My Top 5 Boys’* Films of 2012

17 Dec
Films of 2012

*and Girls who like this sort of thing

So we’re nearing the end of 2012, and I’ve tried to compile lists of my favourite things from 2012, but kept hitting snags. When it came to books, I realised I’ve only read only one or two books published this year, and only a handful published this century. It’s a similar story with music. I listen to way too much Radio 3 to list my “top 5 albums/bands/singles” of 2012, but fortunately I have a friend called Ben for that.

As far as I'm concerned, this man represents everything that's wrong with popular music.

As far as I’m concerned, this man represents everything that’s wrong with popular music.

With films, I was on a better footing, but I’ve still not seen many of those which top everyone’s “Best of 2012s”, like Silver Linings Playbook, Amour and Beasts of the Southern Wild. Making a list of the movies I saw this year, it became clear I’ve excelled in watching a certain type of film. Namely: Boys’ Films.

Now, I know this is a patronising term, and that there are plenty of men who don’t enjoy this sort of film and plenty of women who do, so you’ll just have to accept that “Boys’ Films” is my shorthand for “Films in which Things Go Bang, People Get Punched, Cars Go Fast… Preferably All Three, and Preferably at the Same Time”. Not necessarily “Action Films”, but films with action in them, and predominantly male casts doing man stuff in a manly fashion.

Not that kind of man stuff.

Not this kind of man stuff.

So here are my Top 5 Films for Boys (and Girls who like that sort of thing).

5) The Avengers (aka Avengers Assemble)

The Avengers

Let’s get one thing clear. The Dark Knight Rises is not on this list. If you’d told me in January 2012 I’d make this list, I’d have put a tenner on TDKR being on it, and it’s not. And that really bothers me. Because it should have been, and it’s not, and the reason it’s not is that despite looking great and sounding great it’s got more holes, inconsistencies and emotional dead ends than a block of Swiss cheese that tastes funny and leaves you emotionally numb after you’ve eaten it.

SPOILER ALERT: "My death, for example, was like a gruyere made of cardboard by your least memorable ex-girlfriend."

SPOILER ALERT: Bane’s death, for example, was like a gruyere made of cardboard by your least memorable ex-girlfriend.

Instead, my superhero movie of 2012 was The Avengers. Now, I’m sure it’s also riddled with plot holes and wouldn’t stand up to intense scrutiny, but do you know what? I don’t care. Unlike Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy it didn’t invite intense scrutiny by presenting itself as a mature take on an often immature genre. Marvel Studios spent five whole movies building up to it, and in doing so earned the right to deliver a film that was one great big computer-generated roller-coaster of people getting punched and things exploding. And what’s more, Mark Ruffalo.

Yeah... Little bit of a crush going on here.

Yeah… Little bit of a crush going on here.

If you’ve seen the film, you know I need say nothing more.

4) Skyfall

Skyfall

Good lord, I enjoyed Skyfall. Okay, so since watching it I’ve seen or heard friends and reviewers point out its flaws, and I’ve taken them all on board. The female characters, save Judi Dench’s M, are a little thin. It’s a rehash of The Dark Knight. Javier Bardem’s character turns from “cyber-terrorist” to “deranged gunman” at the drop of a hat. Plus, he looks like “Constable Honey-Monster”. I know all that, and yet it’s still one of my favourite movies of the year.

Fuck. Yes.

Fuck. Yes.

For one thing, despite an unconventional last act (in Bond movie terms, at least), it’s just so Bond. It touched all the bases I want a Bond film to touch, avoided the excesses and pitfalls that the worst Bond movies slip into (yes, Die Another Day, I’m talking about you), and though it has a running time of 140 minutes didn’t bore me for a second. It’s not the greatest Bond film of all time, as some have suggested, but I’d argue it’s the best since Goldfinger or, at the very least, Live And Let Die.

3) Dredd

Dredd 2012

I really wasn’t looking forward to Dredd, for three reasons.

  1.  I was a little obsessed with 2000AD as a kid, and loving something that intensely is usually a shortcut to disappointment with any adaptation.
  2. The character of Judge Dredd doesn’t exactly have a rich cinematic legacy behind him, having appeared only in a 1995 turkey starring the woefully miscast Sylvester Stallone in the title role.
  3. The script was written by Alex Garland (The Beach, 28 Days Later, Sunshine), who seems incapable of crafting a last act that makes any sense whatsoever.

