Note: another one I found from the archives, and another one I’ve left pretty much untouched other than some 2018 comments in dashing purple…
Disclaimer 1: Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your view) the normal enBewbob year d review in video format had to be cancelled this year due to one of us having a life at New Year and going to a party…(three guesses which one of us, and the first two don’t count). So, this year we will be submitting separately in words.
Disclaimer 2– 2012 was a quiet year in terms of visits to the cinema, and this list is compiled with many of the commonly quoted ‘year’s best’ currently remaining unseen- so there will be no Argo, Skyfall, Seven Psychopaths, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Killing Them Softly, Moonrise Kingdom or The Master, Searching for Sugar Man, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Rust and Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, Life of Pi, Amour or The Imposter. If I had 2 would have got into the top 10, 1 in the biggest disappointment, and a lot still haven’t been seen six years on…
Seth MacFarlane’s big screen directing debut about a boy and his magic talking Teddy Bear who grow into Mark Wahlberg and a drug taking, booze addled, potty mouthed titular Ted. The story line’s pretty simple- does a guy stick with his bad news bear or grow up and settle down with his apparently-too-good-for-him girlfriend.
This one divided- even within our house. There were questions about how much it was simply Peter Griffin in furry format, and whether there were enough laughs to run time ratio. I thought it was a well put together narrative, with good support from Mila Kunis in what could have been an incredibly thankless role, plus small, but perfectly formed parts from Patrick Stewart as narrator, Joel McHale as the requisite slime ball, and Giovanni Ribisi as the psycho determined to acquire Ted.
As well as having the topical/ scatological jokes you’d expect from Family Guy (and Ted himself is very much Peter Griffin- much more than simply being voiced by MacFarlane- the jokes/ grossness he provides could come directly from a Family Guy script) there are some well constructed scenes and a surprisingly sweet rom com element to the movie.
9 Killer Joe
And ‘sweet rom com’ segues very neatly into ‘Killer Joe’.
If ‘Ted’ isn’t for everyone due to some of the more off colour jokes, then ‘Killer Joe’ will be unwatchable for a great many with its’ violence, nudity and general tone. Directed by William Friedkin, ‘Killer Joe’ is a trailer park drama about Chris, a young drug dealer in debt, who convinces his father and step-mother to join him in the murder of his mother (and his father’s ex-wife) for the $50k insurance policy she has made Chris’ young sister Dottie the sole beneficiary to, by bringing in a contract killer (the Joe of the title) to do the deed for them.
Unfortunately they don’t have the money needed to secure Joe’s services up front, so Dottie becomes the ‘retainer’ until the plan goes through.
Does everything go perfectly according to plan and they all live happily ever after?
Well, that would be a spoiler…but no…
Since the likes of Blood Simple, ‘noir with jet black humour’ has been something of a cliche for films which try to come across as ‘dark’ but actually just come across as nasty. There’s no doubt ‘Killer Joe’ is nasty, but the performances from all concerned- Matthew McConaughy, Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Thomas Haden Church and Gina Gershon, assisted by some brutal but brilliant writing from Tracy Letts (from his own play) and a return to form from Friedkin made it, for me, a powerful if brutal (at times almost unwatchable) piece with a remarkable last scene.
In a year when I thought (and hoped) found footage films had run their course, Chronicle came along and did something quite different with it. The plot is simple enough- three high school friends come across a mystery source underground which gives them super powers, which, as they grow more powerful start to have other effects on the boys.
Chronicle was probably one of the biggest surprises for me of the year- I went in expecting very little- another comic book (in theme if not in actual background- the story came from Max, son of John, Landis) with no known names in the cast and the aforementioned found footage format. Chronicle actually managed to use the FFF in a way that (with minor cheats) made sense and stayed consistent, but also added to the development of character. And that would be the word I’d use for the film- character.
Lastly, in a year where John Carter cost $250 million, what Chronicle managed to achieve in the fantasy realm for $12 million is, quite frankly, unbelievable. It went on to gross $126 million worldwide and set its’ director Josh Trank with the chance to do anything. He chose to do Fantastic Four and a few dodgy tweets…
7 Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet
The only documentary in my top ten this year Not Dead Yet tells the story of Jason Becker, taken on as Steve Vai’s replacement in David Lee Roth’s band for the Lil Ain’t Enough album, who started developing symptoms of Lou Gehrig’s Disease during the making of the album, and was given three years to live.
That was 22 years ago.
This documentary unfolds in a fairly linear style using historic video footage of Becker from baby through to amateur footage from early concerts, along with extensive commentary from friends and family through to his initial major break through and the tragic diagnosis.
It’s what happens after that that proves really interesting, and makes this accessible to all- regardless of whether you are a rock fan or not.
With contributions from various high profile musicians (although not, unfortunately David Lee Roth himself), and with great humour from Becker himself, this was the most inspiring film I saw this year. And six years on, Becker has just released his latest album ‘Triumphant Hearts‘ which I’m sitting listening to as I write this.
The highest grossing film of the year ‘Avengers’ may not stand up as the greatest narrative arc ever created (It’s doubtful many are aware of what ‘the Tesseract’ being chased after by all is and more doubtful many care) but it does represent one of the most daring blockbuster challenges of recent times, and probably the most outright fun cinema going experiences of the year for those of us of a geek persuasion, and probably the single funniest moment of cinema in a relatively puny comedy year.
Joss Whedon brings both his comic book background and his trade mark snappy/ quippy dialogue to an ensemble cast which gives us seven superheroes each of whom is allowed time and space to breath in a two hour twenty minutes- given all that it’s understandable why plot was ‘slimline’. And true, the villains never really seemed as if there was any danger of them actually defeating the team, or of anyone really being in serious risk of permanent damage on the supes’ side (bar one trademark Whedon moment), or the answer to any number of plot holes, but seeing Thor take on Iron Man, Hulk taking on Thor, Black Widow squaring up against Hawkeye, or indeed, the Avengers ‘assembling’ for the final battle which makes all those Transformers efforts look like…well, like a load of old crap really, you can’t help but smile, and, as hundreds of kids and parents alike did when we went to see it, just cheer along…
5 Margin Call
After The Avengers, Margin Call is an all together different, and in all but one way its’ polar opposite- budget wise Margin Call probably cost a couple of days’ catering on The Avengers ($3.5 Million), returns wise it certainly didn’t threaten the billion dollar box office mark. It didn’t span the globe (and beyond), or have any physical action scenes whatsoever.
Margin Call is an American independent film which took its’ time to appear in the UK- and barely troubled the multiplexes. Written and directed by J.C Chandor (an ex-commercial/ documentary director working on his first screen fiction piece), it portrays the initial stages of the financial crisis of 2007 and takes place within an investment bank over a 24 hour period.
As a downsizing operation takes place a junior employee investigates a report his outgoing mentor has left him. What he finds on there indicates financial catastrophe for the company, and the rest of the movie focuses on the actions that follow in the immediate aftermath of the finding and the information passing up the corporate food chain.
What the film did so well for me was to explain in non-jargon filled way (and as the crisis moves further up the management structures the explanation become more and more simplified- “Talk to me as if I was a 12 year old/ 9 year old/ 7 year old…”) the cause and effect of the findings. (Its’ very own Tesseract in some ways…)
Regardless of the validity of the finances (and there have been arguments over it), what follows is as tense as any action film scene this year, due in no small part to the development of characters and some incredible performances.
And there’s probably not too many films working on a $3.5 million budget that can get a cast that includes Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci… JC Chandor appeared to have done the polar opposite of Josh Trank in terms of his immediate future – going on to direct the critically acclaimed, dialogue free ‘All is Lost’ and then the intellectual mob movie ‘A Most Violent Year’.
4 The Angels’ Share
The only British film on the list, Ken Loach’s film sees him in playful mode, with a film that seemed to take in elements of Trainspotting and Bill Forsyth’s cannon, and, of course, his own back catalogue. Given that, even Loach in ‘playful mode’ involves a couple of pretty brutal scenes, and some coarse language- the good news is if you’re not from Scotland or pretty far up North you may not even spot it…unfortunately the film didn’t even get a distribution in the US.
Loach himself describes the film as a fable, and it’s certainly one of two halves…the first a gritty Glasgow drama comedy, the second…well, less real world, is probably the best way to describe it without spoilers.
The film follows Robbie, a young new dad, who narrowly escapes jail and is put on a community scheme along with Rhino, Albert and Mo, who have similarly bleak life prospects. Under the wing of their community service officer Harry, they are introduced to malt whisky via a group visit to a distillery.
What follows is a funny, accessible (language allowing) Loach film with real heart and spirited performances from a pretty much unknown cast (The four leads had a total of less than six credits to their names before this film).
If you don’t think you like Loach, this may change your mind.
3 Dark Knight Rises
How did Bruce get back to Gotham…
Coffee Shop Scene…
ALL of the police force deployed???
And many, many other problems people seemed to have with the film.
Was it as good as The Dark Knight? Probably not.
Did it meet the hopes and expectations built up over the long and relentless marketing campaign? Not completely, but it is doubtful anything could.
Were there plot holes in it? Without doubt- part of the problem is that Nolan has set his trilogy so firmly in ‘the real world’ that some of the elements ARE going to be flawed- you know comics don’t always follow the strict laws of physics/ time/ rational thinking…so if you have to ask how Batman was able to recover from certain events, and the answer ‘Because he’s Batman’ don’t work for you, you may have problems.
For me, at the end of the day there was a whole lot to enjoy about the film…
Anne Hathaway did a good job with Catwoman
Joseph Gordon Levitt did a fine job as the last decent man in Gotham
Tom Hardy was fine- regardless of voice- as Bane
And outside of the actors there were some truly epic scenes, in the real Hollywood sense of the word, which just proved why Christopher Nolan is the most interesting film maker in blockbusters today.
And if the very final scene (And no, the coffee shop scene was not the final scene), didn’t give you a certain chill of completion/ anticipation, then I don’t know you.
A few years on Dark Knight Rises seems to have been pilloried even more – almost becoming the Godfather III of the series. You know what? I still like it.
2 Cabin in the Woods
Joss Whedon’s second appearance in my top ten- as writer and producer rather than director here, but his finger prints are all over it. Directed by ex Buffy and Angel collaborator Drew Goddard, Cabin in the Woods follows a group of five teenagers as they go off for a weekend in a…umm…Cabin in the Woods.
CitW divided a lot of people- clearly including studio execs who let it sit on the shelf for a variety of studio finance issues and an obvious lack of ideas of what to do with it. Described by Whedon himself as a ‘loving hate letter’ to the horror genre, and what it has devolved into.
The strengths of CitW are the exact things which make it so difficult to talk about it without giving too much away. Before seeing it I avoided all reviews, but having seen it and looking at reviews I’d have been pretty PO’d.
So, rather than risk spoilers I’d just say if you love predictable old slasher films you’ll get a kick out of this. If you don’t…then this isn’t what it seems- while not thematically similar it produces the biggest WTF change in genre piece I can remember since Dusk Til Dawn
Still divides…still holds up for me, and Goddard’s new one Bad Times at the El Royale
Set in 2074, Looper stars Joseph Gordon Levitt as Joe, a mob killer known as a Looper, who executes targets sent back in time. When his future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back the action really begins.
Given the complexity of his first two films, and the fact he’s been working on ideas for Looper since 2002, Johnson was always going to bring something a bit different from the average Hollywood action flick. While it is true that Looper is not completely original (there are plot elements of Twelve Monkeys, Casablanca, Witness as well as small borrows from lesser pieces like Time Cop and Frequency) there are so many disparate ideas and plays across genre to produce something quite unique for me.
The budget is big enough for Johnson to get across the future elements he needs, but never to the point where it becomes the focus (I’m looking at you Total Recall remake), $30 million is certainly a whole lot more than he previously had to play with, but the focus remains on the plot and the characters.
Joseph Gordon Levitt does a fantastic job, showing again why he is rapidly becoming the actor of his generation- playing the young Bruce Willis in relatively light prosthetics he doesn’t do a Willis impersonation, but rather a much more subtle insinuation of him.
Willis in turn gives his best performance in some time. They’re ably supported by Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels in a fun OTT role, and Pierce Gagnon giving one of the best child performances I recall since Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense.
While I know Looper was conceived and written by Johnson, it came across for me as though it were a successful adaptation of a Philip K Dick novel (something that Hollywood hasn’t managed with actual PKD properties in any sort of faithful manner)…that’s about as high a compliment I could pay it.
Given Looper returned $166+ million on a $30 million budget, I can’t wait to see what he does next…after the final season of Breaking Bad of course… and that next something turned out to be Star Wars: Last Jedi…
50/50– the only reason this wasn’t in my top three was because it was officially released late 2011, even though it didn’t reach cinemas around these parts…Joseph Gordon Levitt again, with Seth Rogen in a true life cancer story which manages to be funny without being distasteful, and touching without being mawkish
Red State- also released late 2011, but didn’t turn up at any cinemas around here. Kevin Smith stretches himself and bends genres to successful effect.
Magic Mike- not just a Full Monty of pretty people.
2 Days in New York– Julie Delpy and Chris Rock. Even without having seen 2 Days in Paris highly enjoyable.
Muppets- Jason Segal and Amy Adams in respectful, loving, if not quite as funny as I was hoping for revisit to the Muppets.
21 Jump Street- Channing Tatum in two fun movies and good performances in one year shock. Was expecting nothing from this and was very pleasantly surprised
Martha Marcy May Marlene– Great performance from the youngest Olsen.
We Bought A Zoo- based on a true story…kind of. Predictable, treacly but good family fun.
Biggest Disappointments of the Year:
Amazing Spiderman- nothing new to see here.
Prometheus- one of three most anticipated of the year. Beautiful looking, and a couple of great set scenes, but script sadly lacking and ruled by laws of stupid.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance– wasn’t expecting greatness, but was expecting fun. Didn’t get it. Didn’t finish it.
Hunger Games: from such a fun book, remarkably flat film. Affected by a low budget and a low certificate rating.
The Raid: enjoyed it. Just didn’t get the love heaped upon it. Expectations too high