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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Best (and Worst) Movies of 2012 Awards: Part 2 - The Very Best

Yeah, there were a bunch of truly awful movies released this year and even more thoroughly mediocre ones but, it has to be said, though there wasn't a major stand out like, say, Pan's Labyrinth, there were plenty of really good to great films released in 2012. Here is an overview of some of the very best - or, at least, my favourites - sorted according to category and what is, I hope, a nice mix of "arty" critical faves and mainstream crowd pleasers.

Again, only films released in South African cinemas in 2012 count and, once again, sorry this is later than I had previously hoped, but apparently I had quite a bit to say about many of 2012's better films.

The Best Film from the Past Oscar Season

I can't help but treat the film's nominated for the past Academy Awards as being in a separate category from the rest of the year's films. I can't discount them as last year's entries, because so many were released in this country in 2012, but they still feel like they've been honoured as 2011 releases. I will leave one film out as an exception to this (more on that later) but the 2012 Oscar nominees were a solid bunch that included overlooked gems like Take Shelter and the ultimate winner in seemingly every category, The Artist. For me though, the winner was easily Martin Scorsese's wonderful Hugo, a love letter to both childhood imagination and to, what is in many ways a reflection of that, the art of cinema. It also boasted one of the few genuinely worthy uses of 3D to date.

Funniest Film of 2012

This isn't quite the same as "best comedy" because as a piece of comedic filmmaking, the winner of this category suffers from a very underwhelming plotline - not so much the talking teddy bear bit, incidentally, as much as the pointless addition of a "threat" at the end of the film. That said, Ted, Seth McFarlane's first foray into live-action feature films is very, very funny - easily packing in the most laughs per minute of any film released this year. I could criticize the film for hours, but nothing I say can take away from just how gut-busting the film is, pretty much from start to finish.

The Best Film of 2012 that Shouldn't Work but Really, Really Does

The most recent film on the list, The Silver Linings Playbook mixes two genres that, are often hard enough work on their own, but together should be a nightmare. Instead, this mix of romantic comedy and mental illness drama is one of the year's most heartfelt, funny and charming gems with some fantastic central performances and a wonderful script that's unafraid of sentimentality, but never succumbs to mawkishness. Bradley Cooper is a revelation and Jennifer Lawrence continues to show herself to be one of the finest young actresses of her generation - and considering the caliber of her contemporaries, that's really saying something.

Best Horror Film of 2012

It's strange, perhaps, that the year's finest horror flick isn't the least bit scary, but the only horror film this year that comes close to providing any real chills is The Woman in Black and, frankly, while that particular Daniel Radcliffe-starring Brit-flick is a perfectly decent ghost story, it doesn't come close to the ingenuity of Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard's terrific Cabin in the Woods. It's still hard to say anything about the film without spoiling it but it's the most original, surprising monster movie to come out in quite some time in a genre that is not exactly known for either. Oh and it's pretty damn funny to boot.

Best Superhero Film of 2012

So, there were a few superhero films released this year. Ghost Rider 2 came and went without anyone really noticing and without my seeing it, and Chronicle was an interesting take on the genre told through the an irritating device. The year, however, was really about three major superhero franchises. The Amazing Spider-man was an unnecessary reboot but thanks to some great performances and characterization, it was way better than it should have been and The Dark Knight Rises may have been flawed but it was an adventurous and satisfying conclusion to Nolan's Batman trilogy. Best of all though, was The Avengers. However self-important Nolan's Batman films are, Whedon's (yup, him again) Avengers is as good as it is because of how unassuming it is. Some might quibble about the plot - which is, in the end, little more than a glorified McGuffin - but Whedon's skill with distinct characterization and dialogue is both easy to overlook and is central to why the film works as well as it does. And, oh yes, it also has the greatest fight scene since that one from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Best Animated Film of 2012

It wasn't necessarily the best year for animation, with even Pixar only hitting just about average (though just about average for Pixar is... ya know) and Burton's Frankenweenie not quite having the story to match its wonderful visual style. Don't take this as a backhanded compliment, therefore, when I say that Paranorman is this year's easy winner. Ghoulish, funny and beautifully designed, this stop-motion monster film was not only better than any other animated film released this year, it was one of the best "horror-type" films as well.

