#125 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) Dir. Bill Condon
Yeah I’m not the biggest Twilight fan and this wasn’t my choice (the girlfriend has to get her own way sometimes right?) but admittedly I’ve found that the films do improve as they go on. I didn’t care enough to watch Breaking Dawn Part 1 before so I was expecting to be lost and confused but much to my surprise and disdain, this film was much more enjoyable and straight forward than I expected. I accept that these films have their audience so the mushy, staring, love-fuelled faces and ridiculousness doesn’t grate on me as it used to. I also kinda dig Robert Pattinson following Cosmopolis and even Taylor Lautner seems in on the joke of how silly this material is. I went in with full intentions to hate this movie but against all the odds it entertained me and I enjoyed it for what it was. I also liked the little rug-pull at the end even though most people are crying about it like bitches. Might actually backtrack and check out Part 1 now…
#124 Silver Linings Playbook (2012) Dir. David O. Russell
I think David O. Russell is a really gifted filmmaker, not necessarily one of my favourites but he’s certainly someone who’s work I always enjoy. As a writer I think he has a great ear for sharp, harsh dialogue and an instinct for dark comedy. In Silver Linings Playbook he’s playing to all his strengths. This movie felt old-fashioned to me in that it truly is a film about character. The story comes out of the dysfunctions of the various players and has them bounce off of one another with glee.
It’s brilliantly cast with Bradley Cooper playing at a pitch I had no idea he was capable of reaching. It also helps that he has Jennifer Lawrence to play off who I’m certain is not only the most beautiful actress of her generation but also the most talented. She can be “Jennifer Lawrence: Movie Star” in films like The Hunger Games and X-Men First Class but she’s astonishing when given some meaty, adult material to chew on and here she delivers probably my favourite female performance of the year. The girl who caught our attention so spectacularly with Winter’s Bone two years ago has well and truly grown into a young actress with serious staying power. The film also contains the best Robert De Niro performance in YEARS. Seeing him bring the fire like he does here is a refreshing reminder of why the man is considered such a legend. More of this please Bobby! It’s also nice to see Chris Tucker act against someone other than Jackie Chan and I really hope this is a sign that he’s finally jumped back into acting with both feet.
Silver Linings Playbook is David O. Russell’s best movie since Three Kings. He’s put his new found street cred earned from The Fighter to brilliant use by making a movie that feels deeply personal without sacrificing entertainment value. It has a real “Old Hollywood” feel in it’s sensibilities but shot with a harsh dose of grit and bite. It’s one of the most satisfying films I’ve seen all year and one which will undoubtedly be a big presence in the acting categories come Awards season.
#123 Amour (2012) Dir. Michael Haneke
Michael Haneke is undoubtedly one of world cinemas untouchable talents. I’ve seen all of his movies and they’ve all astonished me in one way or another with 2009’s The White Ribbon
being an especially potent and bitter culmination of themes and ideas that have dominated his work for the best part of two decades. Like that film Amour
arrives boasting a Palme d’Or win and countless gushing reviews so I took a deep breath and went in expecting to be floored yet again but this isn’t what happened.
My main problem with Amour lies more with my expectations of Haneke as a provocateur rather than with the film itself. I was expecting a harrowing depiction of old-age. I wanted to have my guts kicked in because nobody kicks my guts like Haneke. The film is actually a rather touching and warm portrait of true love. It’s bleak in places don’t get me wrong but for me the whole thing is just too…nice. It’s also very slow. Not that Haneke is ever one to move at lightspeed but his long lingering takes and empty frames are often tinged with some kind of threat or hidden meaning which make them so beautifully captivating and unsettling. Amour tested my patience with just how slowly it crawled along. The craft behind the film, as usual, can’t be knocked. Haneke’s compositions and simplicity is still striking and his knack for painful realism is utilized for full effect. I wanted more from his pallete though. I think the film’s limited location and the repetitive nature of the plot grinded me over the 2 hour running time.
Amour is a film I admire rather than enjoy. As a die-hard fan of Haneke’s I can appreciate that he’s operating at a warmer temperature than usual and allowing for more tenderness in his work but it’s not something I’m comfortable with. I like Haneke best when he’s mean and cold like a knife not soft and caring. The two lead performances are fearless and heartbreaking and easily two of the best we’re likely to see all year but the film as a whole left me underwhelmed. I’m keen to see it again down the line as I think I’ll warm to it now I know what to expect but as it stands it’s probably my least favourite Haneke movie to date. His other films have left me scarred and devastated, Amour left me tired and dare I say it…bored.
