Thursday, June 28, 2012

Halftime Report: Best/Worst of 2012

Well here we are at the half way mark of 2012. I am still trying to gauge whether it has been a good year or not. I have seen some very good films but most of them had an overseas release in 2011 and are just hitting our shores late. There have been long droughts where there has not been a decent film, and much like last year, the best films I have seen all came over the course of the 12 days of the Sydney Film Festival.

As for the Blockbuster season so far, it has been solid; The Avengers was great, Prometheus was also very good - though it didn't hold up as well on a repeat viewing - and Brave was better than most have given it credit for. May was one of the weakest months for film I have experienced since I have been a serious reviewer, and there are only about 10 films scheduled for release in July, with only The Dark Knight Rises raising any interest, so pickings are slim. The two Snow White re-workings, Snow White and the Huntsman and Mirror Mirror weren't very good, while The Cabin in the Woods (after a delayed and ultimately very minimal release) has staked its claim as the funniest and most entertaining film of the year.

Anyway, I'll recap the blockbuster season at the end of August, but for now, here are my top picks of the year so far:

Best of 2012 by Australian release dates. January 1 - June 30.

1.     A Separation
2.     Shame
3.     Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
4.     The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
5.    The Descendants
6.     Weekend
7.     The Avengers
8.     The Raid
9.     This Must Be The Place
10. Martha Marcy May Marlene
11. The Artist
12. Carnage
13. The Grey
14. Café De Flore
15. The Cabin in the Woods
16. Headhunters
17. Polisse
18. Brave
19. The Muppets
20. Wish You Were Here

Honourable Mentions: Prometheus, Le Havre, Hugo, The Way and A Royal Affair.

After the jump, check out my alternative Top 20, governed by my personal rules:

Best of 2012 by my personal rules:

With the exception of any 2012 U.S release in an Australian cinema before March 1, this list includes every film I have seen for the first time in a cinema, including film festivals (and as a result some currently unreleased Australian releases), from March 1. Pretty much films I have seen post-Oscars because 90% of films released here in Jan/Feb were late 2011 releases screening for the Oscar season.

1. Holy Motors - "Leos Carax has not made a film since 1999 and his anticipated return here is a masterfully crafted, visually dazzling, wildly inventive and provocative work of art. It is a weird but wonderful experience." 5/5

2. Monsieur Lazhar - "It doesn't succumb to easy doses of sentimentality, but instead tells a gentle and genuine tale that is grounded in a reality that feels organic. The simplicity of the story is effective, yet there are several layers to the narrative that give it surprising depth. Just about a perfect film." 5/5

3. Undefeated - "A riveting documentary about overcoming adversity, division and under privilege to soar when it matters the most. It transcends the game of football and becomes about the strength of the human spirit and the path you take in life. It brought me to tear. Just goes to show the power than can be found in real human stories." 4.5/5

4. Amour - "A gruelling but beautiful portrait of what love truly means featuring remarkable sequences that evoke shock, fear, despair, sincerity, immense sadness and even some joy and a pair of brilliant performances. Haneke is inarguably one of the best directors working today and he has delivered another masterpiece here." 4.5/5

5. Caesar Must Die - "A mesmerising blend of documentary, narrative and cinematic style. It is one of the most original and inventive, and ultimately inspiring, ways to bring Shakespeare's Julius Caesar to the screen one could imagine. Beautifully shot." 4.5/5

6. Moonrise Kingdom - "With Fantastic Mr Fox, an extraordinary adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl children's novel, and now Moonrise Kingdom, a delight from the opening frame to the thrilling finale, Anderson has created a pair of masterworks. With this zany inventiveness; his trademark quirks, oddball performances, breathtaking visuals and excruciatingly considered attention-to-detail, he has created what may be perceived over time as one of his greatest accomplishments." 4.5/5

7. The Avengers - "The blend of jaw-dropping action and visual effects, a compelling story, an excellent villain and richly layered, likeable characters makes The Avengers, unexpectedly, not just high quality popcorn entertainment, but extraordinarily satisfying cinema." 4.5/5

8. The Raid - "If you are a die-hard action fan, get an adrenalin rush from loud, violent shoot-em-ups and extremely intense, expertly choreographed hand-to-hand (or knife-to-machete) skirmishes, displaying an incredible array of martial arts maneuvers, and aren’t squeamish, then The Raid is a film you can’t miss."4.5/5

9. This Must Be The Place - "This oddball collaboration of far-out comedy and heartbreaking drama is highly original and unpredictable filmmaking from Sorrentino, and inventively put together. The photography from Luca Bigazzi is sublime and almost every shot in this film is a work of art on its own. Penn is sensational as Cheyenne. Whether he is playing matchmaker, extreme handball in his waterless swimming pool, schooling kids at ping-pong, or simply sipping on his orange fizzy water through a straw, he never fails to be interesting." 4/5

