Once again, we have come to the end of another year; a year of Mayan prophecies (good one guys), Jubilee’s, Olympics and of course… movies. This year has been a surprisingly good movie for Hollywood, with plenty of big risk decisions (Avengers Assemble, despite it’s success, could easily have gone the other way) and big event movies that had many an expectation with them due to exceptionally large fan bases (The Dark Knight Rises and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey). There have also been some crushing disappointments, namely in the form of our respect for Ridley Scott crashing and burning in flames in what should have been one of the best films of the year in the form of Prometheus (I know people whine enough, but it still hurts). I should point out that this list is compiled by an individual who is yet to see what have been deemed to be highlights of the year, namely The Hobbit and Life of Pi. The list that follows are my personal highlights of the year, you may agree, you may disagree, but these are the films that have helped define my 2012 in the world of cinema. So, sit back, read on, and enjoy!
I always find that this position in the countdown is always the hardest. There were a lot of films in the running for this tenth spot, and although this may not necessarily be the ‘best’ among them, it is one of the films that this year wholly met and exceeded my expectations to a satisfying degree. Dredd is a bare-knuckle, gritty, pulpy, unashamedly trashy movie that is truly what the 2000 AD character deserves. It strikes the perfect tone for the iconic Judge of Mega City 1, and does so in a very self-contained and controlled fashion. Sure, it’s tower block shoot-out plot is unfortunately and entirely coincidentally similar to a certain Indonesian martial arts movie that was released this year (perhaps more on that later), but it’s employment of 3-D and the world it inhabits is enough to make the film stand as a very different beast. Speaking of the 3-D, Dredd is one of the finer examples of the use of 3-D that I have seen so far; Travis and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle construct some beautifully visceral shots during scenes that depict the use of the Slo-Mo drug. It also allows for the incredibly graphic and bloody violence to be much more comical and in keeping with its comic-book roots. Karl Urban takes command of the movie and makes for a definitive Judge Dredd, truly wiping the slate clean of the memory of Stallone’s version back in 1995. Unfortunately for this version though, it has proven to be a box office failure, making only $35 million on a $45 million budget, which probably means that we won’t be seeing a sequel, at least for quite some time. Which is a terrible shame, considering that this film feels like it has merely opened the door to a much greater world, one that I would love to return to. A deadpan, brutal, comic-book movie with a satirical bite. Everyone just make sure to buy the DVD, yeah? You know it makes sense. Check out my full review here: https://andygaudion93.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/review-dredd-3-d-judgement-time/
A real surprise from the earlier half the year (February I think) made enough of an impact on me to stake a place in my Top 10 of the year. Chronicle is a grand mix of genres; a teen/sci-fi/action/comedy/found-footage/ superhero movie that deftly blends all these genres together into a fresh, inventive and very smart employment of the found footage technique. Found footage is a technique that is at risk of becoming stale within the horror genre, yet Chronicle proves that there is life for the technique outside of the realms of horror. Charting the story of three friends; the trouble Andrew, the promising Steven and your average-Joe, Matt, who stumble across a bizarre meteorite and start to develop telekinetic powers. Initially using their powers for fun (as you would do), it is long before the full capibilities of their powers begin to be realized, with Andrew descending into a very dark place indeed. Chronicle is equal parts funny, thrilling and tragic in its Akira-esque character arc of Andrew. First-time director Josh Trank expertly balances these elements and makes incredible use of his modest budget with some rather stunning VFX scenes of the boys flying. The boys themselves are well-cast and are thoroughly engaging, displaying a genuine chemistry, making the outcome of certain events all that more heartbreaking. It is not afraid to go to some dark places, with Max son of John Landis script expressing a sharp film knowledge as well a s a natural sense of character, presenting a ridiculous situation through a grounded and realistic framework. Full review available via this link: https://andygaudion93.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/review-chronicle-a-k-a-superhuman-activity/
One of the greatest surprises of the year for me, if not only for just how good it is, but of how terribly marketed this film truly was. Many people were disappointed by the unfulfilled promise of the trailers, which suggested that we were going to see Liam Neeson fight some wolves with glass strapped in-between his fingers. As cool as that may have been, we did not receive that, and thank God we didn’t, as it truly would have undermined the message of this movie. There is something much deeper at play then just Man Vs. Wolf in this film. This is Man Vs. Nature, Man Vs. his fellow Man, Man Vs. Himself. There is a great existential crisis taking place within Neeson’s character John Ottway. For a man who is supposed to be in control and leading this group of scared men towards survival, he is terribly self-conflicted, being introduced to us on the brink of suicide. And Neeson is absolutely incredible. Although he is bound to be ignored this awards season, Neeson’s performance is by far the strongest and most commanding performances I have seen this year, and it is certainly the best Neeson performance thus far. Ironically, it almost acts as a reaction to his new action-man image; he may be resourceful and have a particular set of skills but Ottway is no Bryan Mills. He is a flawed, reluctant anti-hero, who only takes on the responsibility of the group through being the only person willing to accept certain death. Certainly not the cheeriest movie I have seen this year; but it is one of the most powerful, exciting and emotionally affecting movies that I have seen this year.
