2012 was a year of high quality films, although looking at the list I have assembled below it seems the quality was more regularly coming from independent / foreign directions. Thanks to the launch of Letterboxd earlier this year, which functions as something of a filmic diary, I have recorded every single film I watched in 2012, mainly out of a curiosity to find out how many films I do actually watch in a year. (It's an interesting site worth joining if you're a film geek.)
All this tracking has told me that in 2012 I watched 258 individual films, but only watched 7 of these more than once. To break it down further, I saw 43% of those films at the cinema (that equates to 112 cinema trips in 2012, not quite the most for me in a year, but a ridiculously high number by most people's standards, but bear in mind I have a card that lets me go as many times I want for a very reasonable set monthly fee) and 38% watched via rentals. I genuinely feel like I've done a good job of watching as many of 2012's films as I could.
Below are my 10 favourite films of 2012, with the only criteria being that they must've been released in the UK during 2012 - some may argue there were better films released, but best is a very difficult thing to quantify, so these are simply my favourites, for a variety of reasons.
No single film stood out as an absolute favourite and I couldn't order them, so they're simply presented in alphabetical order:
Beasts of the Southern Wild:
Beasts of the Southern Wild is an exultant celebration of life and survival, amidst the devestation meted out by nature. Taking an eclectic selection of characters, the charming six year old Quvenzhané Wallis excels as a force of nature herself, already having to face up to the realities of life in this washed out Southern delta. Director Benh Zeitlin lets his camera fluidly follow events and feel like its documenting life, which alongside the excellent music, results in a film of beguiling lyricism and humanity.
The Dark Knight Rises:
Wherever you think The Dark Knight Rises sits in Christopher Nolan's recent Batman trilogy in terms of quality, it's not only a damn good film but quite possibly the best "big budget" film of 2012. It's certainly the best superhero film of the year. Nolan had mountains of expectation on his shoulders after the success of The Dark Knight, but with this final film he still manages to give us a compelling villain (Bane), craft a decent thriller and use a version of the Catwoman character in a clever and effective way. I'm still not entirely satisfied with the final hour or the ending, but it wholly delivers on both spectacle and entertainment making it great fun to watch. [Read my full review here]
The best thrillers are tightly wound coils of tension offering a controlled slow release, and Headhunters is an exemplar. Telling an intriguing story with a compelling lead character, it manages to keep the audience guessing whilst throwing in all manner of hooks and thrills, with enough darkness and violence for it to mean business without being overpowering. The Norwegian setting further helps give it an enigmatic quality, but anyone who has avoided it because it is foreign is missing out. Headhunters is hands down the best thriller of 2012. [Read my full review here]
Holy Motors is one of those films that dares the audience with its intriguing narrative. Although that of course depends on whom the metaphorical audience really is. As a love letter to film and acting in general it excels; as a Lynchian-lite exercise in confusion it is enticing. Holy Motors is one of the most "out there" films of the year as well as one of the most surprising, and like at least half the films on this list, features a performance from Denis Lavant that can count among the years best. This proved to be cinema at its creative best in 2012. [Read my full "review" here]
The Hunt was probably the most thought provoking film I saw in 2012. Beautifully measured in its approach it creates a challenging scenario around alleged child abuse, showing how the life of one man can be completely ruined by just a few words. The film doesn't make judgements but explores both sides of the events that unfold, making it the responsibility of the viewer to draw their own conclusions. Mads Mikkelsen is fantastic as the man whose life is thrown into turmoil, showing an interesting depth and deservedly winning the best Bast Actor award at Cannes this year. The Hunt is seriously high quality filmmaking that is best watched with an open mind.
I was happily surprised by The Hunter, as rather than being a survival drama set in the wilderness, it offers a meditation on man versus nature and shows how someone coldly detached from the world could be rehumanised. It also makes us question the value of environmentalism when it detrimentally affects livelihood and tradition. Willem Dafoe puts in one of the best performances of his long career in a rare lead role, which alongside the stunning Tasmanian scenery, results in a fascinating film to watch. [Read my full review here]
The Perks of Being a Wallflower:
Considering the other films on this list The Perks of Being a Wallflower may stick out a bit, but I'll admit a certain affinity for high school movies and this is one of the best of recent years. It succeeds by not feeling clichéd or overly ribald, as there's a real depth and complexity to the characters that goes beyond most films of this nature, and the cast do an excellent job. Based on a well loved novel, the author Stephen Chobsky not only wrote the screenplay but directed the film too, allowing his intimate understanding of the characters to perfectly translate to what we see on screen. This was a film whose world I did not want to leave when it ended.
Samsara, in its extremely limited release, may have slipped by virtually unnoticed, but it proved to be one of the most beguiling films of 2012 and certainly the best documentary. As a collage of some of the most stunning and beautiful images of our planet; of nature, humanity, wildlife and the man-made, it was a jaw-dropping visual treat, but combined with an evocative score the experience turned out to be transformative. Seeing it at the BFI IMAX certainly helped provide sensory overload, lulling me into a trance like state, and I left the cinema in awe of the beauty of our world and with my eyes filled with wonder. One of my favourite cinema experiences of the year.
To say Shame was robbed during awards season early in the year is something of an understatement. Yes it's a challenging film about the exploration of a man's descent into personal hell as a result of his sex addiction, but the astonishingly raw performance by Michael Fassbender and superbly off-beat direction by Steve McQueen really deserved so much more recognition. Shame is a dark, almost bleak film, but its desire to go places rarely explored on film in such an unflinchingly honest way puts it head and shoulders above virtually all of the "safe" films heralded in those awards. [Read my full review here]
Silver Linings Playbook:
Take away the confused marketing that didn't really know how to sell the film and you realise that Silver Linings Playbook excels by skilfully being many things - an exploration of mental illness, a sports movie, drama and romance. But aside from David O.Russell's expert direction and writing, it all hinges on the acting and characterisation, with Bradley Cooper giving one of the performances of the year, alongside a superb Jennifer Lawrence and the best Robert De Niro has been in quite some time. This is a carefully considered, intelligent, heart-warming film that I did not want to end.
Note 1: I wasn't able to review everything I watched this year, so I've only linked to a review where I did manage to write one.
Note 2: the number of films appearing in this list with "hunt" in the name is entirely coincidental - or perhaps just a representation of their quality!
Note 3: purely for interest, the films that almost made it into my top 10 that I really had to debate over including were: Argo, Dredd, Margin Call and Sound of My Voice.
Note 4: also read The Worst Films of 2012 and The Most Over-Rated Films of 2012.