2012 was a year of anticipation: in twelve brief months, we expected the arrival of some of the biggest films cinema has ever known. Avengers Assemble, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. As the months progressed, it was clear that documentaries were having a strong year with The Imposter, Marley and West of Memphis. In and around these you had glittering, smaller indie gems such as Ruby Sparks, Safety Not Guaranteed and Moonrise Kingdom. It was a vintage year – disappointments aside, there were some incredible additions to the cinema world. Read on for the FilmOnTrial Top 50 Films of 2012.
A Norwegian thriller of high calibre, Headhunters starts off slightly uneventful and safe, but soon crosses into Tarantino-esque batshit plot twists and bloody action. Highly entertaining.
‘Believe me, Roger. You’ve never seen anything like this in a film.’
While sticking to convention for the most part, David O Russell’s sweet and mainly corn-free romcom is as funny as it is at times acerbic. Mental illness is hilarious, it turns out.
‘You know, for a while, I thought you were the best thing that ever happened to me. But now I’m starting to think you’re the worst.’
‘Of course you do. Come on, let’s go dance.’
Directorial debuts aren’t usually this focused; Dexter Fletcher brings us a backyard Western, where an estranged dad attempts to forge a relationship with his hard-up (and hard) sons – while he’s not being chased down by old gun-toting acquaintances, that is. A surprise treat.
‘Wild Bill my arse. It’s more like Mild Bill, innit?’
The highest of human questions run parallel with the biggest of human losses, in this ambitious documentary that revolves around the Atacama Desert; resident observatories scan the skies for new stars, while mothers search the dirt for bodies of loved ones who were long ago buried under a dictatorial scheme. One is a perquisition for our beginning; the other, a search for a brand new one. It’s a beautiful statement, and it works.
‘I am convinced that memory has a gravitational force. It is constantly attracting us. Those who have a memory are able to live in the fragile present moment.’
An oddly touching potrait of one of the world’s richest families feeling the economic crisis as hard as the rest of us. You may feel like hating them and their private jets and priceless artworks, but this doc doesn’t lay it on thick; it simply shows a family fighting it out financially. Riches to rags, indeed.
‘We were on top of the world… and then it came to a screeching halt.’
Another smart, well-handled hit from Judd Apatow, this overlong but nonetheless wonderful rom-com about wearing the ring works because of the grace of its leads, and the insight of its script.
‘The first important thing to remember about marriage is that it requires commitment. The second important thing to remember about marriage is that so does insanity.’
Finnish director Kaurismäki crafted a humane, touching portrait of a tough subject; no easy answers are given on the subject of illegal immigration, yet at the same time no real questions are asked – only whether a brave young boy will make it or not.
‘You don’t deserve such a good wife, you’re not worth her.’
‘No one is, so I’ll do.’
Unflinching black comedy, with a mean streak of both blood and humour. Wheatley’s operandi is surprisingly poetic but never chiding, and the on-note performances from Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (who both wrote the screenplay) make for characters we should hate, but root for instead.
‘Show me your world, Chris.’
‘Well, I thought we’d start with Chrich Tram Museum.’
Understated, tender and unique, Like Crazy has its strengths in its realistic and heartbreaking portrayal of a couple doomed not just by their visas, but by their neediness.
‘I thought I understood it, that I could grasp it, but I didn’t, not really.’
Willem Defoe turns in another succint performance as a misanthropic hunter in search of the supposedly extinct Tasmanian tiger. It navigates well-trod routes, but its sense of purpose and intent of meaning – especially with some heart-melting metaphors – means The Hunter hits its target.
‘What you want is gone forever.’
Surprisingly light on the morose and instead focusing on the more euphoric parts of adolescence, The Perks of Being a Wallflower paints a warm picture of three close friends during the initially lonely high school existence of Charlie, magnificently played by Logan Lerman, and supported by a deliciously extrovert Ezra Miller and an Emma Watson proving she can really, really act.
‘We accept the love we think we deserve.’
