The Most Anticipated Films of 2013

Whilst we spend the next three months catching up on the last of 2012, we look forward to the future! A brand new year, with lots of exciting titles! New films from Danny Boyle, Park Chan Wook, Lars Von Trier, Werner Herzogg, the Coen brothers, and Woody Allen. Every genre is offering something new and exciting. Here are the titles that have us the most excited:

Action: Only God Forgives

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Following the relative success of The Expendables all the old timers are out with new titles this year. Arnie’s new feature is “The Last Stand”, a relatively intriguing heist movie from the great Korean director Kim Jee-Woon. Stallone on the other hand is starting the year with the thoroughly underwhelming-looking “Bullet to the Head”. He’ll return later this year with “The Tomb” about a prison-designer who ends up locked into his own prison. We look forward to seeing him fuck that up later.

Franchises carry on, of course. “Die Hard 5” looks exciting, if not terribly original, and “GI Joe 2” is finally getting a release after a break-neck pull from theaters last summer. A new attempt to market Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan character (previously played by Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck) is being directed by Kenneth Branagh with Chris Pine in the leading role. Michael Bay is directing a new project, not based on a child’s toy, we await that like a trip to the dentist…for a penis scrape (they do that now).

However there are some intriguing projects. Keanu Reeves (after a long absence) is directing a martial arts movie entitled “Man of Thai Chi”. Ryan Reynolds is playing a dead cop, resurrected to find his murderer in “RIPD” (Rest In Peace Division). And Al Pacino is returning for an old-timers heist movie, called “Stand Up Guys”. All of these are interesting, but not the most exciting. Very shortly Ryan Gosling shall appear in “Only God Forgives”, directed by Nicholas Winding Refn (Drive). He plays a Bangkok police lieutenant who enters a boxing tournament to get revenge on a mafia boss. That concept is amazing, and the wealth of talent behind the project clearly makes it stand out as the most exciting action film of the year.

Drama: The Councillor

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Whilst we anxiously await the arrival of Spike Lee’s remake of “Oldboy”, lots of big names are working to distract us from our pain. “Gotti: In the Shadow of My Father” sees John Travolta and Ben Foster play a father and son in the Mafia with Al Pacino in tow, “How I live Now” sees rising star Saoirse Ronan hiding from war in the countryside (very much like “Tomorrow When the War Began”), and “Nymphomaniac” has Charlotte Gainsbourg being very promiscuous at the hands of Lars Von Trier.

We also have Steven Soderberg bringing us another two films, the first titled “Side Effects”, following a woman struggling with prescription drug addiction and the second film “Candelabra” is slightly trickier to describe, but also looks interesting (it’s about Liberace…seriously).  We also have Mathew McConaughey essentially playing Mathew McConaughey in the “Dallas Buyers Club”. But it’s a mixing of significantly more impressive elements that has us sweating in the night.

Someday an article about our favourite authors will unfold the true genius of Cormac McCarthy. You may know him as the author of the astonishing books “The Road”, “No Country for Old Men” and “Blood Meridian”. Well this is the first film developed from an original screenplay by the master author. It’s been directed by Ridley Scott and stars Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Javier Barden, Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz…ok those last two names aren’t particularly a badge of quality, but the cast is impressive and we relish the chance to see Bardem return to McCarthy material. The plot concerns a lawyer who becomes involved in Drug Trafficking and is easily our most anticipated drama film of the year. Bad scripts have been the bane of recent Scott films, surely this will break the trend.

Sci-Fi: Elysium

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Yes, it is indeed a good time to be a nerd. There are so many science fiction titles being released this year that it is very difficult to choose a favourite. There are sequels in the Hunger Game’s “Catching Fire” and the eagerly awaited “Star Trek 2”. There’s post-apocalyptic thrills in Oblivion (essentially Wall-E with Tom Cruise) and “After Earth” (essentially M Night Shyamalan roping in Will and Jayden Smith into his desperate attempt to prove he has some promise left). Less mainstream dystopia can be found in “Snowpiercer”, about a powerful bullet train that traverses a post-global warming landscape. “Robot and Frank” should offer some sweeter moments as an ex-jewel thief befriends a robot butler. Guillermo Del Toro is finally releasing his epic monster movie, Pacific Rim (with some somewhat dodgy look CGI) and Alfonso Cuarón is bringing us Gravity, the story of George Clooney and Sandra Bullock surviving a disaster in a space station. Our most anticipated film of this genre had to beat all of these, with an intriguing premise, an impressive cast and all the trappings of a cult classic (basically it had to be this year’s Looper).

“District 9” was incredibly impressive and became the best film of 2009 to many (except us. Bigelow rocks). His follow up feature is called “Elysium”, and stars Matt Damon as an ex-con who undertakes a mission to destroy a rigid class system that has arisen on a ruined earth. Joining Damon is the tragically seldom-seen Jodie Foster, the always entertaining William Fichtner, and the very enjoyable Sharlto Copley (who’s also due to appear in the Oldboy remake, crazily enough).

Fantasy: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

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The success of the Hobbit has raised some interest in the fantasy genre (just as its predecessor had), and although we don’t have all that many titles, we can surely soon look forward to titles reminiscent of “Eragon” and “Dungeons and Dragons”…yeah. For now we have the continued march of fairy tales into darkness, this year with Jack the Giant Slayer and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters. Hopefully both will be as fun as last year’s Snow White and the Huntsmen. The R rating on Witch Hunters certainly has our interest, as does Bryan Singers involvement with Giant Slayer. The second biggest fantasy film of the year comes from, the somewhat unlikely source of Sam Raimi. His “Oz the Great and Powerful”, will hopefully be delighting us later in the year (he certainly has the cast for it). But it’s fairly obvious what the biggest and most exciting fantasy of the film shall be.

