ScreenAnarchy's Best of 2012: The Biggest Surprises of 2012
In 2012, the ScreenAnarchy family has grown even more global. With a line-up of contributors that stretches right around the planet, we've had the means to see a huge proportion of the new films that have emerged in the past 12 months from some of the world's most far-flung regions - and we want to tell you all about them! Whether they be the ones we love, the ones we hate, or all those that fall somewhere in between, we want to share.
So enjoy ScreenAnarchy's Biggest Surprises from 2012!
Todd Brown - Founder and editor
Spring Breakers (dir. Harmony Korine)
Let me preface this by saying I don't think I have ever particularly enjoyed a Harmony Korine film before. I don't hate them, I just find them a bit self-absorbed in ways that makes them very distancing to me. I went in - as I suspect many others will - purely for the novelty factor of watching former Disney girls behaving badly. And I absolutely loved it. Unapologetically raunchy, wildly over the top, and hugely entertaining...you'll go to this for the girls but it's James Franco that'll stay with you. He's an absolute, utter madman and this will be a career defining performance for him.
Ryland Aldrich - Festivals Editor
Spring Breakers (dir. Harmony Korine)
No one in the Toronto audience knew quite what to expect from Harmony Korine's teen pop star vehicle Spring Breakers. So when the film ended up being one of the most radical, sexual, and over-the-top violent roller coaster rides of the fest, you could say I was pleasantly surprised. From my review: "It's hard to imagine the level of trust that the financiers of Spring Breakers must have had in Harmony Korine. In lesser hands, this could have ended up a drab morality tale or a wacky mess. Instead we have a raw and randy, yet also rather mature (in more ways than one) piece of cinema that's probably unlike anything you've seen before."
Kwenton Bellette - Contributing Writer
The Thieves - A hybrid in more ways than one
Billed as a fun, record-breaking South Korean-Hong Kong-Macau co-production, The Thieves was sure to be a film I'd enjoy, but I did not anticipate downright loving it so much I put it in my top 5 of 2012! Co-productions are going strength to strength and it is great to see films taking advantage of this excellent partnership. Almost every aspect of The Thieves is entertaining and imbued with energy and fun, every scene, character, location and plot development was an absolute pleasure from crazy start to bloody and justified finish. Sometimes things just work better than anticipated, all the pieces fit perfectly and the film is just naturally good as a result. Thankfully this was one of those moments in Cinema and I'm glad I experienced it this year.
Joshua Chaplinsky - Contributing Writer
The Final Member (dirs. Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math)
This is the most heterosexual movie about a man who loves penis you will ever see. And the biggest surprise is how directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math made such a heartwarming movie out of such bizarre subject matter. Because in the end, this is really a film about wanting to leave a legacy, which is something everyone can relate to. Also, the bonus Elmo The Penis Costume montage!
Brian Clark - European Editor
The Tall Man (dir. Pascal Laugier)
I walked into Pascal Laugier's follow-up to Martyrs with low expectations. Having mostly heard mediocre to terrible things about The Tall Man, I was prepared for a fairly thrilling forty minutes, followed by some sort of contrived plot-twist descent into boredom and frustration.
Not so! Admittedly, The Tall Man is definitely something completely different than its standard horror movie trailer suggests. In fact, it's disorienting how much the film changes between its standard child-kidnapper-on-the-loose-in-a-small-town first act and its haunting, slow-burn anti-climax. But I mean that as high praise. I can't remember the last time a film so masterfully turned my expectations on their head. It certainly throws in some wild twists, but they aren't presented as "gotcha" moments, and the moral ambiguity that comes with them is far more fascinating than the good vs. evil scenario that carries the first half of the movie. Also Jessica Biel's character is the strongest and most interesting female character in any horror movie this decade.
(START MILD SPOILER/GUESSING GAME)
The ending of The Tall Man is actually quite similar to an earlier film by a director who is receiving quite a few accolades for his work this year. However, that earlier film was presented as a social-realist thriller and so, it gained much critical love. Meanwhile, Laugier's examination of the issue is deeper, more thoughtful and also more entertaining and all he gets is angry fan boys. Poor guy.
Yeah, I know. It doesn't all work perfectly and the film sometimes stretches plausibility. For me, there were too many interesting aspects to really hold these things against it. And even if you see it as a noble failure, I maintain that I'd if more genre filmmakers attempted movies even half as audacious, provocative and thoughtful as this one, we'd all be better off.
Pierce Conran - Contributing Writer
The Woodsman and The Rain (dir. Okita Shuichi)
The Woodsman and The Rain was a film that I knew little about and had few expectations for but it wound up being the best new film I saw during the Udine Far East Film Festival. Once again it is a film about filmmaking. A very Japanese work marked by its dry sense of humor, which is both full of mordant wit and endearing charm, Okita Shuichi's film is irresistible. While Amir Naderi's Cut was a dark love letter to the medium, framed in the context of Cinema's greatest works of art, The Woodsman and the Rain is less concerned with artistic mastery as the sheer pleasure of filmmaking and swell of passion that enables it. Also a contender for feel-good film of the year, this story of the budding friendship between a taciturn woodsman in rural Japan and a diffident 25-year-old zombie filmmaker chronicles the reawakening of dormant pleasures, passion and creativity.
