In a year where some of the most highly anticipated movies were also the biggest disappointments (I’m looking at you, Prometheus), we also had a raft of lovely cinematic surprises. Here’s a list of 12 films I reckon showcase the very cream of the crop in 2012.
[I should point out that while I may have been harsh on certain films in my original reviews, I may have changed my mind in the interim the more I’ve thought about them or if I’ve managed to see it for a second time. Sometimes hindsight is a wonderful thing.]
21 Jump Street
Puerile, yes; stupid, yes; childish, very; but it’s also the funniest film I’ve seen in a long time with a surprisingly brilliant comic turn from Channing Tatum. Smartly satirises the social structure of high school, is able to have an action climax that’s wouldn’t seem out of place in a proper action movie and is utterly hilarious to boot. Think Hot Fuzz, but dumber. In a good way.
Best scene: Jenko and Schmidt are forced to take the drug they’ve been sent to investigate. And then the hallucinations start.
Twisty turn-y sci-fi tale from writer/director Rian Johnson that’s filled to the brim with clever ideas and in putting a different spin on the time travel, the rule book is torn up for a fresh, exciting and believable story. Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis are fantastic playing each other at different ages, and it contains the most terrifying use of time travel I’ve ever seen.
Best scene: we see how Young Joe becomes Old Joe before Old Joe returns to the past to stop Young Joe from killing him.
Taking the character of Dredd back to his gruff roots, the film succeeds in showing us the grunge-y world of Mega City One and its inhabitants like never before. Karl Urban gives good chin as the titular anti-hero, the villain is suitably psychotic and hissable and you get all the violence and gore you could want. This is a hard 18 certificate film, and all the better for it.
Best scene: Hi-Ex. The closest this film gets to a cheer out loud moment.
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Madcap. Bonkers. Insane. Truly hilarious. Dreamworks doesn’t do what Pixar does. They don’t make nuanced animated films that are mediations on adult themes; they make really funny, vibrant, action packed cartoons. This is the best one they’ve made yet.
Best scene: the chase through Monte Carlo. Laws of physics go out the window to be replaced with fun fun fun.
Iron Man. The Hulk. Thor. Captain America. Together. In one movie. That it doesn’t fall apart at the seams is a testament to the filmmaking talent behind it. A true ensemble superhero film; one that admittedly doesn’t have much in the way of a plot or depth, but does have big vibrant comic book action, a lot of brilliantly comedic moments and even time for a little character growth in there too.
Best scene: The hero shot of The Avengers assembled ready to fight the Loki’s Army.
Found footage superhero film that uses familiar tropes to tell a compelling and fresh story. The three main actors are outstanding, and the climax viewed through various different cameras (phone cameras, police helicopters, CCTV) creates one of the most visually striking superhero smackdowns of the year.
Best scene: The trio’s first flight gets interrupted by a jumbo jet.
Bringing the Muppets back for the kids of 2012 could have failed spectacularly. Luckily, the furry felt puppets appear to be universally loved and what followed was a happy, heartfelt (pun not really intended, more of a happy accident) not at all cynical and very funny film. And the songs were all glorious; Life’s A Happy Song will get stuck in your head for days.
Best scene: the chickens clucking along to Cee Lo Green’s ‘Forget You.’
The Cabin in the Woods
A bold deconstruction and an affectionate love/hate letter to horror cinema, The Cabin in the Woods is a film that is better if you go in knowing nothing about it. A subversive, and very funny, look at modern horror that obeys all the clichés of the genre, but then flips them on their head to turn it into something that is at once completely original yet comfortingly familiar.
Best scene: the incredible blood soaked denouement that needs to be seen to be believed.
Ben Affleck’s third film as director is his most assured and confident film yet. Based on a true story, this film takes a bizarre set up and cranks up the tension to incredible levels yet never loses sight of the human drama. Affleck takes the main role but is pleasantly restrained as John Goodman and Alan Arkin, steal all the best lines as the Hollywood execs.
Best scene: the juxtaposition of the fake movie script table read with the fake executions in Iran. Chilling.
The Dark Knight Rises
It may be the weakest of Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy but it’s a fine closer to the best superhero trilogy of all time. Bale has never been better as Bruce Wayne; Tom Hardy gives Bane a very different kind of menace to what we’re used to; and Anne Hathaway livens up the franchise with her slinky Selina Kyle. It’s filled with the requisite action beats we’ve come to expect but the real fireworks here are between the cast, all on top form and delivering the most emotionally charged comic book movie ever.
Best scene: Selina Kyle turning on a dime when discovered.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Back to Middle Earth we go, with an excellent cast and a charming tale of adventure. While it may be more kiddie friendly than Lord of the Rings, it’s still a rousing story full of wondrous creatures and epic battles. Martin Freeman makes the role of Bilbo his own and it’s great to be back in this world again. The film may be a little padded out, but when the padding is so good you can forgive a little embellishment.
Best scene: the dwarves sing Misty Mountains Cold; before they’ve even left the tone is set with this chilling, haunting song full of foreboding.
Indonesian film The Raid is an unashamed unabashed martial arts movie. Blood is spilled, bullets tear through flesh and the punches and kicks will make you wince. A proper, hardcore action movie the likes of which aren’t made in Hollywood anymore. Bone crunching, heart pounding, wince inducing action cinema.
And now, for some of the worst:
Taken 2: bland, neutered and boring. Took out everything that made the first such a guilty pleasure and lost everything that made it so much fun.
Alex Cross: badly acted, badly shot with an unconvincing lead and a dull as dishwater villain.
Ted: not nearly as funny as it should have been considering the talent involved.
Prometheus: not bad per se, just very disappointing. All of the ideas presented on screen were interesting, but just never came together in a coherent way.
Resident Evil: Retribution: dumb, brainless and not scary. I still liked it, but I know in my heart it’s a terrible movie.