Well its a little bit late, but better late than never- my list of the best films I’ve seen during 2012. Some of them are strictly 2011 films but that’s Australia.
In the cinemas I saw 51 different films. 13 of them twice, 5 of them 3 times and 1 film – The Raid – I saw 5 times. I hope you enjoy this list and perhaps see some films you weren’t familiar with.
So here is my top 11 in rough order
1. The Raid Redemption
A police operation gone wrong in a notorious Jakarta apartment block run by a criminal gang, leads to a running battle between the special forces outfit sent in to reclaim the territory and a vicious drug gang who defend their block to the death.
The Raid is the most fluid, poetic and stunning action film I have ever seen. Or to put it another way – it is a taut, elegant, high velocity film with the impact of a hammer. The entire audience cheered and clapped one of the scenes. You don’t see that very often.
2. The Artist
A silent era movie star with a failing marriage tries to ignore the impending dominance of the new ‘talkies’. Meanwhile the young woman he helped catapult to fame eclipses his stardom. Losing everything he falls into desperation and depression.
The most I can ask of any film is to make me forget where I am. “The Artist” held me spellbound for 100 minutes. On the face of it a film like “The Artist” should not have existed as a feature in 2011/12. It not only existed but won a staggering number of awards. The director stated that “The Artist was made as a love letter to cinema…”. In this case the love has not gone unrequited.
A dramatic recreation of the story of six American Embassy staff who escaped the mob of students and revolutionary guards who stormed the American Embassy in Iran in 1979.
To plan a rescue for the six Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) is brought into the situation by his C.I.A. supervisor Jack O’Donnell (Bryan Cranston) to brainstorm solutions with the State Department. Mendez stumbles upon an idea so crazy it might just work. This involves setting up a fake film (Argo), a Science-fiction fantasy and have the embassy staff pose as Canadian film makers scouting exotic locations. To make this work there must be a script, a producer, Variety articles, auditions, readings, industry functions you name it – the film must be real in every respect, apart from being real.
Argo was in turn tense, fascinating and moving with the odd comic moment timed perfectly to allow you to catch your breath. I was spellbound. The script and pace was tight – nothing out of place – pitch perfect. The acting – as expected from this cast – was outstanding. A deeply satisfying film – this is a story of our world and our time and is still being played out today. See this film.
4. Killing them Softly
Set during the 2008 Presidential Election and the first GFC. Killing Them Softly starts with a couple of brazen and incompetent thieves who hold up a mob-protected poker game. A hit-man (Brad Pitt) is contracted to deal with the thieves and restore confidence in the underworld. Faced with having to kill an increasing number of targets the hit-man recruits a friend (James Gandolfini) to spread the work load.
Blackly comic, a dark mood and subject matched through background images and sound to the Presidential election and economic chaos made a powerful statement. The dialogue was exquisite. The cast is unusually strong. Brad Pitt – stone cold, Gandolfini – dangerously erratic, Ray Liotta – well he’s Ray Liotta and Ben Mendelson was at once gloriously Australian and completely deranged. Packs a punch. Makes you think. While you laugh.
5. The Master
A volatile alcoholic (Joaquin Phoenix) stumbles into the path of a charismatic cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman). The two develop an unusual bond to the dismay of all around as their collective behaviour becomes more unhinged. Set in the 50s and based fairly closely on Scientology and L.Ron Hubbard.
The Master is absorbing but could easily have been boring and pretentious if not for the nuanced script and the powerhouse performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix. Hoffman is so effortlessly commanding, engaging, thoughtful and inquisitive whilst advocating with utter conviction some of the weirdest and nonsensical ‘truths’. Phoenix is tightly coiled, like a weapon about to go off. The whole time. He is at once infantile and old beyond his years.
6. The Avengers
Known collectively as “The Avengers” Thor, The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, The Hawk and The Black Widow form a band of superheros bought together to protect the earth in dire emergencies. Like when Aliens steal a glowing blue cube of infinite power and begin a hostile takeover. Plot-wise – that is all you need to know.
Everything works together to keep you inside the world director Joss Whedon has created. The pace, the dialogue, the acting, the effects. The reaction of each Avenger to their counterparts is kind of realistic and meshes with their persona in their previous movies. So nothing feels forced. They behave like they belong together. I loved the Shakespearean dialog between Thor and Loki, or between Thor and everyone else. Nectar for the ears and food for the soul. However, the standout performance is Tom Hiddleston as the main villain. Dark, brooding, borderline psychotic and extremely unstable. Each hero needs a counterweight and Hiddleston’s performance has to be strong enough to balance six heros. And it does.