“There and Back Again” managed to satisfy most, but left a great deal of room for improvement. If Jackson and crew can continue in the instantly iconic style, but introduce something more of the charm and tightness of the former trilogy then there’s every chance this film will be able to surpass the last. There’s a great deal of elements that we will just be happy to see again. The fine performances, the beautiful world and interesting reworking and expansion of the classic story. But most of all, we are looking forward to the Necromancer and Smaug, both of whom are to be voiced by the mighty Cumberbatch! Oh and Stephen Fry is in this one. Awesome.

Comedy: World’s End

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2013 sees some great comedy names returning to the screen. Richard Ayoade directs his second feature, “The Double” based on a Dostoyevsky story. Spike Jonze directs Joaquin Phoenix as he falls in love with his new operating system in “Her”. Joseph Gordon Levitt is directing for the first time with “Dom Jon’s Addiction” featuring himself as a womanising porn-addict who is taught how to have a more fulfilling sex life by Scarlett Johanson (this is the sort of film you can make when you make a name in Hollywood). “The Guard” director John Michael McDonagh returns with “Cavalry” which essentially sounds like “The Guard” except with a priest. There’s also “Frank” which is far too crazy to describe briefly and “This is the End” which sees a party of celebrities (all playing themselves) faced with the end of the world. However this is not the apocalyptic comedy that we’re hankering for.

It’s finally time for Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright to finish the cornetto trilogy. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are quite unchallenged in their status as the funniest films of the past decade and the prospect of a third is truly exciting. As you would expect the supporting cast is fairly impressive, featuring British comedy legend Martin Freeman, Indy character actor Eddie Marsan, and all round crazy character Paddy Considine. The concept of a pub crawl to the end of the world is interesting and full of potential for the brilliant writing team. Everything about this film has firmly captured our interest.

Superhero: Iron Man 3

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The comics market continues to expand and the movies must reflect this. “Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For” is finally getting released, as to whether or not it can thrill the crowds like its predecessor did almost ten years ago remains to be seen. Other belated sequels include “Kick Ass 2” (which boasts all the same talent as the first but with a shiny new director) and The Wolverine is finally following the disastrous “X-Men Origins” (but with some pretentious promotional material this time!). But the big thrills this year seem set to come from the ever-escalating movie war between DC and Marvel. DC is hoping to finally launch a successful Superman franchise with “Man of Steel”. Although Zack Snyder has had a checkered past, the involvement of Christopher Nolan seems to have had an impact on the style of the film. It also has an incredible cast with names like Russell Crowe, Amy Adams, Lawrence Fishburne, Kevin Costner, and Michael Shannon!

But will it be enough to overtake Marvel which is now entering “phase 2” of its movie universe with titles like the enticing “Thor 2” (more Helmsworth and Hiddleston please!) and, most importantly, Iron Man 3! The first Iron Man movie significantly defined the direction and tone of every non-Nolan superhero film made since. The second was significantly lacking in that charm, but the third sees a new addition to the crew. Shane Black may be a familiar name to fans of Action. He wrote “Leathal Weapon” 1 and 2, “The Last Boy Scout” and “Kiss, Kiss Bang, Bang” (which he also directed). The humour he created with Downey Jr. in KKBB is very much consistent with what we’ve seen from Iron Man before, and should be enough to put the spark back into the series. We also have a very impressive cast including Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and Rebecca hall, not to mention the regulars; Downey, Paltrow and Cheadle. The plot is also interesting, pitting Iron Man up against his classic nemesis, The Mandarin. But there’s a lot for the comic book fan to look forward to this year.

Horror: Stoker

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Oh dear. It was going so well. Horror as a genre is definitely suffering these days. Last year the biggest horror release we could think of to look forward to was World War Z, which we should be getting this year (and is still fairly exciting). Most obviously we have the usual wave of sequels and remakes. Chloe Grace Moretz will be donning the pig blood in “Carrie” and the cast of “The Evil Dead” shall be donning plenty of real blood as the remake promises to use no CGI effects. You may have also seen the hilarious poster for the “Last exorcism 2” or the general sense of ill-will that’s following around “The Haunting in Connecticut 2: Ghosts of Georgia”.

But let’s focus on the interesting releases! “Asylum” sees a riot squad trying to quell an uprising in an insane asylum with an occult twist. Warm Bodies promises humour as well as scares as a zombie attempts to keep his relationship working. And James Wan is bringing more supernatural thrills in the vein of Insidious with his new film “The Conjuring” with pretty much the same plot and some of the same actors.

So what has us really excited about horror this year? Well luckily one of our favourite directors is making his first English language film. Park Chan Wook, director of masterpieces like “Oldboy” and “ Sympathy for Mr Vengeance” and horror films like “Thirst” is bringing us “Stoker”. After the death of her father, Mia Wasikowska and her mother Nicole Kidman are joined in their home by a strange uncle, whom neither knew existed. What follows promises to be a psychological horror classic as our heroine finds herself not unsettled by this strangers mysterious nature, but thrilled by it! Hopefully this will be exactly what horror should be, as opposed to what it has become.

Historical: Inside Llewyn Davis

TInsideLlewynDavis1here is a lack of truly historical settings in films today. The only western on the horizon is “The Lone Ranger” and the furthest back in time we’re likely to go this year will be to Victorian times for Werner Herzog’s “Queen of the Desert” and Emma Thompson’s “Effie”. But there are plenty of films taking inspiration from recent history. “The Great Gatsby” is due to bring to life the vibrant 20s as only Baz Lurhman could (style hopefully not at the expense of content), “Kill Your Darlings” sees the beat poets of the 40s meet after David Kammerer’s murder, and “Lovelace” brings us to the sleazy 70s porn industry (much different from the sleazy modern porn industry).

Some important historical figures are getting cinema treatment, like Grace Kelly in “Grace of Monocco”, Steve Jobs in “jOBS”, and Princess Diana in “Diana” (as portrayed by Naomi Watts). However Lee Daniel’s “The Butler” offers the most impressive list of historical characters. It’s the true story of a White House Butler who served eight presidents (portrayed by the likes of Alan Rickman, Robin Williams, and John Cusack).