Jason Gorber - Contributing Writer
The Master (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson) enervates and infuriates.
I spent some 10,000 words writing about The Master, yet it didn't crack my top ten. It was the most enervating film I saw, it left me shattered after I saw it, yet also strangely empty. I've seen it multiple times, and it still affects me tremendously, yet feels at times like an utter failure. Writing a well-trafficked article about the tech and a near delusional response the morning after the TIFF premiere only partially allowed me to come to terms with the film.
Peter Gutiérrez - Contributing Writer
The Goon/21 Jump Street - Way better than they had any right to be
The expectations game is a tricky one to play, which is why I'll avoid dwelling on the reasons Skyfall and Looper were my biggest disappointments of the year. (And, hey, before you leave your outraged comment below, I didn't say I hated those films, just implied that I expected more from them).
Anyway, let's try to stay positive, shall we? Like many critics and moviegoers generally, I was pleasantly surprised by the smart, self-knowing route that 21 Jump Street took. Still, easily trumping it in the lowbrow comedy department was Michael Dowse's Goon. Am I confessing something shameful by admitting that its ostensibly formulaic script was what I appreciated so much about it? To clarify, its belated coming-of-age central character arc and sports-movie dramatic structure helped make its themes about masculinity and violence so transparent that the result was fresh, unapologetic, and at times even touching.
Anchored by an underrated Seann William Scott and an absolutely wonderful Liev Schreiber (hey, I'd love to see a spin-off movie with his character, even if were a straight-up drama!), Goon has far more heart than the blockbuster raunchy comedies of the Judd Apatow and Hangover variety. Indeed, put it on a double bill with the widely-admired Wreck-It Ralph, also a parable about a man-child discovering the adaptive, community-building value of, er, rage and destruction, and you'll see what I mean. Yes, the film advances the idea, inspiring even as one realizes how risible it is, that being a man doesn't mean being able to dole out punishment but to take it. But come on, it advances that idea brilliantly.
Kurt Halfyard - Contributing Writer
The Paperboy (dir. Lee Daniels)
While I have been ambivalent to Lee Daniels outside some of his producing efforts (Monster's Ball, The Woodsman) and never got around to seeing Precious (or the even loonier sounding Shadowboxer) this trash-classic set down in boggy Florida poverty was easily the biggest surprise of the year for me. Nicole Kidman's trashier Erin Brokovich gets to have telepathic sex with John Cusack and pee on Zac Efron. I ask you, what's not to love? Alligators are skinned on screen, Matthew McConaughey cruises for gay sex, Macy Gray gives a great performance and Scott Glenn adds a veneer of class, only for the film to strip away everything for buckets upon buckets of sleaze. Even the cinematography cannot make up its mind in this picture, yet it all comes together marvelously (along with Friedkin's Killer Joe and Dominik's Killing Them Softly) to prove that experimental neo-noir isn't dead by a long shot. Amen to that.
J Hurtado - Contributing Writer
The resurrection of the Indian film industry
This isn't a single film, but the amazing comeback of the entire Indian film industry after a relatively dreadful 2011, personified above by the new face of Indian Cinema, Nawazuddin Siddiqui. Last year I really wanted to find a film to fit into my top ten, and while Kshay was certainly worthy of the spot, it was a tough squeeze. This year the output has been amazing, and I ended up putting together an entire top ten of Indian films with plenty to spare in honorable mentions. It wasn't just the increasingly high-profile antics of Indian independent kingpin Anurag Kashyap's high voltage crime epic Gangs of Wasseypur, but also the smaller indies that made big noise. Heck, my top film of the year overall was a Telugu blockbuster, and my number two was a film I saw way back in January, Agneepath. Let's hope the trend continues. Roll on 2013! Jai ho!
James Marsh - Asian Editor
Prometheus (dir. Ridley Scott) - Getting sucked into the hype machine
My biggest surprise of 2012 was that we were all suckered in by the Prometheus marketing campaign. When the project was first announced, everybody said it was a terrible idea. Then slowly but surely Ridley Scott and the rest of the Machine slowly turned us around, thanks to glimpses of beloved iconography, promises of respecting the source material and a collective amnesia epidemic that made us forget Scott hadn't made a decent film in a decade. We all so wanted Prometheus to succeed. But it didn't, not as an Alien prequel. Not by a long way. But this is not new to us, this always happens. Why were we suckered in this time after the trick George Lucas pulled all those years ago? That was the biggest surprise of the year. That we have learned nothing, after being burned time and time again - while the studios don't seem to care.
Ard Vijn - Contributing Writer
My biggest surprise was how much I liked Dredd 3D. It's not that nobody saw it, but Dredd 3D definitely got a rough deal at the box office. I thought it was marvelous, easily one of the most enjoyable genre pieces I caught at the cinema this year. It kicked ass with the unrelenting hard R-rated violence, the action often mimicking flicks from the Eighties, while managing to be a little bit smarter. On top of that, the cinematography pushed the boundaries of intelligent 3D usage in films, providing several effects and set-pieces I had never seen before.
Ironically this movie may have been killed by its license, with Judge Dredd assumed to be a tainted name. To this day I still need to convince people that it isn't a crap sequel to the Stallone extravaganza.