10. Ruby Sparks - It took Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris a long time to direct another film after 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. They said that it took them a long time to find the right project, rather than any other reason, but in choosing Ruby Sparks (written by Zoe Kazan, who plays the titular character) they made an inspired choice, because Ruby Sparks is a wonderfully funny, clever and moving film.
In the film, Paul Dano plays a novelist, Calvin, who peaked with his debut, which was released when he was a teenager. Struggling with writer’s block, he creates a character named Ruby Sparks, who somehow comes to life and appears in his kitchen, acting like his girlfriend. He soon realises that he has actually created her himself, and control things she does, like making her speak French.
At first their relationship goes wonderfully, but Calvin’s behaviour starts to push her away, and he’s forced to try and write new ways for her to behave in order to stay with her. One of my favourite scenes of the year is the moment when he explains to Ruby (and shows her) that he created it, with Kazan giving a brilliant performance as Calvin turns her into his own demented puppet, changing her behaviour from moment to moment. It’s a film that ends really well and avoids being too twee or making Kazan’s character too much of a manic dream pixie girl, and I loved it.
9. Chronicle - Found footage films have existed since before The Blair Witch Project, but there have been so many since then that it’s become an incredibly tired genre, particularly when it comes to horror. But although Chronicle is a found footage film, it isn’t just another horror film; instead it’s the tale of three teenagers who develop superpowers after an unexplained event, and how they learn to use those powers (to have a really good time, initially anyway), but also what having those powers does to them as people.
There are times during the film where it stretches the credibility of what it is actually possible to capture on a phone or handheld camera, but (in something of a rarity for found footage films) it is extremely well written (by Max Landis, son of John Landis) and well acted, with Dane DeHann (as the troubled Andrew) particularly good. Chronicle is a film that manages to do something interesting and unique with both the found footage and superhero genre, and many of the people involved in making it are going to go on and have very interesting careers.
8. The Avengers – This was the year when all the hard work really paid off for Marvel. After two Iron Man films and one each for Captain America and Thor, Marvel assembled their super team (which also included The Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye) to take on Thor’s brother Loki, who had enlisted the help of an alien race to try and take over the world.
There was a lot of pressure on Marvel to deliver a quality movie so fraught with danger. There were a large number of characters to write for properly; making finding enough room to give them all things to do extremely challenging, and then there was the challenge of finding the right tone and threat to justify bringing them all together.
So enter Joss Whedon, who came on board to write and direct and absolutely nailed it. The Avengers is a brilliant blockbuster, with the right levels of humour, character development and threat from the bad guys to prove that Marvel had made the right decision in not only throwing all their eggs in one basket to make this movie, but by saying to Joss Whedon ‘do your thing’. It was a spectacular success at the box office, and Whedon has signed up to write and direct the sequel. That will be a whole new challenge, but The Avengers will always be one of 2012’s very best films.
7. Killing Them Softly – The first collaboration between Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt was the beautifully shot and epic The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. It was over two and a half hours long, and a slow paced film with a lot of story to tell. Their second collaboration couldn’t be more different; it’s a little over 90 minutes long and it’s a dark and dirty film, set in a grubby looking New Orleans and featuring some really loathsome men doing dirty work for dirty people.
Brad Pitt plays Jackie Cogan, a hitman brought into town by local gangsters to clean up a mess created by two men who held up a poker game run by the mafia. Dominik assembles a great cast around Pitt, with Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini and Ray Liotta on top form (particularly Gandolfini) and the script is sharp and clever. It’s set around the 2008 US elections, and although there’s a strong political theme throughout, I don’t feel like the film ever overdid it politically.
Killing Them Softly is set in what feels like a very real America. Not the glamorous, shiny worlds that the rich and famous inhabit, but an ugly, dirty America that is the reality for most of the population. I’d already been enjoying the film a lot before its final scene, a head-to-head between Jenkins and Pitt. Without spoiling it, Pitt delivers a speech that really sums up the film and its stance, and it’s a powerful way to end another excellent film by Dominik.
6. Skyfall - After the massive disappointment that was Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig found himself the subject of speculation as to whether or not he was actually a good James Bond. His first effort, Casino Royale, had been a huge success as it rebooted and reinvigorated the franchise, but Quantum of Solace was a problematic film to make, cut short by a strike by writers, and as a result, filming had begun without a completed script. So the pressure was on Craig (and everyone else) as they prepared for the release of Skyfall, Bond 23, which came 50 years after Bond’s first cinematic adventure, Dr. No.
The good news is that not only did Craig firmly place himself in the argument over who is the best ever Bond, but Skyfall also jumped right into the mix as the best Bond film ever. Every piece of the puzzle required to make a good film is there, with the directing (by Sam Mendes) and the cinematography (by Roger Deakins) top notch, the acting superb, and a really good plot too. Judi Dench is the Bond girl in this film, and she’s brilliant as M, but Javier Bardem steals the show as Raoul Silva, for me definitively the most charismatic and memorable Bond villain, who is the Ying to Bond’s Yang, the Joker to Bond’s Batman. It’s only real flaw is a tedious theme song with awful lyrics. 50 years after Sean Connery first flirted with Moneypenny, Skyfall proved that there’s plenty of life left in James Bond.
5. The Cabin In The Woods - Ever since Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell ventured into the woods to make Evil Dead, remote log cabins have been the home of horror for many movies. And so The Cabin In The Woods would initially appear to be treading on well-worn ground, as this looks like your average ‘Bunch of teenagers/twentysomethings have a weekend in a log cabin that goes horrifically wrong’ early on, but it soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems.
