A year of memories and misery

Another year brought more movie hits and the misses. Canberra Times film gurus rank their favourites and their failures of 2012.

Ron Cerabona's picks


Argo: Ben Affleck starred in and directed this tense, well-cast, fact-based thriller about a lesser-known side of the Iranian hostage crisis.

The Avengers: One of the better superhero movies of recent times, with lots of banter as well as action.

Looper: Science-fiction with atmosphere and some interesting questions raised.

Skyfall: The new Bond movie is an action-packed blend of the old and the new with some good character scenes, especially with regards to M.

Young Adult: From the writer and the director of Juno but a much darker story of obsession and disappointment.


Also:The Artist; Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom.


Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked: Third in a tired series that started out cutely enough but is now well past its welcome.

Bel Ami: Robert Pattinson has been effective in other roles but his pallid performance as a rogue in 19th-century Paris society doesn't help this dull adaptation of a story by Guy de Maupassant.

Kath & Kimderella: Another in the long line of TV comedy sketches overstretched into films that can't take the extra length. It seems more like an excuse for all concerned to have an overseas trip.

Taken 2: Liam Neeson's first late-life foray into action stardom was mildly diverting but this contrived sequel is lacklustre.

Wrath of the Titans: An unnecessary, uninspired sequel to a mythological mishmash that wasn't very good in the first place.

Simon Weaving


Argo: Occasionally a film comes along that keeps you so riveted to your seat you hardly notice two hours go past. Director Ben Affleck has supreme command of the storytelling here, re-creating the 1970s to tell the true tale of the Tehran hostage crisis, and turning in a controlled performance on the other side of the camera.

The Hunt: Mads Mikkelsen is truly extraordinary in this return to form for writer/director Thomas Vinterberg. It's powerful, edge-of-the-seat emotion and drama as a small town turns on a man who's been falsely accused of inappropriate behaviour by a young girl.

Life of Pi: Both gripping adventure and epic spiritual journey, Ang Lee's adaptation of Yann Martel's Booker Prize-winning novel is a masterpiece of cinematic storytelling - awash with care, wonder, utterly convincing special effects, and an extraordinary performance from first-time actor Suraj Sharma.

Holy Motors: Holy dooley, what a film! Climb aboard this stretch limo of a cinema experience and enjoy the mysterious ride - it's bold, unpredictable and totally exhilarating. And the Kubrick-meets-Lynch conclusion will leave you smiling and wondering. Life: it's just a ride.

Moonrise Kingdom: A beguiling and allegorical love story about two 12-year-old soul mates who run away from a cruel and clueless world. It bears all the marks of Wes Anderson's eccentric work, along with a superb cast.


Wrath of the Titans: Classical mythology gets a Hollywood makeover. Sam Worthington grunts and grimaces his way through a physical role, covered in dust and in need of a voice coach.

Dredd: Dreddfully written, Dreddfully wooden. Dreddfully laboured.

American Reunion: The fourth unnecessary instalment in this teen gross-out franchise is a limp sex-romp dripping with nostalgia and puerile pranks, proving that there's nothing more embarrassing than middle-aged men who want to be teenagers again.

One for the Money: Katherine Heigl's many talents are wasted in this inelegant mix of rom-com and brutality. The first (and probably the last) of the Stephanie Plum stories on screen, it's a bland cocktail of crime investigation, romance and forced gags.

Darkest Hour 3D: Uninspiring and insipid, this take on the zombie genre sees a group of gorgeous twentysomethings trapped in Moscow trying desperately to get away from nasty id-like blobs of energy. Message: if you want to survive an alien invasion, be as dull as possible.

Jane Freebury


Once Upon a Time in Anatolia: A magnificent example of what's now called ''slow cinema'' on the back of a story of a murder that a small group of police and officials try to solve overnight in the Anatolian steppe. Nothing like Sergio Leone's work and much more like the films Michelangelo Antonioni once made, it seems to be filled with small talk, but is actually audaciously considering the big questions right under our noses. A glorious pleasure, if allowed to work its spell.

Lore: A brilliant evocation of the social vacuum left in the aftermath of war. Children abandoned by their parents in Germany on the collapse of the Third Reich undertake a fearful journey across a country where the rule of law is all but gone and everyone must desperately and sometimes viciously fend for themselves. Sensitively told from the perspective of the children, the camera is with them every moment of the way.

Holy Motors: The jury is out on what this is all about, but it is jam-packed with enough intriguing and extraordinary scenes to make you want to chase every tantalising hint of meaning. The limo journey through Paris to appointments has no logical sequence, the various meetings are totally bizarre, and yet the film is trying to tell us something about ourselves. Or is it a statement about cinema itself? Probably a bit of both.

