Top 10 Films of 2012 (5-1)

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

David Fincher’s remarkable remake of Steig Larsson’s hit novel didn’t fully get its due from both audiences and critics due to its muted, and frankly odd, release date around boxing day last year, as a result (and as I saw it in 2012 too) I’ve included it here. Whilst I concede that the Swedish original from which this is based is a mighty fine film in its own right, there is genius at work here that demands attention. David Fincher manages to craft landscapes that simply seep with a dreamlike atmosphere, whilst framing his shots with the incredible technical precision he is known for. Here he conventionally manipulates the audience but also subverts the cinematic language of the thriller genre. There are many scenes that have not left me due to the strength of their image (no doubt aided by Fincher’s excellent collaboration with Cinematographer, Jeff Cronenweth); the sweeping entrance to the Vangar family estate, the brilliant shots of Lisbeth racing through Stockholm on her motorcycle and the incredible opening sequence. It also doesn’t hurt that the all the performances and Trent Reznor’s score are top rate.

4. The Master

When I first heard about the premise of “The Master” my interest was greatly piqued, here was a Hollywood director seemingly about to directly tackle an infamous organisation, that could potentially put his career, friends and family in jeopardy. Clearly the risks were high and so when the film arrived this year it beguiled many with it’s apparent subtlety and ambiguousness. What is “The Master” really about? In a lot of ways the question is irrelevant, because instead of posing its arguments and critiques in a logical or conventional sense, director Paul Thomas Anderson has admirably chosen to use abstraction. As such it’s a picture that is pure arthouse heaven. For anyone who is open minded about the artistic and subconscious possibilities of the medium, “The Master” presents a near flawless example. The tale of troubled ex-serviceman Freddy (played extraordinarily with one of the best performances of the year by Joaquin Phoenix) and his manipulation by cult leader Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is more about a nuanced flow of exchanges and concepts, than character progression or resolution. In fact you could go as far as to suggest that all the characters return to where they were more or less at the beginning by the end of the piece. “The Master” is immersive experience that leaves you much to mull on and only asks in return that you do not judge, but rather try to consider its idealogical conflicts without preconception.

3. Outrage

Takashi Kitano’s Yakuza epic for the 21st century originally came out in its native Japan in 2010 but didn’t properly surface till earlier this year in the UK; with its sequel already out in Tokyo! Despite the long delay, I can’t sing its praises enough and want to mention it here in a vain attempt to ensure that other people check it out. If you are a fan of gangster films then “Outrage” is an unmissable experience (read my original review here: https://theexecutionofallthings.wordpress.com/2012/02/19/kitano-special-part-1-outrage/)

2. Cosmopolis

Many critics said that “Cosmopolis” is a hard film to love and maybe they’re right! At the screening I attended, I was dismayed, not only to find that the number of people queuing up for it was dwarfed by cinema-goers who had instead chosen to see “Moonrise Kingdom”, but to also hear someone heavily snoring behind me after only about half an hour into its running time. The sleeping audience member really did get to me, as you can say a lot of things about David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don DeLillo’s novel, but it certainly isn’t disengaging. As sleek and well made as the limousine that the film’s plot is set around, Cronenberg seduces you into a world vision where banality is the ultimate trap and destruction is caused by nature’s inherent asymmetry. Like the director’s last picture, “A Dangerous Method,” this is a cerebral film seemingly about very little but instead dealing with the internal struggles and existential crises of its central character (Millionaire wunderkind Eric Packer played rather excellently by Robert Pattinson). The film’s way of doing things reminded me of Will Self’s Psychogeography theory (itself inspired by fellow Cronenberg collaborator JG Ballard), where feelings and conflicts are portrayed externally in the background and architectural surroundings, whilst the individual is almost completely drained of emotional expression. It is a testament then, that Cronenberg and Pattinson (along with their superb supporting cast; it’s particularly pleasing to see Mathieu Amalric show up) have managed to thread a line of black humour throughout that saves the film from being too po-faced, and in my mind succeeds in making it an entertaining watch. Unsurprising the thrills on offer aren’t to everyone’s tastes (this is Cronenberg after all!) but as an ambitious, low budget and thought provoking film that improves on its source material (hello ambiguity, goodbye poorly written rap song), you couldn’t find better this year.

