Light and Shade: The Films of 2012

It's that time of year again, where we filter the past twelve months of cinema into an undiluted list of brilliance. Whatever your movie tastes, be it martial arts smackdowns or hallucinatory art-house mind-benders, the best films of 2012 had you covered

Feature by Chris Buckle | 03 Dec 2012

1. The Raid (Gareth Evans)

Vice-like expectation is nuanced only by punishing adrenalin in Gareth Evans’s Indonesian actioner The Raid. Rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), is deployed with a special task force to purge a towering Dante’s inferno of drug fiends and wastrels keen to retaliate with bludgeons, blades and automatic weapons. Soon guns are tossed in favour of martial art Silat, a bullet-fast onslaught of fists, joints, feet, sticks and knives. Shots switch with blows; the camera swerves to the action. Mike Shinoda’s soundtrack adds resonance to the knuckle-mashing turbo-violence. With a million-dollar budget The Raid grips you by the throat, slams you into your seat and boots you in the guts. Make it out alive, and your expectations of action cinema, if not a few ribs, will be irretrievably shattered. [Kirsty Leckie-Palmer]

2. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)

Months after its release, Tabu nestles in the cerebrum not as a dazzling, enigmatic whole (which it undoubtedly is), but as a series of indelible images: a glassy-eyed crocodile submerged in still waters; a solitary woman transfixed by flickering celluloid; a colonial explorer shadowed by a spectre. With these images come echoes of its soundtrack, particularly the erudite voiceover that extends throughout the second half, silencing dialogue and fostering a disconcerting nonpareil tone. Memory, with its mysteries and vagaries, proves Tabu’s natural habitat, the power of these fragments corroborated by a narrative steeped in romance and nostalgia. Formally audacious and thematically opulent, Tabu is a treasure trove to be pored over. [Chris Buckle]

3. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)

So recognisable are his films these days that Wes Anderson has inspired his own bingo card: for Moonrise Kingdom, you could comfortably tick off 'Vintage Glasses', 'Yellow Titles', 'Symmetrical Framing' and 'Bill Murray'. Eight films in, Anderson shows little desire to stray from a well-honed formula. Yet this is arguably the director’s most satisfying outing to date, and the first since Rushmore to decisively match narrative substance with his well-honed stylistic hallmarks. Beneath the usual forensic neatness lurks a sweet and simple love story between two rebellious pre-teens absconding to the wild; a faultless cast of idiosyncratic grown-ups (Edward Norton and a bespectacled Bruce Willis the stand outs) prop them up. Quite simply, it’s a joy. [John Nugent]

4. Looper (Rian Johnson)

It’s 2044 and Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is a contract killer, or 'looper’, with a blunderbuss and a penchant for imbibing liquid narcotics via his baffling CGI-eyeballs. Anonymous marks are blasted back from the future for Joe to despatch on a remote highway for clunky silver bars. But to every looper comes the day they must destroy all evidence of their shady existence, assassinating their future self. Unfortunately, Joe’s future self looks a lot like notoriously resilient Bruce Willis. At which point quantum annihilation gets complex. Slick, strange and totally unexpected, Rian Johnson’s mind-bending sci-thriller is frequently redolent of Fincher and Nolan, gaining illogical ends through little more than searing conviction, nuanced action and a hunger for originality that transcends disbelief. [KL-P]

5. About Elly (Asghar Farhadi)

Someone give Iranian director Asghar Farhadi a Blue Peter badge! After bestowing us with one of the films of 2011 (A Separation) he's pulled off the same trick this year by releasing one he made earlier: 2009’s About Elly. But there’s a lot more holding this elegant tale together than sticky-backed plastic. A group of friends are holidaying at a rustic beachside villa – they eat, they laugh, they dance, their children play in the surf. Then tragedy least we think it does. Like A Separation this is a nerve shredding thriller disguised as a humanist drama that’s as mysterious as Antonioni and as taut as Hitchcock. Everyone loves a whodunit, but Farhadi has mastered his own new sub-genre: the whathappened. [Jamie Dunn]

6. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky)

Béla Tarr has announced that The Turin Horse will be the last film he ever makes, and it certainly feels like a definitive statement. A sense of impending doom permeates every frame of this absorbing picture, as a father and daughter living in a remote wooden cabin spend a few final days together before darkness falls on the world. Tarr's long, beautifully composed takes and the brilliantly achieved sound design ensure the film retains a vice-like grip from its stunning opening image to the understated, compassionate ending. Perhaps this is how the world will end; not with a bang, but with a quiet howl of despair. [Philip Concannon]

