Let’s examine 2012 like a photograph taken by Instagram with the filter set to “Kenicky”. It’s been a year since my film roundup of 2011, and life continues. It continues here. I’m in a rut. If I was in an Apatow film, I’d be Paul Rutt. The cinema has been the best place to hide – from rain, from sunshine, from life. So here’s my ranking of the year, from best to worst. Life’s not worth living, but let’s relive it anyway.
1. The Master – 9.5/10
Join the cult of Paul Thomas Anderson. Leave your worries for a while. They will still be there when you get back.
2. Holy Motors – 9.5/10
In one scene, a naked man with an erection eats the hair of Eva Mendes while she sings a lullably. Later, this man sings a duet with Kylie Minogue. Worth watching with flowers instead of popcorn.
3. Damsels in Distress – 9/10
The past is gone, so you may as well romanticise it.
4. Young Adult – 8.5/10
Buddy: “Mavis, I’m a married man.”
Mavis: “I know. We can beat this thing together.”
5. Frankenweenie – 8/10
With the clay lovingly detailed, there’s fun for everyone – especially the dead soul inside you.
6. Take This Waltz – 8/10
Sarah Polley uses colourful choreography to examine the expiration date of relationships; when conversation starts to sound like baby talk.
7. Tiny Furniture – 8/10
The long, still scenes bring out an awkward drama that comes from a bizarre world of banal vulnerability and deflating mattresses.
8. Anna Karenina – 8/10
A rare occasion where Tom Stoppard’s words are the least tricky element of a project. Tolstoy would probably hate it, but its visuals are adventurous enough to be considered an Avatar for a different audience.
9. The Muppets – 8/10
It may be the product of hundreds of Hollywood meetings, script doctors and focus groups, but you would never realise from the enthusiasm in Jason Segel’s non-felt face.
10. Safety Not Guaranteed – 8/10
In parallel storylines, chasing an ex-girlfriend is mirrored by building a time machine.
11. Bernie – 8/10
I’ve been hearing a lot of people calling Bernie a black comedy, but is that just because it stars Jack Black? It’s like a light-hearted Sunset Boulevard, except it really did happen.
12. Jeff, Who Lives at Home – 8/10
One particular highlight is when a smoke alarm sets off the sprinklers in an office, with Sarandon finding a spiritual awakening at her computer desk. A bit like you right now.
13. Beasts of the Southern Wild – 8/10
It’s a particularly powerful image to see a six-year-old girl run away from a shelter (“a fishtank with no water”) and swim into the sea. Some of the magic realism wasn’t completely to my taste, but it captures the film’s positive tone – on paper it’s about wanting to die, but on screen you slowly discover it’s about wanting to live.
14. Amour – 8/10
In English, that title means Oscar.
15. Sound of My Voice – 7.5/10
When Marling is asked to sing a pop song from the future, she sings “Dreams” by The Cranberries. How does she defend herself? “Oh, I wasn’t alive in the 90s.”
16. Moonrise Kingdom – 7.5/10
The camera slides like someone emulating Anderson. It’s in an interesting prospect, whether greatness can be parodied.
17. The Artist – 7.5/10
It may be about the decline of silent cinema, but it’s also an old-fashioned love story – a love story regularly overshadowed by a well-trained dog.
18. The Five-Year Engagement – 7.5/10
It’s over two hours for no real reason, but I was sad when it finished because I enjoyed their company. I waved goodbye to the actors on the TV screen, then returned to real life.
19. Sightseers – 7.5/10
A comedy where the cinematography laces a rotting corpse with a beautiful skyline.
20. Premium Rush – 7.5/10
A 91-minute thriller about Joseph Gordon-Levitt cycling around New York, avoiding the police and Michael Shannon as a hilariously over-the-top villain. It’s energetic fun that will hopefully be followed by a sequel about me crossing the road while using my smartphone.
21. Martha Marcy May Marlene – 7.5/10
There’s one scene when she dives into the water, and it’s so claustrophobic that it’s as if you’re drowning, wanting it all to end. So, a similar reaction to the other Olsen films.
22. The Dark Knight Rises – 7.5/10
An inconsistent mess that never stops being thrilling.
23. Shut Up and Play the Hits – 7.5/10
The LCD Soundsystem documentary is interspersed with stunning footage of the final show shot by Spike Jonze, capturing a mesmerising performance and a crowd sharing a religious experience – although that religion is either MDMA or Pitchfork.
24. The Cabin in the Woods – 7.5/10
Imagine if horror films were actually reality television. You stick some teenagers in a secluded area, throw in a man with a chainsaw, and film the results. The looks of terror are more real than anything you can achieve from 40 years of acting school.
25. 21 Jump Street – 7.5/10
It’s a bit like the plot of Never Been Kissed, but slightly more ridiculous.
26. The Avengers – 7.5/10
It’s like when you have strange friends from different circles and you want to see what happens when you put them in together in the same room.
