Many of my favourite films of the year have gone pretty much unnoticed in more mainstream circles. It's quite cool to have a pretty unique set of favourites here. Whether it's due to a very limited release in cinemas, limited publicity, or having neither of those whatsoever, many of the films in this list simply past under the radar for most people.
While there was some question as to whether this was really a good year for movies or not, I can't help but look at list and go "actually this year was pretty awesome". I still have a pretty large list of films
still to check out from 2012.10. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
UK release: 4th July 2012
Most people who've been following my blog long enough probably know that I was really excited about this before it even came out. Ever since the second trailer (the one that didn't look like the videogame "Mirror's Edge") I'd been absolutely buzzing to see this film. I was a big fan of the comics during the 90s, Andrew Garfield looked like a great choice of casting for Peter Parker and I absolutely hated Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy.
The actual film had a real focus on the characters and I thought it was interesting to portray Peter Parker learning how to be a superhero and misusing his powers out of anger over his uncle's death. He makes a lot of mistakes and this will lead to the guilt-ridden figure that Spider-Man inevitably becomes.
The combination of drama and comedy really appealed to me and the selection of Marc Webb as the director means that Peter Parker's relationship finally has some chemistry for a change.My review hereMarc Webb is signed up to direct the sequel with Jamie Foxx expected to play the villain Electro.9. The Grey (2011)
UK release: 27th January 2012
I fully expected this to be a "Taken" style cheesy action film. It turned out to be an existential drama contemplating the inevitability of death and the struggle to survive. The wolves themselves represent death, appearing where any of the characters die regardless of the means of their demise. From the point early on in the film where Liam Neeson guides a man through the process of death, uncompromisingly announcing "it's alright, you're going to die, just let it wash over you", we can see that this film is going to be something different.
On the one hand the film is beautiful, but on the other hand it is deeply uncomfortable to watch. The film is executed to make you think of death and its inevitability and the shots of the surrounding scenery portray it as both forbidding and tranquil. In many ways "The Grey" is a masterpiece.My review hereJoe Carnahan is now working on a tv movie called "Those Who Kill".8. The Innkeepers (2011)
UK release: 8th June 2012
The director of "House of the Devil" had a hiatus making, by all accounts, a pretty dreadful sequel to Cabin Fever. However, with this clearly more personal project, he's back to his own moderately paced style. Also this time "The Innkeepers" has a fantastic sense of humour too.
Sara Paxton in particular is absolutely brilliant as the childish and naive central character. Particularly effective is her body language during her performance. She flips between being floppy and listless or alert and excited. The film contains jump scares of sorts but there's no cheating, none of the whistle and bang effects or loud soundtrack noises to elicit a reaction and many of the scares are false alarms. The characters are endearing and the small cast allows for a clever script. I look forward to whatever Ti West comes up with next.My review hereTi West has just finished a movie called "The Sacrament"7. The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
UK release: 13th April 2012
Joss Whedon co-wrote this intelligent spoof on the horror genre with the director Drew Goddard. The premise is that a typical horror scenario, young holidaymakers staying in a cabin out in the woods, is being orchestrated by a secret organisation. In equal parts funny and exciting with a genuine sense of fear in parts. While there's definite horror in the film, the main appeal is the comedy. Cabin In The Woods is supreme tribute to the fun side of horror films, even as it ridicules horror movie cliches. The climax of the film is an absolute delight for horror fans everywhere.
It's rather interesting how close the cabin scenario in "Cabin In The Woods" comes to the "Friday The 13th" remake by Platinum Dunes. While it's very easy to presume that "Cabin In The Woods" was directly spoofing this recent horror turkey,
Cabin In the Woods actually began filming just one month after that version of "Friday The 13th" was released. There was little time to work ideas from the Platinum Dunes remake into their film, so it seems more likely that the elements in the remake were just SO cliched that both films inevitably introduced the same elements. One out of laziness as a remake, the other out of obligation as a decent spoof.My review hereDrew Goddard has written the screenplay for Spielberg's upcoming movie adaptation of "Robopocalypse".6. Detention (2011)
UK DVD release: 27th August 2012
Joseph Kahn's teen slasher comedy with aliens, time travel and grizzly bears is a remarkably hard sell. The trailer does a spectacularly bad job of conveying quite how unique, hyperactive, insane and hilarious the movie really is. There are a variety of references to films from "Clueless" to "Saw" to "Dirty Dancing" to "Freaky Friday" and that's just scratching the surface.
