Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 10 of 2012

The customary Top 10 list of my favourite films of the year, and it's no easy task to pluck the crème de la crème from a pool of 272 theatrical and festival releases watched this year. So here's about 10% of the best, split between the honorary 10 which is more of a mixed bag this time round, and the meritorious 20 that had a crack at the top. A pity that no local film released this year managed to get into either list. In order, my Top 10:

10. Barfi!
One of the pitfalls of an up and coming actor is to accept just about any role that comes his way, and in doing so blotches his filmography with mediocre works that either demoralizes, or burns him out. There's no fair share of such stories from Bollywood, which is what makes Ranbir Kapoor an exciting watch amongst his competitive peers, as he picks and chooses his projects carefully, with each role challenging him from those he had tackled previously. As central character Barfi, he puts aside his speech, and goes into full acting with everything available in his arsenal, to become one of the most memorable characters he had tackled to date. Priyanka Chopra also stepped out of her comfort zone, deglamourizes herself, and together, they form an acting tour-de-force which is what's great about this Indian submission to next year's Oscars.

9. Jiro Dreams of Sushi
It's about that quintessential Japanese cuisine, and more. While you can feast your eyes on the gloriously captured sushis, and imagine just how heavenly the tastes can be, this movie goes beyond the usual documentary showcase of the man, his restaurant and the food he serves. It's about the lifestyle and philosophy behind it, that gave the movie its soul, of the hard work that beckons success, of perseverance and humility.

8. Headhunters / Hodejegerne
I really enjoyed the genre shifts in the film, that made Headhunters such a delight, and pleasure to watch. It may go off in one track, before spinning onto another, and just when you thought it would wrap, in comes another surprise from the blind side. The Nordic countries are slowly but surely showing the world how to make suspense thrillers, and this one ranks up there as filmmaking to be emulated.

7. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
There's no fair share of disaster and end of the world type movies to capitalize on the year 2012 prophesied by some to be The End, but in this film comes a quirky, yet touching tale, about two souls connecting as they journey to help each other fulfill their unfinished business before the big one hits. The banter, the light comedy, and the utterly moving final act, is what makes this film an instant classic. The minute The Hollies' The Air That I Breathe come on, the floodgates will open, trust me. I'm beginning to appreciate Steve Carell's dramatic roles more than his comedic ones, and this is yet another fine example why this is so.

6. Love in the Buff / 春嬌與志明
Some may find it curious I choose to rate this higher than the other Edmund Pang release Vulgaria / 低俗喜劇, but I guess it's about a continuation and a sequel done right. We've grown to love the Jimmy and Cherie, the characters the filmmaker had created in the first film, and we get to hang out with them a lot more this time even if they spend a lot of time apart. It's about that absence that makes the heart grow fonder, and this follow up film is just proof of that mantra. Who knows, with luck, this could be the Asian answer to Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise/Before Sunset series.

5. Wreck-It Ralph
Disney has probably found the successor to the Toy Story series, by taking a similar approach and formula but this time with bits, bytes and electrons. What if the computer game characters were to come to life on their own, in their world, when humans weren't around to play them, and voila, Wreck-It Ralph becomes that spiritual companion, with that sense of adventure, feel good message, and classic rivalry between leading characters who soon realize they got more in common than just bickering. This is a clear winner, and let's hope there'll be more of the same in the pipeline, to build on that universe already created.

4. The Raid: Redemption / Dredd
OK so I'm cheating a little bit here with 2 films in the same spot, but both are what I call spiritual companions to each other. One, a film about cops raiding a fortified building to get to a drug dealer, using everything in their arsenal and ultimately relying on their martial arts, while the other is about erm, cops raiding a fortified building to get to a drug dealer, pumping plenty of lead along the way. It's modern life in one, and science fiction in the other, but make no mistake, both are ultra-violent. Take your pick!

3. When Wolf Falls in Love with Sheep / 南方小羊牧场
The first "wolf" film in my list, this is a fine example of the type of whimsical, comedic and dramatic stories that's coming out of Taiwan in recent years, where young casts with idol looks promptly deliver the ups and downs of relationships, set in a uniquely Taiwanese modern day premise. Philosophical to a point too, if you bother to peer beneath the saccharine sweet veneer.

2. Wolf Children / おおかみこどもの雨と雪
The second wolf film is an animated one, under the direction of Mamoru Hosoda, the man who brought us fine movies like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and Summer Wars. I have to admit I wasn't too sure about this when it was announced, but was completely blown away by its heartwarming, emotional core, and wonderful animation, where even if you were to take away the science fictional elements, it still makes for a powerful family drama. Probably the only film in this list that had me on the verge of a tear.

1. Ruby Sparks
If there's a film that's original, imaginative, and of fantasy in 2012, then Ruby Sparks is it. It's funny, yet dwells upon the deep dark recesses of Man in his temptations to hurt, in how we're capable of developing something beautiful, yet equally culpable in destroying things on a whim. A dark comedy blended with an unlikely romance, this film takes the crown for being truly unique in a year where comic book heroes and their sequels continue to plough their way to the box office.

and the remaining 20 in alphabetical order:

The Billionaire / วัยรุ่นพันล้าน
The Bullet Vanishes / 消失的子弹
The Cabin in the Woods
The Collector / 收烂数
End of Watch
English Vinglish
Life of Pi
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Red Lights
Robo-G / ロボジー
Vulgaria / 低俗喜劇

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