It truly is a testament to the concept and ideas of Drew Goddard’s and Joss Whedon’s script that this film managed to emerge this year, three years after it was made, and still be thoroughly fresh and original within its wonderfully high concept. I shan’t delve too much into what this movie is about, as I would hate to ruin it for anybody who hasn’t seen it yet, but what takes place is something that you’ve never really quiet seen before. Although it may feature certain elements of the aesthetics of the genre, be rest assured, this is not a horror movie. If you go expecting that, then you’re going to be disappointed. This film is designed to take the tried and tired cliches of the horror genre and tear them to shreds, not so much re-writing the rule-book as taking a huge flaming blowtorch to it. Along with satirizing the horror genre, Whedon and Goddard subtlety address the rather concerning occupation that film-going audiences have with cinematic violence. It is still handled with a satirical edge, which may make it hard to read, but the violence in the film is so ridiculously over-the-top that it can only be read as a comment on modern American cinema and the recent slew of gore-fueled horror pictures. You opinion of the film will live or die on how you read and accept the concept, yet it is a film that I will heatedly defend to the end of my days. It is an incredibly rich subversive text that has so many ridiculous layers to it, that are set within a wonderfully designed world; a world in which you can never tell quite what to expect. Check out my review on Shock Radar: http://shockradar.org/2012/09/29/shock-radar-reviews-the-cabin-in-the-woods/
Although I was not quite taken with this film on first viewing as I was with, say, The Grey, mainly due to the certain critics proclamations of this being this decades The Matrix and what have you. It perhaps had an unfair amount of expectation thrown upon it. I also felt that there was a few pacing issues, but all that changed with my recent second viewing. gone was the hype, and gone was the need to pay attention to the thoroughly thought-provoking concept, and now I could just sit down and enjoy the ride. With my mind more at ease and familiar with the world of the film, the pace felt much brisker and I had a much more fulfilling experience of the film. La belling it with The Matirx doesn’t make too much sense; it is a very different Sci-Fi beast, essentially a Sci-Fi gangster movie, whilst almost featuring an Akira-esque plot thread (the second film on this list to do so). I would also say that this is a much more grounded and character driven Sci-Fi movie than The Matrix, paying as much attention to character as it does to its unique concept of Loopers; too much to explain in this quick over-view, but read my full review for a more detailed explanation. It also features two of the best performances I have seen from two of my favourite actors; Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis. JGL wonderfully captures the mannerism and facial ticks of a young Bruce Willis, whilst also forming a fully rounded and emotionally conflicted character. Willis goes to some dark places as well as being very affecting and equally as conflicted as his young counter-part. With a wonderfully realized world and witty script from Johnson, Looper certainly does stand as one of the more impressive and original Sci-Fi movies of the past 20 years. Full review? Oh alright then: https://andygaudion93.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/review-looper-lets-do-the-time-warp-again/
Now we come to that certain Indonesian Martial Arts movie. Directed by a Welshman. The Raid (or The Raid: Redemption as it is known Stateside) is by far the best full-out action of the year. I challenge you to find a more breathlessly paced and brilliantly choreographed piece of action cinema released this year, heck, in the last 10 years. Beating Dredd to the tower-block chaos scenario, The Raid follows a raid (a-durr) conducted by a Special Elite Police Squad to take down and destroy the operations of a drug-lord, who controls the whole building. It’s a fight that is going to have to take them all the way to the top floor. Chaos ensues. That is essentially all the plot that you need to knew. A few twists and turns are thrown in along the way to flesh out the characters somewhat, but you don’t really care about that. You are perfectly happy to accept the thread-bare story because the action is just astounding. The martial art of pencak silat is beyond impressive; it’s quick, endlessly inventive and incredibly physical. The violence in the film also has to be seen to be believed; it’s bloody, bone-crushingly, neck snappingly good. It’s sheer inventiveness is incredibly exhausting, yet there is no film quite like it in terms of pure sheer adrenalin.
