I won’t waste your time or mine waxing lyrical about how 2012 was a great year for movies because as far as I’m concerned it was not. Every year it becomes increasingly difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff. Yes there are good films out there but they are getting increasingly difficult to find. The multiplexes are dominated by big studio titles and the discerning viewer needs to dig further to find something of more substance. However VOD and DTV releases can often provide the odd gem here and there. Having the good fortune to live where I do (South East London), the British Film Institute often provides an opportunity to see the classic, the up and coming and the obscure, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
It’s customary to produce some sort of list at this time of the year, so I’ve done my best to accommodate this tradition. It saddens me that its not as diverse as it could be and I will certainly be trying to broaden my viewing material in 2013. In the meantime here are some titles that I have enjoyed this year.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. British character dramas are at times just as formulaic as Hollywood blockbusters. This tale of British Expats moving to a retirement hotel in India was elevated above the mundane by a very witty bitter/sweat script and outstanding performances by an ensemble cast. Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal of a retired judge looking to set a youthful misdemeanour right, was especially good. The movie is not perfect and does fall back upon some generic plot devices, yet the performances and relevance of the films message far outweighed these minor flaws. Cinema seems to have little room for the over sixties these days. Scripts tend to stereotype them or simply airbrush them out of existence. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel does completely the opposite and shows that people still have aspirations and need love regardless of their age.
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! The funniest film of the year as far as I’m concerned although this does come with one caveat. I base my opinion on the UK version of the film. The US cut has an alternate title of The Pirates! Band of Misfits and some alternative voice artists. Also some of the jokes were toned down for the more conservative market across the pond. I laughed continuously throughout this movie, not only at the clever dialogue but also at the continuous barrage of sight gags. Aardman Animations took a risk deviating from their standard Wallace and Gromit game plan but I am ever so glad that they did. Once again it would appear that it is the animators that seem to fully understand the mechanics of creating quality cinema. Plus any movie that has a monkey butler called Mr. Bobo who communicates via cue cards is on to a winner.
The Avengers. Joss Whedon did a magnificent job it tying all the different plot strands from all the previous superhero movies and crafting a story that was action packed, engaging and humorous. The latter is especially important and an incredibly fine line to tread. Although I greatly enjoyed The Dark knight Rises, I chose The Avengers because I think it is a more accessible genre piece. The financial success of the movie along with broad critical acclaim, is a clear message to Hollywood to ensure that the right person is at the helm of these sort of mega productions. The benchmark has now been set. Will next years crop of blockbusters be so good?
The Raid. Hollywood can be very smug at times with it’s bloated, sanitised and homogeneous approach to action movies. The Raid was the perfect antidote to this. One hundred and one minutes of incredible martial arts action which did not shy away from blood and gore. It was also a minor morality tale with its appeal lying in it’s Indonesian location and lead actor Iko Uwais. Apparently this movie is scheduled for a US remake. Watch the suits strip away every facet that made The Raid great to begin with.
Cockneys vs Zombies. Not in anyway a masterpiece but it made me smile at a time when I really needed to. Low budget gore, London locations, a theme song by Chas and Dave, loads of witty and very British humour, plus Richard Briers with a zimmer frame being chased by zombies. What more could you want? One hundred times better than material such as The Devil Inside and The House at the End of the Street. A honest horror movie made with a great deal of love and determination, because getting funding these days is like pulling teeth.
Dredd. Finally a half decent adaptation of one of the UK’s most iconic comic characters and also what I consider to be an appropriate use of 3D. In some respects Dredd is a throwback to the eighties with its strong action scenes and black and white perspective on good versus evil. The story neatly sets the scene and establishes the protagonists ready for future sequels. Yet despite doing well internationally, the movie did not propser at the US box office. However, the forthcoming release on home media and VOD may well generate sufficient revenue to see Judge Dredd return. I hope it is the case because I don’t really want to have to sit through anymore PG-13 rated Bourne clones.
Looper. Thank you Rian Johnson for making a movie that credits the audience with an IQ in triple figures and for writing a science fiction story that requires the viewer to think. The time travel paradoxes have you scratching your head for hours after. A fine example of a film that’s been made from the top downwards driven by the vision of the writer/director, as opposed to mainstream corporate film production by committee. Joseph Gordon-Levitt dominates the film and certainly seems to be an actor to keep an eye on in 2013. Bruce Willis once again shows us that he is a old school actor with traditional star quality.
Skyfall. Bond finally returned in 2012 with one of the finest entries in the franchise for years. Daniel Craig turned in a outstanding performance in this hard edged, gritty and cerebral instalment. Not only did we get a movie with a far greater depth of plot and characterisation, we were also treated to traditional action sequences that were edited and framed in a manner where you could actually see and appreciate what was going on. No shaky cam or lightning editing, just tough action that pushes the boundaries of the PG-13/12 rating. Also a fine theme song by Adele. A superb return to form in the 50th anniversary year of Bond. Thank you Sam Mendes.
Indie Game: The Movie. Okay it may not be the definitive expose of of the gaming industry but this documentary certainly explored the realities of creating a product outside of the accepted channels. It doesn’t really matter if you are into gaming or not, as this film is accessible to anyone who has ever tried to create something. The true cost of pursuing any artistic endeavour or business enterprise is shown in a rather stark manner. Fascinating, moving and very inspiring. It has certainly reinvigorated me and got me to pull my proverbial finger out as far as what I want to achieve in 2013.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Well after the long wait, the hype and the white noise of fanboy exultations, the first part of Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-Earth was very enjoyable. It was baggy in places and unevenly paced, yet still had a lot to offer. HFR 3D was an interesting experiment but for me (and many others) was not a game changer and I cannot see it becoming the industry standard. Martin Freeman simply is Bilbo Baggins and the riddles in the dark sequence made the movie. Once again the director has managed to walk the fine line between reaching a wider audience and keeping the purists happy. Its a shame that we have to endure the rather interminable marketing and hype machine for another twelve months before getting to see the next part of the story. I am also cautious about the extended version that is pending with its extra footage.
Honourable and dishonourable mentions:
Battleship. The most stupidest, bloated, noisy, tedious movie I saw in 2012. People who make movies like this simply do not understand what cinema is about. I don’t really know what is worse. Whether the producers consciously decide to insult the intelligence of the audience, or whether they actually think that a product such as this is some how good? Either way it makes you want to weep. I mean who in all honesty thought it was wise to spend $200 million on a movie based upon a board game?
John Carter. A failiure in virtually every respect. Does Disney actually know how to make quality live action genre movies anymore, like they did in the seventies and eighties? This doesn’t bode well for the new Star Wars movies.
Get The Gringo. Mel Gibson may be a train wreck of a human being but he is still a fine actor and director. This movie didn’t get the release it deserved due to the enemies he’s made but it was a fine return to form. Great performance, morally ambiguous narrative and thoroughly engaging. More please.
Taken 2. It’s been a great year for Liam Neeson. He started off by punching wolves and ended by killing virtually every criminal in Eastern Europe. Taken 2 is without a doubt the second dumbest movie of the year but unlike Battleship, it at least had the courtesy to be fun.