Byron’s Favourite Films of 2012

I don’t really think I’ve seen enough to be able to make an adequate top ten list.  I’m still yet to see Killer Joe, Holy Motors, Bernie, The Master, Headhunters, Detention, The Hobbit and no doubt so many others.  What’s more, Lincoln, Django UnchainedParanorman, Zero Dark Thirty, The Silver Linings Playbook and Cloud Atlas don’t come out in Australia until 2013, so my list will lack some of the choices that have frequented so many other lists.  Even so, I still want to give this list writing business a go.  After all, talking about movies is fun.  Plus, this isn’t a best of the year list, it’s a favourites of the year one, so I don’t really need to see every movie made this year to decide what I liked.

I briefly teased having 13 films on here, but figured that’d be dumb.  That I don’t get to talk about why I like Magic Mike and Chronicle  breaks my heart.  It’s only 10 now, although I do cheat.  But hey, Devin Faraci and the rest of them folks at Badass Digest cheat all the time and they’re all fantastic writers.  Logic doesn’t follow that if I cheat, I’ll be a fantastic writer too.  It’s a full proof plan.



10. Cabin in the Woods

I’m kind of surprised this made my list.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great film.  If this were a best of list, it’d be way closer to number one.  It’s incredibly smart.  It’s hilarious. You actually care when characters inevitably get killed off.  That’s the thing though.  I liked these characters so much that I didn’t enjoy seeing them die to the extent that it inhibited my enjoyment of the film.  That’s really more of a testament to how great this film is and how well Whedon and Goddard have crafted these characters than anything else, especially when you consider that there’s really only a scene or two where you experience their true selves.

Part of me is convinced that if Cabin had seen a wider release, it would’ve done gangbusters.  It’s such a crowd pleaser.  When I saw it in theatres, the elevator scene had the audience cheering.  Yet people say that horror comedies, meta ones in particular, never do well in the box office.  It’s sad if it’s true and it’s made all the worse by the fact that the Scream films make money.

9. Margin Call

This probably shouldn’t be on this list.  It’s one of those films that is first released in the previous year, but doesn’t come out in my country until the following one.  If I allow this, then I should probably take similarly released films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Muppets into account, but I’d be lost if I had to work out where to rank The Muppets on this list (Question: Is Chris Cooper rapping the greatest thing ever filmed?  Answer: Yes).  Margin Call came out in March though, which seems too late to ride on any awards buzz, but I guess it didn’t get a lot of buzz.  Perhaps it got a tad overlooked with The Artist clogging up most award ceremonies.

I adored this film.  I feel kind of silly when the best reasons I can give as to why are “Good script.  Good direction.  Good performances.”, rather than talk about the film itself, but there truly is something delightful about watching great actors eat up a delicious screenplay.  It even has actors I don’t normally enjoy like Zachary Quinto giving good stuff.  Kevin Spacey gives a performance doesn’t make me feel like I’m just watching Kevin Spacey, which doesn’t happen so often these days.  And no one’s ever walked out of a film complaining it had too much Stanley Tucci.  And I guess all the stuff about some company choosing to cause the global financial crisis rather than face bankruptcy is interesting stuff too.

8. Beasts of the Southern Wild

Heading home after seeing Beasts, I pulled out my phone and tweeted “Beasts of the Southern Wild is a tour de force of sheer beauty.” then immediately regretted tweeting something so insufferably pretentious.  Yet pretentious as it is, it’s also true.  This is a beautiful film.  There is a poetic, dream-like quality to the film, yet it feels grounded in its own (somewhat) gritty reality.  It could be fantasy.  It could be science-fiction.  It could be set in Louisiana.  It’s both so magical and so real that any setting feels possible.  Fantastic performances from the cast of non-actors too.  Quvenzhané Wallis is never as annoying as her name is to spell.  Dwight Henry is an asshole just as often as he is this girl’s father.  Benh Zeitlin has just snuck up on us and blown everybody away with this film.

7. Skyfall

I’ve only seen a handful of Bond films, so I don’t know if I can say really say that Skyfall is my favourite Bond film, but Skyfall is my favourite Bond film.  It’s a very self-conscious film.  Its major theme is trying to determine the future of the franchise and it has its answer.  “Old is good” the film says, “We don’t need to shed what defined us in order to stay relevant.”  And it doesn’t, yet it also acknowledges that it mustn’t risk stagnation, pushing itself into a modern era, but bringing all the best of classic Bond with it and it does a good job setting the franchise up for future installments, although I like to think that the end of Skyfall picks up at the start of Dr No.  The fact that the movie behind all the meta commentary is good as well is nice.  Daniel Craig makes a great Bond.  Roger Deakins will probably win an oscar.  Sam Mendes is being offered every new action script right now. And Javier Bardem as a gay version of Heath Ledger’s Joker is awesome.  I could watch him roll his eyes as he says “MI-5” forever.  I really hope someone’s made a GIF of that.

