Monday, 31 December 2012

My End of Year List: Best of 2012

It's the end of another year, and I thought I'd continue the tradition I started last year with a run down of my favourite new films from the past twelve months. The criteria for inclusion in the list are simple: to qualify, a film must be a new release which I saw in the cinema from 1 January to 31 December 2012. Old films which have been re-released into the cinema, films which I saw on DVD and films which I haven't seen yet (even if they were released in the UK in 2012) are not eligible for my list.

As a general comment, I'd say that this year's crop of movies have been quite an improvement on that of 2011. As well as a few truly outstanding pictures, there were a high number of movies which I'd rate as 'very good' (i.e. 8 out of 10 or above). All in all, it was tough work selecting just 10 for my list - movies which narrowly missed the cut included Avengers Assemble, Young Adult, Moonrise Kingdom, Chronicle, Shadow Dancer, Killing Them Softly, Room 237, End of Watch and The Artist.

Here's my picks for the best of 2012 (in reverse order):

10. Lawless

John Hillcoat's follow up to the similarly uncompromising Australian western The Proposition is a dark, violent, but brilliant look into the lives of bootleggers in 1930s Virginia. Guy Pearce is on fine form as the oily, sadistic villain, Charlie Rakes.

9. Snowtown 

Undoubtedly the most disturbing movie I've seen all year, but absolutely compelling all the same - a story about the power that a charismatic psychopath can wield over vulnerable individuals. The fact that the movie is based on a true life story (the Snowtown murders in South Australia) makes it even more chilling.

8. Headhunters

In comparison with the previous two films on my list, Norwegian thriller Headhunters is a veritable barrel of laughs. It was the most unexpectedly entertaining movie of the year, and certainly the only one in which a character has to hide out in a latrine to escape a relentless pursuer. Based on a novel by Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo, it has a plot which keeps you guessing right until the very end and a brilliant lead performance by Aksel Hennie.

7. The Dark Knight Rises

Though perhaps not quite as impressive as the previous film in the Dark Knight trilogy, Christopher Nolan's Batman swansong is still a tremendously exciting spectacle. Nolan has created a living, breathing Gotham City that seems as authentic as any real life American city - and has populated it with some highly memorable characters.  Both Tom Hardy (as Bane) and Anne Hathaway (as Catwoman) were excellent in their respective roles.

6.  Martha Marcy May Marlene

A haunting, beautiful film that stayed with me long after the final credits had rolled, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a brilliant debut from director Sean Durkin. Telling the story from the perspective of a young woman who has recently escaped from a dangerous cult, the viewer is kept on edge throughout - you're never quite sure whether what you're seeing is real, or just a paranoid delusion.  Both Durkin and lead actress Elizabeth Olsen will be well worth looking out for over the next few years.

5. Looper

For my money, this was the best science fiction film of the year, a highly imaginative take on time travel and psychic powers with a stunning ending. Joseph Gordon Levitt is wonderful (as usual) as a morally conflicted assassin, and all in all, it's a spectacular return to form for director Rian Johnson (after the disappointment of his previous movie, The Brothers Bloom).

4. The Raid: Redemption

I'm not normally a huge fan of kung fu pictures, but this effort, from Welshman Gareth Evans, has made me an instant convert. Set in the claustrophobic confines of a crime ridden tower block, the plot is simple: the last good cop in Jakarta has to fight his way through hoardes of bad guys to take out a crime lord situated in the penthouse suite. This straightforward premise is executed flawlessly: the action is spectacularly exciting and brilliantly choreographed.

3. Margaret

The winner of my "halfway through 2012" list, this film was famously left in limbo for a number of years until it was finally released in this country in January. The version which appeared in cinemas was a cut which neither director Kenneth Lonergan nor the studio was completely satisfied with - but I reckon it's a near masterpiece all the same. As I said right back at the start of the year, the movie has some of the best acting and sharpest dialogue I've seen for quite some time. It's a worthy follow up to Lonergan's previous effort, You Can Count On Me, a film which I'd count as one of my all time favourites.

2. Argo

Ben Affleck continues his streak of success as a director with this sensational thriller, set during the 1980 Iranian hostage crisis. It's a picture which combines touches of humour (the scenes in Hollywood where the plot to create a fake sci-fi flick is hatched) with some incredibly gripping and tense set pieces (particularly the final face off at the airport in Tehran). Argo has been tipped for success at next year's Oscars, and in my opinion, it would be a very worthy winner in a number of categories.