There are also several films taking inspiration from real life incidents. “Captain Phillips” details the capturing of a cruise ship by Somali pirates in 2009, “The Devil’s Knot” portrays the trial and conviction of two teenagers accused of the ritual murder of three children, and “The Bling Ring” offers some laughs as the “Hollywood hills burglar bunch” exclusively target celebrities as victims for their thievery.

But we’re choosing “Inside Llewyn Davis” as the most interesting historical drama of the year ahead. The Coen Brothers attempt to capture the spirit and style of the 1960s folk music scene. Anyone not excited by the period, should be interested by the talent involved. The Coen brothers will inevitably bring their unique sensibility and humour to the project and, as always, will be working with an interesting cast featuring Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake (and John Goodman, but that goes without saying, it’s a Coen Brothers film). The Coen Brothers don’t work often, but when they do it’s always worth seeing.

Foreign: Mood Indigo

HimagesCAMI9L7Cow can you generalise amongst an entire worlds worth of films? You just can! Especially when you arbitrarily decide you need ten categories (or if you’re the academy awards). So here’s a massively incomplete look at some of the films we can look forward to from overseas. Firstly from Japan we have Takeshi Miike’s “Straw Shields” which seems to see the director return to the Japanese underworld. Assuming he handles it in his trademark over-the-top, utterly baffling style then it’ll be as fun all his work tends to be. In a slightly lighter vein we have new Studio Ghibli film, “The Wind Rises”, which sees the return of Hayao Miyazaki and, bizarrely, documents the man who designed the fighter planes for the Japanese during WW2. From China we have “The Grandmaster” which, once again, tells the story of the martial arts master Ip Man, only this time directed by the fantastic Wong Kar Wai. We’d present the activities of our favourite South Korean directors but it seems they’ve all moved to America.

France has the usual promising names releasing titles. Luc Besson is all set to dash our hopes again with “Malavita”, a gangster film starring Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones (for God’s sake, don’t mess this one up Luc). Jean Luc Godard is following his controversial “Film Socialisme” with the somewhat surreal “Goodbye to Language 3D” (that’s not a misprint, the world really is that crazy). Both of the stars of the Artist have exciting new projects. Jean Dujardin shall appear in “Möbius” in which he plays an FSB officer who falls in love with his agent (kind of like stakeout?) and Bérénice Bejo is set to appear in “The Past” which, honestly, we can’t find anything out about, except that it’s directed by Asghar Farhadi who brought us the wonderful “A Seperation”.

The most interesting of these films is definitely “Mood Indigo”. The quirky film from quirky director Michael Gondry, staring the quirky Audrey Tautou who, quirkily enough, has a flower growing in her lungs. Despite our fondness of art-house directors making superhero movies, we’re glad to see Gondry return to the indie scene after the fairly underwhelming “Green Hornet” and adapting Boris Vian’s classic novel should offer some very interesting results.

British: A Field in England

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For all this talk of sexy Hollywood and sexy France it’s time to return to our dreary isle to see what’s brewing on the home front. Aside from the aforementioned “World’s End” (Christ, it’ll be awesome), we have another comedy legend adapting to the screen in the form of “The Alan Partridge Movie”, which boasts the writing talents of both star Alan Partridge and the wonderful Armando Ianucci. We also have “Welcome to the Punch” which sees James McAvoy face off with Mark Strong, “London Project” which sees Tom Hiddleston working with Joanna Hogg again and Danny Boyle’s new project “Trance” which features James McAvoy (again) trying to remember where he hid a valuable stolen painting with the help of a hypnotist (played by Rosario Dawson).

The most exciting British film of the year comes from Ben Wheatley, who we previously gushed over in our favourite films of the year list thanks to his wonderful “Sightseers”. Wheatley is taking us to the civil war in what very much sounds like a British “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, as three British soldiers leave the war to hunt for treasure…and find magic mushrooms. The cast actually includes a significant number of British comedy legends including Michael Smiley, Julian Barratt, and Reece Shearsmith. With his history of incredible visuals, great performances and very black humour, we eagerly await anything he has to other, but with such an intriguing premise, “A Field in England” has to have a place on our top ten list.

So, to summarise, our most anticipated films of the year (in order) are:

10. Stoker

09. Mood Indigo

08. Inside Llewyn Davis

07. Iron Man 3

06. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

05. World’s End

04. Only God Forgives

03. A Field in England

02. Elysium

01. The Councilor

Sorry, I got massively carried away during all that. Happy new…February.

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The Pleasant Surprises of 2012

It has not been a bad year, and although we’ve had some disappointments we’ve also had our expectations exceeded once or twice and on one or two occasions even gained some unexpected classics. This isn’t a list of the second best films of the year, rather a list of the best worst. Here’s the list of the most pleasant surprises we had in the cinema this year.

10. Snow White and Huntsmen.

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The trailer didn’t exactly sell this one. Nor did the concept. It certainly seemed like a bland attempt to sell a classic children’s story as a dark fantasy epic. Of course that’s exactly what it is, but what’s surprising is the degree of success it achieves. The production design is beautiful, the introduction of the famous plot points is actually quite clever and the action sequences manage to be pretty interesting. The acting is unfortunate. Kirsten Stewart gets more use out of that one expression of hers, Charlise Theron hams the shit out of it, and Aussie Chris Helmsworth boldly attempts a Scottish accent. The characterisation of the seven dwarves could also have been better, especially as these particular dwarves contain a one word summary of their personality in their own names! Perhaps it would be better labelled as “not as bad as we thought”, which is still a pleasant surprise as it really did look terrible!

9. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

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There has been no shortage of funny film titles or concepts that exhaust their novelty shortly before the second act (this year’s Iron Sky is testament to that). Abraham Lincoln slaying vampires in his spare time is up there, and the deathly serious tone of the trailer did as little to excite us as the addition of once great names like Tim Burton (Charlie and Chocolate Factory) and Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted). But the film was pretty solid. The plot mixes events of Lincoln’s life with vampire hunting pursuits very naturally, offering a pretty compelling alternate history. The acting is good all round with no attempts to match the silliness of the concept, but not playing it too po-faced either. The special effects are a low point with some pretty dodgy CGI being relied upon. But the choreography is great and the film does manage to illicit a few thrills. Not the directors best vampire movie, but definitely a pleasant surprise…the fact that we got this released in 2012, but NOT the Steven Spielberg biopic, was a less pleasant surprise.

8. How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Get-the-Gringo-Reveiw-Starring-Mel-Gibson-and-Kevin-HernandezOur expectations weren’t too high on this one, so it wasn’t very difficult to surpass them. Mel Gibson has been a somewhat controversial actor what with his films about Scottish nationalism and brutal Jesus tortute, and his personal life filled with the racism and the Antisemitism and the sexism and the hard-core Christianity and just generally being a very unlikable human being. And the trailer sold this as a very generic revenge flick a la Payback. However HISMSV or (Get the Gringo as it was amazingly originally called) is surprisingly good! A great deal of the plot occurs in a Mexican prison where we witness a new and unusual way of life, unlike any prison we’ve seen on screen before. Gibson is down on his luck and often on the short end of things and just generally staying as far away from suave as possible. This is a very good move as it does generally build up some pathos for the character and his predicament. The well-choreographed gun fights with real squibs also helped. An enjoyable romp, one might say (for example; Me, just there).

7. Safe

safe1Oh how the Stath has fallen of late. After some high energy nonsense in the early Transporter and Crank films Statham seemed to settle into very uninteresting Hollywood B-movies. But for the first time in six years we actually enjoyed a Jason Statham movie! It’s unbalanced, it massively dips in quality during its third act, and pretty much rips of Mercury Rising, but there’s a lot to enjoy! Firstly Statham himself is putting some effort into his performance of an ex special forces guy who is on the pointy end of a implausible Russian Mafia vendetta which causes him to be perpetually lonely. He is then put in charge of a vulnerable and, more crucially, tolerably-acted young girl. The fight sequences are awkwardly filmed but well-staged and there’s enough excitement to keep the pace moving well. Ok so this wasn’t all that special, but it restored hope in Statham, which was sorely lacking.

6. Sinister

sinister-FHM-topHorror movies are having a bit of a crisis these days. Genuinely interesting horror films like Berberian Sound Studio or V/H/S get festival and art cinema releases whilst noisy and pointless big name horror sequels and remakes like Silent Hill Revelations and Piranha 3DD get all the fanfare. Some genuinely creepy films do get put through the mainstream circuit, like Silent House, House at the End of the Street and Red Lights. All deeply flawed, but better than average. The best of these was undoubtedly Sinister which offers some genuine scares and creepy atmosphere. The highlight of the film is the 8MM footage that begins the haunting. The framing and staging of these pieces are almost iconic in their creepiness. The initial image of a family being hung is incredibly unsettling, only made worse by the bizarre music accompanying the horrific images. Admittedly a great deal of the films impact depends on how comical you find the appearance of the film’s villain, bagul. But if you can forget that he looks like a Noel Fielding creation then you’ll find this one of the scariest films of the year.

5. The Grey

liam-neeson-in-the-grey-trailer1Liam Neeson fights wolves. That’s an amazing punch line to a joke but not really a premise for a good film. Surprisingly the film actually offers a grimly philosophical view of death in which the wolves are a symbolic threat to our brooding heroes. Neeson provides his best role in a very long time and is supported by some interesting characters who refuse to conform to classical survival movie clichés. The film takes it’s time and explores some ambitious themes such as modern masculinity, the cruelty of nature and it’s place in our present psyche’s and most importantly differing attitudes towards death. A film with a lot to say…for a film about Liam Neeson fighting wolves.

4. The Raid (Redemption)

The-Raid-BA surprise simply because we didn’t see it coming! Where did this film come from so suddenly? A Indonesian martial arts film directed by a Welshman which breaks its way into the mainstream? Who ever heard of such a thing? Yet the film is a startlingly impressive action movie. It recalls the excitement encouraged by Ong Bak. Real stunts, brutal fight scenes and the odd emotional kick, all of which is often overlooked in western equivalents. The premise is very simple, as it is with most great films of its type, and the director makes full use of the claustrophobia and tension offered by the grim premise. The momentum behind Ong Bak ran out somewhat prematurely. Let’s hope Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais are able to keep it going a little longer.

3. End of Watch

823487_059Low expectations were partly encouraged by the marketing of this film which seemed to suggest it would be found footage. And that’s not the only pleasant surprise as it rapidly becomes obvious that the writers have done a large amount research into the lives of the LAPD and the kinds of dangers they face. Consequently this does feel like a documentary with fascinating little vignettes roughly drawn together into a somewhat contrived overall narrative involving a Latino gang. But this is one of those rare films in which the heroes are substantially more compelling and interesting than the villains. If the film has a failing it is that the dialogue is somewhat awkward. Everyone talks like out-of-place white people trying to talk in black street slang…even the black characters and especially the Hispanic people. This may well be true to life, but it added a great deal of cringe value to some of the more serious scenes. In spite of that, the film was compelling.

2. Ted

ea_ted1Any fans of Family Guy will know that the series has taken something of a dip lately. So the prospect of Macfarlane’s live action debut was as much a cause for anxiety as excitement. But this is clearly the funniest film of the year. The premise is fun with lots of potential (most of which is realised) and the film is constantly pushed on by hilarious performances and cameos (including Ryan Reynolds best role in years (tragically)). There are a few failed jokes and a few recurring jokes that really need to be allowed to die (Seth Macfarlane has seen Airplane! We get it, please move on). Everyone involved in the film is clearly giving it their all and it seems that Macfarlane giving it his all is something worth seeing. Anything else is just The Cleveland Show.