Because these teenagers are being watched, not by a traditional mad axeman or zombie or other kind of beastie, but by regular (sort of) working Joes. The kids in the cabin are actually part of a game, where the workers bet on which terrifying enemy the kids are going to trigger, with various clues and stories available to them within the cabin.
Drew Goddard (writer of Cloverfield) is directing a Joss Whedon script in this film, and it’s a very funny, very clever deconstruction of a horror staple. It’s wonderfully gory and its insanely, gleefully, violent final act is glorious carnage. I loved it.
4. ParaNorman - It’s never really been the case that animated films were always aimed at children, but the rise of Pixar in recent years has shown that animated films can be taken as seriously as live action films, and ParaNorman was the best animated film of 2012.
The film is about a kid called Norman (Kody Smit-McPhee), who loves horror films (and makes his monster movies) and also sees dead people. He’s a bit of an outsider at school, not really bullied a lot, just not very popular. He also starts to have visions as the anniversary of his town’s last killing of a witch is coming up.
I was enjoying this film a lot as it is often very funny, and has a good story and voice acting, but what really made me love it is the final confrontation in the film between Norman and the ghost of the witch, which becomes one of the most beautiful and powerful scenes of any film this year. I was absolutely staggered by it, as it reminded me of the visual power of Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, musically too. Its finale made it one of the films of the year for me, and I’d recommend it to anyone.
3. Cosmopolis - When I wrote my review of Cosmopolis, I wasn’t sure if I’d a) understood the film and b) even liked it. I thought that it might be brilliant, but I just wasn’t sure. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and it immediately made me want to read the novel (written by Don DeLillo), which I later did. I discovered that the film was a very faithful adaptation, and not only did I really enjoy the book, I felt that it help me understand the film a lot more.
Which does sound like a description of a failed film; a film that couldn’t translate the words on the page of the book onto cinema screens, but it’s a film that I’ve continued to think about all year. It may never be regarded as David Cronenberg’s finest work, but it certainly shows that there’s more to Robert Pattinson than playing what looks like a boring vampire, as he gives an outstanding performance in a very difficult role. I have no doubts that this is a film that you’ll either love or hate (several people walked out during the screening I attended), but I can’t consider it anything other than brilliant.
2. Killer Joe - After years of tepid rom-coms, Matthew McConaughey has started to show people that he can actually act, and has taken on more challenging and interesting roles recently, even if he does still take his shirt off an awful lot. 2012 saw him take on what might be his darkest and nastiest role to date, as the titular character in William Friedkin’s Killer Joe.
Dark and nasty is a very accurate way of describing Killer Joe, a tale of redneck morons attempting to kill a family member to cash in on her life insurance, and hiring Killer Joe, a cop who (as you may have guessed) makes money on the side killing people. Joe likes to be paid up front, but when they can’t afford to pay him, he takes Dottie, the teenage daughter in the family, as collateral. That is as sinister and creepy as it sounds, and the rest of the film is like that too, as the family turn on each other and stab each other in the back.
If you’ve read anything about Killer Joe, you’ll have heard about the ‘chicken scene’, and the last 20 minutes or so of the film are ‘none more black’ as Joe seeks what he thinks is his, and discovers the truth about the family’s scheme. Killer Joe is a film with some outstanding and brave performances (Gina Gershon and JunoTemple are brilliant), and it shows that even in his 70s, Friedkin is still capable of creating visceral films.
1. The Dark Knight Rises
When it comes to making films based on comic book characters, it’s very easy to get them badly wrong (I’m looking at you Daredevil). So ever since Christopher Nolan took the helm fora reboot of Batman in 2003, he’s been under pressure to deliver the goods after the franchise had gone horribly wrong (I’m looking at you Joel Schumacher). Batman Begins was a brilliant reinvention of Batman, while The Dark Knight upped the game even more, with Heath Ledger’s iconic portrayal of the Joker pushing the film into instant classic territory.
After The Dark Knight took over $1billion at the box office, the pressure on Nolan’s shoulders was even greater, as he attempted to not only better that film, but find a way of ending his take on the Bruce Wayne story before moving on to new projects.
Batman diehards had been initially outraged by the casting of Ledger as the Joker, and there were similar outcries when it was announced that Tom Hardy would be playing Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. Anne Hathaway was cast as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) while Joseph Gordon-Levitt signed on as a Gotham city police officer, a character that hadn’t appeared in any comic series.
The film is set several years after The Dark Knight, with a broken down and reclusive Bruce Wayne no longer the Batman, hiding himself away from a Gotham city that lives in relative peace since the events of The Dark Knight. But that peace is about to be shattered by the arrival of Bane, who wants to destroy the city and everything it stands for.
But despite all that pressure, Nolan delivered a truly spectacular finale to his Dark Knight saga, with everyone involved bringing their A game to make the best film of the year. The Dark Knight Rises has everything a great superhero movie needs; action, fearsome villains, huge set pieces and great characters. It even manages to pull off not having any Batman at all for large chunks of it, but the story is so good that you’re never left wishing there was more. Sure you can pick holes in several elements of it if you really want to, but that it to go looking for flaws for the sake of it.
Christopher Nolan has created what will surely always be regarded as the definitive version of The Dark Knight on camera, and The Dark Knight Rises is the film of the year.