2012: A Year in Film

Walter Salles’ adaption of Kerouac’s ‘unfilmable’ novel, On The Road, is far better than it has any right to be

2012 proved to be something of a mixed bag for cinema: after a bumper year for British film in 2011 with the release of Kill List, Submarine, Attack The Block and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, 2012 has been a fallow year with attention turning back across the pond. Unlike 2011, outside of the multiplex, there have been no films that have united audience in reverie such as Senna, The Artist or Drive, but honourable mentions go to: Shame, Argo, Rust and Bone, Lawless and Young Adult.

Seminal Performance: The Master

The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s magnum opus has proved to be one of 2012’s most divisive films; even those claiming to have liked it were unable to give any entirely convincing reasons as to why. In spite of the split in opinion about the film, there was one thing that was universally agreed upon: the majesty of Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of de-mobbed naval officer Freddie Quell. Imbuing Quell with a ferocious intensity whilst remaining completely believable, even while simulating sex on a sand-sculpted effigy of a woman, Phoenix’s performance is worthy of being ranked alongside De Niro and Pacino in their pomp.

The Comeback: Skyfall

Bond number twenty-three resurrects a national treasure, deftly balancing the combat and cool-tempered dialogue we seek from the 007 franchise. Daniel Craig convincingly lays claim to the Bond role and the tasteful locales, with the film exhibiting some of 2012’s most resourceful cinematic action. Javier Bardem’s sinister turn as Raoul Silva the villian ensures much of the warfare remains psychological. Having new faces take the old parts of Q, M and Moneypenny is in keeping with a progressive celebration of the series’ fiftieth anniversary, but Skyfall respects the Bond films of bygone years: there are still gorgeous women and an Aston Martin. Welcome back.

The Indie Charmer: Moonrise Kingdom

A memorable romantic comedy. The two young runaways and search party of naturally flawed adults are brought to life by a glowing ensemble. Its treatment of pre-teen exploration is commendable, it doesn’t patronise and is steeped in a peculiar kind of 1960’s childhood imagination involving fantasy literature, vinyl records, and comic-strip fistfights. Wes Anderson’s quirky brand is found in crisp rectilinear shots and curt punch-lines, while Benjamin Britten’s music makes the images mesmerising. Moonrise Kingdom is an island story – New Penzance is enclosed by a dreamlike atmosphere – but the nostalgic multitudes could relate to it, and perhaps like no other film this year.

Literary Adaption: On The Road

Adapting a much-loved novel for the screen is never an easy task: just ask Joe Wright, whose adaption of Anna Karenina left audiences cold this summer. Few novels have as devoted a fan base as Jack Kerouac’s beat generation masterpiece On The Road. In view of this, Brazilian director Walter Salles’ adaption of Kerouac’s ‘unfilmable’ novel is far better than it has any right to be. The beautifully realised, rich period detail and uniformly excellent performances from Kristen Stewart, Sam Riley and especially Garrett Hedlund as charismatic anti-hero Dean Moriarty, made On The Road the most satisfying literary adaptions of 2012.

The Art House Masterpiece: Holy Motors

Following ‘Monsieur Oscar’ (Denis Lavant) on his surreal journey through the streets of Paris in a stretch limousine, Holy Motors is a film like no other. Whilst visually referencing everything from Pixar’s Cars to Eyes Without a Face, the film is one moment tender, and farcical the next, never allowing the audience even a second to settle. Marking Leos Carax’s return to film making following a 13-year absence, and highlighting just how sorely he’s been missed, Holy Motors defies any sort of genre classification and is one of 2012’s most exhilarating cinematic experiences.

The Final Chapter: The Dark Knight Rises

This finale needed to be an epic. Nolan himself feared facing the gravitas that Bale’s Batman had built on his return to the drawing board. The result was something that escapes the confines of the superhero genre in bold terms. The bloody plot is meandering and intelligent – provoking at least one critical parallel with The Godfather – before a slick funnelling down to a bomb timer. Bane is viscerally delivered, following Ledger’s lead in proving that his individuality should be as big as Batman’s, challenging the hero’s presence. Sentimentality remains for the second instalment, but the series wasn’t tied together until The Dark Knight rose.

The Big Disappointment: Prometheus

The joke that circulated Twitter when it was announced that the DVD release of Prometheus would include an alternative beginning and ending was that if they had an alternative middle, they would really have something. Marketed as a semi-prequel to Ridley Scott’s cherished Alien films, Prometheus entered cinemas on an overwhelming wave of hype and expectation that some argued could never possibly be met. In hindsight, the convoluted, directionless plot that isn’t half as clever as it thinks it is and the paper-thin characterisation meant that Prometheus would be a substandard by anyone’s standards. Not even Fassbender could save it.

The Unexpected Triumph: 21 Jump Street

As Hollywood reboots go, 21 Jump Street wasn’t one of the most promising: based on the late-1980’s cop drama of the same name about a group of cops going undercover in a high school. Furthermore, news that it would be starring Channing Tatum, previously known for his roles in the saccharine romcom Dear John and identikit sports drama Fighting alongside Jonah Hill, didn’t augur well. In reality, 21 Jump Street was one of the sharpest comedies of the year, with Tatum earning his comedic stripes, making up half of the best on-screen odd couples of recent times.

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