Best I-Can't-Believe-I-Need-to-Defend-This Film of 2012

How can people, especially Bond fans, hate Skyfall? Really, how? I've now seen Sam Mendes' excellent franchise-rejuvenator twice and I have no earthly idea how anyone who considers themselves to be even the most casual of Bond fans could see see this anything less than one of the series' best entries. Some have complained that Skyfall isn't "Bond enough" but unless all they want from a James Bond movie is a remake of Goldfinger/ Goldeneye/ The Spy Who Loved Me, it's an argument that hold no water for me. Belief-defying stunts, exotic locations, beautiful women, snappy one-liners and a gleefully over the top villain - what about any of this doesn't scream Bond? Yes, it's smarter, more personal and more heart-felt, but why is that a bad thing? It's like complaining that Roger Deakins' spectacular cinematography is too pretty or that Daniel Craig's tough, cool, suave, nuanced, cruel and sarcastic Bond is too interesting a protagonist. Oh and just how on earth can anyone complain about a film having TOO MUCH Judi Dench? It's a Bizarro world and we just live in it...

Best I-Can-Believe-I-Need-to-Defend-This Film of 2012

While I genuinely can't understand the Skyfall hate, I certainly can understand being turned off by Wes Anderson's uber-Wes-Andersony Moonrise Kingdom. I don't agree with those who considered the film to be "one of the worst I have ever seen", but I can certainly understand their position. Six films in and Anderson has done nothing to tone down his extremely idiosyncratic stylistic ticks or to make his work any more accessible to people who aren't fans of quirky flights of deadpan whimsy. Personally though, I have been a huge fan of Anderson ever since I was bowled over by The Royal Tenenbaums a decade ago and Moonrise Kingdom has already gone down as one of my favourites of his peculiar ouvre. Funny, affecting, shamelessly bonkers and impeccably acted - I seldom had more fun at the cinema all of last year.

Best Straight Up Drama/ Morality Play AND "Foreign Language" Film of 2012

Winner of the Oscar for best "film in a foreign language" at the most recent Academy Awards, the Iranian A Separation more than deserves its accolades, both as a "foreign-language" film and as the year's best straight up drama/ morality play. It's poignant, thought-provoking and expertly controlled, with subtle but brilliant acting and a slow-burn pace that also makes it arguably one of the year's most suspenseful films.

Best Kick-Ass Action Film of 2012

In terms of espionage action-thrillers, nothing beats Skyfall and Dredd 3D is my surprise winner for best shoot-em-up of 2012, but for pure bone-crunching action, nothing beats Steven Soderbergh's Haywire. It's not necessarily a particularly great film but what it has going for it, aside for a very compelling heroine in the form of mixed martial arts star Gina Carano, is a visceral physicality that had a room of hardened critics wincing and audibly gasping at some of the brutal fight scenes. Incidentally, for what I hear, The Raid would be the easy winner in this category but, because it went straight to DVD here and I have admittedly not yet seen it, it doesn't qualify. Sorry.

Best Documentary of 2012

An easy one this time. Searching for Sugar Man is an unbelievable true story about the fate of an American singer/ songwriter who made it huge in South Africa, while being entirely unknown in the US. It's a captivating story about a truly intriguing lost member of the singer/songwriter explosion of the early 1970s and, though it may have special resonance for South Africans, it's a wonderful documentary that is sure to lift the spirits of audiences everywhere.

Best Unapologetic Romantic Comedy of 2012

Admittedly, I am tempted to go for Silver Linings Playbook again but that's not entirely a comedy or a romance. I wanted to go for something more "mainstream" in short. As such, I'm not going to go for the great, but edgy Ruby Sparks either. Mainstream romantic comedies usually get a lot of rather deserved flack but this year we had two examples of how good the genre really can and should be/ First there was the thoroughly charming Salmon Fishing in the Yemen that loses out as my pick of the year simply because it's as much about faith as it is about romance and because it is ultimately less funny than The Five Year Engagement, this year's best unapologetic romcom. Like Salmon Fishing, it stars the never less than wonderful Emily Blunt and it's as romantic as it is very, very funny - which, really, is exactly what you want from this kind of film. Which is why I don't quite understand why it hasn't been as embraced as it should have been, but then, that seems to be the fate of a number of movies this year.

Best Teen Phenomenon

Yes, yes, I know, The Hunger Games is a lot like Battle Royale. It's also a smart, compelling and excitingly executed dystopian fable for younger audiences that is as crowd-pleasing as it is edgy and challenging. It's real coup de grace though is its casting of Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role and as the tough, grounded but endlessly sympathetic Katniss Everdeen who almost single-handedly makes the film work as well as it does. It's inclusion of a very under-developed love triangle is the only misstep in what is otherwise a superior teen flick.

