From ‘Argo’ to ‘Skyfall’: the top films of 2012

Warning: trailers will all start at once and will need to be paused

George Arnett gives a rundown of some of this year’s top films.

Young Adult – February 2012

Reuniting Juno’s writer Diablo Cody with director Jason Reitman, this unbecoming-of-age comedy sees an excellent turn from Charlize Theron as a writer obsessed with her teenage past. Mavis Gray (Theron) is a city-dwelling ghost writer of romantic novels, who regularly obsesses about her superiority over others from her Minnesota hometown. The news that her teenage boyfriend is getting married sends Mavis on a sociopathic crusade to reawaken the lost romance. Patten Oswalt shines as Mavis’s honest friend Matt, the straight victim of a homophobic hate crime.

Martha Marcy May Marlene – February 2012

This was the year we learnt that there is more to the Olsen clan than Mary-Kate and Ashley. Elizabeth Olsen plays Martha an escapee from a violent cult who takes refuge with her wealthy older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson). An unfolding series of flashbacks reveals the turmoil suffered by Elizabeth at the hands of cult leader Patrick. A badly thought through phone call to another cult member creates fears that Patrick could catch up with Martha. The tensions between the two siblings, made worse by Lucy’s conservative British husband Ted, make for riveting drama.

This Is Not A Film – March 2012

A film that was reportedly smuggled out of Iran on a USB stick in a cake, This Is Not A Film reveals the plight of 51-year-old Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi. Under house arrest, Panahi spends his days frustrated by his inability to practice his art. One sad scene sees the frustrated Panahi talk through an imagined film, plotting the movements with masking tape on the floor. This Is Not A Film does not have a plot, it does not follow convention and not much happens. However, it is one of the strongest cases for filmmaking and the freedom of expression you will see.

The Avengers Assemble – April 2012

Perhaps overshadowed in the superhero stakes by The Dark Knight Rises, the ambition of the Avengers Assemble is startling. It’s a movie featuring the Hulk, Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow and Nick Fury, and surprisingly, it’s not terrible. The slick, humorous screenplay is provided by Joss Whedon, who gained a cult following for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. Critics were particularly impressed by Mark Ruffalo as the angry green Hulk and his alter-ego Doctor Bruce Banner.

Damsels in Distress – April 2012

Whit Stillman’s first film for 13 years is set on a pleasingly twee college campus. Violet, played by Greta Gerwig, is the energetic leader of a group of girls on a social mission to educate the moronic boys at their university. They also run a suicide prevention centre where depressed attendees are treated through dance. Stillman’s intellectual take on post-adolescence harkens back to a much simpler time, championing romance. It’s an enchanting piece of work.

Moonrise Kingdom – May 2012

A stellar cast of Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton and Wes Anderson regular Bill Murray feature in this exquisitely painted romance set off the East Coast of  1960s America. Jared Gilman plays Sam, a fostered child dissatisfied with his life. He escapes from the scout camp run by the strict Ed Norton, fleeing with pen pal Suzy. Closely pursuing the pair is Willis’s police chief and Swinton, who plays a character simply named Social Services.

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present – July 2012

For three months in 2010 at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Marina Abramovic sat on a wooden chair for seven hours a day without food or water. Sitting opposite her were attendees to the museum, some of whom had queued for hours for the pleasure. The documentary is an emotional testament to the pain suffered for art and the powerful mystique attached to its practitioner. Some attendees are brought to tears by being so closely confronted with the artist.

The Dark Knight Rises – July 2012

Christian Bale resumes the cape and the throaty voice for the last time in this epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Eight years after the death of Harvey Dent, billionaire Bruce Wayne has resigned from his Batman duties. However, the arrival of the violent revolutionary Bane, played by muscly British actor Tom Hardy, forces Batman to return. The last of Nolan’s sombre takes on Gotham City retains everything we loved – the stunning cinematography, the intense dialogue and the terrifying criminals.

The Queen of Versailles – September 2012

Lauren Greenfield’s documentary goes right into the human heart of the 2008 financial crisis. It centres on property tycoon David Siegel, his ex-beauty queen wife Jackie and their eight children. Jackie is possessed with building the largest (and perhaps kitschiest) house in the United States. David, who once claimed he was personally responsible for George Bush’s re-election, loses much of his wealth in the 2008 crisis and the family are forced to deal with cutting back. Despite a few calamities including the death of a starving pet, Jackie’s relentlessly enthusiastic demeanour becomes oddly touching.

