My favourite 2012 releases
(based on UK release dates)
10. Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson’s latest was a beautiful, whimsical and childlike, yet intelligent piece of cinematic storytelling. Although it boasts big names such as Bruce Willis (a treat in a rather uncharacteristic role), Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and the ever-underrated Edward Norton, Moonrise Kingdom also showcases the talent of some (hopefully) up-and-coming youngsters.
The story, meandering at first, is thoroughly engaging and attentive cinematography captures the New England setting in such a way as to make you wish you were there. The climax may be unexpected and even overdramatic, but it had me on the edge of my seat for all the right reasons.
For anyone in Oxford, check it out at Magdalen Film Society later this term: http://www.magdalenfilmsociety.com/
9. Like Crazy
Even the trailer to Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy is heartbreaking.
It’s a simple story, but one that’s told thoughtfully, with the power to make you feel as torn as protagonists Anna (Felicity Jones) and Jacob (Anton Yelchin). It’s also one of the best uses of handheld camera work I’ve seen recently. Welcome proof that it’s a valuable technique, despite the efforts of repetitive horror flicks such as Paranormal Activity and its numerous sequels.
Like Crazy is the first of three films on this list to feature the screen-stealing Jennifer Lawrence, who holds only a supporting role but gives the most emotionally-charged performance. A fitting prologue to her appearance in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook (see below).
I’ve also written about Like Crazy here.
8. The Hunger Games
Despite the proliferation of fan girls and tacky merchandise, I think that so far this franchise based on Suzanne Collins’ novels has achieved the dystopian grit and technical excellence to give it staying power and a hell of a lot more street-cred than The Twilight Saga.
7. Young Adult
Another one I’ve already reviewed.
(This is just making me look lazy!)
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody’s collaborations combine on-the-money humour with heartfelt human stories.
If, like me, you’ve pretty much burned through their (admittedly still fairly small) back catalogues, check out Cody’s US TV series, United States of Tara, a witty, yet pleasingly accurate depiction of a woman (Toni Collette) living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Collette couldn’t be more deserving of her Golden Globe.
6. The Dark Knight Rises
I probably couldn’t be forgiven for omitting the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. The series as a whole is a real game-changer; superheroes haven’t been done like this, this well…possibly ever.
Although I still think The Dark Knight is the best of the franchise, Nolan gave himself an impossible act to follow and still managed to wow fans.
Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle was fabulous, just the right amount of slinkyness and dashings of wry humour. I’m praying for a spin-off to explore her fascinating character further.
My only reservations with the film are the over-complicated plot and the irritating ending. It works, but the film was released too soon for the incredibly similar teasing conclusion to Inception to be forgotten.
However, definitely worth a second watch: Batman will grace the big-ish screen of Mansfield Film Society this term.
5. Silver Linings Playbook
Although I was a little surprised about Bradley Cooper getting award nominations for his performance as Pat, David O. Russell’s film did give him the material to showcase better acting than we’ve seen from him before (I’m thinking Failure to Launch and The Hangover).
As is probably evident, my girl-crush on Jennifer Lawrence was already pretty well cemented, but her performance as the widowed Tiffany served to reinforce it.
It could easily have been just another rom-com, but well-cast supporting roles (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver as Pat’s parents) ensured the drama really penetrated.
I was also glad to see Julia Stiles appear – despite her frosty character. Matthew Quick’s novel, from which the film was adapted, is an easy yet memorable read whether you’ve seen the film or not.
4. The Imposter
Probably the most affecting film I saw in 2012. I actually did come out of the cinema feeling rather shaky, but it was worth it. I haven’t watched many documentaries, but this certainly gave me an incentive to do so.
Burt Layton’s film tells one of those stories that sounds so impossible, and so barbaric, that you wish it’d been made up. Serial-imposter Frederic Bourdin turns his attentions to a Texas family whose young son Nicholas is missing. Although there is a tendency to exacerbate conspiracy theories, this is a riveting watch. The interview segments with Bourdin are illuminating and haunting.
I actually feel the need to look over my shoulder now, it’s that creepy.
Ben Affleck’s latest is one of a string of recent films where the director takes a starring role (see Liberal Arts, below). It’s no less successful for that, though.
As with The Imposter, Argo tells another impossible-but-true story, this time of a 1970s CIA operation to rescue trapped US citizens from hostile Tehran, Iran. Tony Mendez (Affleck) in his film incarnation is a little underwritten, but his relationship with his young son gestures towards an intriguing back story.
The main plot, however, leaves nothing to be desired. It’s intense, sometimes uncomfortable viewing, and the often less-than-sympathetic portrayals of Iranian nationals begin to border on the wrong side of stereotype and racism, but the LA sub-plot provides light relief. Alan Arkin and John Goodman are a fabulous duo as grumpy, but ultimately heroic, old men.
The 1970s are impeccably realised, including Abba style haircuts and way too much facial hair.
2. Liberal Arts
I actually saw this before I’d caught much of Josh Radnor’s previous vehicle, How I Met Your Mother. To be honest I’m amazed that he managed to get from one to the other. In How I Met Your Mother Radnor’s performance as Ted is overstated, annoying and slightly obnoxious.
In writing, directing and appearing in Liberal Arts however, he has crafted an evocative film which manages to simultaneously criticise and idealise the institution of the university. Radnor’s approach, to follow three characters in distinct life stages, the enthusiastic undergrad (Elizabeth Olsen), the bored-at-30 admissions tutor (Radnor himself), and the lifelong academic (Richard Jenkins), is likely to appeal to diverse audiences.
Although the narrative, individual scenes and characters are largely well-written, Zac Efron’s character is a totally clichéd hippy type. Efron makes the best of this ridiculous part however, and it’s in no way enough to spoil the total product.
Though Allison Janney appears in perhaps the most disturbing scene of her career. You will never look at a French fry in the same way.
Despite being dubbed an ‘instant classic’ by Empire, Rian Jonson’s futuristic time travel picture has unfortunately been ignored by the biggest awarding bodies.
Looper features the strangely successful casting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as the same character, several years apart, with thanks due to some extensive prosthetics. (They seem to be big at the moment, see Gangster Squad and the upcoming Hitchcock).
Looper has quite literally got everything. Impressive, but not gratuitous action. A well-imagined future, but no long-winded expositional explanations of how time travel works. A fleeting romantic plot (starring Emily Blunt, as good as she was in 2006’s The Devil Wears Prada). And even thought-provoking gestures to an exploration of morality which make it as enjoyable to talk about as to watch.
Best of all, the film isn’t too showy – but it has plenty of impact.
Heads up – Jennifer Lawrence and Anton Yelchin are also great together in Jodie Foster’s The Beaver: