Thursday, 3 January 2013

Another year over, a new one just begun... I spent the first day of 2013 celebrating my survival of another apocalypse by watching films and playing board games, but, with the awards season coming up again, now is an appropriate time to look back on the year and choose the films that have made 2012 for me.

10. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - A charmingly funny ensemble piece which showed that comedy isn't all about young people, sex and tigers.

9. Dredd - No, really. I don't expect the Academy to pick this up in their Best Picture nominations, but, as a fan of the sci-fi genre, I look back on it as one I'd happily rewatch. A million miles better than the Stallone take on the character, Karl Urban's gruff Judge Dredd stuck to the comic book character while Olivia Thirlby's well-developed Anderson gave the film a strong emotional heart. Like a futuristic Die Hard, the film was stylish, well paced and easily watchable. What's more, the 3D was the least annoying 3D I've seen and - dare I say it - actually contributed to my enjoyment at points.

Admittedly, a lot of people have compared Dredd unfavourably to The Raid, an Indonesian thriller with a similar plot and remarkably stylish choreography. I haven't seen The Raid so can't make the comparison; perhaps this list would be different if I had.

Honourable mention in the sci-fi genre goes to Iron Sky, which, while ridiculously clunky in terms of acting, scripting, directing, and quite a bit more, had an absolutely brilliant concept behind it and an inspired visual design, making it a load of fun for those willing to deactivate their 'taking things seriously' circuits.

8. Marley - The first of two documentaries in this list, Kevin MacDonald's passionate biopic of the reggae legend gives fascinating insights into his family life, his Rastafarianism and his music. If you've not seen it, get the DVD and watch it with a cup of tea and some Bob Marley branded doughnuts. They've got jam in.

7. The Woman in Black - Perhaps Daniel Radcliffe was an odd choice to lead Hammer's latest scare-fest, as his character is a widowed father and the young actor still looks freshly graduated from Hogwarts, but he nevertheless pulled off all the right emotions (primarily 'worried' and 'scared') to carry this period tale. What's more, it was very, very scary, with a dark, spooky atmosphere and genuine jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and was a good old traditional horror, not resorting to any of the annoying gore-themed tricks made simultaneously popular and tired by the Saw series.

6. The Dark Knight Rises - An epic and fitting conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Nolan is one of the best directors currently working in Hollywood and has an amazing ability to produce films that fill in the mainstream superhero blockbuster checklist while dealing with genuinely interesting themes and feeling potently relevant to our times - this time, in a fable reflecting modern America's rejection of a powerful and potentially corrupt elite, Tom Hardy's mumbly Bane led a rebellion against Gotham's one percent, foreshadowing the real-life Occupy movement while bringing Bats out of retirement, Dark Knight Returns-style. The Dark Knight Rises was a thoughtful, majestic, and above all, entertaining piece of filmmaking, but loses out on a top spot in this list due to not living up to its predecessor. The Dark Knight, to this day the peak of the superhero genre and of Christopher Nolan's career, wins out due to its more manageable length and Heath Ledger's show-stealing Joker. As good an actor as Tom Hardy is, with his face covered and his voice heavily processed, he didn't really do much acting in Rises, making me miss the tense, unpredictable confrontation of Batman versus Joker, of order versus chaos, that lay at the heart of the previous film.

Honourable mention in the superhero genre this year goes to Avengers Assemble, which paid off its five-film marketing campaign by balancing its ensemble cast remarkably well, with each Avenger having space for developing against its madcap backdrop. A pity that backdrop was a little weak in terms of plot or depth.

5. Killer Joe - A tense, unsettling drama from the director of The Exorcist. It's also nice to know that Matthew McConaughey has stopped leaning on romantic comedies and can actually act pretty damn well. Just don't watch it with a bucket of fried chicken.

4. The Imposter - This thrillingly assembled documentary's story starts out as unusual, with the disappearance and not-quite reappearance of a teenage boy, and just becomes weirder. I'm reluctant to say much, for fear of giving it away (also because I was too busy to review it at the time so have nothing to copy from). Just watch it; it'll blow away all your expectations and have you gripped.

3. Sightseers - Towards the end of the year, Ben Wheatley brought us this brilliantly macabre comedy - a love story of two outsiders on a caravanning trip through the English countryside which turns into a murder spree. The juxtaposition of sudden moments of gory violence with the trivialities that lead to it, such as a man dropping his Cornetto wrapper on a vintage tram and later finding himself under the caravan's wheels as a consequence, provides for some brilliant laugh out loud moments. If you're of a certain twisted frame of mind, that is...

If your comedic tastes are more mainstream, however, I'd suggest Ted as the best comedy of 2012 for you. But another brilliantly funny film is in my number two spot...

2. The Muppets - There were two films this year which kept a smile on my face throughout and left me giddily dancing down the street shouting "that was ****ing excellent" at passers-by and waterfowl. Not by coincidence, these films are in my top two spots. Bringing together all the well known and loved characters from the classic TV series using the old "putting the band back together" trope, the jokes come fast, there's a perfect mix of cleverness and silliness, and a good deal of celebrity cameos. Plus, the story is peculiarly touching. If anyone doesn't enjoy this film, they're neither man nor muppet.

An iconic hero coming out of retirement for a celebration of a beloved franchise... this seems to be a story that's done well this year, both for Kermit the Frog and for...

1. Skyfall - After the seriously disappointing Quantum of Solace, the James Bond franchise needed to do something impressive to regain its appeal. And, with Skyfall, it did. An outright and unashamed celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the series, Skyfall combined the gritty realism of the Daniel Craig reboot with the outrageously fun action of classic Bond at its best. The film started with a chase involving a car, a bike, a train, and a digger on a train and only got better from there. Not only that, but, unlike many Bond films, Skyfall had a thematic heart - exploring the aging of Bond as a character, the relevance of traditional spies in the modern world, and the position of M as a mother figure. Making this work were undeniably excellent performances from Daniel Craig, Judi Dench and Javier Bardem as a very threatening villain, the first really memorable villain of the Craig films, not forgetting Ben Whishaw's sexy take on Q. Behind the camera, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins made Skyfall a visual spectacle, with fast paced action, slow paced tension, and a rich colour palette. A perfect Bond film, the perfect celebration of 007's fiftieth.


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