Holy Motors – September 2012

Leos Carax’s manic jaunt around Paris baffles and amazes in equal measure. Denis Lavant is fantastic as Monsieur Oscar, a man ferried around Paris by limousine to a series of appointments. Between each meeting he changes both costume and persona: he throws himself around in a motion-capture suit, portrays a dying old man and kidnaps Eva Mendes from a fashion shoot. Kylie Minogue also returns to the big screen performing a stylishly sad number inside an old department store.

Argo – October 2012

Ben Affleck’s surprise directing success goes back to the CIA’s role in the 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis, when the US’s Tehran embassy was stormed by students and its staff taken hostage. Six people evade capture and seek refuge with Canadian diplomats. To get them out, the CIA sends agents posing as representatives of a studio filming a fictional Star Wars-style science fiction movie titled Argo. It may sound ridiculous, but it’s loosely based on the recently declassified testimony of CIA agent Tony Mendez, played by Affleck. The CIA’s disguises are designed by John Chambers (John Goodman), who also designed the ears used by Leonard Nimoy as Spock.

Beasts of the Southern Wild – October 2012

The US bayou’s spiritual charms are evoked to the full in this spectacular tale of a water-borne southern community hit by hurricane Katrina. Alcoholic Wink lives in a rickety old shack with six year-old daughter Hushpuppy. The community’s fragile architecture is easily destroyed by the storm, reliving the traumatic scenes as New Orleans was hammered in 2005. The mythological take on nature has left critics drawing close comparisons with the work of Terrence Malick, particularly his Tree of Life.

Skyfall – October 2012

Daniel Craig’s return to Bond came on the fiftieth anniversary of the series inception in 1962. Sam Mendes’s film rightly felt like a celebration of all things past, with returns for Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). Javier Bardem plays the sinister and camp ex-MI6 agent Raoul Silva, has taken to making cyber-attacks on the British secret services. Daniel Craig’s rough physical take on Bond continues to work brilliantly and Mendes’s direction marks a return to form after the mixed-reception of last film Quantum of Solace.

Amour – November 2012

Austrian filmmaker and art-house darling Michael Haneke once again won the Palme D’or at this year’s Cannes with Amour, an affecting exploration of old age.  Married couple, Anne and Georges, both former music teachers, are living out their retirement enjoying the cultural world of Paris. Anne is hit by a devastating stroke one morning at the dinner table and her decline continues over the coming weeks. This forces Georges into the strains of being a full-time carer, made all the more difficult by his advancing years.

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  • disqus_VbiLKoZ5Zj

    It’d be great if I can look at this page without all the trailers playing at the same time.

  • SpartacusMars

    Skyfall was boring, Bond navel-gazing with every decent action scene already spoiled to death in all the trailers.

    Dark Knight wasn’t a patch on Dredd 3D, and Avengers not a patch on The Cabin In The Woods.

  • Stephen Ellwood

    I was willing to take this review seriously until the Dark Knight Rises was mentioned. I watched it a couple of weeks ago and found it vacuous and completely devoid of a plot. In the previous film Morgan Freemans character stated that the batsuit “would even stop a knife” yet in a lazy attempt at a plot twist Batman is knifed by a girl. Spectacular graphics do not a story make – its a plot that does that for you.

  • Andrew Coleman

    Disagree with everything except Cabin in the Woods, which was great and my third favorite film of the year (after Looper and Moonrise Kingdom).
    Skyfall was great though, perhaps the best bond film of the past 20 years, personally I think the gap between it and Casino Royale is too close to call.

  • SpartacusMars

    I really liked CR. Dude had to restart his own heart, and invented a coctail.

    Skyfall was more like The Sweeny 2012 mixed with a watch advert than Goldfinger.

  • Andrew Coleman

    But the quality of the film is not dictated by how much the lead character does. By that logic the best film would be Moonraker because the dude went into space :P

  • SpartacusMars

    There hasn’t been a good Q for years.

    And glad that Dame DJ has gone. She’s a fine actress providing she’s playing something closely resembling her own demeanour, but her range as wide as Victoria Beckham’s thigh. RF is somewhat more versatile.

  • rsn

    Last movie, He said to move in order for him to move faster there was a trade-off When there was a separation of plates, he was more prone to knives and gunfire. Remember that?

  • sezzzz

    Cue a stream of bores telling us which of the films listed they didn’t like.

  • rozicollier

    Rookie error putting all the trailers on auto-play guys.

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