7. This Is Not a Film (Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Jafar Panahi)

Hell for a filmmaker is being banned from your craft, a punishment inflicted by the Iranian government on Jafar Panahi, whose output sails too close to political critique for their liking. Under house arrest, facing a six year jail term and a twenty-year ban on directing movies, This Is Not a Film is the artist’s sarcastic but impassioned response. Smuggled out the country in a cake, it consists of digital footage of Panahi’s frustrating apartment-bound existence. At one point, he maps out a scene from a planned work on his living room carpet, breaking down in tears at its unrealisability. This is a film that represents defiance and a dignified riposte to censorship of artistic expression. [Helen Wright]

8. The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)

Warming hearts and rending them in equal measures, The Kid with a Bike’s impactful drama is built on small moments and big gestures. The latter comes from the virtuous Samantha (Cécile de France) and her selfless decision to foster ten-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret), weathering the young boy’s storm of emotions – anger, sadness, confusion – in the hope of easing his pain. The former, meanwhile, signifies the storytelling prowess of the film’s creators Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, who craft their latest neorealist masterpiece from little details: a collision between two strangers; a frustrated outburst; a thrown stone. The results are acutely poignant, with an all-too-rare optimism and a finely felt sense of compassion. [CB]

9. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)

Certainties in life: death, taxes…and Paul Thomas Anderson bothering critics' top ten lists. The story of Joaquin Phoenix's pitiful itinerant booze-hound seduction by, and ultimate frustration with, Philip Seymour Hoffman's L. Ron Hubbard-like svengali compels; the technique with which this story is told astounds. Despair, displacement and manipulation are expertly evoked through the veil of Scientology exposé. The ethereal beauty of the frame haunts in accompaniment with Jonny Greenwood’s erratic score. Phoenix – his gait seemingly resultant of his character's homemade, rocket-fuel hooch having shrunk his skin – and the louche Hoffman produce furious, dominant performances. A tale of two men who simply can’t control themselves, The Master is pure cinema from a filmmaker who very much can. [Chris Fyvie]

10. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)

You may love Holy Motors or you may hate it, but you've certainly never seen anything like it. Leos Carax's film is a surreal Parisian odyssey in which the limousine-dwelling Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) assumes various roles and plays out little vignettes for reasons that are never fully explained. Alternating between moments of lunatic excess and touching melancholic interludes, Holy Motors is an impossible film to pin down, but even if its ultimate meaning remains elusive, the boundless inventiveness and energy exhibited by Carax and the astounding Lavant makes this an exhilarating cinematic experience. It also boasts an entr'acte that may be the single best moment from this year's cinema. [PC]


Film writers' individual top tens

Jamie Dunn
1. About Elly (Asghar Farhadi)
2. Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell)
3. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
4. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
5. ParaNorman (Chris Butler, Sam Fell)
6. Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman)
7. Goodbye First Love (Mia Hansen-Løve)
8. The Myth of the American Sleepover (David Robert Mitchell)
9. Beauty (Oliver Hermanus)
10. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)

Honourable mentions: On the Road (Walter Salles), The Muppets (James Bobin), Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki), Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan), My Brother The Devil (Sally El Hosaini)

Re-release of the year: Death Watch (Bertrand Tavernier, 1980)

Stinker of the year: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (Lorene Scafaria)

Philip Concannon
1. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky)
2. Amour (Michael Haneke)
3. This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb)
4. The Kid With a Bike (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)
5. About Elly (Asghar Farhadi)
6. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
7. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
8. Nostalgia for the Light (Patricio Guzmán)
9. Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg)
10. Goodbye First Love (Mia Hansen-Løve)

Honourable mentionsBarbara (Christian Petzold), Bombay Beach (Alma Har'el), Detachment (Tony Kaye), The Grey (Joe Carnahan), Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik)

Re-release of the year: F for Fake (Orson Welles, 1973)

Stinker of the year: 360 (Fernando Meirelles)

Chris Buckle
1. The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne)
2. This Is Not A Film (Jafar PanahiMojtaba Mirtahmasb)
3. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
4. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
5. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
6. The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr)
7. A Dangerous Method (David Cronenberg)
8. Holy Motors (Leo Carax)
9. Avengers Assemble (Joss Whedon)
10. Shame (Steve McQueen) 

Honourable mentions: Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (Takashi Miike), The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard), Looper (Rian Johnson), Killer Joe (William Friedkin), The Imposter (Bart Layton) 

Re-release of the year: The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)

Stinker of the year: Charlie Casanova (Terry McMahon)

Becky Bartlett
1. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
2. The Raid (Gareth Evans)
3. The Imposter (Bart Layton)
4. Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)
5. Avengers Assemble (Joss Whedon)
6. God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait)
7. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Behn Zeitlin)
8. Looper (Rian Johnson)
9. Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh)
10. Frankenweenie (Tim Burton)

Honourable mentions: Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard), Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman), Grabbers (Jon Wright), Killer Joe (William Friedkin), Skyfall (Sam Mendes )

Re-release of the year: The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

Stinker of the year: Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie (Tim Heidecker, Eric Wareheim)

