2012 in Review

Another year has come and gone, bringing with it hundreds upon hundreds of films. What follows are my choices for my five least favourite, and five favourite films that were released in 2012. Bear in mind that release dates here in Australia are often quite delayed in comparison to the U.S. So many films on a lot of people’s year end best of lists were not released here in time for consideration.

Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to read anything I have written over the past year. It has been a pleasure sharing my love of film with you, and I look forward to doing it for the rest of 2013. My lists below focus on what were my most enjoyable film experiences of the year and least enjoyable. It is not about what is necessarily the ‘best’ or ‘worst’.

Share your thoughts in the comments below. Send me some love if you agree about a particular film and of course feel free to let me know, politely of course, why you disagree with my choices. I have to say that this year was overall, a slightly weak year. But there were still plenty of awesome films to whittle down to a top five.

Bottom Five

(dis)Honourable Mentions: The Five Year Engagement, Get the Gringo, One for the Money, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Love, Moon, 50/50.

5. Iron Sky

iron

It’s pretty hard to botch a B-movie concept as brilliant as Nazis on the dark side of the moon. I mean that is gold standard material, could you have imagined what Roger Corman would have turned in with that kind of start. But Iron Sky achieves what I don’t think anyone thought was possible. It makes Nazis on the moon seem boring. What we end up with is Scary Movie in space. Only this is slightly worse written and has less wit, which is quite the achievement. Self knowing pastiche was what we were after and it would have no doubt led to hilarity. But this is just bad as comedy, bad as sci-fi, with bad acting, bad visuals, and a bad storyline. Tis just bad, bad, bad.

4. Prometheus

Prometheus

The further I get away in time from Prometheus, the angrier I get with the approach it took. Instead of using the mega budget and stunning design & special effects that it brings to entertain the audience, Scott is trying to ram a message down our throats (not that anyone knew what the fuck that message was) and ask ourselves life’s big questions. Messages and thought provoking are all well and good, but with this kind of film, entertainment comes first. It’s so disappointing, because the film has more truly original ideas than any film needs, but they do not transfer to the script which clunks badly. The film just did not work on any level for me. It succeeds neither as a sci-fi film or a horror film, despite having elements of both. For every good performance there is at least one or two decidedly average ones. Thankfully I am doubting we will never see the sequel that the ending of this film was so obviously setting up.

3. The Dictator

dictator

Sacha Baron Cohen continues to impress me in his more serious roles, I’m looking at you Hugo and Les Miserables, but I find his own creations far more difficult to stomach. Especially because he is such a talented guy, far too talented to be creating dross such as this. Criminally unfunny, attempting to be offensive but rarely eliciting enough care factor to do so, this was the worst comedy in what was a pretty decent year for the genre. Like all the worst comedy, there is a mean streak to The Dictator. Dedicating a film to Kim Jong Ill, a heinous murderer and oppressor is in no way funny. And whilst I am sure Baron Cohen would like to have you think otherwise, there is no subversion in this film. No witty examination of dictators and their delusions. There is only unfunny poo jokes. Looking back through my notebook, this film was situated right next to Iron Sky. Those were some dark film watching days.

2. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon

This was a pretty minor film, but it just rubbed me up totally the wrong way. The central love story is one of the worst crafted I can recall and let’s face it, crafting love stories is not exactly the strong suit of filmmakers these days. At no point does the spark between the two leads seem the least bit real, in fact very little of the film seems grounded in reality. It is a profoundly stupid film and whilst it seems to want to be a little indie or quirky, it has the most ham fisted and obvious characterisation you could possibly imagine. I can barely muster enough emotions to say I hated this film. But I definitely deeply disliked it. Just so tepid, more average than basically any film I can recall. I tell you what, it was a bad year for Emily Blunt. Her The Five Year Engagement was incredibly close to making this bottom 5.

The Third Ever Scott Pilgrim vs the World Award for Least Favourite Film of the Year: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Hobbit

I pondered whether or not to give this film the coveted number one spot. I didn’t want to be perceived as trying to be all cool and just hating on a big budget, flagship release. But the inescapable fact for me was that The Hobbit was easily the least enjoyable experience I had in a cinema in 2012. It is blatant hyperbole to term any film a catastrophe. This film however, is as close to a catastrophe as one can be though. I saw the film in 48 FPS 3D (HFR), because that is how Peter Jackson wished me to see it. But the HFR makes it look like a cheap BBC show from the 1980s and robs the film of any visual spectacle. It distances the audience to such an extent that there is no way into this world. Not helped by the fact that Martin Freeman, an actor I absolutely love, brings no soul to the character of Bilbo. The script is woeful, it babies you with its horrid expository dialogue and the attempted lighter moments fall utterly flat. And if I see one more image of a dwarf staring off into the sunset that is meant to convey the profundity of the situation at hand, I’m going to be forced to slap someone. At least Prometheus managed to look excellent, whereas this looks like garbage. The wide shots of Elrond (that is the Elf city yeah?) look animated. I’m not talking good CGI animated, this is some 2D Disney shit. Three and a bit hours is far too long to be in a cinema with a story that has failed to connect to or exhilarate you in any way shape or form.