Those fears were blown away within the first 2 minutes. Mega City One looks amazing. Not quite as chaotic and futuristically Hogarthian as in the comics, but still nothing like any film dystopia I’d seen before. It looks so uncomfortably like now, with only minor tweaks in scale and disorder, and as the 2005 movie Children of Men showed, it’s the strangely familiar dystopias that are often the most disquieting. The plot – Dredd and rookie Anderson are trapped in a hellish skyscraper of nightmare proportions – may be simple, but it’s tighter than a snare drum. The minimal effects are handled brilliantly, and 3D was – for once – entirely justified and used to jaw-dropping effect.

Tower Hamlets, circa 2006

Tower Hamlets, circa 2006

Karl Urban – who was similarly impressive as Bones in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot – is perfect as Dredd, and Lena Headey is brilliantly nasty as the film’s sociopathic villain, Ma-Ma.

Dredd reminded me of 1980s and early ’90s sci-fi action movies like The Terminator, Robocop and Total Recall, and in a good way. It clocks in at a lean and flab-free 95 minutes, it’s blisteringly violent and hasn’t been edited for an audience of teenagers, and it plays everything straight without resorting to too many 21st Century ironic nods and winks.

2) Argo

Argo

Like Skyfall, I’ve already written at some length about Argo elsewhere, and wouldn’t want to repeat myself, but this was another surprise stand-out of the year. Okay, so Ben Affleck now has form as a director, having turned in the impressive Gone Baby Gone and The Town, but Argo really ups the stakes in terms of scale and ambition. The nail-biting reenactment of the storming of the US Embassy in Tehran was one of the best opening scenes of any film I saw in 2012. Okay, so I know some found its depiction of the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath a little simplistic, but the movie – which tells the story of a rescue mission concocted by Hollywood filmmakers and the CIA – isn’t really an investigation into the revolution and its causes. It’s a caper movie, in the mould of Ocean’s Eleven and The Italian Job, only this time there’s more at stake than George Clooney’s cufflinks or a bus full of bullion.

1) The Grey

The Grey

Liam Neeson’s career in the last couple of years has been fascinating. On the one hand, he’s probably working harder and is more “bankable” than at any other time in his 30 year career. In 2012 alone he starred in five major movies with a combined box office of $2.1billion. That said, when you look at the titles of those films, which include Wrath of the Titans, Battleship and Taken 2 you realise many of them are tosh, and the days of more heavyweight stuff like Schindler’s List and Michael Collins seem very distant.

This is understandable. In 2009 Neeson lost his wife, the actress Natasha Richardson, in a tragic accident, so you can see why he might have turned down the chance to play the demanding title role in Lincoln in favour of more lightweight fare like The A-Team and Clash of the Titans.

"Remember when we were working with Spielberg?" "Shut it, Fiennes."

“Remember when we were working with Spielberg?” “Shut it, Fiennes.”

With all this in mind, I thought The Grey was going to be awful. I’d read somewhere it featured a scene in which Neeson punches a wolf. I was expecting Taken 2: Taken In The Tundra, or something to that effect.

Oh, how wrong I was. The Grey is a brilliant, edge-of-your-seat thriller with emotional depth. It’s a stunning return to form for director Joe Carnahan, who gave us the excellent Narc and the terrible and presumably cocaine-or-Sunny-D-fuelled Smokin’ Aces. The ensemble cast, which includes an almost unrecognisable Dermot Mulroney, is brilliant. The cinematography and use of location is outstanding. If I had to describe it in the style of a corny movie pitch I’d say it was Alive meets Jaws, with wolves instead of a shark.

The Grey

The Grey wasn’t a flop, by any standards, but it’s $77million box office was considerably smaller than any other Liam Neeson film we saw this year, and that’s a crying shame because he gives an excellent – and particularly poignant – performance in what is undoubtedly his best film in many, many years. People should have been raving about this movie. I can only hope it gathers a cult following in the years to come.

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3 Responses to “My Top 5 Boys’* Films of 2012”

  1. Caz December 17, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

    Brilliant list, I am a girl and list Avengers and Skyfall in my top films from 2012!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Best of 2012 « A Forest of Beasts - December 29, 2012

    […] already written about my top 5 boys’ films of the year, but here’s my best of (almost) everything else from […]

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