2012 has seen a fine mixture of movies both in the commercial and less mainstream markets. There have been many big blockbusters and many underrated gems with potential for inclusion in my final ten choices for the best of the year. In fact, the selection has been harder than ever, and I was tempted to expand the list to a top fifteen or even twenty.
Still, in the end I stuck with ten. Here then are the choices, in order of merit to cause more arguments, as well as a few near misses. I would also like to throw in a caveat here that I have yet to see Amour and Jack Reacher, so it is possible I may add a postscript to this list once I have indicating whether they would have made the cut or not.
Honourable mentions that narrowly missed out: Frankenweenie, Berberian Sound Studio, Skyfall, Moonrise Kingdom, The Muppets, The Woman in Black, The Grey, Once upon a time in Anatolia, The Raid.
10. Avengers Assemble – Thank goodness Joss Whedon didn’t try to make this superhero epic “dark”. It was exactly what it needed to be: Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man et al fight each other and then they fight the baddies (whilst trading quips). Big, colourful and massively entertaining.
9. Argo – This recently declassified true story about the CIA smuggling Americans out of Iran during the 1979 revolution by having them pose as a Hollywood production has good performances and nail-chewing suspense. I wouldn’t be surprised if Oscar nominations follow. Ben Affleck’s best film to date as director.
8. The Master – Superb performances by Joaquin Phoenix, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams drive Paul Thomas Anderson’s tale of an emotionally disturbed World War II veteran seeking solace in a Scientology-esque cult. By turns chilling, thought-provoking, surreal, and achingly sad – although definitely not for all audiences.
7. The Imposter – The best documentary and the best thriller of the year. A truly jaw-dropping examination of a true-life incident whose twists and turns frankly evoke film noir levels of deception. Astonishing, riveting and very thought-provoking.
6. Looper – Like all time travel films this is utter nonsense. But it’s very well-directed, well-acted nonsense which ultimately engages the emotions by asking difficult questions about what causes someone to turn evil. It may well be destined for sci-fi classic status.
5. The Artist – This was released in London on the 30th of December so technically that makes it a 2011 release in this country, but I’m going to ignore that for the purposes of this list as it wasn’t released anywhere else until mid-January. Anyway, this Oscar winning silent monochrome gem was a tragi-comic delight with first rate performances and a huge feel-good factor. Tremendous stuff.
4. Life of Pi – Ang Lee’s take on Yann Martel’s bestselling novel proved every bit as exciting, cathartic and moving as the book. Yes, this survival at sea adventure is spiritually dubious (to say the least), but in spite of that I continue to find this story incredibly faith-affirming, and it is refreshing that it takes the subject of God so seriously.
3. A Royal Affair – A brilliant, multi-layered Danish historical drama which combines a notorious doomed love story with fascinating insights into censorship, corruption and the abuse of power. Compelling and ironic parallels can also be drawn with much of what is happening in the present day EU, but if that doesn’t interest you this has passion and tragedy to spare with terrific performances and great direction. If you missed this I strongly urge you to check it out.
2. The Dark Knight Rises – The final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is an absolute triumph that delivers in spades. Not only does it contain fantastic action sequences and emotionally thrilling finales for its characters, but it’s also a brilliant condemnation of mob mentality, with not so subtle allusions to the Occupy movement. Additionally, on a spiritual level this is top flight stuff – packed with positive messages about loyalty, courage, freedom, sacrifice, forgiveness and redemption that are woven seamlessly into the film’s riveting narrative.
1. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – My lifelong addiction to all things Middle-Earth is a hard hobbit to break, so this film claims the number one spot.The Dark Knight Rises gave it a serious run for its money, but for me An Unexpected Journey clinches it by a nose. Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-Earth did not disappoint, contrary to what some critics have said – and after a second viewing I don’t even think it’s too long. There is so much magnificent, soaring material here that I defy anyone to come away feeling short-changed. The performances, direction, visual effects and so on are every bit as good here as they were in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Best way to see it? 24 frames per second, in 2D – but compromise on the D if it means a significantly bigger screen.
Plenty to look forward to in the New Year, with Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln released in January. The long awaited screen version of stage musical Les Miserables also arrives soon, as well as Baz Luhrmann’s equally long-awaited take on The Great Gatsby. Also the epic adaptation of Cloud Atlas, with all it’s profundity/pretentiousness (depending on your point of view), lands in the UK sometime in February. Later there are potentially big blockbusters in the shape of Star Trek: Into Darkness, Iron Man 3, Man of Steel and Pacific Rim (a film I am really, really, really excited about). And next December we’ll be enjoying the second installment of The Hobbit. But for now it only remains for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas.
Simon Dillon, December 2012.