Film fan expectation was high in January 2012. Most had their top movies for the year already pegged, films that were bound for success no matter what. But as the months progressed things didn't quite go to plan.
The first film to trip over its own shoelaces was Prometheus (2012). The Alien franchise had been in decline since Aliens (1986) and fans were desperate for a turnaround. It seemed their prayers would be answered when Ridley Scott announced he was getting back behind the camera for an Alien prequel. But the result, whilst not a disaster, wasn't the return to form we were all hoping for. The problem was identity. Prometheus was either going to lead right into Alien, or it was going down a new path. Prometheus tried to do both and left no one satisfied. The biggest failing though was the lack of scares. Despite repeating the story beats of Alien (crew land on mystery planet and get a nasty surprise) the tension and frights of Scott's 1979 classic were on shore leave. The next casualty was The Bourne Legacy (2012). Paul Greengrass' The Bourne Identity (2002) had been a surprise hit and given the action-thriller genre a kick up the ass in the process. Everyone from James Bond to Ethan Hunt pilfered, as shaky-cam, close-quarter, grey-paletted action scenes became de-rigeur. Two more Bourne films rounded out the story and topped up the Universal coffers. But studio execs got greedy and tasked Bourne co-writer Tony Gilory with directing a fourth feature. Early signs weren't good, with The Bourne Legacy's tagline declaring "There was never just one". Hardly enticing, this supposed bombshell had already been revealed in the first Bourne film. And despite Jeremy Renner finally getting a well-deserved leading role, Legacy was a case of been-there, done-that. It was two hours of a sweaty t-shirted Renner dragging Rachel Weisz in his wake, while villainous CIA folk loosened ties, stared at computer screens and swore at subordinates.
The Hunger Games (2012) grabbed some plaudits, but anyone who had seen the brilliant Kinji Fukasaku movie Battle Royale (2000) wondered why Fukasaku and writer Koushun Takami hadn’t sued Suzanne Collins for plagiarism. What The Hunger Games turned out to be was Battle Royale for teens, with shit haircuts and shittier costumes. Why do filmmakers always populate our future planet with people completely devoid of fashion sense? Maybe mirrors have been outlawed in the Districts. The sight of Stanley Tucci in a Marge Simpson fright wig threw an unintentionally hilarious blanket over the first hour of Gary Ross’ adaptation.
Elsewhere, The Woman In Black (2012) was meant to be a return to form for Hammer Horror, but instead relied on well-worn Asian horror staples, creating an average horror experience. Men In Black 3 (2012) didn't even bother with the traits that made part one such an enjoyable romp, and fell flat as a result. The Expendables 2 (2012) tried to right the wrongs of the first Expendables by adding a decent story and script to its wish fulfilment cast list; it failed spectacularly, which might have been the point. Some movie expectations were met though. Battleship, Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 2, Paranormal Activity 4, John Carter, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Act of Valour, Wrath of the Titans (2012) didn't disappoint and were all suitably crap. The Amazing Spiderman (2012) and Total Recall (2012) were adequate but completely unnecessary. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace 3D (1999/2012) was still a borefest, and Titanic 3D (1997/2012) still had too much Celine Dion and a pointless first hour. But despite the letdowns there were lots of films for fans to get excited about in 2012. So here are the ten best movies of 2012, in no particular order. And while some films were expected to make the end of year honour roll, there were an equal number that caught us by surprise
- THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Of all the films that carried large expectations in 2012, The Dark Knight Rises (2012) was the most anticipated. Director Chris Nolan didn’t let us down, but it wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Nolan gave himself a tough task following up the double whammy of Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), and as fellow fantasy filmmakers can attest to, the third outing is often the toughest (Return of the Jedi anyone?). But with a cool head and another army of acting talent Nolan had us wondering why we ever worried in the first place. As with any genuinely successful film the haters started taking pot shots for the sake of it. But naysayers really had to scrape the barrel this time. The best they could come up with was "Bane’s voice is a bit odd” and "Officer Blake is really called Robin”, criticisms that reeked of desperation. Rises not only completed the comic book movies move from juvenile to "serious” cinema, it completed a trilogy that can now compete with the likes of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and The Godfather as one of the best of all time.
