was far more developed than expected; the film went on to say something both poignant and profound about the true nature of the witch-hunts, the evils of a lynch mob mentality, and the relationship between prejudice, fear and cruelty that’s some achievement for an animated feature. You can almost pinpoint the moment the film hits another level; it’s the moment that the charmingly funny zombie characters are turned from figures of fun into the most interesting, and perhaps (ironically) fully fleshed out zombie creations in modern cinema. So many films feature zombies as merely abominations to be destroyed, fair enough but ParaNorman did something far more creative with zombies, somehow managing to give the audience a zombie-eyed perspective without being ludicrous – it’s just so inventive, and charming – the year’s best animated feature. It’s an absolutely genius film, directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell proved to be incredibly successful at animating the reanimated.  ParaNorman was bewitching, beguiling, scary and smart cinema.  In a strong year for animated features, this was by far the stand out film in the animated field.

5. The Descendants

Director – Alexander Payne

Untitled4Purveyor of bittersweet tragicomic dramas Alexander Payne made another character driven, dry witted, emotionally intelligent film in The Descendants. The film was a beautifully told organic story about an absent father reconnecting with his daughters and becoming a far more empathetic person, after a family tragedy.

George Clooney helped to make an entirely sympathetic character – moving away from his slick persona to create a believable, identifiable everyman figure. The human story was written with a perceptive sense of wit that really captured something about life and the challenges of being a good parent, with a strong suggestion that problems define human existence -whether you reside in paradise or not. The film had an entirely unexpected emotional impact, as you can’t help but be invested in such well-written, nuanced characters involved in such an engaging, acutely observed drama. For Filmfellas review click: http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/the-descendants-review/#comments

4. Shame

Director – Steve McQueen

Untitled11Director Steve McQueen’s disturbing, atmospheric and entirely thought-provoking drama, portrayed sex in a fashion that was the polar opposite to the usual glossy and overly glamorized way it is portrayed on screen, in a film that was a stunningly inspired subversion of what sex can mean in the modern world.  The film exposed a little considered dark-side to sex as Michael Fassbender’s tortured figure is seen drowning in a bottomless well of despair, and self-loathing due to his addiction to porn and causal prostitution. Sex isn’t something that is often likened to say, heroin addiction, but in McQueen’s poignant drama the parallels between the life-destroying trauma induced from becoming addicted to meaningless sexual imagery and substance abuse, are alarmingly striking.  The film has something really quite profound and profoundly startling to say about how destructive meaningless sex can be in terms of forming healthy connections with other human beings, with a suggestion that attachment to meaningless sex chronically effects the forming of meaningful relationships. In our ever more sexualized modern world, in which the average male holds ever more benign attitudes to extreme sexual imagery, Shame suggested an alternative perspective that was really something of a sobering wake-up call to men manipulated by sexual imagery, which is all men, all the time considering how sex is used to sell just about everything nowadays. The whole film hinged on Michael Fassbender’s hard-hitting performance. Superbly, he nails the persona of a man driven to the darkest depths of despondency by something slipping out of his control; he acts like a man having his soul tortured and corroded by the depravity that defines his existence – Shame on the Academy for not acknowledging such a powerful performance with a Best Actor Nomination.  McQueen directed the film with a morose colour-palette that reflected the melancholy mood. Shame was a film impossible to shake from the mind, startling, raw, compelling, disconcerting and provocative.

3. Skyfall

Director – Sam Mendes

Untitled12It’s not just a coincidence that the first time an Oscar winning director was given the chance to make a Bond film, the result was a film significantly better than most of the Bond films in the entire 50 year history of the longest running franchise in cinema. Director Sam Mendes’ vision for Bond was really quite special. He has always been adept at engaging nuanced characters in interesting complex dramas; he did just that with Bond, using his character driven filmmaking style to add depth and layers to the world of espionage 007 inhabits. Not only was Bond envisioned as an interesting character again, but the always peripheral figure of M was thrust into the drama, becoming the pivotal figure in a fascinating and gripping three-way drama triangle between herself, Bond and Javier Bardem’s mesmerizingly complex Super-villain. Gone were the gimmicks and gadgets that have long since blighted Bond’s credibility, this was a no-nonsense version of Bond that was ballsy, bold and brilliantly cinematic.  Regular Mendes collaborator Roger Deakins shot the cinematography with his trademark picture perfect style and meticulous attention to detail, ensuring Skyfall was unequivocally the most beautiful looking and consummately crafted Bond film ever. Deakins added a visual artistry to complement Mendes astute direction. Skyfall was not just a string of set-pieces; the explosive action in the film, spectacular as it is, actually serves the story.  Mendes directed the most intelligent, and consequently, the best action film of the year. And as for Daniel Craig playing Bond, nobody’s done it better. For The Filmfellas review click: http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/10/27/skyfall-review/#comments

2. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Director – Benh Zeitlin

Untitled13After wowing both critics and studio representatives at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, 29 year director Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature came with a considerable amount of buzz and indie credibility. Expectations were high but the outstanding blend of earthy drama and beguiling fantasy in Beasts of the Southern Wild lived up to then surpassed expectations.  Imaginative, fresh, organic and strangely life-affirming, the story saw Zeitlin portray the world from the viewpoint of Hushpuppy, a six-year old girl who lived off the land with her troubled father Wink, in a swampy Southern delta marshland, enduring conditions that could be described as primitive. The enchanting story was filtered through the fruitful imagination of Hushpuppy, as she envisioned strange beasts arriving to transform her small corner of the universe. Her innocent and strangely wistful perspective on the world was a joy to witness. At first glance her life seemed intolerably hard-to-bare, but her uplifting attitude, her defiance in the face of adversity, and her juvenile musings, transformed what might have seemed like something quite bleak into a celebration of living naturally, and with a connection to the planet. Her story was food-for-thought for the many of us who now live our lives exclusively tucked away in little boxes. Hushpuppy was one of the most inspiring characters of the year; the performance by six year old Quvenzhané Wallis was astonishing – she was so powerful, magnetic, expressive, raw and emotive. She was a pint-sized force of nature in this. Wallis has never had any acting experience before and her performance proved that the best child acting is instinctive. She absolutely has to get nominated for the Best Actress award at the Oscars since she made Hushpuppy such a wonderfully well-rounded child character – Hushpuppy, was only very young but she’s the strongest female character of the year.

Despite the harshness of the characters in Beast of the Southern Wild, it is an oddly romantic film, but it stopped short of romanticizing poverty, as the plot itself didn’t shy away from portraying how tough it must be to live off the land in abject deficiency, with a poignant narrative that packed in a lot of genuinely emotive drama. The powerful ending summed up Beasts of the Southern Wild as a film that simultaneously makes you want to cry and punch the air in an uplifting gesture of triumph. There were so many things that impressed in this wonderful film: the intimate camerawork, the complex father daughter dynamic, the enchanting fantasy elements, and the aural beauty within the sweeping soundtrack were just some of the many components that worked in this commendable film.

1. Life of Pi

Director – Ang Lee

Untitled14Words cannot describe just how awe-inspiringly beautiful the imagery was in Ang Lee’s entirely immersive adaptation of a novel long considered ‘unfilmable’.The almost divine visuals contained a radiant beauty so spiritual, breath-taking and soulful, that audiences, regardless of whether they saw the film in 3D or 2D, were overcome with a sense of wonder. Ang Lee is renowned for bringing visual artistry to Hollywood, but visually he set an entirely different standard with Life of Pi. There was much more to the film though than just mesmerizingly picturesque visuals.  The unusual narrative, involving a seventeen-year-old Indian boy (called Pi Patel) stranded at sea with just a man eating tiger for company, became a gripping, enchanting, involving and moving survival story. The film never had a moment where the narrative drifted – that is some achievement given the seemingly limited setup. It started charmingly and amusingly then it moved onto a grippingly dramatic set-piece that was amongst the most intense of the year, before opening up a complex dynamic between a maturing boy and a jungle predator struggling to adjust to his uncertain position on the open ocean. Pi Patel was played wonderfully by newcomer Suraj Sharma – who managed to hold the film together on his own for virtually the entire running time of the film, supplying considerable heart and soul to the film. The surprisingly playful sense of humour and sudden bursts of drama kept the film lively and enjoyable throughout. It was also a deep, contemplative, and thoughtful film that said something interesting about whether a wild animal can moderate its nature whilst musing metaphysically about religion , life and man’s will to survive against all odds. The final act topped off what was a phenomenal achievement in film as the story took some unexpected turns and an allegorical dimension that only enhanced the mystery and emotive impact of what preceded it.  Life of Pi was an inspired masterpiece of a film and in my view it was the motion picture experience of 2012 by quite some distance.  For The Filmfellas Review click here: http://thefilmfellas.wordpress.com/2012/12/14/life-of-pi-review/#comments

There were so many great films around in 2012 so many in fact that I couldn’t find room in my top 20 for a number of films I enjoyed this year. If I was stretching this list to a higher number I would have included the following films.