‘Can we make them know they deserve more?’
‘We can try.’
Despite its flaws, and while not capturing the sense of majesty The Lord of the Rings had, The Hobbit is like its literary counterpart: a fun adventure story. Groundbreaking 48 frames aside, it was still a heck of a lot of fun – and who can deny Ian McKellen’s outstanding performance as Gandalf?
‘I can’t just go running off into the blue! I am a Baggins, of Bag End!’
Cutesy? Definitely not. This well-told tale of a misunderstood boy is a real Halloween treat, full of characters you’ll enjoy being around – especially as the horror is as inventive as its comic timing.
‘I like to be alone.’
‘So do I. Let’s do it together!’
While pandering slightly to the hipster-ish / indie-ish / pretentious(…-ish) crowd, Your Sister’s Sister is a refreshignly realistic take on some pretty darned awkward social situations, which occur when a hapless Mark Duplass goes to stay at his best friend’s father’s house. And it so happens that the best friend’s sister is staying at best friend’s father’s house… you get the picture.
‘You’re on an island, it’s three in the morning, and you’re drinking by yourself. What’s going on?’
Probably the most tense political thriller you’ll see this year (and maybe one of the only), Argo is Ben Affleck’s leap into more complex filmmaking from Gone Baby Gone and The Town. While it lacks directorial flourishes like the latter two and lacks some meat on the bone, this still trumps most of the competition.
‘If I’m going to make a fake movies, it’s going to be a fake hit.’
A Barton Fink for lovers of well-written American indies, this’ll have you laughing, perhaps crying, and most definitely thinking.
‘I am no J.D. Salinger, but I have witnessed a rare miracle. Any writer can attest: in the luckiest, happiest state, the words are not coming from you, but through you. She came to me wholly herself, I was just lucky enough to be there to catch her.’
Mads Mikkelson plays a wrongly-accused child sex abuser, and faces hatred from his entire community. In never once doubting its protagonists’ innocence, it achieves a refreshing take on a tired drama plot.
‘They said that something disgusting happened in the kindergarten.’
DON’T GO IN THE BASEMENT. (In other words, The Innkeepers is one of the best – and scariest – horror films in recent memory.)
‘Do you know the story of Madeline O’Malley?’
Here’s some news: Matt McConaughey can seriously act. In fact, he’s always been able to – just an unfortunate taste for awful rom-coms in the last decade has tarnished his resumé. But Killer Joe helps grab back his deserved spot for best supporting actor working today (oh, and the final scene is finger-lickin’ good).
‘Tuna casserole! May I serve?’
‘How are you gonna kill my mama?’
‘That’s not appropriate dinner conversation, Dottie.’
Hallelujah! The adaptation of Judge Dredd that almost nobody was asking for has arrived. But it’s garnered its own fanfare since release: violence which is actually incredibly beautiful, and thematically relevant to the story, executed by Karl Urban in a ridiuclous helmet, and sounding like he needs a few soothers make this an excellent romp for any action lover.
‘In case you have forgotten, this block operates under the same rules as the rest of the city. Ma-Ma is not the law… I am the law.’
The characters and subjects could have been yet more endlessly aggravating indie ‘observations’ of alienation and young-person syndrome, but it’s actually welling with smart humour and populated with very real-feeling personalities. Ferociously Intelligent, but most importantly, ferociously heartfelt.
‘My advice to you is put some armour around that gooey little heart of yours.’
For all the superhero juggernauts released this year, Chronicle dragged the genre into a darker hole, more human and hubristic. Taking the ‘found footage’ genre and morphing it into something unique, this ode on the consequences on a group of friends who discover super powers is unsettling – but will also have your heart racing.
‘A lion does not feel guilty when it kills a gazelle, right? You do not feel guilty when you squash a fly… and I think that means something. I just think that really means something.’
Wait, we have a genuinely funny comedy? I thought those died long ago with every new Adam Sandler release. Fear not, for 21 Jump Street has two charming performances from Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, the latter displaying a surprisingly good comic turn. You’ll be quoting this one.