1. Dredd

Dredd_01(2)A low budget adaptation of the source material that gave us 1995’s Judge Dredd? Not a lot of anticipation going on. And the trailers presenting a clichéd gruff hero with an epic chin and batman voice with a plot we’ve already seen in The Raid didn’t help. And yet this was actually a good enough film to be vaguely considered for the top ten list! The key to this films quality is maximizing it’s elements. It has an interesting and violent hero, an under-trained yet gifted sidekick, a dystopian society, a terrible yet sympathetic villain and a fantastically tense story. None of these elements are overused or wasted. The visual style of the film is another highlight, with bloody gore and dank environments. The use of slow motion is not only not contrived but actually written in to the story. The 3D was quite fun in its gimmicky realisation but ultimately disposable and, as usual, not a part of this films quality. Sometimes you can tell a film is a cult classic the first time you see it. This is one.

P for pretty good.

The Most Disappointing films of 2012

We’re an excitable lot here at NGB, and sometimes we forget that the film industry can be cynical and unimaginative. Luckily Red Tails was there to remind us. But we still had our hopes dashed a few times along the way! Here are some of the most heart-breaking:

10. Underworld: Awakening.

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Expectations: Ok, they weren’t great. But the Underworld films have always had a distinct style, a sexy smoothness to its action and Kate Beckinsale in a Catsuit. More than enough to make us happy.   

Reality: Kate Beckinsale is, indeed, in a catsuit (so that’s one up over Underworld: Rise of the Lycans), but this film really made you work to enjoy it. Tedious plot, no characterisation whatsoever, and some pointless 3D to wash out the already miserable colours.  A very dull, uninteresting film.

Saving Grace: Catsuit.

9. Contraband

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Expectations: The release of this was actually quite low key, but the trailer promised a somewhat simple revenge story within the context of a gritty mafia underworld. The involvement of interesting cast members like Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale and Giovanni Ribisi only raised expectations.

Reality: The trailer completely underplayed the main unique point of the film, smuggling. Wahlberg is a retired smuggler convinced to complete one last job (word actually recommends the rest of that sentence when you start typing it). Although it’s interesting to see this element unfold, it doesn’t break the formula nor offer any new surprises. The actors turn in subdued performances, the action is only functional and the plot is laughably predictable.

Saving Grace: The smuggling angle is a little interesting.

8. The Expendables 2

The Expendables 2

Expectations: Well the first expendables movie didn’t exactly demand a sequel. Or a second viewing. Or a first one. But we had a new writer, a new director (who at one point directed the action classic Con Air) and the trailer promised some interesting action sequences. So we thought they may have learnt from previous mistakes.

Reality: The action is certainly better. We have more ambitious set pieces, a couple of decent shootouts and even a reasonable fight scene, all carried out in some interesting settings. But we still have frenzied direction, poor choreography and some very obvious CGI. Ultimately it’s not enough to make up for the lack of character, the horrendous acting, moronic script and, worst of all, the nauseating self-awareness. The film doesn’t so much wink at the audience as grasp it by the genitals and beg for approval. The nadir being Chuck Norris telling a Chuck Norris fact so long and unfunny it seems crueler than the earlier torture scene. Maybe they felt that by forcing us to remember better films from these actor’s glory days it might encourage some feeling of warmth. No luck though. The film is slightly better than it’d predecessor but still self-indulgent and joyless to the point of actually being annoying.

Saving Grace: The opening sequence is pretty good, and it’s always nice to see JCVD.

7. Piranha 3DD

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Expectations: The first Piranha 3D was the very definition of guilty pleasure. Alexandre Aja delivered horrific violence, black humour and Kelly Brook having underwater lesbian sex (awesome lesbian sex can substitute for oxygen). With a few daft cameos thrown in, there was nothing not to like. The second film promised to be only more of the same and that was alright by us.

Reality: The stupid title should have been a warning. We do get more cameos, most of which are actually pretty good, but otherwise the film actually feels smaller than its predecessor. The scope, violence and most crucially the fun is greatly diminished this time round. This film is definitely more of an A-cup (briefly considered rating all films by cup size, but then remembered we’re not Nuts (yet)).

Saving Grace: The Hoff and the return of Ving Rhames.

6. Taken 2

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Expectations: The first Taken film was a very old fashioned but pleasingly gritty low budget action film with plenty of menace and aggression. The trailer promised something repetitive but potentially enjoyable.

Reality: All sense of threat is removed from this bland, uneventful and far-fetched film. The tension that the previous film thrived on is abandoned in favour of a rushed pace that prevents any event gaining any actual gravity. The plot is very contrived, the acting sub-par (oh dear, Famke Janssen. Can’t you be a sexy Russian assassin again?), and the action mundane. Ultimately it seems that the Taken franchise has already run out of things to say and has now settled into mediocrity.

Saving Grace: Whoever choreographed the fight scenes came back. He’s quite good.

5. Lockout

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Expectations: Aside from attaching Luc Besson’s name, which does still carry some weight (in spite of Columbiana), the trailers promised Escape from New York in space! A charming, silly, but ultimately exciting adventure. Sometimes a good premise delivered competently is all we need, but in fact this had the ingredients of being a little bit special.

Reality: Ultimately the film comes over as smug and soulless. Guy Pearce takes a damn good shot at roguish and cheeky but just misses and hits smarmy and annoying. The jokes all fall flat, and the half smiles offered are extremely aggravating. The tone is very jarring as it quickly moves between extreme violence and lame puns. The chemistry between the two main characters is very forced and more similarly resembles the chemistry between Sulpher and Oxygen. There is a point near the end when it seems the film is about to conclude, but a late (and unfortunately predictable) revelation extends the run time to audible sighs of exhaustion from the audience.

