June 28, 2012 The Best Films of 2012 so far
The end of June. The halfway point of the year. A weak excuse for a few MostlyFilm writers to share their lists of the best films of the year so far, because they are list-making nerds.
Comments of the “I heartily concur!” variety, and the “really?” variety are cordially invited.
1. Martha Marcy May Marlene
2. The Innkeepers
3. Marvel’s Avengers Assemble
4. The Cabin in the Woods
5. John Carter
6. Moonrise Kingdom
7. The Raid
8. The Descendants
9. The Turin Horse
10. The Artist
What struck me as I whittled my choices down is that 2012 so far has been a pretty good year for blockbusters. The Avengers has been the biggest, of course, and gets my vote purely by delivering everything it promised; sadly, a rare achievement for this kind of film (yes, Prometheus, I’m looking at you). It wasn’t perfect – one or two moments went for a laugh at the expense of character consistency, and I wasn’t convinced the villain’s reasons for letting himself be captured mid-way through really stood up to scrutiny – but it was well played, well made, and immensely entertaining. This film, together with Chronicle (a lower-budget X-Men variant that I also liked a lot) sets a big challenge for 2012’s remaining superhero flicks; much as I like the Marvel films, I’m struggling to get excited about the Spider-Man reboot.
I also, liked John Carter; it’s not as much fun as The Avengers, and I will freely concede that it helps a lot if you enjoyed the books as a child. But placing it on the list of ‘biggest flops of all time’ (some weeks before it was even released) was unjust, and unfortunate all round, as it’s likely to make Hollywood even more risk averse (if that’s possible) when looking for other properties to adapt.
I would happily watch these films again, unlike The Artist, to which I’ve taken an unfair and illogical dislike following its ludicrously excessive success at the Oscars – even though I liked it at the time. (Best Picture was one thing, but Best Actor? Seriously?) I grudgingly let it in to tenth place, partly because the arthouse sector has released little that amazed me this year, though Tarr’s The Turin Horse has stayed with me since Edinburgh last year. But My two favourite films of the year so far are both American indies: Ti West’s ghost story The Innkeepers, and Martha Marcy May Marlene, which featured a fantastic performance by Elizabeth Olsen.
1. The Kid with a Bike
2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
3. The Raid
4. Moonrise Kingdom
5. Wild Bill
6. Like Crazy
7. Jeff Who Lives at Home
8. The Muppets
9. Marvel’s Avengers Assemble
10. 21 Jump Street
2012 has not been a great year for me and the cinema. Of the new films released this year, I’ve seen just 51, my lowest in the past decade by a considerable margin. Part of that is my fault: like Spider-Man, I’ve had to learn that with great age comes great unwillingness to not be at home. (I think that’s how it goes, I’ll double check when I get around to The Amazing Spider-Man, which looks freaking brilliant).
Clearly, I have a thing for Jason Segel (I haven’t seen The Five Year Engagement, otherwise he could have been 3 for 3). The Muppets was just really, really entertaining and I loved the pathos they managed to get into it . Jeff Who Lives at Home, meanwhile is the most optimistic, blissful and life-affirming American indie film in ages, and it features superb performances from Segel and Judy Greer.
To single out one more film from my list (the top 5, I expect to be in the list come year-end, so I hope I can rave about them here then), Like Crazy is the flipside, pessimistic and painful. It has my favourite performance of the year, from Felicity Jones, and captures the uncertainty and vulnerability of being in love, and being alone, quite exquisitely.
The films I have the highest hopes for, between now and the end of the year, not counting those I’ve already seen and loved, but which haven’t seen a release yet (like Liberal Arts, or Beasts of the Southern Wild) are Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz, Ben Affleck’s Argo, Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly, Michael Haneke’s Amour and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi.
Just a top 5 (or 6) for me:
1. The Kid With a Bike – The Dardennes’ devotional humanism continues to pry itself gently free from the constraints of social realism. A fairy tale for a world with no magic but love.
2. This is Not a Film – A file smuggled out of prison inside a cake. A moving, gentle and witty response to the humourless absurdity of political censorship.
3. Moonrise Kingdom – Anderson’s people, as always, are stricken by sehnsucht – and as always, the film is about the degree to which they’re ready to accept the balms of family, community or romantic love. The last words spoken in the film are, “see you tomorrow”: their blandness belies the emotional gravity of the bargain they represent.
4. The Turin Horse - monumental, feels carved from reality as much as captured on film. Stares the end of everything in the face and doesn’t blink.
