We’re at that time of year again when we look back at the past year and forward to the next. My review of the year, when I will be revealing my game and book of the year is on the way and will be appearing just as soon as I’ve figured out what title will be receiving the former honour (there’s a late pretender in the mix). For now it’s time we counted down the ten best films of the year and there has been no shortage of greats to grace cinemas in the past twelve months. To give you an idea just look at some of the films that didn’t make the list; Frankenweenie, Seven Psychopaths, Argo, Moonrise Kingdom, Marvel Avengers Assemble, The Hunger Games. All great films but by my reckoning, the following were the ten best.
My pick for the most anticipated film of the year just barely made it into the end of year top ten. By that measure it might seem like a disappointment but Brave is nonetheless a quite wonderful film that more than hits the strong emotional beats Pixar films are famed for. The story of a Scottish princess’ clash of ideals with her mother hits home on a very human and universal level and the CG animation is probably the most stunning we’ve yet seen.
A film that has been called this decade’s The Matrix doesn’t quite live up to that billing it is a very memorable film nonetheless. Tackling the paradox-ridden minefield that is time-travel storytelling Looper has fun with its ideas, paints a vividly bleak picture of the future and develops in some very unexpected directions. Plus the two leads are Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, two of the coolest actors ever.
A relatively early 2012 release Chronicle turned out to be a revelation, not only offering a convincing vision of teens gaining superpowers but also finding a legitimate use for the ailing ‘found-footage’ genre. The films balances measured spectacle delivered with involving immediacy and proper humanity marshalled by three excellent lead actors.
7. Life of Pi
Ang Lee’s masterful adaptation of Yann Martel provides further evidence that no novel is unfilmable. The story of an Indian boy’s odyssey at sea with a dangerous tiger for a shipmate delivers on adventure, dramatic and emotional fronts and the production design and special effects are something else.
After the blip that was Quantum of Solace, Skyfall puts Bond back where he belongs, back at the forefront of action cinema with the most layered and human depiction of the character yet. The film celebrates the best of the franchise’s legacy and sets things up for the future with a simple but stirring story of revenge. It’s no mistake that it’s made a billion at the box office.
5. The Artist
This may have been a 2011 release (December 30th to be precise) but I didn’t get to see it until February so I’m including it in this list. The darling of last year’s Oscars is an absolutely delightful celebration of silent cinema with massively appealing leads and a timeless quality. It’s funny, moving and heart-warming and it’s definitely one of the best films of the year.#
4. The Raid
This Indonesian martial arts action movie came out of nowhere and blew the heads off everyone who saw it. The story of a SWAT team’s ill-fated effort to take a tower block run by a fraternity of drug peddlers delivered some absolutely brutal action in scene after scene of beautifully choreographed, balletic fight sequences. The films had me reeling in my seat like I’d taken the blows myself. It’s an unforgettable cinema experience.
3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Not everybody loved this first part in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s classic children’s tale but I loved it. Spending time in Middle Earth again was always going to be a treat but the loving way the story was told and the gentle pace at which the adventure unfolds slotted into my brain in a way I hadn’t expected. It was just about everything I wanted from the film and the best is yet to come.
2. The Dark Knight Rises
The concluding part in Christopher Nolan’s masterful telling of the Dark Knight’s story is a very big show that delivers on all fronts. It’s dark, it’s deep, it’s action-packed and it’s exciting right up to the satisfying conclusion. With the likes of Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anne Hathaway added to the cast the star power rides along with the pacey story beautifully and in Bane we have yet another classic screen villain whether or not you could hear him.
In a year that saw the release of no fewer than three horror-themed animated features (four if you count A Monster in Paris) one rather stands out. ParaNorman is the second film from Laika, the makers of Coraline, my favourite film of all time and although it doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of that peerless nightmare it’s not far off. ParaNorman tells the story of an ordinary misunderstood boy who happens to be able to see ghosts and commune with the dead, a gift that comes in handy when his hometown becomes the site of a zombie uprising. It starts out as a comedy that faces up to some difficult things such as bullying and parental rejection but about two thirds of the way through there comes a masterful turn in the tone that takes the film into some much darker and more challenging territory. It all builds to an unforgettable climax, a masterful sequence of animation that will go down in history as one of the medium’s very greatest achievements. The film offers kids a tale of emotional maturity that balances scares and laughs beautifully. It’s been heinously overlooked and underrated in an up and down year for animation and is without any doubt at all my favourite film of 2012.