 

Top Five

Honourable Mentions: Skyfall, Shame, A Separation, The Raid, Not Suitable for Children, Ted, Mirror Mirror, Les Miserables, Young Adult, Martha Marcy May Marlene, J. Edgar, 21 Jump Street, Hugo, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, The Dark Knight Rises, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, I am Bruce Lee, The Cabin in the Woods, Bully.

5. The Angel’s Share

angels

Ken Loach is able to masterfully balance two very distinct tones in this film. The first half is the dark, pretty depressing social realism that the director is famous for. The second half flips this and turns into a delightful, though not without moments of tension, whiskey heist film. In many ways the film is an ode to whiskey and the way it transforms the life of the main character Robbie, played by non-actor Paul Brannigan. He is an actor now, because he is phenomenal in this. I think that using non-professional actors is a conceit that so often fails, but Brannigan ensures that it works. The relationship between he and John Henshaw’s Harry, who runs Robbie’s community service, is genuine and not forced when it so easily could be. The film is uproariously funny, but at the same time still manages to remain true to the tone of the film’s opening half, as one of society’s downtrodden attempts to walk the precarious path out of his situation. Not by the usual route though.

4. Bernie

bernie

Probably the most original film of the year. I generally think mockumentaries are a pretty tired structural device. But here that structure is reinvigorated by weaving interviews with real townsfolk into the storyline. Jack Black should take a bow, because his is one of the performances of the year – if those responsible for giving out awards actually paid any attention, he would be nominated for everything going. A tale of a small town assistant undertaker who befriends an elderly widow. Feeling imprisoned by her, he eventually kills her. Black manages to bring so much depth to a character that could have been caricature in what is undoubtedly a career best turn. The great thing about this film is that it leaves you thinking. About crime and justice. About domestic violence. This dark sorta comedy is one of the year’s best with the year’s best closing credits sequence the icing on the cake.

3. Lawless

Lawless

For me, the most underrated film of the year. Hillcoat and Cave deliver once again. I really do not comprehend the average reviews this got. A fantastic ensemble cast – Tom Hardy (really was his year), Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska and Guy Pearce are all extraordinary. Even Shia Lebouf ain’t too bad in this one. Props especially to Pearce. On the trailers his character looked like a leering caricature but here he grounds the character and he is a menacing presence. A prohibition era bootleggin tale, this really creates a sense of time and place. Incredible costuming and a bluegrass infused soundtrack, I believe courtesy of Mr Cave himself, definitely help in that regard. And it is just such an intriguing time in American history too. The stakes in the film just keep rising and rising, leaving you really unsure of when the explosion will come and how it will turn out. Just like The Proposition, Lawless is very bloody, uncompromisingly so. Nick Cave is such a talented guy. I think he has turned in the script of the year here with exceptional dialogue and notes of humour that come our unexpectedly. I highly recommend you check this one out.

2. Argo

Arg

For the second time in 3 years, Ben Affleck has directed my number two film of the year. I thought for quite a while that this was going to be my number 1. This supremely well made film is a borderline classic. Just like The Angel’s Share, this film manages to balance tone so well. Here it is even starker. A tense start, a borderline Hollywood comedy subplot through the centre starring Alan Arkin and John Goodman, then a white knuckle ending. There is barely a foot put wrong in this whole film. It is craftily shot, with the slightly low res appearance to make it look more like a period piece and the animated intro are both highlights.  Ensemble cast is really good. The aforementioned Arkin and Goodman bring so much to their small roles, while the entire group of people stuck in Iran are all good as well. One of those stories that is so crazy it had to be true (well at least close to true).

1. The Sessions

sesh

On paper, this story could have so easily been trite cliché. A polio sufferer, played by John Hawkes, who spends most of his time in an iron lung, sets out to explore his sexuality. Enter a sex surrogate played by Helen Hunt who assists him in the exploration. William H. Macy is his priest who he shares the journey with.  These three are all exceptional in their roles and bring such charm and realism to the story they are portraying. Not only is this a touching personal tale of one man’s sexual journey it is also about sexuality for everyone. It is amazing how the film and its script manages to weave both poetry and faith into the story too. This is probably the only film that made me both laugh and cry that was released in 2012. Instead of the clichéd meh it could have been, this is told with such boldness, intelligence and dare I say it brilliance, that I could not look past it for my favourite film of the year. I can’t wait to see it again.

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15 responses

  1. I still haven’t seen Bernie but it has ended up on a lot of people’s list for their favorite so it’s something I definitely need to check out. I also really enjoyed Lawless. After I saw it I thought it was just ‘okay’ but now that I’ve let it sit for a couple months, I really loved it. Great list.