In the future law and order gets a time and motion makeover. So many crimes. So little time. Release the Judges. Part Cop. Part Judge. Part Jury. All Executioner. Multi-skilling Mayhem. The most incorruptible and feared Judge, Dredd has to babysit a rookie Judge with special abilities. As part of the rookie’s training they decide to respond to a triple homicide in one of the worst parts of mega-city one to Enforce The Law. They face off against a gang controlling a 200 story tower and supplying the city with the latest drug Slo-Mo – a narcotic that slows the brains perception of time to 1% of its normal speed.
I was completely immersed thanks to the effective layering of the new world with the place and role of the Judges. The Slo-Mo scenes were a beautiful triumph. Brilliantly interspersed with the rest of the film and they were absolutely breathtaking. It would have been easy for the film-makers to overdo this effect. They showed exceptional and skilful restraint, using the effect where it most mattered. The look and feel of the film was gritty and in keeping with the narrative. The dialog was well done, sardonic and understated. A few lines at the end were brilliant. The industrial music was powerful and tightly coupled to visuals, story and scene.
Its the future. 2044. As dystopian as you would expect. Time travel has been invented but banned. The mob in 2074 takes advantage of the technology to send people they need to disappear back in time 30 years at an appointed place to be executed by a ‘Looper‘. Its clean, efficient and can’t be traced. The Loopers whilst handsomely rewarded have a limited and set life span. They know that they will be executed by their younger selves in 30 years. The first rule of Looper Club is to never let your loop run – fail to execute. When Looper Joe lets his older self slip away all hell breaks loose, including a young boy who may just have the power to change the future.
Gordon Joseph Levitt gives a fascinating and compelling portrayal of the bittersweet Joe. On the other side of the fence so to speak is Bruce Willis 30 years older, full of love, hope, cynicism and hate – if that makes sense. Looper is a brilliant concept, brilliantly realised through great performances, tight dialogue and rich cinematography. The performance of the young boy (Pierce Perabo) is absolutely stunning – probably the best performance from a young actor I’ve ever seen. Emily Blunt is strong as his protective, yet fearful mother.
9. Madagascar 3
This is the 3rd installment in the Madagascar series and critically and commercially the best. The 3rd film finds our four heroes Alex the Lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the Hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the Giraffe (David Schwimmer) still stranded in Africa. Despite outward appearances these guys are first world cats first and foremost. Following the penguins and monkeys to Monte Carlo the four manage to trash a casino and throw their lot in with a bunch of circus animals to have a shot at making it back to the Big Apple. However Inspector Chantelle Dubois and her crack team of the Monte Carlo animal control are on their heels.
And this Inspector does not take non for an answer. No siree.
Madagascar 3 hurtles at a frenetic pace unfolding a rich tapestry of visual and verbal delights supported by engaging characterisations. It is impossible not to love it.
Unless you are dead or not very French.
Roger Brown (Aksel Hennie) is a successful, polished and poised recruitment executive. A corporate head hunter. The best in the business. A short man. He lives in a model house with his beautiful, statuesque wife (Synnove Macody Lund) and drives expensive cars. All is not as it seems and Roger is leading a desperate and dangerous double-life to keep his own head above water as an art thief. The stakes are raised when his wife gets a tall, handsome new client with a lethal and unsettling past at her art gallery. Deeply insecure, Roger decides he can get himself off the treadmill if he makes one last big score.
Headhunters is riveting from start to finish. The performances are compelling and the plot contains multiple twists and strands to keep you guessing. There is much heart and depth to the characters. What a dark film. What a great film.
I love movie tag lines. And Prometheus has one of the very best.
“They went looking for our beginning – What they found could be our end”.
Curiosity killed the cat writ large. How can you not like that.
Prometheus as the prequel to the Alien quadrilogy plunges us head (and vital organs) first into the biggest questions of all time – who are we, how did we get here, who created us and why? The triumph of Prometheus is that it doesn’t answer these questions – it pulls back the curtain just enough to allow you to come up with your own ideas – all of which will be unpleasant. We join a couple of scientists – Dr Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) who are putting together some amazing archeological finds. Hitherto unconnected cave paintings and other artefacts – separated by thousands of years, races and continents all point to the same thing – giant humans showing us where they (we?) are from. A deep space expeditionary craft (USS Prometheus) with 17 souls on board is sent to the location shown in the cave paintings. Moon LV-223. The mission is revealed. Find who made us.
In Noomi Rapace a new Ellen Ripley and Star is born. A powerhouse performance that builds and builds and builds. Michael Fassbender gives a compelling, chilling and precise performance as David the artificial human on-board. I couldn’t take my eyes off Charlize Theron’s eyes. She commanded every space and every scene. The sensational visuals and mood coupled with the sheer size and ambition of the questions asked, with answers partially revealed, partially hidden, makes this a film to think about long after its more immediate cinematic effects have worn off.
Here is a couple of other 2012 lists well worth reading – enjoy 🙂