Through all the belief that 2012 was a strong year for films, it's been somewhat mediocre by our expectations.
While this maybe a rather sombre tone to begin Christmas gift guide for films, allow the chance to redeem ourselves by counting down our top ten films that would make for great presents, either to see in the cinema or to own on DVD (or Blu Ray). You will probably disagree with some of the choices, as many films of 2012 were built up through ridiculous amounts of hype to the point that they will never match up to expectations; but remove these from your mind, and they make for enjoyable viewing.
Speaking of high expectations...
To understand why this film made it onto the list, the first thing you have to do is divorce it from the entire Alien franchise. Once you disregard the great films that have come before it, Prometheus is actually fairly decent, and it comes with a very good cast (Noomi Rapace, Guy Pearce, Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba are just some of the big names).
As with most Ridley Scott films, the cinematography is excellent, but quite apart from that there's a lot of interesting subtext. This is especially noticeable if you decide that perhaps you are not actually meant to like all the characters.
They do so many ridiculous things – taking their masks off once they realise there's oxygen even though they have no idea whether there may also be harmful gases that they don't know about, poking unknown life forms that to any thinking person would look hostile, attempting to wake the beings who helped create said hostile life forms – that the film is practically a tutorial in how not to do science. But perhaps this is a reference to the well-documented arrogance of the Weyland Corportation.
The most obvious underlying theme is essentially a religious one: what if there is a God? And what if that God thinks it made a mistake in creating us? That's a question worth exploring, and it's done well. It's worth a look, as long as you ignore what the film should have been.
9. The Woman In Black
First things first: if you're at all a fan of the Harry Potter series, you will not be able to watch this film without thinking “Just use your patronus, Harry!”
That aside, it's a good, traditional horror film with well-acted performances; Radcliffe does well, though perhaps a little young for the part of a lawyer who has a young son and a dead wife. Still, the history of his character is not the most important part of the film by a long shot.
The first half builds suspense and character well and has good pacing, whilst the second half is based almost entirely in the haunted house and makes the audience long for daylight. Even then, there is an incredibly uneasy atmosphere that reflects the stage play – every dark corner is suspicious.
It's good fun, as a horror film should be; and it comes with a surprise at the end, though bittersweet rather than frightening.
8. We Need To Talk About Kevin
Based on the book by Lionel Shriver, this film is an excellent non-linear psychological thriller, focusing on the story of a family whose son grows up to be the perpetrator of a school shooting. It is told from the perspective of the mother, played by Tilda Swinton, as she tries to answer the question “Where did I go wrong?”
The structure incorporates a lot of flashbacks, focusing on whether the titular Kevin (Ezra Miller) became a murderer through nature or nurture. There is no clear answer given, which perhaps is for the best.
Ezra Miller gives a stunningly disturbing performance, especially given his age, and Tilda Swinton is eminently believable as a grieving mother dealing with the ramifications of her son's actions. It's one thing to have a son in jail; quite another for him to be there for several murders.
The film stays very true to the book, even down to minor details, and as such loses none of the book's impact. A must-see for fans of psychological drama.
7. Anna Karenina
The first thing that you will notice with this film is the incredible staging – and I do mean to say staging. The film is shot as if it were being played out in a theatre, complete with set-changes and props. It sounds dubious, but it is absolutely beautiful and a pleasure to watch, as well as presumably being a commentary on 19th century Russian high society of the time. It is meta-theatrical in the extreme, and yet this does not take away from the plot of Tolstoy's novel.
Keira Knightley plays Anna Karenina, with Jude Law as the cuckolded husband and Aaron Johnson as her lover, Vronsky. At first glance the plot seems simple: essentially, a wife has an affair, the husband finds out, she runs away with her lover and then kills herself. But add this to the social complexities and politics and you have a story that explores the structures of society as well as of the heart.
It's a beautiful film to watch, and well worth the running time of over two hours. It's a brilliant film for any one who likes their extravagant period dramas.
Without a doubt, this is the best horror film of the year. On the one hand, it's a good demon story; and on the other, it's an almost Shining-esque exploration of what happens when a family goes wrong.
The first frames are horribly shocking and as such guarantee the audience's attention, and from then on the film simply continues to build suspense to almost unbearable levels. The premise is essentially that there is a demon that takes over a small child, makes them kill their family, and then takes the child away; but we discover this slowly through the investigations of a writer (Ethan Hawke) who is investigating a rash of family murders. He becomes obsessive, sure that it is his next classic true crime book, and begins to alienate his family as paranormal events begin to happen each night.
