Top 10 Films of 2012

2012

It’s finally here! Welcome to my obligatory annual blogger’s list in which I try to rank incomparable films that share one thing in common – a 2012 UK release date. I tried to limit myself to just 10 films this year after finding 20 a bit too many in 2011. I managed to whittle my list down to 10, then added two I felt I just couldn’t leave out. It’s my top 10, I can have 12 if I want to.

12 - Holy Motors

Holy Motors starts the list in a cautious manner. I slept through a lot of the film and confessed as much in my review. Watching a famously mind-boggling film in French while half asleep was a terrifying experience. I could barely read the subtitles and would often wake up to find the lead actor was playing a different character to when I was last conscious.

The film follows a mysterious man as he travels between appointments in a stretch limo. What appointments are these? I couldn’t even begin to explain. Suffice to say that each time the limo stops a different character step out to play a minor or major role in someone elses lives. The end is so bizarre I thought I had actually dreamt it. One of the Jo(h)ns I saw the film with has tirelessly defended it over the past three months and I couldn’t not include it in my extended top 10. In Jon’s own words:

“It came out of nowhere, it was beautiful, strange, intriguing and was utterly compelling even though I don’t think I really understood it. Just like a girl I used to fancy.”

No other film on this list includes two erect penises.

11 - The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

How could I not? This film about a retirement home in India catering only to British actors of the finest pedigree. It was a film featuring both Dame Judi and Maggie, comprised of a myriad of storylines and was consistently funny and touching for the entirety of its two-hour running film.

Many have said that the success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is down to its ability to pick up the grey pound. While I admit that this is one of very few films last year that could be said to specifically cater to the older generation I think the appeal expands far beyond the wrinkled amongst us. As I exited the screening at 20th Century Fox in Soho Square (ahem) I instantly texted both my mum and my sister (such is the life of the single blogger) to let them know that their new favourite film was hitting cinemas in a couple of months.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a warm hug that everyone can enjoy and famously (well, not really) made me want to whisk Judi Dench off to India and retire in a dilapidated hotel.

And now for the proper Top 10:

10 - Celeste and Jesse Forever

At the end of most romantic comedies the hilarious pair of attractive young Californians have just gotten together and are driving off into the metaphorical (or sometimes literal) sunset to have a long life together filled with mind-blowing sex, witty banter, and endless fun. What makes Celeste and Jesse Forever unique was that it showed us what happens after the romantic comedy has ended, after the young couple have got married, found themselves to be incompatible, and are on their way to divorce. Where Celeste and Jesse differ from many divorcing couples is that they still share an address and are trying to remain friends.

Ah, trying to be friends with an ex. Often the more in love you were the more you resent one another when the relationship is no more. Where this film succeeded was in showing that struggle between wanting someone you love to be happy and not coping too well with seeing them with anyone else. You cared for both Jesse and Celeste and, as Kat mentioned in her review, are constantly debating whether you want them to reconcile because as much as they love each other they may well be better off apart.

Celeste and Jesse Forever is an overlooked gem from 2012 that eschews clichés and simple fix endings. There may have been tears.

9 - The Cabin in the Woods

As Rach so eloquently put it:

I have a film theory degree so I should probably be able to form actual words about that, but, holy shit.

8 - Martha Marcy May Marlene

I spent a lot of time learning the name of this film, there’s no way I wasn’t going to include it. On a more serious note when Kat and I saw this back at the 2011 London Film Festival we were completely shell-shocked.

The simple story of a young woman recovering from her experience with a cult is expertly presented by first time writer/director Sean Durkin. He mixes scenes from her recovery period with those from the cult with such subtly that there is still one scene that we can’t confidently place in either section. The film has a wonderfully dreamy quality to it which leaves you not quite sure what is real and with a general sense of unease.

Considering her family tree Elizabeth Olsen is an absolute bloody revelation. Her performance as the damaged survivor is one of the year’s best. At no point is her performance anything less that stellar. Superb. Wonderful. Tops.

To quote myself: Martha Marcy May Marlene is near perfect, just a few moments where the tension almost became tedium before something would happen to jolt us back onto the edges of our seats.

7 - Looper

I love time travel.

I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

I love Rian Johnson.

Looper may well have its flaws but it was pretty much designed especially for me. I loved it. Enough said.

6 - Ruby Sparks

Over to Stephen: As someone who falls head over heels for the superhero and science fiction genres quite regularly 2012 has been quite a corker of a year with Hollywood shooting countless unrestrained and eye-popping efforts our way. As appreciative as I am of all their attempts I am always more blown away by films that handle those subjects delicately. Subtly. That is why my favourite film of the year has to be Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ Ruby Sparks (microscopically beating out Sound Of My Voice).

