It’s that time of year again when everyone releases their top films and Thoughts On Film is no different! As always it’s been a year of ups and downs, with plenty of excellent films alongside some absolute stinkers. However, of the near 200 films I saw theatrically (and more on DVD that I may have missed) I’d have to say that this has been a pretty damn great year overall.
Below is my list of my top films of the year. It’s a mix of what I consider the best films and those which are my personal favourites – striking a balance of those two things is always on my mind when making most kinds of movie lists and nowhere is that more the case than a year-end Best Of.
Note: This list pertains to the UK release schedule so films like Django Unchained, Cloud Atlas, Lincoln and Wreck-It-Ralph, which aren’t released until 2013, are not counted.
So without further ado here are my top 20 films of 2012. Enjoy!
20. Killer Joe
William Friedkin’s violent jet black comedy-thriller was often a tough watch, centering on a low-life family who hire the titular detective/hitman to kill the estranged alcoholic mother of the family in order to collect on the insurance. Matthew McConaughey has never been better as the enigmatic, too cool for school Joe – you’re never quite sure moment to moment just what the hell he’s going to do, and it’s hard to take your eyes off him throughout. The film’s extreme violence is handled with expert precision, walking the very fine line of being provocative without going too far, culminating in a final scene that shocks, disturbs and grotesquely entertains in equal measure. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
After the lacklustre Cars 2 Pixar returned to form with Brave, a visually stunning and hugely enjoyable Scotland-set adventure featuring great voice performances from the likes of Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson. It may not live up to the standards of previous triumphs like Toy Story 3 or Up but Brave was nevertheless a delight, with a winning heart at the centre of its adventurous storyline. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
2012 was a very good year for animation and ParaNorman just pips Brave to the top of the pile. An enchanting, heartfelt, funny and lovingly crafted stop-motion from the makers of Coraline, this was a big pleasant surprise as it was sold somewhat as a throwaway kids movie. Indeed there is plenty in there for kids to enjoy – a savvy mix of being spooky enough but not overly scary for those younger viewers – but also lots for adults to get out of it, too. So many animations try and strike that balance these days (often failing) but ParaNorman succeeds with aplomb. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
17. Moonrise Kingdom
Even a lot of Wes Anderson naysayers were won over by this utterly charming tale of young love. Featuring a stellar cast that includes Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton and Tilda Swinton, as well as two fantastic newcomer performances from Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, this was Anderson at his arguably most sincere in a long time. His uniquely meticulous and whimsical style is very much still there – in fact it might just be the most Wes Anderson-esque film yet – but there’s a crucial innocence and heart running consistently throughout. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
16. The Cabin in the Woods
We all know the set-up of The Cabin in the Woods; a bunch of teenagers (ranging from the jock to the geek to the innocent virgin) travel out to a secluded cabin for the weekend where they will inevitably be attacked by some sort of killers. Been there, done that. However, this Joss Whedon co-written meta-horror brilliantly plays around with the conventions and expectations of the genre in a way that’s fun rather than patronizing. It’s best to go in knowing as little as possible about this one but then again the surprise is only half the fun. A real treat for horror fans. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
15. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Featuring what might just be the best film score the year, Benh Zeitlin’s debut feature Beasts of the Southern Wild is wholly inspiring and passionate filmmaking, beguiling in its aesthetic as much as it touches with pure emotion. A terrific performance from young newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis (which, if there’s any justice, will be nominated at the Oscars) anchors this story of innocence triumphing in the face of tough circumstances. The fact that this is the director’s first film makes the result all the more impressive. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
14. The Hunt
Mads Mikkelsen rightfully won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his masterful portrayal of a man wrongfully accused of child abuse who then becomes the victim of a modern day witch hunt. Walking a delicate line between boldness and tact, The Hunt is an anger-inducing exploration of innocence, doubt and the dreaded stupidity of the mob mentality. A fittingly ambiguous ending leaves the film wide open for interpretation and adds to the reasons why it’s a real conversation starter. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
13. Killing Them Softly
New Zealand-born director Andrew Dominik followed up his masterpiece The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford with this politically themed tale of low-life gangsters which sees star Brad Pitt on top form as mob enforcer Jackie Cogan. Its dense, talky style won’t be to everyone’s taste but if you’re in tune with the film it’s a richly rewarding experience. It may wear its politics firmly on its sleeve but does so with engrossing dialogue, compelling performances and stylish visual flourishes. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
12. Café de Flore
This one seemed to split people, especially when it made its way to UK screens, with some finding it tasteless and even offensive. However, I was captivated and supremely moved by this cross-era love story – one between a mother and son in the 1960s and one between a man and woman in the present day. The way it links those two timelines is completely fascinating, punctuating its unpredictable plot with amazing performances and astonishing use of music (any film that uses Sigur Ros in such a way gets my vote). It also culminates in one of the boldest endings I’ve seen in a long time.
After the disappointing Quantum of Solace, Bond was back with a bang in Skyfall, Sam Mendes at the helm to deliver arguably the most stylishly effective 007 film yet. Expanding the role of Dame Judi Dench’s M and adding the likes of Ben Wishaw as the new Q, Naomie Harris and a fascinating villain in Javier Bardem’s Silva, Skyfall mixed the old and the new in the best way possible. And Roger Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography resulted in what might be the most beautiful blockbuster in years. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
10. Holy Motors
It’s hard to even sum up my thoughts on Leos Carax’s madcap film, his first in more than a decade, except to say that it’s undoubtedly the strangest film of the year. It is made up of a series of segments in which one man (played by the incomparable Denis Lavant) almost literally becomes – via make-up and prosthetics – a variety of different characters, ranging from the crazed homeless man seen in the above image who kidnaps Eva Mendes (seriously) to a caring father picking his daughter up from a party. At once bizarre, ludicrous, fascinating and strangely compelling, few other films this year packed so many opposing things into its narrative and made them work so exquisitely. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
No other blockbuster film this year seemed to disappoint as many people as Ridley Scott’s sort-of Alien prequel Prometheus. Many found it nonsensical, ridiculous and generally an insult to the good Alien name. However, I am one of those people who found it a terrific watch filled with pleasingly moody atmosphere, great performances (particularly from Michael Fassbender as the life-like android David) and stunning production design, amongst many other things. It may have asked more questions than it answered – akin to screenwriter Damon Lindelof’s work on the TV show Lost – but those questions were big and interesting enough that I found it satisfying on its own merits, for what it was rather than constantly comparing it to Scott’s first foray into the Alien universe. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
8. The Avengers
Marvel pulled off what a few years ago seemed like an impossible task – they brought together a bunch of the comic book world’s biggest, most outlandish superheroes and made a film that was not only fun and light-hearted without being overly silly but one that was just damn good entertainment for pretty much all of its runtime; no small feat when you consider it goes on for almost two and a half hours. God of the Geeks Joss Whedon balanced the action and humour to amazing effect, employing the likes of Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and particularly the Hulk in the best way possible – by giving each of them a good amount of runtime and letting them do their own thing (Hulk smash, anyone?) while still making it feel like a team game. It’s hard to imagine Whedon will top this with the inevitable, but still very welcome, sequel. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
Scandinavian crime tales are all the rage these days and Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters continues to prove the excellence. A stylishly told story, based on the book by popular author Jo Nesbo, about a company headhunter by day-fine art thief by night who one day steals from a very different sort of headhunter was amongst the most unpredictable and thrilling films of the year. The plot is filled with all manner of twists and turns and has several sequences that will have your heart racing and your breath held. A cracking cat-and-mouse thriller indeed. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
6. Berberian Sound Studio
Berberian Sound Studio is one of those films that survives on the strength of how it captures atmosphere. Eerie, powerful and transfixing all at once, it’s a film which celebrates the very nature of sound and how it relates to image, how we as cinema goers experience film as a medium. A love letter to a bygone era of analogue technology, it is fronted by an absolutely fantastic performance by Brit actor Toby Jones, and a brilliantly strange and ambiguous denouement which allows it to linger long in the mind. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
Critics’ favourite Michael Haneke won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival a few years ago for his austere black-and-white drama The White Ribbon. He won the top prize again this year, this time for Amour, perhaps his most sentimental film to date, though not the kind of sentiment we’re used to seeing. This devastating drama about an elderly man who has to look after his wife after she suffers a stroke contains arguably the two finest acting performances of the year from Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva (both of whom have won awards for the film). Some found it simply wallowed in misery for two hours but I found it to be an achingly truthful, supremely powerful drama.
Having already made a good name for himself with high school noir film Brick and quirky con caper The Brothers Bloom, Rian Johnson finally burst into the big time with this genius mix of heady sci-fi ideas and thrilling action. Utilizing time travel in a fascinating, and more importantly entertaining, way that never got too complex or boring, the film was infused with influences ranging from The Matrix and The Terminator to Twelve Monkeys and Inception (to name but a few) while still being a unique beast in its own right. Hollywood needs more intelligent blockbusters like this. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
3. The Imposter
Touted as one of the year’s finest documentaries and rightly so, Bart Layton’s debut feature is a compelling and utterly fascinating exploration of a story that’s just so unbelievable it had to be real. Brilliantly exploring the very idea of what’s truth and what’s fiction, via stylish storytelling and semi-reenactments, it takes a fascinating story and makes it into a truly cinematic experience. Like The Cabin in the Woods found earlier in this list, it’s best to go into this one knowing as little as possible about the story at hand. It really has to be seen to be believed. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
2. The Dark Knight Rises
Having already brought the Batman franchise back to life with Batman Begins and then managed to improve on that with The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan did what everyone was worried he may not be able to do: finish off his trilogy on a high note. But as far as I’m concerned he did just that with The Dark Knight Rises, a monumental blockbuster that was as engrossing and entertaining as I could have ever hoped for. Though The Dark Knight’s Joker is hard to beat, the masked tank that was Bane was an enthralling villain in his own right, with Tom Hardy on brilliant form as he delivers his speeches with conviction (while using his eyes to say a lot more), and providing Batman with the first villain that can really go toe-to-toe with him in a fist fight. The last 20 minutes of TDKR had me literally gripping the arms of my seats and the ending was damn near perfect. For me this is the best of the trilogy. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
1. The Raid
It was very close between this and The Dark Knight Rises as to what would be my top film of the year but The Raid won out in the end. The film’s set-up is beautifully simple; we follow an elite SWAT team who head into a tower block which has been ruled by a ruthless gang leader for the last decade, having to battle their way up through a legion of baddies located on every level to get to him. The Raid delivered the purest kind of action film, barely stopping for breath throughout, visceral and uncompromising with its gleefully brutal violence made somehow beautiful because of the expert, seamless choreography. No other film this year entertained me as much as The Raid did. I can only name it my film favourite of the year. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE
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So those are my top 20 films of 2012. But what about you? Leave your own best of 2012 list, as well as your thoughts on mine, in the comments below. Remember – play nice!