1 January 2013

The Mad Prophet's Best and Worst of 2012

Happy New Year from Liam Neeson, who charts in both my best and worst lists for 2012...
2012 was a pretty good year in cinema. After a slightly slow start, the second half of the year was consistently amazing. Maybe it's just that I was smart enough to swerve the likes of This Means War, That's My Boy and Here Comes The Boom, but even my worst-of list is a little more sparse this time around, (although my pick for the very worst film is truly one of the worst of all time) and it was tough to narrow my best-of list down to just ten films.

Given the smaller worst-of list, I thought it would make sense to do both reviews of the year in one post for a change. All inclusions are based on UK release dates, so while The Artist would be eligible, Robot And Frank would not. Not that I've seen Robot And Frank yet- really looking forward to it though. Secondly, all opinions are my own, and although more of the "best films of the year" made it into this top ten than ever before, it's still more like a list of favourites than a qualitative assessment. If you wanna snark, snark when you've watched 120 of last year's films.

After the jump, we'll dig right in with my choices for worst of 2012.


As mentioned, I swerved a lot of the ones where the trailer alone made me go "I don't need that pain in my life", so here's my bottom five for 2012...

5. Red Lights

This year, I've specially reserved this spot for the most disappointing movie I saw all year- those who cried about the likes of Prometheus or The Dark Knight Rises obviously didn't love Buried as much as I did. How did Rodrigo Cortés go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the course of just two movies? Everyone involved should know better than this over-long, terribly written, shoddily edited, sub-Shyamalan psychological thriller would suggest.

4. Underworld: Awakening 

When Paul W.S. Anderson brings out his final Resident Evil film in 2014, I'll watch them all together, and enjoy the continuity errors and general lack of imagination in one sitting. Until then, I'd hope that Screen Gems' sister franchise can keep the dulling influence of its dumb big brother at bay, because this fourth Underworld movie sure as hell didn't. Wasn't it way better when the antagonism came from the class divide between vampires and werewolves, rather than (dramatic chords) ... a corporation? Typically, the transition to 3D actually coincides with the series at its most televisual and uninspired- I might skip season five.

3. Project X

You have to make some concessions to craft, when you're talking about awful movies. If this were poorly made, as well as offensive, obnoxious and almost irredeemable, it'd be closer to the very worst of the year. Some impressive found-footage cinematography and action choreography is what salvages it, but let's not forget that it's still offensive, obnoxious and almost irredeemable. Oh, and it's repetitive. Charlie Lyne of Ultra Culture probably did the best service to the good stuff in here, by making a version of the film that didn't have any dialogue in it.

2. Wrath of the Titans

Few could have imagined that a sequel to 2010's Clash of the Titans could suffer from a law of diminishing returns, but director Jonathan Liebesmann kicks out the bottom of the barrel and shuffles further into tedium. Shame on the critics who've included John Carter in their worst-of lists, when the only thing this piece of crap had that was better than Andrew Stanton's film was a kick-ass trailer. The marketing hoodwinked some into going to see yet another angsty, dead-eyed clash of accents and shitty action sequences, in which even the actors who play immortal gods are clamouring to get killed off, just to escape part three.

(And between #2 and #1, I'll place all of the films I mentioned avoiding specifically. And some stuff I found in a bin, over there. All of that is better than...)

1. Keith Lemon: The Film

I'm consistently told that I knew this would be terrible. Firstly, that's not an excuse for how terrible it is, and secondly, I could never, ever have imagined how bad it really is, before I saw it. It's not just self-indulgent, incomprehensible twaddle, but it's appallingly put together too- poor Billy Ocean is the most obvious victim on-screen, with his out-of-synch musical performance, but it's tough to feel for him when he's apparently complicit in this comedy holocaust. The historians of the future will look upon this time capsule of vapid celebrity twattery and tremble- the very name of this "film" is an insult to the medium I love. Once and for all, fuck this movie.

Right, moving on...