Another film from very early in the year that has certainly stuck in my mind to earn a very high place in my retrospective look back. A film that deserved to do so much more business during last year’s Awards season, Shame is a provocative, emotionally driven character study that delves into the hidden underworld of both the city of New York and a seemingly normal and successful man. Shame makes you question how well you can truly know someone through the depiction of two deeply troubled siblings, stunningly portrayed by Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. Both are incredibly dedicated to the material, going to rather fully exposed lengths to express the troubled psyche of their individual characters; the sex-addicted Brandon and the bi-polar Sissy. I would hate to see what their childhood was like. McQueen directs with a delicate honesty; depicting rather uncomfortable scenes through a naturalistic and bizarrely beautiful lens. The largely hand-held camerawork and natural lighting present a raw atmosphere very much in keeping with the deeply personal arcs of the characters. This film is intense, hugely thought-provoking and one that very much stays with you, particularly its ambivalent ending that certainly questions the morality of your fellow human being. Check out my full review, you know you want to: https://andygaudion93.wordpress.com/2012/01/30/review-shame-fassbender-bares-all/
A film that I expect is going to do very well this coming awards season, Ben Affleck’s third directorial effort is his best yet, taking a familiar Hollywood genre (the true life espionage thriller) without feeling the need to reinvent it, just perfecting it through highly superior film-making. Depicting the story of the early 80’s Iranian hostage crisis, Affleck expertly blends a serious human drama infused with raw documentary footage, as well as presenting a very witty Hollywood satire. The balance that the film strikes between its very real and quite serious subject matter and the satire that is portrays of the Hollywood machine is one that a seasoned filmmaker would struggle to achieve, quite how Affleck manages to do it so deftly in his only his third picture is a triumph itself. Already proven to be a confident director with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck also reminds us of how he can be a dependable leading man. It also helps that he as a great supporting cast including the ever dependable likes of Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston. As I stated in my review, if you can go into this film with no knowledge of the outcome of the real-life events, it certainly will benefit you in terms of how tense the final moments of the movie are; featuring one of the most nail-biting final acts of the year. With stunning attention to period detail and a ever-brilliant score from Alexandre Desplat, Argo is most certainly one of the more intelligent, well-made pieces of film-making of the year. Oh hey, look, a full review: https://andygaudion93.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/review-argo-ben-affleck-and-the-great-canadian-caper/
Hello again Mr. Whedon! Avengers Assemble, the biggest film of the year, the biggest comic-book movie of all time was very nearly my number one movie of the year. It is an incredibly ambitious movie; grouping together a large amount of characters from various different movies to establish a cinematic universe similar to that of their comic book counter parts. A lot was riding on Avengers Assemble; apart from Iron Man, the rest of the Phase One movies only made a fairly standard $300-$400 million, there was no telling that the Avengers Assemble would go on to become the third most successful movie of all time. Whedon crafts a blockbuster that comes to represent everything that I, and I’m sure everyone else, loves about perfectly crafted Hollywood blockbusters; delicious dialogue (mostly given to the awesome Tom Hiddleston as Loki), fluid and coherent action sequences and the impressive application of special effects to serve the story. It seems so effortless, but many blockbusters fail to strike that perfect chord of popcorn entertainment, just look at this years Battleship for how not to do it! As well as being an example of perfect popcorn entertainment, it’s sheer entertainment value and light-hearted spirit makes this Marvel movie, in my opinion, the ultimate comic-book made so far, with Whedon finally finding the material to give him the huge success that he has been robbed of so far in his career. It is better late than never I suppose, and the future of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe is certainly in the most capable and talented hands possible. Bring on Phase Two! Sorry no full review for this one. OR IS THERE!?- https://andygaudion93.wordpress.com/2012/08/03/review-avengers-assemble-earths-mightiest-heroes-they-got-that-right/
There you have it Ladies and Gentleman, my number one movie of the year that was; Skyfall. Which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise should you know my love of James Bond. Having recently become the first Bond movie to make a billion dollars, Skyfall stands as a testament to the enduring nature of the 50 year-old James Bond franchise, proving not only to be the most successful, but one of the best Bond movies amongst the 23 installments of the official EON canon. It perhaps isn’t the most original movie on this list, nor the best made, but in terms of what it means for a Bond fan, the level of satisfaction and pleasure from this cinematic experience was second to none this year. So much so I’m going to see it for the fourth time this week. It got my heart-racing and a put a huge grin on my face, right from its incredible opening to its ultimate fan pleasing ending. This year was an amazing year to be a Bond fan, and Skyfall was the greatest gift for all us loyal fans! It features one of the strongest Bond villains in recent memory in the form of Javier Bardem, Craig finally hits his stride as Bond, and all the knowing winks to the franchises past are handled in a delicate manner, escaping a sense of self-parody whilst also defiantly looking forwards to a new brighter future for Bond. Mendes combines both classical Bond elements with enough freshness to present a new kind of Bond movie. On evidence of this installment, the Bond franchise has the best future in sight that it has ever had in its long history. A stunning piece of franchise film-making that delivered all that I could have hoped for, proving to be my favourite cinematic experience of the year. You know what, you’ve been good, you can have another full review: https://andygaudion93.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/review-skyfall-sometimes-the-old-ways-are-the-best/
THE EXPENDABLES 2
All that is left to say is Happy New Year! I wish you all the best for the New Year, and lets hope we have another awesome year of movies ahead of us. Happy watching! Here’s a wonderfully edited tribute to the movies of the year gone by: