Whilst recognising their ridiculousness, I do enjoy the slew of lists that appear this time of year. Here then, is my addition to the pile. The big hopefuls largely failed to deliver (The Dark Knight Rises ultimately felt like an exercise in more-is-less, whilst I still want to know where David got his ladder from in Prometheus), yet in their wake a generous offering of least-likelies shone. Special mention to the films that nearly made the cut; Argo, Avengers Assemble and Moonrise Kingdom were especially tough to exclude. Also, yes, this is a little early. Whether I’ll regret jumping the gun before the ponderous-looking The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey remains to be seen. Likewise, it’ll be a couple of weeks before I have a chance to see if Life Of Pi is really worth the vats of praise being poured over it like so much honey. In their absence and without further ado then, my top 10 of 2012…
10. Young Adult
Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody reunited for this caustic black comedy, replacing the indie-lite suburbia of Juno with a sadder vision of small town life as ghost-writing former prom queen Mavis Gary (a superb Charlize Theron) returns to her roots to sabotage the marriage of her former beau Buddy (Patrick Wilson). It’s subdued, uneasy viewing that slowly ratchets into cringe-comedy, all-the-better for swerving a trite resolution in its final minutes. Criminally overlooked during awards season.
9. Beasts Of The Southern Wild
Certainly the most charming film of the year, Beasts Of The Southern Wild is a crumbly delight. Messy, energetic and completely endearing. It also marks the emergence of two startling talents; child actor Quvenzhané Wallis floored many with her naturalistic performance, capturing the imagination of youth, whilst director Benh Zeitlin has set himself as a name to watch in the coming years. A little gift.
Rian Johnson’s tale of hit men and time travel was a great surprise at the tail-end of the summer season, providing one of the few genuine pleasures in multiplexes this year. And whilst the premise itself would have been enough (man fails to kill his future-self who has been sent back through time – has to catch him), Johnson ended up twisting the tale until we were in even more fertile lands. A farmhouse, a riff on Akira, and a film-stealing turn from Emily Blunt.
7. Martha Marcy May Marlene
Sean Durkin’s quiet film about a young woman who tries to shake off the effects of life in a commune is a slow-burner that gets under the skin. Flicking between two timelines, as Marcy (Elisabeth Olsen) recalls the sinister activities of her former life, Durkin walks a tightrope of insinuation and paranoia. Olsen’s performance is one of the most impressive of the year, and that ending provokes discussion and debate every time.
6. The Descendants
After what seemed like far-too-long an absence, Alexander Payne returned with, for me, probably his best film so far. George Clooney is perfect as Matt King, land magnate in Hawaii whose wife has been severely injured in a boating accident. Matt is left to look after his precocious and estranged daughters, discover who his wife may have been sleeping with, and decide what to do with his inheritance. The film is warm and heartfelt and deserving of your attention.
With instant-cult-classic stamped all over it, Richard Bates Jr.’s kooky debut saw teen comedy and body-horror collide. 90201‘s AnnaLynne McCord is transformed into Pauline, one of the great troubled teens. With a supporting cast that boasts the likes of John Waters, Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise and Tracy Llords, along with a gut-punch of an ending, Excision was a well-needed middle-finger to respectable movie-making everywhere, vividly realised.
4. Killer Joe
At 77 and with the likes of The Exorcist and The French Connection under his belt, who really thought William Friedkin still had anything to prove? Nevertheless, in 2012 he trotted out this remarkable fanfare to trailer-park stupidity. A bloody, pulpy exploitation thriller in which Matthew McConaughey single-handedly revived his faltering career with his turn as the calm killer of the title. You’ll never look at a chicken drumstick the same way again.
3. Holy Motors
The world needs filmmakers like Leos Carax, and it’s good to have him back. Where would we be if endlessly inventive surrealist pantomimes like Holy Motors didn’t exist? It wasn’t just that the film was dreamlike and strange, but that it had an enthusiastic joie de vivre about it. Take that ecstatic accordion interlude. Even if it all means nothing, Carax’s film provided most of the year’s truly incredible moments, and a masterful central performance from Denis Lavant.
2. The Master
Polarising opinion like few other films this year, Paul Thomas Anderson’s sixth is either a modern masterpiece or the emperor’s new clothes. Leaving the central debate over the film’s content to one side for now, you cannot argue the bravura filmmaking on show. A truly gorgeous piece of work, pinned by two impressive but contrasting performances. It’s clear who the master at work is here, and the five-year wait was, for me, entirely worth it.
The first film I saw at the cinema in 2012, and, as the year closes, still the one that left the greatest impression. Michael Fassbender’s controlled performance as Brandon sears the screen, ably complimented by Carey Mulligan’s turn as his sister Sissy. Whilst director Steve McQueen brings an artist’s sensibility to the unjustly taboo subject matter. But beyond sex addition, McQueen’s film is about modern isolation. A contemporary film about loneliness and our own destructive tendencies, and a beautiful one at that.