In a year where The Avengers assembled, Batman ended, Spider-man rebooted, and James Bond did a little of both, it wasn't the tent pole films that blew me away. More often than not, it was the small film with a big heart which won me over in 2012.
And yet, I'm sad to say, my Top 10 features no documentaries or Australian films, and only one foreign language film (two make an appearance via my Honourable Mentions).
So here then are my Top 10 Films of 2012*, in alphabetical order save for #1, and featuring a wallflower, an angel, a damsel and a knight; a boy scout, a Goth rocker, a time traveller, and a silent movie star.
Oh, and feel free to let me know what you loved at the movies in 2012.
*Note: Given Australian release dates, and my seeing some 2012 films in 2011, and a few 2013 releases now, this list is compiled of films released in Australian cinemas between January 15, 2012 and January 15, 2013.
The Angels' Share
A kitchen sink drama about down-and-out Glaswegians is nothing new for director Ken Loach, but about halfway through The Angels' Share the film becomes a Highlands heist comedy as a quartet of minor offenders attempt to pull-off a whiskey sting. By turns dramatic and comic, the third act of Loach's film, penned by regular collaborator Paul Laverty, is as tense as any thriller, and not for ages have I been so invested in the outcome of a film's protagonist. By no means a perfect drop, it's a damn near irresistible tipple.
Damsels In Distress
Not the best comedy of the year but possibly the most (and loudest) laughs I've ever heard in a theatrette media screening, Whit Stillman's first film in 14 years is a hoot. A delightful Greta Gerwig leads a clique of reverse-Mean Girls who operate a university campus suicide prevention centre armed with donuts and dance lessons, and who has very particular ideas about dating and posterity. It may not always make sense, but Damsels is never in danger of being dull.
The Dark Knight Rises
By no means a perfect film but perhaps a perfect end to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, TDKR touches base with its predecessors as it brings in new characters - Tom Hardy's Bane and Anne Hathaway's Catwoman the notable two - as, eight years after The Dark Knight, we find a city, and a superhero, under siege. Christian Bale gives his best performance yet as Bruce Wayne (perhaps as he spends less time in the suit), and Michael Caine's Alfred gets to carry the emotional load like the trooper that he is.
Named for the French port town, Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki's Le Havre is fablesque but heartfelt and political. When an elderly shoe shiner's wife is diagnosed with a tumour, he distracts himself by taking in an "illegal" immigrant boy from Africa in the hopes of getting him to family in London. Le Havre is a gentle rebuke to the 'stop the boats' rhetoric our politicians like to shout about come election time, too easily forgetting that refugees are people.
Oh, the joys of young love but oh, the tyranny of distance. When post-post grad lovers Anna and Jacob (Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin, both excellent) are separated by a Visa snafu - she in London, he in L.A. - they determine to stay together, giving long distance romance a try. But time, the Atlantic Ocean and reality seem determined to work against them. In the best tradition of lo-fi, bittersweet romance, Drake Doremus' film won my heart just as easily as it broke it.
A Boy Scout and a local girl runaway across the small isle of New Penzance in 1965, sending the adult population (including Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Ed Norton and, of course, Bill Murray) into a frenzy in Wes Anderson's delightful coming of age tale. With the writer-director's distinct look and characters, Moonrise Kingdom breaks through its deliberate artifice to connect with the young hopeful in all of us.
The Perks of Being A Wallflower
The coming of age film is a tried and true genre yet Stephen Chbosky, adapting his own book in an impressive directorial debut, manages to bring a freshness to the tale of high school outsider Charlie (a terrific Logan Lerman), and his discovery of life's joys through his adventures with fellow 'wallflowers', Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson). Amusing, heartfelt and emotionally affecting 'Wallflower' is top of the class.
Safety Not Guaranteed
Kenneth (Mark Duplass) is a supermarket employee with no friends and a fake ear who may also possess the technology to time travel. Darius (Aubrey Plaza), fellow magazine intern Arnau (Karan Soni) and their "superior", Jeff (Jake johnson), head to his coastal home town to find out if the man who posted the advert requesting a travel companion ("bring your own weapons, safety not guaranteed") is a real whack job or the real deal. Colin Trevorrow invests this small film with such heart that the truth is beside the point. Still, it's the best time travel film of the year (and yes, I saw Looper).
This Must Be The Place
Two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn can do just about anything, and his turn as a former Goth rocker cum Nazi hunter pretty much confirms it. Italian Paolo Sorrentino's first English language feature is by turns comedy, drama, road movie and Holocaust film. It may even be a dream, but it's Penn's Cheyenne (think The Cure's Robert Smith with a touch of Ozzy Osbourne) that makes it a real gem.
#1 The Artist
Black and white. Silent. Oscar winner. But The Artist, Michel Hazanavicius' love letter to the silent era of Hollywood and filmmaking generally, wasn't made in the 1920s but 2011. And I think by the time the Oscars rolled around, and The Artist delivered on its tag as favourite, people forgot just what an achievement a black and white silent film in the 21st century was. Without sound the film manages to hold audiences spellbound, thanks in no small part to the charm-filled performances of Berenice Bejo and Best Actor Oscar winner, Jean Dujardin. I actually saw The Artist in late 2011; released in Australia in February 2012, nothing could surpass it for me.
A Separation, The Avengers, The Grey, King of Devil's Island, Life of Pi, ParaNorman, The Raid, Take This Waltz, Weekend, Your Sister's Sister
AND THE WORST:
In lieu of a Transformers film (sadly, a fourth is on its way), Battleship was the next best thing. And by best I mean worst. And by worst I mean a steaming pile of IQ (and will to live) destroying shit. Peter Berg's 131-minute US Naval recruitment video was akin to being repeatedly hit in the face by a house brick, all the while having the director and cast yelling at you; "Can you feel yourself getting dumber? Can you?" To those who sought to somehow defend the "film" by saying "at least it was entertaining", I say, FUCK YOU!