Since Roland Emmerich’s 2012 prophecy did not come to pass, here is my list of the best films of 2012. All told, it was an impressive year, with a mix of drama, horror, action, comedy and documentary all worming their way onto the list. This is all in the name of inspiring debate, but always remember: I’m right. So there.
20. Rust and Bone (dir. Jacques Audiard)
Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts give two of the year’s most committed performances in Rust and Bone, a typically intense and emotional piece of work from Jacques Audiard. The tale of two cripples, one physical (Cotillard’s Stéphanie), one emotional (Schoenaerts’ Alain), finding each other is an emotional rollercoaster, full of (melo)drama and identifiable pain.
19. Searching for Sugar Man (dir. Malik Bendjelloul)
Forget The Imposter; for the best of stranger-than-fiction documentary filmmaking, look no further than Searching for Sugar Man. How could a musician go four decades without knowing he was a massive success? When two South African fans went to track down their musical hero Sixto Rodriguez, they did not expect a jobbing handyman living humbly in suburban Detroit, but there he was. Sugar Man is a touching and warm film, and Rodriguez’s songs are an absolute treat.
18. The Hunt (dir. Thomas Vinterberg)
The Hunt is Thomas Vinterberg confronting and disturbing his audience as only he, and perhaps Lars Von Trier, know how. Mads Mikkelsen’s terrific performance as a teacher falsely accused of abusing a pupil is a sympathetic anchor around which events unfold with horrible speed and inevitability. The Hunt is one to make you think and to make you shudder.
17. The Raid (dir. Gareth Evans)
With The Raid, director Gareth Evans created one of the most original, energetic and simply one of the best action films in years. A simple setup (30 cops tackle a 20-storey apartment block packed with criminals) leads to 90 minutes of adrenaline-amped balls-to-the-wall set pieces. Blood will be shed; sweat will pour; audiences will whoop with delight.
As a beaten and bowed Bruce Wayne, Christian Bale provides a soulful anchor amongst the chaos wreaked by Bane (Tom Hardy) in The Dark Knight Rises. Christopher Nolan’s trilogy-capper could barely live up to the bloated expectations surrounding it, but for action on the grandest scale and a surprising emotional gut-punch, delivered all that the fans were waiting for.
Béla Tarr’s talent for hypnotism continues to astound in The Turin Horse. This tale of a farmer and his daughter riding out a strong storm on the Hungarian plain is not much fun, but crisp cinematography, skillful long takes and Tarr’s expectedly esoteric script keep you guessing and keep you hooked to the end.
14. Skyfall (dir. Sam Mendes)
Daniel Craig brings Bond back from the brink a second time in Skyfall (Quantum of Solace being a most abhorrent follow-up to Casino Royale). Craig brings the muscle, Judi Dench’s M finally gets an involving storyline and Javier Bardem’s villainous Silva steals the show. Sam Mendes confounds any naysayers by delivering not just one of the best Bonds yet, but also 2012’s most entertaining film.
13. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
The Turkish Tourist Board could frame most any shot from Once Upon A Time In Anatolia and use it as an advertisement. The rugged natural beauty of the Anatolian steppes combined with naturalistic performances make Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s tale of the hunt for a murder victim more than a rote procedural. Its sights will seduce the eye and its dialogue rings true.
12. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God (dir. Alex Gibney)
In Mea Maxima Culpa, director Alex Gibney pulls back the veil of Vatican privilege and pretense by tracing the history of the current abuse quagmire back to the case of one priest at a deaf school in Wisconsin. Combining the personal tales of the now-adult deaf children with the international scale of the abuses perpetrated by Catholic clergy, Mea Maxima Culpa is riveting, enraging and engaging.
11. Berberian Sound Studio (dir. Peter Strickland)
Many an unfortunate melon is sacrificed at the altar of Berberian Sound Studio, Peter Strickland’s eerie tribute to the humble foley artist. When Toby Jones’ soundman is enlisted to soundtrack a none-more-bloody Italian giallo, he finds himself unravelling as the screeches and squelches slowly smother him. With a terrifically tormented Jones at its heart and with nods aplenty to many gialli, BSS invades the mind via the eardrum and refuses to leave.
10. Amour (dir. Michael Haneke)
Anyone who ever complained cinematic romance was unrealistic may have their faith restored by Amour. Michael Haneke proves himself capable of surprising tenderness with this tale of a couple (a heartbreaking Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) coping with the encroachment of illness. Sometimes funny, often poignant, yet still packing some Haneke-flavoured shock, Amour is the side of older people in love Hope Springs would never dare probe.
9. Killing Them Softly (dir. Andrew Dominik)
Subtext? Bah! Killing Them Softly made the current economic crisis as much a part of the text as the criminal capers being cleaned up by Cogan (Brad Pitt on blistering form). Critics and audiences didn’t appreciate a lecture in political economy being delivered by gangsters, but they missed Andrew Dominik’s slick direction and a uniformly superb supporting cast. Like Fight Club before it, Killing Them Softly bombed at the box office, but is destined for cult status.
8. Life Of Pi (dir. Ang Lee)
Life of Pi boasts some outstanding special effects, but its story is what stays with you afterwards. A boy and a tiger on a boat becomes the surprising stage for a tale of endurance, self-belief and faith. That said, director Ang Lee makes sure never to force any viewpoints down the audience’s throats. Subtlety is a trait rarely glimpsed in a film loaded with CGI, but Life of Pi is a blissful exception.
7. Beasts Of The Southern Wild (dir. Benh Zeitlin)
Beasts of the Southern Wild, the little film that could, combines childlike imagination with genuinely affecting issues to creating a bathtub full of joy. Quvenzhané Wallis is a revalation as Hushpuppy, the little girl trying to save her family, friends and bayou home from a watery grave. Despite the grim material, BOTSW is a bright and uplifting piece of cinema, and a blistering debut from director/co-writer/composer Benh Zeitlin.
6. Moonrise Kingdom (dir. Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson’s style will not convert his critics to Moonrise Kingdom, but its sweet tale of teenage romantics on the run makes this his most accessible and arguably best film to date. Newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward make a sweet young couple, whilst the likes of Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Anderson stalwart Bill Murray infuse the Andersonian kook with laughs and genuine warmth.
5. Looper (dir. Rian Johnson)
Looper could have been a cooler-than-thou sci-fi flick with a cool cast and visuals, and it was. It was also so much more, with a compelling story driven by rounded characters, terrific effects and remarkable confidence on the part of writer/director Rian Johnson. Joseph-Gordon Levitt ages into Bruce Willis with odd believability, and the final act boasts scenes of surprising emotional heft.
4. Zero Dark Thirty (Dir. Kathryn Bigelow)
The hunt for Osama bin Laden is brought to the screen with intelligence and confidence to spare in Zero Dark Thirty. Jessica Chastain is a human face behind the militaristic hubris, whilst Mark Boal’s script doesn’t skimp on detail, making Kathryn Bigelow’s follow-up to The Hurt Locker a demanding but well-worthwhile watch.
The Master is a tease, but in the best possible way. Is it about Scientology? A treatise on addiction? A sequel to I’m Still Here? PT Anderson doesn’t dictate meaning. Instead, with the help of Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, Anderson create a mood and atmosphere full of foreboding and possibility, taking both the characters and the audience on a journey to the unknown. Like the drinks Phoenix’s Freddie makes, The Master is a heady brew.
2. Margaret (Extended Cut) (dir. Kenneth Lonergan)
Margaret suffered a tortured production path (several cuts, lawsuits and a theatrical release last year best described as ‘farcical’), but the emergence of the Extended Cut this year made the effort worth it. This longer cut confirms Kenneth Lonergan’s sophomore feature as some kind of masterpiece, with barbed characters and dialogue to make a confrontational New York film, loaded with post-9/11 relevance and layers.
1. Holy Motors (dir. Leos Carax)
You may not know the name Denis Lavant, but if you watch Holy Motors you’ll never forget him. He is the chameleon channelling multiple personalities in a wonderfully wacky variety of performances in Leos Carax’s tribute to acting in particular and film in general. Holy Motors is an intoxicating filmic experience, acknowledging cinema past and present (and future?) with irreverence, style and confidence to spare.
Best Actor: Joaquin Phoenix, The Master
– Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
– Denis Lavant, Holy Motors
– Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt
Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
– Quvenzhané Wallis, Beasts of the Southern Wild
– Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty
– Marion Cotillard, Rust and Bone
Best Supporting Actress: Ann Dowd, Compliance
– Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables
– Helen Hunt The Sessions
– Amy Adams, The Master
Best Director: Paul Thomas Anderson, The Master
– Ben Affleck, Argo
– Ang Lee, Life of Pi
– Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Once Upon A Time In Anatolia
Surprise of the Year: 21 Jump Street (dir. Phil Lord, Chris Miller) – a stupidly, brilliantly effective piece of entertainment. Did what it said on the tin, and a little more.
Disappointment of the Year: Prometheus (right) (dir. Ridley Scott) – crash-landed with dumb characters, a rushed plot and an indecisiveness over whether or not it’s an Alien prequel.
Worst Film of the Year: John Carter (dir. Andrew Stanton) – bloated, unoriginal, bland, convoluted, over-produced and under-developed. Lucas and Spielberg perfected this stuff almost 40 years ago.
– The Iron Lady
– The Bourne Legacy
– Project X