Tuesday, 8 January 2013

My 10 Favourite Films of 2012

I think I nailed it, but here are my "favourite films" of 2012 that were released this year in the UK. Sorry if some of these choice seem redundant, but that's UK release dates for you. It wasn't like I was struggling or something......

10. Killer Joe 

William Friedkin directed The Exorcist, The French Connection and To Live and Die in L.A., yet has failed to recapture that same form since the 1980s. Meanwhile Matthew McConaughey’s career has had a resurgence in the last couple of years e.g The Lincoln Lawyer back in 2011. Friedkin’s return back to the director’s chair continues his violent and very uncompromising nature to thriller cinema. The third act in particular is undoubtably one most uncomfortable scenes I’ve seen in a while. However Tracy Letts’ original material, and subsequent screenplay, adds a layer of black comedy that thankfully adds needed humanity to the characters and the film. McConaughey is fantastic in his approach to unintentionally introduce some empathy and intelligence amongst a supporting cast of unlikable and intense personalities, especially Gina Gershon. Juno Temple similarly offers a strong performance as the innocent yet unhinged love interest. Filmed on a small scale, Killer Joe still offers the gritty visuals and tragic temperament we’ve come to expect and still love from Friedkin.  

9. Coriolanus 

Ralph Fiennes’ directorial debut was a fierce, modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy that was overlooked by many. Retaining the traditional dialect, Coriolanus manages to keep the quintessential theatrical feel of Shakespeare’s work but successfully rendered it in a modern day, almost relevant perspective. With the likes of Brian Cox, Jessica Chastain and James Nesbitt, the film is awash with a terrific mix of upcoming and experienced talent. Vanessa Redgrave’s intense and resolute performance perfectly intwines with Fiennes’ own stern and bitter character to form a phenomenally powerful and ardent “mother and son” relationship. Coupled with Barry Ackroyd’s sophisticated cinematography, Coriolanus was another fantastic addition to British cinema and a solid start to a hopefully, successful directing career for Fiennes. It even made Gerard Butler look like a half decent actor.

8. Killing Them Softly 

Missed by many and released on the backend of 2012 in the US, Andrew Dominik’s latest film was met with relatively high praise from the critics. It’s rather simplistic crime/thriller story is perpetuated by strong performances from the likes of Brad Pitt, Scoot McNairy and James Gandolfini, but also by Dominik’s very tight script. Similar to last year’s Drive, Greig Fraser’s superb cinematography, ranging from the skilful camerawork to the proficient use of lighting, really gives Killing Them Softly a sophisticated and polished look. While I still criticise its heavy-handed approach to conveying Dominik’s political and social commentaries on America, the film is a stylish and intense piece of modern-day, noir cinema.

7. The Avengers

In a genuine surprise, Joss Whedon managed to turn the rather mixed efforts of Marvel’s previous films (Thor, Ironman 2, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America) into a thoroughly enjoyable superhero-assemble film. The Avengers has all the distinctive characteristics of a true “Summer Blockbuster”, a competent plot that’s still capable of introducing newer characters, entertaining action set-pieces and a sense of humour. But where the film really succeeds is its ability to merge a set of incompatible personalities into a rather engaging narrative. Sure it takes shortcuts and has its fair share of writing issues, but it’s a great example of establishing and developing characters within a film of sizeable scale. Consequently and thankfully it instilled some faith back into the “Summer Blockbuster” and to Marvel’s film credibility in some style. 

6. Dark Knight Rises 

Christopher Nolan’s revered trilogy concluded with The Dark Knight Rises, and while it wasn’t the sequel Dark Knight “disciples” dreamed of, it still provided a intense and epic experience. Bringing Bruce Wayne to the forefront, and focussing on the symbol of Batman were the right moves by Nolan and provide a “closing” thematic loop for the trilogy. 
However even when introducing more quintessential characters from the source material, Rise remains capable of accommodating those formidable personalities. Tom Hardy’s Bane is genuinely threatening, both vocally and physically, meanwhile Anne Hathaway offers a distinct and respectable take on Selina Kyle. Visually, Wally Pfister’s cinematography continues his dynamic stylings with certain set-pieces looking absolutely fantastic, the sewer brawl between Bane and Batman in particular. Simultaneously Han Zimmer offers his usual heavy and resonant score. Sure it’s riddled with plot holes and questionable choices, but that doesn’t stop it from being an engaging and entertaining blockbuster. While Batman Begins remains my favourite of the three, The Dark Knight Rises offered a compelling and satisfying end to a truly fantastic trilogy. 