#122 The Master (2012) Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson
After such a long a wait, years of will it/won’t it get made rumours and overwhelming anticipation I almost had to pinch myself the minute I sat down and the words “The Master” faded up on the big screen. But then…the film begins and we see Joaquin Phoenix’s piercing, broken eyes and immediately the once “Untitled Paul Thomas Anderson Movie” is well and truly the story of Freddie Quell.
The Master is a very difficult film to try and review. It wasn’t what I was expecting at all and that’s a good thing. It’s a film that floats along, dreamlike and loose in form but still feels controlled, unpredictable and organic. If There Will Be Blood saw Anderson stray from the flashy Scorsese and Altman stylings of his earlier work into the more cerebral and painterly realm that filmmakers like Kubrick or Malick often populate then this sees him dive even deeper into that world. Anderson has nothing to prove and its clear now more than ever he is simply making the movies that interest him.
The Master didn’t hit me with the bang I was expecting, instead it eased me into the psyche of one of the most fascinating screen characters I’ve ever come across. Like Quell, the film he inhabits feels lost and aimless, searching for focus and a purpose. At points in the film I became frustrated at it’s wandering nature and it’s refusal to have a destination for it to reach but then I realised that this was completely the point. It’s different to anything Anderson has ever done but is still smeared with his fingerprints. The punk-rock attitude that made Boogie Nights may have matured and mellowed out but he is still a filmmaker capable of creating unbelivably provocative work. If he wants to have a scene suddenly switch to a more surreal mode and have all the women on screen appear topless for no apparent reason then fuck it, he does!
There’s soo much to chew on with this film and it’s taken a few hours for me to realise how much I really like it and even then I know I still have a lot if mulling over to do. I need to see it again. There are things I’m certain of though, Phoenix’s performance is the most electrifying thing I’ve seen all year. It’s powerhouse stuff, animalistic and dangerous. You can’t take your eyes off him. Hoffman too is really fucking good. Phoenix may get all the attention but Lancaster Dodd is the trickier role coloured with deeper shades and hidden shadows. When he raises his voice your blood freezes. He commands a room as soon as he enters it. People should be talking more about Amy Adams as well. I think a lot of the answers to the film’s mysteries lie with her character and the more times people return to The Master, the more brilliant her performance will become.
The Master is a real fucking film that takes over your brain. It’s shot beautifully and is expressionistic in every sense of the word. Jonny Greenwood’s score is the best of the year and the film is definitely a serious contender for best of 2012. It didn’t blow me away but it’s not that kind film and I don’t think it was made to be. It was made to be thought about, get lost inside of and to provoke discussion and encourage debate and it succeeds in every way. Paul Thomas Anderson has impressed and inspired me yet again. It’s been five years but the master truly has returned.
#121 Excision (2012) Dir. Richard Bates Jr.
I’ve heard so much about this movie over the past few weeks. It really just kind of came out of nowhere but it’s a brilliant and subversive slice of feminine horror. The daring lead performance by McCord is fantastic and I was surprised at how committed to itself the film was from the beginning right through to the end. It doesn’t pussy out on it’s intentions. It reminded me a lot of Carrie as well as May and Ginger Snaps. I also really dug the slew of sly cameos from people like John Waters, Malcolm McDowell and Ray Wise. Excision wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve but it’s still a striking debut feature from Bates which promises great things. A grotesque view of adolescence.
#120 Killer Joe (2012) Dir. WIlliam Friedkin
This is the kind of movie we need to see more of. A pitch-black slice of sleaze-noir from William Friedkin. This is his second collaboration with playwright Tracy Letts following the massively underrated nightmare that is Bug. While not as claustrophobic as that movie it’s equally shocking and funny in all the same forbidden places. The cast are all dirtied up and used to full effect by each playing against type and leaving their vanity at the door. Killer Joe aint afraid to go too far and when it does, you might find it hard to digest at first but you’ll be grateful for it in the end. Friedkin has knocked it out of the park yet again with a film that has more guts and urgency to it than those made by most filmmakers half his age. Fantastic!