There is one thing which horror fans will find gratifying: this is the first family in a horror film that I ever seen actually try to leave the haunted house. Obviously, this doesn't work, but they at least try to escape their fate.
You can almost touch the tension in this film, and the pace is built up expertly (with odd moments of humour) and with a clear preference for a slow burn rather than many jumpscares. For any horror fan, this film comes thoroughly recommended.
5. The Amazing Spider-Man
The new reboot of the Spiderman franchise came to the big screen in July, with Andrew Garfield in the title role, and is entirely worth it. Garfield brought an entirely new flavour of geekiness to the role – one that suits the 21st century with its edginess, yet at the same time reminds fans of the Spiderman who would make jokes as he swung away. It could easily have gone badly, but Garfield delivered each line perfectly.
There have been complaints that the pace dragged; but that time is well spent on characterisation and letting us actually get to know the protagonists. For example, by the time Rhys Ifans becomes the Lizard, you understand exactly what drives him and why he's doing what he's doing; he's a complex, three-dimensional villain who manages to keep an audience's sympathy.
Peter Parker himself undergoes some excellent character growth throughout the film, growth that many would agree was sorely lacking in the previous films. The action was fast-paced and not over-blown, and the quieter scenes were well-judged and not overly sentimental.
All in all, the film is great fun and excellent film making; one of the best action films of the year.
4. The Cabin In The Woods
Despite the deliberately stereotypical name, I wouldn't call this film a horror film. There's gore, yes, and monsters, and an evil force lurking in the background; but it is clear that these things are not the point. Like Anna Karenina, this film is a tour de force in meta-analysis, though this time it is a commentary specific to the horror film genre.
The plot focuses around five friends who decide to travel into the middle of nowhere and live in a cabin for a weekend. As one might expect, they get attacked by a zombie cannibal family and die one by one – until one of them discovers that not everything is as it seems, and perhaps it wasn't just coincidence that led to the deaths of their friends.
This film is very intelligent and very funny – not in a laugh out loud way, but in a “I see what you did there” way. Then again, given that this is a Joss Whedon film, it is inevitable that there would be dark jokes sprinkled throughout the film.
If you want to see a deconstruction of the horror genre, and don't mind copious amounts of blood, you will love this film.
3. The Dark Knight Rises
The much-awaited third film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy truly delivers on what most fans would want to see. Christian Bale and the rest of the cast returned, with the very notable addition of Tom Hardy as Bane. It is absolutely necessary to commend Hardy here for managing to act so well throughout the film with only the top half of his face showing.
As we all knew would happen, Batman comes out of retirement to save Gotham once again – but he's older now, and wounded, and Bane has absolutely no mercy on him. It is gritty and nerve-wracking and very, very well done. Except for that one plothole at the end, but we'll ignore that since this is still essentially a superhero film and you'll have to suspend your disbelief anyway.
The performances are excellent, the story is gripping, and it is simply a great conclusion to a superb trilogy.
Daniel Craig reprised his role as Bond in this latest film, with a new Bond girl (Naomie Harris) and a shiny new Q (Ben Whishaw). This film is extremely self-aware, and there is fan-service everywhere; it's a celebration of the Bond franchise as a part of British culture.
The villain, played by Javier Bardem, is genuinely creepy. Affably evil he may be, but he is also very insane and very clever – and as we know, that combination is never good. He has a grudge against M, and this puts all of MI6 in danger. Consequently, we learn more about M's past mistakes, and more about Bond's history; we even visit his house.
The film is, as you would expect, shot beautifully, but especially so in a scene in a skyscraper which has giant jellyfish projected onto it. The framing is glorious and the colours even more so; you almost forget that there's an assassin in the room.
See this even if you've never seen a Bond film before and never will again.
1. The Avengers
The second Joss Whedon film in this list, The Avengers has to come at the top. The only thing that would have satisfied geeks more would be if the X-Men had been in the film as well.
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and two new friends, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) have to fight off Thor's devious brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in a fabulously well-thought out, very entertaining movie just begging to be seen. In addition, Samuel L Jackson returns as Nick Fury, and is suitably pissed off with his mismatched gang of superheroes for most of the film. You'd think that too many actors spoil the film, but they don't.
Whedon's touch is all over this, and it works. It works very well. It is long, at almost two and a half hours, but I promise you that you will not notice the time. This is one of those films where it ends and you are shocked that the experience is over already. It's mayhem, but nicely controlled mayhem with witty lines thrown in.
This film is a necessity for the year. If you see nothing else, see this.