27. Sleepwalk With Me – 7.5/10
Comedy has to be honest to be funny – the lesson learned in Mike Birbiglia’s autobiographical daydream of touring, ripped relationships and sleepwalk anxieties.
28. War Horse – 7.5/10
It’s admirable that Spielberg directed what is arguably a plotless film, but what’s really impressive is that he makes it oddly moving – this is despite all the characters being either forgettable or a horse.
29. Into the Abyss – 7/10
Herzog asks, “Please describe an incident with a squirrel.” Thirty seconds later, the chaplain is in tears.
30. Your Sister’s Sister – 7/10
What sets Your Sister’s Sister from traditional mumblecore films is its professional cast; instead of amateurs who are friends with the director, the chemistry is formed on-screen (rather than mirroring off-screen relationships).
31. Life of Pi – 6.5/10
It is suggested in Life of Pi that animals don’t have souls; when you look into a tiger’s eye, any meaning is actually a reflection of yourself. This is a metaphor for the film itself.
32. Silver Linings Playbook – 6.5/10
For a film centred around illegal betting, it doesn’t make many gambles – and plays it safe by dancing around the main issues. (Both puns intended.)
33. Natural Selection – 6.5/10
Superb performances, but drama is occasionally substituted for breezy humour. That’s not a criticism, as Robbie Pickering has a sharp eye for juxtaposing tragedy with comedy – sure, you could argue they’re the same thing, but it’s memorable seeing Rachael Harris cry next to porn mags, and bombastic arguments being drowned out by a marching parade.
34. Skyfall – 6.5/10
It’s no longer about saving the world, but trying to rescue a franchise.
35. The Perks of Being a Wallflower – 6.5/10
As films about depressed teenage boys go, it’s ranks above It’s Kind of a Funny Story, but miles away from the non-existent adaptation of The Catcher in the Rye.
36. Vamps – 6.5/10
Cher Horowitz dumps her flip-phone, and now complains about the reliance on modern technology.
37. For a Good Time, Call… – 6/10
Can you describe what you’re wearing?
I said, can you describe what you’re reviewing?
I’m reviewing a little thing called For a Good Time, Call…
Describe it to me.
It’s about two roommates who resolve their differences by running a phone sex line.
It sounds seedy.
It isn’t. It’s actually surprisingly sweet and funny in the right places.
38. The Descendants – 6/10
When I saw it at the cinema, someone behind me called it the worst film she’d ever seen. The person in front of me applauded. I was literally in between.
39. The Amazing Spider-Man – 6/10
Really, The Amazing Spider-Man is okay, but nothing spectacular, with the clue being in the insecure adjective choice in the title.
40. Ruby Sparks – 6/10
The darker elements are introduced too late and hint at what could have been: a stab through the genre’s linctus heart. The highlight is a truly disturbing ten-minute sequence when Paul Dano goes despicably mad with power at the typewriter (which means Solitaire would probably explode his mind).
41. To Rome With Love – 6/10
I saw it in the cinema and there were only three other people at the screening; at no point did any two people laugh at the same joke, which suggests everyone might find different aspects to appreciate.
42. Silence – 6/10
After the screening, the director spoke of finding religion in nature, then discovering there’s nothing there. Cynics might say that’s applicable to Silence, but there is a poetic beauty within its uncomfortably inert experience.
43. Argo – 5.5/10
Like Richard Linklater’s Bernie, the highlight of Argo is the end credits where actors are shown next to the real-life counterparts. It’s the only moment that makes you gasp – a taste of the intricate, breathtaking thriller that Ben Affleck never made, but read on Wikipedia.
44. Bachelorette – 5.5/10
The raucous action speeds past with a few laughs, but is too inconsequential.
45. Excision – 5.5/10
A fairly ordinary character study with hints of darkness, interspersed with brilliant short films. Perhaps an excision is needed.
46. Looper – 5.5/10
Just as the highlight of Heat was Pacino and De Niro’s coffee table scene, Looper takes a break in a diner: Joe and has lunch with his older self. They both want to kill each other, ask questions, and they’re also hungry. Plenty of thrills, but when it makes you ask philosophical questions, you only realise afterwards that you were just questioning the plot and second-half lulls.
47. The Hunger Games – 5.5/10
It could perhaps have built upon the idiosyncrasies of its alternate reality, like the mechanical wasps (may the odd bees ever in your favour?), or add a comment on the quest for fame. (Unless if it’s a satire on an ability to turn Battle Royale into a Hollywood blockbuster by using American actors, in which case, well done.)
48. Wanderlust – 5/10
It’s rather like an extended episode of a sitcom, found in the DVD extras of a boxset. After all, much of the pacing and cutaway shots of the city remind me of shows like Caroline in the City or Friends (possibly because of Rudd and Aniston).
49. Seeking a Friend For the End of the World – 4.5/10
The recent trend for end-of-the-world films is probably down to the Mayan prophecy. Or the rise in special effects. Or technology’s grey influence. Or a deterioration in happy writers with the collapse of the industry. It could be many reasons, but Lorene Scafaria is more concerned with an easy excuse for a love story.