10. Carnage - "All of the characters are extremely unlikable in their own way, but as an observer, and it is a privilege to be in the room during this abnormally hostile meeting, they are fascinating to watch. Carnage, another winner from Polanski, is a brilliant comedy of manners." 4/5

11. The Grey - "One of the most underrated films of the year so far. It effectively works as a horror film and as a psychological drama, adding surprising complexity to the familiar man vs. the elements premise. It also features some of Liam Neeson's best work in a while. Raises a lot of different emotions from an audience - tension and fear, sympathy and sadness - and Joe Carnahan builds a terrifying atmosphere." 4/5

12. Cafe De Flore - "An ambitious and dazzling construction; beautifully photographed and edited, with a crisp sound design and memorable soundtrack, and a dual-strand plot that is mystifyingly complex, densely layered, and consistently challenges the audience’s perception with its energetic non-linear narrative style." 4/5

13. The Cabin in the Woods - "Clever and witty, and a hell of a lot of fun. Continues to surprise and takes crazy tangents you won't see coming. Fans of horror films with a knowledge of typical horror tropes will have the most fun, but really, it is so funny that it should provide a good time for anyone and everyone." 4/5

14. Beasts of the Southern Wild - "An exhilaratingly original drama, and stunning debut from director Benh Zeitlin. With a powerful father/daughter relationship, thought-provoking themes about our ever-changing planet and a cinematic vitality so exciting to see, Beasts will be long discussed and debated." 4/5

15. Headhunters - "On one hand it is gripping and suspenseful, while on the other it is riddled with a macabre sense of visual humour. It is such a good time if one embraces the chaos. It is a smart, fast-paced adaptation of a pulp novel that keeps you guessing all the way." 4/5

16. Killer Joe - "Friedkin has painted a macabre tapestry of ugliness and debauchery here, and everyone comes off second best. The dialogue is electrifyingly brilliant, and despite being tough going at times - the final 30 minutes is difficult to watch - it remains very entertaining. Perverted yes, but a satisfying and memorable cinematic feast." 4/5

17. Polisse - "As a powerful doco-drama, a harrowing social commentary and as an intricate character study, this taut collaboration of a web of stories has plenty going for it. Has well-placed comic relief, but is thoroughly harrowing and engrossing." 4/5

18. Brave - "Brave is a delightful return to form for the Pixar team after a disappointing and unneeded return to the world of Cars. Telling a simple but pleasant story, which is enchanting with its blend of reality and fantasy and thrilling with its handsome visuals and grand score, Brave offers up consistent amusement - in particular through the three little rascals - and is sure to engage audiences of all ages. Having said that, this is probably the most child-centric Pixar film in some time, which is not a bad thing at all." 4/5

19. Liberal Arts - "This charming crowd-pleasing indie comedy/drama from writer-director-star Josh Radnor really struck a chord with me personally. Not only are there an abundance of laughs, but purely through Olsen's stellar work, and one's natural liking of Radnor, the dramatic moments hit the mark too. The philosophy of saying 'yes' to everything, Zibby's mantra for improv, also proves to be a fortuitous one for Jesse, and a commendable message to weave through the narrative. Hilarious cameos." 4/5

20. Wish You Were Here - "Blending the vibrant atmosphere of a beautifully lensed Cambodia with a suffocating and threatening mood of Sydney, this taut and powerfully acted story is told through a non-linear narrative style – and is amongst one of the better Australian films I have seen in the last few years. At least, it was one of the most emotionally stirring and conceptually satisfying." 4/5

Honourable Mentions: Prometheus, Side By Side, Neighbouring Sounds, Le Havre and A Royal Affair.

And the worst: 

10. Mirror Mirror, 
9. What To Expect When You're Expecting, 8. Wrath of the Titans, 7. Trishna, 6. Iron Sky, 5. Killer Elite, 4. The Lucky One, 3. American Reunion, 2. Wuthering Heights, 1. Safe

What are your thoughts on these films? Best/worst of 2012 so far?


  1. I actually liked Mirror Mirror.

    Wow so many that I need to see. Happy to see The Avengers and Brave make the list. They're on the top of my list right now. Carnage is awesome.

    Of all of these, I am most excited for Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of a Southern Wild and Holy Motors.

    1. Quite a lot of people liked Mirror Mirror and comparing it to Snow White and the Huntsman it looks a lot better. Yeah, I can't imagine Brave being there at the end of the year, but I really enjoyed it. Moonrise Kingdom is a delight. If you're a Wes Anderson fan you will love it.

