Obsession

The Corridor Of Uncertainty: How Long Before The Film Actually Starts?

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"One more advert and I'm giving up."
“One more advert and I’m giving up.”

We’ve dodged the bullet, avoided the Mayan apocalypse and arrived safely in 2013. Been to see a film yet? Maybe you’ve already scanned through the listings to see what’s coming up, in the hope of finding the first gem of the year, or at least the first mindless blockbuster which which to kill off a few more brain cells. But whatever your choice is, one thing’s almost certain: whichever film you choose to watch, you almost certainly won’t know what time it starts.

If you’re a normal person (i.e. not me), then I’d imagine that you look at the cinema listings, see what time the film starts, and then aim to arrive at the cinema around about that time. There’s a number of variables that you’re taking into account consciously or subconsciously, depending on your level of desperation to see the film in question, how often you have to suffer the ignominy of the lower end multiplex experience – parking, queuing for tickets, queuing for overpriced nachos and drinks – but based on my own observations of cinema audiences, the majority of people have managed to navigate all of the cumbersome obstacles placed in front of them by life and the cinema and have taken their seat for the advertised start time.

If you’re one of those well-organised people, what stands between you and the start of your chosen film hasn’t changed radically in terms of form or content for quite some years, but has grown ever longer and more twisted, like the fingernails of a desperate Guiness World record holder. If you’re visiting a cinema in the UK for a standard film, then what follows typically falls into around three broad sections. As you will typically have no idea how long these sections will last, either individually or in total, I’m going to call this time The Corridor Of Uncertainty (a term which I have in no way, shape or form stolen off of cricket AT ALL).

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The first of these is the advertising. At Cineworld, Vue, Odeon and Picturehouse cinemas, you’ll know you’re off and running thanks to an introduction from the people who compile their adverts, Digital Cinema Media.

This will normally be a good indication as to whether the projector’s been pointed at the screen properly and quite how ear-splittingly loud the sound’s been turned up. If everything now appears to have turned into a colourful silent film, it’s probably been turned up to 11 and you should leave immediately and seek medical advice.

Let’s be completely honest about this, though: it’s no Asteroid, is it?

If you’re lucky enough to live near a cinema not in one of the four chains mentioned earlier (so Showcase, Apollo, Empire, Curzon, Everyman or most independents), you’re still privileged enough to get a burst of Asteroid to start your cinema experience, although in a slightly shortened form. If you’re going to be in for the long haul before your film starts, at least this will get you in a vaguely cheerful mood.

There then follows anything between five and ten minutes of actual adverts. These days the advent of advertising on everything from your phone to the wall of the toilets has lessened the need for local advertising; when I was a lad, the cinema adverts were packed full of details about local amenities, all conveniently located within a small number of yards of this cinema. (On one fateful occasion, this drew my family and I to try a new vegetarian restaurant in town; the poorly cooked lentil burgers were left half eaten on the table.) It’s also down to the changing requirements of cinema since it started: when films were first shown, each time a reel needed to be changed it resulted in an intermission, but as technology improved that became less of a concern. It was then the length of films that necessitated a break, often to avoid a DVT setting in among the majority of patrons, and this was an ideal opportunity to get in the adverts, as well as the chance to purchase your refreshments from the usherette or the foyer:

Sadly, the days of the multiplex and the need to fit in as many screenings as possible have seen the disappearance from most cinemas of many of these old traditions, and the usherette and the intermission have gone the same way as the balcony and the short film. Consequently the only opportunity to hit you with a barrage of adverts is when you first take your seat. After about ten minutes of constant adverts, most rational people will be ready to chew off their armrests with boredom.

Trailers

Then the bit which gets really exciting. (Exciting being a relative term, of course.) Any self respecting cinema will want to get you back for another visit, so what follows are three or four – or sometimes five; actually, I can recall getting as many as six on a couple of occasions – promos edited to within an inch of their life to plug upcoming product.

Again, the way in which we consume these mini movies has changed radically over the years, thanks largely to our old friend The Internet. It would be somewhat hypocritical of me to slag off the internet, given that you wouldn’t be reading this without it, but the internet has largely taken the magic out of watching trailers in the cinema. I still remember the days before this happened, when the only opportunity to see trailers was actually in the cinema, as all you tended to get on TV was a cut-down, thirty second version. I can remember it as recently as 1996, when I was at university and the internet was still that thing they had just at university, or if you were really lucky someone you knew had the internet at home on a connection quick enough to watch trailers streaming at the size of a postage stamp. Trailers like this one and their impossible closing shots were enough to make sure I was always sat down before the adverts finished.

Now, for anyone who’s a serious film lover, you can consume your trailers at home in HD quality before setting foot in a cinema. As there’s no film to otherwise draw in your attention, film studios have come up with increasingly desperate ways to wave their virtual arms in the air to get your attention, and teaser trailers, teaser trailers for the teaser trailers and grandly named innovations like announcement trailers attempt to show you all of their trailery goodness before you ever set foot in a cinema. (And quite often, the sheer barrage of promotional material means that you’ve seen pretty much every frame of the first two acts before you even arrive in the car park.) When the director of a movie goes on a chat show to spoof this phenomenon and it still doesn’t stop the promotional wheels from turning very tiny announcement-based cogs, there’s probably no hope for any of us.

Public Service Announcements

Think you’re going to get the film now? Think again. Now the cinema has to stop one step short of pinning your eyes open, Clockwork-Orange style, and forcing you to pay attention until the film starts. There will still be a whole range of possible further messages that the cinema needs to tell you before you get to watch what you paid for. Again, this phenomenon is nothing new, it’s just suffering from what’s known in the world of Management Bollocks™ as “scope creep”.

Evidence that this is nothing new, and a particular reminder that once upon a time, cinemas were a very different, and quite unhealthy, pastime:

Now, what you’re likely to be served up includes a reminder of which cinema you’re sitting in, just in case you’ve been sat there so long you’d forgotten:

Other cinema chains are available. Most of them are trying to convince you that their viewing experience is more whizzy than the others. You’ll also likely be reminded that sitting in the cinema being surrounded by children throwing popcorn and bored adults talking is a privilege that should in no way be abused by recording the film on your iPhone and showing it to your mates later:

There’s then also an opportunity to point out any special facilities that the cinema might offer, such as audio description or subtitles. You might then be really lucky and get something that’s a remix of almost everything you’ve had so far, cutting clips from a couple of dozen trailers into a sort of super-trailer to remind you to go to that place where you are right now, steadily losing the will to live:

What I’m sure you’re in the mood for now is one more advert, right? What normally occurs before you get to the film is a final advert, known in advertising parlance as the gold spot. The assumption is that by now, even the latest of stragglers and latecomers are in their seat, and in the UK that represents around 175 million opportunities for a person to see the gold spot advert. This might be used to remind you of the virtues of smaller cinema, such as the See Film Differently campaign:

Or to remind you to turn off your phone, often with yet another opportunity to plug some film product:

And after all that, hopefully you’ll get to see a message from FACT, reminding you that piracy is a crime, and then whatever automated system that’s replaced the projectionist will use this as an opportunity to widen the curtains and to start projecting the film in entirely the wrong aspect ratio, causing you to wonder why you even bothered.

But before I get too cynical – after all, my love for the cinema experience is why I write this blog – so I am trying to convince you to stick with it. If you’re going to a Saturday night screening, or the opening night on a random weeknight of the latest blockbuster, then if you want any hope of a decent seat you’re going to have to suck it up and sit through the Corridor Of Uncertainty. Just remember to stop chatting to your neighbour when everyone around you starts going “SSSSSSSHHHH!!!”, it’s your clue that the film’s finally started.

