2012 had some great films but – unless Life of Pi (released on deadline day) lives up to the hype – nothing that’s likely to be a hot favourite for an Oscar®. We began the year with the contrast between The Iron Lady (about Margaret Thatcher) and The Lady (about Aung San Suu Kyi), though I suppose the best treatments of the dark arts of politics were in the first-ever screen version of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus and in biopic J Edgar. Cinema’s main target audience – the young and affluent – got the latest in the Twilight Saga, Breaking Dawn Part 2, but the most interesting offering was The Hunger Games. I suppose adaptations of Anna Karenina, with some stunning effects, and Great Expectations catered for those with a more traditional literary interest.
But 18-certificate violence was not in short supply, although Killer Joe at least gave us a character worth looking at in depth, and Matthew McConaughey might be looking for an award for his chilling portrayal of a cop with a sideline in contract killing, and not even Javier Bardem in Bond movie Skyfall managed to out-bad Joe. Taken 2 did the trick of a high body count that was well enough concealed to get a 12A certificate, but it felt a poor sequel. A different sort of violence was conveyed by Michael, about a boy imprisoned by a paedophile, and by French “policier” Polisse, focussing on the work of a child protection team in Paris. The tensest movie of the year was the story of getting American diplomats out of Iran after the revolution, Argo, which should see Ben Affleck among awards as actor or director or both. Sightseers contrived to be both violent and very funny, and is a close contender with The Angels’ Share for the best British film of the year.
Children’s choices seemed limited, and animations Brave and Frankenweenie were probably the best offerings, and although Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom was the best movie with kids in it, an under-age love affair is not an easy topic. Equally difficult was the biopic of a rich quadraplegic and his ex-con carer, the more impressive because based on a true story, and Untouchable is my foreign language film of the year. Religion got a look in with The Master and Electric Children, but in both cases the faith depicted was hardly mainstream. Doing better at the UK box office were comic book characters, and The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers were beaten only by Skyfall, while the naughty bear Ted was also in the top 10. Some thought Ted was the funniest film of the year, but I preferred the gentler wit of Woody Allen’s To Rome with Love, not his best but with lots of barbed humour in his typical observation of relationships.
There were a few good movies about friendships, from On The Road to The Sapphires¸ and a couple about loners too – in The Hunter Willem Dafoe found that looking for a supposedly extinct animal was complicated by the family issues of his hosts, while The Imposter told the unlikely true story of a young man pretending to be a long-lost child, and getting away with it. The most imaginative story of the year may well be the Mississippi delta story, Beasts of the Southern Wild, though Swandown claimed the prize for British eccentricity, with its epic journey by pedalo swan from the south coast to Hackney. At least they got there, which is more than happened in The Hobbit, which will need two more films. It’s not often I get real joy out of a film but I took great delight in Searching for Sugarman, a well-crafted documentary by Malik Bendjelloul about Sixto Rodriguez, a 1960s singer-songwriter whose albums bombed in his native USA, but became massive hits in South Africa and Australasia, without his knowing. The soundtrack was on my Christmas list, but whatever was in Santa’s sack, it was my film of the year.