    1. Bernie was fantastic. Really blew me away with the approach it took. Glad you’re a Lawless fan too. And it is the same for me, the more I think of that film, the more I like it.

      Bernie is the same actually, I like it more now after letting it seep in for a few months.

  2. The only one of your top five I’ve actually seen is Lawless which I really enjoyed and also didn’t get the average reviews. It had it’s flaws but was still a lot of fun and Pearce was just brilliant in it. I think The Sessions is out here this week or next and I’m definitely hoping to get to see it although I have a feeling it’ll be on limited release.
    Totally with you on Prometheus, it just felt that Scott was using the Alien name to hype up a completely different film. It was neither an Alien prequel nor a exploration of the secrets of life on Earth, it was a messy combination of the two.
    Great list man, here’s to 2013!

    1. Cheers for commenting mate. Glad you were another Lawless fan. Can’t believe The Sessions has not opened for you yet. You guys are copping it even worse than us with release dates these days.

  3. Nice picks. I liked Prometheus but it was a major disappointment.

    1. Cheers for commenting. I think that is the most positive reaction I’ve heard to Prometheus thus far (and I’ve heard that sentiment from a few people now).

  4. What didn’t you like about Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close? I quite enjoyed it.

    Right there with you with Prometheus. One of the hugest disappointments in recent memory.

    Lawless and Bernie are two that I really, really want to see. I didn’t get to see a lot of stuff last year, unfortunately.

    1. Cheers for commenting Sir Phobos.

      Casting my mind back (I think I saw it in March), I didn’t like a few things about Incredibly Close… First of all, I found the main character was misjudged. It seems a silly criticism, but he was so unlikeable and annoying that there was no way to connect with him at all. I understand he had been through such a horrible thing, but you can still convey that and have him not be such a brat. And I thought that was a writing problem, I actually thought the young blokes performance was quite good. Same with the Max von Sydow character. Mute old dude? Just thought it was too trite.

      I actually think the film’s best scene showed me the most why I really disliked the rest of the film. The scene where Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are talking on the phone, is phenomenal. So touching and two actors just right at the top of their craft (I never though Bullock had that in her). And for me, the rest of the film paled in comparison to all of that.

      It is interesting how divided the opinion has been on the film though. I recorded a podcast the other day, and the host had it in his top 10.

      1. I actually didn’t find the kid annoying at all, but I can see how his behavior toward his mom could be considered as such. That phone scene you mentioned was great, and another favorite of mine is the one with von Sydow in the bedroom listening to the answering machine.

  5. A few points I noticed:
    …Salmon Fishing in the Yemen just came in my mail today from Netflix – oh well. I know, I know, it’s not even supposed to be good. I’m just a sucker for any movie with Kristin Scott Thomas. She can usually make anything better.

    I must say I quite liked 50/50 when I saw it in theaters. Also, I saw Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close on DVD not too long ago and while it is obviously designed to be emotionally manipulative, I thought it was well-acted. The screenplay was nothing to write home about but the actors – especially Max von Sydow – did good work. It’s kind of hard for me to find fault in any of Max von Sydow’s performances.

    The really disappointing thing about Prometheus is that I finally saw Alien a couple of months ago – and wow, what a movie – so then my memories of Prometheus were even less flattering than what they originally were. It clearly pales in comparison to Alien in pretty much every regard, particularly since in the words of Quentin Tarantino, “there was a lot of dumb stuff in it.”

    I was obsessed with LOTR when the movies came out, but I’ve been putting off seeing the first Hobbit installment. I think it’s because I suspected it could never live up to those previous three films.

    Finally: thank goodness you liked Martha Marcy May Marlene. I loved it but a bunch of friends who saw it described it as “boring” and/or “garbage.” I was afraid that that was how a lot of people felt about it.

    1. Oh I’m sorry re Salmon Fishing. But Scott Thomas is by far the best thing in that film. She is really good in that film actually. So that may give you some hope.

      A lot of people did like Extremely Loud… Sydow is incapable of acting poorly, but I think that character was pretty woeful in screenplay terms. I have expanded on my thoughts on that film in response to Sir Phobos in these comments, so that may explain myself.

      I cannot understand how anyone could say that Martha May… was garbage. Unbelievable! Elizabeth Olsen’s performance in that was the best of the year.

  6. Reading this made me realise I saw so few movies in 2012! I haven’t seen a single one of the bottom 5, nor the dishonorable mentions (nor am I ever going to!)

    Awesome read – thank you!!

    1. You’re welcome. Hopefully you can see more this year.

  7. Great list! Even if I’m surprised to see 50/50 near your worst, and Prometheus actually IN them, I want to say that we feel exactly the same about The Hobbit. I hated it with a passion and thought it was just torture to sit through.

    1. Cheers for commenting Fernando. I was massively underwhelmed by 50/50. I seem to be the only one though. If it weren’t for it picking up in the last 20 minutes or so, it would have made my list.

      I thought you might agree with my least favourite of the year.

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