Beating the system

Or am I? Do you really have to sit through this? Most cinemas seem fairly reluctant to even tell you how long this is, so attempting to arrive in your seat just in time for the film itself would seem to be more luck than judgement. There are a few exceptions which will help the frustrated cineaste in such situations. ODEON cinemas have a small comment tucked away in their FAQ section on their website:

Odeon Trailers

This at least gives you a guide as to what they’re aiming for, even if personal experience tells me those figures are a minimum, rather than an average. Vue go one better on their website:

Vue Hobbit

Knowing the end time of the film means some simple mathematics will allow you to work back to when the actual film starts, thus allowing you to sneak in stealthily and in the nick of time. For the other chains, it requires a little more work to deduce this, but there’s still ways of working out when you should aim to arrive in your seat. Take the Cineworld chain, for example:

Cineworld Listings

These are timings for the showings this week of Jack Reacher at one of my locals. Jack Reacher’s running time clocks in at two hours and ten minutes, and the screenings have around three hours between start times. What I do know, from regular attendance and observation, is that my Cineworld almost invariably leave fifteen minutes between screenings, so for the 21:00 screening I can work back to assume that chucking out time for the earlier showing will be around 20:45, so the running time of the film suggests a start time of around 20:35. This should give anyone attending a guide that around thirty minutes of their life will be lost to adverts, trailers, PDAs and other associated guff if they arrive for the scheduled start time.

There are other ways of approaching this, as the approach of the BFI IMAX in London typifies. The screenshot above from Odeon’s FAQ indicates only five minutes of promotional nonsense, but what you do get is adverts, shown while people are filing in, and the start time indicates the start of the trailers. As these are being shown on the UK’s largest screen, even the most technically minded and largely-walleted of people won’t have seen them on a screen this big. Other chains, such as the Picturehouses, typically keep most of their pre-screening preamble down to fifteen to twenty minutes, making it just that little bit more bearable.

It might not be much of an issue for you if your trips to the cinema number in single figures for the year, although if one of those was the screening of Paranormal Activity 4 I saw last year, the 38 minutes of a combination of the above will have tested even the strongest of wills (and then the film itself will have pushed those wills to breaking point). It does become an issue for the likes of me, where I tend to to double or treble bills (or sometimes more), when sitting through the adverts, trailers and twaddle each time three or more times in a day will start to cause my brain to dribble out of my ears in sheer frustration. It’s also unnecessary time sat in a cinema seat which can be spent more effectively getting to the next film.

So if I’m off to the cinema with Mrs Evangelist, I’ll try to arrive when the adverts are on, as our trailer dissections in the car on the way home often take up longer than the discussion on the film itself. If I’m going alone, then I’m aiming to arrive as close to the end of the Corridor as possible. But one thing’s certain: no matter how many films I see this year, whether it be 20 or 200, I’ll have to put up with the Gold Spot in every single one. Sad to say, I’ve spent more time in the company of men like this than some members of my own family. I miss these guys.

 

Review Of 2012: Top 40 Movies Of 2012 In Pictures

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I’ve not yet had time to write all of the words for my films of 2012; typically, at somewhere around 150 words a film, this write up normally clocks in at around 5-6,000 words. But one of my favourite parts of putting together this list over the past three years (see also 2010 and 2011) has been to find the images to go with it, in each case not picking the first picture to come up in Google Search but to try to find an image which resonated with me for each film.

So for now I thought I’d just share the pictures. Maybe words will be added to this list later, maybe they’re not necessary. (Let me know your thoughts.) But, words or no words, this is the definitive list of my top 40 of 2012, out of the new films released this year.

40. Wild Bill

Wild Bill

39. Paranorman

Paranorman

38. Killer Joe

Killer Joe

37. Le Havre

Marcel Marx (André Wilms) and Idrissa (Blondin Miguel)

36. Sound Of My Voice

Sound Of My Voice

35. Pitch Perfect

Pitch Perfect

34. Michael

Michael

33. Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene

32. Rust And Bone

Rust And Bone

31. Headhunters

Headhunters

30. A Royal Affair

A Royal Affair

29. Skyfall

Skyfall

28. About Elly

About Elly

27. The Avengers

The Avengers

26. 21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street

25. Searching For Sugar Man

Searching For Sugarman

24. Shadow Dancer

Andrea Riseborough, Aiden Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson and Brid Brennan as the McVeighs in Shadow Dancer

23. Marina Abramovic – The Artist Is Present

Marina Abramovic

22. Anna Karenina

Film Five Most

21. Into The Abyss

Into The Abyss

20. The Dark Knight Rises

Dark Knight Rises

19. Safety Not Guaranteed

SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED

18. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, film

17. Argo

Argo

16. The Muppets

The Muppets

15. Amour

Amour

14. Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice clip - video

13. Frank

Frank

12. Holy Motors

Holy Motors

11. Chronicle

IMG_1089.CR2

10. The Hunt

The Hunt

9. Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

Once Upon A Time In Anatolia

8. The Artist

The Artist

7. The Imposter

The Imposter

6. The Cabin In The Woods

The Cabin In The Woods

5. Life Of Pi

Life Of Pi

4. Looper

Looper

3. Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom

2. The Master

The Master

1. Shame

Shame

Review Of 2012: The Top 25 Performances Of 2012

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It’s performance time again. For the second year, I’ve picked out the two dozen and a bit best performances of the year. The qualification for this list is as follows: new releases or film festival films in 2012 (excluding some of the films I saw at London film festivals that I hope will get some form of reasonable distribution next year). I also make no distinction between actor or actress, and supporting or lead performance, and only one performance per film. This means that the likes of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams miss out for The Master (so guess who doesn’t), but I’ve tried to spread the love as widely as possible by doing this, rather than allowing a small number of films to dominate. I will try to mention other worthy performances for each film as I go, but in the quite likely event I forget, I’m sure you’ll know who they are.

These, then, are the top performances of the year in my eyes. There are a few honourable mentions: as well as Amy Adams, the likes of Richard Jenkins, Alicia Vikander, Domnhall Gleason, Keira Knightley, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Mark Duplass and Ralph Fiennes did sterling work across a number of different films, no single performance of theirs quite stood out enough for me to make the list. Without further ado, here’s the top bits of acting from 2012.

25. Tommy Lee Jones – Hope Springs

Tommy Lee Jones

Giving grumpy old men a slightly better name, Jones has the thankless task in Hope Springs of being the bad guy in Meryl Streep’s loveless marriage, so has to be unsympathetic enough to move the plot forward but not so much that you don’t want the pair to reconcile later. To pull this off, while still managing to be satisfyingly grouchy, is a real achievement and while the plot gears that Hope Springs works through are generally both unsurprising and somewhat unsatisfying, Tommy Lee Jones does at least help that gear change to pass with the minimum of grinding. (In every sense, thankfully.)

24. Quvenzhané Wallis – Beasts Of The Southern Wild

Quevenzhane Wallis

They say never work with children or animals, even more of a challenge when neither beast nor child in question has appeared on screen previously. Making it look easier than I’m sure it is, top Scrabble name Quevenzhané Wallis steals the film from the rest of her co-stars with a fierce performance. (Before you all write in, I know you couldn’t actually play her name in Scrabble, unless it turns out that a quvenzhané is a type of French toothbrush for fish or something.) Anyway, it will be interesting to see if Little Miss Wallis has caught the acting bug from this, as based on her performance here, there’s little she should fear to tackle.

23. Channing Tatum – 21 Jump Street

Channing Tatum

We discovered two things this year about Channing Tatum: he’s apparently quite good at comedy, as seen in 21 Jump St, and he’s also very good at stripping, as seen in Magic Mike. This may have somewhat obscured the fact that in everything he was in last year, he’s been quite good at acting (to the extent it’s rumoured he’s been written back into the GI Joe sequel after having been killed off early on originally). I’ll be totally honest, seeing him strip wasn’t really my cup of tea but any time he wants to do any more acting, I’ll be queuing up.