One small grievance though, and this isn’t with the film, but its audience.  The way they all go on about Bond doing Home Alone annoys me more than it should, but it’s not like there was another film, that came out way before Home Alone, that’s also set in the moors of Scotland, depicting a man protecting his house guest from armed invaders using homemade traps and was directed by a guy named Sam, right?

6. Dredd/The Raid

And here’s where I cheat.  I figured I could get away with it, since they share a similar premise and it was too hard to determine which should be ranked higher than the other.  Sure, The Raid is the better film, but you’d be hard pressed to find a funner time at the movies in 2012 than with Dredd (actually you could probably find it with Cabin and The Avengers, but that just shows how great a year it’s been).

Dredd isn’t really satirical.  There’s one point where Judge Dredd threatens to arrest a homeless man for being homeless and every now and then there might be a moment that feels like it’s only being fascist in jest, but one of Anderson’s arcs concludes with her deciding that Judges are too fascist and you can hardly call the explicit satire.  Also, the ending feels straight-up fascist.  Even so, it’s bloody, bombastic and fun.  In many ways, it feels like it was made with the sensibilities of an 80’s action film, yet stylistically it is totally modern.  It’d be cool if there were more films like that.  I haven’t seen The Expendables films, but I’ve heard they don’t deliver.  Also, Dredd’s titles are probably my favourite use of 3D.  That says less about how great Dredd’s titles are and more about how little I care for 3D.

Can you believe The Raid is only Gareth Evans’ second feature film?  Neither can I.  The amount of skill that’s gone into making this film is unbelievable.  Evans directs action with such intensity, you are likely to temporarily lose control of your bladder as your eyes struggle to watch the screen.  They struggle, because watching this film is like looking into the sun.  It’s that intense.  It’s fairly ripe with cliché, but it always manages to work.  The main villain’s right hand man is called Mad Dog and at one point he gives a speech on how he prefers fighting hand-to-hand than using guns and it totally works, because you know you are about to witness one hell of a fight.  I eagerly await Evans’ next film.

5. Wreck-It Ralph

While people hoping to bawl their eyes out in a movie theatre have found only disappointment in Les Miserables, Wreck-It Ralph delivers.  I’m aware of how crazy that sounds, but it’s a film that works because we care for its characters and when they cry, you might want to too.  Also, the climax is vaguely reminiscent of The Iron Giant.  Vaguely.  Maybe not at all.  Anyway, as I said, the film works because of its characters.  The danger that threatens to destroy all the videogames is revealed fairly early on, but at this time, we’re more concerned about whether Venelope will win tomorrow’s race, so that’s what the film chooses to focus on.  The stakes are continuously raised, but it always works because they’re raised for the characters too.  When the film finally does decide to bring the world destroying danger to the foreground, it’s a become a life or death situation for the characters, so now we give a shit.  I have to say, Sarah Silverman’s performance as Venelope plays a big part in making us care so much.  I hear a lot of people saying they don’t like Sarah Silverman or that they’re sick of her, but I wouldn’t know, as the only other thing I can think of that I’ve seen her in is School of Rock.  Anyway, she’s great in this.

The film isn’t perfect, mind you.  Suspense of disbelief is thrown out the window, because you know a Call of Duty-esque space marine first person shooter would never do something as awesome as casting Jane Lynch a role in real life.  What’s more, all the jokes in the first 20 minutes or so are videogame references that most of the audience I was with didn’t seem to get, but later they rely less on referential stuff and when they do decide to reference things, it’s usually for food puns or a movie reference that you can expect much more people to get.  It’s pretty funny is what I’m saying.

