As each year draws to a close we let our wonderful team of writers loose on the movie landscape to throw plaudits at the great and good and fettered eggnog at those responsible for the bad and cinematically reprehensible.
Here’s our take on the highs and lows of Movietown in 2012.
First up on stage…
Best use of CGI: Rust & Bone
It’s always the subtle work which yields the best results. Buoyed by a stunning turn by Marion Cotillard, the CG artists here do a remarkable and flawless job of presenting to the audience what looks like a genuine amputee. The results are shocking, wholly believable and never once distract from the drama.
Best film yet to be released in the UK: Beyond the Black Rainbow
The debut of Panos (son of Rambo director George) Cosmatos is a lovingly-crafted recreation of late 70’s/early 80’s psychedelic-inspired sci-fi, all achieved on a minuscule budget. Why this hasn’t been snapped up for UK distribution is a complete mystery. It may be slow-moving and impenetrable at time, but a future ‘midnight movies’-type screening slot would see it gain a sizable cult following here over.
Best documentary: The Queen of Versailles
In a banner year for the documentary film, The Queen of Versailles narrowly takes the top spot with a maddening (and sometimes hilarious) look at financial hubris. Director Lauren Greenfield does a fine job of presenting a measured and non-judgemental look at this family, in a portrait which could have so easily vilified them (with the glowing exception of billionaire cold-blooded patriarch curmudgeon David Siegel, of course).
Guiltiest pleasure: Rock of Ages
While the critical (and audience) consensus was generally thumbs-down, this swirling, frenzied rock pantomime was a delight from start to finish for this blogger. Cruise is fantastic as the barking mad, burnt-out sex god. He plays that rock cliché to absolute perfection but is also able to provide flashes of a real, jaded human being underneath the mascara and leopard print. Daft, disposable and raucously entertaining (like the decade in which the film is set).
Best blast of nostalgia: Sam Jones’ entry in Ted
Seth MacFarlane sure knows how to tug on the heartstrings of pop cultural-obsessed thirty-somethings in arrested development. The director has a wonderful way of teasing our expectations of seeing the Flash Gordon actor back on the big screen, and when Mark Wahlberg’s character opens the door to his flat to reveal the much older, but strangely timeless-looking actor, there was a surge of emotion which I seldom felt in any other of this year’s features.
Biggest and most pleasant surprise: all of Skyfall
After a saggy post-credit 30 minutes or so, Skyfall managed to truly find its feet, via some riveting action sequences and three ‘bests’ in the history of the franchise – Bond performance, cinematography and villain. I am a Bond agnostic no more. Where do they go from here, however?
The Best Line Award: The Avengers “We have a Hulk.”
Joss Whedon has a way with words, and Robert Downey, Jr. has a way with delivering them. No four greater words have been said in my books throughout the year. A brilliant retort from Tony Stark / Iron Man to that pesky Loki.
The Best Trailer Music Award: Cloud Atlas / Rust & Bone
French electronic band, M83, have become one of the most frequently-used bands in films, TV series, and trailers in recent years. This year, their songs Outro and My Tears Are Becoming a Sea have been used to brilliant effect in the trailers for Cloud Atlas and Rust & Bone, respectively. Both songs and both trailers are remarkable, with the music fitting the visuals and vice versa perfectly.
And the first Cloud Atlas trailer has the added bonus of also featuring a beautiful section of the score for the first half (that fantastic first extended trailer was a stunning way to introduce the film back in the summer).
The Best Song Award: Ryan Miller’s Big Machine (Safety Not Guaranteed)
As performed by Mark Duplass in Safety Not Guaranteed, Ryan Miller’s Big Machine is by far my favourite original song of the year. It’s everything a great original song should be – it’s not just written for the film’s release, but it’s written specifically with the film in mind, from the frame of mind of one of the characters, from lyrics on down. An instant classic.
And it’s nice to see that it’s made the shortlist for songs eligible in the Best Original Song category at the Oscars. I’m keeping my fingers very tightly crossed for the nominations in January. Very tightly crossed. Because I would love nothing more than for Safety Not Guaranteed to get at least one nomination next month, and hopefully more.
The Notebook Award: The Dark Knight Rises / The Impossible
(Awarded to any film that has made me cry.)
Rare is the film so emotionally powerful that it moves me to tears, but this year there have been two such films, and such a feat is worthy of recognition.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises earned its award in spades as the film headed into its final scenes. Seeing the Bat flying off into the distance, followed by the sight of Michael Caine crying, just tipped my tear ducts over the edge.
Similarly, Ewan McGregor’s immensely affecting performance in The Impossible was enough to move me to tears. Though the film is released in the UK on New Year’s Day, I was fortunate enough to see it at TIFF (ahead of its Oscar-qualifying release in the US this weekend), and can guarantee that there will be plenty of moist, if not tear-soaked, eyes at screenings around the world in the coming weeks. McGregor’s scene with the phone call back home was the one that really hit the hardest for me.