22. Denis Lavant – Holy Motors

Denis Lavant

It’s difficult to know whether Holy Motors is a great acting challenge or actually not much of a challenge at all. Given the almost total free rein, it would be easy to think that Denis Lavant really couldn’t go wrong, as how would you know if he did? Could all just be another comment on the artifice of performance or something. But it’s the sheer range of characters that he creates here that stands out, playing the more gentle emotions as well as the more obvious shock and humour. But everything, from fighting to accordion playing to licking a giant cyberalien’s private bits is done with the utmost conviction.

21. Joseph Gordon-Levitt – Looper

Joseph Gordon-Levitt

The main problem with casting a younger version of someone as familiar as Bruce Willis is that we all know what a young Bruce Willis looks like; think just slightly younger than Moonlighting and you’re about there. Sure, there’s a bit of prosthetic work that’s gone in to bridging the more obvious differences, but Gordon-Levitt does such a good job of portraying what you’d imagine the younger version of Bruce’s character to be, it almost makes you wish they’d stuck the fake nose on Bruce Willis to see if he could have done such a convincing job.

20. Mikkel Boe Folsgaard – A Royal Affair

Mikkel Boe Folsgaard

It’s another fine acting line, and the one that Mikkel Folsgaard is treading here is the one which requires him to show both madness and an angry authority. In a film where the quieter performances of Mads Mikkelsen and Alicia Vikander could be overshadowed, Folsgaard has just enough fun with the role of King Christian to keep you entertained early on, but exudes enough menace later to make him a credible threat to the other characters.

19. Darren Beaumont – Frank

Darren Beaumont

Frank picked up a Raindance nomination at the British Independent Film Awards earlier this year, and Darren Beaumont’s performance as the titular character was a fantastic character study, so much so that I hadn’t realised I was sat two seats away from him while I watched the film at the Cambridge Film Festival earlier this year. The film itself is a dark vision and an acquired taste, but Beaumont’s fearless turn at its centre is one of the key ingredients (along with Richard Heslop’s writing and direction) that makes it work so well.

18. Toby Jones – Berberian Sound Studio
Toby Jones
British? Don’t speak the lingo? Want to succeed abroad? Then there are two options: either shout everything in English, slowly, in the confident hope that you’ll be understood, or attempt to blend into the background, seemingly safe in your own insecurities. Toby Jones gets to do a little of both at points in Berberian Sound Studio, and a film so keen to subvert the conventions of its genre would be lost without an anchor; it gets that anchor in the form of Jones’ increasingly desperate turn.

17. Aksel Hennie – Headhunters

Aksel Hennie

The next acting combination to be pulled off on this list is to range from sleazy and confident (the mirror image of Nicolaj Coster-Waldau’s driven Clas) to the petrified, on the run weasel that his actions drive him to be. It’s also another combination that doesn’t easily provoke sympathy, but somehow Rennie pulls it off, despite being a thoroughly contemptible character from the start.

16. Anne Hathaway – The Dark Knight Rises

Anne Hathaway

It was Heath Ledger that previously stole all of the plaudits for The Dark Knight, for being seen to extend his range to levels not thought previously possible. While Anne Hathaway doesn’t quite undergo the same level of transformation, she absolutely nails her portrayal of Selina Kyle in a way that fits perfectly into the Nolan Bat-verse and stands comparison favourably with the other better screen Catwomen as much as Ledger did. Thankfully Halle Berry’s interpretation is now a distant memory, which I’m sure you’re already thanking me for dredging up.

15. Javier Bardem – Skyfall

Javier Bardem

Every single department of Skyfall was honed to a point where it felt like a high quality regular movie, rather than the 22nd sequel in a franchise creaking under the weight of its own history. That extended comfortably to the acting, where Judi Dench finally got the chance to show off her skills on an extended basis, but the biggest risks were taken in the bad guy department. Javier Bardem has now carved out two iconic bad guy roles, so let’s hope his natural flair for them doesn’t leave him too typecast in Hollywood-type product.

14. Brit Marling – Sound Of My Voice

Brit Marling

Following last year’s Another Earth, another high concept drama with sci-fi undertones featuring Brit Marling, and in this case she was a key reason for its success. Rather than the passive centre of Another Earth, Marling’s Maggie sits on the periphery here, only to gradually dominate proceedings and it’s the ambiguity of her performance that gives the drama much of its power.

13. Willem Dafoe – The Hunter

Willem Dafoe

This quiet Australian drama had an absolute rock in its foundations, with a riveting central character study from Willem Dafoe. Sympathetic but absolutely not warm or fluffy, Dafoe’s brusque hunter serves to keep proceedings just about interesting throughout, and while the movie can’t sustain its success on the strength of a single performance, Defoe gives it a pretty good go.

12. Charlize Theron – Young Adult

Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron had a pretty good year, although her other main performance in Snow White And The Hunstyawn was somewhat wasted on the material. Not such an issue here as Jason Reitman’s direction and Diablo Cody’s spiky script allowed Theron’s misguided misanthrope to beat a path through all the human kindness and two-faced bitching around her. It’s all the more satisfying that Theron manages to achieve humanity without her character achieving any real redemption.

11. Tom Hardy – Lawless

Tom Hardy

His most talked about – and impersonated – performance might have been behind a mask in Nolan’s summer blockbuster, but this performance in John Hillcoat’s twentieth century Western was the absolute antithesis, Hardy maintaining power and threat despite mumbling his way through most of his lines. His character’s through line in the narrative and eventual fate are also one of the highlights of a slightly underwhelming script.

10. Matthew McConaughey – Killer Joe

Matthew McConaughey

If I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s how to spell Matthew McConaughey without looking it up. He’s followed up last year’s entertaining but lightweight The Lincoln Lawyer with two turns this year, each as magnetic as the other, and while Magic Mike allowed him to show off to his fullest both physically and dramatically, it’s the understated menace that seeps from every pore, even – maybe especially – when he’s armed with nothing but a chicken drumstick that put McConaughey back on the map again. *goes to check McConaughey spelling one more time, just in case*

9. Dane De Haan – Chronicle

Dane de Haan

Also popping up and showing his range in Lawless, it’s this calling card as the disturbed Andrew in super-powered camcorder flick Chronicle that’s likely earned Dane De Haan the role of Harry Osborn in the Amazing Spider-Man sequel now in production. Let’s hope he can bring that same edginess and defiance to that role as he does to this one, as much of Chronicle’s success stems from De Haan’s willingness to push boundaries and keep it dark.

8. Andrea Riseborough – Shadow Dancer

Andrea Riseborough

I still believe Andrea Riseborough is the most undervalued actress working today, and she’s followed up fantastic work in the likes of Never Let Me Go, Resistance and Brighton Rock last year with another memorable role as the troubled IRA member forced to work as a double agent by the British. I’m intrigued to see what will come of her next role, one of the two female lead roles opposite Tom Cruise in the sci-fi blockbuster Oblivion, but I’ve no issues with her pushing her range given the talent she’s shown so far.

7. Jean-Luc Trintignant – Amour

Jean-Luc Trintignant

Emanuelle Riva’s role in Michael Haneke’s dark meditation on old age and the inevitable ravages of time might have been the more physically and technically demanding, but it’s Jean-Luc Trintignant through whom the audience experiences the full weight of pain and suffering, and it’s to Haneke’s credit that he managed to tempt Trintignant out of retirement to play the male lead here. He carries the role with incredible dignity, even when faced with extreme suffering, and it’s actually testament to what can still be achieved despite advancing years.

6. Jennifer Lawrence – Silver Linings Playbook

Jennifer Lawrence

As I’ve already said in other posts, I’m not a huge fan of SLP, but that doesn’t mean I can’t admire the continuing development as an actress of Jennifer Lawrence. Deserving of the Oscar she didn’t get for Winter’s Bone, and showing she can work in the mainstream just as effectively in X-Men: First Class, it was a toss up between this and The Hunger Games for which was the better performance this year, and while this turn just edges it, the subtlety of her work in Hunger Games shouldn’t be underestimated.

