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.

Snow-White-and-the-Huntsman-Still-9

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

abraham-lincoln-vampire-hunter-2012-wallpaper-movie-5-6-29-2012

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.

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We're Nerds, and man, do we get bored. Our Twitter: @nerdsgetbored

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