  2. It makes me so sad that I haven't seen Martha Marcy May Marlene.
    Out of the second list, I've seen only three films (The Avengers, Brave and Carnage) and I loved them.

    That's an impressive post. I've seen only eight 2012 releases... and it puts me to shame. However, we don't get some indie films on time.

    1. The same three as Nikhat. How interesting. Carnage was a lot of fun, and it is pretty hard not to like The Avengers. Whedon did a great job there.

      Hey, that's okay. You'll see more and more as the year goes on. Good thing, there are plenty of decent films out there.

  3. Interesting list. A lot of these are 2011 films for me, so I like seeing your alternative list which has a lot of films I'm looking forward to checking out, especially Holy Motors and Amour.

    Glad to see The Grey made your list. I think it's a film that got quickly overlooked.

    1. Yeah The Grey was fantastic (and very much overlooked), and taking out the SFF screenings, it is one of the best 2012 releases so far. I look forward to your thoughts on Holy Motors. Its a very interesting one.

  4. Greta look back at the year so far! Have seen less than half of the films you mentioned but Carnage, Cabin and The Artist would definitely all rate highly on my own list!

    1. Awesome! I know some of them haven't hit screens yet, but keep an eye out for the ones you haven't.

  5. Hells yeah for A Separation. Definitely my favourite film of the year. As for Shame, I'm literally about to go watch the DVD in five minutes. Great way to do a retrospective!

  6. Awesome list, so glad to read praise for The Cabin in the Woods, I think it's a cult classic in the making. I'm only finding out about Killer Joe today but it sounds like a great movie. Definetly going to see Holy Motors too.

    1. Yeah I had a great time at Cabin. I have not reviewed it because it has been out in the U.S for ages, and its a toughie to review without giving anything away. I just told people to see it. I'd like to hear what you think of Killer Joe. Matthew McConaughey is in one word: astounding.

  7. My list comes up tonight. At's always with those international lists, it a bit difficult to compare them. Some of the films you have in top were on my 2011 list. Other films haven't opened yet (yep, Australia isn't always last to get movies. :)) Still: lists are always fun!

    The only one real disagreement I see is Wuthering Heights. I actually liked it pretty well. It just barely missed out on my top 20 list but may very well get some kind of honorable mentioning when it's time for the big summary of 2012.

    1. Yeah that's what I find the most frustrating about the Aussie release schedule. All of Jan/Feb are the Oscar favourites that played through Nov/Dec in the U.S so most of the year's best films come in the first few months. I recognise them, but move them over to the year previous and then make my own rules. I much prefer the second list, because I don't think of A Separation as a 2012 film because I saw it 12 months ago.

      Wuthering Heights I saw at SFF and it was an ugly beast of a film. I was squirming from about 5 mins in and considered leaving. I quickly grew tired of the moor wandering, the shots of insects and of Heathcliff's back. I admired how beautifully shot the location was - but I hated most of the cinematography. Also, I thought the guy playing Heathcliff was weak, and I failed to accept the transition between the young and older Cathy in terms of casting.

      Also, a nice does of Animal Cruelty to make it even more unpleasant. Not at all like I remember the book, which I actually enjoyed reading back in high school. I could never struggle through this film again. I thought it was almost unwatchable. Perhaps that was Andrea Arnold's idea. Looking at what I could have seen instead made me even more angry haha. But, I am glad you liked it, and just one disagreement is pretty good I think :-)

      Will check out your list too.

  8. Great list, I am so curious to see Holy Motors, it might be this year's Drive...although I don't think that't necessarily a good thing! Hmm..Wuthering Heights that bad? I was planning to see it, but now..I don't know!

    1. Hated Wuthering Heights though many have been high on it, so don't take my word for it. I preferred Holy Motors to Drive. Its far more unpredictable. A dazzling series of vignettes and an awesome cinema experience in general. One that comes along every now and then and blows your mind.

  9. Thanks for the 6 month round-up, Andy!

    2011 sure was a strong year for film as your list indicates, I can't say the same thing about 2012 just yet, as most of them I have not got to from Sundance, Cannes, etc. Looking forward to: Holy Motors, Amour, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Great Gatsby, Cosmopolis, Moonrise Kingdom, Safety Not Guaranteed, The Dark Knight Rises, Bond 23

    I agree about Cafe De Flore (2011), one of the better lesser-known gems ( :

    1. Cafe de Flore will jump up my list on a repeat. So much to process on a single viewing alone. A lot of films I have seen this year are 2011 films so I am also not sure how great 2012 is yet.

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