Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Top 10 Best Movies of 2012

10.  Jack Reacher
Why is it in the list? In an age when the action film is all but dead and action scenes are edited to death, Christopher McQuarrie’s throwback to 70’s style storytelling is a welcome return of form for my favourite genre and allows the story to drive the action and not vice versa.

9.  Killer Joe
Why is it in the list? Watching William Friedkin direct is always a pleasure and I’ll watch anything he chooses to make. Killer Joe is a complementary work to his 2006 film Bug although this time he goes for pitch-black humour over paranoia but with equally disturbing effect (you’ll never look at KFC the same way again). Superbly acted by all involved but special mention goes to Matthew McConaughey for showing what he can really do.

8.  Headhunters (Hodejegerne)
Why is it in the list? This Norwegian film reminded me of a Hitchcock thriller as the protagonist gets caught up in matters beyond his control and like all good thrillers, Headhunters starts out as one thing and then changes direction and never lets up for a minute. The film is both darkly comic and brutally violent, and manages to balance both equally to make it one of the year’s most entertaining films. It’s worth watching for the scene in the ‘outhouse’ alone if you can stand it!

7.  Chronicle
Why is it in the list? I have no time for found footage films and think the genre is killing the brain cells of audiences everywhere. However, Chronicle is an exception because of the ingenuous ways it uses the handheld camera techniques and, crucially, enables the found footage to build the characters’ development whilst cranking the handle of the story at a pace which is genuinely exciting. Chronicle is certainly the surprise hit of the year and one film which truly deserves a sequel of equally quality.

6.  Rust and Bone
Why is it in the list? A beautifully shot and acted film, Rust and Bone is yet another remarkable piece of art from director Jacques Audiard, whose filmography matches any other director working today in terms of quality and diversity; I can only hope that if he makes a Hollywood film, he keeps the same level of quality because he could be a major force. Also, Marion Cotillard should take the Best Actress Oscar without hesitation; she’s far better used here than in any of her American films.

5.  Silver Linings Playbook
Why is it in the list? David O. Russell’s film deserves its place on the year’s best because it simply succeeds with everything it tries to do. It is funny, sad, romantic, and dramatic but balances each with precision. Normally such a film would be unappealing and unrecognisable from the last cute/ditzy/quirky ‘opposite attract’ film; but Silver Linings Playbook works because it gets the 4 major principles of competent film making (Story, Character, Editing, Acting) right where so many films which cover similar ground fail. The performances from all involved are excellent but Bradley Cooper shines through with an acting talent nobody thought he had in him.

4.  The Grey
Why is it in the list? If ever a film was incorrectly marketed then The Grey is that film. From the outset it looks like Liam Neeson verses a load of wolves in a fight to the death, but The Grey couldn’t be further from that; Joe Carnahan gets back to the brilliance he showed in his 2002 debut film Narc and creates a thrilling, relentlessly bleak and unforgiving film of the battle each man must face; what are we, as men, made of? Who are we when death comes? What bonds us together and what makes us any different from each other? Add to this the best sound effects and sound effects editing of the year and a set design you can feel chill your bones, and The Grey becomes something near a modern classic. I really was that impressed on both occasions I watched it this year.

3.  Skyfall
Why is it in the list? Like the inclusion of Jack Reacher in my list, I feel Skyfall stood out in 2012 because so few great big budget, high profile action pictures are made these days. The latest James Bond film is certainly not the best in the series but is undeniably the year’s best blockbuster by a massive margin; the cinematography alone is worth watching Skyfall for and should see Roger Deakins win his first Oscar if there’s any justice at next year’s ceremony. Skyfall simply does everything an action/adventure film should, and delivers so much more and despite being anything near flawless, it is one of the true highlights of the year.

2.  Anna Karenina
The film is a triumph on nearly every level which is a comment I rarely bestow on modern films. The most impressive element of the film is the vision Joe Wright has taken to ensure his film is not just another costume drama and the visuals are truly stunning throughout; it is a film that echoes other art forms like dance, painting, and theatre. When the characters dance, the camera flows between them like another dancer; when two lovers seek solitude in a field, we are watching a moving painting. Moreover, the film takes place on a stage but is not a play. Wright allows his characters to ‘be on stage’ as the story never feels outlandish but very contained (within the confines of the stage), focusing on the characters and story without relying on the stunning visuals alone to carry it through. When the sets slide and fold away as one scene moves to the next, I was taken away into the story like no other film this year and that’s why it makes my number 2 film of the year.

1.  The Master
In terms of the year’s best films, nothing came close to Paul Thomas Anderson’s near-masterpiece The Master.

Released five years after There Will Be Blood, Anderson’s latest is equal to anything he has made in terms of pure cinematic craftsmanship. As both writer and director Anderson does not waste a scene, line, or single shot in telling this story of a wayward man who is brought in by a group of people who follow the word and beliefs of their leader, or ‘master’. For the sheer beauty of the camerawork and production design, The Master is a thing of perfection, the likes of which are so seldom seen at a cinema anymore; the close ups of the actors faces which so often take centre stage are hypnotic as they linger on the screen for an uncomfortable time, encouraging the audience to look deeper into the eyes, the mouth, the expressions which the actors so perfectly portray.

The intensity of the story is brought to life by the acting tour de force of the film’s three main leads and is essential viewing for anyone who loves watching actors becoming a character, not just putting on a costume and shouting lines of dialogue. Joaquin Phoenix, for many years considered by this reviewer to be one of, if not the, best actor of his generation, gives a performance which very few other actors could match with his physical awkwardness, his confused and pain-ridden face, and an explosive violence and aggression which seem so natural to Freddie and never forced or clichéd. In contrast, Philip Seymour Hoffman is every bit the leader and manipulative master of that the film’s title suggests; he is powerful and well spoken but he is also a raged-filled man and the scene where he snaps at a follower who questions his new book is frightening. When these two actors come together for Freddie’s first ‘session’, The Master gives us the year’s most powerful and intense cinematic scene. It is a sheer joy to watch the performances match the craftsmanship of the film making.

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