Best Science Fiction Film of 2012

It's become something of a tradition the last few years to release at least one "smart" science fiction film a year. Following in the footsteps, then, of Source Code and Inception, Looper is a time travel film that draws heavily on the influence of Twelve Monkeys and The Terminator and mixes character drama with brutal action with heady sci-fi ideas. It's helped along tremendously by some very strong central performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt (yup, her again) and enough heart, brains and guts to make it the easy science fiction pick of 2012.


Best This-is-How-You-Do-A-Challenging-Art Film/ Best Apocalyptic Film of 2012

The Apocalypse was kind of "in" in a big way in 2012 and, though it appears that the Mayan Apocalypse never happened - presumably, in part, because there was never any such thing really as a Mayan Apocalypse - we still had a number of rather good end-of-the-world films to play into the non-hysteria. Or two of them at least. Seeking a Friend for The End of the World was a very solid little indie relationship drama about two people finding each other in the earth's final days. Better still though was Lars Von Trier's difficult, slow, morbidly depressing and all round fairly brilliant Melancholia, which took a more allegorical look at the end of the world by filtering it through the eyes of a woman suffering from major clinical depression - or, perhaps, imagining depression as a personal end of the world. Von Trier was in full Nazi-praising, idiot mode when promoting the film at festivals in 2011 but that shouldn't eclipse what is a challenging, beautifully imagined and viscerally emotional film and one of the very best art-circuit films of the year.

Best Directed / Possibly All Round Best Film of 2012

I don't really know if Life of Pi really is 2012's best film - as I said, nothing really stood head and shoulders above everything else last year - but with its formidable achievements on both a stylistic level and as a more substantial, symbolically rich examination of religion and the power of storytelling, it might as well be. It's not even an unquestionable shoe-in as the best directed film of 2012, as there were loads of directorial triumphs throughout the year, but I would be damned if I could think of anything better directed than Life of Pi - especially since it had as its source an apparently "unfilmable" novel. Plus, it is, along with Hugo, the only film this year that you really do need to see in 3D.

And that should do it for 2012 in film (on South African screens) but I would love to hear from you, dear readers, what I missed and what I got wrong with 2012's best and worst films.


  1. Agreed with all except: Skyfall and Looper.

    Skyfall was possibly the most "unBond" of all the Bond films and I hated it for not being far-fetched enough. As soon as the series starts becoming intellectual it may as well be 'just another action film' - just as Apple has become 'just another computer company' #ripstevejobs

    Looper just sucks.

  2. Here's the thing about Skyfall, it's way more of a Bond film than the last two entries and many of the older ones are no less grounded. Also, not far fetched enough? What about the crazy stunts and crazy computer hackery wasn't far fetched enough for you?

    And, man, we're just not going to agree on Looper, are we?

    1. Re: Skyfall. We obviously have VERY different perspectives on Bond. Mine is as follows: The more hot women, the more crazy locations, the more whacky-but-ever-so-cool gadgets, the more Bond uses his nine lives, the better! My favourite Bond was Tomorrow Never Dies with Carmen Electra - classic Bond full of the kind of stuff I want to chomp my popcorn and slurp my slush (lemon & lime) to!

      Looper, I have now officially downgraded it from a movie (which would score anything from 0 to 10 stars) to a simple test movie shoot that happened to make it to the big screen [and to think they had the chutzpah to call it 'this decade's "The Matrix" (as Rav Dov used to say: FEH!]

    2. Well, as I said, Looper is more this decade's The Terminator. It has nothing whatsoever to do with The Matrix.

      And Tomorrow Never Dies is your favourite Bond? Really? Well, no wonder we don't agree about Skyfall.

    3. Re: Looper -

      Re: Skyfall - I actually meant 'Die Another Day' - that was the one I loved the MOST!


  3. Die Another Day? Oof, that's even worse. That's the one with the invisible car and the awful CGI para-sailing, right? Funnily enough, I like the Pierce Brosnan films you didn't mention much more than the ones you did. Boy, talk about different tastes.

    Oh and yeah, I know someone compared it to The Matrix, I just think it's a dumb comparison. If anything is this decade's Matrix, it's Inception, surely?

  4. Re: Skyfall

    hahahha! As different tastes as Beef vs Chicken Burgers!

    Re: Looper

    Yeah, Inception was BEYOND outstanding - would be a 'better' comparison but truly NOTHING is a comparison to the Matrix. Oh, and while I'm here I give the Matrix Trilogy a full TEN STARS for each one and TEN STARS overall - especially 2 and 3! hahahha