Following on from my countdown of the ten worst films of 2012, this is my list of the films that have made 2012 one of the best years for films in a long time.
10. The Avengers
With the weight of every geek’s expectation on his shoulders, Joss Whedon pulled an absolute blinder with this, one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. Wisely eschewing the current trend for moody superheroes, Whedon goes full comic book on The Avengers, embracing the inherent craziness of a proper superhero movie.
Combining everything that’s awesome about its constituent heroes, The Avengers is a wise-cracking, all action thrill ride that defines what a comic book movie should be all about. The script is razor sharp and the CGI is incredible.
The true revelation of the movie though is Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal of Bruce Banner/The Hulk. He brings a true personality to both sides of the character, finally solving the problem of that character’s transition to the screen.
With Whedon on board for the 2015 sequel, the fun is set to continue. My prediction? SMASH!
9. The Raid
I still find it difficult to understand how an Indonesian martial arts movie, directed by a Welshman and with very little in the way of plot managed to be one of the best movies of 2012. Somehow though, Gareth Evans’ The Raid pulled it off.
This is in no small part down to the immense talent of Iko Uwais. He serves as both the film’s leading man and the fight choreographer. His choreography turns violence into poetry and is some of the most intricate screen brawling that I have ever seen. It doesn’t take long for the clean kill of bullets to be abandoned, replaced by knives, fists and whatever weaponry can be improvised from household items.
An American remake is already confirmed, surprising absolutely no-one.
8. The Muppets
The Muppets was the happiest film of 2012. It’s rare in modern cynical Hollywood to get a film that genuinely has fun at its centre, but this has exactly that. It works as well for audiences that do not know the characters as it does for those who grew up with Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie and co, pulling off the remarkable balancing act of pleasing absolutely everyone.
Music is of course a massive part of The Muppets and, with Flight of the Conchords scribe Bret McKenzie at the helm, it’s the best part. Jason Segel and Amy Adams belt out the songs and brilliantly deliver the beautifully self-referential script – amongst the cleverest of the year. It may be ostensibly a children’s movie, but there are arguably more jokes for the adults than for the kids.
Anyone who didn’t like this probably has no soul.
In a year where Prometheus disappointed everyone except me, sci-fi cinema needed a film like Looper. Via an ingenious time travel plot and wonderful performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, it manages to continue the growing trend of highly intelligent blockbuster films.
Following Inception and Source Code, Looper proved to be this year’s cinema trip for the sci-fi fan with a brain. The laybrinthine plot, complicated by constant crossing of timelines and paradoxes, appears confusing at first but it is given plenty of time to unravel due to the excellent director/writer job done by Rian Johnson.
Cementing Joseph Gordon-Levitt as one of the holy trinity of actors currently in their prime (Tom Hardy and Michael Fassbender, out of interest), this is a future classic. Calling it this generation’s Matrix is a disservice; this is much better.
6. The Imposter
Sometimes true stories are so bizarre and incredible that it feels as if they cannot possibly be true. Bart Layton’s ingenious documentary The Imposter plays with the line between fact and fiction so cleverly that it’s impossible to tell what is real.
Via interviews with both victims and perpetrator of a heinous and strange con, Layton weaves the story’s intricate tapestry and tantalisingly leaves some questions unanswered, with wildly conflicting viewpoints given equal weight of probability.
The narrative is framed using a combination of talking head interviews and dramatic reconstructions. It is this technique that creates the blurred perspective and leads the audience to question whether anything they’re seeing is true.
The Imposter is documentary cinema at its most intelligent.
Snubbed at this year’s awards ceremonies in favour of less risqué fare, Shame is Michael Fassbender’s career highlight thus far and an uncompromising film in every way.
Fassbender’s portrayal of a tormented sex addict is committed and layered, with Carey Mulligan equally brilliant as his troubled sister. These are characters who aren’t archetypes. Both characters grow and develop as the film goes on, with nuance being key.
Steve McQueen directs with vigour, the camera never looking away, even from the most difficult material. Shame tackles its topic head on and is rightly proud of that. The sex scenes are there, but it’s way more than the sum of its private parts.
Watch out for Carey Mulligan’s haunting version of New York, New York. It’s genius.
Who would have thought that one of the most suspenseful movie scenes of 2012 would be a group of people shuffling around an airport?
Argo is Ben Affleck’s tense political thriller that works in that genre as well as being a hefty satire of Hollywood culture and, at times, a comedy. Its genre-hopping creates characters worth caring about as well as danger and thrills, making it a well-rounded film that hits a huge audience.
Based on a declassified true story, its period is still familiar and, in the current climate of Middle Eastern unrest, the story resonates strongly.
Affleck is brilliant and his supporting cast are great as well. Hopefully Argo will be putting in a strong performance as this year’s awards are dished out.
3. The Cabin in the Woods
It was easy to call horror a tired genre before The Cabin in the Woods, especially when horror output in 2012 has been generally awful. However, Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s masterpiece ties the genre up in knots and, with an excellent script and bundles of subversion, reinvigorates horror.
Near impossible to talk about without spoiling its intricacies, The Cabin in the Woods is the year’s word of mouth hit. Horror fans will adore the references to The Evil Dead and others, whereas those who don’t know their Raimi from their Romero will enjoy the gallons of bloodshed and witty repartee. The finale is wonderfully insane and it’s difficult to think of any film that has such a huge pay-off.
Of all the films in this list, The Cabin in the Woods is probably the most fun.
2. Killing Them Softly
This crime thriller uses the dark, murderous criminal underworld as a microcosm for the hierarchy of recession America. Sound boring? It isn’t.
Killing Them Softly is an excellent portrait, not only of crime, but of the human condition. It shows people doing what they feel they have to do to survive, from objectionable monsters to those for whom criminality feels like a necessity. The violence is operatic – a stunning cacophony of sound and image that makes sure every blow hurts and every gunshot is felt, even on the other side of the screen.
Brad Pitt and Ray Liotta both give stunning performances and the supporting cast drips with talent. Andrew Dominik has nailed this one, plain and simple.
1. End of Watch
Sneaking into the top spot at the very end of the year, End of Watch is a cop movie that isn’t about police. It’s about brotherhood and friendship.
The film is at its best when it isn’t blasting criminals away or dealing with cartels. It is at its best when the two central characters are simply sat in their patrol car, showing how close they are. Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena both give incredible performances, as does Anna Kendrick in yet another of her stellar supporting roles.
It’s the chemistry between Gyllenhaal and Pena that powers End of Watch, even as the plot thunders towards its sucker punch of a climax. Their friendship is the most powerful connection I’ve seen in a cinema this year. Genius.
There we have it. You can see what would’ve made the rest of my top 20 over on Letterboxd here. Do you agree? Have your say in the comments section below.