2012 was a year of huge promise and frequent disappointment (and then yet even more disappointment upon rewatching). I guess the obvious example here would have to be Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. If ever there was a movie that had me on-side from before the get-go it would've been that film but somewhere around the 20-minute Bearded-Men-Arrive-At-Hobbiton Montage I realised that Jackson simply didn't have the material to turn this into a saga. I know lots of people are seeing it at the moment but I still feel like its a padded out disappointment. Ultimately we'll have to wait and see how parts 2 & 3 fare. Ridley Scott's Prometheus also came with enormous promise. I liked it when I watched it the first time. The sheer grandeur of it held me in my sway. Upon re-screening however, it's clear that the plot was needlessly complex with more holes than my Year 8 knitting project for Home Economics.
There is one moment that I look for when compiling a list like this. It’s that split second in the theatre where you find yourself leaning in and think to yourself “This is not what I expected”. It was that spark, that moment of shock that I looked for. These were the movies that pushed me to the edge of my chair and pulled me closer to that screen.
As always this is an inevitably subjective list so please be kind. Without further ado and in no particular order... here goes:
Amidst the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979 a handful of US Embassy workers take refuge in the Canadian Ambassadors house. Soldiers roam the streets looking for them. The CIA concoct a plan: to smuggle them out as a film crew. But first they need to convince Hollywood to back a fake movie. This is the third movie in what I'm calling Ben Affleck’s "I'm Sorry for Making Pearl Harbour, I Genuinely Don’t Suck" Trilogy. Starring and Directed by Affleck, Argo will have you stressfully writhing around your seat like dog with worms while you're giggling uncontrollably at the same time. You may look like a nutter while watching but it's worth it, I swear.
Looper deserves a nomination almost purely because it's an original sci-fi script that actually got made in Hollywood. I assume Writer/Director Rian Johnson blackmailed a film executive or something. Looper is the tale of one assassin from two different time periods (and played two different actors Bruce Willis and Joseph-Gordon-Levitt) trying to kill each other. It has a mind-bending plot that should be impenetrably complex but is instead seductively engaging. The movie slides from brutal, amazingly choreographed action to effortless humour and then on to gut-wrenching tragedy.
Perks of Being a Wallflower
Logan Lerman plays a quiet teenager with something dark in his past. In his first days at a new school he makes 2 new friends: Emma Watson and her gay step-brother Ezra Miller. I'm a sucker for a good coming-of-age flick. This is catnip for me. This movie hands you an array of stock teen-movie caricatures that you think you know so well and then gradually subverts your expectations by giving them all dimensions and details you never see coming. And you'll be humming David Bowie for days.
It's so rare that we get gay romance movies released in Australia. Perhaps that's why Weekend stands out as such a gem. Set in drab suburban England, the film charts a prolonged one night stand between two guys. They meet on a Friday night and breakup on a Sunday afternoon. But a lot can happen in 2 days.
If nothing else Weekend is a testament to the power of the close up. The screen is filled with the infectious joy, fragility, pain and (naturally) horniness of modern romance. Above all, Weekend brings you into their relationship: you feel the attraction. And that is the really important achievement of the film.
You can tell when you are watching a Wes Anderson movie. It will usually involve a dysfunctional family, comedy thats drier than a pretzel and Bill Murray looking like he needs a hug. Every single frame of a Wes Anderson will be meticulously crafted within an inch of it's life. Sometimes in that desire for precisely art-directed films Wes can loose his connection to human emotions. In other words: all art, not enough heart. Moonrise Kingdom has the perfect balance. This nostalgic story of a Scout Camp gone wrong is art wank: done right.
The Dark Knight Rises
Following up Heath Ledger's performance and the sheer operatic perfection of The Dark Knight was going to be hard. And no, I don't think this movie matches up to it. There are a few plot holes and I still think Bane's voice-over dialogue is moronic. But The Dark Knight Rises remains an epic, ambitious and surprising conclusion to one of the defining cinematic sagas of our time. Christopher Nolan pulls together an array of threads (both plot-wise and thematic) into cinematic symphony of interlocking ideas about about justice, power and the true meaning of right and wrong.
Skyfall begins with what looks like the end of 007 but by the time you reach the opening titles it becomes clear: This is a movie about rebirth, the resurrection and the life of James Bond.
Yes, it's true that there isn't as much action as you might expect in a Bond flick. Director Sam Mendes has instead treated Skyfall as a proper thriller replete with intrigue, wit and menace. Skyfall walks the fine line between staying true to what makes 007 movies entertaining but also happily breaking a lot of rules. The results are glorious.
Okay, let me be totally up-front with you: This is not a movie for non-musical fans. It's one of only a handful of "sung-through" movie musicals in existence. Meaning: every line is sung. Yup, no spoken dialogue. That takes a while to wrap one's head around. Once you get into the swing of it though, Les Misérables becomes marvellous. Director Tom Hooper has pulled apart the musical and re-built it as a raw, dirty, messy devastating onslaught about injustice and redemption. There are big themes delivered by often very small intense performances. Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway do some truly amazing things in front of the camera. It's not for everyone but it is a masterful achievement.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
This film should be horribly depressing. It follows a community of hobos as their lives are washed away in a New Orleans Hurricane. The key is in the perspective. Beasts is told from the point-of-view of 6 year-old Hush puppy. And through her eyes this is an adventure filled with hilarity, fear and heartache.
Beasts of the Southern Wild stars a cast of almost entirely non-professional actors plucked from around Louisiana. And It was filmed in disaster prone areas of New Orleans and yet despite of this chaos (or perhaps even because of it) they have concocted one of the most magical experiences you will have in a cinema.
Safety Not Guaranteed
A handful of journalists set about investigating a man who posted a classified advert aimed at recruiting a sidekick for his time travels. This is one of those movies you will either love or hate. Safety Not Guaranteed is an offbeat, dry comedy that relishes taking you in weird directions. The whole movie hinges on the relationship between Mark Duplass (crazy time travelling man) and Magazine intern Aubrey Plaza who is sent undercover to befriend him. Do they trust each other? Are they lying to each other? Are they lying to themselves?
The answers are surpsising.