2012 In Retrospect

Here we are — the final end of 2012. What better way to wrap up than to reflect on the good, the bad, and the other? And so there’s a top ten, a bottom five, and a bunch of stuff I missed. (This post is long; you might appreciate those links.)

“What’s the point,” you may ask, “of choosing a top ten from a wholly arbitrary list of 97 films?” And to that I say, “best not to think about it too much.”

As ever, all of these are selected from what I watched this year. The full list of eligible titles is here.



The Five Worst Films I Saw For the First Time in 2012

In alphabetical order…

The Book of Eli
I gave four main-list films one star this year, and 14 two stars, yet a film I awarded three stars makes this list. Why? After a great beginning, Eli gradually descends into sanctimonious tosh; it becomes almost offensively bad. For that reason, I remember it with considerably less affection than its star rating would suggest, and certainly worse than those 14 others.

The Final Destination
I came to the Final Destination series late, but initially found them to be divertingly enjoyable teen horror movies. The third one went a bit off the rails (literally), but this fourth entry has no redeeming features. The definite-article title neatly indicated it was the last in the series, but then they went and made a fifth and so ruined that too.

The Last Airbender
Some people have called M. Night Shyamalan’s adaptation of the Asian-tinged US cartoon one of the worst films ever made. I don’t necessarily disagree. Poorly made in every way but its special effects, the only joy in The Last Airbender comes from tittering at the double entendre every time the hero is described as “a powerful bender”.

Legion
I don’t necessarily have anything against films with a religious theme, yet this is the second one on this year’s list. Legion doesn’t contain the objectionable moralising of The Book of Eli, though — it’s just a really badly made film. You might forgive bad dialogue and acting if the action sequences were well-done, but they’re not. Irredeemable.

The Spiral Staircase
A needless modernised remake of the ’40s adaptation of Ethel Lina White’s novel Some Must Watch. This isn’t that bad judged in its own class (turn-of-the-millennium US cable TV movies made For Women), and it even has a couple of good bits, but by comparison to the fabulous earlier film, it’s contemptuous.



The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2012

An uncomplicated low-budget British period action movie, but one that delivers on all the fronts it promises to. It may be too bloody and gory for some, but that adds a certain realism to the Seven Samurai-esque medieval story that isn’t unwelcome. Paul Giamatti stands out as a scenery-chewing villain par excellence, but a likeable cast all round help pull the film through some of its slower moments.

I couldn’t care less about Fashion — indeed, in many respects I despise that world as much as the next right-headed human being — but Bill Cunningham transcends that to be a social documentarian. A documentary about a documentarian may sound trite, but this simple portrait of a simple man is anything but. I imagine it won’t connect with everyone, but I loved it.

I love a good procedural thriller (look at Anatomy of a Murder, the only pre-millennium film to crack my 2010 top five), and this adaptation of a Michael Connelly doorstop is in broadly the same mould. Matthew McConaughey endears even as a smarmy small-time lawyer thrust into a big-league murder case, with (bit of a spoiler here) his own client certainly the villain. There’s been talk of a sequel, for which I have my fingers tightly crossed.

A big franchise is relaunched because a writer had a good idea for a story? Wonders never cease! And it pays dividends, because Rise isn’t your usual blockbuster: it’s an intelligent science-inspired drama that just happens to link up to a studio sci-fi/action series. Its pretty much Proper Science-Fiction, in fact. Even better, that doesn’t stop it from having a barnstorming climax.

I don’t think even TDKR’s staunchest defenders could claim in good faith that it was a perfect film (though some of the holes people harp on about aren’t holes at all and that bugs me). I think a lot of people wanted The Dark Knight: Part 2, but instead Nolan delivered something that was, despite the sheen of realism, much more comic-book-y. And you know what, I loved it. Caution after the non-stop unconvinced reaction of so many others leaves it low-ish in this list; when I get round to a pre-review re-watch I’ll see if I should’ve ranked it higher (or, indeed, lower).

A British spy thriller, yes, but about as different from Bond as you can get. A measured pace unveils an intricate plot (too intricate for some (mostly American) critics), it’s gorgeously shot, and Gary Oldman pulls off a mission many thought impossible by delivering a Smiley that can stand up to Alec Guinness’ classic performance. Superb. I really need to re-watch it though, which may have seen it place higher on this list.

Many Bat-fans would argue that the finest screen depiction of the Dark Knight is the ’90s animated series, and this is the theatrically-released spin-off — which many Bat-fans would argue is the finest big-screen depiction of said hero. Boasting an original new take on Batman’s backstory and origin, plus a fine cameo-sized turn from Mark Hamill’s arguably-definitive Joker, it’s definitely up there with the best Bat-films.

It took me a long time to get round to this 2003 Oscar nominee, for which I give myself a rap on the wrist because it’s excellent. Mass audiences also ignored it in droves, meaning we’re unlikely to get a sequel (despite there being well over a dozen further novels in the series). A shame. If, like me, you weren’t interested and haven’t bothered to see it, I encourage you to reconsider.

Spielberg’s World War One epic got lost last awards season under the weight of a silent French film and relative critical indifference. I thought it was a fine film, more family-friendly than its 12 certificate might suggest, but with a nonetheless realistic portrayal of a horrid period of history. Perhaps too melodramatic for some tastes, I loved it.

Is this really a surprise? I shouldn’t’ve thought so. I’m a big Bond fan and Skyfall is a big entry in the Bond canon, and I wrote a bloody big review of it too (lest you forgot). Whether it’s the best Bond film ever — or even the best Bond film to star Daniel Craig — is still open for debate, but the very fact it’s a debate to be had signals Skyfall as something very special.



Special Mentions

Having got my 36-film long list down to just 14, I struggled with some parts of the final top 10. Just bubbling under (and maybe they would’ve got in on a different day) were The Hunger Games, The Scarlet Claw, With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story… and Avengers Assemble. I love the work of Joss Whedon (which I’ll talk more about in my review), but arriving on Blu-ray after years of hype and a rapturous reception in cinemas, I found the culmination of Marvel’s Phase One movies to be underwhelming. Though it may not be a five-star insta-classic (and, believe it or not, I’m far from alone in that view — indeed, Whedon himself agrees), it’s still a rollicking good time.

An honourable mention too for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the final instalment in what has turned out to be quite an incredible series, in its own way. Following those characters and actors as they grew up over ten years and across eight films is a fairly unique achievement, and while the films aren’t always objectively great, they’re rarely less than engrossingly entertaining. I didn’t unconditionally adore the finale as much as (British, at least) critics and audiences seemed to, meaning it’s pipped to a place on my top 10, but it was a fitting climax to what turned out to be an epic saga.

I also can’t end this without mentioning the nine main-list films that earned themselves 5-star ratings this year. Almost all of them (seven, to be precise) made it into the top ten: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Bill Cunningham New York, The Dark Knight Rises, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Skyfall, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and War Horse. The other two were The Lost Weekend and With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story. Plus, among my other reviews, there were also full marks for Batman Begins, Batman Returns, The Dark Knight (I’ve seen it three times, reviewed it three times, and given it five stars three times!), From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, and the lovely Christmas-telly short Room on the Broom.

Additional thanks this year to the ’30s/’40s series of Saint and Falcon films, which between them accounted for 14 films. It should’ve been more, but my regular viewing of them kind of tailed off. I’ll aim to complete the Falcon films this year… but as I’ve been working my way through the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes flicks almost since this blog began, we’ll see how that pans out.



The Films I Didn’t See

In case you missed it at the start, this post isn’t about the films of 2012, only my 2012, and as always there were a large number of notable releases this year that I’ve yet to see. As is traditional, then, here’s an alphabetical list of 50 films from 2012 that I’ve not seen. Normally I slavishly stick to those listed as 2012 on IMDb, but this year there are several where their year listing is dubious, so I’ve (partially) thrown that notion out the window. Maybe next year I’ll go whole hog and just go by UK release dates. But that might be a bit radical.

Debates about precise years-of-production aside, this list is always a mix between a year’s biggest films and ones I think I might actually get round to seeing, considering that I tick it off going forward (see the last post’s statistics for how I’ve got on down the years). This year is particularly awkward at the top end of this balance, with a ton of kid-aimed animated films among the highest-grossing films both in the US and worldwide. I love a Pixar, Dreamworks, or whoever crossover as much as the next man, but Ice Age 4? Madagascar 3? The Lorax, Hotel Transylvania, ParaNorman, Rise of the Guardians? All were financially very successful, but how many am I likely to care about enough to get round to – especially as I’ve seen not even seen Ice Age 2, never mind Ice Age 3. I usually try to include about the top 20 highest grossing films, but I’ve dumped that this year to exclude some of those movies I don’t imagine I’ll ever see. Though, as it’s the fourth highest-grossing film of the year worldwide, I couldn’t really ignore Ice Age 4.

As ever, the rest of the list is made up of Things People Have Talked About – not necessarily big earners, but Oscar contenders and those smaller, usually foreign, films the cinephile press and sites seem to have been discussing. Bit more of the latter this year, I think, just because I’ve been paying a little more attention.

21 Jump Street
The Amazing Spider-Man
Amour
Anna Karenina
Argo
Battleship
Berberian Sound Studio
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
The Bourne Legacy
Brave
The Cabin in the Woods
Chronicle
Cloud Atlas
Dark Shadows
Django Unchained
Dredd
End of Watch
The Expendables 2
Flight
Frankenweenie
The Grey
Hitchcock
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Holy Motors
Ice Age: Continental Drift
Jack Reacher
John Carter
Life of Pi
Lincoln
Looper
Magic Mike
The Master
Men in Black 3
Les Misérables
Moonrise Kingdom
The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists
Rise of the Guardians
Rust and Bone
Seven Psychopaths
Silver Linings Playbook
Snow White and the Huntsman
Taken 2
Ted
Total Recall
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2
Underworld: Awakening
The Woman in Black
Wrath of the Titans
Wreck-It Ralph
Zero Dark Thirty



A Final Thought

Congratulations if you’ve made it this far, especially if you’ve read through all the end-of-year posts I’ve produced this year. I do waffle on, don’t I?

But that’s it now! I’m done! Well, apart from the whopping pile of unposted reviews. They’re going to require some re-viewing before reviewing, I think.

And it’s also time to get stuck into 2013. Maybe this year I’ll reach 100 again; indeed, based on form I should reach 120-something. Always good to set oneself up for failure, eh…

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