5. The Artist 

Released in the UK at the start of the year, The Artist cooked up a storm at Oscars, BAFTAs, Golden Globes etc, and it’s easy to see why. A nostalgic look at the roots of Hollywood’s silent “boom”, Michel Hazanavicius managed to transform a rudimentary plot of romance, drama and glamour with poignancy and overwhelming charm. Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo do a terrific job adapting to the requirements of their distinct roles. Their energy and sheer charisma create a set of spirited and compelling characters that were deservedly recognised by the flood of nominations. Ludovic Bource’s music is pinnacle to the success of the entire film and beautifully encompasses the emotional alterations perfectly. It’s an experience that I suspect a repeat viewing will squander, so I’ll just keep those initial, magic memories.

4. Intouchables 

A box-office smash in France, Intouchables is pure and simple in its approach to the comedy-drama genre. Directors and writers Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano bring two completely contrasting characters together in a amusing and sometimes poignant narrative. The film doesn’t attempt to bog itself down with frivolous socio-political commentaries as you’d expect, neither does it break any bounds in the comedy department, rather it uses the charisma and charming nature of its two leads. Both Francois Cluzet and Omar Sy provide sterling performances that share a strong, natural chemistry that persists throughout the film. Ludivico Einaudi offers another fantastic score and Mathieu Vadepied’s cinematography offers an beautiful look at Paris from all perspectives and angles. It’s a funny and warm-hearted film that I absolutely loved. 

3. The Raid 
Light on narrative, lacking substantial character development and devoid of engrossing dialogue aren’t necessarily the hallmarks of highly-regarded films, but Gareth Evan’s The Raid instilled enjoyment back to the forefront of the cinema experience this year. Taking a rather basic premise, this Indonesian martial-arts flick is unflinching in its pursuit to get the audience cheering. The crescendo approach to its set-pieces combined with the sheer brutality and intensity to every fight is a true exhibition of the action genre. Similarly, the dynamic camerawork and fierce audio design add another level to the carnage. Beautifully choreographed, savagely visceral and deeply satisfying, The Raid proved to be one of the most enjoyable films of 2012.

2. Argo

Ben Affleck’s career continues to shine, both in front of the camera and behind it. His latest film Argo has achieved a “Top 5” spot on numerous lists and continues to be nominated for various awards. Successfully blended two polar genre’s Argo is an engaging and highly enjoyable film. On one side you have the serious nature of the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979 and the general risk of the CIA operation, and on the other the fake 1970s sci-fi flick cover-story with John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Affleck manages to retain the intensity and sense of urgency throughout the entire picture, while maintaining the events back in Hollywood. Some great supporting acts from the likes of Bryan Cranston, Scoot McNairy and Alan Arkin, created a firm and determined set of performances that perfectly mingle with those from the leads, Affleck does pretty well. In the end, dealing with a piece of source material only recently release to the public in the last 6 years, Argo was undoubtably one of this year’s best and deserves its high recognition.

1. Shame 

Steve McQueen’s second major release continues his bold approach to dramatic cinema. He and writer Abi Morgan succeed in creating a tragic and intrepid story of troubled individuals suffering from addictions and poor judgement. It’s a powerful film that intimately communicates its messages and difficult personality in every department. From its intelligent writing, to the film’s general restrained nature, Shame is brave in its attempt to take the taboo issue of sex addiction and really show the uncontrollable vulgarness of it all. Michael Fassbender’s “quiet” performance is simply stunning. He perfectly carries the suave and calm exterior with the frantic and tenuous psychology of his character. Carey Mulligan similarly offers a frightening take on a sister condemned to her lack of luck. Meanwhile Shame’s cinematography is beautiful, from the interiors of classy bars to the grey concrete of New York’s alleyways, there’s a distinct richness to every shot. Subtle details and directions are prevalent throughout the picture and give the entire film a sophisticated and intricate level of depth. Shame was my favourite of 2012, and with McQueen currently working on Twelve Years a Slave, another controversial and bold title with an incredible cast, lets hope for more of the same. 

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