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Top 20 Best Films of 2012: 20-11

2012 proved to be a solid year at the movies, beginning with the likes of the Oscar nominated The Descendants and Shame and then delivering blockbusters such as Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man.

Year-end blockbusters included The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Jack Reacher and James Bond’s Skyfall. But in between there were some indie and foreign language gems, such as End of Watch, Rust & Bone and Untouchable. So, which – if any – of these films make our list of the top 20 best of the year?

Life of Pi

20) Life of Pi

What’s the story? A frustrated writer (Rafe Spall) arrives at the home of Pi Patel (played in his older years by Irrfan Khan) to hear an amazing life story that could well confirm the existence of God. Over the course of their meeting, Pi recalls his younger years spent in India and his father’s fateful decision to relocate to America, where he hopes to be able to sell the animals in his zoo. En route, their ship is capsized in a storm, leaving Pi as the sole human survivor in a rowboat. The only trouble is, he also has a tiger, a zebra, a hyena and an orang-utan for company.

Why so good?: Ang Lee has pulled off what many have described as impossible by turning Yann Martel’s Life of Pi novel into a truly cinematic marvel… The tiger is a special effects marvel, emerging as a flesh and blood creation capable of turning on Pi at any moment, but who slowly becomes aware of the importance of their companionship to each other… All told, Life of Pi is a stunning achievement.

Full review l Photo Gallery

The Descendants

19) The Descendants

What’s the story? A hitherto successful lawyer, (George Clooney’s Matt King) is forced to step up and become a full-time parent to his two daughters (10-year-old Scottie and 17-year-old Alexandra) while coming to terms with an accident that has left his thrill-seeking wife in a coma, which in turn prompts the revelation that she was having an affair.

Why so good?: Clooney takes centre-stage for most of the movie, delivering a subtle, highly nuanced performance as the dysfunctional father forced to do his own growing up. Balancing feelings of betrayal and anger with devastation at the impending loss of his wife, as well as the responsibility of lone parenting, the actor masterfully creates a flawed but all-too-human individual who must constantly put aside his own true feelings in a bid to provide a moral compass for his daughters..

Full review l George Clooney interview

Margin Call

18) Margin Call

What’s the story? The key people at an investment bank discuss the implications of bad business decisions over a 24-hour period during the early stages of the financial crisis.

Why so good?: The 2008 financial meltdown provides the sobering backdrop for this astute drama that’s intelligently delivered and sharply performed by a first rate cast. JC Chandor’s film offers a ruthlessly efficient insight into the world of high finance and trading, exposing some harsh truths about the people who fiddled while Wall Street burned (typified in the film by Jeremy Irons’ splendidly self-serving head boss).

Full review l JC Chandor interview l Susan Blackwell interview

Liam Neeson in The Grey

17) The Grey

What’s the story? A ragtag bunch of oil rig roughnecks survive a plane crash deep in the Alaskan wilderness only to find themselves targeted by hungry, territorial wolves. Leading them is Ottway (Liam Neeson), a self-taught wolf expert charged with keeping the animals away from the refinery workers on a day-to-day basis, and who is battling suicidal tendencies.

Why so good?: Joe Carnahan’s The Grey is a men against wolves survival thriller that has the intelligence to match it’s bite. Inspired as much by the likes of Steven Spielberg’s approach to Jaws as it is Ian Mackenzie Jeffers’ short story Ghost Walker, the film expertly combines moments of horror and gore with existential musings designed to make its characters appear more than just wolf’s bait… Carnahan also delivers a haunting conclusion that doesn’t compromise the integrity of what’s gone before.

Full review

Young Adult

16) Young Adult

What’s the story? Frustrated writer Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) resolves to head back to her hometown to win back her childhood sweetheart (Patrick Wilson) despite the fact he is now a happily married new dad.

Why so good?: Young Adult could have failed dismally if it had tried to pander to obvious stereotypes or overly cringe inducing scenarios that are played for maximum audience laughs as well as ultimate character humiliation. But by keeping things real without spoon-feeding too much, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody ensure that the film works on a far more mature level. Hence, Young Adult is a smart and hugely enjoyable further entry into a richly diverse CV that already includes such highlights as Juno and Up In The Air. Being made to feel uncomfortable has seldom been so much enjoyable.

Full review l Jason Reitman interview l Photo gallery

Shadow Dancer

15) Shadow Dancer

What’s the story? London, 1993, and IRA would-be bomber Colette (Andrea Riseborough) is picked up by MI5 while attempting to leave a device on London’s Underground. Coerced into spying on her brothers (Aidan Gillen and Domnhall) by MI5’s Mac (Clive Owen), Colette must carefully win back the trust of her family while remaining one step ahead of those who would silence her forever or place her behind bars.

Why so good?: James Marsh may be better known for acclaimed documentaries such as Man On Wire and Project Nim but he proves himself equally adept at drama with Shadow Dancer, an intelligent look at terrorism that quite possibly rates among the year’s best. Slow-burning it may be but this is a film that eschews anything unnecessarily flashy in favour of probing characterisation and mounting tension.

Full review


14) Lawless

What’s the story? Based on the true story of the notorious Bondurant brothers, the film chronicles how they fought the law and won to maintain their boot-legging operation in the heart of America’s Appalachian foothills. The brothers in question are Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke), whose livelihood is threatened by the arrival of a ruthless new lawman (Guy Pearce’s Chicago special agent Charlie Rakes) who is not averse to employing sinister tactics.

Why so good?: While rooted in fact, Hillcoat’s film also shares a lot of traits with similarly minded gangster films from The Untouchables through to The Godfather, with elements of the Corleones, in particular, visible in the hot-headed tendencies of Clarke’s Howard and the more business-like approach of Jack (struggling to emerge from his family’s shadow)… This is a proper gangster film that excites on just about every level. It’s bordering on a masterpiece.

Full review l John Hillcoat interview l Photo gallery

Cabin in the Woods

13) Cabin In The Woods

What’s the story? A group of teens – comprised as it is of a high school jock (Chris Hemsworth), a nerd (Jesse Williams), a blonde bombshell (Anna Hutchison), a shrinking violet intellectual (Kristen Connolly) and a stoner (Fran Kranz) – head to a cabin in the woods and get more than they bargained for.

Why so good?: Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods is a horror-thriller hybrid that genuinely offers something different and thrilling. The only trouble is we can’t tell you why because the less you know about it, the better! It is, however, one of the best horror-thrillers you’ll see all year, as well as one of the best films. It will also standout as an all-time horror classic.

Full review l Fran Kranz l Drew Goddard interview l Photo gallery

Ruby Sparks

12) Ruby Sparks

What’s the story? Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is a Los Angeles-based novelist suffering from acute writers’ block and a complete failure with women. When his psychiatrist (Elliott Gould) urges him to start writing about the mysterious woman who keeps appearing in his dreams, Calvin reluctantly takes his advice. Before long, however, Ruby (the woman in his dream) comes to life…

Why so good?: Six years after charming us with their indie hit Little Miss Sunshine, husband-and-wife directing team Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris make an overdue return with the equally memorable Ruby Sparks. Written by one of the film’s stars, Zoe Kazan, this is a smart blend of romance and drama that both amuses and poses some thought-provoking questions. What’s more, it doesn’t undermine the intelligence of its audience, avoiding the need for over-explanation or contrived sentiment.

Full review l Zoe Kazan l Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris interview l Photo gallery


11) Untouchable

What’s the story? Inspired by a true story, this follows the friendship between a millionaire paraplegic (played by François Cluzet) and his ex-con care provider (Omar Sy) who simply doesn’t care what people think about him or what he says. By embarcing that same carefree attitude, the millionaire suddenly begins to feel alive again.

Why so good?: Heart-warming French hit Untouchable is one of the must-see feel-good films of the year. Performance-wise, the film also excels. Cluzet is quietly mesmerising as the disabled Philippe, relying on his face and eyes to convey a wide range of emotions (from pain to despair to joy), while Sy (who won the Cesar ahead of The Artist‘s Jean Dujardin) is a revelation.

Full review

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