The Best Films (2012)

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The Grey 2012,  R)
The Grey
Never have I been drawn into the environments of a film like The Grey in a long time. I was expecting a forgetable survival thriller but what I was given was a whole lot more. The Grey is skilfully directed and mixes dumb but genuine thrills with debatable philosophy. It's also quite psychological and I absolutely adored the character development. It's quite unexpected in everything it does and that's what pulls it from it's B movie tones and turns it top quality. Some people (like the person I went with) might not appreciate it's depth and study like I did but it's solid, scary and emotionally tragic all at the same time. Dont be put off, it may have a cheesy title and a ludicrous plot but guess what? In it's own enigmatic way, it's absolutely terrifying.
Silver Linings Playbook 2012,  R)
Silver Linings Playbook

The unconventional storyline of Silver Linings Playbook may be the basis for the best romantic comedy I have ever seen. I don't think I need to explain from this point onwards that I love this film. The stellar performance chemistry shared by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence fleshes out one of the sweetest and funniest screen couples I can remember. Needless to say that the romance sparking between them is exciting, funny, heartwarming yet somewhat mysterious and intriguing. From this David O. Russell ignites perfect physical tension between these two seemingly unrelatable characters and sets the road out for heartwarming charm and humour without a single trace of annoying, unbearable melodrama. Each character steals every scene from the rest. Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver bring more development to their supporting characters then what may have been absolutely necessary in the best possible way. In addition there are some brilliant plot twists that bring a certain edge to what could have potentially been a typical, sugar coated sob story. Russell's sensitive direction is a whole lot more thoughtful and mesmerising for dramatic and comedic timing than even the most determined Oscar bait dramas. Interestingly this was granted a release just before awards season but I will proudly defend this movie against any prejudice targeted against it. Such as allegations that it is drastically begs for audience sympathy and critical press because in all fairness it is a great piece of quirky, unpretentious filmmaking that earned my sympathy and took me completely by surprise. This is not filmmaking at it's most arrogant in any way, shape or form. It is an impressively original, smart, likable little movie that displays a range of terrifically talented people at their very best. A fresh take on love, life and new beginnings. If not one of the best films of last year.
The Dark Knight Rises 2012,  PG-13)
The Dark Knight Rises

Since Batman Begins is the emotional centre of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy and The Dark Knight is the philosophical art house effort, the conclusion to the awe inspiring anthology should naturally be an impressive, enormous, and fitting combination of both. It's that and then some, and considering expectations have been at towering heights, what a brilliant ending it is. I think all 3 films are as good as each other but my favourite is The Dark Knight Rises because it felt like the previous two films clashed and created one unflawed masterpiece and it just completely blew my mind. Seeing it in IMAX is even better. The Dark Knight Rises is a rivetting, redemptive, epic, honourable and worthy final chapter to a series containing some of the greatest blockbusters ever made. Like all of the films Nolan has directed it balances spectacle with substance perfectly to a point where jaws instantly drop. Since it's a Batman movie you have to introduce Catwoman. The intelligent script manages to present her into the Dark Knight story perfectly in a way that doesn't treat her at all like a worthless accompaniment. Anne Hathaway's portrayal of her is unforgivably overlooked, but the best performance by miles is Tom Hardy who like Heath Ledger playing the Joker in The Dark Knight steals the show as Bane. Another memorable and terrific movie villain. I dont think Hardy will end up recieving the same recognition Ledger did but he should because he stands out in an entirely physical role with the disadvantage of having his face being intimidatingly hidden. Accompanying the on-screen talent is the genius and typically Nolan-esque style of brilliant storytelling. Various subplots interlock perfectly and scenes of thrilling action are never far away. Yet again he skilfully disguises the saga's inheritently art house plot whilst igniting humoungously fiery blockbuster set pieces we would all be expecting from him. However nothing much can be said comparatively concerning the films relationship with it's predecessors as each chapter in the saga has something to say and has a unique and distinctive personality each touching on sometimes entirely differing subjects. But what has to be said is that each film in Nolan's saga tells a tale with heart, style and ambition. With stunning visuals and overwhelming emotional impact, never forgetting their pure comic book routes. With that assured, The Dark Knight Rises is the masterful 3rd part that doesn't come round often and undoubtedly one of the most narratively satisfying and explosive movie trilogy finales ever made. Finishing the legend of Bruce Wayne on a mysterious, epic and liberating note.
The Raid: Redemption 2012,  R)
The Raid: Redemption

Feeling each of the character's physical wounds, pain, and agony in action film's mentally, is vital to the excitement and the thrills of it all. In recent memory I can't think of watching anything more mentally painful than the suggestion of each kill that is seen in The Raid. What it loses in substance it makes up for in, pure, undeniably perfect, full on action. I'm certain that this will be the regarded as the best action film of the year. It's an absolutely fantastic technical achievement in filming action sequences. The cinematography is brilliant and the building itself, the king size set piece, is reminiscent of Die Hard and improves upon it in terms of design and visual spark. I dont think director Gareth Evans should be involed in the production of the remake being made for Hollywood. This is going to be almost impossible to top. It doesn't help that it just encourages people further to avoid subtitled films. Despite that fact, this film is edgy, hard-hitting and mind-blowing. It's plot is straight-forward, it's made on a small budget, and it's proof that blockbuster special effects doesn't come close to what truly makes action films awe-inspiring. I'll also add that the acting is surprisingly decent for a film of it's kind. It's a near perfect movie, and essential viewing for action fans. It's undeniably cool, incredibly inventive, but what I loved about the film the most however is how it reminds us that two men fighting in a kitchen with pots and pans can be more thrilling than giant robots destroying a city. It's incredibly enjoyable and i'll say very proudly that it's one of the best films of 2012.
Life of Pi 2012,  PG)
Life of Pi

An engrossing and otherworldly piece of darkly philosophical yet majestically gentle 3D poetry stretching to a seemingly short-lasting 127 minutes. Ang Lee has always had a talent for bringing smoothness and relaxation to gritty tales of sorrow and the loss of all hope. But with Life of Pi he takes it to a whole new level. His blending of real live action and animation is absolutely flawless in this film, and although i'm somebody who has a strong dislike for 3D, it actually enhances the experience of watching it. But the story of this film is so incredible and Lee's triumph over the boundaries of "normal" storytelling is so revolutionary that seeing Life of Pi in 2D would make almost no difference at all. It is one the most wondrously spiritual experiences that I have ever got from watching a film. Like all the best tales with an underlying meaning or point to be made Ang Lee's priority is never to shove morals down our throats. He simply guides us through an interesting, dream like and mind opening story. Against all impossibilities he succeeds, a plot as bizarre and mind bending as Life of Pi could only be grounded correctly by a masterful storyteller, and Lee is arguably one of the few who could do it. Suraj Sharma's performance as the titular character is one of the most energetically engaging debuts I have seen in quite a while. Especially when you consider he only ever has conversations with a CGI Bengal tiger and occasionally himself. The special effects for the tiger are brilliantly realistic. I found myself doubting the illusion it was fake. Not merely at the service of the visuals, which were truthfully breathtaking, but because the movements and actions of the tiger were lifelike. Life of Pi never ends on an entirely liberating note in which the main character and the tiger become best friends and then live happily ever after, the whole film explores the true nature of nature. The fact that animals like ourselves do have souls but don't always see us as angelic as we do them. It's also about holding on tightly to what you have left. The idea of the story itself may be phenomenally silly to some but, I felt genuine anguish for Pi and the end of everything situations he gets thrown into and believed the film for every second it lasted. It is the most touching, frightening, beautiful, groundbreaking film to come out in many years and along with that Lee's best film since Brokeback Mountain. Somehow it is even better. The 3D is undoubtedly the best I think I have ever seen. The way the film breaks the rules of character and setting isolation deserves to be remembered for many years. Awards wouldn't be enough, Life of Pi is a landmark in great film making history. I would endlessly urge everyone to see it in all of it's sheer beauty.
ParaNorman 2012,  PG)

The key issue with a lot of the mainstream animated fares released today is how they all recycle the same dull gags that we've sat through countless times before. If you throw into that mix some adult-orientated humour to try and suck up to the parents who treat their kids to the movies, the film makers think they can get away with making a formulaic flick. However ParaNorman is one of the very few exceptions. Firstly, there are many gags in the film that the whole family can enjoy, so one of it's many triumphs is how it suceeds with the basics. Secondly in very equal measure it throws in some chilling horror set pieces that I found very terrifying and rightfully alienating. All of the best animated movies appeal to all ages and the easiest way to do that is with laughs, but ParaNorman goes further and bravely attempts to scare you as well, and I think it very well succeeds. I quite proudly won't deny that I laughed and squirmed many times watching it and found the surrealist stop motion animation beautiful and the cinematography perfect. This may even scare some adults and there are very few animated films that can do that. It boasts a massively original premise and ticks every category that you'd expect from something that's a cut above your average animated film. There's a general vibe that the voice actors dedicated themselves to the characters and truly admired the story in their performances. I think they were very right to do so because it perfectly clashes two differing genres into one amazing film, which truly respects it's audience giving a fair share of material to filmgoers ranging from the young children to the horror fanboys. It's funny, and it's scary, and maybe it's just the fact I understood the in-jokes that it worked so well for me, but if you just want to be entertained you would be right going to see ParaNorman. It's sweet but sour, cute but edgy and is in the end a decently put together family film, but also a great homage to the scuzzy horror movies and slapstick comedies that it draws influences from. Highly recommended.
Django Unchained 2012,  R)
Django Unchained

Another unrestrained revenge bloodbath from cinemas all time leading genre master Quentin Tarantino, and a very good one at that. Needless to say like in most of his films that it has brilliant performances all around so much that I find it impossible to pick out a single one that I would manage to call a favourite. The ensemble is brilliant and truly flesh out the incredibly memorable character arcs and the dialogue is probably the sharpest and wittiest Tarantino has scripted since his true masterpiece, Pulp Fiction. His directing is full of twists when it comes to the scenes of massacre and carnage which truly define his directorial style, introducing many moments of great suspense which also drew me into the old West landscape effortlessly. But very rarely has a film been correctly titled as this. It's a rabid, full on, bloody, uninhibited tale of an underdog's revenge against oppression, and Tarantino noticeably loves making wild and ruthless stories completely off the chain. However when he was restrained by small budgets back in the day he wrote and directed tightly constructed original ideas. I talk of course of greats Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Since then he has had a mixed bag of a career, I personally enjoyed Kill Bill 1, less so Kill Bill 2, found great excitement with Inglorious Basterds despite it's numerous flaws, and absolutely hated Death Proof. All of which were unbelievably self indulgent, however Django is Quentin's realisation in how he can blend the natural smarts of his earlier work with his endless fascination with violence. The result is an awe inspiring, over the top, witty, well acted and truly incredible film. Completely despite it's seemingly unnecessary run time at the best part of 3 hours long, I honestly didn't want it to end. Though I think it would have benefited if it drew to a close at least 30 minutes earlier. Still, it's a brilliant homage to classically violent Westerns, and despite a zig zagging narrative structure it never irritated me with self confidence in the same way as his work after 1997's Jackie Brown. Django Unchained is certainly up there with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Quentin hasn't matured into a constantly serious film maker, but his eccentric film making is part of what makes his movies so fun. Otherwise it wouldn't be Tarantino.
Beasts of the Southern Wild 2012,  PG-13)
Beasts of the Southern Wild

"Beasts" is an incredibly innovative movie, not only does it manage to execute it's tremendous ambitions brilliantly but through the level of it's imagination achieves a whole lot more. In a world where the value of originality has dropped dramatically it feels so good to see a film this heartfelt and realistic. The performance of Quvenzhane Wallis as the young, wise Hushpuppy is just dazzling, and I don't think the film would have been as good as it was without her due to the fact the whole film is seen through her eyes. I don't think anyone else could have brought the innocence and curiosity to that role. Good child actors in general are hard to come by so it's vital to say the casting of the film is absolutely terrific. Dwight Henry who plays the alcoholic yet loving father of Hushpuppy was cast by coincidence, but it makes no difference that it was arguably one of the greatest casting decisions in years. The combination of fantasy elements and the harsh realities of the real world make for an outstanding plot in the same fantastical manner of Guillermo Del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth". The message of the story is made pretty clear earlier on in the film, although it's a rehashed question of human morals used many times before. That being how we are destroying our wonderful world through the actions of industrialization and relying on modern living privileges while others are living off of nothing. But because it's screenplay has been pieced together with an enormously inspiring and well weaved tale it refreshes that incredibly tired old lesson and really makes you ponder at what's right and wrong. Visually it is an absolute marvel with production design that is showstopping. The structure of the independent and self reliant community "The Bathtub" is eye popping as is the rich cinematography. On the downside there isn't much plot to the film and therefore it struggles to convey it's intentions by means of normal storytelling convention. Even despite that this is still ambitious, independently spirited film making at it's absolute finest. With some great performances, a script with inspiring emotional impact and impressively mesmeric direction like the best of films "Beasts" elevates the freedoms of our spirits into wondrous fantasy without losing grip on the realities of life. If none of that last sentence made sense to you, this film isn't for you.
The Cabin in the Woods 2012,  R)
The Cabin in the Woods

The Cabin in the Woods is an absolutely terrific film that takes the horror genre and tuns it completely inside out. It gets inbetween it's cracks and fleshes out the conventions and disarray's them in many mysterious and effective ways. Although it should have a lot more scares than it does, it manages to be funny, strange, enigmatic, packed with many surprises and unpredictable all at the same time. However I will say that it's certainly not a film that will appeal to every audience demographic, especially if your not a horror fan. There are a lot of in-jokes throughout the film that refer to other similar films. Unexperienced audiences might find the jokes alienating and ridiculous, if they're even able to understand them at all. Having said that there are many moments in the film that you may find scary if your not already aware of basic horror set-up's and the twists and characters that come with that. If your a horror fan like me you'll love it because it clusters up stuff from various inspirations but also quite intelligently poses the question of how one get's thrills out of seeing dislikable and in some cases, likable teenagers getting slashed, tortured and decapitated. It's effectively a clever satire on the recently emerging genre "torture porn". It's also very self-aware, brilliantly smart and funny, frightening and weird all at once. It has an atmosphere, it has gore, it boasts fantastic acting, and suspensefully builds to a surrealy sensational and efficiently strange finale. It's not perfect but regardless I absolutely loved it. It strives to be original and naturally succeeds, but interestingly enough works on the level of being one of the greatest twists on the horror film of all time. It's quite capable of becoming an instant classic.
End of Watch 2012,  R)
End of Watch

End of Watch makes a massively ambitious and very rewarding attempt to portray how brutal the lives of the LAPD can get whilst simultaneously edging in some cop movie melodrama. It succeeds, and the result is one of the best cop movies in years. A little melodrama can go a long way, and sucking up to clichés is definitely not what David Ayer was attempting to do with this film. His focus is on the characters at the center of all the action, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are absolutely brilliant at fleshing out the sense of realism in the characters whilst at the same time making them more likable than previously portrayed characters in buddy cop films. The conversations they both share generally consists of banter and the discussion of their daily lives. But when they are thrown into life and death situations the tension is then cranked up to it's highest because we grow attatched to them. Basically, the script is fantastic. The storyline is fairly generic, however this is the point. I've heard bad things about the plot of the film but I think it truly deserves to indulge in it's simplicity. I think here Jake Gyllenhaal is at his strongest since Brokeback Mountain and Michael Peña takes a genuine turning point in his career. I always find that he's never bad. If he's in a bad movie, his performance is nevertheless anything but lazy. The cinematography is fantastic and the pacing is absolutely perfect. It's deadly serious tone is never misjudged by it's ruthless violence and down right funny tongue in cheek sense of humour. It's well directed, intriguing, touching and highly entertaining. I suspect Oscar nominations if not wins. Gritty, realistic, and skilfully executed behind and on camera, David Ayer just might have made his masterpiece. A heartfelt and touching homage to the LAPD, that in his previous films he has gone on to criticise in ways that are only matched by the compassion he shows for them within this great film.

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