5. Elizabeth Olsen – Martha Marcy May Marlene

Elizabeth Olsen

Another in the up-and-coming roster of great American actresses, the good Olsen sister shone on our screen both in Josh Radnor’s self-indulgent and chewy Liberal Arts, but also in yet another great movie this year about cults and their effect. Given her ability to do both charming and distant so effectively, hopefully this is just the start of a promising career. Next up for her, also showing she’s not afraid to take a few risks, is the Spike Lee Oldboy remake.

4. Michael Fassbender – Shame

Michael Fassbender

Baring his body might have gotten all the attention, but baring his soul was what really made Shame the best performance in Michael Fassbender’s career so far. He’s had one of those years when it felt like he was in everything, also cropping up in A Dangerous Method, Haywire and most memorably in Prometheus as the android in plain sight. But it was his driven, desperate turn at the beginning of the year that seared itself onto my memory.

3. Mads Mikkelsen – The Hunt

Mads Mikkelsen

Another good year for former Bond villain Mikkelsen, with strong performances in both A Royal Affair and this, Thomas Vinterberg’s terrifyingly plausible chiller. Even without the social relevance that other events in this country have unwittingly brought it, The Hunt would still have been completely gripping, and it couldn’t have worked without Mikkelsen’s bewildered and ultimately angry performance as the wronged school teacher. Such a shame that acting in foreign language films is so often overlooked at awards time.

2. Joaquim Phoenix – The Master

Joaquim Phoenix

It was difficult to decide which of the performances to rate most highly in The Master, and for a film so dependent on the success of its characterisations The Master needs the highest quality of acting to succeed. Phoenix’s performance might be the most showy of the three main protagonists, but it also carries with it the biggest range and his barely controlled rage and what might be one of the most effective portrayals of inebriation on screen of inebriation I’ve seen in a long time. Let’s all try to forget about that Casey Affleck farrago now, shall we?

1. Marion Cotillard – Rust And Bone

Marion Cotillard

Anyone who’d like to claim that Marion Cotillard’s performance wasn’t the best of the year frankly hasn’t got a leg to stand on.

*waits while tumbleweed blows past*

Right, now I’ve got that out of my system, time to give due credit to Cotillard’s superb turn as Stephanie, the killer whale trainer who has to turn her life around after an unfortunate accident leaves her crippled both physically and emotionally. Cotillard makes the transition to rediscovering herself compelling, her unconventional relationship with Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) believable and reels out scene after scene of brilliance, embracing both the emotional highs and lows and possibly even winning new fans of Katy Perry in the process. Her more subdued turn as Miranda Tate in The Dark Knight Rises shows she continues to be Christopher Nolan’s muse, and when she’s capable of heights like this, it’s not hard to see why.

Last year:

The Top 25 Performances Of 2011

Review Of 2012: The 10 Worst Movies I Saw In 2012

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It’s that time of year when I feel the Christmas spirit. No, wait, it’s actually sympathy kicking in for actual film critics, who have to watch whatever is put in front of them, rather than picking and choosing. But at least they don’t then suffer a crushing disappointment when something they were hoping would turn out to be good – or at least not unspeakably awful – turn out to be as enjoyable as getting a prostate examination from Captain Hook.

So this isn’t the list of the ten worst films of the year; even though the number one on the list I scored 1/10, my lowest possible score, there must have been ten worse films released this year, I just had the common sense to avoid them. (Although there was a period of about 20 minutes when I was considering doing a double bill of The Three Stooges and Keith Lemon: The Movie, before thankfully I came to my senses.) What this is, then, is the list of the ten most disappointing films out of those I chose to see this year, and a brief word of explanation as to what possessed me. (If there’s a hyperlink on the title, then you can click through for the full review.)

This Means War10. This Means War

Reason I watched it: more in hope than expectation.

If This Means War achieves one thing from its unfortunate existence, it does manage to prove conclusively that two wrongs don’t make a right. You cannot take a sub-standard rom-com and bolt it uncomfortably to a sub-standard action movie and hope to have anything other than one giant disappointment. I would like to say I expect more of Chris Pine, but that’s pretty much based on being Captain Kirk; I absolutely feel I’m entitled to expect more of Tom Hardy at this point in his career, but they should both have known better with McG’s name attached. The saddest thing is either that Chelsea Handler is the best thing in this, or that she’s the best thing despite acting like she’s reading all of her lines off of Reese Witherspoon’s forehead.

9. Paranormal Activity 4

Reason I watched it: I have a Cineworld card and I’ve seen the first three. I know that’s more of an excuse than a reason…

The juggernaut finally runs out of steam. After a film making effectively creepy use of its single camera set-ups, then somehow repeating the trick in a sequel with multiple cameras, then growing slightly tired by the time that the third entry rolled around with only a moving camera to add to the box of tricks, the best that this unwanted fourquel can offer is some infra-red malarkey using an Xbox. Tired, scareless and witless, it’s also hamstrung by the continuing need to impose a mythology, and also the need to return somewhat to the present after travelling back in time over the course of 2 and 3. This is very much a tween entry in the film, and taking an age to get to a minimal payoff will only work so many times; which is why, of course, we’re getting Paranormal Activity 5 next year. Will someone please drag me off backwards before it gets here?

8. Battleship

Reason I watched it: It had Liam Neeson in. Nowhere near enough, as it turns out.

It’s all very loud and full of hardware, but Battleship takes itself far too seriously for the most part with only odd flashes of the joy that flood through the best blockbusters. The set pieces are underwhelming, the best members of the cast are sidelined for long stretches and the alien ships are either covered in water or shown in EXTREME CLOSE-UP. It successfully captures the feeling of watching two other people playing the board game without remembering how dull that is if you’re not participating. Also, those expecting logic or motivation should check those expectations at the door. The occasional moment of wit or invention is blown apart by long stretches of dullness or idiocy. DID I MENTION IT’S VERY LOUD?

7. The Iron Lady

Reason I watched it: It was the first film I saw this year, and just wanted to have an opinion on Meryl Streep for the Oscars. My opinion? She didn’t deserve to win.

Meryl Streep is eerily hypnotic when in full flow, but it’s just one of the film’s many failings that it spends as much time with her doddering around under the effects of dementia as it does powering through cabinet meetings and raging at the weak men populating the House Of Commons. Some spectacularly misjudged casting (Anthony Head as Geoffrey Howe anyone? Thought not) and poor direction don’t help matters, and the failure to either revere or condemn its central figure leave it sitting on a dull and uninteresting fence that might teach you less than you already know.

6. Tulpa

Reason I watched it: It was part of the day I spent at FrightFest this summer. Thrillingly/ excruciatingly, members of the cast and crew were in attendance while the audience laughed themselves silly.

Well-meaning might be the best thing I can say about Tulpa, which is odd for a film looking to reinvigorate those giallo horror traditions of Italy. Unfortunately, after a reasonably creepy and sadistic opening, it then calls upon all of the worst traditions of the genre, including having all of the cast speak in English, even if it’s clearly not their first language. While this isn’t uncommon for a giallo, the relatively high production values (at least comparably) throw the other failings into much sharper focus, and the unfortunate comedy highpoint of this comes in the form of Michela Cescon’s Joanna, poorly acted and even more poorly overdubbed, so that she appears to be reacting to grave news as if she’s just seen a cute kitten video on YouTube. It’s about the worst thing I’ve seen this year in reality, but it’s heart was in the right place and it didn’t really know it was that bad, so I’ve slightly taken pity on it.

5. Electrick Children

Reason I watched it: It was distributed by Picturehouse’s distribution arm, who’d distributed Cave Of Forgotten Dreams. (They also distributed Miranda July’s The Future, which I loathed so much in 2011. Hey ho.)