Tasty Morsel – Only two other actresses screen tested for the role of Catwoman/Selina Kyle; Jessica Biel and Keira Knightley.
- THE AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
While Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises capped off the comic book movies crusade to be taken seriously, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers (2012) carried the torch for the genre’s original raison d’etre, spectacle. People didn’t flock in droves to Superman (1978) and Spiderman (2002) for an acting master class; they wanted to see the fantastic. The Avengers gave us the year’s best display of pure popcorn cinema, 143 minutes of eye-popping, eardrum pounding entertainment that was impossible to resist. Whedon and his fellow Avenger prequel directors did take one leaf from Nolan’s playbook; they hired acting talent over A-listers. With Thor, Ironman and the other prequels, the name above the marquee didn’t matter. What was important was having the right players to pull off the parts, so that when the actions slows down the film remains on track. Downey Jnr, Hemsworth, Pine, Ruffalo and the rest ensured that we actually gave a damn about our superheroes when Loki returned to kick up another shit-storm.
Tasty Morsel – Lou Ferrigno the original small-screen Hulk continues his voice work and provides the growling tones of the Hulk in The Avengers.
- THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
Just below The Dark Knight Rises in the anticipation stakes was The Hobbit (2012). But unlike Nolan’s smooth ride to success, the return to Middle Earth was not plain sailing. A long gestation period saw Peter Jackson’s successor Guillermo del Toro bowing out of the project in the early stages. Jackson took up the mantel leading many to question why he didn’t take the job in the first place. But the return of the king caused controversy when the New Zealander announced he was extending the tale from two parts to a new trilogy of movies. Fans got nervous; there was barely enough material in Tolkein’s original book for two films, let alone three. The parallels with Star Wars were made again; was this to be Jackson’s Phantom Menace? George Lucas’ script writing skills had disappeared in the sixteen years between Jedi outings, but nine years between Tolkein adaptations had no such effect on Jackson. The Hobbit was another masterpiece and a warm and much welcome return to Middle Earth.
Tasty Morsel – Beardy comedian Bill Bailey auditioned for the role of Gloin, the ginger father of Gimli.
- 21 JUMP STREET
It wasn’t a golden year for comedies. There was a smattering of chuckles to be had (Ted, Pirates, The Inbetweeners Movie (2012)) but little competition for laugh riot of the 2012. It was a surprise then that Peter Lord and Chris Miller’s tribute and reboot of a forgotten television drama 21 Jump Street became a comedy classic. Lack of expectation gave scriptwriter Michael Bacall free reign to craft a tale that didn’t walk down the well trodden buddy cop comedy path. 21 Jump Street (2012) seems less concerned with its story and more interested in bouncing from one hilarious scene to another. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have heart; central duo Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum make for the years finest duo. But it’s the movie’s zany ride that wins the day. That and a superb cameo from original Jump Streeters Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise.
Tasty Morsel – Tatum turned the movie down twice before Hill finally managed to convince him to take the joint lead role.
Two films into his stint Daniel Craig was looking more like the new Timothy Dalton than the new Sean Connery. Quantum of Solace (2008) made a good argument for worst Bond film of all time. How better to follow that up then by giving us a film that could jostle for the best Bond movie title. Sam Mendes seemed like a safe pair of hands but his action credentials had yet to be put to the test. A smart script gave him the room to flex his action movie muscles though and more importantly allowed Craig to make Bond his own. More revelations about 007 than we’d ever seen before followed, all expertly handled by Craig, a top notch Bond villain via Javier Bardem and a genuinely moving climax completed the comeback.
Tasty Morsel – Despite all the bullets whizzing round twenty three Bind movies, Skyfall sees 007 suffer only his second gunshot wound.
- ROOM 237
Films about films are a scarce breed, rarely make it to a cinema screen and are even less likely to entertain anyone who isn’t a hardcore movie consumer. It’s a minor miracle then that Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 (2012) stands as one of the movies of the year. Its dissection of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) might seem on the face of it like one hundred minutes of painful nerd rambling, but the opposite is true. Split into nine segments the movie allows Shining ultra fans to pitch their conspiracy theories about creepy hidden meanings in this already spooky movie. And again, you’d think that some of these ideas are plain bonkers until we’re treated to visual evidence from the film itself. That, coupled with the fact that Kubrick was himself obsessed with layers of hidden messages in his film, makes for an absorbing watch.