‘Fuck you, science!’
‘I’ve only done this once before’. A few years ago, someone posted an ad asking for some willing soul to travel back in time with them. Whether they were joking or not has been the subject of much excited and hilarious debate, and Safety Not Guaranteed creates the fantastic premise of a group of fictional journalists going to check out if this guy is for real. Sweet, funny and dancing recklessly on the line between sci-fi and straight-up indie, it’s definitely one for checking out.
‘WANTED: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 322, Oakview, CA93022. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have done this only once before.’
Jason Segel, who penned The Muppets, managed to inject the entire affair with the same vibrancy and silliness that made its eponymous characters so well loved in popular culture. The gags, cameos and an adoring respect for its own legacy came together to make this not just one of the best films of 2012, but one of the funniest.
‘ Check it out. Fart-Shoes!’
No one expected this to be philosophical, stately, or even remotely moving – and yet, that’s what The Grey thankfully turned out to be, and not just another dumb, situational actioner. An unforgettable plane crash lands Liam Neeson and friends in the middle of a wolf hunt (literally), and it plays out with genuine passion, pathos and bittersweet. And that very final scene? Outstanding.
‘Once more into the fray
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know
Live and die on this day
Live and die on this day.‘
Wes Anderson is a director you should hate. He’s shamelessly pretentious, indie, arthouse, and quirky for the sake of it. And yet the worlds he paints, populated with weird characters and their quick-fire deadpan, are utterly engrossing. Moonrise Kingdom is a tale of real love found in early adolescence, and is a poignant, jocular and visually gorgeous journey – and it comes with an incredible cast, too.
‘What kind of bird are you?’
‘I’m a sparrow, she’s a dove…’
‘No. I said… What kind of bird are you?’
Ker-ching! A superb adaptation of a teen favourite book, this epic and nasty dystopian quest doesn’t pander to its target audience; instead, even in its 12A rating form (it was cut down from a 15), it’s all about the grime, the terror and the touching moments in-between when a plethora of adolescents are pitted against one another in a death match. Jennifer Lawrence has struck it big time.
‘May the odds be ever in your favour.’
If it wasn’t for the acting, the story would play out as rather straight; on the contrary, every one involved gives their performances the kind of nuances that stay with you after viewing. This is Clooney’s best role so far, a broken, arrogant man, but lofted high by ideals deeper than himself.
‘My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation. We’re all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they insane?’
Chilling without really ever showing anything that awful, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a powerhouse of allusion. What happens to you psychologically when you’re part of a cult? What happens when you eventually escape? MMMM never gives any easy answers, and is an astute meditation on self.
‘You know that death is the most beautiful part of life, right? Death is beautiful because we all fear death. And fear is the most amazing emotion of all because it creates complete awareness. It brings you to now, and it makes you truly present. And when you’re truly present, that’s nirvana. That’s pure love. So death is pure love.’
If you want something more comprehensive and personal on the War on Drugs in America, you’re not going to find it. And why would you? This incredible documentary will have you chilled to the bone, and more importantly, angry. I almost texted the number at the top of the screen during the credits. Almost.
‘You must understand that the War on Drugs has never been about drugs.’
A eruditely articulate look at multiple timelines, and the way the film camera has come to shape them. Gael García Bernal stars in what is a dramatically gripping, fantastically paced observation at a film crew’s attempts to capture the subordination of native American Indians, while caught in the midst of a very real uprising in the town they’re shooting in.
I think their demands are reasonable. If someone earns two dollars a day, he can’t pay a 300% increase in the price of water.’
‘That’s what I’m told you pay the extras.’
An epic of documentary filmmaking. The turbulent West Memphis Three case is one that has caught the world’s attention thanks to the supports of people such as Johnny Depp, Peter Jackson and Eddie Vedder. Amy Berg does it again.
‘Nothing ever happens in West Memphis, Arkansaw.’
A harrowing depiction of moral unrest in its eponymous homeland. At points a dialogue-driven crime picture, and at others a pictorial treatise, noting the concerns with ethics inherent in a political system as unforgiving as the darklandscape within which a body-hunt progresses.
‘You can say, once upon a time in Anatolia, when I was working out in the sticks, I remember this one night which began like this.’
A straightforward but absolutely fantastic documentary about the late, great Bob Marley. You’ll never fully understand the real extent of the reggae genius’ influence until you watch this expertly crafted biography. One love, man.
‘My life is only important if me can help plenty people.’
Science fiction is alive and well; Rian Johnson makes sure Looper is a full-blown character piece, with time travel and riotous action as side dressing. It digs those deep questions while keeping you entertained.
‘I don’t want to talk about time travel – because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.’
Samsara is a visual poem, observing instead of preaching, letting the planet we live on to speak for itself in mile-high IMAX windows that open out on wonders – and horrors – that were unknown to us, yet were always there. It’ll make you want to change the world.
The Shining is probably Kubrick’s most misunderstood film. It’s a maze, just like the one Danny Torrance desperately navigates to elude his psychopathic father at its climax; a relentlessly symbolic, hallucinatory trip through the gates of Hell on Earth. This effortlessly detailed doc examines what makes the appeal of SK’s horror classic endure, including all the crackpot theories evident within its meticulously constructed world (American Indian massacre and Apollo 11 fakery conspiracies included). It dispenses with talking heads, and instead focuses on the footage, sometimes literally frame-by-frame, to dissect this masterpiece. Essential viewing, for any film fan.
‘Come play with us, Danny.’
What’s the creepiest, most unsettling thing you can think of? Multiply that by ten, and you might get close to the absolute horror that goes on in Michael’s basement. Observational rather than direct, Michael is an exhaustingly gruelling portrait of one man’s very private life.
Relentlessly surprising and disturbing, this tale of a Frenchman who purported to be a missing child of an American family is the best documentary of the year so far. Will take your breath away more than once.
‘Something was being hidden, and I didn’t know what that was.’
The French really are the best at this, aren’t they? An affectionate tale about the aftermath of a schoolteacher’s suicide, a replacement tutor with questionable methods – Mr. Lazhar -appears from the ether to try and bring some kind of order to the traumatised students. Watch now, and be moved by the simplest, most affecting final frame in recent memory.
‘You’re not from here, so of course certain nuances escape you. But be that as it may, we prefer that you teach our daughter, not try to raise her.’
Some stories are worth telling – none more so than this incredible account of lost musician Rodriguez. The would-be successor to Bob Dylan (toted as being already more talented) reportedly killed himself, leaving behind a stillborn legacy. Unbeknownst to him and his American fans (of which there were roughly four), South Africa had adopted his music as an anti-apartheid statement, adorning him a celebrity on par with The Beatles and Elvis. You need to hear this one.
‘I said, in South Africa, you are more popular than Elvis Presley.’
Joss Whedon outdoes himself with this deliriously enjoyable send-up of / ode to the horror genre. It’s easy to say too much and spoil this movie, but the ingenuity and ‘nod, wink’ ethos of the entire endeavour creates a new meaning to the term ‘meta’. Will make you giddy.
‘Pop Tarts? Did you say you have Pop Tarts?’
This little-known Danish film is a complex character-driven epic about morality and forbidden love in the era of Enlightenment, that never once feels like a stifled period piece. Fan-bluddy-tastic.
‘You could be an amazing king, Christian.’
The Master leads it s audience into a world where, if they’re willing, they can find things out for themselves, and repeat viewings will probably induce a greater understanding – and probably enjoyment – of this erudite and infectious colossus. If Lancaster Dodd’s sessions with his disciples may technically be hypnosis, they still come out in waves of euphoria, equipped with a new way of seeing the world. One viewing of The Master will do the same trick. Will you join him?
‘If you figure out a way to live without a master, any master, be sure to let the rest of us know, for you would be the first in the history of the world.’
