As each year rolls to a close, I find myself desperately Googling lists of films which opened in the year in an effort to determine what I actually saw at the cinema. You may encounter a similar situation – did I really enjoy that movie this year or did it come three years ago and I’ve only just caught up with it?
That said, I’m pretty sure that I can post a solid top five movies of the year – all of which are mostly perfectly defensible. Ahem…
Women with bows and/or arrows – you couldn’t avoid them in 2012 pop culture
I hated “Cars” so much that I purposefully avoided “Cars 2” when it opened last year. I know people who loved both movies, but I’m firmly of the belief that I’ll only see it when it ends up free to watch on TV. I’m happy to say that “Brave” reaffirmed my belief in Pixar’s storytelling abilities and seemed, at times, made for me.
Set in Scotland? Check. Strong-willed heroine with character layers and imperfections? Check. Knockabout comedy and thrilling action sequences? Oh yes. Amazing voice cast? Emma Thompson, Kelly McDonald, Billy Connolly, Craig Ferguson, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters – check-a-mundo.
And how bold of Pixar to essentially pull the rug from underneath you in the cinema and deliver a film which is quite different from the one advertised – there’s plentiful adventure to behold in this film but also a really interesting meditation on family and obligation which the trailers didn’t exactly shy away from but certainly managed to undersell.
My favourite Pixar movie is “Ratatouille” but this glorious adventure runs it a close second – if you didn’t get to see it in cinemas, I heartily recommend picking it up and wallowing in master storytellers weaving a brilliant yarn. I’ve not loved an animated feature as much since “How To Train Your Dragon”, which is high praise indeed.
“Fanboys? Let them eat Mjolnir!”
2) “Avengers Assemble”
Joss Whedon – the vindication! You may have seen this film once or twice. I saw it three times theatrically, a couple of times since on Blu-Ray (full disclosure – I own two copies of it, as the UK release ditched various features and a Whedon commentary track). The culmination of the first phase of Marvel’s Movie Take-Over didn’t disappoint, pitting the cast of bickering heroes against a galactic scale threat and finding a way, finally, to bring the Hulk to thrilling life via Mark Ruffalo and some absurdly brilliant CG wizardry.
Whedon’s voice remained undimmed by the demands of the multiple characters – much to the chagrin of his vocal detractors – and he managed to miraculously balance the demands of mythology, actor screen time, the expected summer movie explosions-per-second ratio and his own fan base to deliver a superhero smack down for the ages. If you ever read comics as a kid, this movie was pitched directly at you and realised in vivid detail those action figure battles you sketched out at eight years old in the school playground.
Plus, you know, Shawarma.
Genre cannon fodder, meet your puppeteers…
3) “Cabin In The Woods”
It really is better if you know as little as possible about this film before you see it, such is its puppyish determination to take what you know and love about horror cinema and then twist it, delivering a glorious, genre-warping ride which celebrates the scare-flick even as it places some of its more objectionable stylistic tropes under an exacting microscope.
Best ending of the year? Quite possibly.
4) “The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists”
More jokes per minute than any movie this year and most of them are brilliant…
The latest from Aardman Animation arrived in cinemas in the spring and departed with indecent haste, which says to me that a great many people didn’t get to enjoy this joke-stuffed, superbly inventive pirate adventure and that’s a great shame. This is a hilarious movie, with fantastic performances from Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman and David Tennant, staggering levels of detail crammed into each gorgeous frame of this stop motion work of art and a really infectious sense of off-kilter humour – it is, in essence, a Monty Python movie for kids and if that doesn’t recommend it to you, I really don’t think that there’s any hope for you.
=5) “The Woman In Black”
What Harry Did Next
A genuine breath of swampy, slightly decaying air, “The Woman In Black” capitalizes royally on our fear of creaking furniture in quiet old houses, of unexplainable noises late at night, of the thing that you glimpse for a second from the corner of your eye and delivers a bone-chilling, restrained journey into terror which eschews gore for melancholy, substitutes atmosphere for flashy jump scares and shows the idiots cranking out PG-13, pseudo ‘found footage’ schlock just how to genuinely unsettle an audience.
Daniel Radcliffe is superb in the lead as haunted young lawyer Arthur Kipps, wrestling bravely with events that he can never hope to understand and confirming that his will be a long and storied career if he continues to make smart choices like appearing in this film. He’s already an audience identification figure for a generation of movie-goers and this film trades on that, using his iconic, essentially decent countenance to draw us into a Victorian milieu which is swiftly and convincingly drawn as a stultifying and closed-off nightmare – Kipps’ job-stipulated stay in a possibly haunted, rickety old mansion seems positively inviting by comparison.
More scares per minute than any other film in 2012? I should say so.
=5) “Resident Evil: Retribution”
Not so much a film as cinematic DLC. Yep, a bit of a tough sell…
Suck it haters!
In dispatches, I should also mention the likes of James Bond adventure, “Skyfall”, Christopher Nolan‘s audience dividing but audacious trilogy-capper, “The Dark Knight Rises“, Peter Jackson’s little movie that could, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey“, genius bare knuckle, sci-fi adaptation, “Dredd”, gleefully daffy TV remake “21 Jump Street”, putative epic sci-fantasy adventure “John Carter”, vamps versus werewolves franchise entry “Underworld: Awakening“, Ridley Scott‘s return to the “Alien” universe in “Prometheus”, addled fantasy revisionism “Snow White and the Huntsman“, mumble-core superhero fable, “Chronicle” and Sony’s promising, web-slinging reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man”.
And 2013 brings us a new “Star Trek”, “Elysium”, “Oblivion”, “Riddick”, “Iron Man 3”, “After Earth”, “Pacific Rim”, “Ender’s Game”, “Thor: The Dark World” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” from merely the Sci-Fi and Fantasy film spheres – there’s a huge movie at the multiplex seemingly every month and I’d guess that I’ll get to see a mere fraction of those titles at the movies next year.
Which is kind of where we came in, isn’t it?