Tasty Morsel – Of the conspiracies banded around in the picture, perhaps the most off the wall is Kubrick’s apparent hidden message that the moon landing was faked. Filmed by Kubrick himself at a secret location? We’ll never know!
Intelligent science fiction seems to have been kicked into touch by endless remake and CGI-fests. Oh, for the days of Blade Runner (1982) and The Matrix (1999). This year saw a slight return to form though, with the likes of Chronicle (2012) and Safety Not Guaranteed (2012) joining the charge. Leading the pack was Rian Johnson’s Looper. Penning the story and pointing the camera, Johnson had full control over his time/crime travelling drama. In 2074 time travel has been invented but outlawed, not that it stops future villains sending unwanted folk back in time to be killed by anonymous assassins called Loopers. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a Looper who wishes he wasn’t when his future self, in the form of Bruce Willis, is sent back for offing. Twisty drama ensues. The cleverness starts with the Bruce-alike prosthetics plastered to Gordon-Levitt;s face and builds from there, all carried along by a cast of in-form actors including JGL, Bruce, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and Jeff Daniels.
Tasty Morsel – To prep for the movie Gordon-Levitt watched as many Bruce Willis movies as he could to learn the actor’s mannerisms.
- THE RAID
The Asian film markets have always been adept at showing Hollywood the way forward. John Woo and his contemporaries gave action cinema an adrenalin shot in the late eighties, while Hideo Nakata, Takeshi Miike, et al reinvigorated the scary movie genre in the late nineties. Now we’re back to action movies again with the Indonesian released The Raid: Redemption (2011) (renamed The Raid (2012) for Western audiences); only this frontrunner comes with a Welsh twist thanks to writer and director Gareth Evans. Providing a template that action movies from 2012 onwards are likely to crib from, the film’s story is a brain melting climb to the top of Jakartan apartment block as we follow greenhorn copper Rama and his special police squad to the top floor to take out the local crime Lord. As with many a good movie, the journey is more important than the destination, and what a journey Evans gives us. Light on exposition but rammed to the rafters with inventive action vignettes, almost every action film that came before it seems pedestrian by comparison.
Tasty Morsel – Unfortunately for the Judge, fellow 2012 action fest Dredd (2012) features a very similar storyline with JD fighting his way up a tower block to take out top-dog bad guy.
Unlike most of the other major film awards, the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or at least makes some effort to share the wealth geographically. There have been winners from all over the globe, including Iran, Japan, Romania, India and everywhere in between. The Palme has also recognised future classics where the Academy has failed, bestowing its leafy award to the likes of If...(1969), The Conversation (1974), Wild At Heart (1990) and Pulp Fiction (1994). This year’s winner was an Austrian effort from challenging director Michael Haneke. Amour (2012) deals with that stickiest of wickets, growing old. It’s that built in obsolescence that most of us choose not to face until we’re squinting at grey hairs in the bathroom mirror, hopefully in many decades time. We follow elderly couple Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as they contend with encroaching age and Anne’s growing debilitation via a stroke. It sounds thoroughly depressing but it’s the couples warmth and heart as they contend with the inevitable that make Amour a modern masterpiece, and a wonderful achievement for Riva, Trintignant and Haneke.
Tasty Morsel – This was Trintignant first movie in 14 years and it was only Haneke’s involvement that drew the French actor out of retirement.
- WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN
Sadly Lionel Shriver’s story of ultimate mother-son detachment has became more prescient as 2012 progressed. Lynne Ramsay’s film dramatisation of Shriver’s novel fortunately doesn’t overstate the finale when Ezra Miller’s son-from-hell takes a bow and arrow to his high school and dispatches a number of classmates. Still, it’s an uncomfortable reminder one of the most challenging issues the US has ever had to face. Plaudits must go to the movies three central performances from Tilda Swinton, John C Reilly and Miller, not only for ensuring the movie isn’t looked at retrospectively as just another high school tragedy morality play, but also for providing award winning acting that isn’t just about how much scenery is chewed. If one or more of the trio aren’t going home with gongs in the new year something has clearly gone wrong somewhere.
Tasty Morsel – Move over Universal and MGM, this film of the year was courtesy of BBC Films.