2012 has been a formidable year for film and audiences have returned to cinemas in great numbers to see heroes assemble, rise and fall. I chart my favourite films of 2012, in ascending order:
In the build up to its release, The Grey was billed as another bombastic Action Neeson romp that cashes in on the star’s rejuvenated success. However, those expecting little more than “Taken with wolves” will be disappointed as this clever action film provides much more. Director Joe Carnahan reins in his usually frantic style and delivers a calculated genre piece and a breathtaking study of survival. Armed with a newfound subtlety Carnahan blends edge of your seat action with measured fear of the unknown to create a film that does for wolves, what Jaws did for sharks.
Rodney Ascher’s intelligent documentary explores the numerous theories about the hidden meanings within Kubrick’s visionary masterpiece The Shining. Room 237 is a true film fan’s film, but carefully edited to make it accessible for all. The true success of Ascher’s film is that the strong opinions are never forced onto the audience; his motives are more honest – to present the continuing debates and leave audiences to formulate their own ideas. This documentary is the perfect accompaniment to Kubrick’s horror and, though some will be put off by the intense analysis, it will motivate you to re-watch The Shining and subsequently, you’ll never see it in the same way again.
The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises is a flawed masterpiece, a disfigured sculpture, but an exceptional cinematic event nonetheless. Facing the seemingly insurmountable task of outdoing The Dark Knight, Nolan concludes his trilogy in appropriate fashion. The performances are sublime, set pieces outstanding and the narrative devastatingly powerful. There has never been a better adaptation of the Batman story and though this is the weakest of the three, the lasting impact of Nolan’s trilogy will resonate through the film industry for generations.
Ridley Scott returns to the genre that helped define him and this is where he’s at his absolute best. Though it may annoy some as some stones remain unturned, Prometheus is completely suited to cinemagoers that yearn for something that rewards with more than one viewing. Like all of Scott’s previous films he initially delivers a sublime cinema experience that sticks in your memory for days, but subsequent viewings are where the legendary director’s artistic flourishes and nuances truly thrive.
With a narrative hinged on a tough subject and made up of slow, long takes, Michael Haneke’s Amour is a demanding piece of cinema that is not for the faint of heart. Sumptuous film craft and spectacular performances combine to draw you in to the slow-building, emotional narrative before delivering a dramatic, hard-hitting conclusion. The Austrian filmmaker pulls no punches in his examination of the title theme love at its most pure and brings focus to commitment, adoration and sacrifice that is rarely depicted in film.
Reunited with Joseph Gordon Levitt, director Rian Johnson follows his incredible homage to noir, Brick, with the intelligent time-travelling science fiction film Looper. Johnson’s approach is the antithesis to Primer, but with equally impressive results. Where Carruth went to great lengths to explain the science of time travel within his deliberately confusing film, Johnson keeps it simple and avoids laborious explanations. Looper is complex, but never complicated. Clever, but never degrading. Ambitious, but never presumptuous. Johnson is respectful of his audience and rewards their patience and concentration with the best science fiction film since Moon.
The culmination of Marvel’s efforts was undoubtedly the most anticipated film of 2012. Joss Whedon exceeds all expectation, conquers all trepidation and eclipses all previous superhero films to create an exceptionally classic, action packed experience. Even on smaller screens, without the cinema atmosphere it belongs to, his Avengers is a blockbuster event brimming with pure awesome.
Nostalgia for the Light
Patricio Guzmán’s powerfully poetic documentary focuses on the juxtaposition of two sets of archaeologists who work within the Atacama Desert. He draws comparisons between the astronomers who flock to gaze out into the universe to discover artefacts from the beginning of time and the people who dig beneath the surface to discover the bones of their loved ones who disappeared during General Pinochet’s ruthless regime. Profound, moving and thoroughly insightful, this stunning piece of Chilean cinema is documentary filmmaking at its finest.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Six year old Quvenzhané Wallis’ magnificent central performance as the South Louisianan protagonist Hushpuppy merits inclusion on this list alone. The young actress stars in a simple coming of age tale that focuses on family, home and courage and her performance is as heartfelt as it is devastating. With the aid of beautiful cinematography, a mesmerising score and a touching narrative Beasts of the Southern Wild is an overwhelming piece of cinema and a remarkable debut for Benh Zeitlin.
Despite his chequered career as an actor, Ben Affleck’s works as a director is near perfect. Following the successes of tightly wound action thrillers Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck recounts the true life story of Argo and further authorises his position as a brilliant director. He balances the film’s tone with absolute perfection. Argo maintains a retro aesthetic, blends priceless humour with white knuckle tension and most impressively of all Affleck exquisitely manages his sizeable cast. He provides an incredibly authentic account of a piece of history made for film, but it’s when he strays from the truth and into dramatic license when Argo is all the more incredible. Affleck combines true life fact with preposterous Hollywood action to provide my choice as best film of the year.
Some honourable mentions: 21 Jump Street, The Big Easy Express, The Cabin in the Woods, Dredd, Goon, Headhunters, The Innkeepers, Lawless, The Raid: Redemption, Seven Psychopaths and The Woman in Black.
What are your favourites from 2012? Let me know below!