Helen Wright
1. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr, Ágnes Hranitzky)
2. Hit So Hard (David Ebersole)
3. Boro in the Box (Bertrand Mandico)
4. A Simple Life (Ann Hui)
5. This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb)
6. Future My Love (Maja Borg)
7. Ashes (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
8. Russian Riot Grrrl Protest (rpmackey on YouTube)
9. 5 Broken Cameras (Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi)
10. Mwansa the Great (Rungano Nyoni)

Honourable mentions: Carnage (Roman Polanski), Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls (Leanne Pooley), Shame (Steve McQueen), Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)

Re-release of the year: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Alfred Hitchcock, 1927)

Stinker of the year: Ted (Seth MacFarlane)

Danny Scott
1. 5 Broken Cameras (Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi)
2. The Imposter (Bart Layton)
3. Shame (Steve McQueen)
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)
5. The Raid (Gareth Evans)
6. Bombay Beach (Alma Har'el)
7. Young Adult (Jason Reitman)
8. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
9. Looper (Rian Johnson)
10. Searching For Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul)

Honourable mentions: Anna Karenina (Joe Wright), Margin Call (J.C. Chandor), Chronicle (Josh Trank), Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki), Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)

Re-release of the year: The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960) 

Stinker of the year: Lawless (John Hillcoat)

Kirsty Leckie-Palmer
1. The Raid (Gareth Evans)
2. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
3. Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäki)
4. The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)
5. God Bless America (Bobcat Goldthwait)
6. Argo (Ben Affleck)
7. Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris)
8. Even the Rain (Icíar Bollaín)
9. The Ambassador (Mads Brügger)
10. Boy (Taika Waititi)

Honourable mentions: Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau), Chronicle (Josh Trank), Young Adult (Jason Reitman), The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard), The Hunger Games (Gary Ross)

Re-release of the yearThe Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)

Stinker of the year: Titanic 3D (James Cameron)

Josh Slater-Williams
1. About Elly (Asghar Farhadi)
2. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson)
3. Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik)
4. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
5. Looper (Rian Johnson)
6. Shame (Steve McQueen)
7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
8. Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland)
9. Samsara (Ron Fricke)
10. Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh)

Honourable mentions: Holy Motors (Leos Carax), The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard), Haywire (Steven Soderbergh), This Is Not a Film (Jafar Panahi, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb), Goodbye First Love (Mia Hansen-Love)

Re-release of the year: Woman in a Dressing Gown (J. Lee Thompson, 1957)

Stinker of the year: Rock of Ages (Adam Shankman)

Chris Fyvie
1. Shame (Steve McQueen)
2. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
3. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
4. Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin)
5. Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland)
6. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
7. Michael (Markus Schleinzer)
8. The Raid (Gareth Evans)
9. The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
10. Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh) 

Honourable mentions: Ruby Sparks (Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris), Frankenweenie (Tim Burton), Damsels in Distress (Whit Stillman), Looper (Rian Johnson), Tiny Furniture (Lena Dunham)

Re-release of the year: Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975)

Stinker of the year: Act of Valour (Mike McCoy, Scott Waugh)

John Nugent
1. Amour (Michael Haneke)
2. The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard)
3. Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson) 
4. Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin)
5. The Imposter (Bart Layton)
6. Looper (Rian Johnson)
7. The Avengers (Joss Whedon)
8. Headhunters (Morten Tyldum)
9. The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan)
10. Young Adult (Jason Reitman)

Honourable mentions: The Raid (Gareth Evans), Chronicle (Josh Trank), Bill Cunningham New York (Richard Press), The Island President (Jon Shenk)

Re-release of the year: The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

Stinker: tie between The Dictator (Larry Charles) and Project X (Nima Nourizadeh)

Alan Bett
1. Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strikland)
2. Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard)
3. The Raid (Gareth Evans )
4. Room 237 (Rodney Ascher)
5. Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (Alex Stapleton)
6. A Simple Life (Ann Hui)
7. Killer Joe (William Friedkin)
8. Killing Them Softly (Andrew Dominik)
9. Carancho (Pablo Trapero)
10. Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)

Honourable mentions: Penumbra (Adrian Garcia Bogliano, Ramiro Garcia Bogliano), Wu xia (Peter Chan)

Re-release of the year: Death Watch (Bertrand Tavernier, 1980)

Stinker of the year: Prometheus (Ridley Scott)

Jenny Munro Hunt
1. Berberian Sound Studio (Peter Strickland)
2. Monsieur Lazhar (Philippe Falardeau)
3. Shame (Steve McQueen)
4. The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson)
5. Michael (Marcus Schleinzer)
6. Magic Mike (Steven Soderbergh)
7. Holy Motors (Leos Carax)
8. Room 237 (Rodney Archer)
9. The Imposter (Bart Layton)
10. Searching for Sugar Man (Malik Bendjelloul) 

Honourable mentions: Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin), Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog)

Re-release of the year: The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

Stinker of the year: The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard)