From a badass Bond to a tedious Ted
Film purists can snort all they like, but 2012 was a great year for the silver screen (with some turkeys, of course).
Here ends my first full year reviewing films for this fine publication. Unsurprisingly, over the past 12 months I’ve found that one of the perks of the job is getting to see a shed-load of great new films, many of which might have otherwise passed me by. I can now say with some authority that while the misty-eyed purist may snort derisively at the incurably money-grubbing film industry, crowing about how it doesn’t make ’em like it used to, in fact 2012 has been a fantastic year for the silver screen.
As we approach Christmas, I’ve compiled my own list of this year’s crackers. But seeing as it’s hardly a British yuletide without a little bah, humbug, I’ve also listed the royal turkeys you should greet with contempt if you happen to unwrap a DVD copy on Christmas morn.
The Imposter, directed by Bart Layton
This barnstorming doc tells the story of con artist Frederic Bourdin, who successfully assumed the identity of a missing American teen, fooling the authorities and even the boy’s own family for over three months in 1997. Director Layton is, admittedly, as manipulative in his approach as Bourdin himself – getting his talking heads to speak in the first person and framing them with dramatic reconstructions so the story unfurls with heart-pounding panache. Still, it’s hard not to be drawn in by this sinewy tale of deception and self-delusion that keeps you guessing right until the credits roll. Don’t let the documentary tag fool you – this is the thriller of 2012.
Berberian Sound Studio, directed by Peter Strickland
What looked like a strong contender for most masturbatory arthouse movie of the year turned out to be one of the best and most universal. Toby Jones stars as an affable Foley artist from Suffolk who is slowly driven mad while working on an Italian slasher film. While it is littered with nods to the nasty ‘giallo’ classics of the 1960s and 70s, this isn’t just one for the bloodthirsty fanboys. In essence, BSS is about sound – how it can move us, shape us and transport us to entirely different places and states of mind.
Anna Karenina, directed by Joe Wright
While they are often wantonly sober affairs, as starchy as the petticoats of the nineteenth-century belles that populate them, 2012 served up some surprisingly worthwhile classic novel adaptations. Standing head and shoulders above the best, mind, was Joe Wright’s retelling of Leo Tolstoy’s 1878 doorstop Anna Karenina. Employing a theatre setting, complete with footlights and moving scenery, Wright gave us a fresh aesthetic that still attended to the novel’s overriding theme of society as stage. Keira Knightley was unfortunately cast as the titular fallen woman, but even her trademark gurning (or ‘acting’ as she likes to call it) couldn’t derail this riveting retelling.
Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes
James Bond turned 50 this year. After the faux arthouse depths of 2008’s Quantum of Solace, the old chap wasn’t looking too good on it. But awash with one-liners, oozing machismo and complete with a fittingly daft-looking villain (a bleach-blond Javier Bardem), Skyfall marked 007’s filmic rebirth. Gritty but camp, silly but stern – this was Bond for the twenty-first century. What’s more, it saw long-serving supporting player Dame Judi Dench finally take centre stage, proving a sassy and needful foil to our hero’s (Daniel Craig’s) misogyny.
Silver Linings Playbook, directed by David O Russell
These days it’s all too easy to play the cynic, not least when you’re faced with yet another addition to that most reprehensible of modern genre, the offbeat rom-com. The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper and The Hunger Games’ Jennifer Lawrence play two slightly deranged lovebirds who help each other on the road to emotional recovery. Yet what looked like a navel-gazey stab at credibility for two big-franchise faces turned out to be an eminently enjoyable film that refused to dwell in dourness. Complete with Robert De Niro in one of his most cuddly supporting roles, this feelgood masterpiece is enough to make Frankie Boyle stop and smell the roses.
Rock of Ages, directed by Adam Shankman
I can’t pretend to like Eighties rock, but even if I was a card-carrying member of the big-hair metal fanclub I still doubt I’d have enjoyed Rock of Ages. Adapted from a jukebox musical, it tells the story of small-town girl chasing her dreams of rock stardom in the JD-stained bars of the Sunset Strip. With its sub-Glee performances and Tom Cruise’s laughable, leather trouser-clad performance as singer Stacee Jaxx, Rock of Ages only served to embarrass the musical era it plundered.
Beasts of The Southern Wild, directed by Benh Zeitlin
Hailed by critics as a cautionary tale about climate catastrophe, Beasts of the Southern Wild is merely the reflection of the chattering classes’ patronising and rose-tinted view of poverty. Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis) is a feisty young girl whose rust bucket home on a shantytown island is laid to waste by a miraculous flood. Underlying this fluff-filled magical realist yarn is the assertion that if we all started living in lean-to shacks, eating only what we killed and shitting in outhouses, humanity and, more importantly, Mother Earth would be a hell of a lot happier. No, ta.
The Master, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
On paper, Anderson’s The Master sounded like it could be one of the best films of the decade, let alone the year. Matching a juicy premise with unrivalled acting talent, Joaquin Phoenix plays a marginalised Second World War veteran taken in by the blustery leader of a Scientology-esque cult (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Unfortunately, Anderson himself seems so dumbstruck by his movie’s huge potential that he forgets to realise it, leading to a superficial, rambling piece of storytelling that was anything but masterful.
Shame, directed by Steve McQueen
Following a wave of therapeutic rebranding of life’s greatest, most decadent pleasures, 2012 was the year that having loads of sex – previously considered a rather jolly way to spend one’s time – was deemed a pitiable addiction. Essential viewing for the shagaholic lobby was Steve McQueen’s Shame, a film about one yuppie’s (Michael Fassbender) battles against his debauched impulses. In truth, all that this nudity-strewn snorer really proved was that Fassbender’s missus is a very lucky lady.
Ted, directed by Seth MacFarlane
This year, Hollywood gave birth to a monster – the film career of Seth MacFarlane. Not content with barraging us with sophomoric humour through his animated sitcom Family Guy, his directorial debut, Ted, hit the big screen this summer. A bromance v romance tale about a thirtysomething slacker (Mark Wahlberg) having to choose between his girlfriend and his bong-smoking teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane), it proved even more dreadful than its premise made it sound. Worst of all, it was a huge hit. Now a veritable box-office cash cow, MacFarlane is lined up to direct a Family Guy feature as well as a live-action Western starring himself. Oh joy.
Tom Slater is spiked’s film reviewer. Visit his blog here.