The votes have been cast, and the polls are now closed for the first ever Failed Critics Awards. While you’re going to have to wait until New Year’s Eve for the results, James Diamond (Founder, Editor, and all-round Svengali of the site) presents his personal picks of 2012.
Best Films of 2012
From the opening bars of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love, to the epic climax featuring The Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Ben Wheatley’s third feature is gloriously British and reminiscent of a time that many of us have long-forgotten. It’s also very, very funny – like Mike Leigh directing the League of Gentlemen.
9. Holy Motors
The few of you who caught Holy Motors will not have seen anything else like it this year, or possibly ever. Leos Carax’s surreal odyssey stars Denis Lavant as a performer travelling Paris by limousine and performing ‘assignments’ along the way – including kidnapping Eva Mendes and licking her armpits, singing with Kylie Minogue, and leading the finest marching accordion band committed to film.
The kind of film you imagine Hollywood screwing up royally (and we’ll know for sure when the inevitable remake appears), Untouchable tells the true story of a millionaire paraplegic and his assistant from the clichéd ‘wrong side of the tracks’. What lifted this film above my low expectations of a saccharine-saturated heart-warmer is its cutting and cynical humour and brilliant central performances (particularly Omar Sy as Driss).
7. Berberian Sound Studio
This wonderful exploration of the use of sound in cinema reminded me of David Lynch at his creepy best. Toby Jones is sublime as the sound engineer summoned to Italy to work on the sound for the intriguing giallo film-within-a-film The Equestrian Vortex. Funny, and spine-chilling in equal measure.
Who would have guessed back when he was starring in Gigli that Ben Affleck would become one of the most reliable directors in the business. After serving his apprenticeship on low-key films like Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Affleck nailed the classic Hollywood thriller with Argo – the ‘true story’ of the showbiz-facilitated extraction of US Embassy staff during the Iranian uprising. I’ve backed this as my outside bet for Best Picture at the 2013 Oscars, which guarantees it won’t win, sadly.
5. Avengers Assemble
In my humble opinion the best blockbuster of a year that saw the conclusion of the Nolan Batman series, the reboot of Spider-Man, and the return to the Alien franchise of Ridley Scott. Joss Whedon’s supergroup of a comic book adaptation improved on every single Marvel lead-up movie, and more. Featuring a typical Whedon script that managed to be funnier than most ‘comedies’ (I’m looking at you two in particular, The Dictator and Ted), as well as introducing a number of children to the year’s best insult (“you mewling quim”), Avengers Assemble has it all. Except a decent name in the UK. With Whedon already planning a sequel, and Shane Black (Lethal Weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang screenwriter) in charge of Iron Man 3, Marvel looks to have stolen a march on DC Comics who are frantically trying to pull together a Justice League film to retaliate.
4. Safety Not Guaranteed
Finally getting a UK release on Boxing Day, this smart and funny film from first-time director Colin Trevorrow is full of charm, humour, and no little romance. I saw it at Sundance London in May, and wouldn’t shut up about it for the following seven months. I challenge you not to fall in love with Aubrey Plaza as Darius, the magazine intern who is investigating a small ad that simply reads:
Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before.
The man who placed the advert is seemingly dangerous loner Kenneth (Mark Duplass), and the resulting film is part-adventure/part-romance in true 1980s Amblin style.
3. The Imposter
This is one of those documentaries that hammers home the cliché that truth really is stranger than fiction. It tells us the story of a young French man who impersonated a missing 13-year-old boy from Texas, ensconcing himself within the family home and their community with tall tales of being trafficked by the military. What makes this film more than a weird Channel 5 documentary is its innovative use of recreated flashbacks and, most importantly, interviews with the people at the centre of this strange situation – including the con-man himself. A true story that plays out like a Coen Brothers thriller, this film really has everything.
Michael Haneke’s second Palm d’Or-winning film is a brutal study of the inevitability of death, ever-so-slightly tempered by a wonderful portrayal of octogenarian love. With his trademark long-takes allowing space for the incredible performances of Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant to breathe, Heneke has created a near-perfect film that immerses the viewer into a world more than the technical wizardy of 3D and 48fps could ever hope to. As patrons left the screening I attended no-one wanted to speak to each other. The silence was a sign of the sheer power of this film.
1. Rust and Bone
Beaten by Amour at Cannes, and unlikely to renew battle at the Oscars after France nominated Untouchable for the Foreign Language award, at least Rust and Bone director Jacques Audiard can take consolation in grabbing the number one spot on this list. I fell in love with this film back in November, and I have struggled to communicate exactly why since. I mean, it’s the story of a killer-whale trainer who loses her legs in a tragic accident, and her heart to a drifter and single parent who finds his niche in bare-knuckle boxing. It sounds ridiculous, but it is an incredible study of romance, and the importance of finding ‘the one’. Marion Cotillard is incredible, but Matthias Schoenaerts holds his own as her extremely flawed lover. Yet another brilliant Alexandre Desplat score (surely the best composer working in cinema right now) is backed by an eclectic soundtrack, with an unbelievably moving use of Katy Perry’s Firework. Honestly.
I’ve seen 75 films so far this year, so some great films were always going to miss out, and the following were very close to making my top ten.
The Muppets – A wonderful mix of the anarchic Muppet humour, the charm of Jason Segal and Amy Adams, and the brilliant songs of Brett ‘Flight of the Conchords’ McKenzie. The most fun I’ve had in a cinema for years.
Shame – The second Steve McQueen/Michael Fassbender collaboration, I enjoyed this even more than Hunger. A fascinating study of addiction, with plenty of The Fass and Carey Mulligan on show for those who are interested in that kind of thing.
The Raid – Quite literally the best pure-action film I’ve seen since Hard Boiled. The action world has a new star in Iko Uwais.
Skyfall – After the mess that was Quantum of Solace, this was a welcome return to form for 007. Equally influenced by the TV series Spooks and Home Alone, it featured the best Bond villain in years.
Denis Lavant (Holy Motors) and Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone)
I can’t choose between three very different soundtracks. Rust and Bone for its fantastic score and eclectic track selection; The Muppets for the best original songs in the cinema this year; and Searching for Sugar Man for introducing me to the wonderful story and music of Sixto Rodriguez.
I have spoken about Matthew McConaughey’s rebirth as a credible actor at length, so I’ll have to give this jointly to 21 Jump Street and Goon for being far funnier (and more sweet and charming) than Ted or The Dictator.
This Means War was an abomination with even Tom Hardy looking confused. Dark Shadows though, was the film that made me loudly and involuntarily exclaim “oh, for fuck’s sake!” in a reasonably busy cinema.
The Failed Critics Awards will be presented during the Failed Critics End-of-Year Podcast Special.