Tuesday, 18 December 2012

My Top 30 Films of 2012: 30-21

It's that time again! Time for the annual top 30 film list, in which I rank my favourites. People ask me "Rob, why do you insist of compiling a top 30, rather than, say, a more traditional top 10?" And I say to those people, with limitless patience, "because even compiling this year's top 30 has seen me leave out such stunning films as 'Francine', 'Elles', 'Just the Wind' and 'Postcards From the Zoo' - to say nothing of documentaries such as 'Tabloid', 'Dreams of a Life' and 'Woody Allen: A Documentary'." I have also neglected to include films that came out too late last year to be included in the 2011 list. So, whilst magnificent, 'Moneyball', Fincher's 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' and the surprisingly funny 'Arthur Christmas' don't feature.

Anyway, here is the first part of this year's list. Films 30-21:

30) The Woman in Black, dir James Watkins, UK/CAN/SWE

What I said: "In places it's truly frightening, even if it is (by design) playing on oft-seen horror tropes. It doesn't do anything new but it does the old stuff very well. Radcliffe is a good fit for the protagonist, seeming both vulnerable and capable. Some are bound to find his youthful appearance and image as a boy-wizard a distracting incongruity, especially given that here he is playing a father, but I didn't find this to be a problem. At 22 Radcliffe is an adult who could feasibly have a child - this is simply a fact. If anything his most famous role compliments this one, with both Harry Potter and solicitor Arthur Kipps being of unfailingly good nature."

Regular readers will know I'm not a horror fan, but I did really enjoy this one despite seeing it with a tittering teenage audience that found every aspect hilarious. The fact that it still made me jump (more than a couple of times) and genuinely creeped me out, is all the more impressive given the circumstances. An old fashioned type of horror movie that's refreshing in an age of all-out gore-fests.

29) Magic Mike, dir Steven Soderbergh, USA

The scene where Matthew McConaughey teaches Alex Pettyfer to sexy dance in a mirror - sweatily gyrating against him in spandex - is one of the funniest things I've seen all year long, matched only by the incongruous appearance of McConaughey in an Uncle Sam hat later in the same film. Marvellous. I'm not sure how much of 'Magic Mike' is supposed to be funny but I had a blast watching it. I also have a real soft spot for Soderbergh of late. Let's hope he isn't really about to retire.

28) The Muppets, dir James Bobin, USA

A little ray of sunshine - blissfully free of irony or schadenfreude in a world where both are dominant. 'The Muppets' isn't solid gold all the way through - it lags in the middle for a bit and some of the gags fall flat - but it's impossible to watch without a smile on your face. The songs are great and there are some really inspired gags too. This is one I've already gone back to several times on DVD.

27) The Grey, dir Joe Carnahan, USA

One from way back at the start of the year, 'The Grey' sees Liam Neeson again in action hero mode, but this time he's battling the elements, a pack of ravenous wolves and himself (coming to terms with the loss of his wife and a new-found dislike of humanity). It's supremely effective and an interesting change of direction for the director after making that forgettable 'A-Team' movie a couple of years back.

26) Side by Side, dir Christopher Kenneally, USA

A timely film arriving at the end of the celluloid age, 'Side by Side' would be interesting enough if it were simply a dry look at the difference between the old technology and digital and the potential problems and advantages arising from the change. But it's much more fun than that, however, with Keanu Reeves interviewing a stellar line-up of filmmakers, actors, producers and technicians that includes Martin Scorsese, David Lynch and an especially enthusiastic Danny Boyle. The likes of David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh provide some extremely memorable and amusing quotes too, ensuring this is a must-watch movie for anyone with an interest in filmmaking - even if they aren't necessarily bothered about competing storage media. Though those who go in without an opinion are sure to leave 'Side by Side' feeling pretty strongly one way or the other.

25) The Hunger Games, dir Gary Ross, USA

With extremely low expectations I read The Hunger Games in the run-up to the summer movie and, to my surprise, really enjoyed it. Enough that I swiftly read the next two books and got pretty into that world. I'd be the first to admit that the books are flawed, but they are pretty good and the film lives up to the first one and - in a couple of ways - improves upon it. It made for an interesting film and one which leaves me excited enough to want to see the sequels.

24) Carnage, dir Roman Polanski, FRA/GER/SPA/POL

Great performances from the cast and a really smart script, this is a tight, little drama with a sharp wit. It's the best film Polanski's made in at least a decade. Not a lot more to say about it than that without going into specifics and reviewing it all over again... so there it is.

23) Chronicle, dir Josh Trank, USA

A slick mix of horror, "found footage" movie and super hero actioner, 'Chronicle' - written by Max Landis, son of John - is inventive, exciting and tense. The film even finds time to become a drama about growing up and to some extent an angsty teens new-found abilities form part of a commentary on high school shootings and the sorts of troubled kids who perpetrate them: the anti-social and violent side of the geek empowerment fantasy around which all super hero stories are built.

22) Brave, dir Mark Andrews & Brenda Chapman, USA

A huge improvement on the studio's last two films - both sequels - 'Brave' is only just short of being up there with 'Up' and 'Wall-E' in the Pixar canon. It succeeds mostly because it's not the film you think it's going to be based on the trailers. This isn't a trite story about a woman who doesn't want to be pretty but wants to be a warrior instead - the usual route of female empowerment being depicted as increased masculinity - but rather the tale of a stubborn teenager and her equally stubborn mother trying to improve their mutually antagonistic relationship during a tough transitional time in their lives. This is the story of a mother getting to grips with her daughter's increasing independence from her care, whilst that daughter has to juggle with discovering who she is and what she wants to do. The popular culture is full of stories about father-son bonding and that relationship in general, but this is the first mainstream children's movie I can recall that's all about the relationship between mother and daughter.

21) Argo, dir Ben Affleck, USA

Whilst not my favourite film of the year - in fact it's 20 spaces off the top spot - 'Argo' could easily be crowned Best Picture at next year's Oscars. Ben Affleck has established a good reputation behind the camera, with 'The Town' already seen as an unlucky loser last time around despite strong early buzz, whilst the Academy traditionally loves actors-turned-directors. It's also got a liberal political stance on the situation in modern Iran, laying the blame for the current regime at America's feet. Yet overall it isn't going to alienate more conservative voters, because it's a film in which the CIA are the good guys and "bringing our boys home" is the objective. It is - spoiler warning - an American success story in a part of the world where those are currently difficult to come by. And, finally, much of it takes place in Hollywood and lampoons that community - but in a gentle and affectionate way that can only be received warmly. Thought of that way it's a pretty safe movie, especially as - in terms of plot and the way it's shot - it recalls the sort of 1970s political thrillers they just don't make any more. It is, however, also very good - so I wouldn't begrudge it any of that success.

Check back later for films 20-11.

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