These are my top ten films of 2012, based on UK release dates. Feel free to mock my choices mercilessly. Films that just missed the cut included Amour, Looper, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and The Dark Knight Rises.
10. The Muppets
You may laugh but . . . Bret McKenzie’s songs, Amy Adams AND Rashida Jones, Smells Like Teen Spirit as done by a Muppet barbershop quartet, Jim Parsons being funnier in one moment than in six years of The Big Bang Theory, Chris Cooper rapping . . . I was smiling throughout the film and was smiling for the whole day after seeing it. I can even forgive them playing We Built This City.
Almost a decade after Gigli, Ben Affleck completes his career resurrection. Argo manages the difficult task of moving between humour and drama, and is a masterclass in building and stretching tension to the limit, even when we know what the outcome is. I could feel myself exhaling with relief at certain points. Some excellent choices for the supporting cast as well, in the likes of Arkin, Goodman and Cranston.
8. Young Adult
I know many people out there have an extreme allergy to Diablo Cody, but I believe she’s a highly talented writer (not to mention Jason Reitman is one of the best young directors around), and this film trims the more divisive idiosyncrasies of Juno for a script that’s wonderfully abrasive. It’s a shame the film flopped commercially and was ignored during awards season, not least Charlize Theron’s performance. It is probably no surprise though, as it feels like one big fuck you to Hollywood and to awards in general. Young Adult might even be the anti-Juno.
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild
Fans of Terence Malick (certainly fans of his first two films) would do well to check this out, it shares that elegiac, faintly unearthly feel. But it also has a fantastical feel all of its own. I love the final scene of defiance especially. And the score, I really should listen to more of the score. Benh Zeitlin is only 30 and this is his first film, I hope there’s more to come.
6. The Artist
I’m cheating a little here, as this did come out in one London cinema at the end of December last year. But it didn’t come out nationwide until January and as per usual with my lists, I like to bend the rules a little sometimes. The Artist is a breezy delight, which pitches itself perfectly in evoking silent cinema without ever lurching into parody. And can someone start getting Berenice Bejo into more films?
5. Martha Marcy May Marlene
All hail the talented Olsen sibling! Elizabeth Olsen makes her debut in films and instantly joins the likes of Jennifer Lawrence as one of the best young actresses around. Unnerving and claustrophobic, Martha Marcy May Marlene moves effortlessly between past and present and the lines between what might be real and what might be imagined become increasingly blurred. It has certainly lingered in my mind long after watching it.
4. The Master
I know the ending feels like Paul Thomas Anderson wasn’t quite sure where to take things, and the opaque nature of the story will drive some people mad (a Paul Thomas Anderson film being divisive, go figure), but this film has really got under my skin. It just looks stunning, the three lead performances are brilliant and there are so many scenes where I was completely transfixed by what was happening. The first ‘processing’ scene between Phoenix and Hoffman is probably my favourite film scene of the year. It’s not as good as There Will Be Blood or Magnolia, but then not much out there is. And as an added bonus, it must have wound up Scientologists no end.
3. Moonrise Kingdom
Rejoice! Wes Anderson will probably never top the genius that is Rushmore, but with Moonrise Kingdom he’s delivered his best film by far since that career high. He’s got the usual visual flair, the usual whip-smart writing, the usual first-rate soundtrack, but this time he’s remembered what has felt missing since Rushmore – characters you really care about and a warmth to the story. Even Bruce Willis fits effortlessly into the latest world Anderson has conjured up. The end result is surprisingly touching, something I wasn’t sure I’d ever see again in a Wes Anderson film.
2. The Avengers
Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman both excel in this great adaptation of the famous British TV series . . . damn, no, wait a second . . .
What can I say about this film? That it’s one of the most quotable films of recent years? That it shows the importance of script and characterisation, which the likes of Michael Bay will seemingly never understand? That it’s an absolute blast from start to finish? Joss Whedon doesn’t always hit the target with his work, but when he does, the results are invariably great. And with The Avengers, he delivered his A-game. No idea how he can top it next time, but I can’t wait to find out. Now I’m off for some shawarma . . .
1. The Imposter
So my favourite film of 2012 isn’t a film as such, but a documentary. However you could easily mistake this story of a child disappearing and the aftermath for a film plotline at first glance. And it’s more gripping and better constructed than most films which classify themselves as thrillers. I don’t want to say too much about what unfolds as it’s a documentary best watched with as little knowledge of the story as possible beforehand, but it skilfully pulls you in all sorts of directions with each new revelation. By the end, you will have your own conclusions, and there’s certainly plenty to debate. A brilliant documentary in a strong year for documentaries, it needs to be seen. And the fact it trumps even the other films on this list says a lot.