An insufferable road movie that goes precisely nowhere, Electrick Children assembles an eclectic cast from the likes of Rory Culkin to Billy Zane and promptly gives them nothing interesting to do. The idea sounds intriguing on paper (girl becomes pregnant listening to a tape, then goes searching for the “father”) but the execution is shocking, meandering through contrivances and searching for a rebellious streak that, when found, would make John Major look like an ultra-radical. Devoid of any interesting characters or memorable dialogue and despairingly predictable, Electrick Children lacks spark and energy and fails to deliver on pretty much any level.

4. Dark Shadows

Reason I watched it: Because I desperately want Tim Burton to be making good live action movies. This was just desperate…

Not only the worst Burton-Depp collaboration of the eight they’ve made, but a strong contender for Tim Burton’s worst film yet, which from a man who made the Planet Of The Apes remake is especially dispiriting. The tone veers wildly from high camp to sub-gothic horror and spectacularly fails to nail either with any level of success. The characters are to a person both contemptuous and uninteresting, and it often feels as if Burton’s striving for in-jokes he’s not prepared to let anyone else in on. The Seventies setting is hackneyed and wasted, scenes with the likes of Christopher Lee add nothing while jarring terribly and the charisma vacuum engulfing the characters kills interest stone dead by about half way through; not even a convoluted final reel that throws in unconvincing plot developments can resurrect it from the grave.

3. The Wedding Video

Reason I watched it: I’d actually gone to the cinema to see a double bill of The Bourne Legacy and The Expendables 2, but having been delayed en route I missed Bourne and had nothing better to do for two hours. Turns out sitting in the car would have been preferable… (Once again, the curse of the Cineworld card.)

Why do makers of supposed romantic comedies believe that the best way to show a couple getting together is to show them arguing and bitching in a totally unfunny manner? I still have nightmares about the Vince Vaughn / Jennifer Aniston “comedy” The Break-Up, and The Wedding Video plumbs similarly excruciating depths. I feel genuinely sorry for Lucy Punch, who carries on manfully (womanfully?) while the rest of the film disintegrates around her. It’s desperately lacking in laughs for a comedy – I counted one, and that’s generous – and the acting of the male stars leaves a lot to be desired, especially Rufus Hound who has an air of really bad sixth form revue about him. Also, the stupidity of the ending beggars belief, even considering what’s gone before.

2. House At The End Of The Street

Reason I watched it: It had Jennifer Lawrence in it, and at the time it had a good rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I’d been so obsessed with the Cambridge Film Festival I’d missed that this didn’t screen for critics, so that those rating were probably from the film critic for Kangaroo Weekly in Tasmania and Armond White. (Ask your mum and dad if you’re not sure who Armond White is. They’ll help you Google him.)

The acronym used in the promotional material for this film was HATES, which not only doesn’t work as an acronym but is also an unfortunate prediction for my reaction to the shameless rehash horror. Jennifer Lawrence is a fantastic actress, as she’s proven time and time again, but here you can see the desperation in her eyes, not driven by a psycho killer but instead the realisation of what she’s let herself in for, and by the mid-point she’s clearly dialling her performance in. There’s a total lack of scares, characters commit the worst kinds of horror movie stupidity to move the plot forward and it’s so poorly shot that any remaining interest goes out the window. Elizabeth Shue and Gil Bellows do enough supporting grunt work to just about keep this from the ignominy of being my worst film of the year, but it’s a close run thing.

Seven Psychopaths1. Seven Psychopaths

Reason I watched it: Two manky hookers and a racist dwarf.

Yes, Martin “In Bruges” McDonagh, who gave us one of the comedy classics of the Noughties, has managed to produce something so far at the opposite end of the spectrum they may have to get two spectrums and staple them together to allow for the drop off in quality. Where In Bruges sparkled with crisp dialogue, bristled with emotion and even managed to squeeze out some pathos, Seven Psychopaths feels lazy, but actually then attempts to justify that lack of effort through a self-reflexive journey through the mind of a movie-maker. What results is a film which feels nothing more than an active and agressive insult to the intelligence of the viewer, as every single plot development becomes predictable and trite and the whole enterprise slowly and excruciatingly disappears up its own backside. I can only hope this is a brief aberration in a fine career rather than a sign of what’s to come, but Seven Psychopaths – it genuinely pains me to say – was my worst film of 2012.

Previous years:

The 10 Worst Movies I Saw In 2011

Review of 2012: The Top 30 Scenes Of 2012

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You might wonder why I watch as many films as I do; yesterday I achieved the personal milestone of getting to 200 films seen for the first time in a cinema in a calendar year. While some are re-releases, the vast majority are new films, but obviously they can’t all be great. Sometimes it’s just a single performance that make them worth watching, or it may be that the film isn’t quite the sum of its intricately composed parts, so for the second time I’m honouring the moments in films which stood out most for me. Consequently this is a somewhat different list to the top 40 films of the year which will appear (hopefully) tomorrow.

Last year when I did this I had real trouble tracking down scenes from a lot of the films. This year seems to be slightly easier, and I’ve got either the clip I wanted or another decent clip from the same film. I’ve excluded re-releases (otherwise this list would be just full of old clips, from Lawrence Of Arabia to Gremlins, and while that would entertain both of us it’s not really the point), and I’ve also stuck to a one clip per film rule; I will talk through some other highlights in the descriptions though.

One final, very important disclaimer: while this is normally somewhere between a PG and a 12A blog, a few of the scenes contain swearing, violence, gory moments or all of the above. If you’re of a delicate disposition, clips 27, 25, 20, 17, 16, 8 and 5 may not be for you. I hope you enjoy the rest.

30. Argo

What made Argo so effective was the balance between comedy and drama, with the tension ratcheted up expertly in the last third. Before that, Ben Affleck moved quietly and efficiently through his own film, playing as both comedic and dramatic straight man to a range of excellent performances around him. Here we see the key to getting that balance just right, as Alan Arkin lays out just how ludicrous Baffleck’s plan is.

29. Jack Reacher

A very late addition to the list, and the crying shame is there’s not more of him in it, because every time Werner Herzog appears in the film, he walks off with it, even despite the unnecessary milky eye he’s been given. This is his first appearance; as the film’s only out this week, no English clip yet of this that I could find, so behold the strange sight of Herzog dubbing over himself in German.

28. The Artist

It’s not a thorough and faithful dissection of what made black and white films as good as their more modern counterparts, but what it does do is successfully evoke the best elements of the films of that era, and understands what made them so compelling. It’s not afraid to have a little fun with itself either, so here’s the nightmare scene when Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin discovers there might be more to the world around him than meets the eye. Er, I mean ear.

27. Headhunters

The likes of Let The Right One In and the Millennium trilogy have put Scandanavian film making back on the map in the past few years, so it was no surprise that this adaptation of the Jo Nesbo thriller had no trouble finding an audience. Dark laughs and tense action combined well, no more so than in this scene where we first see what lengths Roger will go to in the name of self preservation.

26. The Raid

The Raid is a great film, but for me had two slight flaws: it’s so stripped down that there’s not enough left to engage with in any of the characters, and by the final stretch the fights have become a little too drawn out and repetitive. You can still enjoy them in isolation, as this hallway set fight easily proves.

25. Killer Joe

I have to confess that watching this next scene in isolation is much tougher than watching it in the context of the movie. Director William Friedkin has described it as a twisted fairy tale, with the young princess looking for her Prince Charming, without in this case realising he’s a ruthless, amoral killer. The most talked about scene in the film, this is where Joe gets busy with some fried chicken. I’m not sure The Colonel will be grateful for the product placement. (This is probably the toughest scene to watch on the list; don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

24. Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present

2012 has been a superb year for documentaries, and it’s a shame that they still seem to suffer from distribution difficulties and attracting audiences. When they’re as good as this one, it’s even more painful. The documentary details the performance artist’s efforts to be the centrepiece of a retrospective of her own work, and some of those who sat opposite her were moved to tears; this clip gives a flavour of that experience. For me the pivotal moment in the film was when Marina’s former partner and collaborator Ulay takes the opposite chair; the keen eyed will also notice James Franco popping up late on in the film.