21. The Dark Knight Rises 22. Ted 23. Killing them Softly  24. The Muppets   25. 21 Jump Street. 26 The Amazing Spider-Man. 27. Sinister. 28. Safety not Guaranteed. 29. The Lorax 30. Rise of the Guardians.

Have your say – place your top 10 or 20 lists below. I’d love to see other lists from people out there in the global internet community.

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About Filmfella Darren
Film critic, writer and long-time cinema appreciator. I write about cinema matters, because cinema matters. Like your clothes and your laptops, my articles were made in Taiwan.

7 Responses to The Top 20 films of 2012

  1. Mark Walker says:

    Nice list Darren. I totally agree on your top 2 but I’d have them reversed. Beasts would be top for me but it’s a close call. I’d also have Headhunters in the top ten and possibly Killer Joe.

    • Filmfella Darren says:

      Thanks Mark. I’m glad you agree with me on the top 2 films of 2012. Did you think it was a good or bad year for cinema? It was a close call for me between Beasts and Life of Pi – but really I stand by my assessment of Life of Pi. I really think it is a special film indeed.

  2. You need to get over Life of Pi :p

    • Filmfella Darren says:

      Stranger on Film. I don’t want to get over Life of Pi. I really love the message of the film, it’s a simple but beautiful story and it terms of visuals, nothing came close to it all year. I could turn this around and say I really think you should get over your dislike of Ang Lee. I know you think his earlier films made in Taiwan were better and that he should have stayed making smaller more intimate films but, really there is a difference between broadening your audience and selling out and I feel Ang Lee falls into the former category, since he has brought a lot of artistry to his films made outside of Asia. Since he crossed over to the mainstream, he has made a number of films in many genres. Brokeback Mountain and The Ice Storm were powerful dramas for one – he’s proved to be a very eclectic filmmaker I think. Do you like any of his modern films? I absolutely do not blame him for his ambition. The fact is that a number of Asian directors, after they find success in Asia, want to make films in the English language – and you can’t blame them for being lured really. The upside is they bring a different perspective to the English language scene. Lee is not the first Asian director to cross over and he won’t be the last. This year Korean director Kim Ji-Woon, who previously made the following cult Asian films: (A Tale Of Two Sisters), (The Good, The Bad, The Weird) and (I Saw The Devil) has made the forthcoming The Last Stand with a returning Arnie and later in the year another Korean director Oldboy helmer Park Chan-wook will make his English language debut with Stoker. It’s just the logical next step for Asian filmmakers really.

  3. filmfellahenry says:

    Good job Darren. Though I have to agree with Stranger on Film: Life of Pi was good, but I’ve seen Ang Lee do better and personally found the story to be a little limited.

    As for other films I think you missed:

    Cloud Atlas
    Django Unchained
    7 Psychopaths
    Lawless
    Silver Linings Playbook
    Moonrise Kingdom
    Cloud Atlas (It gets 2 mentions for being bloody fantastic)

    • Filmfella Darren says:

      Thanks for your feedback Henry. I have to start by saying that I did enjoy Moonrise Kingdom and it is indeed on this list at number 13. I tried to see as many films from 2012 as I could by the end of the year before writing the list, but there were a number of films I had no way of seeing. I haven’t seen Django Unchained and Cloud Atlas – and arguably they could be classed as 2013 releases. I still haven’t seen Sliver Linings Playbook yet, and personally I wasn’t as impressed with Seven Psychopaths as you. There were other films that I really wanted to see but missed too like The Raid and The Master. Since I wrote the list, I have seen Lawless. You are right about that film it was gripping and tense. There were some great performances in it – and the fact it was set in the country gave it a fresh perspective on prohibition era America. It could have made my top 20 had I seen it in time. I thought it was a good year for cinema. What did you think? I would love to see your top 10.

      • filmfellahenry says:

        Been a pretty good cinema year in fairness. As for my top ten of 2012 (going by US release dates) they are (first to last):

        Cloud Atlas
        7 Psychopaths
        Skyfall
        Lawless
        Cabin in the woods
        Django unchained
        Killer Joe
        The avengers
        Life of pi
        Silver linings playbook

        Oh, and i rescind my previous comment on Life of Pi: after talking with Tabor about it last night, it became clear i simply didn’t pick up on the subtext inferred by the ending (which partially resolves my problem with the film).

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