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.
(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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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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No doubt by now you have all heard of the horrific events that took place at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. I do not want to dwell on the events too much. This is not a news site and it is not really my forte. But I have spent many hours over the past two days thinking about what occurred and I feel that I should share some thoughts.
The massacre is a devastating event on so many levels. Because of the societal ramifications, for the filmmakers to have had their work corrupted in some way; and the fact that such evil exists in this world. But the main reason is that people have died. People have died for absolutely no reason.
One of the reasons that this event has had such an effect on me is because, without knowing any of them, the victims were people just like me. They were cinema goers, movie fans. A day before I had sat shaking with excitement as The Dark Knight Rises began. The victims were people who would have been just as excited as me, if not more. The kind of people who venture out at midnight to see a movie because they simply can’t wait any longer. And I cannot begin to fathom the unimaginable terror of what took place as they sat and watched the film that they had anticipated so much.
Christopher Nolan has released a statement following what occurred in Aurora which reflects the manner in which the horror of what has occurred will not pass soon for many people, including film fans: “Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of The Dark Knight Rises, I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community. I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theater is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.”
Inevitable at some stage, a light will be turned on the guilty party and why he did what he did. Already Nolan’s second Batman film The Dark Night and the iconic graphic novel, The Killing Joke, by Allan Moore have been referenced as possible inspiring factors for the killer’s rampage. Anyone who kills is in a sense mad. No matter what they read. It is not the fault of artists such as Nolan or Moore that this man did what he did. I have seen The Dark Knight and read The Killing Joke and I took inspiration from them as I do any great work of art I consume. But no sane person is motivated to kill by a work of art, no matter how dark or violent. A violent, murderous rampage in a cinema has nothing to do with any of these works. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. And if someone you are with says something like that, pull them up on it. I agree with Jon Fisher from The Film Brief, who in a podcast with me following the events, said that if anything, the killer was just narcissistic and knew that The Dark Knight Rises would be the big news story and wanted a part of that fame.
As an Australian I do not have the intimate knowledge to really comment on American gun laws, which to me seem utterly ludicrous. I will draw one parallel though. In 1996, one horrific day changed gun control in Australia forever. In Port Arthur, Tasmania, Martin Bryant – armed with a semi-automatic rifle – massacred 35 people. In response, the Howard government made possibly the only decision of their time in power that I agree with (for those unfamiliar with Australian politics, the Howard government was a conservative government that had little time for human rights and led public debate in this country down some very dangerous paths). The Howard government immediately severely restricted the availability of all automatic and semi-automatic weapons and announced an amnesty for those weapons already in the community to be offered up to police so they could be destroyed. Yes, there have been gun deaths since. But the bold and swift actions of the conservative government resulted in no tragedy approaching that of the Port Arthur massacre occurring since. One horrific event can change the way a nation works, the way that people access weapons with murderous potential. I can only hope that the Aurora cinema massacre can be that one event for America. All it needs is someone brave enough to stand up and make the change happen.
I’ll finish up this little piece with the same quote that I use to close the discussion with Jon on The Film Brief podcast a couple of days ago. These words come from Jamie Kilstein, a stand up comedian, podcaster and massive superhero film fan on facebook: “I want to write about gun laws,racism, and idiots on the news, but after meeting so many great people at a midnight show last night in NYC, so many outcasts, so many nerds, so many people excited to watch a movie about a superhero, I’m just sad.” So am I.
The Dark Knight Rises is for me, a great film, even a 5 star one. Go and see it. Enjoy it, and be thankful for all that you have.