Easily the best action film of 2012 (and quite possibly the best of the last decade), “The Raid” is an absolute shot of adrenaline from start to finish. Welsh born director Gareth Evans and Indonesian martial arts star and choreographer Iko Uwais follow up their excellent 2009 cult hit “Merantau” by notching up the stunts and violence in almost every way possible. Relentlessly intense and inventive in ways of dispatching its hordes of enemies, the film combines “Assault on Precinct 13” era John Carpenter, breathtakingly choreographed and brutal martial arts with old school John Woo gunplay in a way which very few others have even come close to attaining.
Although Paul Thomas Anderson films don’t come around too often, they’re always worth waiting for, and “The Master” is certainly no exception. It’s a film which impresses on pretty much every level possible, from its multi-layered tackling of its intriguing (and potentially scientology baiting) subject matter and challenging/occasionally obtuse philosophising through to its beautifully crafted and cinematic visuals. Feeling like an old fashioned Hollywood biopic in the very best way, it’s ultimately hard not to see it as belonging to its headline stars, with both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix turning in captivating, career best performances that truly electrify the screen throughout.
Ridley Scott’s long promised return to “Alien” territory finally arrived in “Prometheus”, a film which seriously divided both critics and fans. Although it’s not hard to see why, the film choosing to play (at times clumsily) with big themes and ideas rather than xenomorph action, there was something undeniably refreshing and exhilarating about seeing such an ambitious and intellectually/philosophically charged piece of big budget Hollywood science fiction. Far more appealing than the kind of straight retread which might have been expected, when it finds its wings, the visually stunning space epic is the kind of darkly thoughtful material which it’d be great to see more of in the genre, and which Scott will hopefully offer more of in the (fingers crossed) coming sequels.
Dreams for Sale
Directed by Nishikawa Miwa, “Dreams for Sale” is a hard-hitting and highly original drama, charting the odd scheme by a husband and wife who decide to try and make the money needed to fix their burned down restaurant by marrying him off to desperately lonely women and ripping them off. Equal parts dark humour and emotional bleakness, the film never plays out even remotely as expected, with some of the best written and developed characters of the year, not to mention cerebral and insightful takes on modern gender roles and politics. Nishikawa keeps things firmly grounded and painfully believable throughout, and though increasingly tense and eventful, the film retains a raw, quietly confrontational humanism through to its harrowing conclusion.
For Love’s Sake
Every year should have at least one oddball outing from ultra-prolific Japanese cult helmer Miike Takashi, and “For Love’s Sake” again sees the whacky genius defying expectations with a pure love themed musical. Based on a popular 1970s manga, the film takes the familiar story of a rich high school girl falling for a tough rebel, and breathes kinetic life into it, infusing the film with wild energy, colourful style, catchy pop numbers and the occasional flash of gangland violence. Sweetly moving and filled with moments of creative and bizarre humour, it’s a unique and magical film which manages to mix strangeness and silliness with genuine heart and emotion. There really hasn’t been anything like this on cinema screens for quite some time, and Miike again shows that he’s more than capable of working in any form or genre and of making it unmistakably his own.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Though a big fan of Tolkien’s writings and the “Lord of the Rings” films, I must admit to having been a bit worried by advance reports of Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth being bloated and overstretched. Thankfully, fears proved unfounded, and the film served up nearly 3 hours of exactly what made the first trilogy so great, Jackson’s lighter and more humorous approach fitting the material perfectly. With classic scenes from the novel being brought to life in such loving and entertaining fashion, it’s honestly hard to find much here not to like.
Another storming directorial comeback arrived with William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe”, a marvellously nasty and horribly amusing piece of perfectly judged evil pulp. Though Emile Hirsch, Gina Gershon, Thomas Haden Church and Juno Temple all impress, this is 100% Matthew McConaughey’s film, who dominates and seems to be loving every scene as the vicious and clearly mental psycho of the title, a role he utterly inhabits and was born to play. Violent and down and dirty in depressingly believable fashion, it’s easy to see why the film has been the subject of controversy, Friedkin gleefully pushing the boundaries of good taste with some excellently depraved scenes.
CONTINUE FOR THE DISAPPOINTMENTS OF 2012