The Serenity Award for Best Directorial Debut: Safety Not Guaranteed (Colin Trevorrow) / Ted (Seth MacFarlane)
Directed by Colin Trevorrow, Safety Not Guaranteed is my favourite film of the year, and instantly soared upon first viewing at Sundance London to become one of my favourite films of all time.
It is one of the most memorable and promising debuts in recent years, and huge amounts of credit and praise should be given to both Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly for bringing such a work of art and class to the big screen, especially through the independent industry avenue.
The film is a remarkable feature-length debut for what I hope will be very long and healthy careers for two of the most promising filmmakers in the industry right now.
Seth MacFarlane’s Ted has also been a very notable highlight of my year. As a big fan of Family Guy and American Dad!, I was naturally looking forward to seeing what MacFarlane would bring to the big screen in his feature debut behind the camera.
And for my money, he didn’t disappoint whatsoever. I love everything about it, from start to finish – from Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis’ casting, to Ted’s voice, to the use of The Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition in the trailer. It’s all awesome. And I can’t wait to see it again, now that it’s arrived on DVD and Blu-ray.
Best Breakthrough Performance (Actress): Olivia Thirlby (Nobody Walks) / Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed)
Olivia Thirlby has long been one of my favourite actresses, with brilliant supporting performances in the likes of Juno and The Wackness, to name just two excellent roles of hers. This year saw Thirlby front and centre in her first full leading role, Ry Russo-Young’s Nobody Walks, and she is utterly remarkable in the lead. I can’t think of a single other actress who could have played the part quite so well, and blurred the lines of morals as exceptionally as she does. Here’s to hoping that it will be the start of many more leading roles in the years to come.
Aubrey Plaza equally impressed in Safety Not Guaranteed. Connolly wrote the script with Plaza in mind, and she delivers one of the most memorable performances of the year. She’s well-known for her ‘quirkiness’ in comedy, and the film really gave her a chance to prove herself capable of more – of different kinds of comedy, of drama, of romance, and even of sci-fi. Plaza is truly going to be one to watch down the line. And I can’t wait to see her in The To Do List and A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III next year.
Best Breakthrough Performance (Actor): Shia LaBeouf (Lawless)
Shia LaBeouf is of course already an incredibly successful actor, having led three of the highest-grossing films of all time. But this year, LaBeouf really outdid himself, doing more than what he set out to do – prove that he was capable of much more than we’d seen of him in the Transformers blockbuster trilogy (i.e. capable of more than shouting, ‘Optimus!’ – as some might unfairly suggest)
Lawless is one of the finest films of the year, and LaBeouf’s performance is absolutely essential to its brilliance. He stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Tom Hardy and Jessica Chastain, and absolutely shines and makes a mark. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next year.
The Iron Man Award for Best Franchise-Starter: The Amazing Spider-Man
I think Marc Webb’s reboot of the Spider-Man franchise this year is really the start of something special. The film gives us not only a new take on the Spider-Man story, but also a very different Spider-Man in the form of Andrew Garfield, who is and looks terrific donning the Spidey suit. And with the ever-brilliant Emma Stone starring opposite in the female lead as Gwen Stacy, the odds were very good that the film would be awesome, and it really is.
With Sony expected to turn it into a new trilogy – and, given the anticipated storylines in the coming film/s, I personally think we’ll be going beyond three films in the future – The Amazing Spider-Man is my favourite film to kick-start a new franchise this year, worthy of the Iron Man Award for what has become the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Now we just have to keep our fingers crossed that we might get a crossover somewhere down the line. Because that would be ever so slightly epic.
The Royal Tenenbaums Award for Best Original Screenplay: Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola)
The Royal Tenenbaums may not have won Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson the Best Original Screenplay Award at the Oscars back in 2002, but that’s no reason to suggest it doesn’t deserve an award named after it for the category.
Like Joss Whedon, Wes Anderson has a brilliant and unique way with words that is very difficult to describe, and never fails to be incredibly enjoyable to watch. Moonrise Kingdom marks his welcome return to the big screen, breaking records in the US upon release, and it more than earns Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola the Best Original Screenplay for my own personal awards.
Roll on The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The ‘I’m Never Getting That Three Hours of My Life Back Again’ Award: Cloud Atlas
The most annoying film I sat through in 2012. I disliked every single thing about the film; the performances, the cinematography, the bizarre casting choices (Jim Sturgess as an unconvincing Asian man, anyone?), and the trite thematic pay-off after nearly three hours of arse numbing tedium (all you need is love folks!). Its unsurprising failure in the U.S. will hopefully keep the Wachowski siblings away from cameras etc for a very long time (that’s two huge bombs in a row for them, if anyone is counting).
The ‘Where Has That Director We All Loved Gone??’ Award: Terence Malick
A director who takes cinematic introspection to a new level of pretention in To The Wonder. I gave it a one star review after seeing it at TIFF this autumn, largely out of disappointment at his seeming refusal to realise just how dull it is watching the slightest of stories (boy gets girl, boy loses girl but gets another, boy gets original girl back and jettisons second girl, but doesn’t really get the first one back) dressed up as pseudo-mystical drivel.