5. Wild Bill and Goodbye First Love – The purely generic elevated by superlative execution. Always a difficult sell, unless you’ve already pre-marketed your characters in several other megabudget movies, in which case, you can skip the superlative execution bit anyway.
1. The Turin Horse
2. The Kid With a Bike
3. This Is Not a Film
4. Goodbye First Love
5. Killer Joe
6. The Raid
7. Bombay Beach
8. Nostalgia For the Light
9. House of Tolerance
10. The Muppets
Aside from the surprisingly entertaining and memorable The Muppets, my top 10 list at 2012′s midpoint is once again very light on offerings from Hollywood. After years of increasing disillusionment with American mainstream cinema, my patience with its pre-sold, endlessly publicised and inevitably underwhelming product has finally run out. Perhaps it’s simply the result of spending so much time on the internet where this culture thrives, but I’m tired of the repetitive hype and speculation that clouds the months leading up to the release of these films, followed by the infantile rage when they are revealed as nothing special. At times, you’d be forgiven for thinking that comic book films and/or Joss Whedon productions were the only films that existed.
Which is a shame, because a number of the entries on my top 10 have plenty to offer for a wide audience, if only they could receive a fraction of the attention bestowed on the CGI crowd. The box-office takings for The Raid might be negligible compared to the totals grossed by this year’s blockbusters, but Gareth Evans’ film delivers everything that people claim Hollywood doesn’t know how to do anymore. The fight scenes that the film largely consists of are shot and edited by a man who clearly knows what he’s doing, and The Raid has a raw, propulsive energy which is almost irresistible (a remake, naturally, is already in the works). The Dardenne brothers’ The Kid With a Bike is their brightest and most accessible work to date, but the filmmakers haven’t sacrificed their customary intelligence and emotional richness in making this step, and Alma Har’el’s Bombay Beach is a touching exploration of a forgotten society that turns documentary form on its head. Perhaps the most important release of the year is This is Not a Film, in which Jafar Panahi refuses to let his incarceration stand in the way of producing a witty, imaginative and fiercely courageous piece of work. The film’s very existence is a vital act of defiance, and as such it is essential viewing.
Of course, not every film on this list is an easy one to recommend for mainstream audiences, which brings me to Béla Tarr. The Turin Horse is bleak, austere and unforgiving, but it’s also a gripping and indelible achievement that stands head and shoulders above anything else I’ve seen this year. Tarr’s film takes place over the course of six days but the director’s methodical pacing and masterful control of every scene has a way of making time stand still, and the film is constantly mesmerising, even when all it’s showing us is a man and a woman eating potatoes. Too many movies these days end with me shrugging my shoulders and looking forward to the next picture – but when The Turin Horse was over, I knew I’d been through an experience. And I really wanted a potato.
1. The Innkeepers
2. The Kid With A Bike
3. Marvel’s Avengers Assemble
4. Moonrise Kingdom
5. Martha Marcy May Marlene
6. Wild Bill
8. Tiny Furniture
9. Damsels in Distress
10. The Artist
I wrote a similar list for the ViewLondon film blog recently and the only difference is that there I had Safety Not Guaranteed instead of Tiny Furniture. However, it looks as if Safety won’t be getting a theatrical release, which is just as well, list-wise, because I’d kicked myself for forgetting Lena Dunham anyway. (If you haven’t seen HBO’s Girls yet, rectify that immediately [legally! legal ed]).
I think it’s been a pretty good year so far. I don’t often have blockbusters on my top ten (they’re rarely good enough for Top Ten lists) but The Avengers far exceeded all possible expectations and is worthy of that number three spot. I can’t see the Batman movie topping it at this point and though I’m a loyal Spider-Man fan at heart, I can’t see the reboot measuring up to The Avengers either. As for the rest, the unfairly overlooked (by cinema audiences) Wild Bill is my favourite British film of the year, the delightful Moonrise Kingdom proved to be every bit the film Wes Anderson fans (myself included) were hoping for and Martha Marcy May Marlene has stayed with me ever since I saw it at San Sebastian – it’s haunting, disturbing and gripping in equal measure, plus I agree with Uncle Frank that Elizabeth Olsen gives one of the best female performances of the year. Not THE best though – that honour goes to Sara Paxton for her utterly adorable performance in The Innkeepers. She’s extraordinary in it and I hope that film eventually finds the audience it deserves now that it’s on DVD.