4. The Avengers

This was the first midnight screening I ever attended and it was so much fun.  My excitement was amplified by that of everyone else’s and we all just geeked the fuck out at every little thing that happened on-screen.  With five financially successful films to work as marketing, it might not really seem appropriate to call The Avengers ambitious, but it totally is and even if it isn’t, it’s fun to say it is.  The Marvel universe now exists in film.  The events that happen in Captain America can affect the events that happen in Thor and we don’t even need some stupid pre-title, like The Twilight Saga: (saga is such an ill-suited word to describe the Twilight series) to explain that they’re part of the same continuity.  It’s exciting stuff.  It’s too early to see where this continuity driven future of film takes us.  I worry it may have a more negative impact on Hollywood than a positive one, but at the moment I’m having fun.

The film is so much fun.  So many crowd pleasing moments.  It’s crazy that moments like Captain America surviving a grenade blast by hiding behind his shield and the Hulk being unable to lift Mjolnir can be forgotten because there’s simply so many awesome things going on.  It may take a while to get going, but I still enjoy when it’s starting up.  Joss Whedon himself managed to summarise it best: “I don’t think it’s a perfect movie.  I don’t even think it’s a great movie.  I think it’s a great time”.

3. Moonrise Kingdom

I felt a bit reluctant to stick this so high up on my list, as I’ve seen it on so many others that I’m starting to get fatigue.  But fuck it.  I love Wes Anderson.  I love him right in the face and Moonrise Kingdom might very well be my favourite of his films.  The film can achieve so much with so little-The sharing of a cigarette says everything.  What’s more, it can present scenes that are  handled with such sincerity that they manage to deeply move you, yet at the same time are so absurd that they can still make you laugh.  It is kind insane that Anderson has managed to pull that off without ever undermining the emotion or coming off as ironic.  Bruce Willis sharing a drink with a kid manages to be funny, sweet, and also really sad.  Edward Norton’s moment of triumph is crazy and hilarious, but it’s fucking triumphant and had me cheering in my seat.  Bill Murray throwing a shoe is as comical as it sounds, but he does it because his character is angry and you can see that anger in his performance.  On that note, Bill Murray is the epitome of manliness in this film.  It’s second half is spent giving all the other male characters a chance to prove themselves and show off their metaphorical beards.  The results are awesome.

2. Seven Psychopaths

Martin McDonagh’s previous film In Bruges is great and The Guard was my favourite film of last 2011, so I was looking forward to this.  The Guard was actually written and directed by Martin Mcdonagh’s brother, John, but I just wanted to briefly share my love for that film.  Anyway, I absolutely adore this film.  It’s hilarious and, at times, oddly terrifying.  It’s also way more moving and philosophical than what I had expected and I don’t really know why I didn’t expect it, given In Bruges.  All the meta talk can be a little on the nose at times and it does this weird thing where it comments on how underwritten female characters tend to be in Hollywood and then doesn’t do anything to give its own female characters any real depth, but most of the time, the meta stuff is fun.  Billy’s proposed ending to Marty’s screenplay had me laughing louder than anyone else in the theatre.

Everyone brings their A game here.  This is some of Colin Farrell’s eyebrows’ best work.  Sam Rockwell might steal the show in a film that has a fantastic ensemble cast.  Although he still has to compete with Christopher Walken, whose speech at the end will make you laugh and cry, though maybe not in that order.  There was a bit of a gap between In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.  Four years to be precise.  Martin McDonagh has stated he plans for an even longer hiatus before his next film.  This upsets me.  I’ve really got to see some of his plays.

1. Looper

With Looper, I was expecting to see a movie in which Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt dressed as young Bruce Willis fought and chased each other in a game of cat and mouse and would maybe team up at the end to fight the real enemy.  What I got was a much smaller, much more character focused film and it was fantastic.  Looper is very much like its own version of time travel: with every new thing that happens on-screen, there are so many different approaches and possibilities it could then take and it is an absolute joy to experience the whole thing play out.  So much so in fact, that it is my favourite film of 2012.  It’s a shame that so many people are getting hung up on the film’s mechanics of time travel.  Bruce Willis explicitly tells us that that shit don’t matter.  Looper isn’t even really about time travel.  It just uses it as a means to explore the idea of destructive behaviour being cyclical.  And it’s great.

Bruce Willis fans got lucky this year.  We had Bruce Willis in a comedy with Moonrise Kingdom and Bruce Willis in an action sci-fi with Looper and in both films, Bruce Willis is heartbroken and heartbroken Bruce Willis is the best kind of Bruce Willis in film.  It’s probably shit in real life though.

And there you have it.  Tell me what you think of my choices.  Am I right or am I wrong?  Well of course I’m right.  I know what my favourites were better than anyone else, but still feel free to disagree.  What were some of your favourites of 2012?


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