1. Prometheus

In a year dominated by novel and play adaptations, sequels and endless comic book films, there was one picture that managed to be more original than all of them, that film is of course “Prometheus.” The hostile response to its release was undoubtedly the film story of the year, with many critics and audience members feeling hugely disappointed and frustrated. A lot of this criticism however is ill-conceived and unfair, and after seeing the film several times I feel certain that as time goes on “Prometheus” will be re-evaluated (in much the same way as its sister films “Alien” and “Blade Runner” have). Many have pointed to the script, firstly asking why original writer Jon Spaihts had been removed from pre-production (his script had a lot more references to “Alien”) and replaced with Damon Lindelof (of “Lost” fame); surely this was all his fault, filling the film with his typically unresolved mysteries. Why wasn’t it more like “Alien,” wasn’t it suppose to be the prequel? The truth is that neither of these writers can be blamed for any of “Prometheus” perceived flaws, and I would argue that anyone who has felt disappointed or angry has been quite pointedly played; there is one man who has made every single decision in this film (consciously I might add), no matter how minuscule the detail, and that that man is director Sir Ridley Scott. He’s been called many things, from auteur to visionary, but with “Prometheus” it is evident that he has once more become master of his own destiny. It is no secret that many people feel disappointed because they allowed themselves to go along with the enormous amounts of hype which Ridley himself orchestrated; they wanted something but they weren’t quite sure what, maybe “Alien” again? Scott ingeniously takes his own film “Alien” (itself a mishmash of B-movie genre conventions) and completely subverts it over the course of “Prometheus.” Nothing quite goes the way you expect it from previous cinematic experience (particularly if you are a loyal fan of “Alien”) and I am certain that Scott has cut the film in such a way that it’s deliberately unsatisfying. Is this another masterful (but cynical) move on his part to pave the way for sequels and directors cuts? In a way that doesn’t really matter, because being forced into having to return to the film actually causes you to release its wealth of riches. “Prometheus” is a remarkably well-made film, its sets designed within an inch of their life, its cinematography consistently stunning and its performances tantalisingly ambiguous (Michael Fassbender’s performance is so overwhelmingly good, you really have to see the film more than once to get a feel for the other actors). I originally saw the film in IMAX 3D and was stunned by its incredible visual achievements (the monitor displays and dream sequences were particularly unforgettable), and feel more pride than the London Olympics that “Prometheus” was made in the UK. I have no doubt that it will go on to inspire a generation of film makers in future and whatever the outcome of its mysteries, it was the most singularly unique experience to be had in 2012.

Honourable mention:

The Dark Knight Rises – It would be unforgivable to pass on briefly bringing up Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film. Sure it’s too long, has script structuring problems and has an unintentionally hilarious ending, but it also has a lot of heart and intelligence. Christian Bale’s continued nuanced and restrained performance as Batman deserves respect, as does the year’s “most eccentric moment in cinema TM” , by which I am of course referring to Bane’s voice.

Worst Film of the 2012:

The Hunger Games – The first film based on Suzanne Collins’ popular book series commits so many cinematic crimes that to list them all here would constituent to a massive rant. Needless to say, chief among them is the hideous ripping off of Kinji Fukasaku’s classic “Battle Royale.” Whereas in that film adaptation there was humour, pathos and satirical bite; in “The Hunger Games” there is jarring CGI, blandness and commercial cynicism. Perhaps I would be more forgiving if there was a reference made to acknowledge the debt owed to “Battle Royale” author Koushun Takami (not to mention Steven King!) but the fact that Collins’ and her director’s blank refusal to do so in interviews is without a doubt the most shameful thing about this whole enterprise.

Most Underrated film of 2012:

Carnage – This short and snappy film adaptation by Roman Polanski of the play of the same name may had been lacking in set pieces but more than made up for it with hugely enjoyable performances and great casting. The ever reliable Christopher Waltz was particularly spell-binding.

Best Actor of 2012:

Woody Harrelson – Typically dismissed as a TV actor and terminally underrated, Woody cropped up in several films this year (“Rampart”, “Seven Psychopaths” and “The Hunger Games”), turning in superb performances in all them (even “The Hunger Games!”). Perhaps the bravest gamble of his career was his remarkable central role in “Rampart,” where Harrelson portrays a deeply unsympathetic character with unflinching grit and conviction.

Runner Up:

Daniel Craig (“Skyfall” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”).

Best Actress of 2012:

Noomi Rapace – Described rather condescendingly as a “rising star” after her impressive turn in the “Millennium trilogy”, Rapace proved herself an already greatly experienced and accomplished international actress, who blew away the Hollywood naysayers this year with a supreme central performance in “Prometheus.” Rapace showed that she could more than hold her own against the likes of Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron, and later on in the year even managed to out rock the Stones!

Runner Up:

Amy Adams (“The Master” and “The Muppets”).

Worst Actor of 2012:

Rafe Spall – Dear casting directors of the world, please do not be fooled by young Master Spall’s parentage or credits, unfortunately he is the cinematic equivalent of Ketamine, he will make even the most sturdy of audiences woozy and doubting if they are actually alive. This year he was given not one but two “Big Breaks” with the young Master appearing in blockbusters “Prometheus” and “Life of Pi”. In both films he manages to destabilise proceedings to such a degree that in Prometheus’ case several viewers, so confused by his B-movie style performance, devised a theory that his character “had brain damage caused by hyper sleep.”

Worst Actress of 2012:

Kirsten Stewart – Another year and another year of inexplicable plaudits piled on the (morally) dubious and (undoubtedly) dreadful Twilight series. Unlike co-star Robert Patterson (who has managed to prove that he is in fact actually an excellent actor), Kirsten Stewart continues to shrug and frown her way through a succession of dreadful performances (“On the Road” and “Snow White and the Huntsman” ).

Best Cameos of 2012:

Two famous muses of David Lynch turned up rather unexpectedly in films this year, with the great Harry Dean Stanton rather surreally lending a helping hand to the Hulk in “The Avengers” (on the subject of “The Avengers” I haven’t got a bad word to say about it, it was immensely great fun and in a lesser year would had featured here). Harry also showed up in a creepy flashback scene in “Seven Psychopaths”, whilst co-star Laura Dern pleasantly surprised me by appearing at just the right moment to spur on the action in “The Master.”

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