Since their directorial debut in 2006 with the heartening Little Miss Sunshine the couple have been sat waiting for the “right” project to come along. They did right. In the wrong hands Zoe Kazan’s intelligent and original tale about a wunderkind novelist who inexplicably materializes the perfect girlfriend out of nothingness could have come across as just another rom-com with that ‘quirky’ twist. In Dayton and Faris’ hands, and with Zoe Kazan taking the titular role opposite real-life boyfriend Paul Dano, the script’s originality and intelligence remains intact, intriguing and immediately immersive. Pushing its relatable character studies to the forefront you don’t for a second question your suspension of disbelief and are swallowed wholly by Dano and Kazan’s genuine chemistry.

Ruby Sparks came right out of nowhere this year and it seems that it went sorely unnoticed and unappreciated. It’s just a shame we still have to wait for a couple more months for the DVD so I can’t yell at you for not watching it right now.

5 - Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom is pure Wes Anderson. It has the unique dialogue delivery, that identifiable aesthetic quality, Bill Murray, and a camera that moves in a very deliberate fashion. What your standard Anderson film might lack is a sense of real emotion. All of what makes a Wes Anderson film a Wes Anderson film can create a slight artificially and act as a barrier between the audience and the characters on-screen.

Somehow, with its tale of prepubescent lovers on the run, Moonrise Kingdom overcomes this with ease. There is something about watching a young couple dance on the beach in their underwear that can really endear them to you. In only the most appropriate of ways.

Because neither of us could think of anything more to say than “I liked it a lot”, responsibility for reviewing this film passed back and forth between Kat and myself, with neither of us managing to review it. My thought is that Moonrise Kingdom is wonderful in a way that is hard to explain – as the previous two paragraphs probably demonstrate. It made my heart smile. How’s that?

4 - Shame

Shame generated a lot of fuss for its full frontal nudity featuring genitalia from both genders. Sadly it seems as if the furore over Fassbender’s family jewels has overshadowed the fact that Shame is a beautifully shot film that is as touching as it is provocative.

Shame is a character study into a man who has become addicted to sex whilst developing a fear of intimacy and is shocked when his sister comes to visit and he sees the same attitude within her. Yes, there is sex, and plenty of it, but it is there for a reason and not for mere titillation. Director Steve McQueen actually makes you feel sorry for Fassbender as we watch him struggle to maintain real relationships whilst spreading the legs of every woman he comes across.

Not a film to watch with the whole family gathered round but certainly a film to watch if you want to see 2012’s best drama. I gave it five stars, it must be good.

3 - The Imposter

Some stories as just too far-fetched to be believed. How could the American family of a missing boy be tricked by a Frenchman with a thick accent into believing he is their lost child who has turned up after three years 5000 miles from home? It seems so perplexing and yet The Imposter is one documentary that shows that it can happen.

Told through interviews with French imposter Frédéric Bourdin and everybody else involved in the case this film will find you constantly changing your loyalties and making you question just who it is that you believe. By listening to Bourdin talk you will even begin to experience what it is like to be drawn in by his unending lies.

Edited together to create a tense and twisting unfolding of events The Imposter is an enthralling and beautifully shot documentary unrivalled by any other non-fiction film last year.

2 - Sightseers

Comedy is a tricky beast. It is all too easy to miss the mark and create something that is almost funny, the sort of film that raises a wry smile rather than a deep relenting belly laugh. Do you go for the subtle character comedy or the broad slapstick funnies? Like the best British comedies Sightseers manages to blend subtle character quirks with the broad comedy only found in extreme violence to make the perfect comedic cocktail.

Seeing Sightseers in a packed screening at the London Film Festival was a real joy as the audience collectively laughed their way through the tight 88 minute runtime. We winced together as blood spurted and skulls crushed and giggled collectively as a woman wrote a note with an enormous pencil. Childish as it all may seem I would argue that Sightseers is actually an intelligent comedy with the real laughs embedded in the brilliant characterisation and quotable dialogue.

The final scene is the perfect blend of tragedy, hilarity, sadness, and surprise. Just like Sightseers itself.

1 - The Fairy

In June of 2012 a small French film was released into a handful of cinemas in the UK with little publicity or fanfare. This film was called The Fairy; a comedy about a man working at a hotel who meets a fairy and falls in love. The film relied heavily on physical comedy and was filled with such a pure sense of joy and whimsy that there was no way any film could top it for me.

Unfortunately the chances are that you did not see The Fairy. With so many films in cinemas in July and The Fairy having such a small release it is most likely that you didn’t even realise that The Fairy was out there to be missed. What a pity. The year before The Artist showed us that there was still room in today’s cinemas for proper old-fashioned visual storytelling that transcends language and isn’t afraid to be a little silly. The Fairy is The Artist taken to the next level; in colour and with sound but with a greater level of eccentricity and a boundless energy that I found infectious.

So self-assured and unapologetic in its unique style was The Fairy that in the screening at which I saw the film only myself and two others were laughing. The majority seemed unsure as to how to react but those of us who gave into the film could not contain the glee we felt within. If there is one film on this list that you make the effort to see having missed it in 2012 then let it be The Fairy. No other film last year made me quite so infinitely happy.