23. Sound Of My Voice

Sound Of My Voice managed to make it into about two cinemas in London in the middle of the Olympics, so the majority of people missed out on the second Brit Marling film in around six months to feature a central performance from her coupled to some sci-fi high concepts. For my money, this one worked a lot better than Another Earth, much of which was down to the performances. In this clip, director Zal Batmanglij dissects the key scene from the middle of the movie, where Marling’s Maggie is starting to exert her will on the members of the cult that have sprung up around her.

http://nyti.ms/VIOtze

22. Shadow Dancer

I still think Andrea Riseborough is one of the most undervalued actresses in this country, and Clive Owen would have a similar claim to make about his own acting. Shadow Dancer is a masterclass from the pair of them, helping to keep the viewer guessing to the eventual outcome right to the end. Here Owen’s handler is desperately trying to convince Riseborough to pull out before the heat gets too much for both of them.

21. Dredd

In the battle of this year’s tower block epics, Dredd just shaded it, with better characterisations, some solid action sequences and an 18 certificate that ultimately didn’t do the chance of a sequel any favours. Hopefully this will find new life on home formats as it’s leagues ahead of the Stallone attempt in quality.

20. Looper

Rian Johnson finally lived up to the potential he’d shown in Brick and The Brothers Bloom with this ideas-packed time travel crime drama / love story / tragedy / oh now it isn’t because of all the time travel / lots of other things probably. There’s an internal logic at play which just about hangs together, even if this isn’t how you think time travel works, but for all we know travelling in time causes you to speak Portuguese until flowers grow out of your head, so the logic works for me. Here that logic is put to use in what could be the most brutal scene of the whole film.

19. Berberian Sound Studio

So you make a horror movie about horror movies, and within that movie you have a horror movie being made, but the horror comes from the insanity of making the horror movie, and you never directly see any of the movie being made. So Berberian Sound Studio treads that famous old fine line between genius and insanity, but we do get one look at the film, in these fantastic opening credits, which feel so authentic you can practically see the blood run.

18. Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted

Yes, 73% of people who saw this still wake up in the middle of the night singing “DA-DA-DADADADADA-DA-DA-CIRCUS! DA-DA-DADADADADA-DA-DA-AFRO!” but the two moments that made me laugh the most – in among a considerable amount of moments that made me laugh – both involved King Julien’s sidekick Mort. One’s clever, one’s pretty stupid, both appealed to me.

17. Skyfall

Given the intense media and fan scrutiny around Skyfall, you could feasibly imagine going into Skyfall and not getting any surprises. I’d read enough about the film that nothing that happened in the last hour was a huge surprise, but maybe that made this scene even more powerful for being so unexpected. Just when you thought Javier Bardem couldn’t get any more creepy…

16. Excision

Saw this at a Fright Night all-nighter, and it served to make everything else a little climactic, as it turned out to be the best horror movie of the year. It’s screwed up in the head from the start, but in the way that horror films tend to be funny-ha-ha, with a little funny-peculiar thrown in. This is the first point in the movie when it crosses the line to being genuinely disturbing in the real world rather than in Pauline’s dreams. I’ll warn you before you hit play, it’s basically the dissection of a dead bird, so if that’s going to freak you out, move right along. Also, in that case don’t ever rent this because the end of the film will proper give you nightmares.

15. Safety Not Guaranteed

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Safety Not Guaranteed, which has the cards funny, kooky and sweet, and is carrying pretty much a full house and a straight flush worth of them. That’s all embodied in this scene, where journalistic intern Darius first approaches maybe time-traveller Kenneth after her boss Jeff botched their first approach. There’s just something about the way that Aubrey Plaza puts the can back on the shelf without breaking eye contact that gets me every time.

14. The Dark Knight Rises

I actually saw this scene for the first time in 2011 as it was attached to IMAX showings of Mission :Impossible: Ghost Protocol: I’ve Forgotten Where The Colon Goes Again. (A similar scene from Star Trek Into Darkness Without Any Colons played in IMAXs in December this year, but won’t be troubling next year’s top 30. I’m hopeful something from that film will.) Aidan Gillen is great, but hadn’t yet reached recognition levels with me when I saw this; thankfully a good chunk of Game Of Thrones and Shadow Dancer has put that right. This scene’s also notable for being yet another Nolan reference to Bond films, in this case Licence To Kill; it’s almost like he wants to make one.

13. Moonrise Kingdom

If you were looking for a single scene that summed up the innocent heart and delightful soul of Moonrise Kingdom, you’d probably pick the “kids on the beach” scene. Instead I’ve gone for this scene with Bob Balaban which shows just how perfectly honed every possible element of the film is, from the scene framing to the script and the performances.

12. Holy Motors

Every long cinematic event needs an intermission. So here’s the one from Holy Motors, an accordion-based cover of R.L. Burnside’s Let My Baby Ride. Pure joy.

11. Silver Linings Playbook

I didn’t rate Silver Linings as a film in totality, but I did rate some of the performances, not least Jennifer Lawrence’s award worthy turn as the bolshy Tiffany. Her best scene is likely the one where she hands Robert De Niro and the rest of the cast their ass on a silver platter, acting everyone else off screen and expect to see that playing at awards ceremonies in a couple of months, but for now here’s something more subtle and subdued from earlier in the film.

10. The Cabin In The Woods

I could have gone with a whole stack of scenes here, from what is the funniest two hours Joss Whedon’s ever put on screen (and yes, I am including The Avengers in that). In the end, it was a toss up between a handful, but if you’ve not seen the film then most of my later choices will ruin the surprise, and you should still keep that for yourself. So I’ve gone with a woman attempting to French kiss a mounted head. Tasty.

9. Chronicle

Calling Chronicle found footage almost feels like a bit of an insult; it takes the video camera perspective, marries it to something equivalent to a superhero origin story, and then runs with it in a way that feels organic and not a little dangerous. The most uplifting scene in the film is this one, when the characters start to realise the full extent of their powers, but the scene where Andrew is fine tuning his gifts on a live spider is also pretty powerful.

8. Rust And Bone

If I had to pick one scene of the year that somehow didn’t lose its power despite being entirely predictable if kind individuals who write reviews and run movie websites had blown the gaff and given away the early twist, then this would be it. Actually, given that extraordinarily specific set of criteria, not sure what else would qualify there. Jacques Audiard packs a whole set of scenes with raw power, and pretty much anything with whales or fighting in it would also be worthy of attention.

7. Life Of Pi

Initially I was looking for the boat sinking scene, which is a masterpiece of effective editing and special effects, but most of the scenes available online actually occur once Pi and Richard Parker are alone together on the boat. So here’s the two of them getting to know each other a little better.

6. Shame

Whenever you listen to the actual music charts these days, they tempt, taunt and tease you with the possibility of what could be number one this week, even when it’s the star of the latest reality singing show and no-one else has released anything all year. If I were to do the same, then I’d be saying that my last chart of the year update in November had this at the top, and now the only two 10/10 films I’ve seen since can dethrone it. So will Life Of Pi, The Master or Shame be the top film of the year tomorrow? Shame’s been top ever since January, and this (despite Carey Mulligan’s best efforts) was the standout scene.

5. 21 Jump Street

The out-and-out comedy that I laughed longest and hardest at all year was also one of the most surprising. Based on the personnel involved, this should have had no right to be as funny as it was, and it’s packed full of laughs from beginning to end. I’ve put aside Korean Jesus and Robin Hood on the freeway and gone for this, where Channing Tatum proves his gifts at comedy (his literal crashing of orchestra practice was another highlight).

4. The Avengers

Hulk smash. That is all.

3. The Master

Paul Thomas Anderson, how I love thee. I actually enjoyed this more than There Will Be Blood, and of all the character interactions it was the first interrogation scene between Lancaster and Freddie that really caught the attention. Couldn’t find the whole scene, but there’s a small chunk of it at the end of this sequence.