1. Sightseers

Top of the pile this year is the wonderful Sightseers, in which Alice Lowe and Steve Oram play a pair of caravan enthusiasts whose holiday to the North of England takes an unexpectedly murderous turn... It's a movie which is funny, strange, and features one of the best soundtracks of the year - combining bloodcurdling violence with a perfectly observed recreation of life in Britain at the beginning of the 21st century. I reckon Ben Wheatley (whose film Kill List was my third favourite film of 2011) is one of the most talented directors working right now. I'm eagerly anticipating his next movie, A Field In England, which will see him team up with The League of Gentlemen's Reece Sheersmith.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

The week in brief (24 - 30 December)

This week's list of movies watched:

The Muppets (2012): 8/10
Fatal Attraction (1987): 7/10
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962): 8/10
Lawrence of Arabia (1962): 7/10

I'm going to keep this week's round up extra brief this time around, as I'm currently working on my best of 2012 list. Which film will end up top of Kirk's tree this year? Well, you'll just have to check back in a day or two's time, and the answer will be on these pages.

Anyway, just a quick nod to a few films which I enjoyed over the last seven days. First of all, The Muppets, which I was very taken with the first time I saw it, but for me, it didn't quite reach the same heights the second time around. Don't get me wrong, it's still a very fun movie, with some fine songs from Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords, but I was probably being a tad overgenerous when I awarded it a '9' out of 10.

Secondly, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, a classic melodrama and horror film from the '60s, in which director Robert Aldrich made the inspired decision to cast real life enemies Better Davis and Joan Crawford as a pair of has-been movie star sisters, cooped up together in a crumbling mansion. It plays out as a cross between Misery and Sunset Boulevard, a brilliantly grotesque portrayal of the damaging effects of child stardom. Though both of the leads give excellent performances, Bette Davis steals the show with her wildly excessive turn as the ghoulish Baby Jane Hudson.

Finally, I should also mention that I saw Lawrence of Arabia for the first time this week. Clocking in at a wearying three hours and forty odd minutes, I think it may be the longest film that I've ever watched. It's not really the sort of picture that I'd normally go in for - I've never been the biggest fan of epics or War films (other than Max Fischer productions set during 'Nam) - but I could appreciate the fine acting of Peter O'Toole as T.E. Lawrence and some of the composition of the desert scenes was stunning.

Looking forward to the New Year, it looks like there will be plenty to keep me occupied. This is the time of year when Oscar contenders are released in the UK, and I'm keenly anticipating the following films in particular:

1 January:  The Impossible
10 January: Gangster Squad
18 January: Django Unchained, V/H/S
25 January: Zero Dark Thirty, Lincoln
1 February: Flight, Bullhead
8 February: Hitchcock
22 February: Cloud Atlas
1 March: Stoker, Compliance

Kirk's Quote of the Week

Scream (1996)

"Casey: Who's there?
Ghostface: Never say 'who's there?' Don't you watch scary movies? It's a death wish. You might as well come out to investigate a strange noise or something..."

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The week in brief (17 - 23 December)

This week, I have been mostly watching...

Seven Psychopaths (2012): 8/10
Free Men (Les hommes libres) (2011): 7/10
The Big Lebowski (1998): 10/10
Life of Pi (2012): 7/10
In Bruges (2008): 9/10

A few days ago, I conducted a scientific analysis of my movie reviews over the last year and determined that the top week (in terms of average review) was the 5th to the 11th of November. However, if I'd waited until today, I would have found a new champion, as the average score this week comes in at a whopping 8.2. I think we can chalk this exceptional week up to a combination of seasonal cheer and the fact that due to delays in the Christmas post, my selection of new films from LOVEFiLM never arrived, so I watched a couple of old favourites instead. Anyway, on with a quick round up of this week's movies.