Despite my whining, I’ll see his next film Knight Of Cups, which stars Christian Bale and Natalie Portman in a film that IMDb describes as ‘a man, temptations, celebrity, and excess’, in the hope that he may have come to his senses, read a review or two, and decided to focus on story and characterisation again.
The ‘Very Pleasantly Surprised’ Award: Killing Them Softly.
As a fan of author George V. Higgins, the Dean of Boston crime writers, I was chagrined to read that this belated adaptation of his novel Cogan’s Trade was being set in a sort of anonymous American any town, as well as being updated to the early part of Obama’s first term. Higgins, a prosecutor and defense attorney before he became a novelist, captured the vernacular and milieu of Boston criminals superbly (Ben Affleck did a very credible job of portraying this world on screen in The Town and Gone Baby Gone), and the city itself is an indelible character in his fiction, so the thought of moving the action out of Boston seemed like sacrilege.
Director Andrew Dominink’s decision to make a film which would be relevant to contemporary viewers, rather than a retro homage to ’70s crime films a la the upcoming The Ice Man, was a clever one. He largely sticks to the novel’s plot and Higgins’ trademark talkiness (less crime happens in Higgins’ books than almost any other crime writer I can think of) while imposing his own thematic concern on the story, namely that America is all about business and nothing else. This is the best American crime film of 2012, which in time may come to be regarded as this decade’s Goodfellas.
The ‘Performances it Was My Privilege to See’ in 2012.
This is a three way tie: Joacquin Phoenix as mentally unstable WWII veteran Freddie Quell in The Master; Quvenzhane Wallis’ astonishing, heartbreaking performance as six-year old Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild (she’ll never be as unselfconsciously natural again if she continues acting); and 82 year-old Jean-Louis Trintignant’s almost unbearably poignant portrayal of Georges, who lovingly cares for his wife as she physically deteriorates in Amour.
Best Superhero/Comic Book film: The Dark Knight Rises
Barring left-field choices like Dredd or Chronicle, this was always going to be a shootout between The Dark Knight Rises and Avengers Assemble. The Amazing Spider-Man certainly did nothing to disgrace itself, but it was eventually overpowered by the impact of the top-tier competition.
Opinion is strongly divided, even here at HeyUGuys HQ, but in the end my vote comes down in favour of The Dark Knight Rises. Although the film’s storytelling has been criticized, I think it is actually stronger than the previous entry in Nolan’s Bat-cycle, with some of the cracks in TDK’s internal logic being papered over by Ledger’s undoubtedly franchise-defining performance.
Bane was brilliant, Bale brought subtlety and pathos to Wayne as no-one else has previously and Nolan managed to write Alfred out for a chunk of the film without it leaving the film feeling uneven. The grace notes on which TDKR ended were beautiful to behold and left me with an enduring smile on my face. Top marks.
Best Action sequence: The Raid
Some suggested that the fight sequences grew repetitive and although the final three-way could be said to have dragged a little, for the rest of its admirably tight running time, this breath-taking actioner was inventive, thrilling, wince-inducing and compelling.
In the end, you can take your pick. Corridor sequence(s)? Axe through the floor and drop into the room below? Mad Dog’s first fight (“Pulling a trigger is like ordering takeout. This is where I live”)? I’m going to go with the three-way finale, as although it slightly outstayed its welcome, its choreography and physical clout are up there with the best that this or any other genre have to offer.
Honourable mentions – Bane vs Batman (round 1), Hulk vs Thor
Most surprisingly successful remake: 21 Jump Street
This could have been horrible. Instead, it nodded to its less than original premise (“We’re reviving a canceled undercover project from the ’80s and revamping it for modern times. The people behind this lack creativity and they’ve run out of ideas, so what they do now is just recycle s*** from the past and hope that nobody will notice”) and proceeded to poke fun at itself without descending into outright parody. Funny, exciting and giving us one of a number of “I had no idea he was so talented” moments for Mr Channing Tatum (see also – Magic Mike, Haywire). A great success.
The Inaugural Self-Pity Award for Best Film I didn’t get to see: Various
Yes, it is pity party time. Poor me. Didn’t get to see everything at the cinema this year. I missed Prometheus, Looper, Skyfall Argo, Paranorman and by the time you read this I will probably have missed The Hobbit, Jack Reacher, End of Watch, and Life of Pi as well. I think Looper is probably the best film I’ve missed this year, but then how could I possibly know?
Best found footage film: Chronicle
This is, I suppose, a cheeky way of giving an award to a film that just missed out on Best Superhero film. Found footage has clearly had its day, having (dis)graced our screens to decreasing effect in recent times. But Chronicle showed there is life left in the premise, if you can at least do it right and do it differently.
The discovery of their (escalating) powers and the shift into irresponsibility and then outright malice and villainy was perfectly handled and we were treated to three-dimensional characters across the three principals. The boyish thrill of finding that you can fly brought a smile to the face and the narrative shifts were believable and intelligent. Well done all. Please take your respective talents and use them to make more decent stuff.