2012: A-Z Ten Best and the Rest
A is for Amour, Avengers Assemble, Argo, The Angel’s Share, Anna Karenina and the Amazing Spider-Man. That’s a pretty good year right there.
B is for Beasts of the Southern Wild, the exhilarating bayou indie; BIFA winners Broken and Berberian Sound Studio; Bill Cunningham New York (and Buck); Jack Black as everyone’s favourite funeral director, Bernie; Danny Boyle, who pulled off a brilliant Olympics opening show and and Tim Burton, back with two movies this year, an exercise in kitsch gothic soap (Dark Shadows) and the glorious black and white 3D animation, Frankenweenie, opening gala at the BFI London Film Festival.
C is for Carancho, the crunchy Buenos Aires noir. Cabin in the Woods, Joss Whedon’s smart meta horror. Cloud Atlas, a glorious folly and one of the most ambitious films of the year. Coriolanus, with Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler’s only credible movie of the decade. Polanski’s all-star Carnage. Also Cronenberg’s underrated Cosmopolis – at least I thought it was underrated, until I saw it made Sight & Sound magazine’s top ten.
D is for The Descendants (remember that?), A Dangerous Method (two Cronenbergs in one year!); Dredd, and 3D. This was the year 3D became respectable, with Hugo amassing a fist-load of Oscar nominations and Ang Lee’s beautiful Life of Pi. Also, The Dark Knight Rises, the climax of Christopher Nolan’s Bat trilogy, or for me, the anti-climax.
E… E is for End of Watch, a faux reality cop drama redeemed by the playing of Jake Gyllenhaal and especially Michael Pena. El Bulli. Even the Rain. And Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Less Said The Better).
F is for Faust, a lugubrious but also sometimes breathtaking adaptation of the legend by Russia’s Alexander Sokurov. The aforementioned Frankenweenie (animated movie of the year?), Forty-eight frames per second (may it live in infamy!). Moving swiftly on to…
G: The Grey, one of the year’s best surprises, a gritty action movie with Liam Neeson taking on a pack of hungry wolves: Jaws on paws.
H: For Heroines, Haywire, and especially Jennifer Lawrence in Hunger Games, but also Hope Springs, a funny, wise sex comedy for the more mature audience (Meryl Streep). And Hysteria (Maggie Gyllenhaal) about the invention of the vibrator.
I: Into the Abyss, Werner Herzog’s bleak take on the value of life in smalltown Texas, including his immortal interview with a probably psychopathic death-row killer: “I don’t have to like you…”
J Edgar. Before Clint started talking to chairs and embarrassing himself in public he made this cagey, ambiguous portrait of the controversial FBI head as a closeted fantasist. J is also for Jeff (Who Lives At Home), and Juan (of the Dead), and John (Carter) – the latter a rare example of a blockbuster flop – though some of us quite liked it.
K is for Killing Them Softly, with Brad Pitt and James Gandolfini as professional killers, one in his prime, the other very much gone to seed. Stylish and deeply, deeply cynical, it’s easily the crime movie of the year… Well, maybe it’s neck and neck with Killer Joe.
L is for Looper, the ingenious time warp thriller with Joseph Gordon Levitt, and we already mentioned Life of Pi.
Mmmmm… Martha Marcy May Marlene, a breakthrough movie for Elizabeth Olsen and a genuinely creepy, tense, controlled paranoia thriller about cult programming. Matthew McConaughey, on career best form in Magic Mike, Killer Joe and Bernie. M is also for The Master, the long-gestating Paul Thomas Anderson drama that turned out to be about much more than Scientology.
N the magisterial, meditative essay film Nostalgia for the Light, which finds entrancing affinities between archeology and astronomy in the driest desert in the world.
O is for Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a patient but infinitely rewarding Beckettian murder mystery by the great Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
P for Prometheus, a visually spectacular and effective Alien add-on, but a short-term pleasure that evaporated the more you thought about its inconsistencies. More fun, in retrospect, was the unpretentious bike courier thriller Premium Rush, with the busy Joseph Gordon Levitt and Michael Shannon. Not forgetting Aardman’s latest, The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists.
Q is for Quentin, back on best form with his race-charged spaghetti western Django Unchained (even if it’s not released in the UK til January 18), and also Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut Quartet (released Jan 1), which is not to be confused with Late Quartet (April).
R equals Rampart, a strong, meaty James Ellroy-penned cop drama with Woody Harrelson as a dinosaur cop surrounded by a bevy of brainy women. The misbegotten (but not entirely unamusing) musical Rock of Ages, and the crazily clever Kubrick documentary Room 237. Plus Rust & Bone, with Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts.
S is for Silver Linings Playbook, a feelgood movie that sidesteps most of the worst pitfalls of the genre courtesy of director David O Russell’s smart footwork and a stellar cast, including Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, De Niro and even Chris Tucker. Searching for Sugarman, another outstanding doc; Skyfall, the best damn Bond in years, and Sightseers, a super tart black comedy at the expense of Daily Mail readers.
T is for Twilight’s last gleaming, the end of an era for Kristen Stewart (impressive in On the Road and less so in Snow White and the Huntsman) and Robert Pattinson (excellent in Cosmopolis, less so in Bel Ami). T is also for Turkeys: Total Recall, This Means War, To Rome with Love).
U is for Untouchable (Les Intouchables), with Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy, at $370 million worldwide the biggest French box office hit ever. Also Undefeated, the Academy Award winner for Best Documentary, an underdog sports movie for real.
V is for the other Channing Tatum movie of the year, the one where he didn’t strip, The Vow. Hmmm. Not many V movies this year…
W = W.E. Madonna’s movie about Wallis Simpson (not quite redeemed by the wonderful Andrea Riseborough); and Spielberg’s Lean-ish War Horse, which is only half bad.
X as in Project X, the ultimate teenage wreck-the-house party, but not a very good movie imo.
Y: Young Adult. Charlize Theron is brilliant in Diablo Cody’s poison pen letter to her alter ego, a condescending writer who revisits her home town to steal back her (married) high school sweetheart. Patton Oswald looks on, appalled. Also: Your Sister’s Sister, an engaging low budget comedy with Rosemary Dewitt and Emily Blunt as improbable siblings.
Z is for Zoe Kazan, the talented actor who also wrote the ingenious Ruby Sparks, in which she played the title character, a muse who was also writer Paul Dano’s fictional dream girl. Or was she? Zoe is the daughter of screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord, and the granddaughter of director Elia Kazan. With genes like that you can see why she would be interested in writing about writing. Also (but it’s not out til next year here) the US critics’ movie of the year: Zero Dark Thirty.
The Top 10
1. The Master