#119 The Hunter (2012) Dir. Daniel Nettheim
I’d happily watch Willem Dafoe read the phone book so the idea of him playing a badass hunter tracking down a tasmanian tiger was always going to be an easy sell on me. This is a movie shot with striking simplicity and it’s quite beautiful to look at in places. It’s a film filled with quiet moments but they’re just as thrilling as the action in their own way. Dafoe’s Hunter is yet another of cinema’s existential loners of few words who ends up finding new meaning to life in a family that isn’t his own. There’s nothing groundbreaking about The Hunter but it’s performed with grace and directed by an expert hand which both ensure it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. It’s also quite moving in places. A movie that will no doubt be forgotten over the years but for those who stumble upon it in years to come will find it to be a little gem.
#118 Skyfall (2012) Dir. Sam Mendes
Skyfall has been one of the 2012 movies I’ve been most excited about for a few reasons. Firstly, I fucking love James Bond. Bond was my first big movie obsession so every time there’s a new Bond film on the horizon I kind of become 12 years old again. Secondly I’m a huge fan of Daniel Craig’s James Bond. He’s my favourite incarnation of the character and Casino Royale is my favourite Bond movie of all time. Now we all know Quantum of Solace was a step downwards (though repeat viewings are very kind to it) so it’s been a very long and painful wait before we got to see the producers deliver on the promise of the first Craig outing. Judging by the approach in their choice of cast and director it seemed like they fully intended this one to be something special and in the end that’s exactly what it is. Well kind of.
Firstly this is the sequel Casino Royale deserves and it’s the Bond movie the fans have been pining for. Craig completely owns the part now and with a script he can actually get his teeth stuck into he really goes for broke and turns in perhaps the best singular James Bond performance in the series’ history. It’s both refreshing and jarring to have a Bond film that puts Bond and M’s relationship front and centre. This really feels like the first time we’ve got to know the faces that pull the strings behind the curtains of MI6 and also see the cracks in their personalities. However, Skyfall’s real trump card comes in the shape of Javier Bardem’s villain Silva. He’s a grotesque and flamboyant creation and the first Bond villain in decades who feels like a true threat. It’s great to see a Bond villain who actually gets his hands dirty too. The way it usually goes in Bond is you have a clever villain but a more interesting henchman who poses the actual physical threat to our hero but Silva has it all. He’s driven, gleefully psychotic and wonderfully brought to life. He’s up there with the best of the series and a fantastic shadow version of Bond himself.
Mendes’ direction aided by Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography is another highlight. Hiring those two was a true masterstroke and probably the main reason why this feels like the first auteur’s Bond film but not distractingly so. Mendes is more than capable at staying invisible to let this simply just be a James Bond movie when it needs to be but the gorgeous lighting and his trademark use of striking colours bleeds through just enough.
Now the issues I had with the film aren’t necessarily issues at all just developments of the series I wasn’t sure about. The whole point of Casino Royale and to a lesser extent Quantum of Solace was to really turn the Bond franchise on it’s head. They stripped all the silliness away: the dumb gadgets, the cheese, Moneypenny, Q, the idea that Bond is invincible to create a lean mean action machine that was armed with visceral thrills and an intelligent plot. Now the whole point of Skyfall, on the hand, seems to be to take that Bond and slowly turn him back into the Bond of old. Don’t get me wrong, I love the new takes on Q and Moneypenny. It totally works but how long will it be before those characters end up showing up just for the sake of it again? As long they have stuff to do I’m fine with it. There’s also a bit more of Bond-as-superhero in this movie which I felt clashed with Craig’s interpretation. I didn’t expect them to revert to vintage Bond tropes so soon, instead I’d hoped they would go on to create new and fresh ones but as Skyfall reaches it’s climax you can’t help but feel a bit uneasy that we’re right back where we were at the end of Die Another Day. Though speaking of that film, Skyfall doesn’t fall into the same eye-winking franchise nods that were so distracting for the 40th anniversary. Mendes’ film has lots of sly references to the series’ past but they’re much more subtle and work thematically.
All in all Skyfall lived up to my expectations even if it did take an odd step backwards in terms of the evolution of the franchise here and there. But as a stand alone Bond movie this one has it all, including a brilliant Scotland-bound finale that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen James Bond tackle before. It’s not quite up there with Casino Royale but it definitely gets my vote as one of the most satisfying films of the series and of the year.