Detention is more than just a great comedy. It's a uniquely bizarre experience which somehow manages to come together perfectly.My review hereJoseph Kahn is currently mainly focussed on directing music videos.5. The Revenant (2009)
UK DVD release: 2nd April 2012
The Revenant was a long time coming, finally being released on DVD just this year. A horror comedy about a soldier who returns from the war in a coffin only to discover that he is a member of the undead. After scaring his old friend half to death, they try to work out his predicament together.
The film starts with a remarkably fresh-feeling comedic approach to the bare bones of the zombie genre, before upping the ante to absolutely hilarious levels in the final scenes. At no point does the film feel like it's struggling to be clever. The film progresses in a very natural way.
As much as I worry about spoilers, I don't think anyone is going to work out what I mean by "an extremely inventive use of a vibrator" without actually watching the film. Like I said before, as crazy as the film allows itself to get, it is sure to make sure everything is set up and built up smoothly. No rushing.
The Revenant is possibly the most enjoyable zombie film I saw this year (and this was the year I discovered "The Living Dead In Manchester Morgue" too).My review hereDirector Kerry Prior mainly works on special effects, but is not listed on IMDB as having worked on anything since this film.4. Skyfall (2012)
UK release: 26th October 2012
There've been a lot of criticisms levelled at this film for a variety of reasons, but there are a few things I don't really feel can be denied:
1) The performances are fantastic. Javier Bardem is a great villain. Judi Dench is fantastic as M (and gets to do a lot more than normal). The new Q is also terrific in his role.
2) The action sequences are gripping. Rather than having a load of action scenes and using the storyline to tie them together, every action sequence felt like something was at stake. Even when Bardem's underlying plan is hard to follow, the emotional mood of the film is not. I was fully caught up in every scene because of the way the performances sold it to me and that meant that when we entered an action scene the film was all the more effective as a result.
3) The movie is gorgeous. Even some strong critics of "Skyfall" are still keen for the cinematographer to receive an Oscar. This is possibly the most beautiful film to be released this year.
4) This is the best Bond film ever made....
Lets not forget that Bond films have always been a bit daft. What criticisms are being levelled here? The villain's plot isn't always logical. - Nothing new there! The hacking scenes aren't realistic. - Why, that's practically a tradition in Bond movies! There are a few goofs, like M forgetting her bag when she storms out of an office. - You call that a goof?
I had thought that one of my lj-friends only tut-tutted at the misguided use of a torch because of her military background, but it's become clear now that I'm practically the only person not to have been bothered by that plot conceit. I think that it's fair to say that M isn't thinking straight in that scene, though apparently it's a pretty ludicrous mistake for the character actually holding the torch in that scene too.
Skyfall is an exciting roller-coaster ride, like all James Bond movies should be, but it has a heart to it too. It also feels very much like a love letter to the entire franchise. If the upcoming Star Wars film manages to capture the franchise's past magic they way this has for Bond, it'll be an absolute miracle.My review hereCurrent reports suggest that Sam Mendes may well be back to direct the next Bond film. There's also good news for those annoyed by certain plot elements since the writers (who had been on board since before "Die Another Day") are finally being changed.3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
UK release: 14th December 2012
With pretty much all critics hating the new higher frame rate and despising this movie, I'm pretty sure that 48 frames per second are probably not going to catch on. It's a pity that this new technology has led to such a negative critical reaction to "The Hobbit" since it's probably the best of the Lord Of The Rings movies so far. The story gives much better opportunities for Peter Jackson to exhibit his flair for comedy.
Also, as wrong-headed as the long length may have seemed beforehand, the opportunity to finally learn about events that, within the book itself, were always in the background, makes this uniquely justified as an adaptation. This isn't simply an attempt to put the story of "The Hobbit" on screen, but a way to bring the whole scale of Tolkein's stories of Middle-Earth to life. Take Radaghast, a character who only makes a brief appearance in the book of "Fellowship Of The Ring", who is now a fully fleshed-out character and one of the highlights of this movie. His encounter with the Witch-King is properly explored and it looks like this series of films will finally tell us what happened with the mysterious 'necromancer' whose whole confrontation always felt very much like a missing link when it was briefly mentioned at the end of The Hobbit and the beginning of The Lord Of The Rings.
