2012 is over. 365 days, 52 weeks and hundreds of films: it has now come to the time of the year where those who look at films critically pick the highlights and lowlights of the year’s film releases. There are rules for this type of thing, films that were released theatrically in the year in question. Sounds simple enough, but there is a hand full of films that would be here, but they only received festival runs in 2012.
21. My Way (Dir. Kang Je-Gyu)
In the scheme of Korean directors to make the transition to the West, Kang Je-Gyu doesn’t feature. Now if you mention his epic war Melodrama, Brotherhood, people will start to become more receptive. Everything he did in his earlier film is improved upon in My Way. The growing friendship between two enemies over a series of world war two war zones develops the directors themes and fascinations. His skill at framing a war zone, his development of character and above all else his absolute talent at evoking emotion, it’s all here. Whether you want to or not, my way will run the gamut from loss and happiness to the uncontrollable chaos of war.
20. The Grey (Dir. Joe Carnahan)
Joe Carnahan surprised right out of the blocks. Not much was expected from the A-team director and the promo suggested that The Grey was ‘Liam Neeson wolf Puncher’. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The Grey is a taut and occasionally terrifying survivalist and existentialist thriller which sees man pitted against nature. Whether it’s one of the best plane crashes committed to cinema or the relentless wolf packs that hunt down the survivors, The Grey is a superb package. While the second half doesn’t pop like the first, it still makes Joe Carnahan and the Grey a film to be reckoned with.
19. Kotoko (Dir. Shin’ya Tsukamoto)
Director of Japanese grunge, Tsukamoto, has been missing in action of late. He resolved that with his response to the Japanese tragedy in Kotoko. With a heart-stopping performance from Japanese musician Cocco, Tsukamoto stripped back all the layers to make a lo-fi drama about a woman coping with an increasingly aggressive mental unease. Losing her child and meeting a potential lover, she tries to cope with life. The film is disturbing, touching and reclaims stylized tropes to tell a genuinely disturbing tale. If he keeps this up, comparisons with Master of venereal and thoughtful horror, David Cronenberg, will be coming thick and fast. The film also owns the single most shocking moment in any film this year – or any year, for that matter.
18. Himizu (Dir. Sion Sono)
Based on a manga and it shows, the first of Sion Sono’s earthquake trilogy lives in an emotionally heightened and exaggerated world that will alienate many. With exquisite performances from Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaidô, as the two young leads, Sono exploits their contemptible home lives to evoke a suffocating aura of dread and desperation post-disaster. Atmosphere aside, it all comes back to Sometani and Nikaidô to give the film an incredible emotional weight which is expressed through screaming histrionics like only the Japanese animated form knows how. A word of warning though, the film has a troubling relationship with domestic violence.
17. The Imposter (Dir. Bart Layton)
Without going into plot detail, as this is an exceptionally easy film to spoil, Layton presented an incredible true story with boldly framed and atmospheric re-enactments similar to Errol Morris in a film where the unbelievable truth just keeps on growing and growing. Leaving the film, you’ll either be angry that this happened or doubtful whether anybody on either side actually told the truth, whatever you leave the Imposter feeling; the truth remains that you will be putty in the director’s hands.
16. The Dark Knight Rises (Dir. Christopher Nolan)
Up there with the disappointing Prometheus as one of the most anticipated films of the year is number 18, Christopher Nolan’s final entry into his Batman Trilogy – the dark knight rises. This is the only film that could have come after the dark knight in Nolan’s consequence laden Gotham; its patience caps the trilogy in fine form. What makes it worthy of mention in this list is the character drama and build up that is impeccably played. From Wally Pfister’s extraordinary cinematography to the performances of the entire ensemble, little more could be asked for. If anything holds the film back it’s that the finale settles for simple-minded running clock set-up. There are two rather simple headed plot beats to contend with, still, a great blockbuster is a great blockbuster.
15. 21 Jump Street (Dir. Phil Lord & Chris Miller)
Every year has its best comedy, 2010 had black dynamite, 2011 had Tucker & Dale versus Evil, and now 2012 has Phil Lord & Chris Miller’s 21 Jump Street. Nobody expected this to be anything other than another lazy rehash of old material; no-one expected it to have such a satirical and surreal streak. Lord and Miller together with leads Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum make fun of 1980s tropes and the cleverly twist expectations of the high school genre. Clever comedy may be one thing; this is also spectacularly funny for those that enjoy a sense of anarchy in their comedy.
14. The Cabin in the Woods (Dir. Drew Goddard)
Another clever film hits the mark at number 14, with Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s deconstructive horror Cabin in the Woods. Not only is it fantastically entertaining, with a final third that offers much in the way of re-watchability, it also satirises the very existence of horror movies. Whether it was that white board or the general tone of the ‘other scenes’, Goddard and Whedon have made the most entertaining thesis on horror tropes for years. Why do we enjoy watching people being grotesquely killed off? Well, cabin in the woods knows why and as well as providing the best ‘horror as spectacle’ film of the year, it’s also the best ‘cabin in the woods’ film since Sam Raimi gave us Evil Dead 2.
13. The Innkeepers (Dir. Ti West)
A much more traditional horror film now, from keeper of the old way Ti West. Nothing in 2012 (2011) showed how impatient horror fans are. Instead of favouring gore, jump scares and visceral film making that the genre has been known to support, Ti West is more of a classicist. With more in common with Polanski’s horror trilogy or the sedate character horror of the 50s-70s, West builds up the tension brilliantly through developing his two leads. Only when he is good and ready does he allow the film to become shocking as a genre piece. Then he has the bravery to pose a sense of doubt over what happens in the final third. There are few auteurs in horror as brave or good as Ti West; long may the young director’s ascendancy continue. Pity about the cameo from Lena “me-me-me” Dunham.
12. Cosmopolis (Dir. David Cronenberg)
Difficult and demanding patience, no two words could sum up number 12 greater. Cronenberg’s adaptation of Don Delillo’s novel Cosmopolis doesn’t exactly welcome viewers with open arms. It’s hard, obtuse visage with its otherworldly worldview and language, the first half of Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis is horrible. Then around kicks the second half. We get a fantastically self-destructive performance from Robert Pattinson and that sense of other that permeates the film, so proudly, finally makes sense. The film is viewed from Pattinson’s perspective, he is divorced from the real world and the film grows to reflect his alien perspective, echoing Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth. By the time Paul Giamatti turns up the film has grown into something quite remarkable.
11. Shame (Dir. Steve McQueen)
Featuring in many 2011 lists, Steve McQueen’s sophomore effort finally arrived in UK cinemas in 2012. Alongside his muse in Michael Fassbender, McQueen’s film is an uncompromisingly honest character study of a sex addict in New York. With an actor of Fassbender’s intensity in a film like this the result was bound to be good. Through his unflinching gaze and adoption of long take camera work, McQueen brings his visual art onto a living frame. With the directors debut he proved that he had a predisposition towards dark subject matter and he has followed up Hunger with one of the best movies about addiction ever to be committed to cinema. It is as simple as that.