BEST OF 2012

Soz, Bruce.
Before we get into the top ten proper, it's only fitting to have a few honourable mentions. Sightseers and Seven Psychopaths were two potential late entries to the top ten, while Looper only missed out by dint of some distracting prosthetics. The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists and Moonrise Kingdom were both delightful and rewatchable too, and The Dark Knight Rises, which was in the top ten up until last week, just got edged out by movies that hang together a little better on repeat viewings. The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Grabbers, The Muppets and Argo all made the top 20, too. But we knew those movies were good anyway- let's get going here...

dir. Pete Travis

People have erroneously accused the makers of Dredd of ripping off The Raid all year long, a comparison that they wouldn't be making if the former had made its original December 2011 release date. Furthermore, the 3D, although dazzling, put a lot of people off seeing this one, which only goes to show that the audience should always be able to choose between 2D and 3D.

Still, with a DVD and Blu-ray release due in January, this is sure to garner more appreciation in the back-end, with its gritty, lived-in interpretation of the character that Sylvester Stallone once desecrated. Karl Urban and Olivia Thirlby make a terrific pairing, Lena Headey is one of the year's scariest villains as the sinister Ma Ma, and Anthony Dod Mantle's awesome cinematography is truly dazzling. It's a solidly old-fashioned action movie that takes violence seriously, and makes for a quite uniquely entertaining comic book movie.

dir. William Friedkin

With an almost academic interest in just how scuzzy and nasty its characters can be, Friedkin adapts a play by Tracy Letts into an utterly unforgettable bit of cinema. Although much has been made of the final act, the film as a whole is totally transfixing, with a conniving family of idiots contracting a killer to knock off their alcoholic matriarch for her life insurance pay-out.

This is the crowning achievement of an awesome year for Matthew McConaughey, who finally has the perfect vehicle for his mannered Southern persona- Joe is a frightening, dangerous character, and it's impossible to take your eyes off him. Friedkin is mature enough as a filmmaker to give us a nasty little surprise, without losing control of the film's mean streak, making for a consummately paced crime drama that leaves you feeling unclean, and yet strangely satisfied.

dir. Steve McQueen

I'm still unsure as to how Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan didn't just win every award going at the beginning of this year, for their performances in this raw and impactful drama about sex-addicted New Yorker Brandon. Both of them have numerous nude scenes in the film, and it would seem that clothes were only holding them back- they're at the peak of their powers here.

There's a palpable anguish in Brandon's predicament, living in a city that never sleeps, where sex permeates every part of the culture, even when he's not looking for it. The masterful suspense that arises from long scenes, captured in long takes, captures the discomfort of the sexual gaze that Brandon both harnesses and endures- even though sex is everywhere, we'd sooner flinch from certain parts of this compelling story. McQueen is having none of it, and his determination to confront us makes this one of the most memorable dramas of the year.

dir. Drew Goddard

SPOILERS will follow, but if you haven't seen this film yet, what on Earth are you doing reading my blog?

Goddard and co-writer Joss Whedon just want to see a merman. In writing a horror movie where they get their wish, they simultaneously send up the modern state of the genre, representing the audience as temperamental voyeurs who will only be appeased by cliché as ritual.

As well as being rich in allegory and very smart indeed, it's also tonnes of fun. It doesn't take the detachment of a Funny Games to successfully critique the genre- instead, it's about a love-hate relationship with those tropes and characters that we're so tired of seeing. Here's a film that hates stereotypes, but loves its characters. This one actually fulfils many expectations of a horror movie, but also surpasses them, by turning them upside down and showing them for what they really are. That it still feels timely and relevant after two years on the shelf at MGM, shows just how much the genre needed this kick up the arse.

dir. Benh Zeitlin

"Once there was a Hushpuppy, and she lived with her daddy in The Bathtub." It's a line that quite perfectly encapsulates the fairytale tone of Zeitlin's film. Though its setting has political parallels, it's not a political film. It's magical, in a grounded sort of way and entirely unique.

Young Quevenzhané Wallis is marvellous and adorable as the little man (nee. girl) on whose shoulders the entire film is borne. Her exuberant performance is the jewel in the crown of a really wonderful and life-affirming film. It's about a waterproof community facing an uncertain future, with moments of sadness that blossom into ecstatic beauty, and in the course of its characters preparing for that future, it's irresistibly optimistic.

dir. Sam Mendes

It's not like I was hyped up about this one in advance now, is it? Still, the thing about this 50th anniversary Bond adventure is that it's even surpassed the massive hype that was building for it anyway. Daniel Craig's third outing as 007 isn't my favourite of his, but Mendes and co carry it off better than almost any other Bond film.