#117 A Fantastic Fear of Everything (2012) Dir. Crispian Mills & Chris Hopewell
I remember Simon Pegg tweeting about this just as he got the part saying it was one of the best scripts he’d ever read. While the finished film surely is packed to the teeth with tons of great ideas, bizarre concepts and shockingly bold genre-mash-ups it somehow just feels a bit flat. Pegg is great in what is an almost entirely solo performance for at least half the film. I like the ambition of it and it’s quirky and unpredictable story and characters but it just kind of came and went. Liked it, didn’t love it and can’t see myself revisiting it any time soon. Still, at least it’s different.
#116 Dracula Prince of Darkness (1966) Dir. Terence Fisher
I thought this was great. A far superior sequel to the original Hammer Horror of Dracula. I loved how much time they spent setting up Dracula’s return, he doesn’t show up until over half way through following a really terrific resurrection sequence that is suitably nasty. A lot of the elements I’ve grown to associate with Hammer are also present here. The garish colours of the lighting are especially nice and lead me to believe that Dario Argento was inspired by the Hammer style when he developed his style of Technicolor frenzies. I also dig how Dracula doesn’t say a single line of dialogue. A very satisfying little movie.
#115 Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) Dir. Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman
Man this series doesn’t half know how to pull on my loyalties. First time I saw the first film I thought it was great. Innovative, fresh and genuinely chilling. Second time I saw it I barely batted an eyelid and kind of had nothing but a faint admiration for the way it manipulates you. Then Paranormal Activity 2 came around and I thought it was just a hollow, unevenftul and stupid re-tread of part 1. Just as I was about to jump ship on the franchise completely, Paranormal Activity 3 won me back over with it’s 80s set, slightly meta funhouse thrills. They introduced a slew of new technical and story elements in that film that made the future for the series seem pretty bright. So along comes Paranormal Activity 4 to follow through on that promise and it falls ridiculously flat. One of the most disappointing, un-imaginative and just overall stupid movies I’ve ever seen. There’s so many plot holes, leaps in logic and inconsistencies with the other films that I just gave up. It ends in such a stupid abrupt way too that only confirms that yes, there will be a sequel, but we know just as much about what the fuck is going on as we did at the end of PA3. It completely fails to do what any justified sequel should do…advance the story. So far, the worst film of 2012 I’ve seen.
#114 Bernie (2012) Dir. Richard Linklater
Linklater strikes gold with this wonderfully observed and quirky little murder story. Jack Black seems custom fitted for the title role as it plays to all his strengths and as a result he turns in his finest work since School of Rock (perhaps unsurprisingly also directed by Linklater). McConaughey is doing nothing but great stuff recently and his role as a sleazy DA is also fun to watch. I love how Linklater intersperses interviews with real towns-folk in with the story and the result is a really charming and ghoulishly funny portrait of a tiny little Texas town. A little gem.
#113 Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012) Dir. Dylan Southern & Will Lovelace
LCD Soundsystem are one of my favourite bands ever and I remember staying up until the earliest of hours (UK time) to watch their final show stream on pitchfork tv. It was one of the most bittersweet things I’ve ever seen. This got released in cinemas slap bang in the busiest time of my final year at University so I missed it on the big screen but have finally caught up with it on blu-ray. Not quite a concert film and not quite a documentary, more a mesh of the two, Shut Up and Play the Hits is a great insight into those final days and their aftermath and how it all affects frontman James Murphy. There’s tons of great fly-on-the-wall stuff and shows just how much like a family a band can be. I got quite emotional during parts of this (especially during All My Friends, blimey) so it’s fair to say the whole thing works wonders. Plus the entire 4 hour concert is included in glorious HD and beautiful surround sound mixed by Murphy himself. Beautiful.
#112 Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971) Dir. Dario Argento
This “lost” giallo from Dario Argento isn’t one of his strongest efforts that I’ve seen (it’s easily the weakest of the “Animals” trilogy) but stylistically it still impresses. There’s so many great little technical flourishes including a very primitive version of bullet-time some 25 years before The Matrix! You’ve got to hand it to Argento, he can turn even a shoddy script into something impressive with his visuals. Enjoyable but very thin and unimaginative compared to his more renowned works.
#111 Dark Water (2002) Dir. Hideo Nakata
One of the seminal J-horrors from the director of Ring, Dark Water isn’t quite as good as that movie but it’s got it’s fair share of grisly chills. It’s nicely ambiguous and takes it’s time in scaring you, opting more for the slow-build rather than smashing you in the face every ten minutes. It’s very well crafted but just falls short from greatness here and there. Glad I’ve finally seen it but not one I’ll likely revisit every Halloween.