The best and worst films of 2012
As 2012 draws to a close, The Press chief film reviewer James Croot looks at the year's best and worst cinematic offerings.
THE ARTIST: Essentially a love letter to old-school American film-making, this French silent film is an audacious and bravura nugget of cinematic gold. What really lifts this Sunset Boulevard meets A Star is Born story are flashes of true inspiration and delightful detail. Director Michel Hazanavicius makes great use of reflections, the scene-stealing dog Uggy, and his secret weapon - sound.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD: In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and our own tempestuous relationship with mother nature, this brilliant and bravura film takes on extra resonance. A rural Precious, a serious Waterworld, a terrifying take on Where the Wild Things Are, this is a vibrant, soulful film that really has to be seen to be believed. While hand-held camera and natural lighting give the film its air of authenticity, it's the "non-actors" who really shine.
BERNIE: Based on real-life, mid-1990s events, Richard Linklater's pitch-black comedy is a witty, subversive blend of drama and documentary. While Jack Black is in top form, perhaps the real stars of the film are the Carthage locals. Taking a leaf out Jason Reitman's Up in the Air playbook, Linklater interviewed the town's residents for their recollections and opinions. The results are thigh-slappingly funny.
BUCK: As the man who both inspired Nicholas Evans' The Horse Whisperer and doubled for Robert Redford in the film version, Buck Brannaman certainly knows his way around a horse. Cindy Meehl's excellent, heartfelt documentary follows Brannaman and his Winnebago across America for almost 2 1/2 years and successfully captures his quick-witted deadpan delivery, unique training techniques and life lessons that transcend the life of the equestrian.
HUGO: Martin Scorsese's foray into family-friendly territory is a sparkling slice of precision film-making that entrances young and old. At once a love letter to all things cinematic and a celebration of its power to entertain and transport, its combination of the dark and whimsical is Jean-Pierre Jeunet, with a dash of Terry Gilliam surrealism and a touch of Tim Burton's gothic sensibilities.
THE IDES OF MARCH: A terrifically taut political thriller that harks back to the 1970s heyday of the genre. George Clooney might be the leader here, but the film belongs to the increasingly impressive Ryan Gosling and a crack team of support players, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Marisa Tomei and Paul Giamatti. A rare film that treats its audience with respect and values their intelligence.
LOOPER: A slow-burning, surprise-filled, mind-bending tale that will stay with you for days, as you try to work out the finer points, having been distracted by the impressive visuals. Showcasing just how messy time travel could be, Rian Johnson joins Moon, Inception and Source Code in proving that the thinking-person's sci-fi, last truly prominent in the 1970s, is back with a vengeance.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY: From its arresting opening to Brad Pitt's final jab at America's dark heart, Kiwi-born director Andrew Dominik's tale is a small but multi- stranded drama that invites comparisons with Goodfellas or TV's The Wire in its audaciousness. A stylish crime story, combining the swagger of Guy Ritchie's best with a serious message.
MONEYBALL: From Bull Durham to Field of Dreams, A League of Their Own to Eight Men Out, baseball has been used as a metaphor for love, life and "living the dream". And now we might just have the best baseball movie of them all. Based on the game-changing events that took place during the 2002 Major League Baseball season, director Bennett Miller's film is a fascinating account of the inequalities of modern sport and two men's attempts to beat that system.
TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY: Writers Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan created a near-perfect distillation of John Le Carre's tale. Cinema- goers raised on a diet of Bourne and Bond may bridle at the lack of action in this cerebral thriller, but fans of 70s-style paranoid thrillers will lap up the combination of spare dialogue, a spectacular ensemble cast and a palpable sense of tension. A film that draws you in, envelops you and doesn't let go until the final frame.
And the worst
ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER: The much-anticipated creative melding of Timor Bekmambetov and Tim Burton was this year's biggest disappointment. In their determination to remain historically accurate, the pair forgot to have fun with what is essentially a lurid and laughable idea. All we got was po- faced multiple beheadings and grainy special effects.
RESIDENT EVIL - RETRIBUTION: Retribution? More like Resident Evil - Requiem or Nadir. For Paul W S Anderson's video game-inspired movie franchise has surely hit rock bottom with this brain-dead mess. It's hard to take seriously a po-faced film that flatly refuses to obey the laws of physiology, physics and the one that says a movie should have a plot.