First up, Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's Booker prize winning novel, Life of Pi. It's the story of Pi Patel, an Indian lad of about 17 or so who survives a shipwreck, only to find himself floating across the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat with only a tiger named Richard Parker for company. I was a little conflicted about this picture. On the one hand, it features some of the most strikingly beautiful cinematography that I've seen all year - in particular, certain scenes in which Lee pans back to reveal the night sky reflected in the calm ocean are quite breathtaking. As well as this, newcomer Suraj Sharma gives a highly impressive performance in the title role - something which is essential to the success of the movie, as for the majority of the running time, he's acting opposite a CGI tiger as the only human presence on screen. On the other hand, despite the fine central performance and the wonderful cinematography, I felt the pacing of the movie was a little off. It takes a while to get going, and other than the shipwreck (which, I have to admit, is thrilling), it proceeds at a pace which might generously be described as 'meditative'. I wouldn't say I was bored during Pi's long, arduous journey - but I wasn't exactly glued to the screen either.

Moving on, I also caught Martin McDonagh's new film at the cinema this week. Seven Psychopaths is set in Hollywood, with our protagonist an Irish writer named Marty (presumably McDonagh didn't have to look too far for inspiration there). As the film begins, he's struggling to come up with a new screenplay; though he has a title (Seven Psychopaths), he's trying to avoid writing the same old cliched, violent story and is unable to make any progress. Luckily, his best friend Billy - a part time actor and full time dog kidnapper  - is able to introduce him to a range of real world psychos just dying to appear on screen... McDonagh has followed up In Bruges (which I watched for the second time this week) with another fine picture. It's sharply scripted, witty, violent and features some fine comic turns from a number of great actors including Christopher Walken, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Tom Waits. Nevertheless, of McDonagh's two films, I'd have to rate In Bruges a little higher than the follow up. That film's great strength is that in amongst the funny, profane script, the gunplay and the bizarre situations involving loquacious Eastern European gangsters and midgets dressed in school uniforms, we have two well developed lead characters that you come to care about during the course of the picture. Though Seven Psychopaths is similarly sharply scripted, it's endlessly self-referential nature (with nods and winks to the viewer) means that you're always aware that despite all the wit on display, the characters in the story are just that - fictional characters. It's inevitable, therefore, that the events which occur during the film's violent climax never have the same impact as the denouement of In Bruges.

And finally, just a few words on the subject of The Big Lebowski, which I watched this week for what must have been the seventh or eighth time. I've talked about it before on this blog (for example here and here), but it really is just a brilliant film, one I can return to again and again. It's a movie which has, rather like The Simpsons, become almost a part of me; I'd say my brain consists of approximately 45% Simpsons quotes, 45% Lebowski quotes, and 10% for the other unimportant stuff like remembering how to walk without falling over, eat using a knife and fork, and breathe through my nose. I can't think of many movies which have founded their own religions, annual conventions or which have acres of online space devoted to fans endlessly regurgitating choice quotes - but The Big Lebowski has all of that and more. As the Stranger says at the end of the picture, it's nice to know that the Dude is out there, taking it easy for all us sinners. I don't know about you, but I take comfort in that.

Kirk's Quote of the Week

In Bruges (2008)

"Chloƫ: So what do you do, Raymond?
Ray: I... shoot people for money. 
ChloĆ«: What kinds of people? 
Ray: Priests, children... you know, the usual. "

Friday, 21 December 2012


I've just finished work and am now officially ready to experience the magic and wonder of the Christmas holidays - and what better way is there to get into the yuletide spirit than to laboriously look over my blog posts since the beginning of the year and subject them to rigorous statistical analysis? Probably the only person on this planet who knows how to let his hair down and celebrate more than me is that legendary vice-presidential hellraiser Al Gore...

Anyway, lame jokes aside, the facts are in. I can exclusively reveal that the running total of films that I've seen since the beginning of the year is 271, which works out as an average of 5.42 films per week. Unless I make a Herculean effort to shut out the outside world over the Christmas period, it's unlikely that I'll reach the 300 mark for 2012, but I think 271 is a pretty respectable figure.

My average rating for a film is just a shade under 7 (6.93), which is perhaps a little high, given that I'm rating films out of 10. Perhaps I need to be a bit tougher next year. Statistically, the best week of the year was the 5th to the 11th of November (based on the average rating per week, and excluding weeks where I watched fewer than 3 films), with an average score of 7.67. The worst week (based on the same criteria) occurred on the week of 7th - 13th May (average score: 6).

I've set out the data for my year of movie watching into the charts and graphs below - feel free to peruse at your leisure. In order to make the experience slightly less tedious, I've embedded a link to a classic Grandaddy track...