Probably the most enjoyable movie of 2012 has been Avengers Assemble. Despite the horrific name change, its deft script perfectly balances the many characters, and takes great care in creating the right feel and scope for compelling banter between the hotshots, and one of the best action sequences of the year. A shrewd marketing ploy it most definitely is, it’s also a real feat of writing, directing and casting – Stan Lee should be proud.
Intensely powerful. Imagine a film that somehow manages to convey the many facets of love, and the ineffable emotions, actions and dreams they perpetuate; that would be Amour. This will stay with you as an important comment on what it is to be human, in the most beautiful sense imaginable. Crushing, uplifting, genius.
‘I remember as a child listening to you two making love. I felt you loved each other and we’d always be together.’
Insane to its very roots. Every frame is constructed with meaning – though you probably won’t get all of it first time round, if at all. Is it about the death of cinema? The way actors fundamentally change themselves for each role? According to loopy director Leo Carax, it’s about the different worlds we come up with on the internet, and the alienation that comes from that (Yeah, bullshit). Quite simply, you have to see this original, bizarre, incredibly meaningful piece of demented art for yourself.
‘What makes you carry on Oscar?’
‘What made me start: The beauty of the act.’
A brilliant slab of smart, complex blockbuster fare, Nolan ups the ‘epic’ and puts his foot down on ‘spectacle’ for his conclusion to his Batman trilogy, taking Bruce Wayne to depths (literally) the character has never been exposed to before. It’ll be a long while before someone else comes along and tops this as the greatest superhero trilogy in existence, or at least finds an ending as satisfying as the one present here.
‘How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.’
Yann Martel’s beloved novel Life of Pi translates brilliantly to the medium of cinema, simply by turning the philosophical angle of the novel from Do you believe what I’ve told you?, to Do you believe what I’ve shown you?
At its crux, that’s what this most unique of event movies is about: storytelling. Pi’s adventure is similar to our own. Like us, he’s a small fish in a very, very big ocean, searching for meaning in a lifeboat fashioned by our own abilities – or limitations. And the tiger? You’ll understand his role in things at the end. Everything that transpires in this phantasmagorical, ineffable, and ultimately inspiring film feeds into allegory, or rather the power of allegory; its unabashed use of metaphor serves as the movie’s impetus, and would be heavy-handed in most director’s hands; Ang Lee implicitly ignores suspension of disbelief and forges the ludicrous, yet heavily semantic. By letting us question what is actually happening on screen, he’s asking us to make the ultimate decision of belief: do bananas float? We’re dealing with highly intelligent, and more importantly emotional symbolism here. Will it make you believe in God, as Pi promises his story will at the beginning? Perhaps not – but that’s not the point. Life of Pi asks you to make your own mind up.
‘So which story do you prefer?’
So, that’s it for 2012. 2013 has some promising titles coming out: The Place Beyond the Pines, Star Trek Into Darkness, Before Midnight – off the top of my head. And were you wondering what made up the entire top 100 of the FilmOnTrial Top Films of 2012? Well, here are the other fifty:
51. Seven Psychopaths
52. John Carter
54. Take This Waltz
56. Beasts of the Southern Wild
57. The Expendables 2
58. Into the Abyss
60. The Angel’s Share
64. Killing Them Softly
66. Rust and Bone
68. Chasing Ice
69. Magic Mike
70. The Raid
71. Anna Karenina
72. A Dangerous Method
73. The Turin Horse
74. A Place at the Table (Finding North)
75. A Simple Life
77. The Campaign
78. Rock of Ages
79. Men in Black III
80. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
81. Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day
83. The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists
84. Ill Manors
85. War Horse
87. God Bless America
88. For Ellen
89. Storage 24
90. Red Lights
91. American Pie: The Reunion
92. Filly Brown
93. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
95. George Harrison: Living in the Material World
96. The Amazing Spider-Man
97. The Sweeney
99. The Woman in Black