Skyfall: A spectacular and exhilarating Bond that goes back to certain important basics and may just be the best yet. It has edge-of-your-seat chase scenes in the most filmic locations, a blonded Javier Bardem as an insidiously hideous arch-villain, and Sam Mendes has even gone with a hint of psychological depth. From the get-go there is no let up, but it also knows when to drop the pace and chill.

Moonrise Kingdom: A gentle and eccentric vision of 1960s America, in which two misfit runaways - who have fallen into puppy-love and set up camp on a nearby beach - throw their families and a small community into a tail-spin. It has marvellous characters, with actors Edward Norton and Bruce Willis playing wildly against type, and adults you wouldn't quite trust to look after the world. As beautifully constructed as it is strange, though in sync with the youngsters, it is surprisingly funny and disarming.


What to Expect When You're Expecting: An attempt at a comedy about pregnancy and childbirth that ought to make any self-respecting newborn think twice about meeting its parents. When the glam mums finally lift their knees to their prosthetic bellies to push, it's a relief for everyone, especially the long-suffering audience.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2: Now that fans can break away and branch out with something new, they might find they enjoy stuff that doesn't have all that posturing, all those fake trials and tribulations, and look for some flesh-and-blood action. Fantasy can be fantastic. It's time these two wooden teen idols, intriguing to begin with, moved on and got a life.

To Rome With Love: Whatever the lessons were that Woody had learnt before he made Midnight in Paris and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, he's put them away and can't remember where. Rule No.1, don't get in front of the camera. Rule No.2, write differentiated individual characters that jump off the screen and aren't re-treads of the same-old-same-old self-regarding anxieties.

Prometheus: From a director who used to ace it for spectacular, thoughtful action, this won't be the worst film in 2012 but the shelf life won't be anything like Alien. It was looking pretty good, Michael Fassbender especially, until we reached the arsenal in space and the story fell apart. When Ridley Scott reconnects with a good narrative again, has the characters, great taste in actors, and puts all the fire power he can buy at his service, it will be awesome.

The Dark Knight Rises:The Dark Knight franchise under Christopher Nolan had become interesting and compelling, as opposed to jokey and daft. Again, not the worst film, but it should have been a contender for the best. Although bursting with ideas like a Christmas stocking, when the final showdown comes it hasn't enough oomph left to cover things off. Nolan misjudged things with too much crash and burn, an insistent score and a running time pushing three hours.

Cris Kennedy


The Muppets: Writer and star Jason Segel breathed new life into the Muppets film franchise with a funny script, while melancholic tunes from Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie earned him an Oscar. The burly footballer sitting with his girlfriend next to me at the screening actually squealed with delight when Beaker came onscreen.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: Benh Zeitlin's glorious debut feature took me back to the pages of Where The Wild Things Are and, just when jaded Hollywood syndrome looked to be kicking in, showed this writer that imagination and talent can overcome any obstacle.

Happy, Happy: Over a long Norwegian winter, two sets of neighbouring couples devolve into a couple of sets of complicated triangles of desire. An impressive debut from director Anne Sewitsky and a piece of gilded darkness, much like the northern winter of the film's snow-draped locales.

Looper: Rian Johnson's film was referential of the other great time-travel films that came before it, even starring 12 Monkeys' Bruce Willis. A screenplay that eats its own tail, its logic was well thought out.

The Avengers: I'm a Buffy fan and a comic geek, so Joss Whedon's big-screen take on The Avengers was already five-star fabulous in my head before the first frame … luckily he lived up to the hype in my head.


The Watch: If you thought a film written by Seth Rogen and starring Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughan and Ben Stiller couldn't go wrong … think again.

Iron Sky: President Sarah Palin takes on an invasion of Nazis from the dark side of the moon - what's not to love about this high-camp, high-concept, B-movie of epic proportions? It was badly-written, acted and made, but the filmmakers successfully pulled off crowd-sourced funding with their great premise, so it was hard not to feel mean-spirited being honest about the film's merits.

Battleship: The worst film-by-committee idea in some years - a movie based on the board game Battleship - was unsurprisingly one of the worst films in some years.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance: Who knew Nicolas Cage's 2007 film was worthy of a sequel? Most likely somebody's tax write-off. In my March review I said Cage's character looked like ''old fat Elvis set himself on fire with his cigarette,'' which was the meanest, funniest thing I wrote all year.

A Little Bit of Heaven: Kate Hudson and Gael Garcia Bernal starred in a misguided attempt to make a light-hearted romantic comedy about bowel cancer. Hudson entered career purgatory for this misjudgment, playing a villain on Glee.