Saving Grace: The concept is good. Escape from Space!

4. Total Recall

total recall

Expectations: An old thought experiment. What if Ridley Scott had adapted “We can remember it for you wholesale?” instead of “Do Androids dream of electric sheep?” What if Blade Runner had stared Arnie, and featured lots of silly make up and big shootouts? If presented with two plots, one in which a man tries to alter his memory and ends up doubting what is real and what is fabrication, and the other in which a bounty hunter is hired to kill six dangerous robots, which would you assume was the intellectual sci-fi classic and which the Arnie action fest? Here was am attempt to see how the premise would stand up to a serious treatment.

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Reality: It’s neither Verhoeven nor Scott. It’s Wiseman. The unimpressive, bland director behind Underworld and who is currently, tragically, remaking The Mummy. To say it didn’t live up to the source material is obvious, to say it didn’t live up to the Verhoeven film is inevitable, but this really did slip below all expectations. Completely devoid of any attempt to address the idea seriously or introduce some interesting new angles on the story, all we get is the exact same story and circumstance with new shiny, fake looking action set pieces. This really is the lamentable product of the cynical Hollywood remake machine.

Saving Grace: It’s nice to have all three of Kate Beckinsale’s movies on the same list…shame it’s this list.

3. The Bourne Legacy

Film Title: The Bourne Legacy

Expectations: The Bourne Trilogy. That’s the expectation. Three taut action thrillers with great action, compelling plots and a slick style. It’s a high standard but surely the creative forces that managed the series wouldn’t let it go to people who don’t know what they’re doing, right? Also, it had a great cast!

Reality: The film would have been significantly better had it not bore the Bourne name. We’re not just saying that because it wouldn’t have raised expectations so high, but the involvement with Bourne actually does slow down the plot and adds unneeded details to the already tricky exposition scenes. Had this simply been a story of one man trying to get revenge against the organisation that betrayed him, we may well feel warmer towards it. But aside from the confusing Bourne plot connections, the film lacks the style and energy of a Bourne film. Also Renner and Weisz are a poor substitute for Damon and Pontente.

Saving Grace: One or two of the action scenes like the laboratory.

2. The Amazing Spiderman

Andrew Garfield

Expectations: We got behind this! It even made our top ten most anticipated films of last year list! Sam Raimi’s Spiderman was flawed. The tone was a little camp, Peter Parker was underdeveloped as a character and Spiderman lacked his trademark wit. We looked forward to some interesting villains and a darker tone.

Reality: There is a great Spiderman film in here. The first act lives up to the expectations. It is darker and grittier and all the cheesier elements of the original have been discarded in favour of some realistic and sometimes meaningful moments. But the film wastes a lot of opportunities and doesn’t quite do enough differently from Raimi’s version to silence the detractors who cried “too soon!” Though sometimes in trying to avoid specific scenes from Raimi, the film can gloss over fairly important things, like Spiderman’s impact on the city. Andrew Garfield walks a thin line between charming and annoying and doesn’t always stay on the right side. It is nice that he plays a geekier, sweeter role, but the wisecracks aren’t very well written and his more confident persona can be very grating. The villain is unimposing and more than a little silly and in fact would have been better saved to the sequel, allowing Parker to just pursue his uncles killer whilst learning the true obligations his powers impose. Ultimately the film managed to disappoint just about everyone, and we can only hope that the already green lighted sequel lives up on some of the projects potential.

Saving Grace: The first act, the tender moments, the initially slow pace.

1. Prometheus

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Expectations: Did you SEE the trailers?! They were amazing and the viral commercial for the David android was the icing on the cake. It seemed that Ridley Scott had finally returned to form with an exciting new sci-fi film in the mould of his 70s career high. It is also very rare to get pure sci-fi films made these days, so we needed this to be good.

Reality: And the film is good. The acting is solid, the production design is elegant, the music is superb, even the basic premise is golden. But the problem is Damon Lindelof’s script. Lindelof is the script writer for Lost, a TV show that survived by offering just enough excitement and intrigue to string the audience along to the next episode/season. This is precisely what we get here. An interesting premise, some confusing plot twists, and dozens, absolutely dozens of poor decisions and unexplained mysteries intended to hook you for the next film. But films need to be standalone experiences. This just comes off as a very long teaser for its sequel. The dialogue and characterisation are dire. “I’m a geologist. I like rocks. I LOVE rocks!” said the guy with the ginger Mohawk and tattooed head. Bad character decisions, baffling plot directions and some bizarre, poorly explored message about spirituality absolutely spoiled this film. Easily the biggest disappointment of the year.

Saving Grace: Everything! It’s actually a pretty good film…except for the script.

The Best Films of 2012

This has been a very good year for mainstream cinema. Several truly great directors are finally getting the budgets they need to realise more ambitious works, many of which have come to fruition this year, and although some of our favourite directors didn’t have releases, we still found ten films that made us happy enough to share!

There are some honourable mentions. The ferocious Lawless, the touching Rust and Bone, the beautiful The Master, the charmingly crazy Seven Psychopaths and the fiercely grim Killing Them Softly have all just avoided a place on the list.

Unfortunately there will, once again be some titles missing from our list. We here in England are yet to see Zero Dark Thirty, Django Unchained, Les Misérables, The Impossible, Cloud Atlas, Lincoln and various other inevitable classics that we’ll tearfully resist including in next year’s list (a films year is the year in brackets after its title on IMDB!). Anyway, here’s the best of the films America deemed good enough to let us have this year:

1MARK DUPLASS and AUBREY PLAZA star in SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED0. Safety Not Guaranteed

An incredibly sweet science fiction romantic comedy drama. Ostensibly about a man who believes he can travel back in time and the attempts of a small group of journalists to get to know him, the film is in fact about missed opportunities and regret. Time travel serves not as the driving force of the film but as a metaphor for everything the main characters have lost and long for, and although the mission is never treated seriously by anyone except the inventor, the notion of changing the past is clearly ever-present on every character’s mind. The film lives on its charming characters and earnest performances delivering quirky comedy and genuinely sweet moments. Perhaps a tricky film to get hold of due to its limited release, but well worth the effort.

03-23hgames_full_6009. The Hunger Games

As a big fan of the book it was hard not to get slightly pissed off with how Hollywood the Hunger Games was, but in all it was a pretty spot on adaptation of the book, and it gave us another really bad ass female protagonist. As P and I were saying to each other recently, the real ‘baddie’ in The Hunger Games is the state. As with Dystopia as a Genre the state always plays a key role in being ‘the bad guy’ and it’s great to see this introduced into a storyline that is accessible to teens.

Katniss, (Jennifer Lawrence), isn’t your typical teen riches to rags protagonist. After saving her sister from having to take part in ‘The Hunger Games’ Katniss takes her place and thus signs what seems to be a death warrant: 24 teens go in, only 1 comes out: it’s a bit like Battle Royale, with more cheese and less gore. Katniss and Peta (the male from her district) head to the centre of their dystopian world to get ‘groomed’ and beautified for the ‘games.’ LUCKILY, Katniss is a demon with a bow and arrow (phew!) and ends up looking super-hot (as Jennifer Lawrence tends to do.) You can guess the rest. Good cinematic experience? Absolutely, the scenes of the Capital are something else, and the costumes and landscapes…that’s if you don’t mind shaky cam, that would be my only bug bear… too much shaky cam.

Sightseers-0088. Sightseers

The British Film Industry typically survives these days by folding into the American Film Industry. Many of the biggest American films will make use of British cast and crew and even locations, but the themes and settings tend to be American. However, there are several small budget productions which often produce extremely interesting results. It is these films that are able to comment on modern British life and attempt to capture something of what (if anything) it means to live on this small island. Ben Wheatley shocked and delighted many with last year’s gory horror thriller Kill List but it’s this year’s Sightseers, written by cast members Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, which brilliantly captures the bizarre humour and mild disappointment that seems to represent modern British life and culture.

Taking place on a supremely unhinged caravan holiday, the film details the travels and romance of two extremely disturbed people. The film is perfectly written with lots of very dark humour and bizarre sincerity, is beautifully shot with plenty of surreal imagery and a perfect use of the breath-taking Northern English scenery, and the soundtrack is alternately quaint and unnerving. The moments of violence are highly stylised and very intense, which is all the better for contrasting the hilariously mundane moments of this demented holiday. Easily the funniest, darkest and most intense movie about caravanning released this year.

_63779774_skyfall7. Skyfall

The 23rd James Bond film came at the 50th anniversary of the series’ first film and is a celebration of everything the series has meant over the years. The film carefully balances Bond’s campy past with the expectations of the modern audience for gritty realism. We have a hero who is damaged and vulnerable, but also fierce and not above the odd one liner. A villain who is camp but realistic, with a secret island base, physical disfigurement and ridiculous hair. We have epic action sequences, some of which occur in exotic locations like Shangai and Istanbul, some of which in the London Underground and a Scottish manor house. The film is all about balance. Old and new, humour and sobriety, excitement and pathos. The best bond film ever made? There’s definitely an argument for it.

Unfortunately (spoiler alert) our Bond Girl, the alluring Bérénice Marlohe, is dispatched somewhat unceremoniously somewhere around the mid-point of the film. Along with Naomie Harris’ clumsy (though charming) field agent and Dame Judy Dench’s third act transformation from lion in a cardie to damsel in distress (and a cardie), we have some rather lacklustre female characters. But in the context of Solitaire, the girl Bond tricked into sex, Aki, the Japanese secret agent killed off and replaced, and Pussy Galore, the lesbian Bond was able to sleep with (because all lesbians just haven’t met the right man yet!), it’s more an unfortunate continuation than a step back. If you can keep your mind of it, there’s more to enjoy here than any previous Bond film and all but six of this year’s films.

664280-the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey6. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I wanted there to be an argument. I was ready. I didn’t know who would be on which side or for that matter care, but I wanted there to be an argument. I WAS READY. I was prepared to be on either side: The Hobbit, or our number one, which would be at the top of our list? I wanted there to be an argument! But, there was no argument. Don’t get me wrong, I loved The Hobbit, but it doesn’t stand up to the number one. (Mind you, not much does.)

Saying this, there are a staggering amount of good bits, Ian Mckellen alone being one (oh that beard), with that glint in his eye, and the youth that he has somewhat lost in LOTR. The small Elijah Wood Cameo. The way Cate Blanchett hasn’t aged a day in the last ten years. The dwarf songs, the pale Orc, the brown wizard, it’s all much more jolly and child friendly, but at the end of the day, so is the book! I’m not going to insult J R R Tolkien by recounting the story of the Hobbit, as if you haven’t read it by now! But to say that it is one of the greatest fantasy stories of all time…is somewhat of a given.

looper5. Looper

For the purposes of this paragraph, we will be referring to Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Jo Go Lev. It’s fine, he loves it.

Reasons to love Looper: 1. Bruce Willis, Juicy Brucey, om nom nom (can you guess if P or K wrote this yet?). 2. Jo Go Lev, Love, Love, Love. 3. Emily Blunt plays a hot farmer girl who has guns. 4. Time Travel, and with none of this ‘oh we’re gonna try and EXPLAIN how time travel works all of a sudden’ shit, it just works, in the future, deal. To explain, you know, simply…

Jo Go Lev works as a ‘Looper’ who are trained to kill people who are sent back from the future (where time travel HAS been invented) to the present (where time travel HASN’T been invented.) Follow? So Jo Go Lev then explains that at some point in a Looper’s life they get sent back to be killed by their past selves, in order to ‘close the loop,’ so the Loopers don’t piss off the big bad guys from the future. Enter Bruce Willis. You see, Bruce Willis IS Jo Go Lev, who has to kill Bruce Willis without knowing that Bruce Willis IS Jo Go Lev and in turn Jo Go Lev will become Bruce Willis so Bruce Willis must already know that Jo Go Lev is Bruce Willis but doesn’t know it. Follow? So then Jo Go Lev works it out and vows to kill Bruce Willis who has vowed to kill three children who may or may not turn out to be really evil in the future. Enter Emily Blunt, who has a real evil looking kid. So Jo Go Lev is protecting Emily Blunt’s kid who Bruce Willis has vowed to kill who Jo Go Lev has vowed to kill even though Jo Go Lev IS Bruce Willis in the future. It’s all very trippy. There’s lots of cool special effects and Bruce Willis does A LOT of running, which I am a big fan of. Jo Go Lev is unbelievably cool, think how cool he was in Inception with an extra slice of cool because he gets it on with Emily Blunt and ends up as Bruce Willis. Oh and some people are telekinetic, you know, cause.

(P note: It’s also quite interesting how the film invokes classic film noir in a sci fi setting whi… K note: Shut up! Jo Go Lev!)

moonrise-kingdom-06-470-754. Moonrise Kingdom

HEALTH WARNING: If you are IN ANY WAY allergic to Wes Anderson (as some people are), DO NOT watch this movie. Watching this movie was the most Wes Anderson experience of my life, I felt like if P and I had been being filmed watching it you would have only seen from the bridge of our noses upwards. However, if you are a fan of Wes Anderson’s style and humour, Moonrise Kingdom is one of the sweetest movies of 2012.

Two young lovers run away from home and Scout camp, meeting in a wheat field to be together. Their parents and Scout group (respectively) set out on a search to find them. That’s kind of it, essentially. Of course, as is with Wes Anderson, the beauty lies in characterisation and style. Bruce Willis as the lonely but lovely policeman, Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as the overbearing lawyer parents, Tilda Swinton as the scary social services lady and Edward Norton as the sweet unsuspecting Scout Master. You’re routing for the kids for the whole movie, hoping they have a happy ending and find a way to be together in spite of the terrible grownups. As I said above, it’s very Anderson, the camera positions, the staging, the costume, set, props, it couldn’t be anyone else; but I love Anderson, and I loved it.

The Cabin in the Woods3. Cabin in the Woods

Being self-referential hasn’t worked for everyone. You may well recall last year’s review of Scre4m or this year’s review of The Expendables 2 depending on what order I upload these lists. But Cabin in the Woods is able to justify its knowing self-assuredness within the plot and therefore is able to make affectionate comments about the tropes of the horror genre whilst also indulging them. The audience is treated to plenty of scares, gore, humour, and even some nudity but also a genuinely clever plot, lots of fun subversions and an ending that completely dispenses of all pretence and vanishes into its own sense of fun (despite the somewhat grim subtext).

2AvengersScreenshot. The Avengers (Assemble)

At the moment we are going through something of a summer blockbuster renaissance. Directors like Chris Nolan, Rian Johnson, Duncan Jones and even Quentin Tarantino are proving that you don’t need to be intellectually baron or feature racist robots to deliver big action or pull in big crowds. Yet some complain that standards are too high. There are too many dark moments in modern movies and flawed aging heroes encountering personal, psychological difficulties as well as physical challenges. We, of course do not join these people, but we are happy that we have a decent alternative.

Twww_buzzfocus_com_GH-37401_Rhe Avengers (Assembled) represents everything one might reasonably expect from a summer blockbuster without reaching the unreasonable demands that are somehow occasionally being met these days. A functional plot guides a character driven film through some fun and inventive action sequences towards a pleasingly simple moral of co-operation and friendship. The real selling point of the film is Whedon’s superb dialogue. The verbal duels between our heroes are just as pleasing as the physical brawls that punctuate the film though never overstay their welcome. Each character is given time to shine without anyone hogging the limelight or being left out. The film easily pleased both fans of the source material and the casual moviegoer.

The success of this film has sparked off the next generation of Marvel films and with big names attached to the project (Shane Black directing Iron Man 3?!), and DC doing its best to enter into the comic book movie arms race, it’s a pretty exciting time to be a nerd.

the-dark-knight-rises-20111221000535242-3580022_640w1. The Dark Knight Rises

An obvious choice. No other experience at the cinema offered the same anticipation, thrills, emotion, and genuine enjoyment as the third and final part of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. An ambitious plot pitching one man’s torment against an entire city under siege, exciting and terrifying villains, some charming new allies, brilliantly choreographed action sequences, another fantastic score from Hans Zimmer, stunning visuals, beautiful cinematography, great production design, impressive practical effects and plenty of political and psychological depth to explore. Although the ambition and scope of the story does make the narrative seem overly dense and a little exhausting, this is still an obvious choice.

the-dark-knight-rises-20111222000218817-3580590_640wSurprisingly some internet users will find this to be a controversial choice of favourite film. As with all popular and critically acclaimed films there has been a backlash. It seems that the film lifted its political ideology from Charles Dickens “A Tale of Two Cities” and some people found the moral of revolutionaries often being worse than the dehumanising societies they rebel against and the manipulation of socialist fervour for cynical personal gain was inconsistent with the ultimately optimistic tones of the previous HA! Just kidding! No, apparently the film is terrible because it never explains how Bruce Wayne got back into Gotham City, or because it went from day to night really quickly or some stupid shit we couldn’t care less about. We will concede a little narrative clumsiness and some unsettling moral ambiguity but nothing big enough to make this anything other than our favourite film of the year.

This was a year in which the two highest grossing films of the year are our two favourites. A very good year indeed. Stay tuned next year for Transformers 4. Fuck.

Next will be the most disappointing films of 2012! Yay!

P and K for Perfectly Kewl!