50. Detention – 4.5/10
It’s nothing inspiring, but the bizarre overflow of 90s nostalgia suggests the filmmakers were thinking of themselves – the plot is an indulgent mess, where a sample joke is the main character turning up to a fancy dress party as Clare Danes from My So Called Life. (Okay, that is quite funny.)
51. Silent House – 4/10
Everything is shot in one take, or at least edited to give this effect, and follows Elizabeth Olsen in real time as she has a nervous breakdown. In one shot, the camera follows the reviewer as he walks away from the cinema, wishing there was something more substantial.
52. American Reunion – 4.5/10
Who organises reunions for 13 years later? The makers of American Pie.
53. The Watch – 4.5/10
The special effects are rendered meaningless, with the cast looking bored – yes, even when the aliens appear.
54. On the Road – 4/10
Without the Beat-style prose, On the Road is a second-hand account of an old holiday. The impressive cinematography and slick direction actually detracts from the novel’s spontaneity; Dean Moriarty’s mysticism is lost in high definition.
55. Hi Custodian – 4/10
David Longstreth isn’t as vigorous in the editing room as he is in a musical studio.
56. Ted – 4/10
57. Shame – 3.5/10
At one point, Fassbender tries to escape his mind by going for a jog around the city at night, perhaps to search for peace and tranquillity – that, or he was looking for a more subtle script.
58. Dark Shadows – 3.5/10
Tim Burton revisits a forgotten soap opera on autopilot mode, but the inventiveness and wit must have missed the flight.
59. Carnage – 3.5/10
You’re always aware of the time.
60. Prometheus – 3/10
It’s a bad sign when a sci-fi film is heavy-handed with references to religion and humanity, with the directness very obviously being a last-ditch attempt to justify its own existence (like the robots within the film).
61. The Do-Deca-Pentathlon – 3.5/10
The action plays out slowly and without fanfare, while the realism is wrecked by the implausible storyline. It’s like the Olympics, but with less athleticism and far, far less drama.
62. We Bought a Zoo – 3.5/10
Matt Damon makes an emotional purchase, but ends up with “humanity” instead of humanity.
63. Liberal Arts – 3/10
Josh Radnor? I’d Radnor not.
64. Goon – 3/10
I laughed once, when the commentator said: “Are you there Doug? It’s me, Margaret.”
65. Battleship – 3/10
If only Battleship followed the true ethos of a board game by being a metaphor for the daily struggles of life. You win. You lose. You wonder what it is you’re doing. You have no answer.
66. Comes a Bright Day – 3/10
Simon Aboud’s debut feature comes after a career working with advertisements, and it shows – filmed crisply, you want to buy the onscreen products, but it lacks in substance.
67. Lay the Favorite – 3/10
Without any risks or soul-bearing, Lay the Favorite is like going to a race track and betting on the horse that you know will please everybody by finishing somewhere in the middle, except that actually pleases nobody and it’s sent straight from a limited cinema release to die in a stable or at the bottom of a discounted DVDs.
68. The Dictator – 2.5/10
It’s a strange situation where the press promotion outshines the film’s content – to semi-quote Cohen’s obnoxious character, it’s very Aladeen with not enough Aladeen.
69. Lola Versus – 2.5/10
Lola versus entertainment.
70. Man on a Ledge – 2.5/10
Sam Worthington stands on a ledge with such a wooden performance that he might as well be an ornament. Not only that, the ledge is quite thick. No one’s falling off that.
71. People Like Us – 2.5/10
You should take People Like Us on its own merit, but be aware that it’s a relationship drama penned by the man who wrote the first two Transformers films.
72. Why Stop Now – 2/10
It’s an absurd storyline strung together by one-dimensional characters with minimal effort to explain itself. If anything, the title refers to the screenwriters who realised the script made little sense, but persevered, hoping to cash in on people with fond memories of The Social Network.
73. The Sitter – 1.5/10
You’re better than this, David Gordon Green.
74. The Letter – 1/10
The bizarre plot is sidetracked by mumbling monologues that sound like they were written through Google Translate. There are times when you wonder if Winona Ryder and James Franco are in different rooms, then you realise it’s just bad direction.
75. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – 0.5/10
Hollow, contrived and the cinematic equivalent of watching someone struggle with Microsoft Word.
I still need to catch up on Searching For Sugar Man, Smashed and The Raid: Redemption, but is there anything else I should see?
Do you agree/disagree with anything on my list?
Did you notice that I chose not to see The Hobbit?
What are you excited to see in 2013?
(I am looking forward to Touchy Feely, Prince Avalanche, Only Lovers Left Alive, Upstream Color, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III, Song Dynasties, Argo 2: Baggage Claim, The World’s End, The Great Gatsby, Drinking Buddies, Upside Down, In a World…, Spring Breakers and The Two Faces of January.)
What else have I missed?
Who are you?
Why don’t you follow the @halfacanyon Twitter account?
Do you ever feel like a pistachio nut that can’t open up?