2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

It was the scene we were all waiting for (for seemingly longer than it takes hairy midgets to throw gold into a volcano), but it was worth the wait. It was the first scene filmed, apparently, which makes it all the more impressive that Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman found their stride so quickly, and the Gollum / Bilbo scene takes its place as an instant classic.

1. The Muppets

So to the number 1, and it’s a scene from a film that America selfishly kept to themselves in 2011, only letting us see it in February this year. The biggest joke might be lost on those who aren’t fans of The Big Bang Theory, but since Mrs Evangelist seems to think I’m an even bigger nerd than any of the characters in that series, it’s not surprise that (a) we’re both BBT fans, and (b) we both squealed in delight when we saw this in the cinema. This is the music video rather than the direct scene, but it’s pretty much the same and the Oscar that this song picked up was thoroughly deserved. I also had tears in my eyes during “Pictures In My Head” but I am just a sentimental old softie. Sniff.

Review Of 2012: The 10 Most Resolutely Meh Films Of 2012

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What you tend to find at the end of the year is an avalanche of lists celebrating the best films of the year. No-one ever sets out to celebrate those films for which the middle of the road is the best they can hope for, and for good reason; awards are there for the pinnacle of achievement, not the also rans. However, democracy is a bad idea as, in general, people are stupid (not you, dear reader, of course; you’re actually giving up your time to read what I’ve written, so you are a genius), and not all the right movies get the credit they deserve. There are some that seem to have garnered high praise, where moderate acknowledgement or general apathy would have been more appropriate. So here’s the list of the ten that have, in my humble obviously correct opinion, received an entirely incorrect amount of credit this year.

For each film I’ve shown the score from the aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, showing the level of general critical consensus. A reminder that a score of 60% or above is Fresh, below is Rotten.

Margin CallMargin Call – Tomatometer 88%

What the critics said: “A shrewd and confident drama.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

“Chock full of terrific performances…” – Ian Freer, Empire

“Easily the best Wall Street movie ever made…” – David Denby, New Yorker

Why they’re wrong: The biggest mistake in Margin Call is the oversimplification of the financial crisis. What this amounts to is then a series of men in suits looking at screens and looking concerned, then acting as if the implications of that were obvious. While many of the two or three handers that follow are dramatically engaging, it’s about as satisfying biting into a Scotch egg to discover a hole in the middle. The drama simply doesn’t work with nothing to bind the meat around.

HaywireHaywire – Tomatometer 80%

What the critics said: “A rollicking good ride” – David Jenkins, Time Out

“A fresh, muscular payback movie” – Simon Crook, Empire

“Watching Carano kick, spin, flip, choke, crack and crush the fiercest of foes… is thoroughly entertaining, highly amusing and frankly somewhat awe-inspiring” – Betsy Sharkey, LA Times

Why they’re wrong: Another instance of great moments with no foundation, but this time instead of a central concept it’s actual drama that we’re missing. Gina Carano is attractive, feisty, just about a good enough actress so as to not be distracting and kicks huge amounts of ass, but it’s less interesting than a walk down a one-way street, so utterly bereft is the narrative of any sense of drama, plot or anything to engage more than one part of the brain.

Pirates!The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists! – Tomatometer 86%

What the critics said: “Sure footed, witty and zany fun” – Claudia Puig, USA Today

“A clever piece of business that is a complete pleasure to experience.” – Kenneth Turan, LA Times

“Another Aardman triumph.” – Olly Richards, Empire

Why they’re wrong: Aardman have a reputation for delivering fantastic animation with heart, soul and plenty of laughs, and while all are present here they’re served in much smaller portions than usual, replacing belly laughs and wild inspiration with moderate chuckles and the odd flash of wit. It’s a shame, as it feels like there was the potential for a classic within the material, it just wasn’t exploited to its full potential.

BraveBrave – Tomatometer 78%

What the critics said: “A rousing, gorgeously animated good time” – Pete Travers, Rolling Stone

“…packs a level of poignancy on par with such beloved male-bonding classics as Finding Nemo” – Peter Debruge, Variety

“A hugely entertaining, properly magical adventure” – Matthew Turner, View London

Why they’re wrong: Pixar have had a fantastic run, and you can’t fault them for wanting to try something different; it does feel slightly misanthropic to criticise it when that doesn’t come off, but this push into a true fairy tale ironically loses some of the magic that we associate with Pixar. Again, a lack of real laughs doesn’t help, but the setting and the lack of sympathetic characters at the start also make it difficult to truly engage the magic.

UntouchableThe Intouchables – Tomatometer 76%

What the critics said: “This is not a film that will change the whole world, but one that just might charm it.” – Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

“The Intouchables is simply irresistible” – Ed Gibbs, The Sun Herald

“The cliches are so skillfully navigated only the heartless will fail to be charmed” – Matt Glasby, Flicks.co.nz

Why they’re wrong: A case of almost too much of a good thing, The Intouchables has all the right ingredients for a light souffle of a movie, but proceeds to bake them together into a cynical, leaden frittata instead. Pretty much every cliché you can imagine turns up, to the point where the last act is just a soul-destroying progression of predictability and cheese. The last kicker comes when the real life counterparts are revealed, and they look and act nothing like their filmic equivalents; it’s not inconceivable to think that their story was nothing like this, either.

Killing Them SoftlyKilling Them Softly – Tomatometer 76%

What the critics said: “A caustic but thoroughly impressive kick in the teeth” – Tim Robey, Daily Telegraph

“A juicy, bloody, grimy and profane crime drama that amply satisfies as a deep-dish genre piece” – Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

“It is outstandingly watchable, superbly and casually pessimistic” – Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

Why they’re wrong: There’s a wonderfully grimy crime thriller at the heart of Killing Them Softly, but oddly for a man whose previous film lasted about four days it’s far too slight, feeling undercooked at just over an hour and a half. Additionally, there’s a political subtext that’s so heavy-handed you can practically see the hand prints where it’s been slapped around by director Andrew Dominik. Despite a few great performances, Killing Them Softly never gets out of third gear.

Beasts Of The Southern WildBeasts Of The Southern Wild – Tomatometer 85%

What the critics said: “Beautiful, funny, timely and tender, this is the American arthouse movie of the year.” – Damon Wise, Empire

“This film is a remarkable creation” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“Treat yourself to the experience of this perfect storm of a film” – Richard Corliss, TIME Magazine

Why they’re wrong: Sure, there’s a lot going on here, and much of it is moving, even close to magical, but there’s almost too many ideas, and too many rough edges that don’t fit together. It almost feels that the removal of the most overtly magical elements and some quick editing might have made something more efficient out of this, but in its current form its ramshackle charm kept me only mildly engaged, rather than truly winning me over.

Silver Linings PlaybookSilver Linings Playbook – Tomatometer 91%

What the critics said: “Dramatic, emotional, even heartbreaking, as well as wickedly funny… a complete success from a singular talent.” – Kenneth Turan, LA Times

“…the exuberant new movie from David O. Russell, does almost everything right.” – Manohla Dargis, New York Times

“…the scenes between Pat and Tiffany are sculpted with an almost David Mamet-like sharpness.” – Justin Chang, Variety

Why they’re wrong: The seemingly random portrayals of mental illness (let’s pick a description and assign it to a character, whether or not that’s what the character’s actually suffering from) don’t serve the characters or the story particularly well, and that means that the final moral of “cheer up and do a bit of dancing and everything will be fine” is borderline insulting. All the more unfortunate that the cracking performances, from the powerhouse of Jennifer Lawrence to the restraint of Chris Tucker, get lost in the misguided plotting.

End Of Watch – Tomatometer 85%

End Of WatchWhat the critics said: “A visceral story of beat cops that is rare in its sensitivity, rash in its violence and raw in its humor.” – Betsy Sharkey, LA Times

“…one of the best police movies in recent years…” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“End of Watch cuts past the cliches of standard police procedurals” – Peter Debruge, Variety

Why they’re wrong: The cops are fine, the action sequences are often great, and even Anna Kendrick does fantastic work as the new wife of Jake Gyllenhall’s grounded cop. But the movie makes far too much effort setting up a self-filmed visual conceit that recalls found footage, then abandons it when the going gets tricky, and the bad guys feel like they’ve been written by troubled five year olds with a dictionary of bad guy cliches that they’re having trouble reading. It then becomes impossible to take any of it remotely seriously, and the ending is left fatuous when it should be deeply emotional.

And the one where people were wrong the other way:

John CarterJohn Carter – Tomatometer 51%

What the critics said: “I felt as if someone had dragged me into the kitchen of my local Greggs, and was baking my head into the centre of a colossal cube of white bread.” – Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

“It feels less like a revival of a classic saga than a rip-off twice removed.” – Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph

“Considering it stems from a story that helped define a genre limited only by imagination, John Carter is a curiously dull film.” – Jordan Farley, SFX Magazine

Why they’re wrong: Admittedly it does take a little while to get going and it’s a little po-faced initially, but once it does John Carter is an old fashioned romp that’s a lot of fun. It’s actually the film you feel George Lucas was trying to make with large parts of Attack Of The Clones, which maybe is why everyone took to it so badly, because who wants to be reminded of that? And spare a thought for Taylor Kitsch, who got this and the genuinely awful Battleship. He deserves more luck in 2013, even if a return trip to Mars seems somewhat unlikely.

Further reading:

Review Of The Year 2010: 5 Movies Which I Didn’t Like That Much, But Most People Seemingly Did

Review Of 2012: The Half Dozen Special – 12 Best Trailers Of 2012

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2012 is nearly over, and so is the second full year on the blog. I generally think it’s been a pretty good year for film, but actually not a great year for trailers. It’s also not been a great year for predictions; in the corresponding post last year I correctly predicted that the Mayans had incorrectly predicted the end of the world, but then incorrectly predicted myself that we would get half of the Hobbit film this year. (If only.)

So looking back over the year, there’s not been massive amounts of originality when it comes to hacking two minutes and thirty seconds (give or take) out of your film and splicing them together, but there’s still been a decent enough batch to put together a list of my favourites. I’ve not seen all of the films, and they’re not all trailers of great movies, but that’s not the point, it’s all about what’s contained within these 150 or so seconds. These are the dozen promos that most floated my boat in 2012.

Best Trailer For A Clearly Awful Movie – Elephant White

Yes, this is the best bad trailer that we have of 2012, to paraphrase Argo. Clearly no sane person’s ever going to watch the film, unless it’s on a Friday night on DVD with a liver-threatening amount of cheap lager, but if you can’t enjoy Djimon Hounsou, big guns, Kevin Bacon with one of the most ludicrous accents in the history of anything ever, more big guns and a caption indicating that the director also made something quite well regarded (yes, really), and this is about my biggest guilty pleasure of the year. (That, and knowing how to spell Djimon Hounsou without looking it up.)

Best Trailer For A Not Clearly Awful Movie* – Seven Psychopaths

* But it is an awful movie. Even talking too much about it now will just serve to make me angry again, not least because I actively recommended this film to friends on the basis of the trailer. The total arrogance and intelligence-insulting smugness are thankfully missing from the trailer, but be warned: the experience of watching the trailer is nothing like that of the film, and where Sam Rockwell’s last line might raise a smile here, by the time I saw it in the film I wanted to run up to the screen and punch him in the face.

Best Two Minute Version Of The Whole Movie – Moonrise Kingdom

It’s basically many of the best bits of the entire film, including much of the music and a lot of the jokes; if you want to save yourself the time of watching the whole film, then you deserve a good talking to, as it’s properly brilliant, but if you want to give someone who’s not seen it an idea of what they’re in for, then go right ahead.

Best Black And White Trailer – The Turin Horse

Also best trailer for film I haven’t seen yet. (Yes, even better than Elephant White.)

Best Trailer That Sets Up The Wrong Expectation Of The Film – Killer Joe

Don’t get me wrong, any trailer that hooks in an audience and then serves up something they’ll enjoy is absolutely fine in my book, but the snappy editing and up-tempo music in this trailer suggest something of a fast paced thriller, rather than the deliberately paced chiller you’ll actually get. But no harm, no foul as far as I’m concerned.

Best Flavour Of The Movie Trailer – Berberian Sound Studio

This deconstructed horror, proving as effective at throwing up creepy atmosphere and screwed-up characters as any standard horror despite being seen through the eyes of the foley artist and the sound editor, might be a hard sell, but this brief snatch of the film absolutely nails what you’ll get from the film itself. I’d be prepared to stake a Curly Wurly on no-one loving this trailer and hating the film, or indeed the converse. (Disclaimer: 1,000 word review required to claim Curly Wurly. Allow 28 days for postage.)

Best Explanation Of High Concept Trailer – Looper

So there’s this time travel thing, right, and it’s set in the future, but actually two bits of the future, and China’s more of a world power, and we have time travel but only criminals use it, and so they have to find ways of protecting their interests, and… what do you mean, I’ve had two and a half minutes already? This Looper trailer does a cracking job of setting up the initial conceit, giving a flavour of what’s to come but not spoiling the twists and turns to come later in the film.

Best Short Form Trailer – The Master

The trailers of the Coen Brothers’ last couple of films (A Serious Man and True Grit) have been fine examples of an underlying, almost hypnotic, rhythm used to create mood and effect, and this short initial trailer for The Master uses the same bag of tricks to generate a mindworm that will burrow its way into your brain in just over 60 seconds.

Best Editing Trailer – Sightseers

How much of your film is it possible to cram into a standard length trailer? Thanks to whoever edited this Sightseers trailer, we have at least some sort of answer. I would love to know if the six people that walked out of the screening I was at saw this trailer beforehand, and if somehow their expectations of the film were wrongly set. I would also like to award this best trailer soundtrack of the year; I’d like to, but I’m torn between this and Moonrise Kingdom. Hashtag indecisive.

Best Trailer For Setting Unattainably High Expectations Of The Film – Skyfall

It was unsurprising that my most anticipated film of the year, given my participation in BlogalongaBond (for which I wrote enough words to fill a university thesis on Bond and his ongoing impact) that this trailer, emphasising the wall to wall quality that ran through everything from the acting to the cinematography and the production values, set my expectations sky high. (Ahem.) Ultimately Bond was great, but could never live up to the expectations that this trailer set. Still, it’s the biggest film of all time in the UK and the biggest Bond film of all time worldwide, even adjusting for inflation, so it seems to have kept you lot happy.

Best Trailer For A Film Not Out Until Next Year – Django Unchained

I first saw a Quentin Tarantino film at my university’s film club, Resevoir Dogs being shown on a big screen in a lecture theatre where I normally learned about linear algebra and complex analysis. Somewhere in there, a better writer than me could find a link between pure maths and the pure pleasures of a Tarantino hit, but hey, I’m a mathematician; I got a degree without writing a single essay. It’s a miracle you’re still reading this, frankly. Anyway, look over here! Tarantino!

Best Trailer Of 2012 – The Imposter

This one has it all: sharply edited, fantastic use of intertitles with quotes on praising the film (the five star reviews coming in a start at a time are a particular highlight), it makes great use of the music, it gets the obligatory “From the Academy Award person thingy of…” quote in and it also doesn’t give away too much about the film’s structure or big twists, despite having practically the last shot of the film contained within. For these and many other reasons, this UK trailer for Bart Layton’s The Imposter is my top trailer of 2012.

Previous years:

Review of 2011: The (Half) Dozen Best Trailers of 2011

Review Of The Year 2010: The Half Dozen Best Trailers of 2010