Top 20 Films of 2012

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20. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s latest just makes it into the top 20, with his charming tale of two twelve-year-olds who fall in love.  After making a secret pact, the two lovers run away and are hunted down by the local authorities on the idyllic island of New Penzance.  Featuring an amazing ensemble cast of Bruce Willis, Ed Norton and Bill Murray (of course); Moonrise Kingdom is a touching, sweet tale which easily connects with viewers who have ever experienced that bittersweet young love.  The cinematography, soundtrack and dialogue are quintessentially Wes Anderson, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

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19. The Amazing Spider-man

The Amazing Spider-man was essentially marmite with critics and audiences worldwide, but it did well enough to warrant a sequel which thankfully still retains its original director, Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer).  It was a reboot that didn’t feel necessary to anyone but the movie studios, but Webb pulled most fans back in with his take on the iconic superhero.  This is partly due to the casting choice and acting of Andrew Garfield, who plays a great Peter Parker and the best Spider-man to date.

Whilst the theatrical cut of the movie left a lot of the origin ‘secrecy’ which was plastered all over the marketing, the storyline was still solid.  The Lizard was a nice fit as an entry level Spider-man rogue, and adding Gwen Stacy into the mix was a perfect choice.  There has been recent news of the addition of Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained) as Electro and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) as Mary Jane Watson, which are sure signs that the next film will be even more superior.

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18. Argo

Ben Affleck has already proved his worth as a director with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and this year saw the release of his best film to date; Argo.  Based on real events, the film tells the tale of how one CIA agent conjures up an absurd plan to safely transport 6 Americans stuck in revolutionary Iran.  It is up to Affleck’s character to fake a film production with the aid of others, which will then produce false identities for the Americans, hopefully providing a safe passage out of the country.  Filled with some superb acting and a fantastic script, Argo is undoubtedly a tense ride from start to finish.

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17. The Descendants

Alexander Payne (Sideways) returned to cinemas earlier this year with the release of The Descendants, a film about Honolulu-based lawyer and family trustee Matt King (George Clooney), who attempts to reconnect with his daughters after his wife is injured in a serious boating incident.  The Descendants deals with some heavy material, but thankfully it isn’t weighed down by it.  It has a certain comedy to it, which feels real.  George Clooney further proves that he’s a great leading man, with this light-hearted, funny and charming little film.

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16. Magic Mike

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Contagion), Magic Mike was a nice little surprise this year.  Starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, the film focuses around the life of male strippers.  Tatum’s character introduces a workmate to the world of male stripping, and it all inevitably goes downhill from there.  It may seem like a bizarre choice for the top 20, but Soderbergh manages an engaging and ultimately entertaining film.  Tatum oozes with charm, and even McConaughey is tolerable.  Yes, if ever the apocalypse was upon us, this is a clear sign; Matthew McConaughey is actually a fantastic actor.

Well, this year anyway.

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15. Killer Joe

Killer Joe was a solid return for William Friedkin, who directed this year’s best dark comedy, starring Emile Hirsch, Matthew McConaughey and Juno Temple.  The script is deliciously macabre, as Chris (Hirsch) learns that his despised mother is worth a lot of money due to a life insurance policy.  To acquire that large sum of money, he hires hit-man ‘Killer Joe’ (McConaughey) to murder her.  Before the fee can be paid though, Joe takes Chris’ sister Dottie (Temple) as sexual collateral.

It’s an odd, dark little story which has some fantastic acting, great comedy and one of the best climaxes to a film this year.  Again, McConaughey is fantastic, and hopefully this will soon become a trend with the always-shirtless actor.

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14. Premium Rush

Directed by renowned writer David Koepp (Jurassic ParkPremium Rush tells the story of bicycle messengers in New York, focusing on one specific delivery by favoured cyclist Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  As he attempts to deliver the package, he is hunted down by corrupt cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), in a set of adrenaline fuelled chases.

Unfortunately, Premium Rush received a fair bit of praise from critics, but a less than impressive box-office take in cinemas.  This is partly due to The Expendables 2 taking over cinemas like a storm, which is frankly an all too familiar feeling (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World suffered the same fate with the first movie).  It doesn’t have the strongest script, but it makes up for that with some exciting, energetic and truly electric scenes.  Of course, Levitt nails the performance of Wilee, and Shannon brings to the table his usual psychotic and wonderful acting shtick.

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13. 21 Jump Street

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill delivered the goods this year with 21 Jump Street, a comedy based on two underachieving cops who work undercover at a school to bust a drug ring.  Based on the original television series, 21 Jump Street is directed by both Phil Lord and Chris Miller, two directors who had only previously directed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  Of course, 21 Jump Street was a great success at the box-office and received a certified 85% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Tatum and Hill are a solid match up, providing us the funniest drug scene in years.  If this movie is anything to go by, the directors’ next film (LEGO: The Movie) is sure to be a hit.

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12. End of Watch

Roger Ebert’s fourth favourite film of 2012, End of Watch stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as two cops on duty in Los Angeles.  It’s a riveting, dramatic film which manages to grab the viewer with an effective method of telling such a great story.  Utilising the found-footage method, director David Ayer (writer: Training Day) brings an authentic feel for the film, which is exciting, visceral and engrossing.  Make no mistake though; End of Watch is classed as a thriller/drama for a reason.  Ebert did laud this film as the best cop drama in years, and he’s right about that.

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11. Chronicle

Chronicle launched writer Max Landis from the realms of the unknown, with director Josh Trank’s incredible found-footage style superhero drama.  The film focuses on three friends who acquire unique superpowers, as they document their journey testing their newfound powers.  Chronicle has been cited as being heavily influenced by Akira and that can be clearly recognised throughout the film, but Chronicle stands on its own feet as a superb, gripping film.  It has a truly explosive finale, which sets the bar for superhero endings.  A sequel is actually in the works, but reportedly FOX aren’t too happy with Landis’ new script.

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10. Ruby Sparks

Romantic comedies always work with fresh material, and Ruby Sparks is no exception.  Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), the film concerns a struggling novelist, Calvin (Paul Dano), who is having difficulties writing new material.  He attempts one new book based on his dreams about a particular imaginary girl.  Named Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), she has it all; spark, creativity and beauty.  To Calvin’s surprise however, Ruby is materialised in his house as a living, breathing human being.

As Calvin settles down with his newfound imagined love, he soon realises that maybe there is no such thing as a perfect girl.  Heavy stuff, but Ruby Sparks is actually a touching lightweight drama with a great script.  Zoe Kazan is one actress/writer to look out for in the future though, having provided such an amazing role and script for the film.

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9. The Dark Knight Rises

One of the most anticipated films of the year, The Dark Knight Rises was Christopher Nolan’s last film with the Batman.  Starring the usual cast of the previous films, The Dark Knight Rises also introduced Tom Hardy as the threatening Bane, and Anne Hathaway as the scene-stealing Catwoman.  There’s no doubt about it, but Tom Hardy’s performance was the best thing about the film (if not one of the best performances of the year).

Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has retired to live a secluded life in the Wayne Manor.  A new threat rises in Gotham in the form of Bane, forcing Bruce out of retirement and right back into the Bat-suit.  Nolan delivered with The Dark Knight Rises, which is quite a large achievement considering he was up against the success of his own previous Bat-film.  Nolan’s Bat-swansong was near perfect, as it was matched with some truly astounding scenes.

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8. Skyfall

The 23rd film in the Bond series and the highest grossing Bond to date appeared in cinemas this year, in the form of Sam Mendes’ Skyfall.  There was a point in time when the future of the Bond films wasn’t so clear, due to MGM’s struggle with worrying financial issues.  However, when Mendes was attached to the film after the disappointing Quantum of Solace, he remained as a consultant on the film up until 2010 when production resumed.

Thankfully so, as Skyfall is one of the best Bond films ever made.  It may appear to be held in fairly high praise by almost everyone, but the storyline regarding ‘M’ (Judi Dench) and the threatening Silva (Javier Bardem) made for such an engaging watch, which was matched with this year’s most beautiful cinematography.  The composure of some of the shots used in Skyfall are astonishing, and having the majority of the film set in Britain was a bold and wise choice.

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7. The Muppets

Let us not forget that we Brits only received this film in February, whereas it was shown elsewhere the year before.  Nonetheless, Jason Segel injected fresh comedy into The Muppets with a storyline which actually referenced the real life troubles of the brand.  The Muppets aren’t relevant anymore, so it’s time to make them popular again, before evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) can acquire the Muppets studio and drill right into the heart of it.  The film starred Jason Segel and Amy Adams, along with some fantastic cameos throughout.

It’s light-hearted, enjoyable and fun for all ages.  It’s a shame that some of us did forget about the Muppets, but Segel utilised them to their best manner.  If there’s any funnier movie this year, then I highly doubt it.  Life’s a fillet o’ fish!

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6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Directed by the novelist of the original book, Stephen Chbosky provided cinemagoers with a touching drama about teenage life in the 80s.  The film starred newcomer Logan Lerman as the main character Charlie, who is a struggling introvert in high-school.  He befriends two people, Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), who he joins on his journey of love, loss and fear.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower holds the award for best soundtrack of the year, with the likes of David Bowie, The Smiths and Dexys Midnight Runners.  It’s an honest story, which isn’t bogged down my ‘tween’ nonsense.  It’s ripe with drug use, sexual exploration and family drama, which is handled in a most delicate manner.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one the of best coming-of-age dramas in recent years, which is more than worth your time.

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5. The Raid: Redemption

Directed by Welshman Gareth Edwards, this Indonesian film stunned audiences with its unique, visceral and electrifying action.  The plot of The Raid: Redemption is simple.  There’s a tower block which is owned by a vicious drug lord, and it’s up to a select squad of raid officers to take down the enemy once and for all.  Of course, not everything goes to plan so it’s up to the main star (Iko Uwais) of the movie to fight his way through floors of knife wielding, gun-toting goons.

The choreography utilised in the fight scenes is truly like none other, which will leave many viewers cringing or fist-bumping the air.  Mike Shinoda provided his talents for the film’s energetic soundtrack, making everyone forget he’s actually part of Linkin Park.  It’s brutal, intense and it’s an Indonesian film directed by a Welshman.  There’s more to come from talented directed Gareth Edwards, and let’s hope it arrives fairly soon.

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4. Dredd 3D

Dredd 3D has a rather straightforward plot; Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and new rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) are enclosed within a 200-storey slum, which is locked down by the infamous drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a woman responsible for a deadly new drug on the streets called Slo-Mo.  Both Judges have to utilise all of their training to overcome the insane odds before them, so that they can take down Ma-Ma and make it out in one piece.  Directed by Pete Travis and with renowned scriptwriter Alex Garland and creator John Wagner on consulting duties, Dredd 3D made sure that cinemagoers forgot all about that appalling attempt to adapt Dredd way back in 1995.

Thankfully, Dredd 3D truly embraces its 18-rated certificate.  The action throughout the film is brutal, as Dredd takes no prisoners.  The action scenes are accentuated with an electrifying, grungy soundtrack which is featured throughout pivotal scenes in the film.  These scenes aren’t for the faint of heart though, as criminals are disposed in several grisly different ways.  Dredd fights his way through the tower block with snappy one-liners, which will be quoted long after viewing.  It’s soon set to be a cult classic, and if it hopefully takes off from there, perhaps we can see more of Dredd in the future.

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3. The Cabin in the Woods

Directed by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield), and co-written and co-produced with the legendary Joss Whedon (The AvengersBuffy), The Cabin in the Woods was one of the best horror movies seen in recent years.  The film concerns a small selection of teenagers who travel to a remote cabin for a short getaway trip, only to befall the horrors that lurk in the woods.  It may seem like a stereotypical ‘slasher’ movie, but The Cabin in the Woods is so much more.

Discussing the film’s plot in greater detail will spoil too much, and watching any of the trailers is ill-advised.  It is essentially a love-letter for the horror genre, showcasing many of the tropes and definitions of the genre, with a spectacular finale.  The film stars a strong female lead in the form of Dana (Kristen Connolly), which really doesn’t come as any surprise considering Whedon was attached to the film.  The Cabin in the Woods is a pleasant surprise and a genuine treat for lovers of the horror genre.

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2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson returned to the world of Middle-earth late this year, with the highly anticipated The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, this was the first instalment in a new trilogy telling the much-loved story of Tolkien’s 1937 novel, The Hobbit.  Bilbo is joined by the likes of Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan), Thorin (Richard Armitage) and a whole bunch of other dwarves, as they venture towards the Lonely Mountain to reclaim the land from the deadly dragon, Smaug.  On Bilbo’s grand journey, he comes across trolls, orcs and one of cinemas greatest characters, Gollum (Andy Serkis).

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had a lot riding on it, as it had been 9 years since the release of the last Lord of the Rings film.  One of the highest grossing trilogies of all time, it was a wonder whether or not Jackson could capture the same magic he managed to do so before.

Thankfully though, Jackson pulled it off yet again.  You wouldn’t think so, regarding its 65% score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, but it appears that most of the complaints are about its running length and the use of HFR (High Frame Rate).  Not exactly valid criticisms of course, because it appeared that the film’s pacing was normal throughout.  It had some fantastic action sequences, and some scenes are just so, so serene.

The characterisations of all the characters are perfect, which makes sense considering Jackson wouldn’t have continued without Martin Freeman as Bilbo.  Returning to Middle-earth is warming and nostalgic, and it’s nice to see there’s a touch more comedy added into the beginning of this trilogy.

Are 48 frames per second the future?  Not really, no.  The 3D holds up throughout the entire film, but HFR makes everything look too real.  Action sequences can suffer from the higher frame rate, whereas Gollum’s introduction and the Goblin King scenes look stunning.  Cinemagoers have been used to 24 frames for decades now, there’s no reason to step up to a new, almost redundant technology.

Nonetheless, The Hobbit: An Expected Journey deserves its second spot on the top 20 due to its many achievements.  The soundtrack is typically great, the cast is perfect and the action sequences are some of the best this year.

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1. The Avengers

Was there any doubt?

Just under five years ago, Marvel Studios released a film about one genius billionaire philanthropist,Iron Man.  From that point on Marvel Studios’ plan was clear, they were working their way towardsThe Avengers.  Four films later, and Phase 1 was complete with the release of The Avengers on the 26th April.

Directed by Joss Whedon, The Avengers stars an unlikely group of superheroes who are forced to team-up to defeat the deadly Asgardian trickster, Loki.  The original cast members from their previous films returned, apart from Ed Norton, who left due to creative differences.

Zak Penn and Joss Whedon’s script is the quintessential superhero story, infused with action, comedy and drama.  Whilst it was possible for Tony Stark to completely steal the show, each character received their own respective amount of screen time, which was just enough to showcase their great talents.

Whedon manages to encapsulate the look and feel of an actual comic book, transferring it straight into a blockbuster film.  Explosions felt like they were ripped right out of a double page spread, fight scenes were captured with great imagination, and the Hulk was the perfect portrayal of his comic book counterpart.

ILM’s work on the Hulk was ground-breaking, as he fit right with the other Avengers perfectly.  The same can be said with the other effects used with the film, as the Chitauri forces look lifelike.  The action is structured and presented clearly throughout, which is something Michael Bay should learn from.

The film’s running length doesn’t drag, and that may partly be due to the clever editing skills.  It’s been reported that Whedon cut down at least 30 minutes of footage for the theatrical release, just to make sure everything was streamlined.

Whedon injects his great talent straight into The Avengers and thanks to him moviegoers get an enjoyable, exciting thrill ride.  It is the film of the year, not just for comic book fans, but for general moviegoers alike.  Loki is a wonderful villain, Stark has the best quotes and the Hulk gets the most satisfying action scenes which the character required.

Make no mistake; The Avengers may be the perfect comic book film.  It impresses on so many levels, and the groundwork which was produced to accomplish this film is like none other.  If there’s one thing we can all complain about, it’s that Whedon’s got one hell of a tough job to best himself with the sequel.

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