The Hobbit is very well paced and ideas from the story are brought to life wonderfully. Somehow Peter Jackson manages to give unique characteristics to all thirteen dwarves. It's quite simply a wonderful adventure film and certainly more fun than Jackson's previous trilogy.My review herePeter Jackson is already working on the next two films in the series, starting with "The Desolation of Smaug".2. Sound of My Voice (2011)
UK release: 3rd August 2012
This indie movie about a couple who try to expose a cult leader has an interesting structure, but what really pulled me in was Brit Marling's central performance. Unlike the quiet broken figure in "Another Earth" here she plays a somewhat eccentric, manipulative figure; both calm and controlling all at once.
"Sound Of My Voice" is quite simply VERY well written. Each stage of the plot is cleverly devised and every piece of dialogue serves a purpose. All performances are clever without being overblown. I really appreciated this film for its simple yet effective approach.My review hereZal Batmanglij is now working on "The East", also co-written with and starring Brit Marling, this time with Brit Marling infiltrating an anarchist group1. A Royal Affair (2012)
UK release: 15th June 2012
Quite simply the best costume drama I have ever seen. Well-written characters expertly performed, gorgeously filmed without a single panorama of Danish countryside to speak of and, at the heart, a surprising yet highly plausible story based around genuine Danish history.
Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic in the lead role, but the cast as a whole is just wondeful. "A Royal Affair" elicits a whole string of emotions, but what's more important is the message the film sends to the audience. We get a full sense of how hard-won our modern freedoms really were.
A movie with a beauty that is more than just skin-deep. This film really touched me. Full credit has to go to Mark Kermode for recommending it, because without him I'd probably never know about this gem. He may be recommending Twilight movies and he may be massively overrating "The Dark Knight Rises" and "Martha Marcy May Marlene", but at least with this choice he opened my eyes to something truly special and strangely under-promoted.My review hereWriter/director Nikolaj Arcel has written a Danish film called "Kvinden I Buret" which is currently filming with a different director.Important runners up
These films only narrowly missed my top ten for the year.Prometheus (2012)
UK release: 1st June 2012
A lot better paced than Alien with some great atmosphere and an incredible central performance from Michael Fassbender. This also shared the horror convention of having a few fairly shabbily fleshed out characters, but there was a Lovecraftian nightmare and the centre which really captured my imagination. Not sure how Ridley Scott is going to explain the central "Space Jesus" elements in the sequel.My review hereAvengers Assemble (2012)
UK release: 26th April 2012
Everyone saw this and while I wasn't enormously excited about these characters joining together to fight a character-less alien army, I must admit that their interactions were great fun. I was a much bigger fan of the first half than the second. Just generally a really good fun action movie - and there's nothing wrong with that.My review hereYoung Adult (2011)
UK release: 3rd February 2012
Diablo Cody proves her mettle by writing this story of a genuinely unsympathetic female character who is mostly horrible to other people and yet is fantastically watchable. Her goal to try to destroy her ex-boyfriend's marriage and to lure him away to New York is a lot of fun. Charlize Theron is fantastic in the lead role.My review hereOther runners up
Some other great films from this year worth mentioningLockout (2012)
UK release: 20th April 2012
Quite simply a great action film, moving the "Escape" action from New York to Outer Space. Guy Pearce plays a great arrogant hero in the same vein as Snake Plissken, but the other fantastic performance in this film comes from Joe Gilgun as the insane and unpredictable brother of the convict running the prison uprising.My review hereLooper (2012)
UK release: 28th September 2012
A little lacking in internal logic, but a very inventive sci-fi story all the same. Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt make a great pairing. In spite of some neat foreshadowing, few were expecting the direction the film takes in the third act.My review hereSeven Psychopaths (2012)
UK release: 5th December 2012
Martin McDonagh does Charlie Kaufman and gets a great performance out of Christopher Walken in particular. There's some great ideas lovingly worked together. A beautifully wacky black comedy.My review hereChronicle (2012)
UK release: 1st February 2012
A rather beautiful found footage movie about a bunch of kids who gain superpowers. It goes a little too blatant in the final act, but remains gripping from beginning to end. Well crafted characters make this really quite special.My review hereIron Sky (2012)
UK release: 23rd May 2012
The comedy about Nazis hiding out on the moon, "Iron Sky" has a lot of charm. While not hitting the mark with every gag, the film is wonderfully inventive and ends up having a much more coherent and interesting plot than anyone had any right to expect.My review here