With Roger Deakins' cinematography, and the boon of having Javier Bardem as the second best Bond villain ever, (still gotta love Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love) and the most emotional progression of the great chemistry between Craig and Judi Dench, here's a film that presses forward with more urgency than either of the previous films, and yet it finally finds a comfortable place for nostalgia. The balance that is maintained, in order to travel an equal distance in each direction, is thrilling to behold.

dir. Jacques Audiard

Katy Perry's "Firework" featured in a number of movies this year, ranging from the singer's concert movie/biopic, to its use in Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted. It's most memorably used as a motif in the eclectic soundtrack for Audiard's bittersweet love story, which is just full of little surprises.

Though it teeters on the edge of melodrama, it holds back, just as it does in all things. You've never seen anyone subdue themselves in such a big, powerful way as Marion Cotillard does, and her unlikely chemistry with Gosling lookalike Matthias Schoenaerts makes for hypnotic viewing, and there's an empathy with Stephanie and Ali that was sorely lacking in Audiard's A Prophet. The overall effect is both haunting and extremely moving.

dir. Joss Whedon

2012 was Whedon's year. Aside from the eventual release of The Cabin in the Woods, (see above) someone in Hollywood finally decided they liked him enough to give him a huge movie. And so, something that could easily have gone wrong, in so many different ways, or else turned into a bland brand-building exercise, was moulded into the most purely enjoyable film of the year.

The sudden snobbery about including this in top ten lists is quite startling. This is a film that will continue to impact comic book movies in the coming years, bringing them out of their Dark Knight phase and into the light, proving that the stakes can go just as high while you're having fun. Whedon never loses the internal sense of each character's position or motivation, and even coaxes more out of Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark, at a point where we all thought he'd nailed the part completely. It's only a shame that the summer blockbuster season peaked so high, so early.

dir. Joe Carnahan

For such a long time, this was my number one pick of the year- far from merely pitching "Liam Neeson, Wolf Puncher" to an audience who have lapped up Neeson's recent resurgence in the action genre, Carnahan enables the actor to give his best work in a long time. It's basically an essay on death, and how unpunchable and inevitable it appears to a cast of characters.

This is a film that opens with a terrifying plane crash, plunging a bunch of arseholes into a situation that's impossible to survive... and then some fucking wolves show up. It's the anti-Beasts of the Southern Wild really, insofar as it's impossible to look away from its shocking pessimism. The unexpectedly philosophical and intellectual tone only make the horror and violence more disturbing- an instant classic of its genre that more than makes up for the rest of the rubbish Neeson starred in this year.

dir. Leos Carax

What swung it for this film, over The Grey, is that I have never, ever seen a film like this before. Structurally, it's basically a series of skits, all centred around the unusual conceit that plays out from the backseat of a limousine. Viewed as an entire work of art, however, it's Carax's stunning and surprisingly accessible rumination on cinema itself, and the actor's craft.

It's still really tough to talk about the plot and do justice to its power- it's entirely about the experience of watching it, so here are a few other things to recommend it. If you were to chart the top ten performances of the year, you'd have to count Denis Lavant about nine times for his astonishing work here. The structure allows it to be emotional, repulsive, funny, sad and dramatic all at once, but it's always immaculate. Also, a psychotic troll called Mr. Shit captures Eva Mendes and smears blood on her armpits with his tongue- if you can tell me another film that had that, I'll reconsider naming this my favourite of the year. 

So that's your lot
. Thanks for reading another year's worth of my filmic ramblings, and here's hoping we're still doing it this time in 2014. The year ahead holds a lot of anticipated films, and surely, many more surprises.

As ever, I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Ro said...

Great list Mark. Really like the numerous action entries in here. The Grey was far better than I expected it to be. You've also given me a few films to source on dvd like Holy Motors and Rust and Bone.
Keep up the good work.